Wagons using the Oregon Trail wore down some parts of the trail so much that the ruts are still visible today!

Wagons using the Oregon Trail wore down some parts of the trail so much that the ruts are still visible today!

The Oregon Trail is a 2,200-mile historic east-west wagon route and emigrant trail. It served to connect the Missouri River to the valleys in Oregon. The eastern part of it spanned part of the future state of Kansas and almost all of what are now the states of Nebraska and Wyoming. The western half of the trail spanned most of the future states of Idaho and Oregon.

From the early to mid-1830’s the Oregon Trail was used by about 400,000 people including settlers, ranchers, farmers, miners, and businessmen and their families. The continuous traffic of heavily laden wagons wore down certain parts of the trail so much that nothing has ever grown there again to this very day!

There are places where the wagon ruts are still clearly visible, like at Three Island Crossing (also known as Snake River Crossing). The National Parks Service, Bureau of Land Management and other groups want to preserve the wagon ruts and have taken steps in that direction. Many of these spots have been marked with white, pole-like markers.

There is a preserved site of wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail on the North Platte River, about half a mile south of Guernsey, Wyoming. At this site wagon wheels, animals and people wore down the trail about two to six feet into a sandstone ridge!

(Source)

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There’s a natural limit to how large birds can get—and it has nothing to do with being too heavy to fly!

There’s a natural limit to how large birds can get—and it has nothing to do with being too heavy to fly!

It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that the bigger a bird gets, the bigger their feathers. Perhaps it does take a scientist to determine what significance that has.

Feathers get damaged over time, whether from the rigors of flight, infection or exposure to UV light. The bigger the feathers, the longer it takes to replace them. Eventually, birds have to spend too much time replacing feathers and not enough time feeding or finding mates, thus there is a limit to how big a bird can get.

Most small birds regrow all of their roughly 20 primary feathers once a year. Birds that molt this way have a limit of about 3 kilograms. Any bigger and this process gets too time consuming.

Birds larger than this will usually do one of two things. Either they will stretch this process out over two or three years, or they will regrow all of their feathers at once and forgo flight for that time. A third, rarer, process of replacing multiple feathers at once is used by some birds as well.

All of these are trade-offs. If you replace all of your feathers at once, you can’t easily feed or escape predators. If you replace more than one at a time, it affects aerodynamics and could make things harder for the bird.

Even with these different strategies, there is a limit on size. The largest flying bird ever discovered was the now-extinct Argentavis magnificens which lived around 6 million years ago. This bird weighted around 70 kilograms. The largest soaring birds today weight around 20 kilograms.

(Source)

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You may have heard of the God particle, but what about the Oh-My-God particle?

You may have heard of the God particle, but what about the Oh-My-God particle?

Most people have heard of the God particle due to the media coverage when it was finally discovered, but there’s a similarly nicknamed particle, dubbed the Oh-My-God particle, that was first detected in 1991. It’s an ultra-high-energy cosmic ray, meaning it has far greater energy than a normal cosmic ray—particles of radiation that travel throughout the universe.

Thought to be a proton, this particle shocked scientists with about 20 million times more energy than the highest measured radiation at the time. It wasn’t just a mistake, either. These have been seen at least 15 times since, confirming the phenomenon. The rays are rare, but they do exist.

This ray was thought to be a proton traveling at 0.999 999 999 999 999 999 999 9951c, with c being the speed of light. At that speed, in a year-long race between a photon and the particle, the particle would fall behind only one centimeter every 220 000 years.

This gives a proton the same kinetic energy as a baseball thrown at 60 mph. When you consider that 5 million million (5,000,000,000,000) protons fit in the tip of a pin, the number in a baseball is staggering. It takes that many protons to get the same kinetic energy as this particle. Oh-My-God indeed.

(Source)

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You have items in your house that clean themselves, and you probably didn’t even know it. What are they?

You have items in your house that clean themselves, and you probably didn’t even know it. What are they?

