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Breaking News: An Earth-Like Planet Was Just Found Orbiting the Nearest Star

Posted on 25 August 2016 by Howard Copelan

“THIS MAY BE A HISTORIC MOMENT.”

The next star over has a planet that’s kinda like ours.

Astronomers just discovered the closest possible Earth-like planet outside our solar system. It orbits our closest neighboring star, Proxima Centauri. The planet is warm enough for liquid water, is almost certainly rocky and terrestrial, and could even have an atmosphere. At just 4.2 light years away, scientists are even wondering if this may be the closest home for life outside our solar system.

The newly discovered planet has been temporarily named Proxima B by its discoverers, an international team led by astronomer Guillem Anglada-Escudé at Queen Mary University in London. Proxima B is roughly 30 percent larger than Earth, and closely orbits a star far cooler and smaller than our own. Following a month of rumors and hints, Proxima B was unveiled today in a paper in the journal Nature.

“What’s amazing is how close it is,” says Jeff Coughlin, a SETI astronomer working with NASA’s Kepler planet-hunting mission, who was not involved in the discovery. “There’s nothing in physics that would keep us from sending a probe to Proxima B within the next few decades, even with just current day technology.”

The Hunt Begins

To appreciate what we know (and don’t know) about Proxima B, it helps to understand how the planet was discovered. Astronomers have not yet directly seen or snapped images of the planet. Rather, Proxima B was detected after roughly 16 years of analyzing telescopic recordings of the planet’s star, Proxima Centauri.

After combining all those recordings, scientists found the planet in a peculiar wobble of the star. They saw that Proxima Centauri wobbles toward and away from Earth in a cycle every 11 days plus a few hours . This movement can be detected in a slight shift in the color of the starlight, via the Doppler effect.

Overall, astronomers combined hundreds of observations. The effort recently ramped up after a tantalizing early whiff of Proxima B. Finally, the scientists determined that this wobbling is due to a delicate, tugging ballet between Proxima Centauri and a planet that orbits the star every 11.2 days. Although they could not see Proxima B, the astronomers could calculate the world’s size and distance from its star by crunching the numbers on Proxima Centauri’s wobble and estimated mass.

“THERE’S NOTHING IN PHYSICS THAT WOULD KEEP US FROM SENDING A PROBE TO PROXIMA B WITHIN THE NEXT FEW DECADES, EVEN WITH JUST CURRENT DAY TECHNOLOGY.”

This roundabout way of planet-hunting may sound uncertain, “but statistically there is no doubt about this signal,” says Anglada-Escudé. Taking this info Proxima B’s size and orbit, scientists have estimated that it is rocky like Earth and perfectly situated in its stars habitable zone, a place where liquid water should neither entirely boil nor freeze.

Red Dwarf

Proxima Centauri is not like our sun. It’s a cooler, smaller, and far more common type of star called a red dwarf. According to Ansgar Reiners, one of the astronomers behind today’s discovery who’s based at the University of Göttingen in Germany, this fact makes the case for life on Proxima B a more complex calculation.

For one thing, “Proxima Centauri is a relatively active star, so Proxima B receives rough 100 [times more] more high-energy radiation than Earth,” he says. Reiners is talking about stuff like gamma radiation that could be potentially fatal for microbes. But if Proxima B has a protective magnetic field and atmosphere like our own, then life could certainly still exist there—especially in oceans.

Proxima B is also pretty darn close to its star. Where Earth is 93 million miles from the sun on average, Proxmia B and its star are just 4 million miles apart—5 percent as far. Because red dwarfs are so much cooler than our Sun, the planet can be this close without getting charred to a crisp.

Yet this proximity could cause two problems. First, Proxima B is likely to be tidally locked, meaning the same face of the planet always faces the star. It’s like the way the same side of the moon always faces the Earth. (However, a thick enough atmosphere could keep the world twirling.) Second, depending on how and when Proxima B was formed, early blasts of stellar radiation could have blown away much or most of Proxima B’s hypothetical atmosphere.

