September-October, 2021: garden diary

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” – John Keats, To Autumn.

The onset of Autumn has brought with it occasional mists and plenty of fruitfulness. But in more abundance this year have come high winds and lashing rain, intermingled with some extended and pleasant spells of sun and warmth. The change of seasons has brought very changeable weather.

Our Rhus Typhina, or Staghorn Sumac, has put on a particularly splendid display of autumn colour, first with its fruits and then in early October with the reds and oranges of its leaves.

The Cosmos have hung on right to the end of October, their vivid mauves, violets and pinks defying the first frost to appear.

A similar tone is displayed by the Sedum, its rubbery leaves affording it protection from harsh conditions.

Even more striking have been the low-lying but gleaming Gazania Tiger Stripes flowers, seemingly indestructible by any storms.

As for fruitfulness, we’ve had an amazing crop of both eating and cooking apples; but our sweetcorn and Cylindra beetroot have been so-so.

If our planned house move goes ahead, this will be our last season in this garden. It’s been a very interesting challenge and we’ve learned a great deal.

But one of the greatest satisfactions about gardening is that one never stops learning …

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NASA to throw a dart to nudge an asteroid off course

Cop this. While many of the world’s leaders discuss saving the planet from destruction by man-made climate threats, NASA is preparing a mission to address extra-terrestrial threats, exploring whether asteroids headed this way could be deflected off course, thus missing the Earth.

Together with a number of other organisations, NASA is in the final stages of readying the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, in a launch window which commences on the 24th of next month. The actual target location comprises not one but two asteroids. The Didymos binary asteroid is made up of a primary body and a secondary “moonlet” which orbits around it.

NASA describes the mission as “a planetary defense-driven test of technologies for preventing an impact of Earth by a hazardous asteroid. DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space … While the Didymos primary body is approximately 780 meters across, its secondary body (or “moonlet”) is about 160-meters in size, which is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth. The Didymos binary is being intensely observed using telescopes on Earth to precisely measure its properties before DART arrives.”

I find this whole idea quite mind-blowing. Rocket science never ceases to amaze me; but it seems to me that this particular mission has the potential to open up a massive field of science-based experimentation and solutions. The DART spacecraft is tasked with altering the moonlet’s orbit by only a fraction of a degree, but in a real-world situation that would be quite enough to divert a threatening body onto a non-colliding course.

But think of the longer-term implications. If long-distance “nudging” could be engineered to steer asteroids and/or moonlets back towards Earth but on a safe trajectory, all kinds of geological and chemical resources could become available.

Why travel to far-off bodies if we can give them a carefully-calculated shove with a one-off ‘dart’ and bring them within more easy reach?

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Credit

NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab

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