Jars of Stars

by Anne

This morning when I walked into the Explainer lounge, I was delighted to hear everyone talking about the very thing that has been putting me in a good mood: Last week, Diane W. introduced us to something super magical–sea sparkles (bioluminescent algae)!  We each got to take home a splash of them in test tubes, and are experimenting with keeping them alive on our windowsills. I’m completely enamored with my sea sparkles; it’s a lot like catching fire flies, except they actually have a chance of making it through the night.  There’s just something about a sea of tiny, living beings that glow like stars inside of a jar that captures my attention.

With some insights from the instructables website, I (and many Explainers!) set out to try to sustain this life.  Just like everything else we do, this is an experiment that may need some revision.

Here’s what I did, and how it’s going so far:

1. Kept the sparkles in their original test tube for a few days (while waiting for a trip to the beach to capture some ocean water), and they did just fine.

2. Scooped up a jar of bay water from near Planet Granite. Since this spot is near the Golden Gate Bridge, I’m assuming that the salinity is similar to ocean water. (If I’d gone to Fort Mason first to check out “Tasting the Tides”, I might actually know whether that’s the case…)

3. Boiled the bay water for several minutes to kill any critters that might compete with or eat my algae.

4. Boiled another jar in tap water to sterilize it.

5. Let everything cool to room temperature.

6. Poured the sparkles (the “starter culture”) into the jar of boiled bay water.

7. Placed the jar in my windowsill–it’s a spot that gets indirect sunlight, so it doesn’t get hot.

8. Swirl the water around in the dark at night to watch the tiny stars!

9. After one day in the jar of bay water, the sparkles are alive but seem tired. It could be the new water, or it could be that there wasn’t much sunlight today.

I’ll update this post in about a week with their progress. I’m hoping that they’ll multiply… if they do, then my friends will each get a jar of their own:)

Sal shared this website with a story and photos about a bioluminescent algae occurrence  in nature. If anyone manages to get a good video of their algae, please post!