Pardon me for being rude, it was not me it was my food

This week, we look more into thechemistry behind the Venus Fly Trap, and explore how it uses its methods to obtain key nutrients from insects that it catches.
Previously, I wrote that due to the acidity of its soil, the Venus Fly Trap is forced to become carnivorous in order to adapt to its environment. Using its mouths to trap wandering prey as they unknowingly stroll into their impending doom.

This head is beginning to open after a week of digesting a spider.

Slowly, the insect is digested for all its useful nutrients so that to plant may continue to thrive and grow. Although plants don’t have tendons that can grab, chew and swallow their food. This raises a question, how does it get food to its stomach?
Well, the heads are infact both mouth and stomach in one. In truth, we aren’t totally sure how the process all works but the theory goes that cells may be compressed inside the mouth, this tension may actually hold the mouth open and its the insects weight and movement that break this tension and cause it to snap shut. Another hypothesis, mechanical movement in the trigger hairs changes water pressure within the cells, where the cells are expanded by water pressure and the trap closes as the cell tissue relaxes.

So how does the plant break its food down?

Just like our stomachs, the Venus Fly Trap uses acidic digestive fluids that dissolve soft tissues and cell membranes of the insect. Using enzymes it will digest DNA, amino acids and other cellular molecules into smell edible pieces that can be used for energy, growth and development. All that remains afterwards is an eerie exoskeleton of the insect!

Closer look at the recently digested meal.

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Is it possible to travel faster than light?

To begin to understand this question you must first understand what light itself is. A seemingly obvious notion at first, it is the very thing that allows us to observe our surroundings, but you must also understand how light works.
Thanks to the power of todays communication technologies, it is becoming increasingly common knowledge that light does not travel at infinite speeds. In fact, the finite speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. This was first discovered by Ole Christensen Roemer in 1676 who studied Jupiter’s moons orbital patterns. He discovered the closer we are to Jupiter in space, the earlier moons appeared from behind it. At times when we are far from Jupiter, the moons appear later from behind it. His conclusions had birthed the speed of light.
Although, his actual work led him to believe the speed of light was around 140,000 miles per second, however, modern technology has allowed us to determine a more accurate speed.

Ole Christensen Roemer

So, we would need to travel at this speed to travel faster than light itself. So the answer to our original question is, quite bluntly, no.

To give you examples of our own records, the fastest unmanned vehicle is the HTV-2, that travelled at 13,201 miles per hour. The fastest manned vehicle is the North American X-15, piloted by William J. Knight, travelling 4,510 miles per hour.

Google search: HTV-2

However, to reach a speed of 186,000 miles per second (or 669,600,000 miles per hour) the factors of an engines power or a humans piloting skills are shot out of the window (not literally, of course).
Light can travel at such speeds because it has no mass, as it is made up of photons which equally have no mass. In Stephen Hawking’s, A Brief History of Time, he wrote than this is explained in Albert Einstein’s famous theory E = mc² (E = energy, m = mass, c = speed of light).
Einstein’s law was that nothing may travel faster than the speed of light. It is difficult to simplify this process but the more energy an object uses (say a car engine) this will add to its mass, making it harder for it to keep increasing its speed (resulting in a car only being able to reach a top speed and not forever accelerating faster and faster). This means than light, and other waves of no mass, can travel at or faster than the speed of light.

Sheldon from Big Bang Theory in a “doppler effect costume”. Waves increase in size the further they move away from the source.

This puts a rather dull dousing on the fantasy of galactic-light-speed-space-travel like in Star Wars, but also confirms we cannot travel faster than time itself as light allows us to experience time, however, that is a lesson for another day…

Google Search: Light Speed

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Drosera Capensis Alba

Last time I wrote that I would be bringing in a new addition, and here we are…

Drosera Capensis Alba

This beautiful contraption uses a sticky dew to catch its prey – as you see from above it is quite popular amongst the local flies.

It differs from other carnivorous plants in this way so it can take advantage of the dew that sweeps across our gardens each morning, however, I read online that leaving in direct sunlight too long can essentially “dry out” the plant. This is something I’ll have to monitor over the next few days so any advice you may have could prove vital.

