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Wind Cave National Park: A most unusual cave and wildlife preserve

Wind Cave Entrance

Wind Cave Entrance

Fun Facts About Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Tom and Jesse Bingham are credited with the discovery of Wind Cave in 1881.

Exploration has revealed 87 miles of passageways to date, which makes Wind Cave the fifth largest cave system in the United States, and eighth in the world.

The Cave gets its name from the wind that blows through, which during March-August of 1985 was measured to be >75 mph (120 kph) is highest recorded measurement at Walk-In Entrance before revolving door was installed. The highest recorded measurement at the Natural Entance was 25 mph (40 kph). North Room 0.28-1.75 mph (.5-2.8 kph).

An average of 1,000,000 ft³ (28317 m³) of air from the cave is exchanged with the surface each hour.

The Park features the most boxwork of any known cave and the most complex 3D rectilinear maze cave (network maze).

The Park also features one of the most diverse mineralogical and speleothem assemblages and one of the largest barometric wind caves in the United States.

Boxwork - a rare rock formation, or "speleothem"

Boxwork - a rare rock formation, or "speleothem"

Other natural features of the Cave are helictite bushes, quartz rinds, logomites, hydromagnesite ballons, dogtooth and nailhead spar, quartz, christmas trees, button popcorn, sawtooth flowstone, gypsum luster, flowers, starbursts, and hair conulites.

Wind Cave is over 300 million years old, making it one of the oldest in the world. Besides extreme age, other features make Wind Cave unique. The cave is large and extremely complex, the 81 miles of known cave (1998) fit under one square mile of land. The boxwork is rare and found in few other caves. Wind Cave has undergone many geological changes and the processes continue.

The Cave’s boundaries are within a 1.1 by 1.3 mile rectangle (370.4 ha) on the surface.

The park was heavily exploited during it’s early days. Many features were removed, names carved on walls, and a lot of trash and outside debris was brought in.

On Jan 3, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill creating Wind Cave National Park. It was the seventh national park and the first one created to protect a cave. The parklands at that time were small and there were no bison, elk, or pronghorn. They came later as the park boundaries expanded.

In 1912, the American Bison Society was looking for a place to reestablish a bison herd. Because of the excellent prairie habitat around the park, a national game preserve was established bordering Wind Cave. It was managed by the U.S. Biological Survey. In 1913 and 1914, the animals began to arrive. Fourteen bison came from the New York Zoological Society, twenty-one elk arrived from Wyoming and thirteen pronghorn came from Alberta, Canada.

In July of 1935, the game preserve became part of Wind Cave National Park. During the early years of the preserve, the animals were kept in small enclosures. Eventually, it was realized that they needed more space. The bison and elk needed additional forage and the pronghorn needed room to escape from predators. With the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), fences within the park were removed. And in 1946, 16,341 additional acres were added, enlarging the park to 28,059 acres.

Aside from the Cave, the park is a nature preserve for bison and other fauna

Aside from the Cave, the park is a nature preserve for bison and other fauna

Serious exploration of the caves did not begin until 1956, and during 1963 to 1965 major additions to the known territory of Wind Cave were made.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, managers continued to focus on caring for the wildlife and rangeland by building an understanding of how the natural systems should function. The reintroduction of fire as a natural means to improve the range and to limit the expansion of the forest onto the prairie was researched. An active fire program was started, with the first prescribed fire occurring in 1972.

Exploration is still on going today (and the ranks of which cave is largest changes frequently).

Wind Cave National Park is open year round with visitation the highest in June, July and August and lowest in December, January and February.

The length of the surveyed cave is 135 miles (217.26 kilometers).

The deepest point surveyed are the underground lakes, which are 654 feet (199.3 m) below the highest point in the cave.

On the banks of Wind Cave's underground lake

On the banks of Wind Cave's underground lake

Not only does Wind Cave National Park protect the 87 miles of passageways below it, but is home to a host of Black Hills features including mountains, ponderosa forest, prairies, and the most miles of established, maintained, hiking trails of all of the National Park facilities located in South Dakota.

Wind Cave National Park by default is also an excellent jumping off point to see other Black Hills attractions like Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, Jewel Cave National Monument, and the Crazy Horse Memorial.

Calcite Rafts, a thin layer of calcite stone, floats on the top of the lakes.  The unusual stone formation will sink when the surface tension of the water is broken.  These formations have been found in dry parts of the cave, adding to the evidence that the water levels in the Black Hills have rose and receded over the millennium, creating the numerous caves we can see today.

Wind Cave National Park also offers a wider variety of tours and programs for visitors than it’s smaller sibling to the west, Jewel Cave National Monument.

 

Special thanks to wind.cave.national-park.comoutdoorplaces.com and nps.gov

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Pluto: The former planet still fascinates and intrigues

Pluto with moons:  Charon, Nix and Hydra

Pluto with moons: Charon, Nix and Hydra

Fun Facts About Pluto

 

1. Pluto has an atmosphere

Even though Pluto’s average temperature averages a mere 44 degrees above absolute zero, the dwarf planet has an atmosphere. Not an atmosphere as we know it, but an atmosphere, none the less.

