Solar system agronomy
Could we grow endangered plants on other planets? We pause and consider this question. No.
Still, since this query is the subject line of a PR email from an online flower-delivery service, handed to us by a colleague with a pair of tongs and a disparaging look, we find it worthy of further consideration. Even more so since we are promised conclusions reached “using research and working with a designer”.
“Today, nearly 40% of the world’s plants are endangered, according to a report from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew,” we read. Sad, sad science fact. But never fear, once we have destroyed Earth’s ecosystems, a bright, green future exists elsewhere in the solar system, at least in the world of whirly-eyed PR.
“As the soil on Mars has double the amount of iron than soil on planet earth, leafy green vegetables and microgreens would easily thrive there,” we learn. Dandelions, too, apparently – a species far from endangered on Feedback’s small patch of terra firma. “Hops vine [sic], trees, shrubs and poison ivy might be able to survive the challenging temperatures on this moon”, it opines of Jupiter’s satellite Europa, where days struggle to rise above -135°C and surface radiation levels are around 2000 times those on Earth. “One of the only things that can kill poison ivy is boiling water – so the cold and wet conditions on Europa seem to be the ideal environment for this plant.”
The outlook is even rosier on Titan, the Saturnian moon where water ice at around -180°C fulfils the function of bedrock, and great surface lakes are filled with liquid natural gas. “Titan’s surface is sculpted by methane and ethane, which only one other planet in the solar system has: Earth. Therefore, tobacco plants should grow on this moon too”, our correspondent concludes, non-sequentially.
“Please let me know if you have any questions”, the email ends. So, so many, including where we get some of the wacky Europa baccy too. Optimism is a fine, fine thing, but as far as the future of life on Earth is concerned, we fear the rationalist’s counterstatement applies: il faut cultiver notre jardin.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”, as one of the usual suspects once wrote. Or we are all in the gutter, sending in responses to our recent item on peculiar toilet signage (31 July).
“Toilets and viewing area” was an unfortunate juxtaposition that confronted Richard Ellam at an Aberdeen Science Festival some years back, while Chris Evans relays that “A lay-by eatery near where I live (on the A59 between Skipton and Clitheroe) for some years displayed a sign reading ‘Sit-in or take-away toilet’” – neither of which seems particularly practicable or desirable.
Hazardous fore play
Our item on the newly introduced crocodile hazard at the Royal Port Moresby Golf Club in Papua New Guinea (14 August) reminds Stuart Reeves in Wake Forest, North Carolina, of playing at the Skukuza Golf Club in Kruger National Park in South Africa – a sentence that exhausts us even typing it.
Its “local rules” include such gems as “Burrowing animals – Rough/Fairway drop without penalty from holes made by burrowing animals and termites, NOT HOOF MARKS. Burrowing animals include warthogs, moles and termites”.
Other rules (“formal and informal”) that Stuart has encountered on his travels include “Give way to a herdsman and his cows crossing the fairway; free drop from a hippopotamus footprint; free drop about 3 club lengths if the ball lands in the coils of a snake (no need to be precise); if a monkey steals your ball it is a lost ball”. Strong stuff – and further congratulations on your self-confessed status as a “recovering golfer”.
Mentions in Almost the last word (14 August) of “interesting numbers, numbers with their own Wiki page and the fine-structure constant (approximately 1/137) prompted me to recheck the Wiki page for 137″, writes Mike Sargent, displaying the talent for the tangent that we so admire among Feedback readers. “It has for several years now informed us that ‘Wolfgang Pauli, a pioneer of quantum physics, died in a hospital room numbered 137, a coincidence that disturbed him’.”
“It is difficult to know which is more surprising, that Pauli’s consciousness transcended death, or that he then contrived to communicate his feelings on his demise to a Wiki page editor,” he continues. We don’t wish to sound too woo, but it is a fundamental tenet of quantum mechanics that information cannot be destroyed, and “Physics might create a backdoor to an afterlife – but don’t bank on it” is the headline of an article we see in our webspace starting from that basis. We would say that’s living proof, but that’s possibly not quite right.
Casting our all-seeing eye over our shoulder, we see that our neighbours and friends in Almost the last word (backwards readers: you’ll find it towards the front) are discussing how a photon “knows” to travel at the speed of light.
With the privilege of having the actual last word, we must give the obvious missing answer: because it is very bright.
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