Germinating Extremely Old Seeds

I’m interested in archiving / saving seeds. This means that, by necessity, I’m also interested in germinating old seeds. My usual approach to this has been to preserve the seeds by eliminating the 2 things that most spoil germination after storage:

1) Moisture.
2) Heat.

To some extent I’m also blocking light and there is no significant radiation source nearby either. I also limit, but do not eliminate, the oxygen exposure.

All of this is done by packing the seeds or seed packets into glass canning jars (or even old jam jars that have been cleaned) and setting them in a freezer (or even just a refrigerator if the freezer is full).

Blocking moisture prevents activation of the germination mechanisms too soon (and then they don’t work later), while heat / light / radiation / oxygen directly damage the germination machinery and viability of the germ cells.

I could improve my storage by adding some kind of “oxygen scavenger” to the jars, but have not felt the need for it (yet…). Basically, I depend on the natural anti-oxidants in the seeds to do that job. There are commercial oxygen absorbers widely sold for food storage folks, and those ought to work.

OTOH, having germinated 10 year old onions seeds just from the refrigerator, I’m not feeling the need for regular garden seeds. We’ll see if that’s still the case after I try germinating some of my older seeds in the coming years.

By doing this, I’ve managed to germinate 10 year old onion seeds (when the common rule of thumb is that they are only viable for 1 year in typical garden shed conditions) and even germinated and grew out some lentil seeds that had been stored at room temperature in a jar for 16 years. (That’s an extreme case – I was testing the thesis that their seed coat would neutralize oxygen over time, being high in what I think are tannins, but something brown).

Turns out I’m a piker in all this…

This is a Nat Geo article (that has an annoying 1/2 page covering “sign up” nag) and then cuts off the article:

A plant grown from a 32,000-year-old seed.

A plant regenerated from 32,000-year-old seeds.

32,000-Year-Old Plant Brought Back to Life—Oldest Yet
Feat may help scientists preserve seeds for the future.


A Russian team discovered a seed cache of Silene stenophylla, a flowering plant native to Siberia, that had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel near the banks of the Kolyma River (map). Radiocarbon dating confirmed that the seeds were 32,000 years old.

The mature and immature seeds, which had been entirely encased in ice, were unearthed from 124 feet (38 meters) below the permafrost, surrounded by layers that included mammoth, bison, and woolly rhinoceros bones.

The mature seeds had been damaged—perhaps by the squirrel itself, to prevent them from germinating in the burrow. But some of the immature seeds retained viable plant material.

The team extracted that tissue from the frozen seeds, placed it in vials, and

Then it runs out… so we’ll go somewhere else to read the rest of the story…

This one has some really nice photos in it, so “hit the link” to see them!

Back From The Dead: Researchers Use 32,000-Year-Old Seeds To Grow Plant
The oldest plant ever to be regenerated has been grown from 32,000-year-old seeds—beating the previous record-holder by some 30,000 years.

A Russian team discovered a seed cache of Silene stenophylla, a flowering plant native to Siberia, that had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel near the banks of the Kolyma River (map). Radiocarbon dating confirmed that the seeds were 32,000 years old.

The story starts over 10 years ago, when a team of Russian, Hungarian, and American scientists recovered the frozen seeds in 2007. They were buried 125 feet underground, deep in the Siberian permafrost. The team was investigating the burrows of ancient squirrels when they made the discovery. Fruit and seeds had been perfectly sealed from the elements thanks to the squirrels’ burrowing techniques.

The Russian researchers excavated ancient squirrel burrows exposed on the bank of the lower Kolyma River, an area thronged with mammoth and woolly rhinoceroses during the last ice age. The mature and immature seeds, which had been entirely encased in ice, were unearthed from 124 feet (38 meters) below the permafrost, surrounded by layers that included mammoth, bison, and woolly rhinoceros bones.

So, OK, there’s the first useful bit: Encased in ice and oxygen blocked by the permafrost. Very close to the same idea as my “jar in a freezer”, but with more moisture exposure possible. So far, so good. Gives me a lot of hope for my freezer archive approach.

I find myself plagued by mental movies of the Ice Age movie Paleo-Squirrel stuffing seeds into the ground ;-)

I’d also note that speculation a squirrel “damaged” the mature seeds to prevent germination is just that: speculation. I think it is just as possible that the squirrel knows the “germ” of the seed has the most seed oils and is most prone to going rancid over time; so doesn’t store well and ought to be eaten right now. But starch heavy non-germ parts can be stored. Same thing we do with removing wheat germ from wheat when making flour, and for the same reasons.

“The squirrels dug the frozen ground to build their burrows, which are about the size of a soccer ball, putting in hay first and then animal fur for a perfect storage chamber,” shared Stanislav Gubin, one of the researchers who explored the burrows. “It’s a natural cryobank.”

“This is an amazing breakthrough,” said Grant Zazula of the Yukon Paleontology Program at Whitehorse in Yukon Territory, Canada. “I have no doubt in my mind that this is a legitimate claim.” It was Dr. Zazula who showed that the apparently ancient lupine seeds found by the Yukon gold miner were in fact modern.

But the Russians’ extraordinary report is likely to provoke calls for more proof. “It’s beyond the bounds of what we’d expect,” said Alastair Murdoch, an expert on seed viability at the University of Reading in England. When poppy seeds are kept at minus 7 degrees Celsius, the temperature the Russians reported for the campions, after only 160 years just 2 percent of the seeds will be able to germinate, Dr. Murdoch noted.

Some of the storage chambers in the burrows contain more than 600,000 seeds and fruits. Many are from a species that most closely resembles a plant found today, the narrow-leafed campion (Silene stenophylla).

Working with a burrow from the site called Duvanny Yar, the Russian researchers tried to germinate the campion seeds but failed. They then took cells from the placenta, the organ in the fruit that produces the seeds. They thawed out the cells and grew them in culture dishes into whole plants.

Now here’s our second bit of clue. Tissue Culture works when even normal sprouting does not. We’ll come back to that in the video below.

Many plants can be propagated from a single adult cell, and this cloning procedure worked with three of the placentas, the Russian researchers report. They grew 36 ancient plants, which appeared identical to the present day narrow-leafed campion until they flowered when they produced narrower and more splayed-out petals. Seeds from the ancient plants germinated with 100 percent success, compared with 90 percent for seeds from living campions.

The Russian team says it obtained a radiocarbon date of 31,800 years from seeds attached to the same placenta from which the living plants were propagated.

The researchers suggest that special circumstances may have contributed to the remarkable longevity of the campion plant cells. Squirrels construct their larders next to permafrost to keep seeds cool during the arctic summers, so the fruits would have been chilled from the start. The fruit’s placenta contains high levels of sucrose and phenols, which are good antifreeze agents.

Then it goes on from there with more emoting and less technical talk…

SO, OK. There’s a lot of ways this can go. Searching the permafrost for all sorts of seeds, pollen, cells to culture from “whatever”. We need to be exploring natures deep freeze to see what all we can recover.

But what sent me down this path was a video that talks about using cell culture techniques to get the seed itself to germinate. In particular, they use a 1:20 dilution of commercial 3% hydrogen peroxide to sterilize the seed surface (or 0.15%) and then soak the seeds in a dilute sugar solution with an “oxygen source” – perhaps more peroxide? Broken down by the presence of sugar?

They sell a “kit” for this (or maybe sold… it is a 9 year old video), but in an EOTWAWKI case, I’d be willing to try a DIY with peroxide and sugar.

Even without that: I’ve had “issues” with trying to germinate some seeds and them going all moldy. The notion of just doing the sterilize and germinate in a test tube, and then use tweezers to move them to dirt, is highly likely to cure that problem.

So I think I’m going to be “upping my game” on seed germination / propagation by adopting some of these “tissue culture” techniques.

Here’s the video:

Something to keep in mind For That Day… or just to improve your seed viability and germination success.

There will be a bit more work needed to find the right sugar concentration and what the “oxygen source” concentration might be. I’m guessing you can dilute the peroxide soak solution by about another 5 or 10 to 1, and then add a 1% or so sugar content.

There’s another guy who used 1 tsp of sugar (about 5 ml) to a cup of water (about 250 ml) so about a 1:50 ratio of 2% solution. But then you need to adjust for the air space in granulated sugar… and is it mass ratio of volume ratio that matters… But it is a reasonable place to start.

So my first cut will be a 1 hour soak in 0.15% peroxide solution, then a soak in a 1% sugar solution with 1% sugar added for 24 hours for “hard seeds” and 3 or 5 hours for smaller soft seeds (or until they sink). Then you rinse the seeds. We’ll see how that works.

The YouTuber MIgardener has managed to sprout an 85 or 87 year old tomato variety, “stored” in a seed packet in a wall hanging display box… so I’m pretty sure my frozen seeds will work better ;-)


About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Biology Biochem, Emergency Preparation and Risks, Plants - Seeds - Gardening. Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to Germinating Extremely Old Seeds

  1. The True Nolan says:

    Good info on seed germination! I have a BUNCH of partial used seed packs that go back four or five years, but they have not been in the freezer, just stuck in a box at room temperature. I just did some Cherokee Pumpkins that were three years old. Soaked them 24 hours, started in cups; about half sprouted and are now in the garden. Will have to try the peroxide plus sugar.

    I don’t want to veer too far off subject, but would like to point out that the Siberian Silene stenophylla has a relative way down in South Africa, Silene capensis. It is commonly known as the African Dream Root. (Well, maybe not “commonly”; probably not too well known.) Lore is that the root inspires lucid dreaming. Some people say that the lucid dreams last long term. I tried it a few times but did not experience any marked response. Perhaps because I did not have complete instructions and just chewed the root before going to bed.

  2. E.M.Smith says:


    Dream Root, eh? Hmmm…


    What is African dream root?
    African dream root, also known as Silene undulata or Silene capensis, is a small perennial herb native to the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It typically grows in open forests and grasslands.
    There’s little research on the composition of African dream root, but it’s similar to other plants from the Silene genus. The root contains triterpene saponins, alkaloids, and diterpenoids, which may cause its psychoactive effects.
    Researchers believe this effect is due to compounds called triterpenoid saponins. These saponins form a foam-like substance if you mix them vigorously in water. Traditionally, people would drink this foam, which would stimulate vivid or lucid dreams .

