Earth

The Moon Trees

Bicentennial_moon_tree

“Scattered around our planet are hundreds of creatures that have been to the Moon and back again. None of them are human.”—NASA

ORBITAL ORCHARD

On January 31, 1971, Apollo 14 lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, launching astronauts Edgar Mitchell, Alan Shepard, and Stuart Roosa to the moon. Roosa, an Air Force test pilot, had also served as a “smokejumper” for the U.S. Forest Service, parachuting out of planes to help put out forest fires. He and a colleague named Stan Krugman wanted to find out whether tree seeds would still grow after a trip to space.

With the approval of NASA, Krugman chose five varieties: sycamores, sweetgums, Douglas firs, redwoods, and loblolly pines. He chose most of them because they grow well all over the country, and chose redwoods because they are so well-known. He kept an identical group on Earth as a control. “The scientists wanted to find out what would happen to these seeds if they took a ride to the Moon,” said Krugman. “Would the trees look normal?”

APOLLO FORE-TEEN

Apollo 14 is famous for a different experiment: moon golf. While Roosa (and his 500 seeds) orbited in the Kitty Hawk command module 118 miles above the surface, Alan Shepard used a modified lunar collection device to send a few chip shots into the Fra Mauro crater. On the mission’s return to Earth, the seeds were accidentally exposed to a vacuum during decontamination procedures. They were “traumatized,” said Krugman, but after careful attention, they all started growing.

NASA gave away most of the Moon Trees—which is what they’re called—as part of America’s Bicentennial Celebration in 1976. One was planted in Philadelphia’s Independence Square by Roosa…

Humans May Have Accidentally Created a Radiation Shield Around Earth

NASA spends a lot of time researching the Earth and its surrounding space environment. One particular feature of interest are the Van Allen belts, so much so that NASA built special probes to study them! They’ve now discovered a protective bubble they believe has been generated by human transmissions in the VLF range.

VLF transmissions cover the 3-30 kHz range, and thus bandwidth is highly limited. VLF hardware is primarily used to communicate with submarines, often to remind them that, yes, everything is still fine and there’s no need to launch the nukes yet. It’s also used for navigation and broadcasting time signals.

It seems that this…

The first Cassini to explore Saturn was a person

Saturn
TWO CASSINIS The Cassini spacecraft has become famous for its stunning views of Saturn, including this image of the unlit side of the rings taken in 2012. But what do we know about the man Cassini was named for?

As the Cassini spacecraft plunges toward its death on Saturn, the world’s knowledge of the famous ringed planet continues to accumulate. Thanks to years of observations by the versatile probe, astronomers now know Saturn as intimately as macaroni knows cheese. But still hardly anyone outside the world of astronomy knows anything about Cassini — and I don’t mean the spacecraft, but the guy it was named for.

Gian Domenico Cassini was an Italian astronomer, born in Perinaldo in 1625, around the time that Galileo was battling the church over Copernicus’ revelation that the Earth orbits the sun. Cassini was attracted to poetry but was also good at math. He got his start in science via astrology, which back then was not considered quite as completely idiotic as it is today. In fact, astronomy itself was often supported by wealthy people in order to get better astrological forecasts. One such wealthy Italian, an amateur astronomer, was impressed with a pamphlet on astrology that Cassini had written; it earned him an invitation to work at the amateur’s observatory, near Bologna.

From the leading scientists at Bologna, Cassini learned the importance of using high-quality instruments to make the most precise measurements possible. His talents were soon recognized; by 1650 Cassini’s accomplishments and reputation earned him the chair in astronomy at the university in Bologna. He continued his research during the 1650s, taking a particular interest in comets.

Gian Domenico Cassini was an Italian astronomer who studied comets, the sun and solar eclipses. After mastering the moons of Jupiter, he turned to Saturn.

