In the Northern Hemisphere the longest day of the year falls on 21st June. This day is often referred to as the Summer Solstice or Midsummer’s Day. But why is this day so much longer than average?
As the Earth rotates on its axis, parts of the world move closer to the sun, while the rest moves farther away. It is this tilt which brings it nearer to the Sun that is force behind the solstice. On 21st June the Earth’s axis tilts 23 degrees at the same time as the Sun reaches its highest point of altitude. The result is that, with the exception of the Polar Regions, the Northern Hemisphere experiences the longest period of daylight hours of the year on that day.
In the UK and Europe the longest day is usually 21st June, but due to the curvature of the Earth, the highest altitude of the Sun occurs on a different day in a few locations over the tropics. In areas where the sun is directly overhead (within both the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn) there are two different ‘longest’ days. This is because the Sun crosses directly once on the day before the solstice and once on the day after.
Occasionally the summer solstice falls on June 22nd in Europe; although it is very rare. The last time this happened was 1975 and the next time will be in 2203. This occasional variation of a day, or a few days as you get nearer the equator, is because the earth orbits the sun in an ellipse and not a circle (or sphere), and its orbital speed varies slightly during the year.
The Winter Solstice, or the shortest day, which occurs on the 21st December in the Northern hemisphere, works in the opposite way. The Earth is orbiting at its furthest point from the Sun, and so we experience long periods of dark skies and therefore a shorter day.
The longest day traditionally marks the first day of summer in the UK, just as the 21st December heralds the start of Winter. However, just because the Summer Solstice is the longest day, it does not guarantee that it will be the hottest, or even warm. Traditionally the Summer Solstice has been a time to celebrate the planting and harvesting of crops. This ancient idea is still celebrated by some to this day; most famously commemorated in England by the Druid communities who gather near Stonehenge to watch the sun rise over the Heel Stone.
Many of you who are doing exams this year will be revising or starting to think about revising. As a tutor, I am often asked, “What should I revise?” The answer is, unfortunately, everything that you have covered in the course. No one except the exam writers know what is going to be in the exams in any single year, so always make sure that you cover everything.
Barnaby Lenon, an ex-headmaster at Harrow, has recently written in a blog that GCSE students should revise their course at least three times. The same applies for A level students, but officially there is no magic number given as to how many times you should do so. Usually, however, it will be more than once. Some lucky people, the exceptions, can read something once and it will “go in”, but more will have to go through the course over and over again for it to sink it. We are all different, and this is the main point with revising – what works for one person will not work for another.
With all this in mind, there are some tips below. Remember, some will work for you, some won’t.
• Find a good place to work. Some of you will like quiet, others will like some noise. We all work best in certain places. Some students may like to work in a library, others in their room, others in a coffee shop. Find a place that works well for you and stick to it.
• What time works best for you? Some people work better early in the morning, others in the afternoon, others late at night. Again, stick to what works for you. If you are a night owl, it’s pointless to try and force yourself to get up early and study – it just won’t work as well. Use your strengths and find the best time to suit you.
• Avoid distractions. There are so many distractions today: mobile phones, television, emails and so on. It can make it hard to study. If you are reading this now but also looking at your social media feed on your phone, for example, it’s doubtful all you are reading will go in. So avoid such distractions if you can. Turn off your phone. Turn off your emails. If you find it hard to do this, give yourself a time limit, “I will revise for one hour, then spend five minutes looking at my phone.”
• With the above point also in mind, some students find it hard to sit down and study for long periods. Others prefer it. Again, you should do what suits you best. If you do find it hard to sit for long periods, give yourself a reward. One student I worked with played volleyball at national level. He found it very hard to sit down for long periods and study. Consequently he was doing hardly any revision. We came up with a plan. He would revise for 50 minutes, then go outside and play with a ball or go for a jog for ten minutes. Then he would revise for 50 minutes again and so on. This worked well for him. You may find a similar reward works for you, looking at your phone, going for a walk, making a cup of tea, watching TV, phoning a friend and so on. Decide on your time limit and give yourself a reward.