The Oligodynamic Effect was discovered by Swiss botanist, Karl Wilhelm von Nageli in 1893. He discovered that there is a toxic effect in metal ions that kills microorganisms or bacteria. It is still unknown how exactly these metals kill the bacteria, but these are metals that can be found in the every day items that you use around the house. For example, jewelry, silverware, and even doorknobs are considered self-sanitizing.

Although this toxic effect can eliminate bacteria, that does not mean that it can kill viruses. Since viruses technically aren’t considered active when they are not in range of the host it is feeding off, they won’t be able to live on the metal ions anyway.

Before you throw out all your cleaning products and stop washing all your forks, you should know that not all metals are affected by the Oligodynamic Effect. For instance, when it comes to germ-filled doorknobs, just because it is metal, do not assume that it must be clean. Brass doorknobs are capable of self-sanitizing themselves in about eight hours. If the doorknob is made of stainless steel or aluminum then the Oligodynamic Effect does not apply and those doorknobs will remain bacteria-infested.

(Source)

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In a span of 16 years, Portugal had 44 governments, 20 military takeovers, and 12 presidents!

In a span of 16 years, Portugal had 44 governments, 20 military takeovers, and 12 presidents!

Established in the 12th century, Portugal is one of the oldest nations in the world. It was a monarchy, ruled by a king, until 1910 when the political unrest began. From 1910-1926, Portugal had 44 governments, 20 military takeovers, and 12 presidents.

The country was then ruled by dictator Antonio de’ Oliveira Salazar until his death in 1970. Not wanting to ever live under a dictatorship again, citizens revolted in what came to be known as the Carnation Revolution. How are flowers associated with rebellion? The rebels wore red carnations in solidarity of their cause. Since 1976, Portugal has been a democracy.

Despite a history riddled with governmental unrest, many of the old buildings in Portugal remain completely intact; in fact, not much has changed since the late 18th century.

(Source)

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The Old Lady and the Sea

An orca named Granny was recently spotted swimming off the coast of Vancouver Island with her family. Seeing a wild orca is always an unforgettable experience, but getting a chance to see Granny is a gift: This old lady of the sea is believed to be 103 years old!

Granny’s pod, referred to by scientists as the “J2,” is the most widely studied group of wild orcas in the world. Researchers began tracking the J2 family in 1970 and believe the family’s matriarch was born around 1911 — just a few years after the Wright brothers took their first flight.

Just imagine the stories Granny must tell to those around her. Swimming up to 100 miles every day, wild orcas’ days are filled with adventures and challenges, interactions and complexities. Orcas share news, work together to solve problems and have a rich cultural history. The scope and scale of what Granny has experienced and passed down to other generations over the past century is mind-boggling.

Compare and contrast her life history with that of her cohorts in SeaWorld’s tanks. Most never make it to anywhere near their life expectancy. At least 37 orcas have died, from captivity-related causes ranging from severe trauma, intestinal gangrene, acute hemorrhagic pneumonia, pulmonary abscesses, chronic kidney disease, chronic cardiovascular failure, septicemia and influenza. Their experiences are gut-wrenching and show SeaWorld to be the biggest, worst orca prison on Earth.

As we celebrate the long life of Granny, let’s remember what life is like for those who were kidnapped from their homes and families and those unlucky enough to be born in SeaWorld’s tiny tanks.

Ripped to Pieces

Nakai, an 11-year-old male orca at SeaWorld San Diego, sustained an injury on his lower jaw that was so significant that it was described as “a dinner plate-sized chunk” of ripped-off tissue. It’s believed that Nakai was injured on a sharp metal edge in his tank while reportedly fleeing from an aggressive altercation with two other orcas. The chunk of flesh was big enough that SeaWorld staffers were able to retrieve it from the bottom of the tank.