Cassini was an old-school conservative kind of scientist, not even inclined to take Galileo’s side on the Earth-orbiting-the-sun issue. Cassini preferred Tycho Brahe’s position that the other planets orbited the sun, but the sun then orbited the Earth. (Later Cassini accepted the Copernican sun-centered solar system, but only half-heartedly.) Cassini also was no fan of Newton’s law of gravity.

Cassini’s work as an eminent Italian scientist was not limited to astronomy. Called on to referee a…

Top 10 Guardians Of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the biggest movie in the world right now. Marvel fans and moviegoers alike are all abuzz with excitement over the legendary outlaw Star-Lord and his dysfunctional found family.

That family earned some new members in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but the Guardians of the Galaxy family of the Marvel Comics universe is even larger than that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With so many great Guardians to choose from how do you pick a favorite? It was difficult, but we did our best, and now we’re counting down the top ten members of the Guardians of the Galaxy ever.

10. Warlock

After saving the universe from the threat of Thanos in The Infinity Gauntlet and then watching over the Infinity Gems as the leader of the Infinity Watch, Adam Warlock had settled into a well-earned retirement.

However, when Ultron began conquering the galaxy with an army of Phalanx at his back, Warlock knew it was time to come out of retirement and defend the galaxy.

When the dust was clear and Ultron was finally defeated, Warlock stuck around. When Star-Lord announced that he was forming a team to keep the galaxy safe from future Annihilation-level threats, Warlock signed on as a founding member of the modern Guardians of the Galaxy.

Warlock

9. Mantis

Mantis was born the daughter of Libra, a criminal turned religious ascetic. She was once considered a candidate to become the “Celestial Madonna,” a cosmic goddess of light.Though she never attained that title, she has a host of other capabilities.

She earned the name Mantis by excelling at her martial arts training. When it comes to hand-to-hand combat, she’s on par with the best that the Marvel Univers has to offer.

Mantis also has a host of psychic abilities. She primarily uses psychic emphatic to read the feelings of others but is also capable of psychic feats such as precognition, astral projection, and pyrokinesis.

Mantis has been an Avenger and Guardian of the Galaxy. Currently, she is a member of the Knowhere Corps, the hero team that maintains the peace on Knowhere.

Mantis

8. Moondragon

Moondragon was born Heather Douglas, the daughter of Arthur Douglas who has now known as Drax the Destroyer. Like her father, Moondragon considers Thanos to be her mortal enemy.

Moondragon is a telepath and gifted martial artist, capable of defeating even a master like Mantis. Before she was a Guardian of the Galaxy, Moondragon worked alongside Adam Warlock as a member of the Infinity Watch, helping to keep watch over the powerful Infinity Gems.

Moondragon worked with the other cosmic heroes during the Annihilation events and later joined her father as a member of Star-Lord’s Guardians of the Galaxy. These days she’s a part of the Knowhere Corps.

Moondragon

7. Starhawk

Starhawk is a core member of the original Guardians of the Galaxy team from the year 3000 of the Earth-691 universe.

Starhawk is the daughter of Quasar and Ayesha. Is endowed with the powers fo the…

Why It’s Really Important The Watchers, Those Bald Guys With Stan Lee, Were In Guardians 2

The Watchers
Warning: spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are ahead!

had a lot of exciting and clever moments, but there was one in particular that was significantly more enjoyable to longtime Marvel fans than to casual viewers. While Rocket, Yondu and Kraglin were struggling to stay conscious as their ship made 700 jumps, one of the areas of the MCU cosmos they passed by was where Stan Lee in an astronaut’s suit was telling a group of tall, bald humanoids about his exploits on Earth. This moment, and the post-credits scene that came later, confirmed that Lee has been playing the same character in all his MCU cameos, but more importantly, it officially introduced the Watchers, a.k.a. the bald guys, into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While their inclusion in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was more of a throwaway gag, in the grand scheme of things, bringing in The Watchers could have big implications for the franchise, namely with how tied they are with this universe’s history.

