Phobos Up Close

A very interesting animated video of the Mars Express nearest-ever approach to Mars’ moon Phobos has been posted by the European Space Agency (ESA) (audio in French, animation originally from Boxx blog). The Mars Express approach to within 67 kilometers of Phobos took place the day before yesterday. Results from the flyby are expected to be made available beginning as early as Wednesday.

(For more, see our earlier posts Destination Phobos and Phobos and Deimos.)

Here’s an update on the recent Phobos flyby’s from the March 15 Science Daily.

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Published in: on March 5, 2010 at 4:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Wildlife in a Changing World: The IUCN

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, an assessment of nearly 48,000 species reviewed annually “is widely recognized as the most comprehensive, objective global approach for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species . . . and now plays an increasingly prominent role in guiding conservation activities of governments, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and scientific institutions. The introduction in 1994 of a scientifically rigorous approach to determine risks of extinction that is applicable to all species, has become a world standard.” In order to produce the Red List, the IUCN “draws on and mobilizes a network of scientists and partner organizations working in almost every country in the world, who collectively hold what is likely the most complete scientific knowledge base on the biology and conservation status of species.”

The most recent reassessment of the information in the IUCN Red List is the184-page Wildlife in a Changing World, an analysis and updating of the 2008 IUCN Red List.

For more information, see the press release which accompanied this most recent update of the Red List, “Extinction Crisis Continues Apace”.

At the IUCN website you’ll also find a number of related factsheets, including a two page Fact Sheet on the IUCN Red List and a two page State of the World’s Species Fact Sheet.

Also of use may be the 40-page User’s Guide to the IUCN Red List Web Site and a tutorial video guide to searching the Red List.

Published in: on March 5, 2010 at 3:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Beautiful Universe Astronomy Quiz

The Cat's Eye Nebula (NASA -- Hubble Space Telescope)

The New York Times has a good twenty-question Beautiful Universe Astronomy Quiz, available since last September, illustrated with images from an exhibit celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s use of the telescope, and originally devised by Christopher De Pree, co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Astronomy. Take it — it’s fun. (Full disclosure: we missed one.)

Published in: on March 5, 2010 at 1:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bringing the Bison Back

American Bison Grazing (National Park Service)

A few hundred years ago, tens of millions of American bison roamed the tallgrass and shortgrass prairies of Kansas. But the rapid expansion of civilization across the continent nearly expunged the species. It is estimated that during the middle of the 19th century, 500,000 bison were slaughtered each year for subsistence, and another 100,000 for their hides alone. By 1889, just 1,091 of these majestic beasts survived in captivity and in the wild.

Much has been done during the intervening 120 years to bring the bison back from the brink of extinction. Yet much remains to be done. To address the complex issues concerning the status and conservation of the American bison, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has published a 154-page report on the American Bison: Status Survey and Conservation Guidelines 2010

For a quick description of the essential substance of the report, see Bringing Bison Back to North American Landscapes on the IUCN website, or Science Daily’s virtually identical Bringing Bison Back to North American Landscapes.

As the IUCN explains the current state of the America bison, “five hundred years ago, tens of millions of American bison roamed free on the plains of North America, from Alaska to northern Mexico. Now the American bison – which includes both plains and wood bison – is listed as Near Threatened on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.

“As of 2008, there were approximately 400,000 bison in commercial herds in North America, some 93 percent of the continental population. But little progress has been made in recent decades to increase the number of animals in conservation herds, which are managed carefully for their genetic diversity and ecological roles. In 2008, there were 61 plains bison conservation herds in North America containing about 20,500 animals, and 11 conservation herds of wood bison, containing nearly 11,000 animals.

“‘While substantial progress in saving bison from extinction was made in the 20th century, much work remains to restore conservation herds throughout their vast geographical range,’ says University of Calgary Environmental Design Professor and co-editor of the study, Dr Cormack Gates, who is also co-Chair of the IUCN Bison Specialist Group. ‘The key is recognition that the bison is a wildlife species and to be conserved as wildlife, it needs land and supportive government policies.’”

For an exquisite series of photographic representations of bison, see the IUCN’s Bison Photogallery. For more on bison conservation, see the American Bison Society, rejuvenated by Wildlife Conservation Society. Here’s an excerpt from the site:

“By the 1870s, bison populations had been decimated. An 1889 survey conducted by William Hornaday, the first director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (then the New York Zoological Society), found that only 1,091 bison, wild and captive, remained in North America.

“Hornaday, Theodore Roosevelt, and other sportsmen and conservationists recognized that a great American mammal was about to be lost as the plains were settled, and so in 1905 the American Bison Society was born. The ABS launched a national campaign to raise funds to create wild bison reserves, stock them with bison from WCS’ Bronx Zoo and elsewhere, and educate the public about the bison. In 1907, the ABS shipped 15 bison to the Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve in Oklahoma by cart and rail. This was the first animal reintroduction in North America. In 1910, the ABS helped buy the nucleus herd for the National Bison Range, Montana, and in 1913, ABS donated 14 bison to Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. Counting on the successful reproduction of the species, the ABS considered their work done and disbanded the organization in 1935.

“Today the bison remains a unique icon of North American culture and natural history and now number approximately 450,000 in Mexico, the US, and Canada. Bison exist in vastly differing management circumstances, herd dynamics, states of genetic integrity, and settings than in the past. They are absent from most of their former range, and their grazing does not influence the grassland fire or nutrient cycling regimes, nor the plant structures of the prairies. Over 90% are being raised for meat in confined and managed circumstances, which can minimize the interaction they have with the landscape.”

Bison Cow and Calf (US Fish & Wildlife Service)

Published in: on March 5, 2010 at 11:58 am  Leave a Comment