By James Fiske
In our society of “I want it now,” we as 21st century citizens, certainly have a hard time waiting for things. Days feel like months, months like years, and years feel like an eternity. So imagine waiting nearly 100 years for something to happen—unthinkable.
Well, think about this. Scientists and professional eclipse chasers have been waiting 99 years for August 21st, 2017. The reason for this unbelievably long wait lies within an astronomical phenomenon of a lifetime—a total solar eclipse. This particular eclipse has garnered so much attention in the past few years because of the specific path that this eclipse will be taking. For the first time since 1918, the path of the 2017 eclipse will track entirely across the United States of America. From Salem, Oregon to Jackson Hole, Wyoming—from Kansas City, Missouri to Charleston, South Carolina—the event will certainly be a sight for sore eyes.
"Being headquartered in one of the areas where the moon and the sun are scheduled to intersect, we can tell you first hand that the hype levels are astronomical"
But, what happens if it’s cloudy? What happens if it rains? With our northern location and increasingly volatile weather patterns and climate, what happens if it snows? That last part is a bit of a joke but it is not meant to overshadow the extremely realistic possibility that in many of the locations that the U.S., the weather may prohibit you from seeing this once in a lifetime event. What happens if thousands of people are simultaneously disappointed by overcast skies?
The unfortunate reality for many would be heartbreak.
However—in the event of a cloudy eclipse—we have a few tips that could spare you the agony of finding yourself in such a precarious position.
1) Buckle Down and Mess with Your Exposure
This one goes to all of the eclipse chasers with digital cameras. Mess around with your camera settings. A partly cloudy sky could paint a perfect foreground for your photo of the eclipse...if you have the right filter for your camera!
Open up your aperture, slow down that shutter speed, and mess with your ISO. All of these settings can have drastic changes on your photo’s exposure so make sure to do plenty of practice runs before you put it to the test on August 21st. You only have 2 minutes during the eclipse to get that perfect shot, so you want to be prepared.
For all of you non-photogs, that entire tip may have sounded like mashugana. Perhaps the next to may be of more use to you.
2) There's an App for that!
Thanks to our Internet saviors over at Google and the brilliant minds at University of California-Berkley, we have been given an unbelievable simulation of exactly what the solar eclipse will look like. It is all part of the “Eclipse Megamovie 2017” which aims to give a realistic simulation of the total eclipse at any part of the country. This is a phenomenal resource to anybody looking to do a little research into exactly what to expect when it comes to the eclipse.
It could also provide some type of miniscule consolation prize to a heartbroken eclipse chaser who just witnessed the astronomical event of the lifetime obstructed by overcast skies. “This is what is WOULD have looked like” says Dad to his family through teary eyes.
We’d prefer this not happen to our wonderful audience so we advise you take our final piece of advice to heart.
3) Ride Like the Wind
You drive. And you drive fast. (Stay within the speed limit of course!). Just remember, the shadow of the eclipse can move upwards of 2,900 miles per hour, so unless you have a Lockheed Blackbird which is capable of traveling at Mach 3 speeds, you aren’t going to outrun it.
The key to this plan is days of preparation. Make sure to check weather reports in your days approaching the eclipse. If you’re a day out from the eclipse and notice that your weatherman is telling you “Mostly cloudy with a chance of rain”. It’s up to you to make a call and travel to a town where the weather may be more fortuitous. You’d be amazed at how far 24 hours of driving could get you.
According to THIS MAP by www.ncei.noaa.gov, the Mountain West has the lowest chance for clouds among the entire nation in august based on historical weather reports. The pocket in particular with the lowest chance of overcast skies can be found from Rexburg, Idaho to Cheyenne, Wyoming, so we formally invite you to come watch the eclipse with us! We look forward to seeing you in Grand Teton National Park on August 21st as we take advantage of the beautiful phenomenon that the solar system has blessed us with.
By Tara Ramsey
Jackson Hole Wild hosted the premiere of Toxic Puzzle - Hunt for the Hidden Killer, a documentary which follows ethnobotanist Dr. Paul Cox on his journey to discover whether a compound in algae blooms is causing the epidemic increase of neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's worldwide. It was an amazing event. Narrator Harrison Ford was in the house, as was the film’s award-winning director, Bo Landin. After seeing the film, however, it was apparent that the true heroes in the room were Dr. Paul Cox and his team of brilliant scientists.