That said, “none of this excludes the possibility of an atmosphere and water, it all depends on the history of the stellar system,” Reiners says.

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This artist’s impression shows the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System.

Interstellar History

So just how big of a discovery is Proxima B? “This may be a historical moment,” says SETI’s Coughlin.

“I see this as the third phase of exoplanet discovery. Around 20 years ago, our first phase began as exoplanets first trickled in with one or two finds per year. The second phase was the Kepler era, where for the past 5 or 6 years we’ve been finding thousands and thousands of planets, and learning that even rocky, Earth-sized ones are incredibly common. Now we’re at the third phase. We’re beginning to look closer to home, finding nearby planets that humanity itself may one day be able to visit,” he says.

“I think today marks the start of our ability to map out the local universe around us, identifying the stars and planets in the sky that could be visited and utilized by our species, hundreds or thousands of years from now. I think humans will look back to this time as the very beginning of something,” says Coughlin.

As for the promise of life on Proxima B, Coughlin is cautious but hopeful. “The potential is there. I’d say we haven’t found any reason why life couldn’t be there yet,” he says.

Now that humans have detected Proxima B, Coughlin believes it’ll likely be a top priority for future space telescope missions. Astronomers the world over will seek ways to directly image it, uncovering the planet’s many unknown details such as whether it has an atmosphere.

This picture combines a view of the southern skies over the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile with images of the stars Proxima Centauri (lower-right) and the double star Alpha Centauri AB (lower-left) from the NASA/ESA Hubble Sp

This picture combines a view of the southern skies over the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile with images of the stars Proxima Centauri (lower-right) and the double star Alpha Centauri AB (lower-left) from the NASA/ESA Hubble Sp

Were it not for Proxima B’s close proximity to us, that would be an enormous challenge. The planet’s star, Proxima Centauri, is fairly dim by stellar standards, and the scientists believe there’s only a 1.5 percent chance that Proxima B actually passes in front of the star from our perspective here on Earth. That’s important, because if Proxima B eclipsed Proxima Centauri, it’d make a detection an easier task than picking it out of the darkness. That “transit” method is how Kepler found a lot of its exoplanets.

However, says Artie Hatzes, an astronomer at the Thuringian State Observatoryin Germany who was not involved in the research, “because Proxima Centauri is relatively close to us, such attempts have a reasonable chance of succeeding,” he writes in a essay in Nature accompanying the research paper. Beyond even ground-based or near-Earth telescopes, “in the distant future, an interstellar space probe might get a close-up look at the planet,” writes Hatzes.

For now, it’ll be fascinating to watch if Proxima B’s discovery jump-starts the search for other new planets around similarly close stars, ushering in Coughlin’s third phase. “We’re just starting to see the distant shores of the planets that may be out there,” says Coughlin.

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Nevada Attorney General Opposing Background Check Measure

Posted on 21 August 2016 by Howard Copelan

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Nevada State Attorney General Adam Laxalt.

Nevada State Attorney General Adam Laxalt says he’s opposing a background check initiative supported by gun control advocates on the November ballot.

Laxalt came out Wednesday against Question 1, with a statement saying it would cost Nevada residents “time, money and freedom,” but wouldn’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals. The statement was issued by the National Rifle Association.

It noted that the initiative sponsor, Nevadans for Background Checks, gets funding from a group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The billionaire media businessman and politician is a leading national gun-control advocate.

Laxalt joins Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and most Nevada sheriffs opposing to the background check measure.

Initiative supporters point to endorsements from the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers, Las Vegas Fraternal Order of Police, Nevada State Education Association and others.

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McQueary Named Interim District Attorney In Elko County

Posted on 21 August 2016 by Howard Copelan

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Elko District Attorney, Mark Torvinen

Elko County’s chief civil attorney has been selected to temporarily fill the vacancy left by the death of District Attorney Mark Torvinen. The county commission voted Wednesday to appoint Chief Civil DA Kristin McQueary to the post on an interim basis.