It was first discovered back in 1985, when astronomers watched as Pluto passed in front of a star. They were able to calculate a slight dimming as its atmosphere passed in front of the star, before Pluto itself blocked the star entirely. From those observations, they were able to calculate that it has a thin envelope of nitrogen, methane and carbon dioxide.

As Pluto moves away from the Sun, this atmosphere gets so cold that it freezes onto the surface. And then as the dwarf planet warms again, the atmosphere evaporates again, forming a gas around it.

2. Pluto has 3 moons

You might have heard that Pluto has a large moon called Charon, but did you know that it actually has 3 moons in total. Charon is the large one, with a mass of roughly half that of Pluto’s.

Two additional moons, Nix and Hydra, were discovered by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope on May 15, 2005. They were originally called S/2005 P1 and S/2005 P2, and then given their final names on June 21, 2006.

They took a long time to discover because they’re so tiny. Nix is only 46 km across, while Hydra is 61 km across.

3. Pluto hasn’t cleared out its orbit

Although Pluto orbits the Sun and it’s round, it’s not a planet. And that’s because Pluto hasn’t cleared out its orbit of material. This was the reason that the International Astronomical Union chose to demote it from planet to dwarf planet in 2006.

Just to give you an idea, if you added up the mass of all the other objects in Pluto’s orbit, Pluto’s mass would only be a tiny fraction of that total. In fact, it would only be 0.07 times as massive as everything else. For comparison, if you did the same thing with all the other material in the Earth’s orbit, our planet would be 1.5 million times as massive.

And that’s why Pluto’s not a planet.

4. Pluto is actually a binary system


You’d think that Charon orbits Pluto, but actually, Pluto and Charon orbit a common point in space. In the case of the Earth and the Moon, we actually orbit a common point, but that spot exists inside the Earth. In the case of Pluto and Charon, however, that common point is above the surface of Pluto.

Before Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet, astronomers were thinking of classifying it as a binary planet system. And then as a binary dwarf planet system. Perhaps that will help it recover some of its lost glory.

5. Pluto is named after a god, not a dog

If you think Pluto is named after a Disney character, you’re wrong. It’s actually named after the Roman god of the underworld. And Charon is the ferryman who carries souls across the river Styx.

When it was first discovered, Pluto was just given the name Planet X, but then the discoverers needed to come up with something better and more permanent. The name Pluto was suggested by Venetia Burney, an 11-year old school girl in Oxford, England. She thought it was a good name for such a cold, dark world. It was passed along to the discoverers and they liked it enough to make it official.

6. Pluto can be closer than Neptune

For most of its orbit, Pluto is more distant than Neptune, reaching out as far as 49 astronomical units (49 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun). But it has such an eccentric, elliptical orbit that it gets much closer, reaching a mere 29 AU. And during that time, it’s actually orbiting within the orbit of Neptune. The last time Pluto and Neptune made this switch was between February 7, 1979 and February 11, 1999. And give it another couple of hundred years and it’ll happen again.

7. Pluto is smaller than any planet, and even 7 moons

Pluto is small. How small? Astronomers recently calculated that its mass is 1.31 x 1022 kg (less than 0.24% the mass of Earth). And its diameter is only 2,390 km across.

At this point, it’s smaller than Mercury, and seven other moons including: Ganymede, Titan, Callisto, Io, Earth’s Moon, Europa, and Triton.

And now astronomers know that it’s even smaller than the recently discovered dwarf planet Eris. Here’s more information about how big Pluto is.

8. If it were closer to the Sun, Pluto would be a comet

Although this isn’t officially a reason for losing its planet status, Pluto wouldn’t last long if it got much closer to the Sun. It’s comprised of about half rock and half ice. This is a similar ratio to many rocky comets in the Solar System.

If you could somehow bring Pluto closer to the Sun, it would sprout a tail, becoming a spectacular comet. And over millions of years, the solar wind would blast away its icy structure, causing it to lose mass.

It’s lucky Pluto lives in such a cold, dark part of the Solar System.

9. Charon might have geysers

In the last few years, astronomers have discovered that several objects in the Solar System have ice geysers, including Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and maybe several others as well. But Pluto’s moon Charon could have this happening too.

Astronomers using the Gemini Observatory in Mauna Kea in Hawaii recently turned up evidence that geysers on Charon are spreading ammonia hydrates and water crystals across the surface of the moon.

Is this really happening? We’ll know soon, because… here’s the last Pluto fact.

10. There’s a spacecraft going to Pluto right now

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is making its way to Pluto right now. The spacecraft launched in 2005, and its expected to reach the dwarf planet in 2015. It will pass right through the system, imaging the surface of Pluto and its moons, and finally answering questions that have puzzled astronomers for nearly a hundred years.

 

Special thanks to www.universetoday.com

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