The Jackson Hole Wild intern crew on the red carpet with the fabulous Dr. Paul Cox
In his quest to find what is causing increased occurrences of ALS, Dr. Cox has traveled around the world, to many places plagued by toxic algal blooms, noticing that from Lake Erie to the Gulf of Mexico, Sweden to Australia, there is a link between the toxic amino acid β-Methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), which is found in cyanobacteria prevalent in algal blooms, and neurodegenerative diseases. This is a groundbreaking discovery, as it was previously believed that these types of diseases were entirely genetic, not environmental. It is also a very disturbing one: in this day in age, green, goopy algal blooms are becoming a common occurrence. Just this month, Henry Lake in Eastern Idaho, a popular fishing spot for locals, was found to be contaminated with toxic blue-green algae.
These blooms are a result of nutrient pollution from farms, water treatment plants and urban developments which runs into bodies of water. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers and other pollutants in warm water creates the perfect environment for algae to bloom in excess, poisoning vital waterways with cyanobacteria and BMAA. These blooms occur in both fresh and salt waters and they devastate marine ecosystems. When the algae dies, it depletes the dissolved oxygen from the water which causes hypoxia, or dead zones, where fish literally suffocate from lack of oxygen.
Of course, this devastation is not felt by marine ecosystems alone. What was once seen as solely an environmental issue is now also a public health problem. A particularly dramatic example of this is when a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie rendered the tap water in the city of Toledo poisonous for several days in 2014. We can come into contact with cyanobacteria in the water we drink, where we swim and in the seafood that we consume, especially in shellfish. We may even be exposed to it in the form of health supplements such as blue-green algae tablets and the spirulina powder found in your favorite green smoothie!
This came as a shock to me as I watched the film. Are you kidding me!? I nearly blurted out in the theater. I used to take blue-green algae tablets with my morning coffee, internally praising myself for being health conscious! I felt betrayed by my “Green Machine” Naked Juice.
After the event I did some further research on this topic and I found that while these products are largely not regulated for BMAA levels, studies are beginning to be done on the issue. I learned that pure spirulina does not naturally contain BMAA, it is the potential for cross-contamination with other forms of blue-green algae that makes it dangerous. In a 2015 study, scientists found that 14 out of 39 products contained BMAA, and most of these products are not tested for the compound before they hit the market. So until these products are routinely regulated for BMAA contamination, you are taking a gamble with your green smoothie. Dr. Cox does not recommend any sort of blue-green algae supplements, and if there is anyone I trust on the issue, it is him.
Fortunately, there are some foods that Dr. Cox highly recommends that may prevent ALS as well as combat the disease in patients who have already been diagnosed. In his travels, Dr. Cox not only visited places hit by harmful algal blooms, he also visited a population where there are almost no instances of neurodegenerative diseases: Ogimi, Japan. Cox spent time with people in their late nineties and early hundreds who are still active, dancing, farming, diving and living rich and healthy lifestyles. Cox turned to their diet to find clues as to how this group of people has avoided the onslaught of dementia, Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases that are rampant at their age in other parts of the world. What he found was a diet very high in an amino acid called L-serine. Walking through a local market in Ogimi, Cox exclaimed, “It looks like an agricultural market, but what I see here is a pharmacy of neuro-protection.”
Some foods that are high in L-Serine include soy products, seaweed and sweet potatoes, as well as eggs, seeds and dairy products.
Thanks to Dr. Cox’s research, L-Serine is now being clinically tested as treatment for patients with ALS and other deadly neurological disorders, offering real hope to those who are afflicted by these killer diseases. If you want to learn more about Dr. Cox and his work, particularly if you or your loved ones have been affected by the diseases mentioned in this post, Toxic Puzzle - Hunt for the Hidden Killer is a must see.
By Abbey Greene
Anthropomorphism, or the attribution of human characteristics to an animal, is a big topic of discussion for those conservation media sector.
Is it a good thing? Or is it bad?
Well, one thing we know for sure is that there are professionals who present both pros and cons to anthropomorphism.
This idea started back when Charles Darwin published his scientific work, suggesting that there was love and joy among the animals he was studying.
However, assuming that wild animals have feelings like that could hurt the way we are interact with them. “Anthropomorphism can lead to an inaccurate understanding of biological processes in the natural world,” says Patricia Ganea, a psychologist at Toronto University. “It can also lead to inappropriate behaviors towards wild animals, such as trying to adopt a wild animal as a ‘pet’ or misinterpreting the actions of a wild animal.”
“It’s almost like the internet was built for anthropomorphizing animals,” said Holly Dunsworth, an anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island. “Humans aren’t the only animals capable of forming strong bonds, but to say that the kangaroo even knew the other kangaroo was dying is beyond anything we know. No one has shown that animals understand dying or where babies come from. We can’t say they think that abstractly.”
