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The Low Down on Edible Flowers

Little Girl Blowing Dandelion SeedsEdible flowers have been used in food for thousands of years. Indeed, they were used by the Ancient Romans, Greek and Chinese in a number of dishes. Today, flowers are still used in traditional cooking: Indian food sometimes includes rose petals and Italian food has been known to contain squash blossoms. Other dishes can also be prepared with flowers. They may be used fresh or preserved, made into drinks, used to flavour vinegars, or candied by those with a sweet tooth. There is a huge range of flower flavours available: From spicy to fragrant there is something for everyone.

Let’s look some of the most common edible flowers.

  • Allium

From the strong taste of garlic flowers to the more delicate taste of leek flowers, you are spoilt for choice with the allium family.

  • Basil

Basil flowers come in purple and white and their flavour is a more delicate version of the basil leaf.

  • Calendula/marigold

These famous flowers are golden and they have a spicy, peppery taste.

  • Angelica

You get a wide variety of Angelica flowers, from delicate purple to white. They taste like liquorice.

  • Bee balm

Try these red flowers in cocktails as they add a dash of colour and a refreshing zing with their minty taste.

  • Dandelion

Dandelion flowers are sweet and grassy in flavour. They are great in soups and are also good for your health.

  • Anise hyssop

These flowers are white and have tiny buds that come in clusters. They have a liquorice flavour. Try putting them in salads.

  • Arugula

These flowers come in a variety of colours and have a peppery flavour. They are great for garnish on soups and stews.

  • Dill

Dill flowers are yellow with delicate petals. They have a similar taste to the leaves.

  • Carnations/dianthus

Carnations come in a variety of colours, from white to orange, and, with their sweet flavour, they are great when candied.

  • Chamomile

These flowers also have a sweet flavour and are often used in tea. They look similar to garden daises.

  • Chervil

Chervil flowers come in white and yellow and have delicate petals with subtle hints of anise.

  • Chicory

Chicory’s bright blue flowers are slightly bitter and are great for pickling.

  • Chrysanthemum

These flowers are as varied in colour as they are in taste, which ranges from pungent to peppery. However, you must be careful to ensure that you only use the petals.

  • Cilantro

The White cilantro flowers taste similar to the leaves. They are best eaten raw.

  • Citrus

The citrus family blossoms are so sweet that they should only be used in small quantities so as to not overpower a dish.

  • Clover

These flowers come in a variety of colours, have a subtle liquorice flavour and are sweet. Try using them as garnish for desserts.

  • Gladiolus

These flowers work well as a garnish as they come in a variety of bright hues. Also, their bland flavour can be counteracted by stuffing them.

  • Fennel

Fennel’s delicate yellow flowers are liquorice flavoured and easy on the eye. Try using them in salads.

  • Fuchsia

Pink and purple in colour fuchsia flowers are great for garnish. They have a tangy flavour.

  • Hibiscus

Hibiscus flowers taste like cranberry and are used to make tea. Because their flavour is so strong they shouldn’t be used in large quantities.

 

Safety Tips

Certain precautions must be taken when eating flowers. According to Melissa Breyer, you shouldn’t eat flowers from a nursery or florist as they may have been treated with harmful pesticides. Roadside flowers are a no-no as they may have been polluted by exhaust fumes.

You should also take care if you have pollen allergies. Make a point of eating flowers as soon as possible after you pick them. You can keep them fresh for up to 10 days by putting them in an airtight container and freezing them.

Only eat flowers if you are 100% sure that they are safe. If in doubt, leave them out (or find a good reference book or a knowledgeable chef).

 

Zara Jade Bosman lives in beautiful Cape Town. She loves nature and experiment in the kitchen, and is always looking for creative cooking tips, so who better to talk you through this list of edible flowers?

 

Image credit: Microsoft Images, Royalty Free

Bioremediation: The Way Forward in Water Purification?

drop_1According data from WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation (2012), 780 million people lack access to clean water, and more than 3.4 million people die each year due to the diseases associated with this crisis. This is more people than die in war, so the need to find solutions to the problem is great.

One possible solution comes from researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS), who have found that apple peels can help purify water. This is a creative new answer to water purification which could help impoverished communities.

