Most beautiful astronomy photographs

    One of the areas of photography that is fast becoming popular is the photography of astronomy. Galaxies - some 20 million light-years away - are too faint and distant for the human eye to register their hues, but long photographic exposures allow us to appreciate their colorful nature.

Encouraging this field of photography is England's Royal Observatory Greenwich with their Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest. The Royal Observatory Greenwich is the spot where the Prime Meridian line is drawn, separating the eastern and western hemispheres of Earth. The observatory, which was founded in 1675, is also where Greenwich Mean Time is kept.

Last years' contestants for the competition came from all around the world, submitting photos ranging from surreal green streaks through the sky caused by the northern lights over Canada, to an eerily red-looking moon captured during a lunar eclipse and glowing stars, gas and dust in the star cluster IC 1396.

The diversity of locations is not just limited to Earth. Photographers have also captured sights from across our solar system, galaxy and beyond; from detailed mosaics of our moon's surface, to shimmering dust columns in distant nebulae and out beyond the Milky Way to the swirling Andromeda Galaxy.

Shortlisted entries included a breath-taking view of stars over snow-covered Japanese mountains; the full Moon setting behind a historic abbey on Mount Pirchiriano in Italy; a meteor streaking through the sky above a rock formation in Utah, USA; and a group of friends stargazing at a caravan site in the Gower Peninsular, South Wales.

The final winners of each category were - Deep Space (and overall winner) : M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy, Martin Pugh (UK/Australia); Earth and Space : Star Icefall, Masahiro Miyasaka (Japan); Our Solar System : Transit of Venus 2012 in Hydrogen-Alpha, Chris Warren (UK); People and Space : Venus-Jupiter Close Conjunction, by Laurent Laveder (France); Young Astronomy Photographer : Pleiades Cluster, Jacob von Chorus (Canada); Best Newcomer : Elephant's Trunk with Ananas, by Lorand Fenyes (Hungary); and Robotic Scope : The Sunflower Galaxy, by Thomas Read (UK).

Source: Royal Observatory Greenwich

Astrology Photographer of the year 2012

Paths of hurricanes mapped

Data visualisation expert John Nelson, has compiled a map that shows the location and intensity of every hurricane and tropical storm recorded since 1851. Using a database accumulated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Nelson has incorporated more than 12 000 data points into his infographic.

NOAA keeps an archive of storm paths with wind speed, storm name, date etc and are always updating and refining information for past events based on historical evidence and educated hunches.

The map uses the Saffir-Simpson scale, which ranks hurricanes by maximum wind speeds from category 1 - slower than 153 kilometres per hour - all the way up to category 5, in which wind speeds can top 252 km per hour. The weaker storms are represented by blue dots, with the stronger ones marked in electric green.

Nelson chose an unusual bottom-up view of the Earth, with Antarctica at the centre, because he found it best represented the patterns underlying hurricane formation. One particularly striking feature is the total absence of data points around the Equator, the black band between the two coloured circles. This is because the Coriolis force, essential in hurricane formation, is too weak to operate at equatorial latitudes.

Detection has skyrocketed since satellite technology but mostly since storms in the eastern hemisphere have been logged, and with the benefit of more data, results in the proportionality of storm severity becoming more consistent year to year.

Source: Government Technology, IOL and John Nelson's Blog

Hurricane paths

The new safe (all natural) sugar

Xylitol was discovered almost simultaneously by German and French chemists in the late 19th century and was first made popular in Europe as a safe sweetener for people with diabetes. The benefits of its use in dental care was researched by scientists at Turku University in Finland in the early 1970s.

Xylitol is 100% natural (unlike the artificial chemicals aspartame and sucralose) and can be found in the fibres of many fruits and vegetables. It can be extracted from various berries, oats and mushrooms, as well as fibrous material such as corn husks, sugar cane bagasse and birch. It also occurs naturally in our bodies - in fact, an average size adult manufactures up to 15 grams of xylitol daily during normal metabolism.

Chemically speaking, xylitol differs from other sweeteners such as sorbitol, fructose and glucose because its molecule has five, instead of six, carbon atoms. The industrial production of the end product that we consume starts from xylan (a hemicellulose) extracted from hardwoods or corncobs, which is hydrolyzed into xylose and catalytically hydrogenated into xylitol.

One gram of xylitol contains 2.4 kilocalories (Cal), as compared to one gram of sugar, which has 3.87 Cal. Xylitol has virtually no aftertaste and is advertised as safe for diabetics and individuals with hyperglycemia as the body does not require insulin to metabolise it. Due to the lower effect of xylitol on a person's blood sugar (compared to that of regular sugars) it has been classified to have a very low glycemic index of 7 (glucose has a GI of 100).

Xylitol is a non-fermentable sugar alcohol that appears to have more dental health benefits than other polyalcohols. The structure of xylitol contains a tridentate ligand (H-C-OH)3 that can rearrange with polyvalent cations like Ca2+. This interaction allows for Ca2+ to be transported through the gut wall barrier.

