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07/20/2005

Stellar Matters or Not

Last week, we said goodbye to a stellar athlete in his last
performance at a renowned venue. We also said hello to a novel
stellar trio and an offspring. In addition, I learned that a stellar
presence might not be necessary for photosynthesis. But first,
there wasn’t a dry eye in the golf world last week as Jack
Nicklaus, with son Steve carrying his bag, strode down the 18th
fairway at St. Andrews last Friday in his last appearance in a
British Open. The prolonged cheers and applause of the
appreciative crowd not only acknowledged a true gentleman and
a golfer without peer, but also showed support for the Nicklaus
family after the recent tragic loss of Steve’s young son, who
drowned in a swimming pool. And it was pure Nicklaus when he
sank that final curving birdie putt.

That putt brought to mind another putt I witnessed in the 1980
U.S. Open at nearby Baltusrol, where I followed Nicklaus and
Isao Aoki as they battled for the Open title on the last day of the
tournament. On one green, Nicklaus had gone through his
customary deliberate routine of lining up his 25-30 foot putt and
had started his stroke when some idiot yelled out, “YEEEE-
HAW!” at the top of his voice. Nicklaus stopped, stepped back,
went through his whole routine again and sank the putt! He went
on to win the Open, besting Aoki by two strokes. (In the opening
round of that tournament, Nicklaus shot a record-tying 63!)

Watching Jack on the 18th at St. Andrews also reminded me of
September 10, 1985 when I strode up that very same fairway.
There was no crowd to cheer me; indeed my wife and I and a
caddy finishing a round of his own were the only ones left on the
course. My wife and I had teed off late in the afternoon and, by
the 16th hole, the sun had set and my sensible wife, who had
stopped playing, suggested that since it was dark I should pack it
in. Any dedicated golfer will realize that there was no way I
wasn’t going to play St. Andrews’ signature 17th, the famous
Road Hole. So, by the light of the moon and lights from the
hotels, I finished the round. On the Road Hole, I heard my drive
hit the landmark shed but had no idea where it ended up and
carded a 12 on the hole. A terrible score but I was happy – I
played the Road hole and finished St. Andrews with a 52-62 114.

The next day, with the same rented clubs from St. Andrews, I
drove to Carnoustie, another British Open venue. There, I was
sent out all alone on a gloomy but dry day with a map of the
course in hand. Being alone, I had the luxury of slowly and
deliberately thinking out every shot. My score there was 52-57
109 in daylight. For a hacker like myself, playing St. Andrews
and Carnoustie back to back was beyond my wildest dreams.

To nongolfers, I apologize for going on so about my golfing
exploits. Back to my intended segue from Nicklaus’ stellar
career to the stellar trio. After devoting my last two columns to
planets and the formation of solar systems, I hadn’t planned to
return to such topics so soon but I must mention the new planet
that made the headlines last week. We’ve talked about other
solar systems with as many as two or three planets orbiting the
star. Last week we learned about something reminiscent of Star
Wars, a planet orbiting a star with two other suns nearby.

In a recent issue of Nature, researchers published their finding of
a planet bigger than Jupiter orbiting a yellow star. This hot-
Jupiter has a very close orbit to the yellow star, circling it in just
a few days. The odd thing is that the yellow star is one of a trio
of stars known as HD 188753 about 149 light-years from Earth.
The stars are also pretty close to each other, roughly the distance
from our Sun to Saturn. It would be almost like fitting another
two suns into our solar system.

If you lived on this newly discovered planet, you would see your
own yellow sun, looming rather large overhead, I suspect. But
you would also see two other suns, one orange and one red. Star
Wars fans will remember that Luke Skywalker’s home planet
had multiple stars. With yellow, orange and red suns, one would
probably have to pay close attention to the type of sunscreen
needed to filter out the harmful rays. However, if there were a
habitable planet out there, there should be plenty of photons to
promote photosynthesis and the growth of plant life.