In the Marvel Comics universe, the Watchers are one of the oldest species in the universe, and they have one primary purpose. Can you guess what this is? Yes, as the name clearly states, they’re tasked with observing civilizations across the universe, recording all events with their advanced technology. Millions of years ago, they attempted to help an alien race by bestowing them with advanced knowledge, but that act eventually led to the race’s self-destruction. As a result, the Watchers as a whole declared that they are not allowed to interfere in events on any world. They are literally only allowed watch what happens in their respective sectors. The Watchers are primarily represented in the comics by Uatu, who was assigned to observe Earth and its solar system, but has broken the non-interference policy to help our world’s heroes and citizens.

Stan Lee as FedEx deliveryman in Captain America: Civil War

Although Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 marked the Watchers’ first appearance in the MCU, there’s been a fan theory running for years that Stan Lee was a Watcher given that his character popped up in all of these movies, be it on Earth or an alien planet and looking the same age no matter what the year. While Lee in that astronaut suit clearly doesn’t look anything like a legitimate Watcher, those scenes were a fun nod to what fans had been speculating about, and they also set up that his mysterious character has a relationship with…

Will Peter Quill Return To Earth?

Spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ahead.

When we were first introduced to Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), we saw the eight-year-old child at the side of his mother’s deathbed during the opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy. Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) laid in a hospital bed succumbing to a brain tumor as Peter looked on.

As she took her final breath, an understandably upset Peter ran outside, where he was quickly beamed into a spaceship we later find out belonged to none other than Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker). The moment Peter was taken by Yondu remains to be Peter’s last moment on Earth, so far.

During the events of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — the highly-anticipated sequel — movie-goers learned that the brain tumor that eventually took Meredith Quill’s life wasn’t naturally occurring. The tumor was in fact created by Peter’s biological father Ego (Kurt Russell), so that he wouldn’t have to visit Earth any longer.

Upon Ego’s revelation of essentially murdering his former lover, Peter blasted away Ego’s human avatar in a fit of rage. As the final act of Vol. 2 progressed, Peter & Co. fought Ego and eventually succeeded in destroying the sentient planet.

Over the course of the two Guardians movies, Peter lost both biological parents as well as the man he called his dad. He found out his mother was killed by his father. He played a major part in helping his friends destroy his father so that he could no longer hurt anyone. To cap it off, Yondu — the man that raised him from childhood into an adult, just so he wouldn’t have to find out the truth about his real father — sacrificed himself so that Peter could live.

During the events of…

How marvelling at the wonders of our planet can feed our souls

Wonder is part of the joy of being alive. But whether on far-flung shores or closer to home, we need to nurture it

Wonder is fine dining for the soul. There is no other animal on Earth, as far as we know, that can marvel at the planet like we can; that feels awe and humility, that is moved to tears by the sheer beauty of a sunset or the magnificence of the stars at night. Wonder is what makes us who we are. It drives us to explore, question and connect. And it is that impetus, to fill the world with all the possibilities of our imagination, that has carried us so far. Wonder is the pure joy of being alive. But we must nourish it for it to thrive.

That’s not always easy: there is a wonder deficit in our modern lives. We have become disconnected from our natural sources of awe. Our ancestors spent their days immersed in the splendour of nature and their nights blanketed by the vastness of the Milky Way. What was once our birthright has become a weekend luxury. Modern life is, in many ways, a relentless drive towards success. Every second is filled with information; the stars have been replaced by TVs and the natural world is seen only through computer screens. It has both swelled our egos and diminished our world: and it is causing us problems.

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Socrates said: “Wisdom begins in wonder.” Studies have shown that awe creates empathy and altruism. It helps us connect with others and the world around us in meaningful and lasting ways.

People experiencing awe showed more awareness of the present moment, an expanded sense of time, and improved cognitive processing abilities. Wonder is not just a fleeting passion, it is a seed from which the best things in life grow. Art, science and philosophy are born from it. We learn through wonder; through the sheer joy of exploring and engaging with the world. Awe is a catalyst for growth.