How does it work?

The fruit purification process is based on bioremediation. The word “remediate” means to remedy. It follows then that the term “bioremediation” refers to the process of using biological organisms to remedy an environmental problem, in this case polluted water.

Micro-organisms (such as bacteria) are continually breaking down organic matter in nature. When a pollutant contaminates an environment some of the organisms die while others are able to destroy the pollutant and survive. What bioremediation does is supply the latter with oxygen, compost and other conditions that stimulate their growth so that they can break down the pollutant as quickly as possible. Another way that bioremediation can take place is when, in order to degrade the pollutants, certain microbes are added. It is worth noting that bioremediation is used to clean up oil spills.

Although bioremediation does not work on all pollutants, when it does work it may be cheaper and safer than the alternatives, such as burning or burying contaminated matter.

Back to apples

It’s important to take a look at two terms before you can understand the role that apple peels play in bioremediation: absorbent and adsorbent.

According to Simply Green, absorbent is the process whereby a material traps liquid in chambers that are found inside it. Adsorbent is a similar process but on a nanoscale that focuses on chemical interactions throughout the material’s surface.

What the researchers did, as explained in the American Chemical Society’s journal Applied Materials & Interface, is increase the apple peels’ ability to absorb water negatively charged pollutants by doping them with zirconium oxides.

Other possibilities

Initially, the study focused on tomatoes peels. This is because tomatoes are the second most eaten fruit in the world, which means that there is a lot of tomato waste that is not being used for anything. Although results showed that tomato peels are not good absorbents, they work well as adsorbents as they are able to remove organic pollutants as well as metal ions from water.

The NUS is not stopping with apples but exploring the possibilities of bioremediation with other fruit.

There is a project taking place in Brazil, for instance, which could result in a new way to remove metals from water by using banana peels. Peanut shells and coconut fibres also show promise in this regard.

It’s not just fruit that is being used though. Plant-based bioremediation is where vegetation is used to remove pollutants from the soil; vitamin B-12 and potassium lactate has also been proven to work for this.

Bioremediation is proving to be a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way of purifying water. Not only that; it’s also putting to good use organic compounds that would otherwise be thrown away.

 

Written by Zara Jade Bosman

Image credit: gugacurado, Royalty Free, via stock.xchng

The Skylight Dilemma: Which Are Best For Your Home?

SkylightSkylights are a great way to a greener home. They are fitted on the roof and allow natural light to infiltrate all those dark rooms where light cannot easily reach. They are eco-friendly and energy-efficient. As skylights do not use any electricity after installation, you are sure to save money, whichever skylight you choose to install.

There are different types of skylights and even though they do the same job they all have unique features and benefits. They save electricity because the need to use artificial light decreases when they are installed.

To understand the differences, one needs to also understand the compositions of each.

The lowdown

Tubular skylights, also known as solar skylights, are so named because they contain a metal tube located between the roof and the ceiling. The tube allows for light particles to bounce around, and thus enables the transmission of light throughout a room. The advantage of tubular skylights is that in summer they don’t generate heat and in winter they don’t allow inside heat to escape. On the other hand, traditional skylights generate heat and contribute to heat loss during the winter months, something we clearly do not want to happen.

Traditional skylights can either be flat or domed and they allow sunlight to directly shine into a room. In terms of installation, traditional skylights need to be incorporated into the building during construction, whereas tubular skylights can be professional installed within a few hours. Solar skylights are fast becoming the preferred option because of the reasons mentioned above.

Skylights are generally very easy to maintain. This is because they are located on the roof and are fitted with metal that will not rust during the rainy season so the rain washes away any debris that may be present. Skylights generally make living spaces more comfortable and inviting for people.

Installing skylights is fast becoming a favoured approach by many home owners looking to make their homes more eco- friendly. The choice might prove to be an easy one if the right research is conducted. The main idea is to choose skylights that will fit your budget. Skylights differ in shape, size, design and cost, so make sure you compare skylight prices from different vendors before making a final decision.

All homes are unique, so if you shop around you will definitely find the right ones for your home.