Which brings us to our last topic – so-called green sulfur bacteria
and an article by J. Thomas Beatty of the University of British
Columbia and 8 other authors in the June 28 Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences. Beatty and his international
team have studied green sulfur bacteria that grow around
hydrothermal vents in ocean bottoms that are the breeding
grounds of various strange critters. These hot vents are deep,
more than a mile below the surface. At these depths, there’s no
light from the Sun.

Yet, these photosynthetic green sulfur bacteria need light to
grow. Light is required to oxidize sulfur compounds to reduce
carbon dioxide forming organic carbon compounds. So, where
does the light come from? The answer seems to be that the light
comes from the hot vents, weak though it is – so weak that we
can’t see it. We know, for example, that the heating coils in our
toaster glow red hot when heated. Similarly, the hot vents, while
not likely to be red hot, will give off weak light. In an interview
with John Allen of the University of London by Jennifer Viegas
posted July 19 on the Discovery Channel Web site, Allen is
quoted as saying that scientist Euan Nisbet and coworkers
suggested 10 years ago that photosynthesis evolved from bacteria
using infrared light from hydrothermal vents. The new results
could be support for this proposal.

Photosynthesis without sunlight certainly will be greeted with
delight by those who have proposed that life on Earth originated
in the ocean depths. It also opens up the possibility that there
could be life in unexpected places deep underground or in
seemingly hostile environments on other planets in our own or
other solar systems.

Finally, having gone on about my own golfing experiences in
Scotland, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my wife’s drive
off the first tee at St. Andrews. With a gallery of tourists
watching, the starter announced on the public address system,
“Would the lady please step to the tee.” Whereupon she hit what
was easily the best, straightest and longest drive she’s ever hit
and received a rousing burst of applause from the gallery.

And, to my golfing buddies Dan in Hawaii and Tony here in
New Jersey, all best wishes for speedy recoveries from the
cracked kneecap and badly sprained ankle, respectively.

Allen F. Bortrum



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Dr. Bortrum

07/20/2005

Stellar Matters or Not

Last week, we said goodbye to a stellar athlete in his last
performance at a renowned venue. We also said hello to a novel
stellar trio and an offspring. In addition, I learned that a stellar
presence might not be necessary for photosynthesis. But first,
there wasn’t a dry eye in the golf world last week as Jack
Nicklaus, with son Steve carrying his bag, strode down the 18th
fairway at St. Andrews last Friday in his last appearance in a
British Open. The prolonged cheers and applause of the
appreciative crowd not only acknowledged a true gentleman and
a golfer without peer, but also showed support for the Nicklaus
family after the recent tragic loss of Steve’s young son, who
drowned in a swimming pool. And it was pure Nicklaus when he
sank that final curving birdie putt.

That putt brought to mind another putt I witnessed in the 1980
U.S. Open at nearby Baltusrol, where I followed Nicklaus and
Isao Aoki as they battled for the Open title on the last day of the
tournament. On one green, Nicklaus had gone through his
customary deliberate routine of lining up his 25-30 foot putt and
had started his stroke when some idiot yelled out, “YEEEE-
HAW!” at the top of his voice. Nicklaus stopped, stepped back,
went through his whole routine again and sank the putt! He went
on to win the Open, besting Aoki by two strokes. (In the opening
round of that tournament, Nicklaus shot a record-tying 63!)

Watching Jack on the 18th at St. Andrews also reminded me of
September 10, 1985 when I strode up that very same fairway.
There was no crowd to cheer me; indeed my wife and I and a
caddy finishing a round of his own were the only ones left on the
course. My wife and I had teed off late in the afternoon and, by
the 16th hole, the sun had set and my sensible wife, who had
stopped playing, suggested that since it was dark I should pack it
in. Any dedicated golfer will realize that there was no way I
wasn’t going to play St. Andrews’ signature 17th, the famous
Road Hole. So, by the light of the moon and lights from the
hotels, I finished the round. On the Road Hole, I heard my drive
hit the landmark shed but had no idea where it ended up and
carded a 12 on the hole. A terrible score but I was happy – I
played the Road hole and finished St. Andrews with a 52-62 114.