It joins both Hector (Venus Fly Trap) and Henrietta (Nepenthes) on my balcony outside, although I may move the Drosera Capensis to another pot to avoid any weight or “overcrowding” issues.

Unlike other Drosera Capensis, the Alba variety is given this name because it keeps its lush green colour. As a result, I feel Jessica can be the only befitting name (there was also Jordi but you may not be familiar with him) for this carnivore.

As an insect becomes trapped in this sticky fluid, the plant will slowly begin to curl and close in on the prey. Above you can see this fly has just landed – in fact, if I could upload a video I would because it’s still alive and moving!

You can see the curvature at the top of the image (which I can just about count 4 flies) as this begins to close. None of the arms are at a fully curved stage so I’ll watch closely and ensure I get greater images for the next blog.

In terms of watering, treat it like other carnivores in the sense of giving it distilled water. I read that eventually Drosera Capensis produces flowers so it will not require too much watering – just keep the soil damp and you should be ok. Budding botanists online have advised that these are some of the easiest carnivores to look after!

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Cycles!

As we reach June the summer weather should be hitting us now here in London, UK. It’s been late and after a wet week our gardens will be after some real sunshine.

Hector has completed a cycle!

All of the heads that were present when I first brought my Venus Fly Trap have now gone and the image above is a fresh batch of leafs and heads that have grown with me. We have a warm week forecast ahead of us so I’m hoping for some real growth now!

Hector and Henrietta in their permanent home

New sacs are forming on my Nepenthes, Bloody Mary, and have even began attracting visitors. I’m just hoping to show you a real catch soon!

As the old from last year have passed, the new life in your garden will be prepared for summer and should be just about ready for long warm nights, make sure you can take full advantage of the late evening sunlight.

This week I cared for my neighbours plants and the cycle of strawberries is going well (not that I can say the same for my own which are still only crowns!)

It’s a time of year that keeps gardeners and botanists at their busiest and I’ll be adding a new addition to my collection very soon. It is important to keep a careful eye out for pests and bugs that will try to eat your precious fruits but with the right care and determination you should be able to have lovely edible fruit at the end of July!

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How does a Star die?

Deep inside the core of a Star a war wages against gravity – the larger the Star, the more intense the battle. It is locked in a constant state of producing energy to push against the Star collapsing in on itself under the sheer weight of its own gravity (if you can attempt to imagine such a thing). While there is still Hydrogen burning to Helium in the core, energy is produced and creates an equal pressure against the gravity.

Google Search: Star in Space




So what happens when the Hydrogen runs out?



As the Hydrogen fades the pressure holding up the gravity will weaken and the core cools very quickly, leaving an outer shell of Hydrogen and Helium that has been pushed to the surface. As the gravity collapses this causes the core to rapidly heat up once again, and at 100m degrees Helium nuclei will fuse together.

This will cause further energy to be released and stops its own collapse once again, this time Carbon and Oxygen are produced. The larger the Star, the longer the fusion can carry out its reaction. As the energy runs out again, the collapse will happen again and as the temperature rises further, elements such as Magnesium, Neon, Sodium and Aluminium are produced.

This fusion process will continue inside the Star’s core going from one element to the next until it has burnt through all the elements we know.

Google Search: Red Giant

Finally, after everything has been burnt the Star will turn into pure Iron and this is when the fusion will stop. Each of the elements will be stacked on top of eachother in layers ending with Hydrogen, Helium, Carbon, Oxygen and so on.

Within seconds – bang.

Google Search: Supernova

With no energy left holding its weight, the sun will collapse and turn into a Supernova.

Could this happen to our Sun?



It will, but not anytime soon. Our Sun will still take a very long time to die however, it is worth turning out attention to one of the nearest Star – Betelgeuse, located in the constellation of Orion.

Google Search: Betelgeuse Star




Only 600 light-years away, Betelgeuse is a Red Giant (a dying Star) and could Supernova any day between tomorrow and the next million years. It will shine with the power of a thousand Suns and will appear about the size of our Moon!

Betelgeuse, according to Scientists, has dimmed about 15% in the last 10 years.

Does this spell the end of life if Betelgeuse explodes?



Probably not – I will cover this topic more on another day but it is certainly not anything we need to start worrying about.

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