Archive | September 2016

So long, Rosetta

So, the long journey is over. The Europeans Space Agency’s probe Rosetta was purposely crashed into the surface of (deep breath) Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko just a few minutes ago, landing just 40 m away from its intended target. It now joins the doughty, though ill-fated lander module Philae on the surface of the comet.

Rosetta’s OSIRIS wide-angle camera captured this image at 11:49 GMT yesterday (29 September 2016) when Rosetta was 22.9 km from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Photograph: Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rosetta’s OSIRIS wide-angle camera captured this image on 29 September 2016 at 11:49 GMT yesterday when Rosetta was 22.9 km from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Photograph: Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rosetta sent many fantastic images back to us here on earth, and the close-up details of the comet’s surface on her descent are amazing.

Single frame enhanced NavCam image taken on 29 September 2016 at 22:53 GMT, when Rosetta was 20 km from the centre of the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The scale at the surface is about 1.7 m/pixel and the image measures about 1.7 km across. ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Single frame enhanced NavCam image taken on 29 September 2016 at 22:53 GMT, when Rosetta was 20 km from the centre of the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The scale at the surface is about 1.7 m/pixel and the image measures about 1.7 km across. ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera captured this image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 01:20 GMT from an altitude of about 16 km above the surface during the spacecraft’s final descent on 30 September.   The image scale is about 30 cm/pixel and the image measures about 614 m across.   Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera captured this image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 30 September at 01:20 GMT from an altitude of about 16 km above the surface during the spacecraft’s final descent . The image scale is about 30 cm/pixel and the image measures about 614 m across. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta's OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016, 11.7 km from the surface. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta’s OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016 at 05:25 GMT, 11.7 km from the surface. The image scale is about 22 cm/pixel and the image measures about 450 m across. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta's OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016, 8.9 km from the surface. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta’s OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016 at 06:53 GMT, 8.9 km from the surface. The image scale is about 17 cm/pixel and the image measures about 350 m across. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta's OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016, 5.8 km from the surface. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta’s OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016 at 08:18 GMT, 5.8 km from the surface. The image scale is about 11 cm/pixel and the image measures about 225 m across. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

8.21 GMT 30 Septe,ber 2016.

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta’s OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016 at 8.21 GMT, 5.7 km from the surface. The image scale is about 11 cm/pixel and the image measures about 225 m across. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Modern art, or Rosetta scans?

Modern art, or Rosetta scans of its landing site? Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The view 1.2 km from the surface.

OSIRIS narrow-angle camera shot of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko captured from an altitude of about 1.2 km on 30 September at 10:14 GMT. The image scale is about 2.3 cm/pixel and the image measures about 33 m across.

The crash will have damaged mechanisms on Rosetta and as sunlight will be fading as the comet moves away from the sun, even if the solar panels and other equipment had survived the crash, the panels would not have been able to generate enough power to send any more data back. The scientists took readings all the way down on the descent, and decided not to fire thrusters to slow the descent for fear of the exhaust gases contaminating the readings taken on the way down.

Rosetta was due to touch down / crash at 11.38 BST (GMT +1), but because of the distance of the comet from the earth, confirmation took just over 40 minutes to get here, reaching us at 12.19 BST.

A fabulous end to an amazing mission. Space science at its best, indeed.

European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta blog.

Caught in a Kupittaan Kulta trap

I am a massive fan of Nordic jewellery, and especially the designs of Elis Kauppi (1921-2004) made by his firm of Kupittaan Kulta of Turku, Finland. One type of jewellery that Kauppi specialised in is the ‘trapped’ or ‘caged’ bead series, where spherical balls of semi-precious gemstones are caught in shell-like or barred or pronged or other sort of cage, enabling them to move but not escape. This type of kinetic jewellery dates from the 1960s and 1970s.

I am always keeping an eye out for these pieces, as they appeal to me so much, and I have a few in my Etsy shop at the moment.

Moss agate trapped bead, held by the four prongs. Designed by Elis Kapuppi for Kupittaan Kulta.

Pendant with a moss agate trapped bead, held by the four prongs. Designed by Elis Kauppi for Kupittaan Kulta. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

A small chrysoprase bead trapped in one of Eliss Kauppi's famous 'oyster' series. I have seen these ring with single, double and triple shells.

A small chrysoprase bead trapped in one of Elis Kauppi’s famous ‘oyster’ series rings for Kupittaan Kulta. I have seen these ring with single, double and triple shells. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Caged amethyst bead ina heart-shaped sterling silver cage, by Elis Kauppi for Kupittaan Kulta.

Caged amethyst bead in a heart-shaped sterling silver cage, a pendant by Elis Kauppi for Kupittaan Kulta. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

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Tiger’s eye trapped bead pendant by Elis Kauppi for Kupittaan Kulta. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

An aventurine bead held by four prongs, allowing the bead to move. Andother Elis Kauppi deign for Kupittaan Kulta. (NOW SOLD).

