That bath water? It could be really, really old

Cowboy, a 5-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever trained by Jason Kidd of PawPaw, Mich., competes in a competition in Gray Summit, Mo. The water Cowboy is jumping into could be billions and billions of years old, according to a new study. (Photo by Whitney Curtis/Invision for Purina Pro Plan/AP Images)

Cowboy, a 5-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever trained by Jason Kidd of PawPaw, Mich., competes in a competition in Gray Summit, Mo. The water Cowboy is jumping into could be billions and billions of years old, according to a new study. (Photo by Whitney Curtis/Invision for Purina Pro Plan/AP Images)

Some of the water molecules in your bath water were created more than 4.5 billion years ago, according to new research.

That makes them older than the Earth, older than the solar system — even older than the sun itself.

In a new study, researchers say the distinct chemical signature of the water on Earth — and throughout the solar system — could occur only if some of that water formed before the swirling disk of dust and gas gave birth to the planets, moons, comets and asteroids.

This primordial water makes up 30% to 50% of the water on Earth, the researchers estimate.

“It’s pretty amazing that a significant fraction of water on Earth predates the sun and the solar system,” said study leader Ilse Cleeves, a University of Michigan astronomer.

Scientists are still not entirely sure how water arrived on Earth. The part of the protoplanetary disk in which our planet formed was too hot for liquid or ice water to exist, and so the planet was born dry. Most experts believe the Earth’s water came from ice in comets and asteroids that formed in a cooler environment, and later collided with our planet.

But this theory leads to more questions. Among them: Where did the water preserved in the comets and asteroids come from?

water-with-fish

Replacing hydrogen: To find out, scientists turned to chemistry. Here on Earth, about one in every 3,000 molecules of water is made with a deuterium atom instead of a hydrogen atom.

A deuterium atom is similar to a hydrogen atom except that its nucleus contains a proton and a neutron, instead of a lone proton. (Both atoms also contain a single electron.) That makes deuterium twice as heavy as hydrogen, which is why water molecules made with deuterium atoms (HDO) are known as “heavy water.”

At the time that our sun was born, the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen throughout the universe was about 1 deuterium molecule to every 100,000 hydrogen molecules. But for water in the solar system, the proportion is significantly higher.

Water with a high deuterium content can only form under specific conditions. The environment needs to be very cold, and there needs to be enough energy to power the reaction that binds hydrogen, deuterium and oxygen.

Ted Bergin, an astronomer at the University of Michigan and co-author of the Science study, said the work suggests there may be an abundance of ancient water in young planetary systems throughout the universe.

Reported by DEBORAH NETBURN of the Los Angeles Times (MCT). Follow her @DeborahNetburn and “like” Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.
(c)2014 the Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services

Read More

Back to Mars: Maven arrives in orbit

In this artist concept provided by NASA, the Maven spacecraft approaches Mars on a mission to study its upper atmosphere. Maven iss designed to circle the planet, not land. (AP Photo/NASA)

In this artist concept provided by NASA, the Maven spacecraft approaches Mars on a mission to study its upper atmosphere. Maven iss designed to circle the planet, not land. (AP Photo/NASA)


NASA’s Maven spacecraft arrived at Mars late Sunday after a 442 million-mile journey that began nearly a year ago.

The robotic explorer fired its brakes and successfully slipped into orbit around the red planet, officials confirmed.

“I think my heart’s about ready to start again,” said Maven’s chief investigator, Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado. “All I can say at this point is, ‘We’re in orbit at Mars, guys!’”

Now the real work begins for the $671 million mission, the first dedicated to studying Mars’ upper atmosphere.

Flight controllers in Colorado will spend the next six weeks adjusting Maven’s altitude and checking its science instruments, and observing a comet streaking by. Then in early November, Maven will start probing the upper atmosphere of Mars. The spacecraft will conduct its observations from orbit; it’s not meant to land.

In the sky: Scientists believe the Martian atmosphere holds clues as to how Earth’s neighbor went from being warm and wet billions of years ago to cold and dry. That early wet world may have harbored microbial life, a tantalizing question yet to be answered.

NASA launched Maven last November from Cape Canaveral, the 10th U.S. mission sent to orbit the red planet. Three earlier ones failed, and until the official word came of success late Sunday night, the entire team was on edge.

“I don’t have any fingernails any more, but we’ve made it,” said Colleen Hartman, deputy director for science at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It’s incredible.”