    So concentrated saponins via a floatation foam process as used in mining and mineral refining… Visions of an Arctic Paleo-Squirrel tripping on roots… ;-)

    Looks like a South American variation on “Dream” stuff too:

    Calea ternifolia (syn. Calea zacatechichi) is a species of flowering plant in the aster family, Asteraceae. It is native to Mexico and Central America. Its English language common names include bitter-grass, Mexican calea, and dream herb.

    It is used in traditional medicine and ritual in its native range.
    In Mexico the plant is used as an herbal remedy for dysentery and fever.[3] The Zoque Popoluca people call the plant tam huñi (“bitter gum”) and use it to treat diarrhea and asthma, and the Mixe people know it as poop taam ujts (“white bitter herb”) and use it for stomachache and fever.

    The Chontal people of Oaxaca reportedly use the plant, known locally as thle-pela-kano, during divination. Isolated reports describe rituals that involve smoking a plant believed to be this species, drinking it as a tea, and placing it under a pillow to induce divinatory or lucid dreams due to its properties as an oneirogen. Zacatechichi, the former species name, is a Hispanicized form of the Nahuatl word “zacatl chichic” meaning “bitter grass”. Users take the plant to help them remember their dreams; known side effects include nausea and vomiting related to the taste and mild-to-severe allergic reaction.

    While quite bitter if brewed in hot water, the bitterness can be considerably masked by brewing with Osmanthus flowers, which have a compatible scent profile.

    Other seed tips:

    Mostly adds scarifying the seed coat as it hardens over time, to let the water and sugar in. Plus the notion of replacing some nutrients or enzymes that might be missing:

    To further ensure the best chance of germination, we can attempt to replenish some of the energy and hormones that have been lost over time. Soaking seeds in a diluted solution of blackstrap molasses or even sugar water will bolster carbohydrate levels. When added to the mix, kelp, fulvic acid, B vitamins, alfalfa meal, coconut water, and malted grain (especially barley) provide a considerable array of biocatalysts, including natural enzymes to wake the tired embryos and get them moving. Coconut water is notably used in plant tissue culture as food stock, which proves very useful for these purposes. Germination is an enzyme-driven process, which can be naturally supplemented by the above ingredients.

  3. The True Nolan says:

    I see the mention of B vitamins. Interesting. There is a commercial product “SuperThrive” which is used to boost plant growth. I would note that it has that certain smell of B vitamins. Bet it’s in there!

    I often grow bean sprouts. I wonder if the rinse water would have enough chemicals all shouting “Look at me! I’m SPROUTING!!” to make it worth using rinse water to soak garden seeds. I guess most people know about the trick of taking willow branches, soaking them in water and using that water to induce rooting of cuttings.

    As for Dream Root and variants — wow, I had no idea there were all those other plants. I am not a doctor, but if I were to try one of them again, I think I would accompany it with a mega-dose of Vitamin D. How much? 40,000 or 50,000 IU, waaaay about the normal 1,000 or 2,000 in a capsule. And NO, barring some weird illness, I do not think a one time dose that size is not toxic. (Check and see how much Vitamin D a day at the beach generates.) I have found that a megadose gives me brighter, more colorful dreams. Friends have reported the same. By the way, some ancient cultures used to build special “dream houses”. I do not know whether it was the location or the design, but they were constructed especially to induce meaningful dreams to those who slept inside. They were usually associated with a nearby temple.

  4. erl happ says:

    Very interesting discussion. I have a query that you may be able to assist with. I am a wine maker. I’m also old and subject to aches and pains that I think can be reduced if I include a good source of antioxidants in my diet. Grape seeds of red grape varieties have been found to contain more resveratrol.

    The people of Okinawa that eat a lot of purple/red sweet potato and live live long lives. At we learn that sweet potatoes of all varieties are high in vitamin A, vitamin C and manganese. They are also a good source of copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and iron. Sweet potatoes are known to improve blood sugar regulation and some studies have discovered significant antibacterial and antifungal properties. The primary nutritional benefit, and the one for which Okinawan sweet potatoes are especially prized, is their high antioxidant levels. The antioxidant known as anthocyanin is the pigment which is responsible for the brilliant purple color of the flesh. It is the same pigment that gives blueberries, red grapes and red cabbage their color.

    Blueberries are well known for their high antioxidant levels, however, the Okinawan sweet potato actually has 150 percent more antioxidants than blueberries. Antioxidants help to guard against cardiovascular disease and cancer.

    This is a similar story to that relating to grape seeds. The aging researcher David Sinclair is keen on resveratrol supplements.

    I extract the seeds of the grapes after fermentation as soon as the mix of skins and seeds exit the press that extracts nearly all of the liquid. The drier, the better so far as separating the seeds from the skins is concerned and also to avoid deterioration due to organisms that like the alcohol, yeast etc that remains. I use a trommel made from a 200 litre plastic drum with holes drilled in the walls for the seeds to exit. The drum sits on a timber frame equipped with castor wheels facing upwards and It is turned by hand using a bolt covered with a plastic pipe that is secured to one of the bungs. Two shovels full at a time, rotate ten times and empty via the nearly fully open bottom of the drum (due to cutting the middle out with a jigsaw) does the trick.

    To dry the seeds I use a food drier and set seeds on paper in an electric oven. A wire cage with shelves that is covered in plastic film out in the sun also does the trick if there is enough sunshine. Temperatures rise up to 50°C. Once dried I store in plastic containers and grind them as I need them, for which I use a high speed grinder commonly used for seed grinding in Asia that is equipped with stainless blades and an excellent hermetically sealed lid that is secured with adjustable over centre lugs.

    I haven’t tried to germinate these seeds but I imagine that the temperature in exposed topsoil in summer easily gets to 50°C and is maintained for many hours and the seeds survive. Grape seeds are really tough after they have dried. Not easy to grind to a powder and the grinding raises the temperature so it must be done in steps to allow the heat to be lost.

    I am concerned that the value of the product may suffer from the drying process. Any clues, ideas, contributions very welcome. I reckon their is a potential by-product going to waste as we take it back into the vineyard to compost in the rows and thereby return to the soil.

  5. Graeme No.3 says:

    There was a CSIRO process for drying fruit which was for those heat sensitive. Basically an air conditioner which circulated the air through the fruit (on trays in one side of the shed) and circulated it back into the drying trays in the other side of the shed.
    It ran into problems as the circulated air got hotter slowly. I don’t know if this would help your problem.

  6. Josh from Sedona says:

    Nice hacks, idk but I think o2 absorbers are just ferrous metal filings

  7. erl happ says:

    Hi Graeme No 3. I have the means to dry the seeds. But I am wondering about the tolerances for best results.

  8. Graeme No.3 says:

    I think there is something in the Climate of the USA that prolongs the germinate time of various things in the country. I point out that Joe B. is supposedly good for another 6 years according to the Democrats also Hilary C. is doubtful (piece in The Australian) claiming that Don T. (and supporters are worse) but claiming she won’t be standing for relection.

  9. The True Nolan says:

    @earl happ: Hey Earl, you mention of Okinawan sweet potatoes
    made me think of the purple Filipino “ube” (pronounced ooo-bae) yams. Ube has a lot of anthocyanin also:
    You can commonly find ube at any ethnic Filipino grocery store. Ube is delicious as an ice cream!

    But that made me read a bit about anthocyanin. Some years back I grew a bunch of dark purple morning glories. In fact, they grow wild here, but the domesticated versions have a darker purple. I steeped some of the flowers in ethanol (vodka as I remember) to make a liquid which was a fun pH indicator. But that dark purple color is from the presence of anthocyanin. I wonder if you could grow your own anthocyanin by simply growing the darkest purple morning glories you could find, pick the flowers, dry the petals and powder them. (Note that the morning glory SEEDS are hallucinogenic and were very popular with Mayans and Aztecs. They are also TOXIC. Don’t eat the seeds…)

    As for prepping grape seeds, no ideas from me on that. Sounds like you are already an expert!

  10. erl happ says:

    When in doubt query Google

    Heating up to 150°C increased antioxidant extractable with alcohol.

    Of interest from the Introduction:
    In most cases, phenolics mediate their anti-carcinogenic effects by inhibiting all stages of chemical carcinogenesis, initiation, promotion and progression as well as formation of carcinogens from dietary precursors (Jang et al., 1997; Weisburger,Nagao, Wakabyashi, & Oguri, 1994).Grape (Vitis vinifera) is one of the world’s largest fruitcrops and grape seed is a complex matrix containing approximately 40% fiber, 16% oil, 11% proteins, and 7% complex phenols including tannins, in addition to sugars, mineral salts, etc. Pro-anthocyanidins of grapeseed are a group of polyphenolic bioflavonoids, which are known to possess broad pharmacological activities and therapeutic potentials (Bagchi et al., 2002). Pro-anthocyanidins, the major polyphenols found in red wine and grape seeds, have been reported to show cardioprotective effects against ischemic reperfusion injury(Sato, Maulik, Ray, Bagchi, & Das, 1999). In addition,grape seeds are rich sources of monomeric phenolic compounds, such as (+)-catechins, ()-epicatechin,()-epicatechin-3-o-gallate, and dimeric, trimeric and tetrameric procyanidins, which have anti-mutagenic and antiviral effects (Saito, Hosoyama, Ariga, Kataoka,& Yamaji, 1998). Recognition of such health benefits of catechins and procyanidins has facilitated the use of grape seed extract as a dietary supplement. The objective of this research was to elucidate the relationship between heating and physical conditions of grape seeds on the antioxidant activity of grape seed extract (GSE).

    (19) (PDF) Effect of heating of grape seeds on the antioxidant activity of grape seed extracts. Available from: [accessed May 24 2023].

