Yellowstone's Steamboat Geyser Keeps Erupting, and Scientists Aren't Sure Why

An eruption from Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park is normally a rare sight, but guests were treated to the geothermic show seven times in the past three months, according to the USGS. The last time the geyser spouted at least three times in a year was 2003, and scientists are still struggling to find out the cause behind the sudden spike in activity.

Old Faithful has garnered fame in Yellowstone and beyond for its regular eruptions that blow every one to two hours, but Steamboat is less reliable. Geysers occur when magma heats up the water and gases trapped in pockets under the ground. If enough pressure builds up, the steam and boiling water will escape through cracks in the earth and shoot past the surface. The reservoir beneath Old Faithful is fairly simple, as geological maps have shown us, and that explains the frequent eruptions. But the structure beneath Steamboat is likely more complicated, leading to eruptions that result from a combination of hard-to-predict factors.

Steamboat's last eruption before this recent marathon of spurts was recorded in September 2014. The geyser's water columns have been know to reach up to 300 feet, making it the tallest active geyser in the world.

Geologists have come up with a few explanations for the phenomena, one being that it was caused by thermal activity in the park's Norris Geyser Basin. Another possibility is that the geyser is having these smaller eruptions closer together in place of one large one. While they haven't come to a consensus on the cause, experts do agree that the frequency of the eruptions is unlike anything they've seen at this geyser before.

While the geyser activity remains a mystery, it shouldn't be taken as an indication that a catastrophic volcanic event is coming to Yellowstone anytime soon. The last volcanic eruption on the park's land took place 70,000 years ago.

[h/t NPR]

Why Is Pee Yellow?

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Your body is kind of like a house. You bring things into your body by eating, drinking, and breathing. But just like the things we bring home to real houses, we don’t need every part of what we take in. So there are leftovers, or garbage. And if you let garbage sit around in your house or your body for too long, it gets gross and can make you sick. Your body takes out the garbage by peeing and pooping. These two things are part of your body’s excretory system (ECKS-krih-tore-eee SISS-tem), which is just a fancy way of saying “trash removal.” If your body is healthy, when you look in the toilet you should see brown poop and yellow pee.

Clear, light yellow pee is a sign that your excretory system and the rest of your body are working right. If your pee, or urine (YER-inn), is not see-through, that might mean you are sick. Dark yellow urine usually means that you aren’t drinking enough water. On the other hand, really pale or colorless pee can mean you might be drinking too much water! 

Your blood is filtered through two small organs called kidneys (KID-knees). Remember the garbage we talked about earlier? The chemicals called toxins (TOCK-sins) are like garbage in your blood. Your kidneys act like a net, catching the toxins and other leftovers and turning them into pee.

One part of your blood is called hemoglobin (HEE-moh-gloh-bin). This is what makes your blood red. Hemoglobin goes through a lot of changes as it passes through your body. When it reaches your kidneys, it turns yellow thanks to a chemical called urobilin (yer-ah-BY-lin). Urobilin is kind of like food coloring. The more water you add, the lighter it will be. That's why, if you see dark yellow pee in the toilet, it's time to ask your mom or dad for a cup of water. 

To learn more about pee, check out this article from Kids Health. 

Why Do Grown-Ups Have Wrinkles?

Chloe Effron / iStock
Chloe Effron / iStock

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Our skin is supposed to stretch. We do it every day when we squint in the sunlight, make a silly face, smile, laugh, pout, or furrow our eyebrows. Each time our skin stretches, tiny lines and grooves start to form below the surface. Over time, the outside skin gets thinner and dryer, and it falls deeper into those little grooves. As we get older, we also lose some of the stuff in our skin that helps it to stretch and then return to its normal place. 

First, let’s talk about our three layers of skin. The outside part is called the epidermis (eh-pih-DER-mis). That’s the part you can see. Under that is our dermis, where we have stretchy fibers called elastin that let our skin stretch and then go back to its normal position, just like an elastic hair band. The dermis layer also has collagen (KAHL-uh-jen), a protein that helps it stay sturdy and grow new skin cells. Under the dermis is the deep subcutaneous (sub-kyoo-TAY-nee-us) layer, which stores fat. As we get older, we start to lose collagen, elastin, fat, and oils made by our skin that keep it moisturized, or less dry.

There are lots of reasons. Our bodies make less of these things as we age, so our skin gets thinner, drier, and less stretchy. The Sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light also breaks down collagen and elastin fibers. This causes more lines and wrinkles. But wrinkles are just a part of life. One day, you’ll have them too. Take good care of your skin by wearing sunscreen and drinking plenty of water to help your skin stay moisturized.

For further reading, visit Kids Health.


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