Most bacteria and yeast in the mouth are unable to make use of Xylitol, and in addition to starving harmful bacteria of their food source, the use of xylitol raises the pH of saliva in the mouth. When pH is above 7, calcium and phosphate salts in the saliva start to precipitate into those parts of enamel where they are lacking, remineralising enamel before dental caries form, and resulting in some cases with the arrest and even some reversal of existing dental caries.

Research shows that xylitol also helps prevent bacteria and irritants from adhering to upper respiratory passages when used as a nasal wash. Studies have also shown that 8 grams of xylitol taken orally every day, prevented about 40% of ear infections.

Sweet Nothings is a product that is available to South African consumers in most popular food stores like Pick 'n Pay, Spar and Woolworths.

Note : Xylitol is not safe for animal consumption

Source: Wikipedia, Xylitol website and Sweet nothings FB page


Watching the sun set over Paarl Rock

One of the nicest things about being in the Wellington area (other than the beautiful scenery) is the wide selection of wine farms to visit, picnic, wine taste and dine at. One wine farm that definitely stands out above the rest in terms of its delicious food is a restaurant called Seasons.

The restaurant is set in the beautiful Diemersfontein Wine Estate, an idyllic wine estate only 45 minutes drive from Cape Town. Diemersfontein has belonged to the Sonnenberg family since the early 1940s, when David Sonnenberg's (current owner) grandfather, Max, bought the 183 hectare farm. Max Sonnenberg, with his son Richard (Dick), was the co-founder of Woolworths South Africa and a Member of Parliament in the Jan Smuts Government. He and his family used Diemersfontein as a country retreat and during the war years, Italian prisoners of war were housed in the farm cottages.

Richard took over the farm in the 1950s and became more involved in the farming operations. His wife Cecilia, a well known Cape Town actress and producer, was the co-founder of Maynardville Open Air Theatre, famous for its Shakespearian productions.

The first vineyards were planted by David's father in the 1970s, and in 2000 David built his own cellar and started producing award-winning estate wines. Vineyard plantings include Shiraz, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and also the lesser known varietals Viognier, Barbera, Roobernet and Mouvedre. Diemersfontein's maiden vintage (2001) won the Paul Sauer Trophy for a wooded Pinotage at the SA Young Wine Show and from that first vintage, awards have continued to be received by the Estate for many of their wines.

On this estate and in the shadow of the majestic Hawekwa Mountains with a panoramic view of both Du Toit's Kloof and Bains' Kloof, the Seasons Restaurant is a bright fresh contemporary restaurant that will tickle the liking of varying culinary tastes. It has appropriate seating locations depending on the weather - outside under light umbrellas for lunch, on their raised outside patio for evening drinks while watching the sun set over Paarl Rock, or inside in a cosy and warm ambiance.

In an area that has a large selection of meat dishes on their menus, Seasons is refreshingly unique with their delicious starter and main course dishes for those more orientated to enjoying a pescatarian or vegetarian palate.

Staff are friendly and make your time spent tasting their yummy foods more enjoyable by engaging with you on a personal basis. Their attention is well balanced between ensuring you are served timeously and providing you with quality time to enjoy the company and conversations of those with you.

Contact them on 021 864 5060 for a booking or visit their website.

Diemersfontein - Seasons restaurant

Hot News

New products!

We have added a whole lot of pots, urns, vases, troughs, tables, benches, chairs to our online product catalogue. Each of these items are of excellent quality and can be ordered for delivery through Living Matter.

Contact us for more information on the product or for appropriate colour swatches.

Featured Plant

Dais Cotinifolia

Dais Cotinifolia
(Pompon tree)

Family :


Description :

Indigenous tree to 6m with pompons of pinks flowers.

Flowering time :


Conditions :

  • Full sun
  • Average water
  • Deciduous
  • Wind resistant
  • Frost resistant
  • Well drained soil

View more detailed information on this plant in our plant directory.

Wine of the month

Wine of the month

White Zinfandel 2010

Winery : Blaauwklippen
Winemaker : Rolf Zeitvogel

Description :

Off-dry Blanc de Noir with a beautiful salmon tinge as made from rare red grapes in South Africa, Zinfandel.

Aroma : Layers of peach apricot and quince on the nose.

Palate : Refreshing palate with all the wonderful notes from the nose following through.

Winemaking : Whole bunch pressed grapes followed by slow and cold fermentation. Wine matured on lees adds mouthfeel and texture.

Food Pairing : Enjoy with summer salads, seafood, blue cheese, or by the glass whilst enjoying the sunset.

If you want to purchase or require more information on this wine, or if you are interested in a private or corporate tasting, please email Karen or visit her website.

Planting Guide

Herb or Veggie

Seeds can be sown or plants can be planted for the following herbs and veggies this month:


  • Beans
  • Beetroot
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumber
  • Leek
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Swisschard
  • Turnips
  • Herbs

  • Basil
  • Coriander
  • Chives
  • Chamomile
  • Dill
  • Mustard
  • Oreganum
  • Parsley
  • Rocket
  • Thyme
  • Watercress
  • View our full planting plan in our resources section of our website.

    Brain Teaser

    We all love a chance to test our own brain capacity with brain teasers. Try see if you can figure out this one...

    Brain Teaser

    January's Teaser Answer :
    "Flat Tyre"


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    Contact Cheral:

    Cell: 082 82 509 82