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OpenLearn Live: 30th September 2015

Updated Wednesday, 30th September 2015

The man who keeps finding comets. And more free learning through the day.

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OpenLearn Live brings together your world, and the world of learning and research. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Yesterday, we explored Mars, rugby and asked if there was a way the Hajj could be made safer

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

Social sporting bodies

Kath Woodward returns to a post from the Olympic year, and explores why some bodies are more valuable than others:

Sport offers opportunities for success and for transcending the limitations of the body. Not all bodies are equal or treated equally in sport which is also about social inequalities and social divisions. It is not always a fair playing field and sport creates as well as reflects social divisions such as those based on gender, ethnicity and where you are in the world.

Read What's social about chasing the perfect sporting body?

Croatia's welcome to the refugees

Unlike some of its neighbours, Croatia is adopting a welcoming stance to the refugees arriving in Europe - and that is surprising to some observers. Why has Croatia abandoned its normally quite insular approach? History, as so often is the case, may hold the key:

On September 19, Hungary accused Croatia of “betraying Europe”. This negative message resonated psychologically. For many people in Croatia, the memory of war and mass displacement are not even a generation away.

For Croats, the television images of refugees walking through their country are reminiscent of those transmitted three decades ago. Then, their own country was mired in war and thousands of people were displaced. In the first half of the 1990s, Croats witnessed the disintegration of former Yugoslavia, and some of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.

Read Why is Croatia welcoming the refugees?

Sheep are like avalanches

A flock of sheep in the snow Creative commons image Icon John Shortland under CC-BY licence under Creative-Commons license

Androiods may or may not dream of electric sheep, but researchers have created some digital ones. Francesco Ginelli has produced a computer model of sheep behaviour. This isn't as easy as it might seem, because of the way sheep behave. In Discover Magazine, Elizabeth Preston explains:

Most of the time, a herd of sheep spreads slowly across an open area. The animals eat as they go. But every once in a while, a sheep near the periphery notices that it’s too isolated from the rest of the group. It suddenly sprints back toward the center, where it will be safer from predators. There’s no event that seems to trigger this movement, no “Baa!” of alarm; it comes out of nowhere. As the first sheep runs, others start to follow it, gathering mass like cascading pile of snow.

Yes, like snow. The upshot of the research is that sheep behave a bit like avalanches.

Read: How sheep are like an avalanche at Discover

Read: Do crowds behave like fluids?

Listen over lunch: National Gallery on Colour

A quick dip into the glorious archive of podcasts offered by the National Gallery today to come up with something interesting to listen to over lunchtime - two short programmes that were linked to last year's Making Colour exhibition.

In the first, discover how blue pigments were made for The Betrayal of Christ:

Now colour is sometimes used as a visual tool to enable us how to look and how to see, and so the robe of Christ is using ultramarine and the robe of Peter is using this different blue, also important, but subtly different and possibly also subtly inferior.

Listen to National Gallery podcast #93

In the second, the focus is on yellows and oranges:

There are not all that many pure orange pigments available to early painters, but there is a very interesting mineral, quite rare, called realgar and we have in the exhibition a painting by a Dutch flower painter called Rachel Ruysch and she has used realgar as a pigment to depict the large lilly, orange lilly, at the centre of the picture. One interesting thing about this material is that it’s exceedingly poisonous and so painters had to, you know, beware in their use of it – there’s a sort of health and safety issue there.

Listen to National Gallery podcast #94

Try our free course extract on colour

On iPlayer now: Countdown to Life

The full series of Countdown to Life, which explores how small changes in the womb can create the diverse range of different types of people all around us, is currently on iPlayer (the first episode is up for around another fortnight, and then they'll be vanishing on a weekly basis after that).

Watch Countdown to Life on iPlayer

Find out more about Countdown to Life - and how to order your free poster

Part time, full heart: Terry Lovejoy

This week, we're looking at some of the achievements people make part-time around their main jobs. Yesterday, we met Amelia Fletcher, who combines economics and indie pop. Today, we're heading south of the equator, where we find Terry Lovejoy.

By day, Terry is an IT expert. But by night - and to a certain extent, it has to be by night - Terry is an astronomer. And he's a really successful one, too - to date, he's found five comets. This was the most recent of his discoveries:

The comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy Creative commons image Icon under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy

Terry gave an interview about his astronomy to Scientific American where he generously suggested his high strike rate in being first to spot comets was because there were fewer people looking for them in the Southern Hemisphere. Asked by the magazine if he gets enough sleep, between astronomy and IT, he said that he manages eight hours most nights, but "sometimes it's interrupted." He also gave some really good advice for people who fancy having a go at amateur astronomy for themselves:

Don’t be too serious about it. Often people go out and buy all the best equipment and then realize it’s not for them, or they burn out and get overwhelmed by it. My advice is that people start fairly simple and not spend lots of money. Just go and buy some binoculars or a small Dobsonian telescope and then develop your own interest that way. Some people go and buy too large a telescope. There’s not much point if you can’t move it or get it into your car. There are also people who say you’re not an amateur astronomer unless you’re doing serious observations and I think that’s wrong as well. You’re doing this for enjoyment. The serious stuff can come later.

Having fun. It's something it's too easy to forget.

Want to start to explore the skies? Try our virtual planisphere

Want to study astronomy part-time? See what the OU has to offer





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