• Aim to study for no more than two and a half hours without taking a break. You are probably not revising as well as you would if you carry on revising after that time.
• Making and reading notes and using flashcards can all work well for some students. Others can make recordings of their notes and listen back to them when they are going for a walk or even when they are sleeping at night – Mind maps and memory palaces can also be useful when revising. Again, find a method that works well for you and stick to it.
• If you are reading something and it isn’t sinking in or you don’t understand it. Try a few of the following techniques…
o Read it out loud. When you do this, sometimes it seems to make more sense.
o Try and explain it to someone else – You may find that you know far more than you think you do when you explain it to another person.
o Read it in another way. There are a lot of resources online today, so if you don’t understand your notes or textbook, look online and find another explanation.
• Making a revision timetable for when you intend to revise your subject is also useful. You may be revising for more than one subject, so work out when you are going to study and make a plan for each subject.
• Practice exam papers and old TMAs under “exam conditions.”
• Try to take off a day a week. You decide which day. Take some time off from all that studying.
• Try to start revising as soon as you can. The earlier you start to revise, the more revision you will do.
Remember, you have revised before. You know what has worked well for you and what didn’t. So if you have a good way of revising, stick to it. But if your way hasn’t worked so well, why not try another option from those listed above? There is also of course a lot of advice out there online and in books. The best way to revise is the way that works for YOU! So find your best method and stick to it.
Finally, though success in them is all about your hard work and revision, I am still going to wish you this – Good luck with your exams!
On April 11, 1970, at 7.13pm (US time), Apollo 13 was launched from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Only two days later its crew, Commander James A. Lovell Jr, Command Module Pilot, John L Swigert Jr and Lunar Module Pilot, Fred W Haise Jr (pictured above, left to right), found themselves abandoning their planned landing of the module on the Moon, however, when an oxygen tank exploded.
Blowing out the side of the Service Module, the crew were left with only the Command Module and a series of life-threatening consequences. Suddenly they only had limited power, had lost the cabin heating system, and very soon they began to run out of water and food. Meanwhile, urgent repairs were needed to the carbon dioxide removal system, which threatened to flood the module with toxic fumes.
With a calmness that can only be marvelled at, Swigert and Lovell radioed Mission Control with the well known words, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.” Mission Control, led by flight director Gene Kranz, immediately switched its prime mission from exploration to getting all three crewmen back to Earth alive. Their first move was to shut down all essential systems. Even with this done however, there were only enough resources to keep two of them alive for two days; somehow they had to make them last four days – and then for all three men.
Mission Control worked hard on ways to get the lunar module’s filter system working to ensure the astronauts didn’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning by having the crew construct a makeshift system constructed from whatever they had to hand- in this case, duct tape, hosing and the command module’s surviving canisters; adapting them for lunar module use. They then had to make sure that the module remained in the Moon’s gravitation pull, so that as they travelled around it they would gain enough momentum to be powered back to Earth. Despite suffering from the cold of their situation, and a lack of food and water, the crew still managed to jettison the Service Module and fly the Command Module back into Earth’s orbit. They survived against all odds and eventually splashed down in the Pacific on April 17th.
Once the crew were safely on Earth, investigations began into what had gone wrong. It was discovered that a heating wire inside the liquid oxygen tank had lost its insulation and that as a result it gradually overheated – leading to an explosion the crew likened to a bomb going off.
Further work led to the conclusion that the initial design of the oxygen tank had played a part in the disaster. All the previous Apollo missions had flown without any oxygen tank problems but the tank on Apollo 13 had a troublesome history. As Space.com explains, “In October 1968, the Number 2 tank eventually used on Apollo 13 was at the North American Aviation plant in Downey, California. There, technicians who were handling the tank accidentally dropped it about two inches. After testing the tank, they concluded the incident hadn’t caused any detectable damage. The dropped tank was eventually cleared for flight and installed in Apollo 13. The tank passed all of its routine pre-launch tests. But at the end of March 1970, after a practice session called the Countdown Demonstration Test, ground crews tried to empty the tank — and couldn’t. “
The technicians “fixed” the problem by turning on heaters inside the tank to warm up the remaining liquid oxygen, turning it into gas which could then be vented to safety. The thermostat inside the tank was supposed to prevent the temperature from exceeding 80 degrees Fahrenheit. However, a surge of electricity caused the thermostat to weld shut without the technicians noticing. This meant that the continual intense heat damage to the internal wiring of the tank turned it into a small bomb, which was ignited when Apollo 13’s crew turned on the cooling fans inside the service module’s two liquid-oxygen tanks.