Maven joins three spacecraft already circling Mars, two American and one European. And the traffic jam isn’t over: India’s first interplanetary probe, Mangalyaan, will reach Mars in two days and also aim for orbit.

Martian air:
Jakosky, who’s with the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, hopes to learn where all the water on Mars went, along with the carbon dioxide that once comprised an atmosphere thick enough to hold moist clouds.

The gases may have been stripped away by the sun early in Mars’ existence, escaping into the upper atmosphere and out into space. Maven’s observations should be able to extrapolate back in time, Jakosky said.

Maven — short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission — will spend at least a year collecting data. That’s a full Earth year, half a Martian one. Its orbit will dip as low as 78 miles above the Martian surface as its eight instruments make measurements. The craft is as long as a school bus, from solar wingtip to tip, and as hefty as an SUV.

Comet: Maven will have a rare brush with a comet next month.

The nucleus of newly discovered Comet Siding Spring will pass 82,000 miles from Mars on Oct. 19. The risk of comet dust damaging Maven is low, officials said, and the spacecraft should be able to observe Siding Spring as a science bonus.

___

Online:

NASA: http://mars.nasa.gov/maven/

University of Colorado: http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/maven/

___

Reported by MARCIA DUNN of the Associated Press from CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.

___

Here’s a video showing the final minutes before MAVEN’s arrival into Mars orbit. http://youtu.be/l3SryPMaRYw

Read More

A dinosaur unlike any other

A 50-foot life-size model of a Spinosaurus dinosaur is displayed outside the entrance at the National Geographic Society in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

A 50-foot life-size model of a Spinosaurus dinosaur is displayed outside the entrance at the National Geographic Society in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Picture the fearsome creatures of “Jurassic Park” crossed with the shark from “Jaws.”

Then super-size your imaginary beast to the size of the biggest predator ever to roam Earth.

Now add a crocodile snout as big as a person and feet like a duck’s.

The result gives you some idea of a bizarre dinosaur scientists unveiled last week.

This patchwork of critters comes together in the form of a 50-foot predator. It is the only known dinosaur to live much of its life in the water.

The beast, called Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, was already known to scientists from a long-ago fossil discovery, but most of those bones were destroyed in Germany during World War II. Now, 70 years later, a new skeleton found in Morocco reveals that the beast was far more aquatic than early researchers expected.

Spinosaurus had a long neck, strong clawed forearms, powerful jaws and the dense bones of a penguin. It propelled itself in water with flat feet that were probably webbed, according to a study on its remains. The beast sported a spiny sail on its back that was 7 feet tall when it lived 95 million years ago.

“It’s like working on an extraterrestrial or an alien,” study lead author Nizar Ibrahim of the University of Chicago said, while standing in front of a room-sized reconstruction of the skeleton at the National Geographic Society, which helped fund the research.

“It’s so different than anything else around,” he said.

Reported by SETH BORENSTEING of the Associated Press

University of Chicago Paleontologist Paul C. Sereno looks inside the jaws of a 50-foot life-size model of a Spinosaurus dinosaur at the National Geographic Society exhibit in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. National Geographic has put together a life-size model of the first non-bird dinosaur that could live much of the time in water. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

University of Chicago Paleontologist Paul C. Sereno looks inside the jaws of a 50-foot life-size model of a Spinosaurus dinosaur at the National Geographic Society exhibit in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. National Geographic has put together a life-size model of the first non-bird dinosaur that could live much of the time in water. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Here are two video featuring the Spinosaurus. http://youtu.be/BhJ2HbnvmXI http://youtu.be/NaWERiPJagk

Read More

Passenger pigeons: From 5 billion to zero

The passenger pigeon diorama at the University of Minnesota's Bell Museum contains an egg and nest found in 1895 in Minneapolis, said to be the last known nest and egg found in the wild. In less than 20 years, the last bird in captivity would be dead. (Pioneer Press: Richard Chin)

The passenger pigeon diorama at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum contains an egg and nest found in 1895 in Minneapolis, said to be the last known nest and egg found in the wild. In less than 20 years, the last bird in captivity would be dead. (Pioneer Press: Richard Chin)

A hundred years ago, Martha died and an environmental cautionary tale was born.

On Sept. 1, 1914, Martha, a passenger pigeon, fell off her perch at the Cincinnati Zoo and dropped dead. She was 29.