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Credit: Orca Research Trust

Destroyed Teeth

With nowhere to go and no way to pass the interminable hours, captive orcas often gnaw on the concrete and iron-bar tank separators, sometimes breaking their teeth and leaving the pulp exposed and painfully raw. SeaWorld personnel drill out broken or worn-down teeth to prevent abscesses and infection. The resulting bore holes require trainers to irrigate the teeth multiple times each day.

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Credit: David R. Tribble | cc by SA 3.0

Dead in the Water

An orca named Taima died while giving birth to a stillborn calf at SeaWorld Orlando. The baby was the offspring of Tilikum, the angry and frustrated killer whale who battered trainer Dawn Brancheau to death. Taima’s mother, Gudrun, had been snatched from the ocean in the 1970s; she gave birth to Taima in 1989. Another of Gudrun’s calves was born with mental and physical disabilities and lived for just a short while. And she also had a stillborn calf who had to be extracted from her body using chains. Gudrun died four days afterward and never got to feel the ocean currents or hear the voices of her family members again.

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Credit: cyrusbulsara | cc by 2.0

Lost Loved Ones

SeaWorld has churned out (often via artificial insemination) 30 orca calves at its three facilities … but 10 are now dead, as are 10 of the mothers. SeaWorld breeds female orcas who are still just youngsters themselves and has even bred a mother with her own son, resulting in numerous unsuccessful births. Even though orca families stay together for life, SeaWorld tears calves away from their frantic mothers so that they can be shipped to other parks and forced to perform.

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Credit: hyku | cc by 2.0

Withering Away

It’s rare to see a wild orca whose dorsal fin has collapsed like a popped balloon, but all captive male orcas have this unnatural deformity. Orcas are meant to swim far and wide every single day. Marine scientists believe that lack of exercise and confinement cause orcas’ connective tissue to weaken and collapse.

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Credit: Abi Skipp | cc by 2.0

Most orcas at SeaWorld will never grow old like Granny. Given their appallingly poor quality of life, perhaps they simply lose the will to go on.

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Has your boss ever given you 3 million dollars? For workers of Lenovo in China, it actually happened!

Has your boss ever given you 3 million dollars? For workers of Lenovo in China, it actually happened!

Big businesses often get a bad rap for being cruel and focused only on the success of the company. However, a couple of small examples survive to challenge that stereotype by providing services or making donations for their hard working employees. Chief among them could possibly be Yuan Yuanqing, the CEO of Lenovo, a multinational technology company specializing in the design, developing, manufacturing, and selling of computers, smartphones, and other technology.

As a reward for record profits for his company, Yuanqing, who led Lenovo to be the best-selling personal computer brand in China in 1997, received a sizable 3 million dollars in bonus money. The generous CEO turned the money over to about 10,000 of his employees. He did so in order to present them with a tangible thanks for their contributions to the company.

While this was certainly impressive, Yuanqing went on to give out another similar gift of 3.25 million again in 2013. Yang Yuanqing was named one of the "World’s Best CEOs" by Barron’s, an American weekly newspaper that covers financial information around the world.

(Source)

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This Is What It Looks Like When San Diego Goes Up In Flames

Severe wildfires have torn through more than 10,000 acres of San Diego County for four days, forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee their homes. And the crippling drought that has plagued California for more than two years is only exacerbating the situation.

“The drought has set the stage for a very busy, very long, potentially very dangerous fire season,” Daniel Berlant, a spokesperson for Cal Fire, told The Huffington Post. While the state’s fire season usually peaks during summer and fall months, dry conditions have rendered wildfires a year-round issue. “With that lack of rain, the grass, brush and trees really have been tinder-dry all year long,” he added.

The flames have already leveled at least a dozen homes and produced striking “firenados,” a precarious phenomenon caused by strong winds whipping spirals of fire into the air.

