28 February, 2011

Venus.....The Star of Dawn & Dusk

Venus is the second planet from the Sun and according to the size, the sixth largest of all. It is named after the Roman goddess of love, beauty and fertility who plays a key role in many mythological Roman religious festivals. Some people are of the view that ancient people named it after the Roman goddess of love and beauty because it shines much more brightly than all the other planets in the solar system. After the moon, it is the second brightest natural object in the night sky. If you want to observe Venus on the night sky, you must find it in the western sky in the evening and at other times in the per-dawn eastern sky. This is why some people name it Morning and sometimes evening star. Some also call it Dawn and Dusk star.

Sometimes people call it earth's sister planet because on one hand it is about the same size as our earth and on the other hand it is very much similar to earth. Some astronomers are of the view that earth and Venus were twin planets in the beginning but separated later.
Although Venus is the closest planet to Earth, it is difficult to study because almost all of its surface is completely covered by a thick layer of opaque clouds. This dense layer of clouds  does not allow much sunlight to reach its surface. They also play an important role in keeping its surface very hot. Now the question is from where does the heat come when there is a considerably thick layer of clouds covering its surface from all sides. Answer to this question lies in the great number of active volcanoes covering its surface. whats more surprising is more than 80 % of its surface is covered with smooth volcanic plains which is enough to increase its temperature up to 464 degrees Celsius. The highest clouds, by contrast, have a daily range of 25 to  -149C.
Of all the members of the solar system, Venus is also closest to Earth in size. In fact, Earth and Venus were once regarded as sister planets. Some scientists and astronomers have suggested that Venus could support some form of life, perhaps in the clouds around it. However, its atmosphere is not suitable for human life as people can not breathe on it.
It completes its one orbit around the sun in about 224.7 Earth days
Until now Several spacecraft have visited it and sent back information about its surface and the clouds around it. The journey of research on Venus started with Mariner 2 in 1962 but most of its secrets were revealed in 1990-91 in Project Magellan. According to some the planet is about 300 to 600 million years old Away from the space probes The immensely powerful Hubble Space Telescope has also provided considerable information about the planet.

With the help of images sent back by Hubble Space Telescope Scientists have come to know that the surface of Venus is marked with hundreds of large meteor craters. These craters suggest that since the planet come into being, its surface has changed in a different way from Earth's surface. Earth has only a few large craters that are easy to recognize while the number of craters on Venus is considerably large.
Venus is different from Earth in another way too. Our earth has got a moon while we don't find one around Venus.
Scientists have classified it in the list of terrestrial planets, which means it is one among the planets similar to our earth. Away from its size and rocky surface, its gravity is also almost equal to our earth. Its diameter is only 650 km less than earth while mass is 81 % of our earth. 

22 February, 2011

Chameleons.....The Coloured Lizards

Magical change of colour on a chameleon's skin
Chameleons belong to the family of lizards but they are unique enough because of the dramatic change of their skin colour. Many people believe that the chameleon has the ability to change its colour , whenever he wants, according to its surroundings. It is true that the colour of a chameleon's skin can change, but the fact is this change of colour is not as result of its own efforts or decision.  Its a totally involuntary act which happens automatically and chameleon does not need to play any active role to do so. The colour change is a form of camouflage, a disguise that lets something blend in with its surroundings. It helps the chameleon to avoid its enemies.
Baby chameleons as compared with human fingers

Chameleon's skin has colour-causing 'pigments that change under certain conditions. For instance, on a day when there is no bright sunlight, chameleons appear grey or green. Bright sunlight causes the skin to darken. On cool nights the colour fades to a creamy colour. The skin also changes colour when chameleons are excited, angry, or afraid.
There are many types of chameleon. About half of them are found only on the African island Madagascar. The others are found mostly south of Africa's Sahara desert, with another few in western Asia and southern Europe. The 'false chameleon', known as anole, is often sold in pet stores. This American lizard also changes colour, but not as dramatically as a true chameleon.
A beautiful blue chameleon
Chameleons live in trees and usually eat insects. They catch their prey with the help of their long and slender tongues. They shoot the tongue out, grab the prey on the sticky end, and then draw the it back into their mouth. Large chameleons also use their sticky tongues to catch birds.
Another unusual thing about chameleons is that each of their eyes can move independently of the other, so they can see in different directions at once. This makes it very hard to sneak up on a chameleon.
Some people are of the view  that the chameleon's eyes helped inspire the invention of the military turret. It is a revolving tower which  you can see today on the tops of tanks.