The next day, with the same rented clubs from St. Andrews, I
drove to Carnoustie, another British Open venue. There, I was
sent out all alone on a gloomy but dry day with a map of the
course in hand. Being alone, I had the luxury of slowly and
deliberately thinking out every shot. My score there was 52-57
109 in daylight. For a hacker like myself, playing St. Andrews
and Carnoustie back to back was beyond my wildest dreams.

To nongolfers, I apologize for going on so about my golfing
exploits. Back to my intended segue from Nicklaus’ stellar
career to the stellar trio. After devoting my last two columns to
planets and the formation of solar systems, I hadn’t planned to
return to such topics so soon but I must mention the new planet
that made the headlines last week. We’ve talked about other
solar systems with as many as two or three planets orbiting the
star. Last week we learned about something reminiscent of Star
Wars, a planet orbiting a star with two other suns nearby.

In a recent issue of Nature, researchers published their finding of
a planet bigger than Jupiter orbiting a yellow star. This hot-
Jupiter has a very close orbit to the yellow star, circling it in just
a few days. The odd thing is that the yellow star is one of a trio
of stars known as HD 188753 about 149 light-years from Earth.
The stars are also pretty close to each other, roughly the distance
from our Sun to Saturn. It would be almost like fitting another
two suns into our solar system.

If you lived on this newly discovered planet, you would see your
own yellow sun, looming rather large overhead, I suspect. But
you would also see two other suns, one orange and one red. Star
Wars fans will remember that Luke Skywalker’s home planet
had multiple stars. With yellow, orange and red suns, one would
probably have to pay close attention to the type of sunscreen
needed to filter out the harmful rays. However, if there were a
habitable planet out there, there should be plenty of photons to
promote photosynthesis and the growth of plant life.

Which brings us to our last topic – so-called green sulfur bacteria
and an article by J. Thomas Beatty of the University of British
Columbia and 8 other authors in the June 28 Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences. Beatty and his international
team have studied green sulfur bacteria that grow around
hydrothermal vents in ocean bottoms that are the breeding
grounds of various strange critters. These hot vents are deep,
more than a mile below the surface. At these depths, there’s no
light from the Sun.

Yet, these photosynthetic green sulfur bacteria need light to
grow. Light is required to oxidize sulfur compounds to reduce
carbon dioxide forming organic carbon compounds. So, where
does the light come from? The answer seems to be that the light
comes from the hot vents, weak though it is – so weak that we
can’t see it. We know, for example, that the heating coils in our
toaster glow red hot when heated. Similarly, the hot vents, while
not likely to be red hot, will give off weak light. In an interview
with John Allen of the University of London by Jennifer Viegas
posted July 19 on the Discovery Channel Web site, Allen is
quoted as saying that scientist Euan Nisbet and coworkers
suggested 10 years ago that photosynthesis evolved from bacteria
using infrared light from hydrothermal vents. The new results
could be support for this proposal.

Photosynthesis without sunlight certainly will be greeted with
delight by those who have proposed that life on Earth originated
in the ocean depths. It also opens up the possibility that there
could be life in unexpected places deep underground or in
seemingly hostile environments on other planets in our own or
other solar systems.

Finally, having gone on about my own golfing experiences in
Scotland, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my wife’s drive
off the first tee at St. Andrews. With a gallery of tourists
watching, the starter announced on the public address system,
“Would the lady please step to the tee.” Whereupon she hit what
was easily the best, straightest and longest drive she’s ever hit
and received a rousing burst of applause from the gallery.

And, to my golfing buddies Dan in Hawaii and Tony here in
New Jersey, all best wishes for speedy recoveries from the
cracked kneecap and badly sprained ankle, respectively.

Allen F. Bortrum