Scroll through images of the blaze below, and read more about California’s drought here.

san diego fire
SAN MARCOS, CA – MAY 15: Ranch equipment burns at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

san diego fire
SAN MARCOS, CA – MAY 16: Scorched hills surround firefighters and a hilltop house after it saved from the Cocos fire on May 16, 2014 in San Marcos, California. The fire continues to threaten communities with little containment three days after nine wildfires broke out in a single day in San Diego County. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

san diego fire
SAN MARCOS, CA – MAY 15: A house burns at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

san diego fire
SAN MARCOS, CA – MAY 15: Flames spread at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

san diego fire
SAN MARCOS, CA – MAY 15: Flames spread toward a house at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

san diego fire
SAN MARCOS, CA – MAY 15: A home is left as smoldering ruins by the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

san diego fire
SAN MARCOS, CA – MAY 15: A house burns at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

san diego fire
Houses sit untouched above a canyon ravaged by wildfire Friday, May 16, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. Some evacuation orders were lifted early Friday in an area near the fiercest of several wildfires in San Diego County, as crews building containment lines around the blazes hoped cooler temperatures will help them make further progress. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

san diego fire
SAN DIEGO, CA – MAY 15: A huge plume of smoke from the Cocos San Marcos fire, seen from atop Mount Soledad in La Jolla, is blown in a westerly direction by off-shore Santa Ana winds and high temperatures on May 15, 2014 in San Diego, California. As of 4 P.M. an estimated 1,400 acres had burned with numerous buildings destroyed. (Photo by Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)

san diego fire
SAN MARCOS, CA – MAY 15: A resident watches a column of smoke as the southeast flank of the Cocos fire bears down on houses near Del Dios Highway on May 15, 2014 near San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

san diego fire
CARLSBAD, CA – MAY 14: Residents looks at the burning remains of their home that was destroyed in the Poinsettia fire, one of nine wildfires fueled by wind and record temperatures that erupted in San Diego County throughout the day, on May 14, 2014 in Carlsbad, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. The Poinsettia fire has destroyed at least eight homes and severely damaged eight condos and two businesses. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

san diego fire
CARLSBAD, CA – MAY 14: Residents photograph the burning ruins of their home that was destroyed in the Poinsettia fire, one of nine wildfires fueled by wind and record temperatures that erupted in San Diego County throughout the day, on May 14, 2014 in Carlsbad, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. The Poinsettia fire has destroyed at least eight homes and severely damaged eight condos and two businesses. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

san diego fire
Jack Whitlang looks out as he stands in front of his aunt’s home, which burned to the foundation, during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

san diego fire
SAN MARCOS, CA – MAY 15: A firefighter pulls a hose into position to battle the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

san diego fire
A large home is engulfed in smoke as flames approach Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo)

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The California Drought Is Far From Over, And The Entire State Is Suffering

For a few days last month, it rained in San Francisco. Residents across the city cheered a welcomed respite from a drought that has crippled California for more than two years — but the celebration turned out to be premature.

On Thursday, for the first time this century, the U.S. Drought Monitor declared that all of California is in a “severe” drought, with many areas of the state in an even worse condition, from “extreme” to “exceptional,” the poorest possible rating.

“This is a once-in-a-generation conversation,” Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, told The Huffington Post. He added that the last time California experienced comparable conditions was in the mid-1970s.

“The state has doubled its population between then and now,” Svoboda said. “You’ve got a lot more people using a relatively finite amount of water.”

The map below, courtesy of the U.S. Drought Monitor, shows the varying levels of drought throughout California. The orange represents “severe,” the red is “extreme,” and the maroon is “exceptional” — the agency’s highest level (Story continues below):

drought

No area of the state is feeling the effects of the drought more harshly than San Diego, where wildfires have ripped through more than 10,000 acres of land and tens of thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate. “In a drought, the biggest threat to health and human safety is wildfire,” Doug Carlson, an information officer at the California Department of Water Resources, told HuffPost.

And there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. “The drought has set the stage for a very busy, very long, potentially very dangerous fire season,” Daniel Berlant, a spokesperson for CAL FIRE, said to HuffPost. “As we move into the more traditional summer months, the days are only going to get longer, and the temperatures are only going to get higher.”