  11. The True Nolan says:

    Last link to dark purple morning glory seeds did not load in last comment. Try again!

  12. erl happ says:

    Hi guys, its not that I am so far gone that I can’t spell my own name. Erl is a truncation of Erland. Thanks for the contributions. I do like to dip into nature and gather what I can that’s useful. Twigs for lighting a fire, branches and trunks for post and rail fence, a bit of bamboo for a stake and so on.

    I had an uncle who was a pharmacist. Personally, he would never practice what he had to preach to his customers. Not even an asprin would he take. I am routinely asked what medications I am on. Zilch at 80 is a a big surprise to the professionals who deal in such things.

  13. andysaurus says:

    Here in Australia, many plants have adapted to regular fires. Their seeds germinate in the presence of smoke. If you have a meat smoker, it may be worthwhile exposing to that environment. I have also heard that soaking them in water which has had smoke passed through it works as well, so maybe you could find a willing bong smoker to source the correct material for an experiment.

  14. Chiff says:

    I dry my seeds on a parchment lined cookie sheet then vacuum pack them with my food saver then freeze. Never had a problem with seeds regenerating although I use them up within 2 years

  15. The True Nolan says:

    Hey erl, apologies for prior misspelling on my part! Not sure why link is not posting for dark morning glories. Just go to any good seed source and they are available. I think your “no prescriptions at 80” habit is well thought of by most here. Me? No prescriptions at 70. So far!

  16. E.M.Smith says:


    Some pines in California as similarly smoke / fire adapted. It is a bit of a specialization not found in most plants (and in no food crops that I know of, unless you grow pine nuts for a living ;-)

    Also note that SOME plants have evolved a mechanism to assure their seeds to not sprout just before winter kills them; so they require a “cold period” of a week or two to set them up to germinate when it is again “warm & wet”. So simply cycling your seeds through the fridge or freezer can help with some plants.

    But yeah, for “advanced seed starting” IFF you have seeds from a fire prone area, worth a try to see if they are such. So noting here (has illustrations in the original):

    Smoke Infusion for Seed Germination
    in Fire-adapted Species

    Daniela Shebitz, Anne Andreu, Marlo Mytty, Doug Schmitt, and Mike Cooksey


    Numerous species that inhabit fire-dependent ecosystems have evolved reproductive strategies to adapt to factors associated with fire (Van Staden et al. 2000). These adaptations are particularly evident in seeds that respond to the physical (i.e. temperature and light) and/or chemical (smoke, gas, nutrients) germination cues associated with fire. In fact, many species have evolved barriers to seed germination that are overcome only by fire-related cues (Keeley 1998).

    Seeds of many species germinate in response to physical signals associated with fire, such as fracturing or desiccation of the seed coat by heat (Jeffrey et al. 1998). Heat may also stimulate the embryo directly (Blommaert 1972). For a substantial number of species with fire-triggered germination, however, chemicals from combustion induce germination, not the heat (Keeley 1998).

    In western North America and South Africa, numerous species have been stimulated by exposure to chemicals in charred wood. While it is unclear whether the chemicals in charred wood are the same as those responsible for smoke-induced germination, the chemicals in smoke have also been found to stimulate germination of seeds. Plants whose seeds have been stimulated by smoke belong to a variety of environments ranging from South American fynbos shrub to savannas, the Great basin, Australian heath shrubland and California chaparral (Keeley 1998).

    In this paper, we will first present the effects that smoke has on seed germination, discuss why this relationship can be incorporated into habitat restoration, and provide information on species and ecosystems that can potentially benefit from smoke technology. We will then discuss various methods of incorporating smoke technology into restoration, explaining in detail our method of choice.

    General effects of smoke on germination

    Smoke is clearly one of the products generated as a consequence of fire. There is no evident indication of the mechanisms by which smoke affects germination. It is known, however, that the chemical signals of smoke not only influence seeds during fires and in the immediate post-fire environment, but the signals last for considerable periods after the fire, and perhaps most importantly, can travel to communities long distances away from the fire (Van Staden et al. 2000).

    Due to the fact that smoke particles can adhere to plant surfaces, persist in the soil, and be adsorbed to soil particles, smoke particles have major effects on scarified seeds in the soil (Van Staden et al. 2000). Egerton-Warburton (1998) demonstrated that this ability of smoke to adhere to soil and plant surfaces plays a role in the germination process by changing the morphology of the seed and causing an intense chemical scarification of the seed surface.

    Roche et al. (1997) found that some species respond only to smoke application to the soil seed bank, and not to the application of smoke to freshly collected seed. The authors suggest that some seeds need to enter the soil seed bank before they are receptive to the germination-promoting effects of smoke.

    In some species, such as Erica sessiliflora, smoke treatment on seeds can substitute for a light requirement. Such a response, which was also observed for light-sensitive Grand Rapids lettuce seeds (Drewes et al. 1995), makes seedling recruitment more probable if smoke dissolved in water penetrates into the soil. This characteristic ensures that even in the dark, there will be some germination of light-sensitive seeds in the absence of major soil disturbance (Van Staden et al. 2000).

    Until recently, the role of chemical cues in seed germination received little attention (Van Staden et al. 2000). In addition to heat, vegetation fires release chemical cues such as ethylene and ammonia. While both of these gases are known to stimulate germination, it has been shown that ethylene is not the active compound in smoke solutions that stimulates germination. (Jager et al. 1996). Numerous studies have attempted to determine the chemical components responsible for charred wood and smoke-stimulated germination, but have not successfully identified the active components (Keeley 1998).

    Smoke technology in habitat restoration

    With increased urbanization, fire as a restoration tool is not always feasible. Smoke technology provides the ability to incorporate the chemicals associated with fire in to a restoration when fire is not possible. There are numerous benefits of incorporating smoke into a habitat restoration project. Below are some examples that were presented by Van Staden et al. (2000):

    Testing seed viability – Smoke and smoke extracts can test the viability of seeds from soil seed banks in areas that have become invaded by exotic plant species. Germinating the seeds using smoke will assist in determining whether a viable reserve of native species seeds that benefit from fire still exists in the area.

    Giving existing native species an “edge” – Physically removing exotic species and then smoking the soil using smoke tents or applying aqueous smoke solutions may assist in restoring native plants.

    Stimulate germination of native seeds in the existing soil seed bank – If there are native species in an area that has been characterized by frequent fires in the past, you can stimulate the germination of seeds by smoking the soil (see 2).

    Pretreating broadcast seed with aerosol smoke to increase the number of germinants – Compared to unsmoked seed, pretreatment of broadcast seeds with aerosol smoke has been found to result in significant increases in the total number of germinants and responding species.
    Germinating seeds that are otherwise difficult or impossible to germinate – Many wildflower species in the families Asteraceae, Bruniaceae, Ericaceae, Thymelaeaceae, and Restionaceae that responded to smoke were previously difficult or impossible to germinate in a nursery.

    Removing the need for further dormancy-breaking treatments before sowing – Numerous plants such as vegetable crops have a potential to be primed with aqueous smoke extracts and then stored for later use.

    Flexibility in scheduling – Seeds may be smoke-treated immediately before sowing, or they may be treated prior to sowing and then dried and stored.

    Protection for seeds – Roche et al (1997) suggest that high levels of smoke by protect seeds against predation and microbial attack.

    Species and ecosystems that can benefit from smoke technology

    Many species, especially those from fire adapted ecosystems, respond to germination cues from heat, smoke, or a combination of the two. Since research in this area is fairly new, isolation of the specific mechanisms by which germination is stimulated are often not known. Species that have been found to respond to heat do so because of “heat shock”. Species that have been studied are “hard-seeded”, with a prominent waxy cuticle and dense palisade layer of sclerids that enforces dormancy by making the seed coat impermeable to water. Brief heat shock between 80° and 120° C is sufficient to cause the seed to imbibe water by loosening cells or possibly denaturing germination inhibitors. For some species, heat shock alone may work, but some heat-induced species also require light and/or cold stratification. Heat-shock germination is widespread in the following families: Fabaceae, Rhamnaceae (includes Ceanothus), Convolvulaceae, Malvaceae, Cistaceae, and Sterculiaceae and is found in many ecosystems. (Keeley 1998).

    Other fire-evolved species have been found to respond not to heat, but to chemicals from combustion – either from smoke or in charred wood. Compared to heat shock, little is known regarding which chemicals stimulate germination and how. Charred wood has been shown to stimulate germination in the species Emmenanthe penduliflora, a California chaparral annual as well as many other western North American species. Smoke has been shown to stimulate germination in the 22 California species listed in Table 1. (Keeley 1998)

    Table 1. Chaparral species demonstrating highly statistically significant smoke-induced germination. Seeds of all annual species were collected in southern California from first-year burns and others from 2-3 year old burns. Seeds were 6-18 months old at the time of experiments. In all of these species, charred wood also induced germination, but heat had no effect.

    Family           Species              Growth Form
    Asteraceae       Chaenactis artemisiifolia Annual
    Boraginaceae     Cryptantha clevelandi     Annual
                     C. micrantha              Annual
    Brassicaceae     Caulanthus heterophyllus  Annual
    Caryophyllaceae  Silene multinervia        Annual
    Hydrophyllaceae  Emmenanthe penduliflora   Annual
                     Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia Annual
                     Phacelia grandiflora      Annual
                     P. minor                  Annual
    Lamiaceae        Salvia apiana             Shrub
                     S. columbariae            Annual
                     S. leucophylla            Shrub
                     S. mellifera              Shrub
    Loasaceae        Mentzelia micrantha       Annual
    Onagraceae       Camissonia californica    Annual
    Papaveraceae     Romneya coulteri  Suffrutescent*
    Polemoniaceae    Allophyllum glutinosum    Annual
    Scrophulariaceae Antirrhinum coulterianum  Annual
                     A. kelloggii              Annual
                     A. nuttallianum           Annual
                     Mimulus clevelandii Suffrutescent*
                     Penstemon centranthifolius Suffrutescent*
    * Suffrutescent  = herbaceous with woody caudex.