The Apollo 13 crew were all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their acts of heroism. Their story has been told many times, but most famously- and most accurately – in 1994 by Commander Lovell himself, who wrote about the mission in his book, Lost Moon. Such was the popularity of the book that director Ron Howard adapted it into the award winning film, Apollo 13, in 1995.
At the age of 85, on 31st March 1727, Sir Isaac Newton died. He was the first scientist to be given the honour of being buried at Westminster Abbey in London. Considered to be the father of physics, Newton was born in Lincolnshire in 1642, coincidentally the same year that Galileo – the scientist who influenced him most – died.
Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, Newton studied Galileo Galilee’s theories of motion. He went on to work at the University for 30 years as a Professor of Maths and while there, developed his own and Galileo’s theories further by applying them to laws of motion and gravity – the backbone of modern day physics.
Newton was also fascinated by light. He discovered that white light is made up of a range of colours, and went on to invent the first reflecting telescope; an instrument that could see tiny objects much more clearly than any telescope to date. It wasn’t just Galileo’s theories that fascinated Newton either. He was also passionate about the work of many others, including the French philosopher Descartes and the English chemist Robert Boyle. By learning as much as he could from his fellow scientists, he applied his own knowledge and skills to both light, the laws of force and – most famously – gravity.
Newton explained the pulling force of gravity by using the example of an apple falling from a tree. He used his theories to explain why things fell down to earth, rather than floated off to the side, or rose upwards into the sky. Newton used this same idea to go on to explain why the moon remained in the sky. This theory went on to become known as the ‘Universal Theory of Gravitation.’ Not only did Isaac Newton develop his gravitation theory, stating that two things will be attracted to one another and that the mass of each object will affect the amount of attraction, he also created the mathematical formulation of calculus.
Isaac Newton’s outstanding contribution to science led to him being made the president of the Royal Society in 1703. He didn’t just confine his work to science and mathematics, however. Newton was also appointed an MP in 1689, and went on to become the Master of the Royal Mint in 1700.Indeed, on 16th April 1705 he was knighted by Queen Anne, in recognition for his lifetime of achievements in both politics and science. His final honour was to become the first scientist to be buried at Westminster Abbey.
In March 2018, the late Professor Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest scientists of the modern age, died at the age of 76. He left a huge body of work behind him, touching on many facets of science, but he was best known for his work as a cosmologist.
When talking to The Telegraph in June 2017, Hawking stated that, “the human race must start leaving Earth within 30 years to avoid being wiped out by overpopulation and climate change.” This prediction of the Earth’s future was something Professor Hawking voiced again at the Starmus science festival in Trondheim, Norway: “It is crucial to establish colonies on Mars and the Moon, and take a Noah’s Ark of plants, animals, fungi and insects to start creating a new world.” Professor Hawking insisted the move to colonise Mars and the Moon should begin within our lifetime, (Specifically, that we should begin Lunar construction within 30 years and on Mars within 50). His theory has not been ignored by NASA, who are currently working on a plan to have humans walking on Mars sometime in the 2030’s.
The colonisation of Mars has been a subject of fascination for writers of science fiction for many years. As far back as 1952, Isaac Asimov, one of the most prolific sci-fi writers of all time, published his story, The Martian Way, in which two humans born on Mars live by collecting scraps of spacecraft for recycling purposes. Another acclaimed writer, Ray Bradbury, wrote a collection of short stories known as The Martian Chronicles, which looked at the many potential aspects of living on Mars. Bradbury and Asimov’s work at this time, which concentrated on how difficult it would be to acclimatise to living on a new planet, came before NASA’s Mariner probe reached the red planet in 1965. After that had happened, NASA routinely sent robots into space and to Mars, and science fiction followed its lead on paper.