She was the last known example of her species, the sole survivor of what once was the most numerous bird in North America and possibly the world.

Estimates suggest that the number of passenger pigeons in the mid-1800s was around 5 billion.

Accounts by bird-expert John Audubon and others of the staggering numbers of the bird sound nearly mythical, describing them as a sort of a cross between a natural disaster and a natural wonder.

The pigeons were known to form “superflocks,” which could be a mile wide and hundreds of miles long. These superflocks were said to eclipse the sun and took days to pass. Others said their millions of wings made a noise that sounded like a tornado as the superflock passed overhead at 60 mph. They could devastate a farm crop. Their nesting colonies could cover more than 100 square miles. And when they roosted, their multitudes caused trees to topple and poop to pile up a foot deep.

But all those birds were no match for hungry humans with modern weapons.

In the course of a few decades, habitat destruction and unregulated hunting wiped out the passenger pigeon. They are all gone now. Not one is left.

Extinct: The abrupt extinction of the passenger pigeon is considered the greatest human-caused extinction in recorded history.

“No one thought you could cause something as common as the passenger pigeon to go extinct. It was inconceivable,” said Robert Zink, a University of Minnesota professor and bird expert.

However, recent research by Zink suggests that maybe the bird’s own biology shares a bit of the blame.

The new study indicated that while passenger pigeons were booming early in the 19th century, that wasn’t always the case. Studies of passenger pigeon DNA labeled the birds an “outbreak” species, similar to plague locusts or lemmings. In other words, they underwent large swings in population size, which could have made them vulnerable to determined human depredation.

Specimens of the passenger pigeon, a species of bird which was totally eliminated from North America, are preserved in the University of Minnesota's ornithology collection. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

Specimens of the passenger pigeon, a species of bird which was totally eliminated from North America, are preserved in the University of Minnesota’s ornithology collection. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

Zink’s research says a natural downturn in the bird’s numbers occurred in the late 1800s. That, unfortunately, was when hunting of the birds really got going.

Zink said the acorn-gobbling bird was able to recover from population lows before. Some were caused by North American glaciers and others by bad acorn years. Still, the pigeons couldn’t overcome the clearing of forests for farming and logging and hunting on an industrial scale. Hunters were also aided by the telegraph, which allowed them to broadcast alerts of where the birds were flocking. When that news came, hunters simply hopped on railroad cars and zipped over to the latest hunting ground. It wasn’t long until the bird became a staple of the 19th century American diet.

Food for America: “The principal attraction is the birds were cheap,” said Joel Greenberg, author of the recently published book, “A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction.”

“They were the cheapest terrestrial protein,” he said.

They were also easy to find and kill.

Passenger pigeons weren’t particularly clever or elusive either, the experts agree. Zink said they didn’t have to be. Their huge numbers meant that natural predators couldn’t kill enough of them to make a difference in their survival as a species. That changed when humans with 19th-century technology came along.

A single shotgun blast into a dense flock could bring down a dozen birds. A kid with a pole could knock them out of a tree or even out of the sky. They also were netted, poisoned, burned out of their roosts and gassed with burning sulfur.

The birds were slaughtered in such numbers that surplus carcasses were used to feed hogs and fill potholes, according to Greenberg.

Hunting never stopped: Even as their numbers dwindled, the killing continued. Some people were in a state of denial about the disappearance of the bird, believing stories they had flown to South America and changed their appearance.

“That sounds crazy to us now, but at the time, the crazier alternative was that the passenger pigeon would go extinct,” said Elisabeth Condon, as assistant scientist with the University of Minnesota’s Natural Resources Research Institute.

Hunting efforts actually intensified as the flocks shrank, Condon said.

“People were really eager to shoot the last passenger pigeon,” she said.

According to Zink, it wasn’t necessary to shoot the last bird. Humans had already fragmented their habitat and their dwindling numbers made it hard for them to recover. Without large colonies and flocks, the passenger pigeon had a hard time breeding, scouting for acorns and resisting non-human predators.

The final pigeon: The last wild nest and egg of a passenger pigeon was found in Minneapolis in 1895, according to Greenberg. The last credible report of a wild bird bagged by a hunter occurred in 1902. The second-to-last bird living bird, named George, died in captivity in 1910 after failing to reproduce with Martha.

Martha, who had spent her life in captivity, endured the last four years of her life as a lonely, tragic celebrity. Greenberg said her death may be unique in bird extinctions in that we know the day when a species came to an end.