The county coroner determined after Torvinen’s vehicle crashed into an urgent care clinic in Elko on Monday that he had died of natural causes.

McQueary says Torvinen was a great attorney and a great boss who will be missed by everyone in the DA’s office.

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Centennial Celebration at Great Basin This August 25th

Posted on 21 August 2016 by Howard Copelan

Great Basin National Park is excited to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service and the First Light of the Great Basin Observatory with the telescope donated by the Niggli Family. 

The celebration begins at 1:00pm. Arrive early and park at the Great Basin Visitor Center in Baker, NV and take the free shuttle. There will be no public parking available at the ceremony site. Shuttles begin running at noon.

Come and celebrate with us and enjoy special guest speakers at the ceremony, be a part of the time capsule burial and enjoy lantern light cave tours of Lehman Caves.

After the ceremony we will be having birthday cake at the Great Basin Visitor Center and solar scopes set up for safely viewing the sun. Tyler Nordgren will give an astronomy presentation at 3:30 in the Great Basin Classroom.

Schedule:

On August 25, the National Park Service will celebrate its 100th birthday. Parks, monuments and other sites all over the country will be celebrating and Great Basin National Park is no exception!
Come out and join us for a festive afternoon filled with cake, guest speakers and a ribbon cutting for our new observatory. We’ll also be burying a time capsule and hosting a star party! See the event schedule below.
LANTERN LIGHT CAVE TOURS
All Day
Lehman Cave Visitor Center, Great Basin National Park
Make cave tour reservations at www.recreation.gov or call 1-877-444-6777
TIME CAPSULE BURIAL and FIRST LIGHT CEREMONY
1:00pm to 2:00pm
Celebrate the future of the National Park Service and Great Basin National Park with the burial of a time capsule that will be buried on the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service and dug-up for the 50th Anniversary of Great Basin National Park in 2036. You will also be there for the ribbon cutting for the Great Basin Observatory, an outstanding research class observatory.
Park at the Great Basin Visitor Center in Baker, NV and take a free shuttle up to the Ceremony site. There is no parking at the site. Shuttles will begin running at noon.
BIRTHDAY CAKE
2:45 until it is gone!
Great Basin Visitor Center, Baker, NV
Join Park Superintendent Steve Mietz, Congressman Cresent Hardy, Governor Brian Sandoval and our Centennial Senior Ranger as they blow out the birthday candles and have a cupcake!
SECIAL ASTROMY PRESENTATION with TYLER NORDGREN
3:30pm – 4:30pm
Great Basin Classroom, Baker, NV
Join Tyler for an out of this world presentation on the night skies and darkness.
SOLAR VIEWING
3:30pm to 5:00pm
Look safely at the sun through a solar telescope. Astronomy experts, like Cameron Pace from Southern Utah University and Mike Hoffart from Concordia University and Great Basin’s own Dark Rangers will be there to tell you about the prominences and flares you might be seeing.
STAR PARTY
8:00pm to 10:30pm
Enjoy looking through the telescopes to see the stars and other celestial bodies. Ask Dark Ranger questions about the constellations and the importance of protecting dark night skies.

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New Updates On the Strawberry Fire and The Great Basin National Park

Posted on 21 August 2016 by Howard Copelan

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It is currently 4,657 acres and 94% contained. A Type 3 Incident Management Team will assume command of the fire at 6 a.m. on August 19, 2016. Baker Creek, Grey Cliffs and Lower Lehman Campground and the Lehman Caves Visitor Center remain open. Snake Creek Canyon reopened to the public at 3 p.m. on August 19, 2016. Cave tours and other special events will continue as planned.

The Wheeler Peak Drive in Great Basin National Park reopened on August 19th. The road was closed on August 10th, due to the Strawberry Fire.