In 1988, Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road envisaged a future humanity terraforming Mars to make it habitable, even changing the atmosphere itself so that humans could live there. This theme of terraforming is one that has recurred in many Mars-set books and movies, such as the 1990 film, Total Recall ( itself based on the short story We can Remember it for you Wholesale, by Philip K.Dick ).
One of the most famous series of novels to focus on the concept of living on Mars was written by Kim Stanley Robinson. The trilogy of Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars takes place over a period of about 200 years and concentrates on the vast impact of our settlement on the planet, from a scientific, humanitarian and political perspective.
As science has progressed and made more discoveries, and cosmologists like Professor Hawking have continued to expand and prove their theories on the future of Earth and the Solar System in which it orbits, so science fiction has followed on its heels. More recently, The Martian, by Andy Weir (which became a film in 2015), not only addressed the occupation of Mars, but also the practicalities of actually getting there – something most earlier works of fiction conveniently bypassed. By using actual footage from NASA’s “under-development” heavy-lift rocket in the movie, The Martian incorporated real plans to explain how the journey could be made successfully.
There is no doubt that the world of science and exploration will miss the genius that was Professor Stephen Hawking. However, whether we fulfil his dream – his insistence – that we find a full-scale way of life on Mars, or if that is to remain solely within the realms of science fiction, only time will tell.
On the 15th September 2017, a twenty year long mission by the NASA Cassini space probe came to an end when it plunged into Saturn’s upper atmosphere.
Launching in 1997, and planned for years beforehand, Cassini was intended to study as many moons as possible, in particular, those surrounding Jupiter and Saturn. One of the objects of the mission was also to learn more about the possible existence and availability of water in on the astral bodies it passed. In this regard alone, the many pictures taken by Cassini produced much revealing and exciting information.
Thanks to Cassini’s observations of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, scientists have discovered that it possesses lakes, rivers, channels, dunes, rain, clouds, mountains and possibly volcanoes, just like Earth. Another of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, revealed sprays of icy particles erupting from its surface; jets of ice-water three times taller than the width of Enceladus itself. Further, Cassini was able to get as close as 15 miles from this moon’s surface and determine that there was a global subsurface ocean, which might have the conditions suitable for sustaining life.
One of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, also shows extensive evidence of water. Its surface is covered with a layer of frozen ice, which scientists again believe hides an ocean beneath. As a consequence, Europa is often touted as a possible abode for life. Cynthia Phillips, a Europa project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, believes there is a lot of indirect evidence for a liquid ocean, “We’re almost certain one is there…” she told Space.com “… the mass of Europa, combined with its density… gives a figure close to one [gram per cubic centimetre] …water is the only material like that.”
The question of the amount (or existence) of water in space has long been debated, often with a view to it sustaining mankind in the future. Mars in particular has attracted a lot of speculation of this nature. Images from the so-called Red Planet have shown dried up riverbeds, lakes, and coastlines across its surface. Recent satellite images from the Aeolis Dorsa region of Mars have uncovered new evidence of the densest river deposits recorded to date. These deposits are believed to date from water that flowed on the surface over 3.5 billion years ago. The channels and ridges formed by these ancient rivers are being studied in the hope that we can better understand the two evolutionary cycles of Mars and Earth, to see if links can be made.
With Cassini’s mission generating a colossal amount of data, scientists now have the opportunity to learn more about the environment of space, the evolution of numerous planetary moons, and the amount of water those moons and their commanding planets could hold now, or may have done in the past.
Will this information lead to mankind ultimately growing food- or even living- in Space? Only time will tell.
