Archive for the ‘Yellowstone’ Category

Bison attacked two more visitors at Yellowstone National Park over the past week, for a total of four attacks in the park so far this season.

A 68-year-old Georgia woman remained hospitalized Thursday after encountering a bison while hiking Wednesday on Storm Point Trail, according to the National Park Service.

As she passed the bison, it charged and gored her. A witness reported the attack to a nearby ranger leading a hike, who called for help. Due to the serious nature of the woman’s injuries, she was taken by helicopter ambulance to a hospital outside the park. Her condition was unknown Thursday.

The other incident happened on June 23, when a 19-year-old Georgia woman and three friends who work at nearby Canyon Village were walking to their car after a late-night swim at the Firehole River. They saw a bison lying about 10 feet away, and one friend turned and ran. But the animal charged the teen and “tossed her in the air,” the park service said.

After the teen went to bed, she awoke a short time later feeling ill and called for medical help. She took an ambulance to a hospital outside the park and “was released with minor injuries later that day,” the park service said.

Four incidents in less than two months is a lot more than usual, Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said. “We usually have one to two incidents per year,” she said.

Almost 5,000 bison live in Yellowstone, located mostly in Wyoming and the only place in the United States where the animals have lived continuously since prehistoric times.

Yellowstone’s regulations require visitors to stay at least 25 yards away from all large animals and 100 yards away from bears and wolves. “Bison can sprint three times faster than humans can run and are unpredictable and dangerous,” park officials warn.

Some tourists may provoke animals by getting too close to them. The consequences of treating wild animals like they’re domesticated or in a zoo can be deadly, officials say.

On June 2, a 62-year-old Australian man visiting Yellowstone was seriously injured after getting too close to a bison near Old Faithful Lodge.

The man was reportedly within 5 feet of the bison while taking pictures when the animal charged him and tossed him into the air several times, according to park reports. The man was taken to a hospital for further medical treatment.

On May 15, a 16-year-old Taiwanese girl was gored by a bison while posing for a photo near Old Faithful, Yellowstone’s famous geyser. She had been hiking near the bison, which was grazing next to a trail.

The girl suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries from the attack, the park service said.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/02/travel/yellowstone-bison-attacks-feat/index.html

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By Laura Zuckerman

Montana wildlife managers are asking the public to weigh in on a plan that could see the state establish a herd of wild bison that originated at Yellowstone National Park.

The state for three years has crafted measures that would need to be in place for the return of a publicly managed wild bison herd to Montana after a decades-long absence, state Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Tom Palmer said on Friday.

The agency has opened a 90-day comment period for proposals that range from taking no steps to restore bison to the landscape to reintroducing them on private or public acreage where there would be less competition with livestock for grass and a lower threat of disease transmission.

The state is not pinpointing where bison might be restored, Palmer said.

The options floated by the state come less than a year after it gave 145 bison that originated at Yellowstone National Park – which spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho – to a Native American tribe in Montana to further the conservation of the country’s last herd of wild, purebred bison.

Those animals had been quarantined to create a herd free of a disease, brucellosis, that could be transmitted to cows and cause them to miscarry.

The brucellosis-free band was later confined to a Montana ranch owned by media mogul Ted Turner before the state Fish and Wildlife Commission approved giving the animals to the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Bison that wander out of Yellowstone into neighboring Montana in winter in a search for food have been targeted for capture or death by government officials because roughly half the herd has been exposed to brucellosis.

Montana wildlife managers will make no firm plans before assessing the public response. Systematic hunting reduced the nation’s vast wild herds to the fewer than 50 of the animals that found sanctuary at Yellowstone in the early 20th century.

Jay Bodner, natural resource director for Montana Stockgrowers Association, said the industry would seek to ensure that any projects eyed by the state spelled out how the massive creatures would be contained or fenced to prevent them from damaging private property and mingling with livestock.

http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2015/0613/Montana-considers-releasing-wild-bison-outside-Yellowstone

An American bison being trailed by cars inside Yellowstone National Park took its anger out on a parked SUV in its path, ramming into the car that had two passengers inside.

