Smoky Mountain Planetary Conjunction Junction has stargazers heads in the sky!
Skywatchers are in for an early Christmas treat. The alignment of Saturn and Jupiter, popularly as the “Christmas Star,” is an especially vibrant planetary conjunction easily visible in the evening sky over the next two weeks as the bright planets come together, culminating on the night of Dec. 21, 2020.
Smoky Mountain Hellbenders are the largest salamander in Great Smoky Mountains. Photo credit: David Herasimtschuk and Freshwater Illustrated.
Smoky Mountain Hellbenders are the largest aquatic salamanders in the national park. You may recognize the Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) by one of its other colorful names; snot otter, water dog, Allegheny alligator or mud dog. The male and female Hellbenders average in length from ten to sixteen inches. It has a flat body and head with slimy skin which gives it the ability to easily slip under submerged stones searching for food. The Hellbender serves as both predator and prey in the ecosystem.
Hellbenders are found in fast-moving, clean mountain streams in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Like frogs, Hellbenders are excellent indicators of water quality in streams and rivers. Since they breathe through their skin, hellbenders are sensitive to poor water quality, and are considered “bioindicators.” These species can tell biologists about degrading environmental conditions when they first start changing. As Hellbender populations decline so do other species in the environment.
Dolly Parton Corona Virus Cure Donation. Smoky Mountain icon, Dolly Parton helps fund a corona virus vaccine.
A $1 million donation by Sevierville’s favorite daughter, Dolly Parton, was instrumental in assisting the development of the Moderna vaccine, which according to a company spokesperson appears to be 94.5’% effective. The vaccine was created, in part, by the donation that Parton pledged to Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Education Center in April.
Parton was quoted crediting her longtime friend, Dr. Najo Abumrad, who is involved in research at the prestigious university, with telling her about the exciting work going at the school. Motivated by the project, Parton tweeted in April,” I am making a donation of $1 million to Vanderbilt toward that research and encourage people that can afford it to make donations.”
Trillium Gap Trail Opens after two years of rehabilitation.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials celebrated the completion of a two-year Trillium Gap trail project on Tuesday, November 10, 2020. The 6.7-mile Trillium Gap Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park leading hikers to Grotto Falls and Mt. Le Conte. The trail reopened a few days ahead of schedule following work completed by the park’s Trails Forever crew, American Conservation Experience Conservation Corps, and volunteers.