    Source: Keeley 1998.

    Experiments performed by Keeley (1998) found that the length of exposure to smoke was very important in some species – a 3 minute difference in exposure resulted in the death of some seeds. Some closely fire-linked species didn’t germinate under heat or smoke treatments alone. In some cases burial for one year or cold stratification are required in addition to smoke exposure. All of these factors can have an effect on germination and should be considered when using smoke or chemicals in smoke to induce germination.

    Structurally, there are characteristics shared by smoke-stimulated species found by Keeley (1998). For most species, the outer cuticle was weakly developed and the exterior of the testa highly sculptured, in contrast to the smooth character of Ceanothus and many heat-stimulated seeds. For an in-depth discussion of the difference between seeds that are heat and smoke-stimulated, see Keeley (1998).

    Blank and Young (1998) showed the following sagebrush-steppe species in the western United States to have increased germination from smoke or smoke compounds: Achnatherum occidentalis (Sierra Nevada needlegrass), Achnatherum hymenoides (Indian ricegrass), and Purshia tridentata (antelope bitterbrush). Emergence of Achnatherum thurberianum (Thurber’s needlegrass) and Hesperostipa comata (needle-and-thread) increased due to heat. They also found that in some species, including Festuca idahoensis (Idaho fescue), exposure to smoke increases leaf production and/or root mass. (Blank and Young 1998)

    In addition to those listed in the introduction, other ecosystems for which smoke (or chemicals from smoke) has been successful in inducing germination of native plants include: Mediterranean-type ecosystems, western Australia ecosystems, for which Roche et al. (1997) reported increased germination on 75 new species, and specifically dry sclerophyll spotted gum (Corymbia maculata) forest communities in New South Wales, Australia. (Read et. al 2000).

    Techniques for smoke pre-treatments of seeds for use in restoration

    There are two basic methods for exposing seeds to smoke or the chemicals derived from smoke that are thought to promote germination in many seeds. The first is to expose seeds directly to smoke and the other is to indirectly expose seeds to the particulates of smoke through the use of “smoke water” or smoke distillates in a dry form. Multiple ways to approach both of these seed exposure techniques exist.

    Direct seed exposure to smoke:

    · Place clean, dry seeds on permeable trays, mesh racks or petri dishes and place them in a poly tent. Burn native vegetation in a metal drum adjacent to the tent and use a fan or compressed air to blow cooled smoke created by the fire into the poly tent through a long plastic pipe. Using a long pipe allows the smoke to cool before entering the tent. The optimum exposure time is variable for different seeds but 1 hour is common. (Tieu et al. 2001)

    · Sow seeds in nursery flats in a soil-less potting mix. Place the flats in a poly tent and follow the same directions as above. Exposure time is generally 1-3 hours. After smoke exposure, spray the flats with a fine mist of water to settle smoke particles on the soil surface (Read et al. 2000).

    · Spread soil seed bank samples on a thin layer of soil-less potting mix and follow the same directions as above. Exposure time is generally 1-3 hours. After smoke exposure, spray the area with a fine mist of water to settle smoke particles on the soil surface (Read et al. 2000).

    · Force smoke into low poly tents to treat soil seed bank in situ.

    · Force smoke into a poly tent pitched over vegetation with ripe seeds that have not dispersed. This is probably most effective for smoke responsive shrub species (Greening Australia.).

    When smoking seeds sown in nursery flats or in situ, be careful not to over water in the first weeks or until germination occurs. Over watering will wash away smoke particulates, reducing effectiveness of the treatment. (Greening Australia)

    Indirect exposure to chemicals in smoke:

    · Soak seeds in smoke water (directions for making below). A fish tank aerator can be used to minimize seed rotting.

    · Germinate seeds on smoked filter paper.

    · Use smoked filter paper in the presoaking of seeds. Soak the filter paper in water to allow smoke particulates to diffuse into water, then soak in the water while aerating.

    · Use commercially available dry smoke products in the potting soil or native soil in which smoke responsive seeds will be planted.

    Figure 1. Various methods for smoke application.

    Smoke can be applied directly to seeds or soils by:

    Build a poly tent: Using PVC or metal poles build a tent frame and cover with poly sheeting.

    Build a smoke generator:

    1. Make holes in the bottom and on the side near the top of a large metal drum and attach piping to the side hole. Position the piping so that it enters the bottom of the poly tent. Place green and dry native woody and leafy vegetation into the drum and light it. Place a lid over the drum and blow air through the bottom hole with a fan or compressed air. This air will feed the fire and force smoky air out of the side hole, through the pipe and into the tent.

    2. Using a beekeepers smoker, burn chipped or shredded native vegetation as described above and blow the smoke into a small tent or other small chamber (such as a chromatography chamber) (Morris 2000).

    Place seeds on permeable trays, petri dishes or sown seeds in flats inside the tent for 30 minutes to 1 hour (Tieu et al. 1999).

    Smoke water can be created by:

    1. Using the same drum technique described above, attach the piping to another drum containing water. Force the smoky air produced in the first drum through the water in the second drum by using a small fan or compressed air.

    2. Using a small grill, burn charcoal on half of the base of the grill (as normal) and on the upper grill surface place a pan of water on the other side and native vegetation (woody and leafy) on the side above the charcoal. Cover the grill. As the coals burn the native vegetation the smoke that is created will be infused in the water in the pan. Be careful not to allow the water to boil away. The water created in these ways can be cooled and used immediately or frozen until needed.

    3. Use commercially available smoke infused products:

    Liquid smoke

    Smoke infused paper discs

    Dry smoke infused material to add to planting medium: such as Regen 2000

    In mine site rehabilitation in Australia, it is common to smoke seeds prior to sowing them, or to use smoke water to treat overburden before applying it to strip mine sites (Greening Australia 2003).

    Testing Seed Responsiveness to Smoke Treatments:

    Before investing much effort in creating smoke treatment facilities for restoration projects, it would be wise to test the responsiveness of seeds to be used in the restoration to smoke treatments.

    Using sterile petri dishes lined with sterile Whatcom filter papers, add distilled water or smoke water to the dishes. If using distilled water, use pre-smoke treated seeds to test the effectiveness of the treatment on germination. If using smoke water, use untreated seeds to test the effectiveness of smoke water treatment on germination. Use control petri dishes using untreated seeds and distilled water. Place the dishes in a growth chamber or temperature/light controlled greenhouse and examine regularly for evidence of germination (extension of radicle from the seeds). (Brown 1992)

    Recommended Technique for Incorporating Smoke in Seed Germination

    We have developed an apparatus which allows for the germination of seeds through the use of:

    1. Smoke (cooled)
    2. Smoke water
    3. Heat and smoke

    Figure 2. Our apparatus for germinating seeds by smoke, smoke-water or heat.

    The required materials for creating and operating this apparatus are:

    poly tent with vents
    frame for tent
    50 gallon drums (2)
    shovel to dig
    shelving (with 5 shelves)
    seed flats
    screens for seeds
    seeding mix
    trays for water
    voltage regulator
    air inlet fan
    cooling pipe
    fire source (matches)
    native vegetation to burn for smoke
    electrical wiring

    Heat germination

    The apparatus that we have developed is illustrated in Figure 2. For those species that require heat to break the seed coat, a smoke generating pit is located under-ground, under the smoke tent. Charcoal will be lit in the pit, and when the flames die down, add native vegetation on the grill grate and then place the seed trays in the tent. Within the smoke tent are shelves which, when heat is incorporated, will hold trays with seeds sown in seeding mix. Alternatively, if you plan to sow the seeds immediately following the heat/smoke germination, the seeds can be on screens, and not be planted. For this use of the tent, it is recommended that the bottom two shelves are not used, to avoid over-heating. A thermometer is located outside the tent that can read the temperature inside, and vents are located throughout the tent to manipulate the heat within, and to control the amount of smoke within the tent. We recommend keeping the seeds in the tent for up to one hour if heat is incorporated.

    Smoke and smoke-water germination

    For those seeds are not benefited by heat, the below-ground pit is not used. Instead, smoke is created in the above-ground generator and is cooled through a pipe that connects the generator to the smoke tent. A voltage regulator controls the air inlet fan speed that is connected to the smoke generator. Within the smoke tent, the shelves can hold the sown seeds on trays, seeds on screens, or can hold pans of water that can be smoke-infused, depending on the germination method of choice. As with the heat germination, the temperature and the smoke within the tent can be manipulated through the vents. We do not recommend exposing seeds to the smoke in the tent for more than an hour. If you are using water, the trays of water should remain in the smoke tent for two hours.

    Following smoke exposure

    For each of the treatments, the steps to take following smoke-exposure are listed below:

    Heat with smoke – If seeds are in seeding mix, place in greenhouse until germination.

    Cooled smoke with seeds in seeding mix – place in greenhouse until germination.

    Cooled smoke with seeds on screens – You can sow seeds on desired seedbed immediately following smoke treatment or store until needed.

    Smoke-infused water – Remove trays of smoke-infused water and pour water into glass jars. Add seeds to the jar of water. Put an electric air circulator/filter into the water and circulate water for 24 hours. After 24 hours, you may either dry and store the seeds until they are needed or sow the seeds directly, being sure to water daily for 6-10 days (see figure 1 for an illustrated description).


    With increased urbanization, fire as a restoration tool is not always feasible. Smoke technology provides the ability to incorporate the chemicals associated with fire in to a restoration when fire is not possible. Numerous species inhabiting fire-dependent ecosystems have evolved reproductive strategies to adapt to factors associated with fire. The use of smoke has been shown to increase the germination rate among some of these species. Seeds may be saturated with smoke either in or out of soil, heated in smoke, or soaked in smoke-infused water. Because seeds have different requirements the use of one or more of these techniques may be necessary to stimulate germination.

    A simple smoke infusion system can be used to induce germination in dormant seeds. We designed a versatile apparatus to accommodate all the methods of infusion mentioned above. With the use of this type of technology, native plants with fire-related germination requirements may be more readily used in restoration.