An aventurine bead held by four prongs, allowing the bead to swivel in its pretty trap. Another Elis Kauppi design for Kupittaan Kulta. (NOW SOLD).

Tiger's eye trapped bead pendant by Elis Kauppi for Kupittaan Kulta. Coming soon to my Etsy shop.

Another tiger’s eye trapped bead pendant by Elis Kauppi for Kupittaan Kulta. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

A simple supper: twice baked potatoes

This is a recipe from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall‘s wonderful cookery book River Cottage Veg Every Day!, which I tweaked a tiny bit. It’s a fab cheesy and very filling jacket potato supper, quick and easy to make.

Twice baked jacket potatoes.

Twice baked jacket potatoes.

I baked some medium sized spuds, whole and unpricked, for about an hour at 200 degrees C / 400 degrees F / gas mark 6.

Grated cheddar, soured cream, spring onions and chives.

Grated cheddar, soured cream, spring onions and chives.

In the meantime I mixed together a load of grated tangy mature cheddar (we love Keen’s, made nearby in Wincanton, Somerset, mostly because it is one of the best farmhouse cheddars out there, and partly because Chap is friends with the maker and truckles have been bought at the pub for mates’ rates ….), the best part of a pot of soured cream I had left over from another recipe that only called for a dollop; all the spring onions (scallions to USians) I could find in the veg drawer, chopped roughly, and a massive handful of chives, also chopped roughly. Plus loads of freshly ground pepper (no salt because the cheese is plenty salty already).

When the spuds are cooked (poke ’em with a skewer to test), cut them in half lengthways, and scoop out the centre. Mix this with the cheesy filling and put back in to the potato shells.

Ready to go back in the oven.

Ready to go back in the oven.

Cook for another 10-15 minutes, until as browned as you like them.

Hugh also adds butter to the mix, but I thought that would be dairy overkill, considering all the cheese and cream in there already …  He also recommends crisping off the shells in the oven for 10 mins before putting the filling in, which I did, but in my opinion this made them a bit too tough and dried out. So I’ll omit that step the next time. I added shedloads of chives, which his recipe doesn’t use, because we love them and we have three very large and healthy plants in a pot just outside the back door.

Hugh’s recipe can be found here in The Guardian: scroll right down as it’s the last one on the page.

Wollemi pine

Stories of scientific discoveries always pique my interest, especially when they are the discovery of a species or genus like the coelacanth, thought long-extinct. The Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) is one such discovery. This wonderful tree has only been known to science as a living specimen for 22 years: it was discovered in Australia in 1994 by a field officer with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (New South Wales), David Noble, in an isolated steep-sided gorge in the Blue Mountains. He was familiar enough with the flora of the area to realise that the tree in front of him was unlike any he had seen before. Scientists soon established it was a member of the family Araucariaceae, the same family as the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), and had previously been known only from fossil specimens. The new species was named after its discoverer.

Wollemi pines in their native habitat. © J.Plaza RBG Sydney.

Wollemi pines in their native habitat. © J.Plaza RBG Sydney.

King Billy, the world's largest Wollemi pine. © J.Plaza RBG Sydney.

King Billy, the world’s largest Wollemi pine. © J.Plaza RBG Sydney.

Fewer than 100 trees exist in the wild, and the population was clearly very endangered, and so a programme to increase specimen numbers was quickly put in place. Seeds were collected (via a brave volunteer dangling below a helicopter), and cuttings were taken. To try to protect the species, cuttings were distributed to botanic gardens around the world. A nursery in Cornwall was licensed to propagate the cuttings in the UK – Kernock Park Plants. We were very kindly given a plant by Dick Harnett, the proprietor of the nursery.

Our Wollemi pine, Dick, just after we got it in August 2009.

Our Wollemi pine newly potted up into a bigger pot, August 2009.

May 2010.

May 2010, with the growing bud at the top shedding its waxy protection.

Close up of the waxy cap that protects the growing bud over winter; the newly sprouting leaves are pushing it off. May 2010.

Close up of the waxy cap that protects the growing bud over winter; the newly sprouting leaves are pushing it off. May 2010.

Just a month later, June 2010. It grows fast!

Just a month later, June 2010. It grows very quickly!

The year's new growth is a much paler green.

The year’s new growth is a much paler green. June 2010.

Dick told us that the trees can grow quite happily in pots, but after a year or so the tree was putting on so much growth and I couldn’t bring myself to prune it to keep it in a suitable size for the pot. So I contacted Dr Wolfgang Bopp, the curator of the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum near Romsey in Hampshire, to see if the Arboretum would be interested in the donation of the tree. They already had two specimens, but given the rarity of the plant he was happy to accept it.