Wonder transcends all boundaries, nationalities and beliefs. It is a conduit to our past, our future and to a sense of something greater than ourselves

But it may be more than that too. Contemporary psychological theories of awe suggest that what we may in fact be feeling is a momentary dissolution of the self. In the presence of great wonder – from a sunrise over the Grand Canyon to the kaleidoscopic colours of the Great Barrier Reef – our egos are literally dwarfed by the enormity of the experience. For a fleeting moment, we see the world as unaltered by trivialities. Awe is more than just an emotion. It is a snapshot of enlightenment.

Borobudur, a ninth century Buddhist temple in Indonesia. Image: Guillaume Flandre

That’s why we need more of it. If there is one sentiment my travel writing aspires to achieve, it is this: live life to the full and feed your spirit well. Imagine standing beneath the sweaty heat of the tallest waterfall on…

Japanese Space Agency’s Mission Aims To Uncover How Moons Of Mars Formed

NASA/JPL/Handout via Reuters

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced a mission to visit the two moons of Mars and return a rock sample to Earth. It’s a plan to uncover both the mystery of the moons’ creation and, perhaps, how life began in our Solar System.

The Solar System’s planets take their names from ancient Greek and Roman mythology. Mars is the god of war, while the red planet’s two moons are named for the deity’s twin sons: Deimos (meaning panic) and Phobos (fear).

Unlike our own Moon, Phobos and Deimos are tiny. Phobos has an average diameter of 22.2km, while Deimos measures an even smaller 13km. Neither moon is on a stable orbit, with Deimos slowly moving away from Mars while Phobos will hit the Martian surface in around 20 million years.

The small size of the two satellites makes their gravity too weak to pull the moons in spheres. Instead, the pair have the irregular, lumpy structure of asteroids. This has led to a major question about their formation: were these moons formed from Mars or are they actually captured asteroids?

Our own Moon is thought to have formed when a Mars-sized object hit the early Earth. Material from the collision was flung into the Earth’s orbit to coalesce into our Moon.

A similar event could have produced Phobos and Deimos. The terrestrial planets were subjected to a rain of impacts during the final throes of Solar System formation.

Mars shows possible evidence of one such major impact, as the planet’s northern hemisphere is sunk an average of 5.5km lower than the southern terrain. Debris from this or other impacts could have given birth to the moons.

Alternatively, Phobos and Deimos could be asteroids that were scattered inwards from the asteroid belt by the looming gravitational influence of Jupiter. Snagged by Mars’s gravity, the planet could have stolen its two moons. This mechanism is how Neptune acquired its moon, Triton, which is thought to have once been a Kuiper belt object, like Pluto.

There are compelling arguments for both the #TeamImpact and #TeamCapture scenario.

The orbits of the two moons are circular and in the plane of Mars’s own rotation. While the chance of this happening during a capture event are extremely low, observations of the moons suggest they may have a composition similar to that of other asteroids.

Definite determination of the moons’ composition would act as a fingerprint to distinguish the two models. A collision event…

Read up on solar eclipses before this year’s big event

Solar Eclipse in 2012
SUN BLOCK A total solar eclipse (one shown from 2012) is one of nature’s most awesome spectacles. In advance of one that will sweep across the United States in August, publishers are releasing a spate of new solar eclipse books.

In August, the United States will experience its first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in nearly a century. Over the course of an hour and a half, the moon’s narrow shadow will slice across 12 states, from Oregon to South Carolina (SN: 8/20/16, p. 14). As many as 200 million people are expected to travel to spots where they can view the spectacle, in what could become one of the most watched eclipses in history. Excitement is building, hence the flurry of new books about the science, history and cultural significance of what is arguably one of Earth’s most awesome celestial phenomena.