According to Dunsworth, there’s a key difference between “signals” and understanding and expanding upon ideas and abstract concepts, and that’s the difference between the way humans think versus the way animals think.
During his TED Talk in 2015, Carl Safina talks about how some reject the idea of animal emotions. “Well I think that’s silly,” he says. “Because, attributing human thoughts and emotions to other species is the best first guess about what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. Because, their brains are basically the same as ours, they have the same structures, the same hormones that create moods and motivation in us, are in those brains as well.”
Safina also speaks about how anthropomorphism has another positive: it helps people realize how harmful animal cruelty is. “If we don’t know if they can suffer or experience mental anguish like us, then great, we’re off the hook for needing to care. This makes it easier for people to ignore the suffering we might be causing.”
In “When Elephants Weep,” author Jeffery Masson wrote about Alex, an African gray parrot with an astonishing vocabulary, who, when left at the veterinarian's office, shrieked, "Come here! I love you. I'm sorry. I want to go back." There is no mistaking emotion there, when it is spoken so clearly out loud for the observer to hear.
There likely is no right or wrong on the subject of anthropomorphism. It’s a grey area that every storyteller tackles in their own unique way.
By Tara Ramsey
On July 10th, the great Native American author, Sherman Alexie, came to town to give a talk for Teton County Library’s literary speaker series, Page to Podium. A novelist, poet, and screenwriter, Alexie is a storyteller above all else, and the man is a master of his art. He had the crowd howling with laugher, groaning in discomfort, and gasping in suspense; often all three in the same tangent. He poked fun at every group in the room and his humor bit like a knife that he used to dissect class and race. We laughed at ourselves, we laughed at Alexie, we laughed at America. We laughed at pain and irony and beauty.
One of the biggest laughs of the night came at the expense of the vegans.
“If you are a vegan… In Wyoming…” Alexie laughed, pausing for dramatic effect, “You are an asshole!”
It seemed that it was the one thing the crowd could agree upon.
After the laughter died down, Alexie continued, “Besides, you are only a vegan until you are hungry.”
He has got a point. Having grown up as poor kid on the Spokane Reservation, Alexie knows how it feels to go hungry. When confronted with the immediate issues of racial inequality, poverty and alcoholism, riding a dietary high horse can seem comical. We face similar problems globally in the fight against climate change. Although the rate of pollution in developing countries is hugely detrimental to the health of the planet, we can hardly expect them to prioritize recycling when they are facing such problems as war, political oppression, poverty, and a lack of access to basic healthcare, education and clean water to name just a few.
Alexie was also quick to point out that two thirds of the population of Jackson Hole are wealthy (the other third, he noted, are flat broke, but addicted to extreme sports) and have never had to face any of the barriers that he had to overcome as a rez kid. So why do so many affluent white people also hold so much disdain toward vegans? Why is a person’s dietary choice such a polarizing issue?
On one hand, I get it. No one wants to be lectured on the environmental impacts of their cheeseburger. No one wants to feel guilty for enjoying the heavenly gift that is bacon like their father and his father before him. Not to mention that no one wants Farmer Brown to go bankrupt. In American culture, particularly out here in ranching country, eating meat is something of a religion.
Don’t worry, I am not here to try to get you to convert like some sort of vegan missionary. I’m not even vegan myself! I am a loose pescatarian. A part time vegetarian, if you will. Even so, I am reluctant to tell this to people because I do not want to face the negative stigma. I don’t want people to think that I think that I am better than them. I’m not.
In order to combat climate change, we will all need to change our lifestyles. It will take a massive cultural and behavioral shift. We are going to have to change the fuel that we burn, the cars that we drive and, yes, the food that we consume. It sucks. But losing coral reefs, island nations and the the glaciers on the Tetons would suck too. In Wyoming, we also subscribe the religions of powder snow, white water rapids, and epic wildlife. This is an integral part of our culture, too.
Here is the point that I am trying to get at: our culture has a very detrimental tendency to make every issue “us” versus “them”: Republicans versus Democrats, cats versus dogs, vegetarians versus carnivores…as if there wasn’t an entire spectrum of beliefs and perspectives in between. By this logic, every person of an opposing point of view suddenly becomes a threat to your belief system. An “asshole”.
Before the culture as a whole begins the dietary migration to a more sustainable future, we will have to stop perpetuating the negative stigmas that are so prevalent regarding other people’s dietary choices, both from the vegan end of the spectrum and from the meat eaters.
