November 26, 2013

Monarchs at the El Rosario Sanctuary, Michoacàn-Mèxico.     Photo: Luna sin Estrellas/Flickr

Where Are the Monarchs?

Butterflies arrive late to Mexico.

For centuries, monarch butterflies have migrated from across North America to the mountains of central Mexico, arriving like clockwork on November 1. However, this year the monarchs showed up late and in sobering numbers. Last year's migration was the all-time recorded low with 60 million butterflies arriving in Mexico, this year only 3 million have appeared, according to The New York Times.

Mexicans have celebrated the migration of the butterflies for years on the Day of the Dead, believing that the monarchs are the returning souls of those who have passed. Sadly enough, the monarchs are dying off before they even begin their arduous journey. Although pesticides are certainly a major factor, scientists attribute much of the decline to the disappearance of native vegetation across the U.S., reports The Times.

Much of the vegetation loss can be attributed to our farming practices. As prices of crops such as corn have grown, farmers have expanded their operations and are using pesticides like roundup. The combination of these practices not only wipes out habitat, but often makes surviving vegetation toxic to insects.

Some studies show that Iowa has lost up to 90 percent of its milkweed—a vital source of nectar for many species—greatly affecting a variety of insect populations, according to reports from The Times. Studies like these coupled with never-ending development and construction leave the butterflies and other insects nowhere to live.

Most of these issues are also plaguing the bee population, and in many cases are having a larger impact. “If the bees were to truly disappear, we would lose 80 percent of the plants,” Dr. Tallamy told The Times. “That is not an option. That’s a huge problem for mankind.”

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Comet ISON, also known as C/2012 S1     Photo: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

Comet ISON Nears Sun

Astronomers unsure it will survive

By now, Comet ISON has traveled more than 100,000 astronomical units—about 2,500 times the distance between the sun and Pluto—and on Thursday, it is projected to miss the sun by just 730,000 miles. That's when its million-year journey will end in either death or fanfare: The sun could destroy it by way of radiation, pressure, or a tail-ripping solar burst; or ISON could evaporate to survive the encounter and rebound past Earth—to provide what star-gazers hope will be a naked-eye spectacle.

Unfortunately, observers wrote Tuesday that the comet is not as bright as it's been in recent days, and that it may be pouring out dust, signaling disintegration.

"I believe the next couple of days will be crucial to determine the post-perihelion appearance of the comet," says Padma Yanamandra-Fisher, of the Space Science Institute. "Perihelion" describes the point in orbit when an object is closest to the sun.

On the other hand, Karl Battams, an astrophysicist, wrote on the NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign's blog that "the last time we saw an object like this was never," adding that a sungrazing comet just three days from perihelion is too new an object to warrant any conclusions.

If it doesn't survive Thursday, the rocky material that remains of ISON could simply continue to orbit the sun.

Show or no show, why not celebrate spectacular mortality by going out with NASA's Comet ISON toolkit in spite of uncertainty and preparing for something great?

Read here to discover the best places, and the best conditions, for observing what some astronomers are calling the "Comet of the Century."

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Bear paws are considered gourmet delicacies by some people.     Photo: Jupiterimages/Thinkstock

Black Bear Delicacies Result in Fine

Montana restaurant owners plead guilty.

A married couple that owns a restaurant in Helena, Montana, plead guilty Monday to 13 wildlife charges involving the unlawful purchase and distribution of black bear parts.

David Hong, 57, and his wife Heng Huang, 52, had solicited undercover agents three times during the past year to buy two blacks bears, three bear gallbladders, and a five-gallon bucket of 12 bear paws, which they kept in the restaurant.

Hong and Huang came to the attention of a game warden with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks after a concerned citizen overhead the couple asking customers in the restaurant whether they were hunters and would sell them bear gallbladders. Huang's attorney, Michael Kakuk, said in court that they wanted the gallbladders for medicinal use. They did not explain the bear paws.

"Our concern was whether this was bigger than just what we were seeing," Sergeant Dave Loewen, a game warden with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told the Independent Record. "That’s why we got so deep on this one. We were concerned they were shipping these out of state, but we didn’t find that with this."

The couple will be fined $4,980, down from the judge's original ruling of $9,600, insofar as they stay out of trouble. They are prohibited from hunting for the next six years.

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Subtropical Storm Melissa, the last storm of the 2013 season.     Photo: NOAA

2013 Hurricane Season Weakest Since 1982

Only one storm made landfall

On November 30, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will close the books on the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. With only 13 named storms in the Atlantic basin, 2013 had the fewest number of hurricanes since 1982 and ranks as the sixth-least-active season since 1950.

NOAA is attributing the dip in hurricane production to unfavorable atmospheric conditions over the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean. “A combination of conditions acted to offset several climate patterns that historically have produced active hurricane seasons,” explained NOAA's lead seasonal hurricane forecaster Gerry Bell. “As a result, we did not see the large numbers of hurricanes that typically accompany these climate patterns.”

Only one tropical storm, Andrea, made landfall in the United States, causing one fatality. NOAA and the U.S. Air Force flew only 45 aircraft reconnaissance missions over the course of the season, totaling 435 hours, the lowest number since 1966.

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