The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, Bristlecone and Glacier Trails, Alpine Lakes Loop Trail and the trail to Wheeler Peak will open at 6:00 am daily and close at dusk each evening.

Weakened trees, loose and rolling material, undetected stump holes, and still burning material from recent fire activity can be pose a threat to public safety . The Wheeler Peak Campground, Osceola Trail, the Strawberry Creek Road at the park boundary, and burned areas of Strawberry Canyon are closed until further notice. Park staff will continue to assess conditions and will reopen these areas when it is safe to do so. Visitors may see smoke within the fire perimeter as unburned islands of vegetation continue to smolder.

Please see www.nps.gov/GRBA for updated information. The lightning-caused Strawberry Fire was detected on August 8, 2016.

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USGS Awards $3.7 Million For ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System

Posted on 21 August 2016 by Howard Copelan

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The Nevada Seismological Lab maintains a network of seismometers and hazrd monitoring equipment throughout Nevada, and California along the eastern Sierra Nevada and Death Valley. (Photo courtesy of University of Nevada, Reno)

The University of Nevada, Reno is one of six universities working with the U.S.Geological Survey to transition their ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system into a production system that would give communities a precious few seconds to take protective actions before severe shaking waves from an earthquake arrive.

The USGS announced Monday the $3.7 million award to the universities for this latest collaboration to improve the ShakeAlert system’s sensor and telemetry infrastructure across the west coast of the United States.

“Our seismic network covers Nevada, and California along the eastern Sierra Nevada and Death Valley,” Graham Kent, director of the Nevada Seismological Laboratory, said. “We have an unmatched microwave, IP-based communications system that powers our multi-hazard seismic, fire and extreme-weather network. Integrating the earthquake early warning system into our network makes sense, and through this collaboration our partners can better understand the benefits of our communications system as we all work to improve the ShakeAlert program throughout the West.”

The Nevada Seismological Lab, a public service department at the University of Nevada, Reno, will initially focus on the California portion of their seismic monitoring system near Lake Tahoe and looks to expand the early warning system into Nevada, mostly surrounding the urban areas of Las Vegas in the south of the state and, in the north, Reno and Carson City. The eastward expansion into Nevada will require help from both our congressional delegation and at the state level as seen in California, Oregon and Washington.

“As the third most seismically active state in the U.S., Nevada has its share of earthquakes but has not had a large earthquake since 1954. In that year alone, Nevada experienced four large earthquakes: M6.6, M6.8, M6.8 and M7.1,” Kent said. “In Las Vegas, an early warning system could potentially give residents 45 to 60-plus seconds of response time in a damaging earthquake that could originate in Death Valley. In the north it might be as much as 10 to 20 seconds – still valuable time to take protective actions.”

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Through cooperative agreements, the USGS has brought together the California Institute of Technology; Central Washington University; University of California, Berkeley; University of Oregon; University of Washington and University of Nevada, Reno for the ShakeAlert program. ShakeAlert is a new product of the USGS Advanced National Seismic System, a federation of national and regional earthquake monitoring networks throughout the country, including networks in southern California, northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

In addition to the University awards, the USGS has purchased about $1.5 million in new sensor equipment, some of it destined for the Tahoe-Truckee corridor, to expand and improve the ShakeAlert system and awarded about $250,000 in supplements to earlier agreements to three universities. These efforts, as well as internal work that the USGS is conducting, are possible because of $8.2 million in funding to the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program for ShakeAlert approved by Congress earlier this year.

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At a White House Earthquake Resilience Summit in February, it was announced that the ShakeAlert system had developed to a stage that was ready to support limited test uses in some areas of California. This next-generation production prototype allows selected users to develop and deploy pilot implementations that take protective actions based on the USGS ShakeAlert warnings in areas with sufficient station coverage.

“The Summit focused on California, Washington and Oregon, who have a game plan to make it happen and $8.2 million of new federal monies to begin implementation of a production prototype earthquake early warning system,” Kent said. “The Summit also identified Nevada, Alaska and Utah – all with high seismic hazards – as areas that would benefit from being prepared and implementing early-warning earthquake systems.”