Passenger Pigeon 2.0: The story may not end if something called “The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback” turns out to be a success.

That’s the “flagship project” of an organization called Revive & Restore dedicated to “de-extinction,” or using cutting-edge DNA science to bring extinct animals back to life.

The project would use passenger pigeon DNA harvested from museum specimens and DNA of the closely related Band-tailed pigeon to create a bird that would look and behave like a passenger pigeon.

“What is created is going to be up for debate by a lot of people,” said Ben Novak, leader of the project. “It’s a lot like passenger pigeon 2.0.”

Novak said if everything goes right, the “Adam and Eve” of this species “reset” might be created in about eight years. He said by using surrogate Band-tailed pigeon parents, several hundred or even a thousand new passenger pigeons could be created in another five years for a “soft release” in an enclosed wild environment.

“I can see wanting to bring it back because it’s pretty clear we caused its demise,” Zink said of the project. “I think the motivation is apologetic. We’re sorry for the passenger pigeon, we’re sorry we did this to you.”

Reported by RICHARD CHIN of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Richard Chin can be reached at 651-228-5560. Follow him at twitter.com/RRChin .

Read More

Tortoise is 100 years old and new to Ohio

Andy Odum, Toledo Zoo assistant director of animal programs and curator of herpetology, photographs  Emerson, Galapagos tortoise, as he is delivered and unboxed Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo, Ohio. (AP Photo/The Blade, Jeremy Wadsworth)

Andy Odum, Toledo Zoo assistant director of animal programs and curator of herpetology, photographs Emerson, Galapagos tortoise, as he is delivered and unboxed Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo, Ohio. (AP Photo/The Blade, Jeremy Wadsworth)

Toledo’s newest exotic resident weighs 440 pounds, is old enough to be considered a living antique, and hails from a volcanic Pacific archipelago near the equator.

Emerson, a dome-shelled Galapagos tortoise estimated to be about 100 years old, arrived last month at the Toledo Zoo in Ohio from the San Diego Zoo.

“He is a spectacular animal,” said R. Andrew Odum, curator of herpetology at the zoo. “He’s a very majestic, statesman tortoise.”

Emerson emerged from his wooden transport crate with no hesitation and explored his new surroundings. Handlers rewarded him with carrot and sweet potato treats and a neck rub.

No one knows the average lifespan of a Galapagos tortoise because they live so long. Tracking the animals with known hatching dates takes several generations of humans, but experts estimate the giant reptiles may live anywhere from 150 to 200 years.

The species: Galapagos tortoises, an endangered species, are one of the foremost examples of the impact of human activity on the natural world and are a common symbol of the need for conservation. They can live for months without food or water, and their populations were decimated in the 1800s when whalers rounded them up to store aboard ships as a reliable source of fresh meat. Now, predation and habitat destruction from invasive species are the primary concern.

Emerson was born in the wild on the Galapagos Islands — a part of Ecuador 575 miles off the coast of that South American nation — before being brought to the United States, so his age and history are only a best guess.

A spokesman with the St. Louis Zoo, which originally housed Emerson, said records show the tortoise arrived there on New Year‘s Eve, 1959, but there are no records that say exactly where Emerson came from other than having been acquired through a “private source.”

Odum said that given Emerson’s age and characteristics, he could be one of 180 tortoises brought to the states from Isabela Island in 1928 by Charles H. Townsend. The New York Zoological Society naturalist and director of the New York Aquarium was one of the first to notice the plight of Galapagos tortoises after examining logbooks from whaling ships and realizing how many had been taken. He led an expedition to the archipelago in an attempt to preserve them.

Reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from TOLEDO, Ohio. The Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Alexandra Mester is a reporter at The Blade: amester@theblade.com, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.

Val Hornyak, of the Toledo Zoo, feeds a carrot to Emerson, Galapagos tortoise, as he is delivered and unboxed Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo, Ohio. Emerson is a wild-born tortoise estimated at 100 years old. He is being donated by the San Diego Zoo. (AP Photo/The Blade, Jeremy Wadsworth)

Val Hornyak, of the Toledo Zoo, feeds a carrot to Emerson, Galapagos tortoise, as he is delivered and unboxed Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo, Ohio. Emerson is a wild-born tortoise estimated at 100 years old. He is being donated by the San Diego Zoo. (AP Photo/The Blade, Jeremy Wadsworth)

Read More

Call her the squirrel whisperer

A student at Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania, is being called the Squirrel Whisperer for her skill at taming the squirrels on campus. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

A student at Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania, is being called the Squirrel Whisperer for her skill at taming the squirrels on campus. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

A Penn State student is gaining an Internet reputation as a “squirrel whisperer” for befriending, feeding and dressing up a furry little friend she has named Sneezy.