 

Written by Zimasa Mpemnyama

Image credit: Victoria Pickering (vpickering), CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr

The Health Implications of Global Warming

Air pollutionEver seen those videos or pictures where they have a polar bear standing on a small patch of ice in the arctic? Many thought that those images were an exaggeration but research has, and continues to show that the earth is warming up fast. With all the documentaries, books, and pictures dedicated to this subject, by now everyone should know that global warming is a serious problem. It affects the environment in horrendous ways and needs to be dealt with. What is less talked about, though, is how badly global warming affects human health. Predictions using computer models show that things will only get worse if we do not do something fast.

The gloomy picture

Global warming largely affects weather conditions and results in extreme weather. Warm places become warmer for longer, and rain persists for long periods of time in wet areas. Or, the complete opposite happens and rainy areas experience droughts while warm climates experience more cold fronts. This creates a breeding ground for infectious diseases.

Disease carriers, called vectors, also persist and carry nasty diseases like malaria, yellow fever and encephalitis, which people can spread all over the world.

Furthermore, global warming results in increases in natural disasters like flooding, droughts, tsunamis and tornadoes, which affect agriculture. These natural disasters result in decreased crop yields each year, and compromise the quality of crops.

Longer warmer months

Allergies and respiratory diseases are serious problems that affect many people all around the world. It has been found that global warming affects the length of the warmer seasons, which are sometimes hell for people who suffer from allergies, asthma and respiratory problems. Because these warmer months are longer, plants that are irritants to allergies grow for longer periods of time. Experts have found that the amount of pollen in the air will double in the coming years due to global warming.

Respiratory diseases like asthma and bronchitis are made worse by air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels. So, while we can detox our bodies as much as we like, we will still be vulnerable to conditions like this if we don’t start to detox the atmosphere. Unfortunately, in our current industrialised world, it does not seem like air pollution is going down anytime soon.

With global warming comes the intense heating of the planet and this has resulted in heat waves, seen in places where they would not normally be found like in Europe where more than 35,000 people died during an unrivalled heat wave.

Scientists are currently working tirelessly to try and find solutions to this problem, but it is not only up to them. While we wait on the ‘big solution’ each and every one on this planet has a role to play. No matter how small the action is, we can each contribute to eliminating the larger problem.

 

Written by Zimasa Mpemnyama

Image credit: Microsoft Images, Royalty Free

You’ve Got the Power!

Roof of house with solar panelsOne of the biggest problems facing the world in the 21st century is climate change, and the effects it will have not only on us but on future generations as well.

We rely heavily on electricity for our daily functioning, and the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity is one of the biggest threats to the environment. Luckily, there are other ways of generating power such as solar power, wind power, geothermal energy, and hydroelectric power. An added bonus to these alternative power sources is that they cost less than electricity, and in our harsh economic climate, saving money is especially important.

Solar power

Solar power uses the heat of the sun to generate electricity.  It can produce enough electricity to heat many of the appliances in your home, as well as your water.

For water heating, light-reflecting thermal panels are installed on the roof of your home, where the sun hits them directly. Pipes responsible for the passage of water to the house are attached to the panels, and as the panels collect heat from the rays of the sun, the water in the pipes is warmed. As an alternative to water, heat-transfer fluid can be used, which warms the water as it flows through the water heater’s heat exchanger.

The initial investment in solar panels is high, but they’ll save you a lot of money in the long-term, reducing your electricity expenditure by between 50 and 80 per cent; and, they remain operational for 25-30 years. And don’t worry, solar panels collect heat from daylight so you can generate power even on cloudy days!

Wind power

Wind power uses the wind to generate electricity. It does this by using wind turbines to capture the energy of the moving air. The wind turns the blades of the turbine that spin a shaft which connects to an electricity-producing generator.

Geothermal energy

Geothermal energy uses the incredible heat at the earth’s core to produce electricity. The slow decay of radioactive particles that takes place over 6000 kilometres below the earth’s surface produces massive amounts of power. Geothermal heat pumps are then used to extract the heat through a number of pipes containing water or antifreeze, similar to solar power.

Hydroelectric Power

Hydroelectric power uses water to generate electricity. It works in a similar way to wind power, as it also uses turbines in the electricity generating process. In this case, a power source turns a giant turbine which is connected to a generator that produces electricity as the turbine spins. The power source used in this form of electricity generation usually comes from the force of water released from a dam.

