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The Spill: Perseverance on the Red Planet

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Perseverance Pays Off

NASA has made history in space exploration again. The 2020 Perseverance Mars rover has landed safely on the planet and will look for proof of ancient microbes. This rover will be the first to collect Martian rock and regolith. Regolith is a layer of loose deposits covering solid rock, including broken rocks.

The rover will also spend time exploring and gathering information on the red planet to discover past weather information. All of Perseverance’s missions are designed to pave the way for the first humans to land on Mars.

To date, only the U.S. has successfully landed on the planet. Perseverance makes the eighth landing on Mars. China hopes to become the second nation to land successfully on the planet.

The Big Chill Devastates Texas

Texans have been experiencing a cold snap. About 25% of the state’s electricity comes from wind turbines, and the ice and snow froze them up. Nearly half of the wind power was offline because of the weather.

President Joe Biden reacted by signing a major disaster declaration for Texas. Over half the state’s population – 14.4 million people in 192 counties – have had frozen pipes, water supply problems, and boil alerts. A boil alert means the public water has been compromised and could harm people who do not boil the water before use.

There is good news for Texas and the rest of the nation affected by the storm: The country will be warming up soon.

Horsetail Falls Transforms to Fire

On the eastern edge of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park stands the majestic Horsetail Falls. The falls only flow when conditions are perfect during the winter. That’s the only time of year that warming temperatures melt enough snow or when there’s enough rain. And when the conditions are just right, the falls appear to transform magically into fire. The phenomenon is called “Firefall,” and there are only a few days left to catch a glimpse.

This year, reservations are needed, partially to limit the number of people for COVID reasons and partially to protect vegetation and wildlife from too much foot traffic. Those who visit have to walk 1.5 miles to reach the viewing area, but those who have seen it say the view is breathtaking.

Of course, it is not real fire or lava, but a trick of the eye involving the setting sun’s angle lending a short ten-minute window of viewing. After February, the opportunity vanishes until next winter. Park officials used to entertain visitors by spilling embers over Glacier Point to make it look like a lava flow, but that tradition ended in 1968. It was in 1973 that photographer Galen Rowell captured the famous images of the Firefall that created the obsession amongst nature enthusiasts.

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