How Do Rockets Ignite Their Engines in Space Without Oxygen and More Questions From Our Readers

You asked, we answered

Illustration by Jos. Luis Merino

Why is Isle Royale, in Lake Superior, part of Michigan when it’s closer to Minnesota?
Kurt S. Petersen,
Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin

Because of Ohio. When the Buckeye State entered the Union, in 1803, it manipulated its border with Michigan to appropriate Toledo, on Lake Erie. That port increased in value to such an extent that in 1835, the Ohio and Michigan militias were on the verge of going to war over it. So the federal government brokered a deal: Ohio kept Toledo, and Michigan got the Upper Peninsula and copper-rich Isle Royale. Too few people lived in Minnesota to protest effectively.
Mark Stein
How the States Got Their Shapes Too: The People Behind the Borderlines, Smithsonian Books

Every morning, I toss scraps of biscuits or bread out on the grass for the birds. Within a minute or two, they appear and begin eating. How do they know the food is there?
Jerry Hughes
Tulsa, Oklahoma

They know because you have conditioned them. They are now used to being fed every morning,
so they’re on the lookout.
Gary Graves
curator of birds, Natural History Museum

If there is no oxygen in space, how do rockets ignite their engines?
Thomas Carlton
High Bridge, New Jersey

Rockets carry an oxidizer, often in the form of liquid oxygen, to burn their engine fuel. That’s the fundamental difference between rockets and jets; the latter get oxygen from the air.
Allan Needell
curator, Space History Division, National Air and Space Museum

As one of the first U.S. soldiers to enter Japan after it surrendered in 1945, I was struck by the damage from our bombing but also by the sparing of Kyoto and Nara. Who was wise and powerful enough to spare those cities?
George Johnson,
Bellevue, Washington

Credit was often given—erroneously, and despite his denials—to Langdon Warner, a postwar adviser to the Arts and Monuments Division of General Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Tokyo. But in 1975 the noted scholar Otis Cary established that Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson repeatedly rejected Kyoto as a bombing target. Nara was never targeted.
Rihoko Ueno
archivist, Archives of American Art

How are drought, higher temperatures and climate change affecting lichens?
Linda Popelish,
Jamestown, New Mexico

Not much. Lichens occupy some of the most extreme habitats on earth, from tropical rainforests to the Antarctic. As a group, they tend not to be very sensitive to temperature (though individual species prefer certain temperature ranges), and they tolerate drought pretty well. Some species, however, are highly sensitive to air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and heavy metals.
Rusty Russell
botanist, Natural History Museum

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