March 2011. At its new home in the Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum, near Romsey in Hampshire.

March 2011. Specimen 2010.0344 A at its new home in the Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum, near Romsey in Hampshire.

September 2016. Doing well!

September 2016. Doing well!

Another view, September 2016.

Another view, September 2016.

We went to visit the Gardens and ‘our’ Wollemi pine over the weekend, and it is doing really well.

Amethyst jewellery

I have always had a fondness for amethysts: something about the beautiful violet colour is so appealing. So no surprise that I seem to have accumulated a few pieces of amethyst jewellery for my Etsy shop …

Amethyst and sterling silver pendant, hallmarked Sweden 1970.

Amethyst and sterling silver pendant, hallmarked Sweden 1970. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Amethyst and sterling silver ring, hallmarked in Birmingham in 1973. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Amethyst and sterling silver ring, hallmarked in Birmingham in 1973. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Kultaseppa Salovaara amethyst and sterling silver pendant. A great piece of Finnish design from the 1970s.

Kultaseppa Salovaara amethyst and sterling silver pendant. A great piece of Finnish design from the 1970s. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Niels Erik From (NE From) amethyst and sterling silver ring.

Niels Erik From (NE From) amethyst and sterling silver ring. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

An amazing amethyst late Arts and Crafts ring, with seven magnificent amethysts.

An amazing amethyst late Arts and Crafts ring, with seven magnificent amethysts. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

A stunning Niels Erik From amethyst and sterling silver necklace.

A stunning Niels Erik From amethyst and sterling silver necklace. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Jugendstil amethyst and 935 silver brooch, with a ginkgo leaf design, possibly by Max Gradl of Pforzheim Germany. This is a great example of early 1900s German Art Nouveau.

Jugendstil amethyst and 935 silver brooch, with a ginkgo leaf design, possibly by Max Gradl of Pforzheim Germany. This is a great example of early 1900s German Art Nouveau jewellery. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Caged amethyst pendant necklace, by Elis Kauppi of Kupittaan Kulta, Finland.

Caged amethyst pendant necklace, by Elis Kauppi of Kupittaan Kulta, Finland. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Arts and Crafts style amethyst brooch, vintage lace pin.

Arts and Crafts style amethyst brooch, vintage lace pin. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Kultaseppa Salovaara amethyst and sterling silver pendant.

Kultaseppa Salovaara amethyst and sterling silver pendant; a lovely 1970s vintage Finnish piece of jewellery. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Amethyst is the birthstone for February.

Bringing our wildlife pond back to life

One of the first things we will do when / if we make another garden is put a wildlife pond in. Until we had our pond, we hadn’t realised how much it brings to a garden: not only do you get movement and light with the reflection of the skies (and cloudscapes), but it brings in a whole host of wildlife. Hedgehogs drink from it, birds bathe in it, frogs and newts breed in it, dragonflies and damselflies flit over it, lay their eggs and leave them to grow into the most Geiger-esque larvae (also called a nymph, though anything less nymph-like it’s hard to imagine). We used to spend hours pond watching.

Our pond 10 years ago, 1 June 2006.

Our pond ten years ago, 1 June 2006.

Gradually, over the years, the pond silted up. We weren’t the best at maintaining it, and an umbrella plant (Darmera peltata) I had put in the bog area to serve as a mini-gunnera gradually took over, shading the water. For the last three or four years we have had frogspawn but never tadpoles: something wasn’t working right in the pond. This summer it sprung a leak deep down and most of the water drained out.

Over the weekend at the beginning of the month we decided to take action. On the Saturday we undertook the VERY smelly job of emptying the last of the sludge out of the pond. We chucked it on to the surrounding flowerbeds to act as an organic mulch (and already as I write, the geraniums are forcing their way up through it). That we disturbed just one frog (Rana temporaria) and one immature common newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) was a sign of how poor a habitat it had become.

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I’m glad this blog doesn’t have smell-o-vision. The silt was very, very stinky.

Then we covered the old liner with some very thick dust sheets in case something had come through the old one to make it leak, and put a new liner over it. The pond took several hours to fill.

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Partially full, several hours later …

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As the pond was filling we were buzzed by a dragonfly – a female southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea). I don’t know how it detected the water, but it was straight on the case!

On the Sunday we edged part of the pond with stones and made a pebble beach, added three bags of pond soil, and replanted / threw in the few pond plants we’d salvaged from the previous incarnation, such as water forget-me-nots (Myosotis scorpioides) and Lesser spearwort (Ranunculus flammula), plus the ever-present duckweed.img_7092

Sludgey silt in the foreground.

Sludgey silt in the foreground. Plank to aid any beasties that might fall in.

