Don’t Approach Wild Animals

Speaking of how to behave while in Colorado, a moose was spotted last night in downtown Boulder. Reportedly, a crowd of people surrounded it since this is an unusual occurrence. If you see a moose, DO NOT approach it, corner it, or interact with it in any way. Moose are very large and very dangerous. You do not want an angry or scared moose to charge you, even if it is just a juvenile.

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Hiking This Season in Colorado

After a very wet spring, the weather seems to have calmed down considerably, so a lot of trails are now free of snow and dry enough for hiking. In Boulder, basically all the trails are open again. Most of the damage from the floods in 2013 is also fixed, so you can go almost anywhere and not worry that the trail will be in bad shape.

View of South Boulder from  one of the trails in Chautauqua Park.
View of South Boulder from one of the trails in Chautauqua Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park is not quite as ready yet since it’s at a much higher altitude. There’s still snow in a lot of the higher trails, and a lot of snow once you get above the treeline. The area around Bear Lake was mostly clear as of about a week ago, but the trails above the trailhead may still be snowy. Lower parts of the park should be almost totally clear. The snow will probably be diminishing quite rapidly over the next few weeks. I would guess that most of the shorter hikes are fine, but long hikes like scaling Longs Peak are probably still extremely dangerous.

Current conditions on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park
Current conditions on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

Some tips if you want to hike in Colorado (and especially in the Front Range):

  • Bring a lot of water: It is dry everywhere and hot at lower altitudes
  • Use sunscreen: You will burn quickly without it
  • Start early and end early: Sudden thunderstorms are common between around 1 and 5 pm and are quite dangerous, especially if you are over the treeline
  • Avoid wildlife: There are a lot of dangerous animals. If you make noise while you’re hiking you should avoid running into things like bears and mountain lions
  • Don’t start fires: Wildfires are common in such a dry climate
  • Know your limits: If you’re not used to hiking at higher altitudes, be very careful. You will get tired much more quickly than at sea level

Hiking is generally very safe, but people do get seriously injured and even die every year, and many of those incidents can probably be avoided.

New Geoneutrino Paper

The Borexino collaboration put out a new paper on geoneutrinos last week. Geoneutrinos are just the neutrinos left over from beta decays occurring within the Earth. They look for inverse beta decay events, which can be identified by looking for the signal of neutron absorption by hydrogen in the scintillator, which typically happens a few hundred microseconds after the primary event. The paper reports a spectrum of the initial scintillation signal (from an electron [neutrino] or positron [antineutrino]) for geoneutrinos and reactor neutrinos and then report an estimate of the total power output of uranium and thorium in the Earth. Interestingly, the value is actually quite close to the total power output from man-made sources.

Review of Light Dark Matter Direct Detection

The arXiv has a new review of light dark matter direct detection efforts and challenges. Light dark matter, which is maybe a few tens of GeV or less in mass, became a hot topic a few years ago when a number of direct detection experiments started getting results that looked consistent with a light dark matter halo. While the results weren’t necessarily all consistent with one another, people started getting very interested in this idea. Unfortunately, the strongest and most recent limits seem to rule out these possible signals – at least using the standard dark matter halo and interaction models.

The paper talks about recent progress in understanding the possible light dark matter signals. Some of the results are now understood to probably just be backgrounds, but not all of them have been understood yet. One of the most interesting parts is the discussion of the irreducible neutrino background. This will restrict the ability of future experiments to set limits, since once backgrounds appear the limits scale roughly with the square root of the exposure time rather than linearly. Fortunately, the time distributions are different, so the effect is not as bad as it could be.

St. Louis Cardinals Under Federal Investigation

This week in bizarre news stories, the FBI is investigating the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team for hacking into the Houston Astros’ computer systems. Apparently this was to obtain confidential data on players. What’s not so clear is why the Cardinals would even bother. The Astros just switched over to the American league and while they’re doing well this year, their performance has mostly ranged from decent to terrible since 2000. The Cardinals have been one of the best teams during that period, so it’s not clear why they would even bother spying.

The Philae Comet Lander Lives

The ESA has announced that the Philae lander from the Rosetta spacecraft has turned back on. When the lander ended up in a spot on the comet that got little light, it was feared that it wouldn’t have enough power to turn back on once it was in a more favorable orientation. It looks like the lander at least has enough power to transmit data. Hopefully it also has enough power to continue its science mission.

UNC Put on Probation

In the wake of the massive academic fraud scandal involving athletics, the University of North Carolina’s main campus at Chapel Hill has been put on probation for one year by its accreditor. While this punishment sounds pretty light, there probably isn’t much else that the accreditor can do short of outright revoking accreditation. Regardless, this is hugely embarrassing for a major university like UNC and seems entirely deserved. Still no word yet on what the NCAA is going to do. Some people in the comments are also pointing out that there could be further consequences if the Department of Education finds that federal funds were misused.