Total solar eclipses happen when the moon passes in front of the sun as seen from Earth, and the moon blocks the entire face of the sun. This event also blocks sunlight that would otherwise scatter off the molecules in our atmosphere, reducing a source of glare and so allowing an unfettered view of the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona. Total solar eclipses arise from a fluke of geometry that occurs nowhere else in the solar system, astronomer Anthony Aveni explains in In the Shadow of the Moon. Only Earth has a moon that appears, from the planet’s viewpoint, to fit so neatly over the sun — a consequence of the fact that the sun is a whopping 400 times as large as the moon but also 400 times farther away. Moons orbiting other planets are either too small to fully cover the sun’s face or are so large that they fully block any view of the corona.

In fact, the fluke of geometry is also a fluke of history: Because the moon’s orbit drifts about four centimeters farther from Earth each year, there will come a time when the moon will no longer appear to cover the sun, notes planetary scientist John Dvorak in Mask of the Sun. We already get a preview of that distant day: When the moon…

Getting ready for the solar eclipse

On August 21, a solar eclipse will be viewable across the United States. Those who want to take a look will need eye protection, though. Looking directly at a solar eclipse without such protection can damage the eyes.

Eeriness creeps in. Colors change and shadows sharpen. The last minutes before a total eclipse of the sun triggers a primal reaction, says astronomer Jay Pasachoff.

“You don’t know what’s going on,” says Pasachoff. “But you know something is wrong.”

Millions of people will encounter this reaction on August 21, 2017. That’s when a total eclipse of the sun will sweep across the continental United States. This will be the first eclipse to grace the country since 1979. And it will be the first since 1918 to bring a total, if temporary, blackout coast-to-coast. Its path will be roughly 120 kilometers (75 miles) wide. Created by the moon’s shadow, this so-called totality will pass through 12 states, from Oregon to South Carolina.

Researchers and the public alike have been gearing up to make the most of this rare spectacle. After all, U.S. communities won’t get another chance until 2024.

Story continues below map.

eclipse path
On August 21, a solar eclipse will race across the United States.

The mystery of the eclipse

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and our planet, casting its shadow on Earth. For someone sitting on Earth viewing the eclipse (with some kind of eye protection), it appears that the moon nearly blots out the sun. A total solar eclipse occurs about once every 18 months.

Eclipse enthusiasts will travel from all over the world to experience up to nearly three minutes of midday twilight and glimpse the sun’s corona (Koh-ROH-nah). The outer layer of the sun, it is an intensely hot, ionized gas, or plasma. During a total eclipse, this seldom-seen halo of light will frame the blacked-out sun.

eclipse corona
During a solar eclipse, the moon blocks out the sun. That allows people to see the sun’s corona (as visible in this picture from a 1999 eclipse).

At its sight, “People cheer and people cry,” Pasachoff says of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. And he should know. He’s already witnessed 33 total solar eclipses and 30 partial ones.

People like him will often have to travel to the far ends of the Earth to experience an eclipse. That’s because eclipses that pass over densely populated portions of the planet are fairly rare. This explains why the 2017 event is so special. Millions will be able to experience it firsthand, often without leaving home.

For scientists, an eclipse offers more than an interesting experience, though. It’s a time to study the corona. Though some of it is visible all of the time to a few telescopes in space, the region where the corona meets the surface is masked by the sun’s intensity. “Only on days of eclipses can we put together a complete view of the sun,” Pasachoff explains. For researchers, the 2017 eclipse is thus another chance to connect what they see on the surface of the sun to what’s happening in the outer reaches of its corona.

One enduring mystery relates to temperatures on the sun. The sun’s surface is a relatively balmy 5,500° Celsius (nearly 10,000° Fahrenheit). But the corona is millions of degrees hotter. Scientists still aren’t really sure why. “The consensus is that the sun’s magnetic field is responsible,” says Paul Bryans. “But it’s not clear how,” he adds. Bryans…