And, hey, let’s all be thankful that we live in such a privileged society that I feel the need to defend oppressed vegans. You have to admit that it is kind of funny, and if there is one thing that will unite us in this day in age, as Sherman Alexie can attest, it is a healthy sense of humor.
By Abbey Greene
“Carbon offset fee”...for some reason that phrase was a mystery to me, and it still is to many others.
Don’t worry, I finally understand it and all it’s awesomeness. Let me explain it for you.
Everyone who is involved with, or has heard of climate change understands that greenhouse gas emissions are something to avoid. These gases lock the earth’s heat in, and too much of these gases in our atmosphere causes our planet’s surface temperature to rise higher than it should be. Being living organisms, humans give off CO2, one of the primary greenhouse gases. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s natural.
However, we rely too heavily on individual transportation, use too much electricity, build more buildings than we should, and chop down too many trees. We are increasing our output of carbon way beyond what it should be and causing the earth to warm up.
Courtesy: Ben & Jerry's
At Jackson Hole WILD, we decided to do something about it this year.
We are offering a carbon offset fee.
For the first time ever, the people coming to our festival can choose to pay a carbon offset fee of $25 dollars. This money will be put entirely towards counteracting all of the carbon it took to get them here. Carbon offset fees generally support different projects or organizations that work towards environmentally friendly goals. So by paying the fees, you’re helping offset the carbon output from events and in our own daily lives, rebalancing the atmosphere.
Our carbon offset fees will be put towards a really “claw-some” cause. (I had to say it, you’ll understand in a few seconds.)
By paying one of our carbon offset fees, that individual is buying one entire carbon credit through the organization Gold Standard. All Gold Standard projects must not only have a positive impact on the climate, but must also contribute to at least two additional UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This means the project must reduce greenhouse gases while at the same time lead to benefits such as new jobs, better health, improved gender equality and the protection of natural habitats and endangered species.
But wait, what’s a carbon credit?
1 carbon credit = 1 ton of CO2
That’s equal to:
And, what’s even better, is we’ve chosen to put these carbon credits of environmental goodness towards helping a great project, so “paw-lease,” just take a “meowment” here.
As all the astute minds out there may have guessed -- thanks to my bad puns -- we’ve chosen to support a Gold Standard certified project that helps cat populations in honor of our Cat Summit. The project we chose is called the Vichada Climate Reforestation Project in Colombia. The way the project is set up tries to bridge existing forest patches in order to create large areas of connected habitat for migratory species. It creates forest habitats in a region that has remaining jaguar and puma populations. (Even the elusive ocelot has been spotted there!)
Supporting Gold Standard will also mean that we are helping them reduce carbon emissions within agricultural supply chains, create best practice guidance for businesses among major corporations, and raising awareness of environmental issues around the world.
All by paying 25 bucks. I’d say it’s worth it.
And I’m not “kitten.”
By James Fiske
Our colleagues over at the Discovery Channel have seen the success of Shark Week grow exponentially since the beginning of the social media age—until last year. Discovery decided the iconic, weeklong, prehistoric fish extravaganza should be moved to late-June rather than early-July to avoid scheduling conflicts with the Rio Olympics. The adjustment to an age old, successful formula saw a 6.7% drop in 2016 viewership compared to the year before. CEO David Zazoff later admitted the mistake stating the timing of Shark Week 2016 was simply “too early”.
In an effort to help stabilize ratings for 2017, Zazoff has decided to employ the timeless and increasingly popular tactic of: ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’.
Contrary to popular belief, Shark Week is not actually 7 days long—it is eight. But, despite its misleading title, this week (and a day) of programming is as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and—Michael Phelps? Yes, Michael Phelps. With a well-needed boost in ratings, Discovery has turned to history’s greatest Olympian to help steady the ship.
Admittedly, Michael Phelps is the undisputed fastest human to dive into a body of water. However, Michael is a human. I don’t want to get too technical but humans swim as a hobby. And although swimming may be a bit more than a hobby for Phelps, sharks are fish—and fish swim to survive. Is there any way that Michael Phelps could ever beat a shark in a race? That’s what I’m here to figure out. Which sharks could Michael Phelps actually outswim?
To lay the ground rules, I want to be fair to both competitors. The race will take place over the course of 100m. Although he is widely heralded as the fastest man to ever swim the Butterfly stroke, Phelps’ best time over the length of 100m was in the 2008 Beijing Olympics during the Men’s 4x100m Freestyle. It took him just 47.51 seconds to swim the entirety of the race, so this will be the baseline for his time.