At the present time, one of the worst storms in American history, Tropical Storm Harvey (seen below at full strength), is laying waste to east Texas. It also generated the worst hurricane to hit Texas in fifty years and is causing unprecedented flooding in the city of Houston. The neighbouring state of Louisiana is also beginning to feel its effects. Harvey, which made first landfall as a category 4 hurricane, has brought flash floods and extreme winds across the land; claiming lives, destroying the environment, and damaging the long term economy. Tropical storms can include hurricanes as was originally the case here, or cyclones and typhoons, or a combination of all three. With them comes heavy rainfall, mudslides, and floods.
As tropical storms need intense heat in which to form, they only occur either just to the north or south of the equator, where the sea temperatures can reach up to 27ºC. Generating where the air above a warm sea rises, it is this combination of temperature between the water and the sky that causes the sort of atmospheric low pressure which can spark a tropical storm.
When superheated air rises, it begins to spin, forming the eye of a forthcoming storm. Once that air has risen it cools rapidly, condensing into massive clouds. Compacted air within these clouds creates areas of intense low pressure. In turn, that low pressure sucks at the air around it, creating incredibly strong winds. Only when the storm blows inland, where the air and ground cover are cooler still, do these major weather events begin to blow themselves out.
To make storm weather data easier to track and record accurately for future meteorologists and historians, tropical storms are given names. These names are alphabetical and alternate between male and female. It means that the next tropical storm in America will be given a female name beginning with the letter ‘I’.
Due to the erratic nature of the air pressure near the equator, it is very difficult to accurately predict the path a tropical storm will take. This means that evacuating people and livestock from a threatened area is not easy. For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, over 1,800 people died and 300,000 homes were destroyed before the area could be completely evacuated.
The social impact on an area hit by a tropical storm can often be major and long term. Power is often cut, with vast populations being left without electricity for many weeks, if not months after the storm has passed. Homes have to be abandoned and many will be destroyed entirely. Mass migration from the affected area leaves entire communities temporarily, or permanently, homeless. Neither is it certain that affected communities will return entirely. In fact it is more probable that a significant number will not. It is estimated that around 50,000 of the population left or did not return to New Orleans after Katrina. What will happen to Houston remains to be seen.
As well as homes, businesses, towns, farms and power stations are all vulnerable to destruction. The looting of abandoned homes and shops can also come from criminal and desperate locals alike. On a national level, resources such as petrol can’t be taken safely into a hurricane hot spot, which means fuel prices rise, as does the cost of food and clean water. Houston will be a prime example, as it produces a great quantity of the oil America runs on, let alone exports. Tourists also stop coming to the area, and as most places on the equator rely heavily on tourists from countries with cooler climates, the economic impact can be extreme. An industrial city like Houston might not feel this, but New Orleans certainly did.
If a tropical storm burns itself out quickly, then the environmental, social and economic costs can be quickly mitigated. When storms of the ferocity of Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey hit, however, the costs are far higher- and can take decades to overcome.
Primarily a visual communicator, a graphic designer is someone who creates eye catching concepts by hand or by using computer software. These images are used to communicate ideas, to inspire, or to inform, via an imaginative use of fonts, shapes, colours, images, print, photography, animation, logos and billboards.
A graphic designer cannot begin a project without first winning a commission from a client, be they an individual, a small business or a larger corporation. Therefore, a graphic designer will spend some time accessing the requests they’ve had for new work, and discussing ideas with their peers. Once they’ve chosen a project they’d like to work on, they will go over ideas with the client in order to make sure that they meet specifications.
Once a graphic designer has decided on a project he or she will develop a prototype for the design. Once that prototype, such as a logo, a menu, or a poster, had been finalized, the designer will present it to the client. A great deal of customer interaction takes place during a typical working day.
3) Finalizing a design
Using a variety of design elements, the graphic designer will develop the overall layout and production design for their client using both text and images. Graphic designers need an excellent eye for detail and a good understanding of popular trends in adverting and art to be able to pitch their designs correctly for each given project.
Often working alongside art directors and communication designers, the graphic design world has strong links with public relations, advertising and promotional work. As advertising and communication via social media becomes increasingly relevant in our day to day lives, the role of the graphic designer is also becoming more important. Consequently, it is essential for a graphic designer to always be up to date with the latest computer design software so that they can remain competitive in the graphic industry market place.