    Literature Cited

    Blank, R. R. and J. A. Young. 1998. Heated substrate and smoke: influence on seed emergence and plant growth. Journal of Range Management 51: 577-583.

    Blommaert, K.L.J. 1972. Buchu seed germination. Journal of South African Botany 38: 237-239.

    Brown, N. A. 1993. Promotion of germination of fynbos seeds by plant-derived smoke. New Phytology 123: 575-583.

    Egerton-Warburton L.M. 1998. A smoke-induced alternation of the sub-testa cuticle in seeds of the post-fire recruiter Emmenanthe penduliflora Benth (Hydrophyllaceae). Journal of Experimental Botany 49: 1317-1327.

    Coffey, M. 2003. Greening Australia. Accessed on 2 June 2003. http://www.greening

    Jager, A.K.; A. Strydom; J. Van Staden. 1996. The effect of ethylene, octanoic acid and a plant-derived smoke extract on the germination of light-sensitive lettuce seeds. Plant Growth Regulation 19: 197-201.

    Jeffrey, D.J.; P.M. Holmes; A.G. Rebelo. 1988. Effects of dry heat on seed germination in selected indigenous and alien legume species in South Africa. South African Journal of Botany 54: 28-34.

    Keeley, J.E. 1998. Smoke-induced seed germination of California chaparral.

    Ecology. October.

    Morris, E. C. 2000. Germination response of seven east Australian Grevillea species (Proteaceae) to smoke, heat exposure and scarification. Australian Journal of Botany 48: 179-189.

    Read, T. R., S. M. Bellairs, D. R. Mulligan and D. Lamb. 2000. Smoke and heat effects on soil seed bank germination for the re-establishment of a native forest community in New South Wales. Austral Ecology 254: 48-57.

    Regen 2000. 2003. Accessed on 2 June 2003.

    Roche, S., K.W. Dixon, and J.S. Pate. 1997. Seed ageing and smoke: partner cues in the amelioration of seed dormancy in selected Australian native species. Australian Journal of Botany 45: 783-815.

    Roche, S.; J. Koch; K.W. Dixon. 1997. Smoke-enhanced seed germination for mine ehability in the south-west of Western Australia. Restoration Ecology 5: 191-203.

    Tieu, A., K.A. Dixon, K. Sivasithamparam. 1999. Germination of four species of native western Australian plants using plant-derived smoke. Australian Journal of Botany 47: 207-219.

    Van Staden, J.; N.A.C. Brown; A.K. Jager; and T.A. Johnson. 2000. Smoke as a germination cue. Plant Species Biology 15: 167-178.

  17. E.M.Smith says:


    Amazon has decided to be “cute” and turn links into graphic product advertising shoved in the middle of your page. This fails with the “Kindle” message (for God Only Knows what reason and what software they are trying to re-use…).

    The way to fix that is to put “Link:” right in front of the link. (in reality, I think any text that has the link NOT start in the first position would work). I’ve done this with both of your link attempts so you can see how it works (now).

    Note, too, that in one of your pasted links, I removed all the tracking information (ref=sr_1_2?keywords=morning+glory+seeds+black&sr=8-2) which shows the keywords in your search and some other information about your activity. Leaving it ending with just the product ID (B004F8I4HY/) and in that way show both work, but you don’t need all the junk after and including “ref=….”

    So now you know both “why” and how to “fix” it.

  18. The True Nolan says:

    @EM: “So now you know both “why” and how to “fix” it.”

    Thanks, E.M., much appreciated. That blasted Amazon link surprised me. I normally test links before I place them into a comment, i.e., I open another tab, past them in, make sure they open correctly. and THEN put them into the comment. I was puzzled why it refused to open. Thanks for the clarification.

  19. Keith Macdonald says:

    I wasn’t sure whether to put this in “WOOD”, but as germinating seeds, and growing plants leads to photosynthesis, I’ll try my question here.

    Does starlight make water?

    You might have seen a wonderful video featuring the great physicist Richard Feynman:

    “People look at a tree and think it comes out of the ground, that plants grow out of the ground, ” he says, but “if you ask, where does the substance [of the tree] come from? You find out … trees come out of the air!”

    Or more recently. Derek Miller of Australia’s science video site, Veritasium.
    “Would it surprise you,” Derek asks three young guys in a park … “to discover that 95 percent of a tree is actually from carbon dioxide, that trees are largely made up of air?”

    How significant it seems (to me) that the people Miller interviews have no curiosity or awareness until he prompts them. And then the “light dawns”.

    Sunlight gets mentioned as an energy source. But what is it? A stream of photons that combine with the CO2 by the magic of photosynthesis

    In plant photosynthesis, the energy of light is used to drive the oxidation of water (H2O), producing oxygen gas (O2), hydrogen ions (H+), and electrons. Most of the removed electrons and hydrogen ions ultimately are transferred to carbon dioxide (CO2), which is reduced to organic products. Other electrons and hydrogen ions are used to reduce nitrate and sulfate to amino and sulfhydryl groups in amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. In most green cells, carbohydrates—especially starch and the sugar sucrose—are the major direct organic products of photosynthesis.

    OK, that’s the orthodox explanation.

    But what is that sunlight made of?
    OK, it’s a stream of photons.
    But what if the photons become protons?

    Researchers at Manchester University have discovered that the rate at which graphene conducts protons increases 10 fold when it is illuminated with sunlight. Dubbed the “photo-proton” effect, the finding could lead to graphene membranes being used to produce hydrogen from artificial photosynthesis, as well as for light-induced water splitting, photo-catalysis and in photodetectors.

    So, I’m wondering: In natural photosynthesis, does some of that photon/proton/hydrogen combine with oxygen to make more water?

    For our own amusement, some Feynman quotes:

    If you thought that science was certain – well, that is just an error on your part.

    We need to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed. It’s OK to say, “l don’t know.”

    We absolutely must leave room for doubt or there is no progress and no learning. There is no learning without having to pose a question. And a question requires doubt. People search for certainty. But there is no certainty.

    Looking back at the worst times, it always seems that they were times in which there were people who believed with absolute faith and absolute dogmatism in something. And they were so serious in this matter that they insisted that the rest of the world agree with them. And then they would do things that were directly inconsistent with their own beliefs in order to maintain that what they said was true.

  20. The True Nolan says:

    @ Keith Macdonald: “So, I’m wondering: In natural photosynthesis, does some of that photon/proton/hydrogen combine with oxygen to make more water?”

    Short answer? I think it does.

    A little more detail: (And let me preface this with a clear confession that others here (like E.M.) are way better at chemistry than I am, so I defer to the experts.) But if I remember correctly, the photosynthesis uses the photons to break down water to hydrogen (protons once you get rid of that pesky electron) and oxygen. But most chemical reactions have some level of back reaction. That is, while you are busy trying to synthesize foo out of bits of bar, some of the newly minted foo is simultaneously reverting to bits of bar. So presumably, while you are trying to make sugars out of CO2 and H2O, some of those bits of H could be expected to “go the wrong way” and link up again with some of that O. Chemical reactions are statistical. You can persuade reactions to MOSTLY go a certain way, but the little buggers sometimes go backward. My final answer? Yes, I think you must get some water reformed.

  21. E.M.Smith says:


    Per “does starlight make water”? The ultimate answer is “no”.

    Water is the combination of H with Oxygen. H is primordial (though can also get made from a proton spit of of some other atom… except it first got into some other atom via a Star doing Nuclear Fusion.

    The H eventually gets moved up the fusion food chain to an Alpha Particle (or a Helium-4 if it gets some electrons).

    At this point, the magic of Nuclear Chemistry takes over. In stars, as they burn their fuel and evolve, there is a peculiar love of alpha particles. Stable and plentiful, they make the backbone of stellar evolution and chemistry.

    So Stars just LOVE to make things with multiples of Alpha Particles. So looking at your periodic chart:

    You will see that 2 Alpha make a Be, but it tends to suck up more pretty quick and 3 of them make a Carbon 12. Four of them an Oxygen 16. Five a Neon. 6 gets you to Magnesium and 7 to Silicon 14 (mass of 28) along with Sulphur using 8 (mass 32). In the next row, Calcium is 20 (mass 40) .

    But here is where the OTHER big issue starts to rise up. Iron, at 26 (or 13 alphas, but with a mass of 55 to 56 has a few extra neutrons sucked up) is at THE lowest point in The Curve Of Binding Energy. You don’t get any more energy OUT from fusion after that point, and in fact have to start putting more energy back in.

    So things heavier that Iron come mostly from Nova and Supernova events pushing some of the atoms over the energy hump and up into very heavy energy dense things.

    THE main consequence of this is that stars make mostly those earlier lighter elements; and of them, really like to make the ones listed as multiples of alpha particles.

    And THAT, boys and girls, is why we are a Carbon Based life that lives on a largely Silicon Oxides rocky layer over an Iron core. Breathing Oxygen and drinking water. (And, incidentally, why Mg & Ca figure in our metabolism a lot, along with rock chemistry).

    Si, O, Mg, S, Ca, Iron figure prominently in crustal rocks. All but Si are common in life systems. Why? Because it is a lot of what was laying around to react and evolve…

    So, you see, it isn’t star LIGHT that made all the water. It was star Nuclear Chemistry that made the Oxygen that reacted with the H to make water… What happens to it after the star makes it is just not something the star worries about much…

    Oh, and since Star Nuclear Chemistry is pretty much the same everywhere, we can fairly reliably predict that most planets will be either Gas Giants with a lot of H, He, CO2, CH4 and similar in their gas layer; or “rocky planets” with a lot of rocks heavy in Silicon Oxides, S compounds like sulfates, Mg & Ca, and a fair amount of iron both in rocks and as metallic cores.