1) Great White
2) Tiger Shark
3) Whale Shark
4) Basking Shark
As you can clearly see, Michael Phelps has no business being in the same pool as a shark. In fact, he has no business racing most ocean dwellers. Here is a quick list of notable sea creatures that Michael Phelps would actually have a good chance of beating in a race.
By Abbey Greene
The internet is blowing up over the newest action film: Wonder Woman.
The movie represents the first major superhero motion picture to showcase a female lead, a breakthrough for women in the film industry.
The title role is played by the lovely Gal Gadot, who had to train six hours a day for six months and gain 17 pounds of muscle in preparation for filming. Last October, Gadot was present as the United Nations made Wonder Woman its Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, a gesture to promote gender equality and instill confidence in women.
You may not know, but Gadot is somewhat of a Wonder Woman herself. She served in the Israel Defence Forces for two years as a combat trainer, and learned a lot about fighting skills and weaponry in the process. She has also educated herself in both law and political science. Gadot was quoted saying that she took the role of Wonder Woman to empower other women and her own two young daughters.
However, it turns out that empowering women is not just about gender equality. There’s another reason to empower women: it would help prevent global warming.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, if all female farm smallholders received equal access to resources, their farm yields would rise by 20-30%. With more food available, the number of undernourished people in the world would drop by 12%. This means 100-150 million people would no longer be hungry.
One business has stepped up into the green spotlight to help tackle this issue: Kellogg’s. Kellogg’s is a large international food company who receives yields from 65,000 smallholders worldwide. When they realized nearly half were women, they launched different campaigns a little over a year ago to help thousands of women smallholders by educating them and teaching them new farming techniques and systems.
For those of us who aren’t working at Kellogg’s, feel free to visit Action Aid’s website to learn how else you can help women smallholders around the globe.
Meanwhile, 225 million women in lower-income countries say they want the ability to choose whether and when to become pregnant but lack the necessary access to contraception. This results in about 74 million unintended pregnancies each year.
If we invested in family planning and educating girls on a global scale, our population numbers would be lower, and future emissions reductions could be reduced by 123 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2050. The amount of carbon we would be saving would be equivalent to taking almost 24 billion cars off the road for an entire year.
One fund that is making a difference is the Malala Fund. Malala started speaking out about the need for girls’ education in 2009, all the while receiving death threats and refusing to be silenced. It all came to a peak in 2012 when she was shot by the Taliban on her way to school. In the weeks after the attack, over 2 million people signed a right to education petition, and the National Assembly swiftly ratified Pakistan's first Right To Free and Compulsory Education Bill. Ever since, Malala has been working endlessly for a world where every girl has the right to a 12 year education. Visit her website for more information.
These are great examples that are happening around the globe, but there is more work to be done. Empowering women is not only good for gender equality, but also good for the environment and saving the planet.
We all need to follow Wonder Woman’s example and jump into action.
Let’s do this, girls.
Guest article from Jackson Hole Eco-Tour Adventures
Mornings are cold and leaves are starting to change. It begins with fireweed flowers and smaller shrubs, before peaking with aspens and cottonwoods, our two major deciduous trees species. The fall has always been a special time with fond memories of still evenings listening for the bugling of elk beneath golden aspen groves. Summer crowds have long departed right as wildlife activity is picking up, making fall one of the best times to explore Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.
What is happening in fall anyway?
With the first day of September we are already seeing signs of fall in Grand Teton National Park. Foliage is beginning to change as plants slow the production of the green pigment chlorophyll which is responsible for photosynthesis. As days shorten plant leaves slow down the production of chlorophyll which allows other pigments, called carotenoids, to become visible, appearing as yellow, red, or orange. Fall is a transitional time, our over 1000 plant species are shutting down photosynthesis in preparation for the long winter. Deciduous plants drop their leaves to save energy in winter when they would be otherwise unable to photosynthesize due to freezing temperatures. Without liquid water the chemical reaction cannot occur. In stark contrast to aspens and cottonwoods, our pine, spruce, and fir trees are known as evergreens, appearing to never lose leaves. (they are constantly dropping needles, just not all at once!) Evergreens produce sturdy needles which can resist winters chill, this allows them to begin photosynthesis as soon as water is once again available in the spring. Two unique strategies for surviving in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Many drop their colored leaves or die back to the ground where insulated snow cover protects the living roots.
A transition time for the animals too
Our rutting mammals complete the mating season and begin migrations out of high elevations to more protected valley floors, often concentrating in huge numbers such as elk on the National Elk Refuge. As two thirds of our bird species leave the valley for warmer climates and bears disappear to hibernate, we welcome new arrivals to winter in Jackson Hole. Raptors like the Rough Legged Hawk will soon arrive from the Arctic Circle, and mighty bighorn sheep will return from the rugged Gros Ventre Mountains, beginning their late fall rut just outside the town of Jackson.