Dame Judi Dench......A Commanding Actress

Dame Judi Dench was born as Judith Olivia Dench in 1934. She is regarded as one of England's most famous and admired actresses.

She had her professional stage debut in 1957 when she played the role of Hamlet's love, Ophelia, in William Shakespeare's famous tragic play Hamlet . Her performance and delivery were so delicate and intelligent that the character came alive for audiences. Her performace was greatly admired by the audience there by  establishing her reputation as a good actoress from the day one.
She was a woman of  fairly small height but still she has been known for her commanding presene onstage and her domineering personality. She has acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company and other major theatres for years on end as most important actoress.
She has also played many major and memorable modern roles during her stage career. She is also knonwn for creating the role of the odd but lovable Sally Bowles. It appeared in the first London production of the musical Cabaret (1968) but Shakespeare has been her all time specialty.

She has also performed a major role in James Bond movies thats why outside Great Britain, people probably know jer best for her role as the stern spy chief 'M' in the James Bond movies.
It was not before 1997 that the film Mrs. Brown brought her world wide international attention. She played Queen Victoria in that film. It proved a lucky chractor for her to bring her to fame internationaly. Then in 1998 she played another queen, Queen Elizabeth I, in the film Shakespeare in Love. For her great performance in this film she won an Academy Award for best supporting actress. She won the same award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) - one of many she was awarded.
The great strength that Dench communicates has marked her acting style. She is well known for giving touchingly personal life to the characters she plays, whether they are grand historical figures or everyday people. Her two popular television series, 'As Time Goes By' and 'A Fine Romance', show off her skill at playing the roles of ordinary women in an amazingly marvelous style.
Judi Dench has always considered the stage her first love. For her remarkable contribution to theatre and films, she was honoured with a knighthood as Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1988.

porcupines.... The Animal with Quills

cute baby porcupine on a tree
Porcupine is a small rodent like animal whose body is covered with long and sharp needle like quills.  Its name comes from the combination of two words meaning 'pig' and 'spines' which means a small pig like animal coved with spines or quills. 
Some of the porcupine's quills are attached in bunches while others are attached singly. Because of these quills the porcupines sometimes look very ferocious. They act as an important weapon to help it protect against enemies.

porcupice showing her quills to frighten an attacking tiger

 When threatened or faced with a challenging situation , a porcupine puffs out its quills. They easily come loose if touched and stick in an enemy's skin. They can cause injuries and painful wounds and may even kill if they make their way into vital organs or cause infection.
There are about as many as 25 species of porcupine, divided into Old World and New World porcupines.
an adult porcupine in the zoo cage

Old World porcupines include the crested porcupines of Africa, Asia and Europe. Long-tailed porcupines live in Asia. Brush-tailed porcupines are mainly common in Asia and Africa.
 Porcupines like to live in a variety of home made in tree branches and roots, hollow logs, burrows, and caves. Old World species like to stay on the ground mainly.
Baby porcupines have very soft quills when they're born, kind of like cooked spaghetti but they stiffen quickly after the baby is born.
mother porcupine carressing her baby

Porcupines are most active at night. They eat almost any part of the tree they can reach including the hard bark or stem. Some of the porcupines are extremely choosy for food i.e the North American porcupines prefer a tender layer beneath the bark. In trying to get at it, they may chew away the bark in a ring, which kills the tree. Porcupines sometimes gnaw antlers and wooden tools and handles of different things from the hand of a saucepan to the paddles of a boat. It likes to gnaw at it for the sake of salt and oil they contain.

20 February, 2011

Braille....The Books to Touch

Louis Braille
About 175 years ago in France, a young man named Louis Braille thought of a way to help blind people read and write. He was himself blind and could not see. He had hurt his eyes when he was just only 3 years old. His father was a carpenter. One day while working with his tools he happened to go outside. Little Louis who was playing nearby came there and started playing with the tools. Just then he happened to pierce one of his eye with a sharp  pointed tool thus blinding himself. Later on the infection caused to blind his other eye as well.

Fortunately, Louis was a clever child. When he was only 10 years old, he won a scholarship to the National Institute for Blind Children in Paris.
reading the braille book with finger
At the school Louis came to know about how Captain Barbier, an army officer, had invented a system of writing consisting of dots arranged in different patterns. It was called 'night writing', and it helped soldiers read and understand messages in the dark. These messages consisted of small bump-like dots pressed on a sheet of paper. The dots were not only easy to make but also could be felt quickly and conveniently.