Of the renewable energy sources available, the ones most suited to residential use are solar power and wind power; with solar power seeming to come out tops.

 

Written by Zara Bosman

Image credit: Microsoft Images, Royalty Free

Choose Skylights for Energy-Saving Benefits

Front_of_Lo_de_CostaAs a home owner, you will agree that there are always areas that could do with some improvement. Instead of expensive renovations, you can start with something less complicated, like adding skylights to your home. It’s one of the best ways to add life to dark and dreary areas, and you will instantly add value to your property as well. There are different types of skylights available, so it is important to know how to choose the best product for your home.

Skylights are perfect if you want to add natural light to a specific room, especially if it doesn’t get much sunlight. You can choose between a newer, tubular skylight, and a more traditional product. Traditional skylights have a diffuser to disperse light evenly into the home, and they also have a dome on the roof area. A tubular skylight has a reflective tube that disperses the sunlight downwards. Another option is to install a roof window that you can open when you need to, but most people still prefer skylights due to the effect they provide.

Choosing a skylight

There are many options to go for with skylights. One option is to use blinds with the skylight, allowing you greater control over the light that enters into the room. You can have the blinds fitted to operate manually or electrically. Some skylight products also provide ventilation by allowing you to open them and let air inside; these can also be manually or electrically operated.

You can install sensors that will automatically close the skylight when it rains. You can also fit an insect screen to the skylight to prevent insects from entering your house when the skylight is open. You also need to consider different glazing options; for example, double glazed glass is more energy efficient.

Installing skylights

It is important to place the skylight in the correct position. If you install it in a small room, make sure that it will fit properly. Also think about the light that will enter the room – if you want light to enter during the morning, place the skylight on the northern side of the room. If you install a skylight to the south of a room, you won’t have too much light, not even in summer days. So it is important to first determine what the best location for the skylight will be, before you begin with the installation. Consult skylights specialists in Cape Town for proper advice in this regard.

Most people choose to fit a skylight in their kitchen or living room area, as this is where they spend most of their time when they are at home. However, skylights can be installed ideal in almost any room, regardless of its size or location in the home. You can also install multiple skylights for maximum effect.

It’s always best to talk to a professional who can give you helpful tips and advice on what product will best fit your home. Finally, always make sure that your home’s skylights are installed by experienced professionals and that they select the appropriate products for your particular room.

 

Written by Lorien Roux

Image credit: Guevarap, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Coke and Pepsi Try Green on for Size

Crushed can of CokeCoca Cola is a renowned brand worldwide; it’s known not only for its soft drinks but also for its ability to be able to lift the bar brand-wise. As a brand that has been around for years, it constantly tries to re-invent its bottles in order to keep market attention and to remain environmentally-friendly. Another major company that has tried to remain eco-friendly in its bottling process is PepsiCo. In 2011, it announced that it had started using renewable resources for its bottles.

It doesn’t matter whether they are made of glass or plastic, the question we need to ask is where do these bottles end up?

We obviously wish that every single one of them gets recycled, but that is not the case. Plastics are a problem for the environment because they are not biodegradable. They pollute oceans and soil, and leach potentially harmful chemicals into our food. And that’s not to mention the thousands of birds and animals that die annually from ingesting plastic that they mistake for fish and other food.

Coke keeps its cool

In Columbia, the Coca Cola Company recently released an ad showing its new bottle made of ice, called the Botello de Hielo. The bottle is shaped in the traditional Coca Cola style, with a rubber holding on its world famous logo. The ice bottle ensures that the refreshing drink is always cold, and when you are done it melts away, leaving a rubber band for you to use as you please.

While some people think this is a great idea, as it guarantees to keep the soft drink cold, and is also eco-friendly as no plastic is used in the manufacturing process, others are more skeptical, citing the difficulties the company will have in manufacturing, shipping and storing the bottles. They also point out how the bottle would be uncomfortable to carry and drink from. The company has not mentioned whether it will expand the idea to other countries, but it sure is a different perspective to look at the bottling problem.