Mule deer bucks like this one found while on a Jackson Hole Ecotour will soon start shedding the velvet on their antlers. Young trees are often used to remove the velvet and will be stripped of bark throughout the forest.
One of North America’s most spectacular wildlife behaviors, bull elk will call back and forth, issuing challenges. If you are lucky the next bugle you hear may be close enough to see the performers meet. They will stand tall, broadside to each other. Breathing heavily, water vapor will form in the frosty air. If one does not retreat the two will bow antlers and then lock them together, wrestling back and forth until one gives up and flees. The victor may often attempt to gore the loser while in pursuit. All of our ungulates, or hoofed mammals, mate in fall so that their offspring will be born in spring. And elk aren’t the only ones to aggressively establish dominance; moose, deer, pronghorn, and bison will also be in rut this fall, a unique spectacle to experience beneath the shadow of the Tetons.
Preparing for hibernation
Animals use three primary strategies to survive in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Adapt, Migrate, or Hibernate. One of our most popular animals to see, bears, are experts at the third. Throughout the summer bears build up fat reserves, preparing for winter. As omnivores, they will eat just about everything, grasses, roots, berries, elk calves, carrion, ants, and even moths roosting in high elevation boulder fields! Towards the end of summer foraging picks up, entering a stage called Hyperphagia or over eating. Foraging constantly, bears will eat upwards of 20,000 calories a day!
The magic of fall in the west is something I was introduced to as a young child growing up near Rocky Mountain National Park. In this centennial year of the National Park Service (read more here!) let the experienced guides at Jackson Hole Ecotour Adventures share this story when you visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks this fall. Join us on a half day, full day, or even multi day trip through fall in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, it’s one you wont soon forget. Trips from now until December 20th are 10% off when you mention this blog!
Naturalist Josh Metten has spent his entire life exploring and living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. He is an Ecotour Adventures Naturalist, photographer, conservationist, and outdoor enthusiast. Josh lives in Jackson, WY.
Eco Tour Adventures was created with the idea of helping people connect with the natural world through wildlife observation and natural history interpretation. We believe that when one is more familiar with the intricate workings of the ecosystem, he or she has a deeper appreciation and connection with their environment. Join us on an adventure today!
We think Jackson Hole is one of the best places to gaze at the stars. This week we interviewed Dr. Samuel Singer, founder of Wyoming Stargazing, and asked him all about his passion for astronomy and what makes our night sky so special.
When did you first start stargazing?
I have some really early memories of my dad taking me out to watch meteor showers and lunar eclipses. When I really started getting interested in astronomy was in high school. I took an astronomy class; one day we watched a video with John Dopson, something to do with telescope making. Unfortunately he’s just passed away at the age of 99, but for fifty years of his life he traveled around the US teaching people about astronomy. He invented a very efficient telescope mount called the Dobson mount and he’s probably responsible for inspiring a lot of amateur astronomers. He was certainly my inspiration; I even built a few telescopes based on his design. I started building my first telescope in freshmen year and from then on I was hooked. I would take my telescope out on to the campus and share it with people and show them what I could see, that’s when I fell in love with the night sky.
When did you come to Jackson?
I first came out here in 2005 to do the graduate program in the Teton Science School. When I arrived they only had a few old telescopes that weren’t being used and they weren’t suitable for what I wanted to achieve. I convinced one of the heads to let me sell the old telescopes to buy a nice new telescope that we could use. We bought this telescope and I built an observatory for it. The night sky really blew me away here; it reminded me of my childhood in northern Nevada. That was when I got the idea of building a large public observatory in the valley here and that’s what led me to start Wyoming Stargazing.
What's special about the stars in Jackson?
We are at a high elevation here so we’re looking through less atmosphere than at sea level, that makes a lot of difference to the clarity. We’re also living in a valley where most of the land is undeveloped so there is not a lot of ambient light. As you get into Grand Teton National Park there’s almost no artificial light at all, which means you can see more stars. On a good night in Jackson you can see five to six thousand stars whereas in a large city you could see only a few hundred. Stargazing here is really spectacular, especially in winter. When we get the colder temperatures it makes the atmosphere more stable. This is because of the reduced amount of water vapor in the sky, water vapor bends light and without that vapor you get much clearer skies.
Can you explain what light pollution is and what effects it can have?