Braille alphabet, punctuations marks & numbers
Louis decided to develop a similar alphabet system for blind comprising of  similar dot patterns. He named this alphabet braille. In the beginning people did not give much importance to it and it took a lot of time to be accepted but eventually it proved a great success. 

His alphabet used 63 different dot patterns to represent letters, numbers, punctuation, and several other useful signs. People could even learn music with the help of these dot patterns.

Today this system of alphabet is used all over the world to educate blind people. 
In an Braille book, the tips of your fingers would be able to cover each small group of dots.
On their Web site, the American Foundation for the Blind has a great area where you can learn Braille yourself. If you want to learn braille log on to http://afb.org/and click on 'Braille Bug'.

19 February, 2011

Gorillas....The Fierce Looking Apes

A fierce looking adult gorrila

Gorillas, although, look ferocious but they are actually very quiet and shy animals. They live in large family groups in the thickest parts of jungles, away from the less dense parts where they are not likely to be disturbed. Each group contains of a few father gorillas, some females and a large number of kids
A large gorrila family group napping in its nest

At night, the father gorillas sleep on the ground while the mother and baby gorillas sleep in big nests of sticks and leaves. Sometimes they sleep in the lower branches of trees, where they are safe from prowling animals and other beasts.
Baby gorrila enjoying sun on the branch of a tree

If you were to go near a gorilla's territory, the male head of the group would try to protect his family. His first move would be to beat his chest, grunt, hoot, shout and roar to scare you away. Rather than confronting the intruder , it would hope to scare him away by such aggressive moves.

Gorrilla family unit with a fierce male member ahead

A gorilla's feet, hands, and wrinkled face are bare and black. Its arms are very long in comparison with its body and other most of other animals. They almost touch the ground, even when it is standing up. A gorilla's fur may be short or long, depending on where it lives. The short-haired gorillas are found in the hot and damp jungles of western Africa while the long-haired ones are found in the cooler regions of  high mountains in central Africa. There are not many gorillas of either kind left in the wild. Only a few of them are still found and those too in animal parks and man made sanctuaries.
Mother gorrilla cuddling her baby

Gorillas and chimpanzees are the closest living animal 'relatives' to humans. Along with the bonobos and the orang-utans, these animals make up the 'great apes'. Like the other great apes, gorillas are very clever and can solve problems. They have good memories, and some can even learn sign language. 

18 February, 2011


A Grandscale Musical Play
An Opera play being enacted on the stage.

Just like a stage drama, an opera is a story acted out onstage but in an opera the performers do not read out their dialogues rather they sing their lines. An opera is also different from a musical play or drama because opera performers usually don't speak at all. All of their dialougues have to be sung. Their songs  don't happen between conversations, but rather their songs are the conversation. Just like the songs and poetry the music an orchestra plays for an opera is as important to the overall effect of it.
Traditional operas tell a big story in a grand way. The story is usually serious, with a strong and evenly woven plot but there are some comic operas also doing well. Many operas tell tragic tales of lovers who are kept apart or the life stories of great kings or emperors.
Sidney Opera House in Australian Capital Sidney.

Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde is one of these. Some operas, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Magic Flute, tell stories of mystery and enchantment. Comic operas, such as Giaocchino Rossetti's The Barber of Seville, often feature silly situations and people trying to provide comic relief to the audience.
In the late 1800s, W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan wrote comic operas that made fun of people from various walks of life. One of the most popular of their light operas, or operettas, was The Pirates of Penzance. But today's opera composers continue the dramatic spirit of classic opera, even though their subjects are no longer of the same great intensity or seriousness, rather they have changed greatly.
A special form of opera called Jinxi or Peking Opera developed in China during the mid-19th century.
In this Jingxi or Peking opera performers use larger-than-life or unrealistic movements to portray their character. The rhythmic beating of clappers marks time for movements, and the performance may feature acrobatic fighting scenes.
Classic operas are usually performed in the language they were written in. Today, if the audience doesn't speak the language of the opera, the opera company may show the singers' words in the audience's language on a screen above the stage.

