o The Frog Blog: December 2009

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Merry Christmas

St. Columba's College closes for the Christmas holidays today as pupils make their way home to their families. The pupils will return to the school on January 11th 2010. The Frog Blog would like to take the opportunity to wish everyone in the college community, and beyond, a very merry Christmas.

We now take a well earned break from blogging for a few weeks, well at least from daily posts. We may post the odd story from time to time, should some interesting stories emerge. We hope you've all enjoyed our range of posts over the past few months. If you have any suggestions for future stories or even a series of posts please contact us by email. Merry Christmas and thank you for reading!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Last Penguin

On the New Yorker website, Fen Montaigne presents an audio slide show where he shares images he took during the austral summer of 2005-2006 while working with the ecologist Bill Fraser, and discusses how global warming has caused a decline in the number of Adélie penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula. Click here to visit the website and view the clip.

Monday, 14 December 2009

CSPE Adopt a Polar Bear Project

As part of their Junior Cert. CSPE Action Project, Form IIIc is raising awareness about the plight of polar bears and their shrinking habitats. The project aims to raise money through a raffle to 'adopt' a polar bear with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Other aspects of the project have involved speaking to the whole school in chapel about the project, designing posters to publicise the raffle and the issue of climate change, communicating with the WWF about the adoption, a 'did you know?' fact leaflet and of course selling tickets.

Incidentally the draw for the raffle is due to take place before the start of our Christmas entertainment tomorrow night in the BSR...and last minute tickets will be on sale. For more information about the Adopt a Bear programme, click here. Why not give the gift of an adopted animal to someone this Christmas. Click here to see the wide range of animals up for adoption. If you adopt an animal, you get a cuddly toy, frequent updates about how your animal is doing and "loads more fun stuff".

Science Fact of the Week 39 – Large Hadron Collider

This is the final Science Fact of the Week of this term and indeed 2009.


The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things. The LHC lies in a tunnel 27 kilometres in circumference, as much as 175 metres beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. In the LHC experiment, two beams of subatomic particles called 'hadrons' – either protons or lead ions – will travel in opposite directions inside the circular accelerator, gaining energy with every lap. Physicists will use the LHC to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, by colliding the two beams head-on at very high energy. Teams of physicists from around the world will analyse the particles created in the collisions using special detectors in a number of experiments dedicated to the LHC. There are many theories as to what will result from these collisions, but what's for sure is that a brave new world of physics will emerge from the new accelerator, as knowledge in particle physics goes on to describe the workings of the Universe

The Frog by Hilaire Belloc

How's about a bit of frog poetry to kick start the week?

The Frog by Hilaire Belloc

Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As "Slimy skin," or "Polly-wog,"
Or likewise "Ugly James,
"Or "Gap-a-grin," or "Toad-gone-wrong,"
Or "Bill Bandy-knees":
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.

No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Digging Up Dinosaurs

Strange landscapes, scorching heat and (sometimes) mad crocodiles await scientists seeking clues to evolution's genius. Palaeontologist Paul Sereno talks about his surprising encounters with prehistory -- and a new way to help students join the adventure.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Strawberry Poison Dart Frog

Below is a video from National Geographic, showing the wonderful motherly habits of the tiny Strawberry Poison Dart Frog. These tiny frogs transport their young on their back, from the leaf litter to high up in a tree (a climb equivalent to a human climbing the Empire State Building) in order to provide a safe nursery ground for their young. One frog might have to do this six or seven times over a space of two weeks for each of her tadpoles, providing food in the form of her own unfertilised eggs. (Please forgive the annoying narration)

Friday, 11 December 2009

New Dinosaur Discovered: Tawa hallae

A new dinosaur has been discovered in New Mexico which sheds significant light on the evolution of the group. The new species is from the late Triassic Period - a small, early relative of Tyranosaurus rex and Velociraptor. It is 2 m long, bipedal, has short forelimbs with sharp claws, and downward curving teeth and has been christened Tawa hallae, after the Native American Hopi word for the sun god. The discovery also highlights how dinosaurs dispersed across what was then the "supercontinent" Pangaea. Tawa hallae is believed to be 215 million years old and its existence demonstrates how dinosaurs split into their three major groups - theropods, sauropods and ornithischians - very early in their evolution. Tawa belongs to the theropods: bipedal dinosaurs that were mainly carnivores. The line included the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor. For more information on this significant find, click here.