Light pollution is when artificial light goes up into the sky as opposed to going down to the ground where it’s needed. It causes sky glow, which means it makes the sky brighter than it would be otherwise. Once that starts you immediately lose the ability to see the faintest stars. In big cities such as in New York or London there’s so much artificial light you can see maybe one or two of the brightest stars. Everything else is washed out and you lose the beauty of the night sky. Light pollution also affects the health of humans and animals and plants. It begins to disrupt what are called the circadian rhythms or “body clocks” of living beings. Essentially this is a cycle which affects our bodies and when we feel the need to sleep or wake up. The excess light disrupts these processes; it can lead to increase in cancer risk, diabetes depression and insomnia. It has a similar effect on animals, particularly nocturnal animals. So environmentally there’s some potentially negative issues surrounding light pollution.
How can we work to reduce the impact of light pollution here in Jackson?
The most important thing is to have proper light shielding over exterior lights. For a relatively cheap cost you can have a shield that goes over the light and directs it downwards. Another problem is glare; where the light is dazzling and you cant see where the light is coming from. Thoughtful, well-placed outdoor lights make things safer but most of the time outdoor lights aren’t installed effectively to provide that safety. So just by shielding light we can do a huge amount to preserve the beauty and character of this town.
Where is your favorite place to look at the stars?
My favorite place in Jackson Hole is out on Antelope Flats by Kelly warm springs. From stargazing out there you get an amazing view of the Tetons silhouetted and the sky out there is so dark, there’s few cars out there and you can just pull up by the side of the road. It's really spectacular.
What events have you got planned for the summer?
This summer we have a couple different weekly events. We do a free public stargazing event every clear Friday night at R-Park from 9:30pm to 11:30pm. We also do a free public solar astronomy program at the people’s market from 4:00pm to 7:00pm at the base of Snow King. We can show sunspots and the occasional flare and lots of really incredible features on the surface of the sun.
There’s an Observatory and Planetarium being planned for Snow King, what can people expect?
Right now we’ve submitted the plans and the forest service are doing an environmental impact assessment which will take around 1 year. It’s going to be a totally unique facility; the telescope we are putting up there will be the largest telescope dedicated to public outreach in the world. It has a mirror of about one meter in diameter. We will be able to see galaxies on the other side of the known universe. The views of the planets will knock peoples socks off and the galaxies are going to blow people’s minds!
The dome theater/planetarium will show a multitude of films and have some 360’ projections.
There’s a Solar eclipse happening next year, what can you tell us about it?
The solar eclipse is going to be the single biggest tourism day in Jackson Hole history. Somewhere between ten and thirty thousand people are going to be here. It's going to be a madhouse. We already get ten thousand people per day that time of year.
The eclipse is going to begin about 10:17am in the morning with a partial eclipse, part of the moon will pass in front of the sun, then it will pass completely in front of the sun blocking all of its light. Before that happens the shadow column of the moon will pass across the land about a thousand miles per hour so I you have a high vantage point you’ll actually be able to see it travel over the landscape.
You’ll need special eye protection to watch the eclipse as it’s taking place. At the point of totality the outer atmosphere of the sun will become visible and you can look at it without eye protection for about two minutes. At this point we will see the ghostly halo of the corona that extends outwards from the sun. Even though it’s farther away form the center it is actually hotter than the surface. I’ve never actually seen it myself so I’m pretty excited about it!
Anything else you’d like people to know?
In terms of the event next summer what we’re hoping to do is partner with Jackson Hole WILD to put on a huge celebration at the Center for the Arts!
Wyoming Stargazing is a not-for-profit organization and is always on the lookout for passionate individuals to volunteer!
Dr. Samuel Singer grew up exploring the high desert in Yerington, Nevada. Study for a B.A. in Physics and Astronomy took him to Hampshire College and the deciduous forests of the east coast, where he discovered his love for outdoor science education. He earned a Masters in Science Education – Environment & Natural Resources by way of the Teton Science Schools of the University of Wyoming. Over the past decade Samuel has worked as an outdoor educator and wilderness guide in Wyoming and across the country. Samuel is also an accomplished astronomy educator and amateur astronomer. After he completed his doctorate degree in Science Education from the University of Wyoming he founded the Jackson based nonprofit organization, Wyoming Stargazing. On his time off, he enjoys meditation, backcountry skiing, rock climbing, and trail running.
By: Gianna Savoie, Executive Director, Ocean Media Institute
They say there are ocean people and mountain people. As a filmmaker and storyteller, I have chosen to perch myself on the intersection of both.