16 February, 2011

Silent Stalkers of the Sea

Because they are meant to spend most of their time underwater, submarines are designed and built quite differently from other ships.
Submarines must be airtight so that water can't get inside them when they submerge. They also need to have strong bulls because the pressure of seawater at great depths is strong enough to crush ships. And submarines need special engines that don't use air when they are underwater. Otherwise, they would quickly run out of air and shut down! So most modern subs are powered by electric batteries when they're submerged. Some are powered by nuclear energy.
Because a submarine is completely closed up, it must have special instruments to act as its eyes and ears underwater. A periscope is a viewing device that can be raised up out of the water to allow the submarine officers to see what is around them. Another special system, sonar, 'hears' what is under the water by sending out sound waves that bounce off everything in their path. These echoes send a sound-picture back to the sub.
But why build submarines in the first place? Well, submarines hve been very useful in times of war. They can hide underwater and enemy ships by surprise.
Submarines have peaceful uses too. Scientists use smaller submarines, called 'submersibles', to explore the buge ocean floors and the creatures that live there. People also use submersibles to search for sunken ships and lost treasure. The luxury liner Titanic was discovered and explored with a submersible 73 years after it sank in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Nautilus, the first nuclear sub, was once caught by a fishing net. The fishing boat and its unhappy crew were towed for several kilometres before the situation was sorted out.

15 February, 2011


The All Time Great Dramatist

William Shakespeare is considered to be the greatest playwright in the English language and one of the most beloved playwrights in the world.
Not much is known about Shakespeare’s life. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in 1564, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. In his late 20s, Shakespeare went to London and joined a theatre troupe. He also began to write plays.
Over the next 20 years, he wrote 38 plays and many poems. His writings  tell us that he knew a lot about human feelings, as well as about both city and country life. He had a deep insight into human psychology. Most of this stories were based upon old stories but still his characters and the way he told their stories attracted crowds of people to the Globe Theatre, where his troupe often performed. Four hundred years later, people still enjoy reading Shakespeare’s plays and seeing them onstage and in films. They quote his most famous lines (such as ‘To be or not to be’) and laugh and cry along with his characters. Shakespeare’s plays have remained popular for several reasons. His characters show realistic human emotions. His plots are often complicated, but they always hold the audience’s attention. And his language is powerful and poetic.
Some of Shakespeare’s plays, such as Hamlet, have very sad endings. They are called ‘tragedies’. Others, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are full of silly plots and have happy endings. They are the ‘comedies’. Other Shakespeare plays, such as Julius Caesar or Henry V, are based on real-life figures and events. These are the ‘histories’. And some plays, such as Romeo and Juliet, have a little bit of everything: romance, comedy, and tragedy.

Shakespeare was so imaginative in his use of language that he created, or ‘coined’, over 2,000 words or sayings that people have used since.

12 February, 2011

When Water Tears the Stone

           Caves are natural openings in the Earth large enough for a person to get in. According to some the term 'Cave' can be applied only to a place some part of which remains in total darkness but in popular usage this name is given to any cavity in the earth either made by flowing water, eruption of volcanoes or even the melting of a glacier from inside. Most of the caves on earth have been made when rainwater or streams have worn away rock – usually a softer rock such as limestone. This process of wearing-away is called ‘erosion’ and the caves formed in this process are called solutional caves. Usually acidic water causes them to form.
            Even if water is not acidic, over millions of years, it weas away the soft rock, making a small tunnel-like opening inside. As more and more rock wears away, the opening grows even wider and deeper until in time, many of these openings become huge caves, or caverns.
            Mammoth Cave-Flint Ridge in Kentucky, U.S. is one of the longest in the world. It is a linked system of caves and caverns about 555 kilometers long.  In France the Jean Bernard Cave is considered the largest cave on our blue marble: planet earth. Though it is much shorter (17.9 kilometres long), than Mammoth Cave-Flint, it is considered as the deepest cave in the world. It reaches down more than 1,535 meters (meaning an enormously deep natural formation).
            Some caves have beautiful craggy formations called ‘stalactites’ that hang from the cave’s roof like beautiful ornametal decoration pieces. These are made by water seeping into the cave. Each drop leaves a very tiny bit of dissolved rock on the ceiling of the cave. After thousands and thousands of years, an icicle-shaped stalactite forms.
            When water drips to the cave’s floor, it deposits small particles of solids. These slowly build up into a stalagmite, which looks like an upside-down icicle.
            There are other kinds of caves that are made in different ways. When lava flows out of a volcano, it sometimes leaves gaps, making volcanic caves. When ice melts inside a glacier, glacier caves result. And ocean waves pounding on the shore year after year can wear away a cave in the face of a cliff.