Newton’s Apple Tree Headed to Space *
Isaac Newton’s Apple Tree to Experience Zero Gravity – in Space **
Newton’s Apple Tree Bound for Gravity-Free Orbit ***
Have you come across enthusiastic headlines and captions like the ones above, for the past week or so, in dailies, weeklies, blogs et al?
No? Well then, allow me to be the bearer of some exciting and interesting tidings.
Remember the illustrious apple tree underneath which young (twenty-three year old) Isaac Newton, physicist and mathematician, sat one afternoon, mulling over all the concepts, ideas and notions vying for attention inside his head?
And then the aforementioned tree deemed it the right moment to plop an apple next to him. If it were any other mere mortal, I think s/he would have picked up the apple, dusted the dirt off, taken a crunchy bite out of it and gone on with their musings.
Not so our man of the moment, Sir Isaac Newton. The wheels of his mind began to turn faster: Now, why did that apple fall straight to the ground? Why did it not travel sideways a bit before it fell? Or, why did it not just fly upwards?
A light bulb went off inside his head: Of course! It is because earth pulls things towards it.
And from thence was born: The Universal Law of Gravitation.
Are you going, at this point, “Hmm… Hema’s nattering on as if she has been sitting right next to Newton when the apple fell, and heard him think these questions out loud. What baloney!”
No, of course, I wasn’t there myself, but here’s what William Stukeley, one of the first biographers of Sir Isaac Newton, said as told to him by the subject of his biography himself:*
It was occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself … Why should it not go sideways, or upwards? But constantly to the earth’s center? Assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. There must be a drawing power in matter.
Where does the apple tree in space enter into the picture? I’m coming to just that.
British-born NASA astronaut Piers Sellers carried with him a 4-inch sliver of the apple tree, beneath which Newton sat those 350 years ago, aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on its final mission. (The shuttle is currently on a 12-day mission that began on the afternoon of Friday, the 14th of May, at 2:20 P.M. EDT, to deliver some hardware to the International Space Station.)
Sellers is flying the piece of wood for the Royal Society of London, of which Newton was a former president. It seems that this piece of tree has written on it, in 18th century lettering, the words:
Now, isn’t that exciting? What do you think Newton would have said if he were around? He definitely would have approved.
The piece of the tree will be returned to the Royal Society following the Atlantis’s return to earth from the twelve-day flight.
Now, here’s my question for the day, dear readers:
If you were given the chance to pick one thing that would be made part of a time capsule to be buried (don’t know how that would be done, but let’s just leave it at that for now) in space for extra terrestrials to find, what would you choose?
My answer: A bottle of water from the Pacific Ocean. Why? Because some of the earliest forms of life on earth are believed to have originated inside the ocean.
There’s also another aspect to water on earth that intrigues me no end. What exactly is it? That’s a whole another post for another day! :)
* – CBS News
** – The Guardian
*** – NPR
NASA’s Mission Page – Has videos of the lift-off of the shuttle and in-depth information about the mission.