Green isn’t necessarily green

In 2011, PepsiCo developed its ‘green’ bottles that were made from plant-based renewable resources and which were intended to reduce the company’s carbon foot print. In reality, plastic is still plastic. The chemicals added to the bottles are still potentially harmful to humans and the environment.

Green and healthy?

Another innovation from the Coca Cola Company, with the aim of increasing health awareness, is the split can. It allows people to split a can of Coke into two small cans, so they can share it with a friend. Now, this is a pretty nifty idea, considering the large volumes of the soft drink that people consume at a time. The smaller cans could ensure that people drink less Coke, which could help combat the increasing levels of obesity around the world. Some people are not optimistic, however. After all, what would stop people from just having both the cans themselves?

These big beverage giants should be congratulated for at least trying to tackle environmental awareness and health awareness in their marketing campaigns. The question is: Are these just marketing ploys to take the focus off exactly how much damage these companies do? We do not know, but we can only hope that they are truly genuine in their eco-friendly efforts.

 

Written by Zimasa Mpemnyama

Image credit: James MacKintosh, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr

Hybrid Cars: Green or Not?

Hybrid parking onlyCars and their carbon emissions are detrimental to the environment. Yes, some people strive for a greener environment by walking and riding bicycles, all in the hopes of reducing their carbon footprint; but, in the hustle and bustle of modern life, most people simply can’t begin to imagine a life without cars.

A large quantity of carbon emissions comes from cars, and more and more manufacturers are creating more environmentally-friendly cars. The electric car, which runs on electricity, was initially thought to be the best green option. Theoretically, a car that runs on electricity sounds much better than a car that uses petrol/diesel. This is because no carbon dioxide is emitted. The problem with electric, however, cars is that they take a long time to recharge and the distance the car can travel between charges is very small; approximately 161 km, according to howstuffworks.com.

Are hybrid cars the solution?

A hybrid car uses two or more power sources to power the car. Anything from electricity, gas, and petrol can be used as a power source. The most predominant type of hybrid car is the electrical motor combined with an internal combustion engine. So far, Toyota and Honda are the leading hybrid car manufacturers.

Hybrid cars are becoming more popular than gas-powered and electric cars because they emit less carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) and they promise to save the consumer in fuel costs. This is because they switch between electric power when the car is moving slowly and gas when the speed increases. Another reason they are becoming more popular is that hybrids use electrical current stored in the battery to power up the engine, so users do not have to constantly use charge points.

Safety

Besides being environmentally-friendly, hybrid cars are said to be safer than other cars. According to a research by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), hybrid car drivers are 25% less likely to sustain injuries in a car accident. This is due to the fact that these cars are heavier than normal cars.

With the ‘go green’ revolution happening around the world, it is only natural for car manufacturers to label hybrid cars the best thing since sliced bread when it comes to energy saving. The reality of the situation is that hybrid cars are pricier than their non-hybrid counterparts. This is due to the fact that hybrid cars are more complex and their batteries are expensive. So, that is the trade-off: More expensive but fuel-efficient and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Even though they are more expensive, with rising fuel prices, these types of cars are becoming the alternative for most environmentally-aware drivers.

 

Written by Zimasa Mpemnyama

Image credit: rscottjones, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, via Flickr

No Thanks to Live Animals in Pet Shops!

Women looking through pet shop windowAt the best of times, pet shops are rather sad, lacklustre and distasteful places, and they become even more so when you know a little more about the background of these shops and how they function. Unscrupulous pet shop owners, backyard breeders and puppy mills often profit from the misery of these animals, while there are thousands of animals in shelters waiting for homes. Quite often it is the very pet bought at the pet shop that ends up at the shelter, as they are no longer wanted.

Impulse buying is irresponsible

Pet shops do not promote responsible pet ownership and are generally only focused on getting their money’s worth in the transaction. They seldom advise on sterilisation, inoculations and other expenses that the new pet owner may not take into consideration, and often promote the impulse buy of companion animals. They depend on the lost and sad faces of small puppies and kittens for their income, but are ruthless when it comes to animals who don’t sell.

Impulse buying in these shops is a very large contributor to overpopulation problems, as people who buy on impulse are quite often not thinking about, or are conscious of the expense of sterilisation at the time of purchase. In some cases, pet shop owners have been caught discouraging the sterilisation of the animal to encourage the pet owner to bring babies back to the pet shop to sell!