    Oh, and not as much Be and Ne as you might expect. They like to absorb another alpha and get rapidly “moved along” to the next more stable element. Similarly, any Lithium kicking about really likes to react and turn into something else, so Li is fairly rare in the earth crust. And yes, other stuff, like Na and K, are also very important, It isn’t ONLY alpha particles that get moved along, and some He is He3 after all…

    If you look into Stellar Nuclear Reactions you will find stars named for their stage of life and dominant element they are fusing. Neon stars. Helium burners. Even Carbon Stars that are mostly very dense carbon. Usually called Diamond Stars… And yes, if a Star effectively ran out of fuel at that stage and was not dense enough to go to the next stage of burning, it would “burn out” into a very very giant Diamond…

    But those are the big lumps.

    So your water is made in stars, but not of photons…

    FWIW, plants do respiration too, especially when it is dark. Then they break down stored food to grow and metabolize. This will break down sugars and add oxygen, making CO2 and water. So to some extent plants do make water… just not when they are breaking it down via photons…

  22. cdquarles says:

    Also, photorespiration occurs, in part where rubisco gets oxygen poisoned. That happens when the local (and background) carbon dioxide levels get too low. Why would any sane person want to starve plants? We *should* be returning some of that sequestered carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Optimum, I think, is near 1% carbon dioxide. Why? That’s what greenhouse operators find when they want to operate minimizing water input and/or losses.

  23. E.M.Smith says:


    Very good point.

    One of THE biggest arguments against “global warming” from CO2 levels is plant evolution.

    Almost all plants evolved to use C3 photosynthesis and it is best at 1000 to 2000 ppm CO2. That says those plants evolved for most of history in a high CO2 environment (or they would not be optimized for it… and dependent on it.) The “proposed” pre-modern industrial human CO2 level of about 200 ppm is near the CO2 starvation level of 180 ppm of those plants. The level where they die. We only ended up that low due to so much CO2 being “sequestered” in the soil and as coal / oil over millions of years. That is the “un-natural” level, per those plants.

    Fairly recently in evolutionary history, a different photosynthesis pathway has evolved, the C4 pathway. It works in lower CO2 levels by concentrating the CO2 inside the cell (and IMHO is a response to our abnormally low levels by historical evolutionary standards).

    Clearly life and the world did not end due to millions of years of 1000 ppm to 2000 ppm or even above that.

    There is also CAM photosynthesis that works with low CO2 and low water availability. Seen in some desert plants and in particular kinds of swamp plants. It is a bit older as swamps have been around a long time and can get very low CO2 at times.

    Understanding C4 Evolution and Function

    C4 photosynthesis is a remarkable example of convergent evolution, having independently evolved at least 62 times over the last 60 million years (Sage et al., 2011). In C4 species, Rubisco operates close to its maximal carboxylation rate through suppression of the oxygenation reaction. This activity is accomplished via the establishment of a molecular CO2 pump that delivers carbon in the form of C4 acid intermediates to a spatially sequestered Rubisco. This carbon pump can be set up using a diverse array of complex biochemical and morphological modifications relative to the ancestral C3 photosynthetic state.

    First off, notice that out of 4.5 Billion years of planet Earth, only in the last 60 million were plants stressed enough to make the C4 low CO2 adapted photosynthesis process. Then realize how harsh that pressure must have been for 62 separate evolutionary leaps to be made.

    Note that the next article from USGS thinks it was not 60 million but closer to 20 or 30 million years ago, and that the big push of species expanstion might be as close as 4 to 7 million years ago. I.E. about the same time as human beings were just separating from our ape ancestors. Almost nothing in geologic time, and nearly as small in evolutionary time.

    Both C4 and CAM “concentrate CO2”. You would not need to concentrate it were it already concentrated enough in the air… (or water for CAM swamp plants).

    I’ve added some line breaks in the below quote to make it more readable. It was one giant oppressive block of text… I’ve also bolded some bits for emphasis on what I’m talking about.

    Evolution of CAM and C4 carbon-concentrating mechanisms
    January 1, 2003

    Mechanisms for concentrating carbon around the Rubisco enzyme, which drives the carbon-reducing steps in photosynthesis, are widespread in plants; in vascular plants they are known as crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) and C4 photosynthesis.

    CAM is common in desert succulents, tropical epiphytes, and aquatic plants and is characterized by nighttime fixation of CO2. The proximal selective factor driving the evolution of this CO2-concentrating pathway is low daytime CO2, which results from the unusual reverse stomatal behavior of terrestrial CAM species or from patterns of ambient CO2 availability for aquatic CAM species.

    Also, with abnormally low near death CO2 concentrations, daytime photosynthesis can essentially remove all available CO2 from the local air & water.

    In terrestrials the ultimate selective factor is water stress that has selected for increased water use efficiency. In aquatics the ultimate selective factor is diel fluctuations in CO2 availability for palustrine species and extreme oligotrophic conditions for lacustrine species.

    C4 photosynthesis is based on similar biochemistry but carboxylation steps are spatially separated in the leaf rather than temporally as in CAM. This biochemical pathway is most commonly associated with a specialized leaf anatomy known as Kranz anatomy; however, there are exceptions.

    The ultimate selective factor driving the evolution of this pathway is excessively high photorespiration that inhibits normal C3 photosynthesis under high light and high temperature in both terrestrial and aquatic habitats.

    CAM is an ancient pathway that likely has been present since the Paleozoic era in aquatic species from shallow-water palustrine habitats. While atmospheric CO2 levels have undoubtedly affected the evolution of terrestrial plant carbon-concentrating mechanisms, there is reason to believe that past atmospheric changes have not played as important a selective role in the aquatic milieu since palustrine habitats today are not generally carbon sinks, and the selective factors driving aquatic CAM are autogenic.

    Terrestrial CAM, in contrast, is of increasing selective value under extreme water deficits, and undoubtedly, high Mesozoic CO2 levels reduced the amount of landscape perceived by plants as water limited. Late Tertiary and Quaternary reductions in atmospheric CO2, coupled with increasing seasonality, were probably times of substantial species radiation and ecological expansion for CAM plants.

    C4 photosynthesis occurs in only about half as many families as CAM, and three-fourths of C4 species are either grasses or sedges. Molecular phylogenies indicate C4 is a more recent innovation than CAM and that it originated in the mid-Tertiary, 20–30 Ma, although some data support an earlier origin. While the timing of the origin of C4 remains controversial, the nearly explosive increase in C4 species is clearly documented in the late Miocene, 4–7 Ma. Increasing seasonality has been widely suggested as an important climatic stimulus for this C4 expansion. Alternatively, based on models of photosynthetic quantum yield at different temperatures and CO2 concentration, it has been hypothesized that the late Miocene C4 expansion resulted from declining atmospheric CO2 levels.

    So basically, as recently as 7 million years ago (Ma) there was a lot more CO2 in the air, the world was happy, plants where loving it, and the first ancient Humans To Be were undergoing evolutionary stress as the forests of East Africa where they lived were drying and turning into Savanna, forcing them to walk and run on the ground, and shifting to more meat eating. Making us; the Carnivore / Omnivore runners of the plains in an increasingly CO2 starved world.

  24. Keith Macdonald says:

    Optimum, I think, is near 1% carbon dioxide.
    I can remember talking to some Dutch fruit & veg growers, using greenhouses and polytunnels all year. They were using waste heat and CO2 from a nearby power station. Not sure if they are allowed to do that any more.

    as recently as 7 million years ago (Ma) there was a lot more CO2 in the air

    No wonder there were giant forests, the veg-eating dinosaurs must have loved it.

    Anyone familiar with the south coast of England can see where a lot of the CO2 went. Harvested by marine mini-creatures over millions of years, eventually dying and depositing chalk layers hundreds of feet deep. Now visible as cliffs hundreds of feet high. It’s another good light-bulb moment for climate-doom-junkies when you ask them : “where did all that chalk come from?”

    Then explain the marine life-cycles.

    Chalk is composed of the shells of such minute marine organisms as foraminifera, coccoliths, and rhabdoliths. The purest varieties contain up to 99 percent calcium carbonate in the form of the mineral calcite. The sponge spicules, diatom and radiolarian tests (shells), detrital grains of quartz, and chert nodules (flint) found in chalk contribute small amounts of silica to its composition. Small proportions of clay minerals, glauconite, and calcium phosphate also are present.

    Extensive chalk deposits date from the Cretaceous Period (145.5 million to 65.5 million years ago), the name of which is derived from the Latin word (creta) for chalk. Such deposits occur in western Europe south of Sweden and in England, notably in the chalk cliffs of Dover along the English Channel. Other extensive deposits occur in the United States from South Dakota south to Texas and eastward to Alabama.

    Areas that used to be under water?

  25. cdquarles says:

    My own area used to be under water (I am in east central AL). There is a several hundred year remaining (and it has already been mined nearly 300 years) marble deposit containing some of the purest calcium carbonate found in the world. Water holds, when saturated, roughly 50 times the ambient carbon dioxide concentration, even if other sinks (such as diatoms, etc) are not active. Colder water holds more, warmer water holds less. There was someone named Henry who noticed this, if I am remembering correctly, and has a chemical “law” named for him.

  26. E.M.Smith says:


    There was a vast inland sea covering most of the middle of the USA. Like the North Sea, it had a lot of algae living in the warm shallows. Algae can be up to 50% vegetable oil (the little buggers keep on making it when the Nitrogen levels are too low to make proteins and divide into new cells, so they fill up with saved oil…). When they die and get buried in sediments, it turns into “petroleum oil”.

    Basically, petroleum is not dead dinosaurs, a lot of it is dead algae. (There are also other sources).

    Thus the Permian Basin in Texas as one of our great oil fields. Named for the period about 250 to 300 million years ago when it was deposited…

    Prior to The Great Oxygen Catastrophe (about 1/2 Earth’s lifetime ago) pretty much all the C in hydrocarbons & coal along with the CO2 in carbonate rocks from ocean deposits; was in the air as CO2.

