Newton’s pips take space tour with Peake

Apple seeds from the famous tree that inspired Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity have been sent up to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the latest mission which saw British astronaut Tim Peake blast off to join this week.

Newton's apple tree at Woolsthorpe Manor. Credit Ann Blackett and National Trust

Newton’s apple tree at Woolsthorpe Manor. Credit Ann Blackett

The tree sits in the orchard of Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, Newton’s home and birthplace, and where some of his greatest works emerged.

Newton’s theories of calculus, light and gravity, developed at Woolsthorpe between 1665-66, formed part of his book Principia – a book that changed modern-day science and the namesake for the latest ISS mission.

“The pips were sent up on a supply rocket, Orbital 4 on 6 December, after being handed over to Jeremy Curtis from the UK Space Agency last year,” explains National Trust Custodian for Woolsthorpe Manor, Jannette Warrener.

“We’re not yet sure how the pips will be used but what we do know is that in six months the seeds will return and be distributed to various places, including Woolsthorpe, where we will aim to nurture these ‘space’ pips into new apple trees!”

Newton's apple tree pips. Credit Colin Russell

From left to right: Jannette Warrener, National Trust Custodian at Woolthorpe Manor, Jeremy Curtis, Head of Education at the UK Space Agency an TV personality Dallas Campbell who championed the project as part of his involvement with PrISM. Picture Credit, Colin Russell.

Visitors to Woolsthorpe can see Newton’s famous apple tree, still thriving today. Samples are also safeguarded at the National Trust’s Plant Conservation Centre (PCC) in Devon as part of its conservation work, along with specimens from some of the rarest or most threatened plants from across our collections, to provide a legacy for decades to come.

Visitors can also see where Newton conducted his experiments, and have a go at science  themselves.

Jannette adds, “Tim’s space travels are inspiring a new generation of scientists, something we are also passionate about at Woolsthorpe.

“We’ve developed a brilliant project with young scientists from schools in the region called PrISM which involved them launching a weather balloon into space to map out electro-magnetic radiation – the data will be shared with visitors and also used to inspire younger scientists.  We’ve loved the project and really want to continue it on in the future.”


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