Tom Carter, a 60-year-old attorney from Texas, was sitting inside a Nissan Xterra with his friend, Suzie Hollingsworth, a Yellowstone tour guide, when they saw a group of bison approaching them head-on.

Carter pulled out his phone just in time to record a video of the bison veering off on its own and ramming their SUV.

“We did everything we could think of to do to avoid problems,” Carter told ABC News. “I figured that they would just keep running right by us at a full gallop but at the last minute it intended to hit us.”

“It was mad,” he said. “It pretty clearly intended to hit us.”

Carter, who spent six summers as a Yosemite tour guide in the 1970s, says the bison were being followed by, “essentially a line of cars that was chasing them into us.” The incident occurred in an area of the park known as Lamar Valley.

Carter says the bison’s angry outburst is likely attributed to the agitation of the cars as well as the mild winter the area of Wyoming in which Yosemite is located has received.

“It’s been a really light winter and the animals are a lot more feisty this winter,” he said. “Normally the winters are so harsh they don’t want to expend any outside fuel.”

The bison caused nearly $2,800 in damages to the SUV, which belongs to Carter’s friend, Hollingsworth. Neither she nor Carter was injured inside the vehicle.

“We turned the engine off which was a good thing because the air bags probably would have deployed,” said Carter, who estimated the bison weighed around 2,000 pounds.

“We were never concerned about safety,” he said. “The buffalo picked on something about its own size. We were laughing about it because it was kind of crazy.”

Carter’s video of the mid-February event has received nearly 400,000 views on YouTube. He later posted a video showing the damage to Hollingsworth’s car.

He says the bison walked away unscathed. “It sort of shook its head and continued along the road,” Carter said.

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Tourists at Yellowstone National Park are being barred from areas of the park because the massive underground supervolcano beneath it is melting the asphalt roads.

“It basically turned the asphalt into soup. It turned the gravel road into oatmeal,” Yellowstone spokesman Dan Hottle said. In particular, Hottle said that the road between the park’s most popular attraction, Old Faithful, and Madison Junction has been dangerously compromised.

Park officials also asked tourists not to hike into the affected areas, as the danger of stepping through what appears to be solid soil into boiling-hot water was “high.”

There are plenty of other great places to see thermal features in the park,” park spokesman Al Nash told The Weather Channel. “I wouldn’t risk personal injury to see these during this temporary closure.”

It is not known when the road, which services the three million people who visit the park every year, will be reopened.

The last time the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone actually erupted was 640,000 years ago, U.S. Geological Survey records show.

Late last year, geologists discovered that the supervolcano was more than twice as large as previously thought.

“We found it to be about two-and-a-half times larger than we thought,” the University of Utah’s James Farrell told National Geographic. “That’s not to say it’s getting any bigger,” he added, “just that our ability to see it is getting better.”

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/14/parts-of-yellowstone-national-park-closed-after-massive-supervolcano-beneath-it-melts-roads/?onswipe_redirect=no&oswrr=1

 

Enceladus is little bigger than a lump of rock and has appeared, until recently, as a mere pinprick of light in astronomers’ telescopes. Yet Saturn‘s tiny moon has suddenly become a major attraction for scientists. Many now believe it offers the best hope we have of discovering life on another world inside our solar system.

The idea that a moon a mere 310 miles in diameter, orbiting in deep, cold space,   1bn miles from the sun, could provide a home for alien lifeforms may seem extraordinary. Nevertheless, a growing number of researchers consider this is a real prospect and argue that Enceladus should be rated a top priority for future space missions.