    The early atmosphere
    Main article: Paleoatmosphere
    See also: Paleoclimatology and Atmosphere of Earth

    The composition of the Earth’s earliest atmosphere is not known with certainty. However, the bulk was likely nitrogen, N2, and carbon dioxide, CO2, which are also the predominant nitrogen- and carbon-bearing gases produced by volcanism today. These are relatively inert gases.

    So what happens when you get a lot of sequestration of CO2? Collapse of plants.

    Following the subsequent appearance, rapid evolution and radiation of land plants, which covered much of the Earth’s land surface, beginning about 450 Ma, oxygen concentrations reached and later exceeded current values (about 21%) during the early Carboniferous, when atmospheric carbon dioxide was drawn down below current concentrations (about 400 ppm) by oxygenic photosynthesis. This may have contributed to the Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse during the Moscovian and Kasimovian ages of the Pennsylvanian subperiod.

    The only reason we are not all dead now is because subduction via plate tectonics decomposes hydrocarbons, coal, carbonate rocks, and ocean ditritus that gets down into the lava layer; and that CO2 is dumped back into the air / ocean via volcanoes, to feed the plants. Without it, plants would suck down and sequester all the CO2 to levels where they die. Then the animals die.

    There are historical records from The Little Ice Age showing crops that would barely grow (even in warmer areas) and where you might get a dozen grains of wheat from one planted (instead of the dozens and hundreds we get now per one planted). CO2 dissolves a lot better in very cold ice age water…

    I think humanity was very close to another of those “forest collapse” events and it was our burning of fuels and especially things like coal and oil, that have enabled a huge increase in agricultural production.

    BTW, after 4.5 Billion years of fission of heavy isotopes in the Earth core and mantle, we are likely near the point where the process is running out of fuel. When (and it is a when) that happens, the planet core solidifies and we stop making atmosphere. Then we become like Mars. Mars just got there faster since it is a lot smaller with less fuel.

    I’d also assert that the Faint Sun Paradox is easily solved if you figure the heat from inside the planet was a lot greater with a fresh fuel load than now at the end. So we were fission warmed when the sun was 25% more dim. This, IMHO, also explains why Jupiter and Saturn can radiate more energy than they get from the sun.

    We are in a race condition to get off this rock and into space as a space faring species and it seems that only Elon “gets that”.

    FWIW, I think this is also a partial answer to the Fermi Paradox. Intelligent Life only reached a technological level on this planet near the very end of the planet life cycle. Slightly smaller planets, or slightly less initial load of heavy radioactive elements (U, Th, etc.) and we would not have been warm enough for the early start. Then would have burned out before reaching this stage. Much bigger and we have a much harder time getting off of the planet with rockets. The early stage is even more volcanic and that lasts longer, cooking a lot of early life attempts and holding off any oxygenation event. Basically, a Rare Earth hypothesis seasoned with a race condition of supernova fusion fuel in the planetary cores. So you need just the right balance of previous supernova providing elements, just the right sun composition and size for longer solar life, and just the right planet sizes and compositions to get a nice long warm wet life as the star evolves… and get intelligent life evolved soon enough to develop space travel before it all collapses… on a not-too-big and not-too-small planet..

  27. Keith Macdonald says:

    So you need just the right… everything.

    Reminds me of Paul Davies’ book – “The Goldilocks Enigma” or “Cosmic Jackpot”

    In Cosmic Jackpot, Davies argues that certain universal fundamental physical constants are precisely adjusted to make life in the Universe possible: that we have, in a sense, won a “cosmic jackpot,” and that conditions are “just right” for life, as in The Story of the Three Bears. As Davies writes elsewhere, “There is now broad agreement among physicists and cosmologists that the universe is in several respects ‘fine-tuned’ for life.

    It’s the kind of book that germinates lots of seed-ideas even in extremely old minds (like mine) ;-)

  28. erl happ says:

    @EM and Keth. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  29. beththeserf says:

    E.M. @ May 25.5.26.
    Re sequestration and shortage of carbon, I luved yr post “Get Wood” forget where/when…. are you able to post a link to it? Thx.

  30. beththeserf says:

    E.M. Thank you, that is the one. Ask yr permission post it
    where approprite.

  31. E.M.Smith says:


    Feel free. Links encouraged, but lots of quotes to get the message out is more important.

    The simple fact is that a little math makes it clear that plants suck down all the CO2 in the air until limited at low levels. Volcanoes (and out gassing from the oceans that also are fed by volcanoes and mid ocean ridges) are the only things keeping the entire ecosystem alive by freeing CO2 from the rocks and ocean bottom junk.

    Getting more people to understand that is a positive good.

  32. beththeserf says:

    Thx E.M. What I like about Get Wood, is the vivid image of the
    sequestration process in naychur that it presents and then the maths.
    It’s compellingly clear. :)

  33. Simon Derricutt says:

    EM – though OT for germinating seeds, the Rare Earth might also require a relatively large Moon to provide high-enough tides to concentrate the chemical brew trapped in tidal pools. A bit of stirring the broth.

    Given that our Earth (and life) so far seems to be pretty rare, having a cheap method to get to Space looks rather important, plus of course there are all those asteroids around for mining materials once you’ve got there. Thus it’s probably get off this rock and spread around, or die out. There’s always the (actually incalculable) risk of an asteroid strike wiping us out, or at least causing immense damage – the Biblical story of the Flood is also in quite a few other ancient stories from other traditions.

    On June 10th there will be a test in space of the IVO drive: . OK, it’ll need further development to lift something from ground level, but once it’s proven to work for real that will happen. Once we can do that, it’ll take a day or two to get to Mars. Interstellar travel will still be many years, though, without some other new physics, so then we’ll need the techniques to ensure germination of seeds that have been stored a long time. Aha! Back on-topic….

  34. The True Nolan says:

    @Simon Derricutt: “the Rare Earth might also require a relatively large Moon to provide high-enough tides to concentrate the chemical brew trapped in tidal pools. A bit of stirring the broth.”

    If it is correct that the Moon was created by a grazing impact with Earth by a Mars sized proto-planet, then we also need a Moon which grazed off much of the crust. The thinned crust is what allows tectonic recycling to go on longer than usual before crustal lockup (as on Venus).

  35. cdquarles says:

    If what’s reported about lunar regolith, which is that it is silicate rich, that seems to be the case. We have not been able to drill into it much. Earth’s solid crust is only a few miles thick, roughly 20; with some places thinner and others thicker. We have drilled completely through it, if reports are correct.

  36. Simon Derricutt says:

    TTN – interesting thing is that if you have two colliding bodies, *something else*has to carry off excess momentum to enable the end result to be one body orbiting the other. If of course it’s a close encounter without a collision, then such capture is not possible without a third body to take away excess momentum, though you can speculate on a grazing hit and the detritus of the collision carrying the momentum off (puts a narrow bound on accuracy of the hit, so gets far less probable). If the planet that collided with the Earth was too large, then you’d expect the orbit to be very much affected and to become much more elliptical.

    For me, therefore, the various “collision” stories of how the Moon came about don’t match the evidence of what we see today. Any interaction with some other body must conserve both linear and angular momentum, and with only two bodies involved you either get a hyperbolic path for both (and the orbit of the Earth becoming more elliptical) or a collision with the orbit becoming a lot more elliptical. With the Earth’s orbit eccentricity being currently around 0.0167, so difference in distance from the Sun varying by around 3.4% over the year, it looks like the “other body” that produced the Moon must have been pretty small, so maybe more likely that the Earth and Moon condensed out of the same swirl of material as all the other planets condensed too.

    I suppose the biggest question here is why the Earth and most planets have orbits so near circular.

  37. The True Nolan says:

    @Simon Derricutt: “*something else*has to carry off excess momentum to enable the end result to be one body orbiting the other. ”

    Yes, absolutely. Of course the lack of perfectly elastic planets makes that harder to model, but easier to get rid of energy. My suspicion is that a really good model and a supercomputer would be needed to make much headway on the problem. I can see several avenues all contributing to dumping enough energy. First is, exactly what orbits are involved in the collision? Is one body coming up from behind the other, ie, are they both in similar orbits so that the collision is lower velocity? Or are they BANGING in some other, much higher speed collision? How much energy is dumped by the pulverization of a billion cubic miles of rock? How much energy is radiated out? And remember that a collision of this magnitude is going to be putting out radiation all the way up to the X-ray range; maybe gamma rays. Once you have a cloud of rock in space, it will act in some ways like a gas. Random interactions are going to leave a distribution of velocities for the chunks. The ones on the high end of the curve will shoot off, some on longer term orbits, some on hyperbolic paths that never come back — but either way, both the total and the average momentum is lowered for the debris cloud. Meanwhile the lower velocity population will be hanging around for capture. This is not a simple problem… but yes, SOMETHING has to move a LOT of momentum out of the system, and certainly a lot of that will be as ejected mass. In this case, 3+1=3.5 plus .5 going quickly elsewhere.

  38. Simon Derricutt says:

    TTN – yep, dumping the energy is pretty easy, but it’s the momentum that’s the tricky bit.

    The recent DART test of slamming a rocket into an asteroid shows the problem nicely. Because of the small size of the rocket relative to the asteroid, lots of ejecta came out from the asteroid and the momentum change on the asteroid was around 5x the momentum of the rocket (the other 4x went into the ejected stuff in the opposite direction to the input rocket). NASA call this “momentum enhancement”.

    Given the much wider range of elliptical orbits relative to an almost-circular one, any momentum change on a planet is more likely to make the orbit more elliptical than to make it more circular. In a system with many planets, a widely-elliptical orbit of one or more is going to be unstable, I think, and near-circular orbits will be the only stable system. I’d expect planets with widely elliptical orbits to be ejected at some point.

    Overall, this makes the probability of a collision forming the Moon look extremely unlikely, I think. If the initial orbit of the Earth was elliptical enough to hit something else, it wouldn’t have lasted long in that orbit and was far more likely to be ejected than to achieve a near-circular orbit as a result of a collision.

