NASA
NASA

Astronauts Reveal Zinnia Blooms Grown in Space

NASA
NASA

There’s so much we take for granted here on Earth. Oxygen. Gravity. Water. You know, the little things that make it possible for life to exist. But out in space, none of these things come naturally—which is why it’s so amazing that astronauts have managed to grow flowers aboard the International Space Station.

The cheerful zinnia blooms do more than just brighten up the space station, of course. They’re part of an experiment, begun in November 2015, that aims to understand how plants grow in microgravity. Astronaut Scott Kelly and his colleagues took on the role of space gardeners, working to coax their seedlings out of the soil and into bloom.

One month into the experiment, Kelly reported that the plants were struggling: 

(Mark Watney is the name of the main character in The Martian. His survival on the Red Planet depends, in part, on growing potatoes.)

NASA staff on the ground created and sent up a one-sheet space-gardening manual called “The Zinnia Care Guide for the On-Orbit Gardener.” Before long, Kelly and his fellow gardeners had their plants in fine condition. By January 12, the zinnias were sprouting, and on the 16th, they bloomed.

Kelly wasn't exactly correct. The orange zinnia might have been his first flower, but it wasn't the first. As Mika McKinnon at Gizmodo points out, astronauts have been growing plants—including flowers—in space for decades. The real first space flowers bloomed in 1993. Since then, astronauts have conducted a number of successful gardening experiments, including a memorable "talking" zucchini plant that kept a diary.

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Watch a Tree Release a Massive "Pollen Bomb" Into the Air
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iStock

In case your itchy, watery eyes hadn't already tipped you off, spring is in the air. Some trees release up to a billion pollen grains apiece each year, and instead of turning into baby trees, many of those spores end up in the noses of allergy sufferers. For a visual of just how much pollen is being released into our backyards, check out the video below spotted by Gothamist.

This footage was captured by Millville, New Jersey resident Jennifer Henderson while her husband was clearing away brush with a backhoe. He noticed one tree was blanketed in pollen, and decided to bump into it to see what would happen. The result was an explosion of plant matter dramatic enough to make you sniffle just by looking at it.

"Pollen bombs" occur when the weather starts to warm up after a prolonged winter, prompting trees and grasses to suddenly release a high concentration of pollen in a short time span. Wind, temperature, and humidity levels all determine the air's pollen count for any given day, but allergy season settles down around May.

After determining that your congestion is the result of allergies and not a head cold, there are a few steps you can take to stave off symptoms before they appear. Keep track of your area's pollen report throughout the week, and treat yourself with antihistamines or nasal spray on days when you know it will be particularly bad outside. You can also keep your home a pollen-free zone by closing all the windows and investing in an air purifier. Check out our full list of seasonal allergy-fighting tips here.

[h/t Gothamist]

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Why Some Trees in Norway Are Missing Their Rings
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iStock

Dendrochronologists are experts at reading tree rings. They can learn a great deal of information—including past climate in an area and the age of the tree—by taking a tree core sample and reading between the lines (literally).

But as the BBC reports, one climate researcher was stumped when she discovered that many trees in the Norwegian village of Kåfjord were missing their rings. Extreme weather and invasive insects can cause some degree of damage to trees, but not enough to render them ringless.

Claudia Hartl, from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, knew that these trees dated back to 1945, but that alone wasn't enough information. Two other clues that helped Hartl and her colleagues solve the mystery were location and history. During World War II, Nazi soldiers moored the Tirpitz—the largest battleship of Hitler's navy—off the waters of Kåfjord to intercept vessels carrying Allied supplies to the Soviet Union. The Germans released an artificial smoke containing chlorosulphuric acid to conceal the ship's location, and this is believed to be the root of the trees' problem.

Artificial smoke could have damaged the needles of the trees, halting the photosynthesis process and stunting the trees' growth, researchers found. It takes time for the trees to recover, but it is possible. One tree saw no growth at all from 1945 to 1954, but after 30 years its growth had returned to normal. Hartl presented the findings at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna this week [PDF].

"I think it's really interesting that the effects of one engagement are still evident in the forests of northern Norway more than 70 years later,” Hartl told BBC News. She believes her "warfare dendrochronology" will unearth similar findings elsewhere in the world.

[h/t BBC News]

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