Image: Flowers, by Alvegaspar CC BY-SA 3.0 via wikimedia.org
If you watch science documentaries like Nova or The Nature of Things, you might get the feeling that what’s most exciting about science is all the questions scientists have answers to – all the things we’ve learned about how our universe ticks. (It’s built right into the title of The Nature of Things.) But what I love most about science, and especially biology, is how easy it is to ask a question that we don’t have the answer to. Why are there so many species of beetles*, but so few of snakeflies? Why does life use a basic set of 20 amino acids, not 18 or 26? And one that has me completely stumped: why on Earth are flowers beautiful?
“Why are flowers beautiful” might sound like a trivial question, but I don’t think it is. Continue reading →
(Thoughts on time and change, from Iceland)
Photo: Lava flow, near Selatangar, Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland (all photos in this post © Stephen Heard or Kristie Heard)
Iceland is a beautiful country, a changing country, a very young country, and an old one.
Photo: Tuff cliffs from Eldfell cone, Heimaey, Westman Islands, Iceland
Iceland, of course, is a newborn in geological terms, sprouting from the MidAtlantic Ridge and still growing. The Earth’s bones show everywhere: sometimes cloaked only in a thin layer of moss, as on the lava flow above; sometimes a little more fully dressed; and sometimes, completely exposed. The other day, I climbed Eldfell*, the volcanic cone from the 1973 eruption on Heimaey, in the Westman Islands. I was looking across at grass-capped cliffs of tuff just 5,000 years old; but the ground beneath my feet was bare cinder, and younger than I am. Continue reading →