Trees are one of Earth’s largest banks for storing the carbon that gets emitted by natural processes and human activities. Forests cover about 30 percent of the planet’s surface, and as much as 45 percent of the carbon stored on land is tied up in forests.
But did global forests hold more or less carbon in the past? And could they store more in the future? Does it matter where those trees are growing? Scientists really don’t know. But before they can find out, they’ll need a reliable inventory of what is growing today.
I’m actually surprised at how bare Michigan’s lower peninsula is as I’ve always thought we had quite an amazing amount of trees. It doesn’t take very far on the freeway to be passing through what appears to be endless forest. Given all the logging that took place in the U.P. I figured that would be a bit less dense, but despite looking pretty good most of Michigan is a sad comparison to places on the west coast.
In one of its less-reported actions last week, Nasa’s LCROSS lunar mission last week gave Douglas Adams‘s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the extra-planetary exposure it has always deserved. A Twitter feed from the satellite sent crashing onto the moon‘s surface on Friday channelled the voice of an improbably created sperm whale that discovers itself hurtling towards a different outer-space collision in Adams’s much-loved story.
Published 30 years ago, the classic novel features two missiles, aimed at Zaphod Beeblebrox’s spaceship the Heart of Gold, turned into a whale and a bowl of petunias by the vessel’s Improbability Drive (at an Improbability Factor of 8,767,128 against). The whale spends the last few minutes of its life pondering its existence – “Ahhh! Woooh! What’s happening? Who am I? Why am I here? What’s my purpose in life? What do I mean by who am I?” – before it crashes into the surface of the planet Magrathea.
As Nasa’s LCROSS spacecraft travelled towards the moon at more than 9,000 kilometres per hour on Friday afternoon, it tweeted in the whale’s words: “And what’s this thing coming toward me very fast? So big and flat and round … it needs a big wide sounding name like ‘Ow’, ‘Ownge’, ‘Round’, ‘Ground’! … That’s it! Ground! Ha! I wonder if it’ll be friends with me?”
Then it crashed into the moon, unfortunately failing to produce the 10km plume of dust and rock which could have been scanned for evidence of frozen water. Nasa made no mention of Adams’s bowl of petunias, which thought only “Oh no, not again” as it tumbled towards Magrathea.
“Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the universe than we do now,” wrote Adams in 1979.
That is pure awesome! I checked the Twitter feed and it’s still there. Made me giggle with geek pride it did.
Seeing as I’ve not posted for three days I thought I should get something up here, but I haven’t had much to say in part because my shift at work the past two days has been canceled and my usual web browsing routine has been altered as a result. One thing I did stumble upon last night was a Nova special on PBS called Hubble’s Amazing Rescue that I thought was worth sharing. Here’s the show description:
The best-known scientific instrument in history was dying. After nearly 20 years in space and hundreds of thousands of spectacular images, the Hubble Space Telescope’s gyroscopes and sensors were failing, its batteries running down, and some of its instruments were already dead. The only hope to save Hubble was a mission so dangerous that in 2004 NASA cancelled it because it was considered too risky.
Scientists and the general public alike stubbornly refused to abandon the telescope, and a new NASA administrator revived the mission. This program takes viewers behind the scenes on a riveting journey with the team of astronauts and engineers charged with saving the famous “orbiting observatory” against all odds.
Hubble had been serviced four times before, including the famous 1993 repair mission that had corrected its blurred vision. But all previous missions had involved replacements, not actual repairs. Astronauts undid latches, removed a balky module, and replaced it with a new one. This mission would be different. Two of Hubble’s instruments—a camera and a spectrograph—had died, and no replacements existed. To revive them, astronauts would attempt procedures never before tried in space: opening up electronic assemblies, getting “into the guts,” and performing delicate tasks previously thought impossible.
I remember being disappointed when I heard they weren’t going to fix the Hubble and then elated when the decision was reversed. And boy was it worth it. Some of the pictures from the newly restored Hubble are absolutely stunning and the story of how they fixed the Hubble is equally amazing. You can watch it online for free at the official website.