    AFAIK, no-one has yet sorted out a calculation for gravitation for 3 or more bodies, so you need to run a numeric calculation using timesteps to calculate the orbits. Smaller the timesteps used, the more accurate the simulation. I read a while back that such simulations of real planetary systems always end up with the system falling apart – maybe the timesteps chosen were not small enough and thus not accurate enough, or maybe it’s actually real and planetary systems have a definite lifetime. Of course, there’s also the geometric problem that the gravitational attraction deviates from the theoretical inverse-square law as you get close-enough to it that it can no longer be regarded as a point attractor, but has a significant solid angle subtended. This dependence of actual attraction on the shape and density of the gravitational body probably explains why the various experiments used to determine G disagree by more than the estimated error bounds. Most fundamental constants are known to around 10 decimal places, but G only to around 5.

    Hey, I nitpick stuff a lot.

  39. The True Nolan says:

    @Simon Derricutt: “Because of the small size of the rocket relative to the asteroid, lots of ejecta came out from the asteroid and the momentum change on the asteroid was around 5x the momentum of the rocket (the other 4x went into the ejected stuff in the opposite direction to the input rocket). NASA call this “momentum enhancement”.”

    Really?! How cool. I had not heard of that at all. Seems very counter intuitive.

    “In a system with many planets, a widely-elliptical orbit of one or more is going to be unstable, I think, and near-circular orbits will be the only stable system. ”

    I don’t know if you ever visited a science blog called Tallbloke’s Talkshop”.
    For some reason I drifted away from there about five or ten years ago — but there used to be a lot of articles and discussion on orbital resonance between planets and moons. Call it a simple hunch, but I wonder whether resonance is somehow responsible for circularizing orbits. Most astronomers know about the resonances of Jupiter’s Galilean moons, but these guys were finding all sorts of resonance between rotational periods as well as orbital periods. I seem to remember that there were even resonances between the Earth-Venus-Mercury trio. Doing just a quick search, this turned up:

    Orbital resonance and the celestial origins of Earth’s climatic changes – Why Phi?

    ” Of course, there’s also the geometric problem that the gravitational attraction deviates from the theoretical inverse-square law as you get close-enough to it that it can no longer be regarded as a point attractor, but has a significant solid angle subtended. ”

    Ha! That is one of my favorite bits of physics! I think you are the only other person I have ever heard mention that! The same thing turns up in near field equations for antennas — but how many people think about the gravitational case for the same thing? A point source gives 1/r^2. An infinite rod (or merely REALLY long in the real world as long as you are closer than the length of the rod) gives 1/r^1, ie 1/r. An infinite plan gives 1/r^0 — which is to say a constant acceleration no matter how far away you are. Now it gets interesting. Suppose you have an infinite 3D lattice of bodies or something approximating it. That should give 1/r^-1, ie, wherever you start from there is a repulsive force which increases with distance. Expanding universe, anyone? On the other hand, how do you keep globular clusters from spitting out their stars?

    Simon, you always make me think! (Of course I am not always RIGHT when I think, but I still enjoy the experience.)

  40. E.M.Smith says:


    A large moon does several good things. Stabilizes the planet with respect to tumble, for one thing. Then tides, yes, both water and other tidal effects. Would a technical society survive on a water world like ours if every so often the planet tipped over and the oceans got sloshed over all the land?…

    I wonder if advanced life can only evolved on binary planet systems…. (I consider our moon best described as a sister planet, as argued by Newton).

    @TTN (per thin crust): Ooohh! Good one.

  41. Simon Derricutt says:

    TTN – see for a report on DART that mentions momentum enhancement. One of those things that you’d initially think “nah” but once you’ve seen it it’s obvious. Another interesting thing is that no matter what the hit angle is, a crater ends up circular.

    I’d read that Tallbloke article before, too. Also interesting, and a lot of work involved in calculating all the ratios and finding that they are whole numbers. The cyclic changes in eccentricity of the orbits is now mainstream-enough that the Wiki entry on orbital eccentricity mentions it. Given that tidal effects on a planet will also vary with that, the implication is that volcanism also has cycles, and thus will affect climate cycles too.

    For quite a while now I’ve been following MikeMcCulloch ( ) since his equations use experimental values and contain no fudge-factors, yet work well at predicting what actually happens. Size matters when it comes to the universe. One prediction here is that gravity does not follow Newton’s inverse square law exactly, but asymptotes to a “minimum possible acceleration quantum” of around 2e-10m/s² (and that depends on the current size of the universe). That explains the galactic rotation anomaly without needing to hypothesise Dark Matter.

    Though Mike’s explanation of inertia also works, and predicts the ability to produce a “reactionless” drive (that is, it doesn’t eject mass to produce a reactive force) there is a logical recursion problem in there that few people notice even when it’s pointed out. That problem is with any explanation that uses waves, since in order to support a wave we need an analogue of springiness and an analogue of inertia built into whatever supports the wave, otherwise the wave can’t exist. The wave propagation rate depends on the ratio between the springiness and the inertia. Thus, even though the equations work out, there’s some deeper explanation still to come.

    Still, going into the infinite matrix of matter and the gravitational effects produced, that 1/r^-1 is in fact just r, but I haven’t considered that before. Force increases as r, but it would be an attractive force. However, since that would only apply while you were inside that volume, there’s actually no number you can plug in for r here, so it’s indeterminate (and would in fact sum to zero for an infinite volume). While you are some distance from an infinite plane, r is easy to state. Still, bearing in mind that this works for gravity being exactly an inverse square, and that relationship breaks down for both short distances and huge ones, might be some higher-order deviations from a null result.

    Fun orbit: consider a toroid of matter, spinning on its axis for stability. A planet on that axis would have an “orbit” of a straight line along the axis. Off-axis, the orbit would become figure-of-eight.

    Sometimes we find something experimentally we can’t explain, and try different explanations till we find some that work, sometimes it’ll be a new theory that drives looking for an experimental effect. Might be found, might not.

    EM – stabilising the planet. Maybe which could be a nasty event to go through, but then there’s a Bible description of the Sun standing still in the sky for a while and then setting in the same place it rose. Maybe somewhere else nearer the ocean, at the same time, people experienced a big flood. Dating ancient stories can be difficult, after all. According to current theory though, the Moon used to be a lot closer, and the energy in that orbit has been gradually dissipated in the tides. IIRC the Moon’s orbit is getting around 3mm further out each year at the moment, since it’s been measured after the Moon landing by a laser reflection from a box reflector left behind, using an observatory in Texas.

    Might have taken longer to work out celestial mechanics if we hadn’t had the Moon as a visible example. Then again, without the Moon, we might not have evolved at all.

  42. Keith Macdonald says:

    Funding appeal: Mike McCulloch needs your help to make interstellar travel possible.

    Funding appeal: Mike McCulloch needs your help to make interstellar travel possible.

  43. The True Nolan says:

    @Simon Derricutt: “For quite a while now I’ve been following MikeMcCulloch ”

    Same here — and right or wrong, I like the simplicity of his theory. No handwaving, no miracles, and no “dark matter”. Very bright guy! It’s hard to think simply when everyone else if getting more and more mysterious.

    Speaking of cases where gravitational attraction does NOT go according to inverse r^2, here is a link to a short article showing that for an infinite plane, attraction is a constant, no matter what r is. (IE, r^0).

    The demo for an infinite rod where attraction goes by inverse of r (IE, R^1) is similar, but there is a pretty easy thought experiment to show why that is. Imagine you are at some r above an infinite rod. Draw some small angle theta from you, directly to the rod. That angle subtends some amount of mass m, and that mass has some gravitational attraction to you. Now double r so you are twice as far away. That original angle theta now subtends twice as much matter, so instead of the attraction dropping by four times (as would be expected from r^2), it only drops by half. The same thing happens no matter what you increase r by. The attraction always drops by r, not by r^2.

    With an infinte disk, the increase in mass subtended by any the original angle always exactly cancels out the dimunition by r^2, so you end up with attraction being a constant, r^0.

    Who was the Greek who said “give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I will move the world!”? Maybe that’s the problem with infinite 3D objects. “Give me a 4th dimensional place to stand, and I will see which way gravity works with that infinite 3D mass!”

  44. Simon Derricutt says:

    TTN – I came up with these relationships independently, though I can’t remember what led me down that rabbit-hole. In fact, though people use the idea of all the mass being concentrated at the centre of gravity (CoG) and then a 1/r² relationship to that CoG, it’s also realised that the actual gravitational force is the sum of all the atoms involved, so satellites map the gravitational force of the Earth to find density variations in it. Also it’s understood that the local “vertical” bends in a bit towards a large mountain or pyramid.

    For Mike’s QI, looks like all the predictions are getting experimental verification or they match what’s already been observed. Maybe a problem in figuring out what that really means for how the universe works and what a particle is, but we can just use the formulae to make things that work and figure the rest later. Interesting thing at the moment is that it looks like Mike is now hinting that QI can be used to make energy, so maybe my comments over the years have had some effect. The logic for this is, I think, unassailable, and applies to any thruster that produces thrust without needing to eject mass to do it, but of course it’s a direct violation of Conservation of Energy and thus a heretical thought.

    Thus the various “reactionless” space drives have a major application here on Earth, and once they have been further developed (more thrust, maybe more thrust per watt) will be able to produce energy anywhere 24/7 independent of weather and not needing fuel. That old dream may actually turn out to be true. Bit like waiting for a bus for hours, and then 3 come along, in that another friend working on exploiting the Meissner effect will probably succeed in making energy from *nothing* too. Logic looks good, just technically needs a lot of skills (which he has). Bottom line for any conservation law is “what symmetry does that rely on” and “can we break that symmetry?”.

    Long way from germinating old seeds, but as I said we may need to get good at doing that if we travel to another star.

  45. beng135 says:

    Vacationing, collected a huge Coulter pine cone not far inland from San Francisco around 1990 and set on a shelf above a fireplace back home in VA. Couple of moves later around 2005 was curious and noticed big seeds still in the cone. Planted a couple outdoors and 2 sprouted and grew! Unfortunately deer chewed both of them, tho they wouldn’t have survived long in MD’s climate.

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