Six years ago, I found myself sitting in an edit room in New York City, finishing a film about wolverines for NATURE and National Geographic when I was invited to Montana State University to teach in their MFA program for Science and Natural History Filmmaking. Just as I was planning my move to the mountain-ringed town of Bozeman, I was offered a job to write and story produce a feature-length documentary about the ocean. The project sounded incredible -- we would be joining a group of 120 South Pacific Islanders who were to sail (and celestially navigate) a fleet of Polynesian voyaging canoes on a two-year, twenty-thousand mile journey across the Pacific in order to carry a message about the ocean’s health to the world. There was absolutely no hesitation in my response. I was on board.
Having grown up in the "Ocean State" of Rhode Island, if there was one language I thought I understood well, it was that of the sea. I was excited by her rant through a storm, and soothed by her easy lullaby on a quiet summer night. When I moved to New York, I sought out that familiar voice to cut through the noise. Whether taking a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, strolling the Boardwalk on Coney Island, or dipping my toes in the Atlantic at Rockaway Beach, the voice of the ocean was a constant companion, one that anchored me.
With a move to Montana, I had expected that voice to be hushed. The nearest coastline would now be a thousand miles away. But, at least I would have my film to get my occasional dose of "blue noise."
Over the course of the next few years, I kept one foot planted on mountain and the other dipped in ocean, toggling between teaching natural history production in the heart of the Rockies and sailing with the Pacific Voyagers (as they would come to be known) across that great blue universe of water, learning all I could from them. As we made our way across the Pacific from New Zealand to Tahiti, Hawaii to California, Cocos to the Solomon Islands, a story of connection began to emerge, as ancient as it is modern, as sacred as it is scientific.
I soon met Tua Pittman, the Master Navigator from the Cook Islands, who would become a main character in our film and one of my dearest friends. He explained what it meant to him to be a citizen – and steward — of the ocean. He taught me about the importance of the canoe in South Pacific culture. “We have a saying: 'He va'a he moku, he moku he va'a,' which means, ‘The canoe is our island, and the island is our canoe.'" He then showed me a large stone set at the base of the mast and explained that it was a mauri stone -- a rock from his home that would accompany them on the entire journey and remind them of the connection between land and sea. As he spoke, I began to understand. The canoe was not simply a vessel that moves people from place to place, but a microcosm of the planet -- a place of limited resources where people must work together and live sustainably in order to survive. And with that, we had our film's title: Our Blue Canoe. Watch the trailer here.
Through the film (which has just been released in the Pacific and with US distribution on its way), we come to relate to the ocean in all its power and fragility via the experience of these intrepid sailors. Together, we revel in the company of Blue whales, and curse the raft of plastic beneath the swells. We brace ourselves through feral storms, and celebrate safe arrivals on remote and wild shores. As our Pacific crewmates open their lives and their culture to us with humor and grace, heartbreak and hope, we discover their journey becomes our journey; their dreams become our dreams – their story becomes woven into ours. And at the heart of their message rests the notion that this ocean is not a barrier that separates our islands, our nations, and continents, but rather the bridge that links us all.
And that, perhaps was the most important lesson that I carried back to Bozeman. The ocean is not confined to that blue expanse beyond the land's edge. Even here in my land-locked state, the language of the ocean is communicated in rich, full verse. Though not heard through the pounding of surf or lapping of waves, here in the mountains, the ocean sings in a different register. It pings across the ice of a blue-white glacier and rasps in the whirling diamond dust on a sub-zero morning. The ocean is, in fact, as close as the clouds that fringe the peaks, as common as fresh snowfall on the towering spruce, as much a part of us as our every second breath.
In order to pay forward my experience with the Voyagers, I have since established the non-profit organization, Ocean Media Institute right here in Bozeman, Montana. Bringing together scientists and students, media makers and policy makers, OMI expands the public's understanding of ocean science and conservation through the collaborative creation and distribution of innovative visual media. At the core of OMI's mission is the truth that Ocean in EVERYWHERE.
We often think in terms of what separates us: our religion, our color, our land, our language. We tend to frame our lives in the context of “boundaries.” But if there is one thing that I have learned since moving from sea-level to five-thousand feet, it’s that nothing is truly isolated. Everything is interconnected, interdependent. Mountain needs Ocean as bone needs blood. As modern society needs ancient wisdom. As stories need hearts to be heard.
So, in that spirit of connection, I invite you on this World Oceans Day to think deeply about YOUR relationship to our blue planet and celebrate it, no matter where you find yourself -- from coastline to ridgeline. You are Ocean. oceanmediainstitute.org
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