Cannibalism in Polar Bears

The number of witnessed cases of polar bears eating young bear cubs seems to be on the increase. The picture above shows a male polar bear dragging the grisly remains of a cub that it caught and killed in the Hudson Bay area, Canada, after separating it from its mother. Some scientists are saying that this is related to climate change and the increased difficulties being placed on the bears hunting habits. The bears are may be forced into eating their own kind when the slower formation of Arctic ice leaves them with a shrinking platform from which to hunt seals. However, Inuit leaders dismissed the idea of any link between cannibalism and climate change saying that this was a "common occurrence". Never the less, the picture tells a harrowing tale.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Hard Shell Turtle Washed Up on Clare Beach

A hard shelled loggerhead turtle was found yesterday washed up on a Clare beach. The loggerhead is an endangered species and its natural habitat is warmer waters. Below 10 degrees, it goes into a comatose state, as was the case with this animal. Local wildlife expexts from Shannon Dolphin & Wildlife Foundation were quick to act. The turtle, christened 'Imirceach' or 'Little Migrant', is now in Lahinch Seaworld in quarantine. It is hoped that the turtle can be returned to its natural habitat in the Azores early next year.

Balding Bear Bares All

A Spectacled Bear named Dolores (pictured above), which is resident in Germany's Zoo Leipzig, is going bald. Although not believed to be life threatening, Zoo experts are working to cure the bears' unfortunate condition. Spectacled bears—also called Andean bears—live in the mountains of South America and are the continent's only bear species. However, this is not the first time this has happen to a spectacled bear in captivity. Keepers in a zoo in Ecuador cured an affected bear there by feeding it a natural diet of fruits and bamboo and by providing added enrichment items, such as toys and exotic foods, into the bear's enclosure. Four months later the fur grew back. Hopefully Dolores and her friends will soon have a full coat of fur too. For more information on the spectacled bear (and to see what they look like with fur) click here.

Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 21, 1833. Alfred Nobel is best known as a chemist and inventor of dynamite and other, more powerful explosives but also for the annual prizes which bear his name. Today, December 10th, is the anniversary of his death in 1896 and also the anniversary of the first Nobel Prizes in 1901.

An explosives expert like his father, in 1866 he invented a safe and manageable form of nitroglycerin he called dynamite, and later, smokeless gunpowder and (1875) gelignite. He quickly created an industrial empire manufacturing many of his other inventions. Nobel amassed a huge fortune, much of which he left in a fund to endow the annual prizes that bear his name. The first Nobel Prizes were handed out for achievements in the areas of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. The sixth prize, for economics, was instituted in his honour in 1969. For more information on the life and work of Alfred Nobel click here.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Science Gallery - New Exhibition

The Science Gallery, found within the grounds of Trinity College, has a new exhibition which runs to the 13th December. It's called "What If" which "probes the space between reality and the impossible and where designers meet scientists to explore the future". It tries to answer questions such as "WHAT IF...animals could be used as a life support machine? (picture above) WHAT IF...you could smell the perfect partner? WHAT IF... you could modify clouds to snow ice-cream?".

"What If" is curated by leading London based design duo Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby. It's definitely worth checking out but some exhibits may not be suitable for young children. For more information on the Science Gallery click here or for details on the What If exhibits click here. Admission is free too!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Green Party Frog Survey

John Gormley, our Minister for the Environment, is commissioning a national "frog survey", as reported today on the Fine Gael website. The cost of the survey is estimated to be in the region of €125,000. Some might say that this is the government "spawning" our hard earned cash as the new budget looms, but us Frog Bloggers reckon he should "hop" to it. In the end, he might end up counting them all himself. It will be easy enough though, as we only have one type of frog in Ireland, Rana temporaria, or the common frog (shown above). Click here to find out more about Ireland's only frog!

Copenhagen Climate Change Summit

As you might be already aware, there is a major meeting of the world's leading climate change experts in Copenhagen this week. In all, representatives from 192 countries are trying to iron out the main issues around climate change and agree on what needs to be done to prevent further global temperature increases. To keep up with the issues and find out what is happened at the summit, the Frog Blog recommends the Guardian's dedicated website on the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit (available by clicking here). The site is full of videos, comments and up to date news. Enjoy.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Virgin Atlantic SS2 Revealed

Last week, Richard Branson revealed his new Virgin Galactic Space Ship 2 (SS2) which will begin transporting space tourists into the upper atmosphere in the coming years. SS2 is 12ft long and is designed to carry six "space tourists" and two pilots beyond the Kármán line (the generally acknowledged boundary of space, 100km up). For a few minutes, they will experience weightlessness while gazing out of aeroplane-style windows at the curvature of the Earth, the thin surface of the atmosphere and, perhaps, other planets. By then the rocket's engines will have been switched off, so the ensuing silence will add to the power of the experience. SS2 has been in development for nearly five years, alongside the construction of White Knight Two (shown above transporting the SS2) – the 140ft wingspan "mothership" that will ferry the smaller rocket ship 50,000ft into the sky before it detaches, then blasts up to the edge of space at up to 2,600mph. Amazingly, while each Space Shuttle mission is estimated to cost around $1bn, a Virgin Galactic flight (obviously much shorter, and far less complex) is put at less than $2m.