California’s wildfire season usually peaks during summer and fall months and then tapers during the typically rainy winter. But the drought has turned wildfires into a year-round issue. “With that lack of rain, the grass, brush and trees really have been tinder-dry all year long,” Berlant explained, noting such conditions help flames flourish.

Svoboda added that the state’s hot, dry surface leads to a hot, dry, atmosphere, which creates a prime environment for wildfires to spread. “You also typically see windier conditions,” he added. “These are all things that fires feed on.”

The damage in Southern California has ravaged hills, homes and businesses. Beloved craft brewery Stone Brewing Company evacuated its premises on Thursday. On Wednesday, KTLA reporter Marcus Smith tweeted a widely-recirculated photo of a “firenado,” a dangerous phenomenon caused by strong winds whipping spirals of fire into the air.

Authorities have deployed more than 2,500 firefighters into the area, but Svoboda noted that for wildfires of this scale, manpower isn’t the solution. “You can’t have human resources put it out,” he said. “You need a rainstorm.”

Raging wildfires aren’t the only consequence of California’s dry conditions. Reservoirs have drained, and many communities are being forced to ration their water supplies. Moreover, experts predict the drought will drastically impact both the state and the nation’s food supply.

“California produces nearly 50 percent of the nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts — they’re kind of the nation’s garden,” Denise Gutzmer, a drought impact specialist at National Drought Mitigation Center, told HuffPost. “We’re going to be seeing higher produce prices in the store this summer.”

Nearly 1 million acres of agricultural land will likely be affected. An Arizona State University study released last month found that, as a result, lettuce prices may spike by as much as 34 percent, and tomato prices by some 18 percent. And with less land to maintain, as many as 20,000 farm workers could find themselves unemployed.

Moreover, local food banks that rely on California produce to feed their customers will likely see a sharp drop in donations, and will subsequently be forced to spend more money importing out-of-state produce. Sue Sigler, the head of the California Association of Food Banks, told the San Francisco Chronicle it was a “perfect storm of drought-related factors.”

california drought
Two men look out towards the water on the dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir.

In February, when California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared a state of emergency due to the drought, he urged residents to cut their water usage by at least 20 percent. As a result, communities across the state have adopted a variety of unique measures.

City governments have banned washing cars with hoses, fined homeowners who don’t promptly fix leaks and handed down strict landscape watering schedules. Enforcement of these new laws is perhaps most evident in Sacramento, where 40 city employees have been re-designated as “water cops” tasked with reporting and responding to wasteful maintenance.

The new rules have been a wake-up call for residents with sprawling lawns. In the grassy Golf Course Terrace Estates of Sacramento, the neighborhood is starting to take on a different look.

“A number of neighbors have seized this as an opportunity to redo their landscape that’s quite old, and they’ve taken out the grass and plants that require a lot of water and are putting in various things,” said neighborhood association spokesman Ernest Lehr, who has lived in the area for 50 years. “One fellow put in a fabulous bocce ball court in front.”

Sometimes, investing in such changes pays off. Sacramento launched a “Cash for Grass” pilot program in March that will dole out $100,000 to residents who replace their lawns with drought-resistant or native plants. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has offered residents a similar deal.

“This is an opportunity to do something, to rethink and to learn, especially for folks who have moved here from other areas and regions,” Lehr told HuffPost. “Maybe they’re not that familiar with shrubs, plants and trees that are really best suited for this kind of a climate.”

While experts remain unsure what prompted such severe conditions, a Utah State University study released in April directly linked the situation to climate change. “Increased greenhouse gases since the 1970s are a major contributor to California’s drought,” co-author Simon Wang told HuffPost.

Climatologists predict that the coming of El Niño may mitigate some of the drought’s harshest effects later this year. In the meantime, drought specialists urge residents to continue to be mindful.

“Do your best to conserve, and have hope that the rains next winter will be better,” said Gutzmer, the drought impact specialist. “If El Niño pans out, they could have a nice winter next year.”

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