This point is endorsed by astrobiologist Professor Charles Cockell of Edinburgh University. “If someone gave me several billion dollars to build whatever space probe I wanted, I would have no hesitation,” he says. “I would construct one that could fly to Saturn and collect samples from Enceladus. I would go there rather than Mars or the icy moons of Jupiter, such as Europa, despite encouraging signs that they could support life. Primitive, bacteria-like lifeforms may indeed exist on these worlds but they are probably buried deep below their surfaces and will be difficult to access. On Enceladus, if there are lifeforms, they will be easy to pick up. They will be pouring into space.”

The cause of this unexpected interest in Enceladus – first observed by William Herschel in 1789 and named after one of the children of the Earth goddess Gaia – stems from a discovery made by the robot spacecraft Cassini, which has been in orbit of Saturn for the past eight years. The $3bn probe has shown that the little moon not only has an atmosphere, but that geysers of water are erupting from its surface into space. Even more astonishing has been its most recent discovery, which has shown that these geysers contain complex organic compounds, including propane, ethane, and acetylene.

“It just about ticks every box you have when it comes to looking for life on another world,” says Nasa astrobiologist Chris McKay. “It has got liquid water, organic material and a source of heat. It is hard to think of anything more enticing short of receiving a radio signal from aliens on Enceladus telling us to come and get them.”

Cassini’s observations suggest Enceladus possesses a subterranean ocean that is kept liquid by the moon’s internal heat. “We are not sure where that energy is coming from,” McKay admits. “The source is producing around 16 gigawatts of power and looks very like the geothermal energy sources we have on Earth – like the deep vents we  see in our ocean beds and which bubble up hot gases.”

At the moon’s south pole, Enceladus’s underground ocean appears to rise close to the surface. At a few sites, cracks have developed and water is bubbling to the surface before being vented into space, along with complex organic chemicals that also appear to have built up in its sea.

Equally remarkable is the impact of this water on Saturn. The planet is famed for its complex system of rings, made of bands of small particles in orbit round the planet. There are seven main rings: A, B, C, D, E, F and G, and the giant E-ring is linked directly with Enceladus. The water the moon vents into space turns into ice crystals and these feed the planet’s E-ring. “If you turned off the geysers of Enceladus, the great E-ring of Saturn would disappear within a few years,” says McKay. “For a little moon, Enceladus has quite an impact.”

Yet the discovery of Enceladus’s strange geology was a fairly tentative affair, says Professor Michele Dougherty of Imperial College London. She was the principal investigator for Cassini’s magnetometer instrument. “Cassini had been in orbit round Saturn for more than six months when it passed relatively close to Enceladus. Our results indicated that Saturn’s magnetic field was being dragged round Enceladus in a way that suggested it had an atmosphere.”

So Dougherty and her colleagues asked the Cassini management to direct the probe to take a much closer look. This was agreed and in July 2005 Cassini moved in for a close-up study. “I didn’t sleep for two nights before that,” says Dougherty. “If Cassini found nothing we would have looked stupid and the management team might not have listened to us again.”

Her fears were groundless. Cassini swept over Enceladus at a height of 173km and showed that it did indeed possess an atmosphere, albeit a thin one consisting of water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen. “It was wonderful,” says Dougherty. “I just thought: wow!”

Subsequent sweeps over the moon then revealed those plumes of water. The only other body in the solar system, apart from Earth, possessing liquid water on its surface had  been revealed. Finally came the discovery of organics, and the little moon went from being merely an interesting world to one that was utterly fascinating.

“Those plumes do not represent a torrent,” cautions McKay. “This is not the Mississippi pouring into space. The output is roughly equivalent to that of the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone national park. On the other hand, it would be enough to create a river that you could kayak down.

“The fact that this water is being vented into space and is mixed with organic material is truly remarkable, however. It is an open invitation to go there. The place may as well have a big sign hanging over it saying: ‘Free sample: take one now’.”

Collecting that sample will not be easy, however. At a distance of 1bn miles, Saturn and its moons are a difficult target. Cassini took almost seven years to get there after its launch from Cape Canaveral in  1997.