An architect’s day revolves around creating and developing designs for buildings (or entire settlements), and then communicating those design ideas to a client before either helping them make that design a reality, or adapting it into a real build possibility.
Typical tasks in the day-to-day of an architect include:
1) Tackling design problems
Often working as a team, time will be spent tackling spacial issues, a structures appearance, and cost, to make sure a design can go ahead to their client’s satisfaction. For example, a client might want a building to cover a certain amount of space and fulfil a number of functions. It is up to the architect to design the building in such a way that it meets those requirements.
2) Making drawings and 3-D computer models
Architects spend a lot of time making visual models and drawings of what proposed buildings will look like on completion. These models are mostly produced on the computer, and can be displayed as 2-D or 3-D pictures, allowing a client to see every angle of the design.
3) Coordinating with multiple different parties
Architects are the link between the clients who want the building constructed, the builders on the site, and the planning permission and council officers who might need to be involved in a property build. They also have to meet with other specialists, such as structural engineers, to make sure the build goes to plan.
Employment in the world of architecture is both challenging and exciting. You get to see your idea develop from an idea into a practical plan and schematic, then into an actual building, street, housing estate, town or city. It can be immensely rewarding and even influential to the character of a community.
Architects have to have very good attention to detail, as every part of their designs has to be perfect, or the buildings they are working on won’t work, or will be unsafe for use. Consequently the hours can be long in the quest to meet deadlines with flawless design plans.
From designer to budget manager, to customer liaison, an architect’s day involves a wide range of rewarding and challenging tasks.
Albert Einstein was born on March 14th, 1879 in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany. He was to go on to become the most celebrated physicists of all time.
Of a secular Jewish family, Einstein attended elementary school at the Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich. Einstein never settled at school and towards the end of the 1880s, Max Talmud, a Polish medical student became Albert’s informal tutor. It was Talmud who introduced Einstein to science.
Before he could finish his schooling, Einstein’s parents moved to Italy for better jobs. However, he chose to remain in Germany to finish his studies. This despite the fact that whilst he was good at maths and science, his teachers didn’t agree he was a worthy pupil. His Munich schoolmaster said “he will never amount to anything”. Hope for us all, perhaps.
Einstein went on to Zurich technical college. He graduated with only average marks, and two years later he was employed at a patent office in Bern. He found the work easy here, and was able to spend a good deal of his time thinking more about physics!
It was during this time that he wrote a paper entitled “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies”, which would later become known as Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. This showed that measurements of space and time were relative to motion, and this subsequently forced physicists to re-evaluate some of their most basic concepts.
As time passed, so Einstein’s fame and influence continued to grow. In 1915, he announced his most famous work, the General Theory of Relativity, which was the final culmination of an eight-year obsession with gravity. With its astonishing implications about the nature of time and space, it displaced Newtonian mechanics and shook the physics world. It suggested that space and time were one and the same and that gravity was not a force as Newton described, but rather the effect of objects bending space-time. His theory was given the weight of observational evidence when it was used to correctly predict anomalies in the orbit of Mercury; a problem that Newton’s theory of gravitation had been unable to resolve.
In 1919 the British physicist Arthur Eddington went to a small African island to observe the total eclipse of the Sun so that he could test Einstein’s theory; Einstein had predicted that gravity should bend light. The eclipse proved he was right, and our view of the Universe was changed forever. As a result of this and all his other work, Einstein was subsequently awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize.
Einstein continued to make substantial contributions to physics, including his desire to find a more complete and less complex theory for Quantum Physics. He sought to make sense of sub-atomic behaviour in a way that his general relativity theory could not.
Einstein died at the age of 76 on 18th April 1955, after suffering an abdominal internal bleed, which he refused to have treated. For all his successes, Einstein never was able to find a theory for Quantum Physics, though. He made a huge contribution to the way in which we understand the Universe, but with this failing, Perhaps some things are meant to evade the greatest of minds, though – it is a theory which still eludes physicists’ today.