Junior Mary Krupa tells WJAC-TV (http://bit.ly/1B9IvPf ) that she’s able to dress up the squirrel in party hats, or get Sneezy to hold doll-sized props, simply by feeding the animal.

Krupa and Sneezy’s exploits are chronicled in a Facebook page titled “Sneezy the Penn State Squirrel.”

So far, the squirrel is proving quite popular. Its Facebook page has more “likes” than a page dedicated to the school’s official mascot, the Nittany Lion.

___

Reported by The Associated Press from STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania. Online: http://on.fb.me/1qlke5r Information from: WJAC-TV, http://www.wjactv.com Youtube video: http://youtu.be/_kscEoohfVY

Read More

Ferrets on the prowl in Colorado

Black-footed ferrets were considered the United States' most-endangered mammal for decades. Now a program is reintroducing them into the wild where they can prey on prairie dogs in western states. (Wikipedia image)

Black-footed ferrets were considered the United States’ most-endangered mammal for decades. Now a program is reintroducing them into the wild where they can prey on prairie dogs in western states. (Wikipedia image)

Captive-bred endangered black-footed ferrets crept out of their cages into the freedom of an open space area in the Colorado city of Fort Collins on Wednesday. The ferrets were the first set free under a new Colorado law that lets cities and counties release the animals into prairie dog colonies.

Officials hope the 15 ferrets will continue to hunt like they did while they were still in captivity. Each ferret is expected to eat at least a prairie dog a week. In the Western United States, prairie dogs are considered a pest and the black-footed ferret is one of their top predators. The ultimate goal is to restore ecological balance in areas where they are set free.

“It is the natural habitat where they started,” Fort Collins Mayor Karen Weitkunat said. “Because of the population of prairie dogs, we believe they will succeed.”

Other cities have expressed interest in re-introducing black-footed ferrets, formerly American’s most endangered mammal, as natural predators in similar open spaces. To do so, cities and counties must have at least 1,500 acres of un-fragmented land, said Pete Gober, National Black-footed Ferret Recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Ferret recovery is a pretty simple process,” Gober said. “You put ferrets with prairie dogs. You manage to keep disease off the landscape. And you deal with boundary control so that you don’t have prairie dogs wandering off and becoming a nuisance. If you’re committed to that kind of management, we will work with anyone to put ferrets out and have success.”

Recovery effort: Ferrets historically hunted on Colorado grasslands. Poisoning and hunting rendered them scarce by the 1930s and officials considered them extinct in the 1980s. A small population was found in Wyoming. Federal biologists took those last 18 animals and bred them at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center northeast of Fort Collins, where, with help from zoos, they now have 500.

USFWS regional director Noreen Walsh hailed Wednesday’s release of ferrets on Fort Collins’ Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and adjacent Meadow Springs Ranch open space as a major step toward recovering black-footed ferrets as a self-sustaining population in the wild.

Federal officials aim to introduce 3,000 across 12 states. Colorado officials said 150 will be introduced in that state.

What are they? Black-footed Ferrets typically weigh about 2 pounds, often not larger than their prey.

At night, their elongated bodies and sensitive snouts let them slink into tunnels to underground dens where prairie dogs sleep. Ferrets clamp their teeth into prairie dogs’ necks and squeeze, then devour them. One female ferret typically will guard turf of about 100 acres.

Reported by BRUCE FINLEY of the Denver Post from FORT COLLINS, Colorado. Contact Bruce Finley at 303-954-1700, bfinley@denverpost.com or twitter.com/finleybruce

 In this July 24, 2014 photo, a prairie dog peeks out of his hole near Scottsbluff, Neb. Prairie dog colonies can spread rapidly in grasslands. Their burrows are dangerous for cattle if they step in a hole or the tunnels cave in a cow or horse can be crippled. (AP Photo/The Star-Herald, Chabella Guzman)

