The week's good news: January 16, 2020

Catherine Garcia

1.

A rare pine species thought to have existed among the dinosaurs has been spared from the Australian bushfires, thanks to a "military-style" rescue mission. Wollemi National Park is the only place the Wollemi Pine grows in the wild, but the exact location is kept secret to avoid potential contamination by visitors. Aging the current crop of trees is difficult, but they could be up to 100,000 years old, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. For the mission, firefighters dropped fire retardant, employed water-bombing aircraft, and were helicoptered into a remote area to set up irrigation to increase moisture content. A few trees were lost, but the remaining 200 survived. "When the pines were discovered in 1994, you might as well have found a living dinosaur," New South Wales Environment and Energy Minister Matt Kean told the Herald. [Sydney Morning Herald]

2.

Willow Woolhouse has picked up dozens of new skills over the last few years, and has the badges to prove it. Woolhouse, 10, lives in England, and is part of Britain's Scout Association. She is the lone girl in her Cub Scout pack, and one of the only in the organization to ever earn every possible activity badge. Woolhouse began her quest at age 5 when she was a Beaver Scout, and it took her three years to complete all 20 tasks. She earned 37 more as a Cub Scout, and has all 57 badges sewn onto her uniform. She has already decided that once she becomes a Scout this year, she'll earn all 62 of those badges. "I feel really happy about getting them all," Woolhouse told The Independent. She earned her last Cub badge in December for photography, and before that, Woolhouse learned — among other things — how to ride a horse and send messages in Morse code. [The Independent]

3.

In her nearly 50 years as a foster mom, Linda Herring never turned away a child. Herring, 75, and her husband Bob live in Johnson County, Iowa, and they have fostered more than 600 kids there, including many with special needs. "I kept doing it because I had so much love to give to these children in need," she told CNN. The Herrings have eight children, three of them former foster kids who were adopted. Anthony Herring was six months old when he was placed with the family, and he said his parents "have both taught me that family isn't determined by blood, it's who you have in your life to love." Due to health issues, Linda Herring stopped fostering in October, and the Johnson County Board of Supervisors honored her last week with a resolution of appreciation. She still keeps in touch with many of her former foster kids, and several attended the ceremony. [CNN]

4.

Jamie Willis takes Christmas trees that are headed for the landfill and turns them into sturdy canes for veterans in need. Willis served in the Army for eight years, and a back injury he sustained during his time in the military left him disabled. In 2016, the head of the Free Canes for Veterans organization told Willis he would teach him how to carve his own cane. Encouraged by his success, Willis decided to make more canes for other veterans, and launched a Free Canes for Veterans chapter in central Texas. He uses pieces of scrap wood to make the canes, and this holiday season, received 1,500 donated Christmas trees. He now has a team of 60 volunteers, and their goal for 2020 is to produce 1,000 canes. When veterans receive their gifts, "It's like they stand prouder," Willis told CBS News. "It brings an overwhelming joy back to them and to me." [CBS News]

5.

While other interns were fetching coffee, Wolf Cukier was discovering a brand new planet. Cukier, 17, is a high school senior from Scarsdale, New York. Last summer, he interned at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and one of his first assignments was to help with the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite mission. On his third day, while looking through a telescope at TOI 1338, a solar system 1,300 light years from Earth, he saw there was something in the orbit of two stars that was blocking the light. Cukier made notes, and after further study with his bosses, they determined that Cukier had discovered a planet 6.9 times larger than Earth. It is a circumbinary planet, which are hard to spot; this is just the 13th planet of its kind ever discovered. Cukier hopes this is just the beginning of his career studying the stars, and plans on majoring in physics or astrophysics in college. [ABC News, CBS New York]

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