Science Fact of the Week 38 - Uranium

Uranium is a heavy, lustrous, silvery-white metal, capable of taking a high polish. It occurs in many isotopes and is used for nuclear fuels and nuclear weapons. Uranium is the heaviest naturally occurring element on earth. It was first discovered in 1789 by Martin Klaproth, a German chemist, who isolated an oxide of uranium while analyzing pitchblende samples from the Joachimsal silver mines in the former Kingdom of Bohemia located in the present day Czech Republic. Uranium was named after the planet Uranus, discovered only eight years earlier in 1791. Uranium is quite a common element, is 40 times more naturally abundant than silver. A uranium-238 atom has 92 protons and 146 neutrons in its nucleus. Uranium is of great importance as a nuclear fuel. Nuclear fuels are used to generate electrical power, to make isotopes, and to make weapons. This is because uranium is radioactive.

The phenomenon of radioactivity was accidentally discovered in 1896 when Henri Becquerel put a rock in a drawer. The rock contained uranium, and the drawer contained a photographic plate, which was well-wrapped and shielded from the light. Some weeks later, when Becquerel unwrapped and developed the plate, he found rays of light on the photograph emanating exactly from the point of contact where the rock had been resting on it. Being a scientist, he was astounded. He could think of no possible way in which an inert rock could spontaneously be releasing energy -- especially such a penetrating form of energy. Moreover, the energy release had taken place in total darkness, in the absence of any external stimulation -- there was no chemical reaction, no exposure to sunlight, nor anything else. Becquerel had discovered radioactivity.

However, it took until 1938 to discover that uranium could be split to release energy, that is fission. This was accomplished by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman. In fact, one tonne of natural uranium can produce more than 40 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is equivalent to burning 16,000 tonnes of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil. There are currently 104 operating U.S. nuclear power plants that produce over 20 percent of U.S. electricity.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Tilt of Uranus

Below is an extract from an article from New Scientist.

Please try to resist the childish jokes, but the fact is that the odd tilt of Uranus may be the result of a particularly large moon. Uranus spins on an axis almost parallel with the plane of the solar system, rather than perpendicular to it – though why it does this nobody knows. One theory is that the tilt is the result of a collision with an Earth-sized object, but this "hasn't succeeded in explaining much of anything", says Ignacio Mosqueira of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. Why, for example, are the orbits of Uranus's 27 known moons not also tilted.

Now Gwenaël Boué and Jacques Laskar at the Paris Observatory in France have come up with another explanation: Uranus may once have had an unusually massive extra moon. If the moon had 1 per cent of the mass of Uranus – and orbited at a certain distance – it would slightly unbalance the planet and increase its wobble about its axis. After about 2 million years, the wobbling could have become exaggerated enough to tip the planet on its side. Read on.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Ireland's Mammals - Lesser Horseshoe Bat

Bats, like all mammals, are covered in fur, they have warm blood, they give birth (rather than laying eggs) and they suckle their babies with milk. Of the nine species of bat that are resident in Ireland, the Lesser Horseshoe Bat (or Rhinolophus hipposideros) is one of the rarest. It is called the lesser horseshoe bat because it has a horseshoe-shaped flap (called a noseleaf) around its nostrils. The Lesser Horseshoe Bat is one of the world's smallest bats, weighing only 5 to 9 grams, with a wingspan of 192-254 mm and a body length of 35-45 mm. Because they have a weak echolocation (or navigation) system, lesser horseshoe bats need to have landscape structures such as trees, woodlands, walls and hedgerows in order to be able to find their way around and hunt for food.

The lesser horseshoe bat is found in parts of the west of Ireland, from Mayo to Cork. Lesser horseshoe bats use old abandoned stone buildings with slate roofs for their summer roosts. Modern buildings are often unsuitable. Most lesser horseshoes hibernate in mines, caves, cellars or ice houses during the cold winter months. They do not huddle together in groups during hibernation, like other species do, though there may be a number of bats in one hibernation site. Lesser horseshoes feed at dusk, hunting for midges, moths, crane flies and caddis flies. They catch their prey in flight or pick them off vegetation.

Young are born in maternity colonies in late June or early July. If the colony is disturbed, the mother may carry her baby to a new roost. The young bat grows quickly and is independent after about five weeks.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

A Really Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

We loved the "short" version of his book (A Short History of Nearly Everything) and now there is a "really short" version. Bill Bryson again travels through time and space to bring the world, the universe and everything to a younger audience. Packed with photographs, cartoons and illustrations this is the perfect book for enquiring minds who want to uncover the wonder and mysteries of science. Dare we say it, another great stocking filler.