Then we left it for a week, as work intervened. During that time the soil settled and the water cleared, frogs found the pond, and we saw our first greater water boatman (Notonectidae or Pleidae) and our first whirligig beetle (Gyrinidae), plus southern hawkers laying eggs on the few plants. Sadly the mosquitoes have also found the pond … Yesterday I bought some more plants, and as autumn is coming, the pond is complete for now.

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Turves laid to cover the liner.

Turves laid to cover the liner and create another easy access area for critters.

New plants added: Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga), bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) and Iris louisiana 'Her Highness'.

New plants added: brooklime (Veronica beccabunga), bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) and Iris louisiana ‘Her Highness’. I try to stick to British natives but couldn’t resist the iris.

It’s getting towards the end of the growing season so nothing will really happen until next spring – hopefully then we’ll have frogspawn that actually turns into tadpoles!

Update Sunday 18 September; We had a day out at the Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum near Romsey in Hampshire, and on the way back stopped at a specialist aquatic garden centre. Couldn’t resist the frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae), a yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea), and a water hawthorn / water hyacinth (Aponogeton distachyos: okay, I know this last one’s not a British native, but it’s so pretty …). The garden centre sold great ramshorn snails (Planorbarius corneus) at five for £2.50, but I was too mean to fork that out for them. So I was happy to see there were some snail eggs on one of the leaves of the Nuphar lutea plant we bought …

Mr Frog happily ensconced in the rejuvenated pond.

Mr Frog happily ensconced in the rejuvenated pond.

Elsie Higgins 1872-1953

I have just posted a package to one of my customers. I like to put postcards in with my parcels, and as my customer has already had one of my John Ruskin kingfisher postcards that I had printed as part of my (not-very competent) attempt at branding, I decided to send them another one, one of the large collection Chap and I recently bought at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. (The Museum is closing for a couple of years for its very exciting development and refurbishment, and so they were selling off all their cards and postcards for a song, and we can never resist a bargain!). The card I sent is A May Morning, by Elsie Higgins.

A May Morning, by Elsie Higgins. (c) Plymouth City Council: Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

‘A May Morning’, by Elsie Higgins. (c) Plymouth City Council: Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

All it said on the back of the card about the artist was ‘Exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1905. Oil on canvas, 43.2 x 68.5 cm’. There are no dates or biographical details given for Elsie. I wondered about her – was she a Glasgow Girl maybe? A bit of internet truffling was in order.

The Royal Academy of Arts: a Dictionary of Contributors and Their Work From Its Foundation in 1769 to 1904, Vol. 4, 1905 has been digitised and has an entry for her. It shows that she had three paintings exhibited at the RA (presumably the Summer Exhibition), one each in 1899, 1900 and 1901, titled Miss Edith Gorham, Summer time, and The rompers. It gives her title as Miss Elsie Higgins, and her address in 1899 as ‘Red House, Rye, Surrey’, in 1900 as ‘The Lynches, Salford [sic – Shalford], Surrey’ and in 1901 as ‘1, Rosebery Road, Bushey’. This was further googling gold, and for Rye up comes the site Portraiture in Sussex Before Photography: apparently Elsie was also a miniaturist. Her dates are given: born 1872, and flourished 1899-1901. Maybe those were the dates she flourished at miniature painting, but going on A May Morning she was clearly flourishing artistically for longer than that. She would have been about 33 when she painted A May Morning.

In (deep breath) British and Irish paintings in public collections: An index of British and Irish oil paintings by artists born before 1870 in public and institutional collections in the United Kingdom and Ireland by Christopher Wright, Catherine May Gordon and Mary Peskett Smith (2006), the entry for Elsie reads ‘Working Birkenhead, Cheshire (later Merseyside); Rye, Sussex, Shalford, Surrey, & Bushey, Hertfordshire, 1895-1916’ and it appears the only piece of hers in a UK art gallery or museum is A May Morning.

Googling Bushey brings about more and detailed information: Elsie was the life-long companion of fellow artist Edith Gorham (born September 1864, and who was deaf-mute from birth), and Elsie’s “portraits, miniatures and landscapes were shown between 1895 and 1916, including eleven times at the Royal Academy. A photo and report on her work appears in The English Illustrated Magazine of September 1907 ‘Some Lady Artists of Today’ … Edith and Elsie Higgins shared a house [in Bushey] on Merry [Hill] Mount for more than 40 years, until Edith died at the age of 66 [sic – 76] in June of 1941. She left an estate of £5,418, which passed to her friend Elsie, until Miss Higgins herself died in 1953.” (This information comes from a fascinating blog post about an 1832 map signed by Isaac Manley, who sailed as a young boy with Captain Cook on Endeavour – it’s very interesting, and well worth a read).

And that’s it, for now. I am sure there is much more information about her in various archives, but that’s all I could find out on the web about her so far.

If anyone has any more knowledge of Elsie, I’d love to hear. Did she study at an art school or was she self taught? What did she do for a living? How many paintings did she paint? Where are they?