- The Oldest Trees on the Planet
- Cool: New Exoplanet Is Near Habitable Zone
- Seminal ’70s Environmental TV Series Now Online
Posted: 17 Mar 2010 04:45 PM PDT
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Trees are some of the longest-lived organisms on the planet. At least 50 trees have been around for more than a millenium, but there may be countless other ancient trees that haven't been discovered yet.
Trees can live such a long time for several reasons. One secret to their longevity is their compartmentalized vascular system, which allows parts of the tree to die while other portions thrive. Many create defensive compounds to fight off deadly bacteria or parasites.
And some of the oldest trees on earth, the great bristlecone pines, don't seem to age like we do. At 3,000-plus years, these trees continue to grow just as vigorously as their 100-year-old counterparts. Unlike animals, these pines don't rack up genetic mutations in their cells as the years go by.
Some trees defy time by sending out clones, or genetically identical shoots, so that one trunk's demise doesn't spell the end for the organism. The giant colonies can have thousands of individual trunks, but share the same network of roots.
This gallery contains images of some of the oldest, most venerable and impressive trees on earth.
While Pando isn't technically the oldest individual tree, this clonal colony of Quaking Aspen in Utah is truly ancient. The 105-acre colony is made of genetically identical trees, called stems, connected by a single root system. The "trembling giant" got its start at least 80,000 years ago, when all of our human ancestors were still living in Africa. But some estimate the woodland could be as old as 1 million years, which would mean Pando predates the earliest Homo sapiens by 800,000 years. At 6,615 tons, Pando is also the heaviest living organism on earth.
The photo above of the Pando colony was taken by Rachel Sussman, as part of The Oldest Living Things In The World project.
Image: "Clonal Quaking Aspens #0906-4318 (80,000 years old, Fish Lake, UT)" / Rachel Sussman
Posted: 17 Mar 2010 01:34 PM PDT
Extrasolar planet hunters are excited about a not-so-hot discovery. For the first time, they've found a relatively cool extrasolar planet that they can study in detail.
The finding is a milestone, says study co-author Hans Deeg of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias in Tenerife, Spain, because it is the first time astronomers have found an extrasolar planet that not only is cool enough to be similar in composition and history to the familiar solar system gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, but also passes in front of the star it orbits.
Although a number of extrasolar planets with moderate temperatures have been discovered, only a planet that passes in front of — or transits — its star can be studied in depth. The starlight that filters through the atmosphere of the planet during each passage reveals the orb's composition, while the amount of starlight that is blocked outright indicates the planet's size.
All the other transiting planets seen so far have been "weird — inflated and hot" because they orbit so close to their stars, notes study collaborator Didier Queloz of the Geneva Observatory in Sauverny, Switzerland. Deeg, Queloz and their colleagues report their findings in the March 18 Nature.
The planet, found with the COROT satellite and dubbed COROT-9b, lies 1,500 light-years from Earth and never gets closer to its star than Mercury's average distance from the sun. That puts the surface temperature of the planet in a relatively temperate range, somewhere between 250 kelvins and 430 kelvins (-23˚ to 157˚ Celsius). Although the gaseous planet isn't expected to be habitable, its atmosphere could contain water vapor.
If this Jupiter-like planet has a moon, that satellite's rocky surface could be habitable, says Sara Seager of MIT. But a planetary system closer to Earth would offer a better chance of searching for the tiny gravitational tug of such a moon, Seager adds.
"This discovery adds weight to the fact that we know that planets often orbit in or close to the habitable zone, so we should not be surprised when the Kepler or COROT satellites or some ground-based search makes the claim for the first habitable Earth or super-Earth," comments Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.
Nevertheless, finding such a planet is encouraging news, Seager says, because "where there is gold dust there might be a gold mine."
Citation: "2010A transiting giant planet with a temperature between 250K and 430K" by Deeg, H.J. et al. Nature 464:384. doi:10.1038/nature08856
Image: ESO/L. Calçada
Posted: 17 Mar 2010 01:12 PM PDT
Our Vanishing Wilderness first aired almost 40 years ago. The eight half-hour episodes were broadcast by the PBS precursor, National Educational Television beginning in October of 1970. They are now available on a website created by another NET descendant, the New York public channelThirteen.
The production values of the show are a far cry from the ultra-slow-mo, high-definition extravaganzas epitomized by the BBC's Planet Earth. The series was created by nature writer Mary Louise Grossman and her husband Shelly, a nature photographer. It is low-resolution and grainy. The tone is groovy in that slow, Saganish way but tinged with deep sadness over the loss of American biodiversity.
"Forty years ago, a small crew of filmmakers set out to document some of the more pressing issues involving wildlife in America. They made eight half-hour films around the country — it ended up being the first environmental TV series in the U.S.," the Thirteen website maintains. "Shot in 1969, the issues weren't new, but hadn't been handled much yet on television — the medium had yet to embrace the environmental movement."
The eight shows are a mini-study in the issues most important to the environmentalists of the day. The Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, which has been described as "the spark that brought the environmental issue to the nation's attention," features prominently. Also covered are the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska. Its construction and operation brought a consortium of different environmental groups to the remote reaches of the Arctic.
And there's also some good, old-fashioned nature porn like the fight between an owl and a snake embedded below.
The shows were actually digitized last year, but have not received wide circulation. A tip from web producer Robin Edgerton, who worked on the project at Thirteen, brought the series to our attention.
The strange and discordant music that accompanies the opening sequence was arranged by Barry Kornfeld, who may be the same Barry Kornfeld who played guitar with Bob Dylan and on the Van Morrison track, "The Way Young Lovers Do."
WiSci 2.0: Alexis Madrigal's Twitter, Tumblr, and green tech history research site; Wired Science on Twitter and Facebook.
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