“A mission to Enceladus would take a similar time,” says McKay. Once there, several years would be needed to make several sweeps over Enceladus to collect samples of water and organics. “Then we would need a further seven years to get those samples back to Earth.”

Such a mission would therefore involve almost 20 years of space flight – on top of the decade needed to plan it and to construct and launch the probe. “That’s 30 years in all, a large chunk of any scientist’s professional life,” says McKay.

McKay and a group of other Nasa scientists based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena are undaunted, however. They are now finalising plans for an Enceladus Sample Return mission, which would involve putting a probe in orbit round Saturn. It would then use the gravity of the planet’s biggest moon, Titan, to make sweeps over Enceladus. Plume samples would then be stored in a canister that would eventually be fired back to Earth on a seven-year return journey.

Crucially, McKay and his colleagues believe such a mission could be carried out at a relatively modest cost – as part of Nasa’s Discovery programme, which funds low-budget missions to explore the solar system. Previous probes have included Lunar Prospector, which studied the moon’s geology; Stardust, which returned a sample of material scooped from a comet’s tail; and Mars Pathfinder, which deployed a tiny motorised robot vehicle on the Red Planet in 1997.

“The criteria for inclusion in the Discovery programme demand that any mission must cost less than $500m, though that does not include the price of launch,” says McKay. “We think we can adapt the technology that was developed on the Stardust mission to build an Enceladus Sample Return. If so, we can keep the cost below $500m. We are finalising plans and will announce our proposals in autumn.”

Such a mission is backed by Dougherty. “I think Enceladus is one of the best bets we now have for finding life on another world in our solar system. It is certainly worth visiting but it is not the only hope we have. The icy moons of Jupiter – such as Ganymede, Callisto and Europa – still look a very good prospect as well.”

And there is one problematic issue concerning Enceladus: time. “Conditions for life there are good at present but we do not know how long they have been in existence,” says McKay. “They might be recent or ancient. For life to have evolved, we need the latter to have been the case. At present, we have no idea about their duration, though geologists I have spoken to suggest that water and organics may have been there for a good while. The only way we will find out is to go there.”

The late entry of Enceladus in the race to find extraterrestrial life adds an intriguing new destination for astrobiologists in their hunt for aliens. Before its geysers were discovered, two main targets dominated their research: Mars and the icy moons of Jupiter. The former is the easiest to get to and has already received visits from dozens of probes. On 6 August, the $2.5bn robot rover Curiosity is set to land there and continue the hunt for life on the Red Planet. “For life to evolve you need liquid water, and although it is clear it once flowed on Mars, its continued existence there is debatable,” says Cockell. “By contrast, you can see water pouring off Enceladus along with those organics.”

Many scientists argue that water could exist deep below the Martian surface, supporting bacteria-like lifeforms. However, these reservoirs could be many metres, if not kilometres, below Mars’s surface and it could take decades to find them. Similarly, the oceans under the thick ice that covers Europa – and two other moons of Jupiter, Ganymede and Callisto – could also support life. But again, it will be extremely difficult for a robot probe to drill through the kilometres of ice that cover the oceans of these worlds.

Enceladus, by these standards, is an easy destination – but a distant one that will take a long time to reach. “No matter where we look, it appears it will take two or three decades to get answers to our questions about the existence of life on other worlds in the solar system,” says Cockell. “By that time, telescopes may have spotted signs of life on planets elsewhere in the galaxy. Our studies of extra-solar planets are getting more sophisticated, after all, and one day we may spot the presence of oxygen and water in our spectrographic studies of these distant worlds – an unambiguous indication that living entities exist there.

However, telescopic studies of extra-solar planets won’t reveal the nature of those lifeforms. Only by taking samples from planets in our solar system and returning them to laboratories on Earth, where we can study them, will we be able to reveal their exact nature and mode of replication – if they exist, of course. The little world of Enceladus could then have a lot to teach us.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/jul/29/alien-life-enceladus-saturn-moon