In this July 24, 2014 photo, a prairie dog peeks out of his hole near Scottsbluff, Neb. Prairie dog colonies can spread rapidly in grasslands. Their burrows are dangerous for cattle if they step in a hole or the tunnels cave in a cow or horse can be crippled. (AP Photo/The Star-Herald, Chabella Guzman)

Read More

Help York County’s dogs, help a Scout

Nicole Assi of Dover Township talks with Kevin Perkey of Spring Garden Township and meets his dog Tucker, a chocolate Labrador, while her Labrador/shepherd-mix puppy Malcolm runs around at John Rudy County Park on Friday. (The York Dispatch)

Nicole Assi of Dover Township talks with Kevin Perkey of Spring Garden Township and meets his dog Tucker, a chocolate Labrador, while her Labrador/shepherd-mix puppy Malcolm runs around at John Rudy County Park on Friday. (The York Dispatch)

A longtime Boy Scout is combining his love of dogs with a project to become an Eagle Scout.

Grant Dudney, the 16-year-old Scout, will begin the project to improve the dog park in John Rudy County Park this weekend.

And he’s looking for a few volunteers to lend a hand.

The project entails repairing fencing around the dog park, including placing new rocks around the nearly two miles of fencing and staining fence posts with a rain repellent, Dudney said.

Dog lover: Dudney, with Troop 57 in Manchester, said he opted for the project at the dog park because he loves dogs but could never have one because his mother suffers from severe allergies when she’s around them.

So instead, Dudney stops by the dog park to check out pooches when he goes for walks at John Rudy County Park, located just off Mundis Race Road in East Manchester Township.

Dudney got his start in Scouting in 2007 when he joined as a Cub Scout while in third grade.

Now seven years on, he’s striving to become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank a boy can obtain in the Boy Scouts of America program.

Work at the park starts Friday, and work days will be held through September.

Help wanted: The Eagle Scout project to improve the dog park in John Rudy County Park along Mundis Race Road in East Manchester Township starts Friday.

Work will be done Fridays from 4 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through September.

To sign up to help out, go to eaglescoutcaninepark.weebly.com.

Donations can be mailed to Troop 57 BSA/Grant Dudney, C/O Christ Lutheran Church, 66 S. Main St., Manchester, PA 17345. Checks should be made out to Troop 57 with Eagle Scout/Dudney on the memo line.

For more information, email bsatroop57@troop57-bsa.org.
Reported by GREG GROSS of The York Dispatch in YORK, Pennsylvania. Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.

Read More

What makes rocks slide across the desert?

This undated photo provided by the National Park Service shows rocks that have moved across a dry lake bed in Death Valley National Park in California's Mojave Desert. Cousins Richard Norris and James Norris say the movement is made possible when ice sheets that form after rare overnight rains melt in the rising sun, making the hard ground muddy and slick. (AP Photo/National Park Service)

This undated photo provided by the National Park Service shows rocks that have moved across a dry lake bed in Death Valley National Park in California’s Mojave Desert. Cousins Richard Norris and James Norris say the movement is made possible when ice sheets that form after rare overnight rains melt in the rising sun, making the hard ground muddy and slick. (AP Photo/National Park Service)

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — For years scientists have wondered how large rocks — some weighing hundreds of pounds — zigzag across a flat portion of desert in Death Valley National Park. As they moved on their own when no one watched them, the rocks would leave long trails etched in the earth.

Now two researchers have photographed these “sailing rocks.” How are they moving? It turns out they are being blown by light winds across the former lake bed known as the Racetrack Playa.

Cousins Richard Norris and James Norris said the movement is made possible when ice sheets that form after rare overnight rains melt in the rising sun, making the hard ground muddy and slick.

Last year, the cousins catalogued 60 rocks moving across the playa’s pancake-flat surface.

“Observed rock movement occurred on sunny, clear days, following nights of sub-freezing temperatures,” they wrote in their report.

The conclusion proves theories that have been floated since geologists began studying the moving rocks in the 1940s.

The phenomenon doesn’t happen often because it rarely rains in the notoriously hot and dry desert valley. Even more impressively, the rocks move about 15 feet per minute, the report says.

The Norrises launched their “Slithering Stones Research Initiative” in 2011. After getting permits from the National Park Service, they installed a weather station in the area and placed 15 stones equipped with global positioning devices on the desert surface.

The “GPS stones,” which were engineered to record movement and velocity, were stationed at the southern end of the playa. They were placed near where non-GPS-infused rocks begin their strange journeys after tumbling down a cliff.

Read More