Pet traders not required

Pet traders are a huge drain on the economy and moral fibre of a country, as large amounts of money have to be found to care for unwanted animals, perform sterilisations and to continuously build more animal shelters. We have all seen them: babies with their little noses pressed up against cold bars or windows, looking pathetic and lonely. Often, the people who buy these animals sincerely believe that they are doing the right thing by providing a home for them, and feel justified in the rescue. In fact, what is actually happening is that the buyer is only providing room for another animal to be sold.

Puppy mills are generally not regulated and the females used for breeding are quite often neglected and not given enough time to recover in between litters. They may have problems with health and may sometimes die in childbirth, leaving a whole litter of puppies to be hand reared, or, more often than not, to be put to death, or cared for by a shelter. It is simply not fair that our society still condones the sale of live pets in pet shops.

Education of the nation

People have to be educated about the cruelty of the pet trade. It is a large, insatiable and greedy industry that profits from the misery of animals. Pet traders are often unregulated and completely lawless.  Legislative authorities in South Africa, such as the South African Pet Traders Association, do exist, but their membership is voluntary, and few pet shop owners go to the trouble of applying for membership, and fewer comply with the association’s best practices.

Legislate!

Educating the public about pet ownership and puppy mills is not enough. Legislation needs to be made which bans the sale of animals completely. It is a relief to know that certain countries, such as Belgium, Croatia and the Netherlands, have completely banned the sale of animals in pet shops. We should work towards this goal and aim to have pets banned from shops completely everywhere in the world.

We are still not sure where this will leave the sale of livestock for food, but that is another matter for another day. But we take one step at a time. Let’s just educate ourselves and others in order to make pet shop sales less profitable for store owners, and to promote legislation in the right direction.

Pet shops should be for pet provisions like food, collars and bowls only!

 

Written by Karen McKee

Image credit: Microsoft Images

Is the Cost of a Solution to Climate Change Too High?

ContrailsGlobal warming has proven to be an obstacle to the survival of the human race. It’s accepted that it will take a united attitude to effectively combat this growing problem. The greatest example is the strategy involving the reduction of carbon emissions. However, not every person or institution follows this strategy or believes that we are in danger.

Because of this limited success, scientists have searched for years to find more immediate, alternative solutions to solving the environmental crisis. One alternative that was proposed was geo-engineering.

The goal of geo-engineering

Many engineering ideas have been proposed to reduce the effects of global warming. According to Wikipedia, there are two main ideas, namely solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal. Solar radiation management is a strategy geared towards reducing the amount of sunlight that the earth absorbs, while carbon dioxide removal entails the complete removal of the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

Scientific problems

These proposals have proven to be tricky. Opinion is divided as to whether such strategies should be pursued. On the scientific front, it is argued that such ideas have not been tested, and there is even a considerable opposition to them even being tested. Scientists fear that there may be unforeseen side-effects. While we may end up eradicating one problem this might cause an imbalance in our system and create other problems, maybe even an accelerated rate of global warming.

Moral problems

There have been various theological and moral debates about these strategies. Some religious organizations have argued that humans have no right to manipulate the environment. Others have taken the stance that if humans were made to be at the top of the food chain then shouldn’t we take full responsibility in doing everything possible to solve the issue of global warming?

Political problems

Even if such strategies did prove to be safe and effective in curbing the effects of global warming, they could potentially create another problem. It’s been a great struggle to get everyone to support the reduction of carbon emissions. Skeptics of environmentalism have even supported the idea of climate engineering because ultimately it will mean that they wouldn’t have to pursue carbon emission reduction. So, some environmentalists argue that climate engineering will cause environmentalism to lose its political support. It will take away the idea that everyone is responsible for the preservation of the environment and, in the end, one of the main goals of environmentalism will fail: Changing attitudes towards the environment.

Climate engineering may not be the right course right now

At the moment it’s just too big a gamble to take because it raises so many doubts on so many levels. Already, we struggle to accept full responsibility for this planet. These strategies may simply be used as a copout. It’s more important right now for humanity to be united in the idea that the environment is danger and must be preserved.

 

Written by David Hendricks

Image credit: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons