Seasons Come and Seasons Glow
We’ve all eaten more than our fill, especially during this time of year. Did you know plants can get full, too?
The elaborate process of converting sunlight into usable energy (the so-called “light reactions” or “magic”) is essentially a big chain where one protein hands off electrons to the next in order to break apart water and build up a bunch of hydrogen ions that can be used to power the ATP factory:
It’s a bit like someone carrying buckets of water upriver in order to power the water wheel at the old mill. The thing is, any a given chloroplast can only hold and process so much sun energy at one time. In order to prevent damage to the leaf factory, the plant gets rid of the excess, either via heat or by giving off light.
That’s right, plants can glow! Or more accurately, chlorophyll can fluoresce. And they do it just about any time they are undergoing photosynthesis, it’s just that we can’t see it. But NASA can. Their Earth-observing satellites can detect this excess plant energy and use it to check how active and healthy our planet’s vegetation is.
The above visualization from NASA shows four years worth of plant fluorescence, averaged into one complete seasonal cycle. Winter turns to spring, spring to summer, and autumn leaves fall, played out in waves of glowing pink.
Previously: The world viewed through Kodak’s Aerochrome film … pink plants everywhere!