The panel included U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, U.S. Geological Survey Director Suzette Kimball, National Institute of Standards and Technology Director Willie May and other federal agency staff, state government representatives and stakeholders.

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Opinion: The Media’s Responsibility To Our Democracy

Posted on 21 August 2016 by Howard Copelan

imgresPoliticians spend a good bit of their time complaining about the media. But why should they have all the fun?

I’m going to join in, though I tend to get upset about different things than most sitting politicians do. You see, I don’t actually mind when journalists — whether in print, on television or online — treat what politicians say with skepticism. That means they’re doing their jobs.

But this doesn’t happen nearly as much these days as it should. The media today is less objective, more ideological, and much showier than it once was. What you see can be eye-catching — both the graphics and the personalities — but it is also brash and relentlessly self-promoting. A lot of journalists don’t just want to report the news, they want to be players and affect policy. They see politics as a blood sport, often exaggerating the differences among players.

As one observer said, the media is drawn to “superficiality, sensationalism, scandal, and sleaze.” They’re all too happy to seize on small points of contention and fan them into major points of discord. They make building a consensus — the key task of the democratic process — much harder.

The field has been moving in this direction over decades, and there’s a reason for it: all these changes have been well received by the public. They draw viewers, readers and clicks. And they’ve encouraged consumers to pay attention only to the sources that reflect and broadcast their own viewpoint.

I don’t want to be a fogey here. Yes, I grew up in the days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and I still think they were solid journalists, but what I miss is not the voice-of-authority-from-on-high that’s so often associated with them. Instead, what I too often find lacking now is the spirit that drove the profession in those days. I think the news media had a sense of responsibility to make representative democracy function. Journalists imbued their work with a palpable sense that they were involved in a public service.

There are still really excellent journalists out there who are doing their best to serve both their profession and the country. Every day they struggle to make sense of enormously complex events. What they understand — and what I wish more of their colleagues believed — is that democracy demands journalism that improves its workings. Properly done, journalism can bridge differences, help consensus emerge, improve the knowledge and judgment of voters, and sharpen the performance of public officials and government as a whole.

In the end, the democratic process is about overcoming disagreement. This is virtually impossible without a solid base of information and analysis.

Governing well is immensely difficult, and good journalism can keep government open and honest — which serves not just the voters, but politicians who are trying to resolve the problems facing the country. Journalists can and should be watchdogs, keeping a watchful eye on politicians — what they do, what they say…and what they don’t do or say. They should serve not just the elites, but the underdogs and have-nots in society.

The independence of our press was hard to win, and it’s vital that we sustain it. People must have sources they can rely on in order to make our system work. Our democracy needs well-informed citizens making decisions based on facts about both policies and politicians.

This means that the model of the journalist that seems to be going out of fashion — reporters who were reasonably objective, independent of outside groups, and even independent of their company’s owners — is actually crucial to representative government. Curious, skeptical journalists who point out inconsistencies, draw attention to mistakes, call out misleading statements, and identify outright lies serve a larger purpose: they provide citizens what they need to know in order to be a good citizen, and public officials what they need in order to do their work well.

This is quite an ideal, especially in this age of economic turmoil within the media universe. But I don’t think it’s too much to hope that as the profession sorts out its future, it takes seriously its leadership role in advancing the public good, and doesn’t sacrifice its part in making representative democracy work properly.

By Lee H. Hamilton

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Breaking News: Speed and Alcohol Claim The Life Of A Wendover Resident

Posted on 21 August 2016 by Howard Copelan

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Wednesday night, August 17th, at approximately 11:30 pm, local Wendover PD responded to a call of a crash near the Wendover airport.

When the police officers arrived, they found a vehicle resting on its top. The driver was identified as Juan Carlos Gallo, 21 year old, from Wendover Utah. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

While Juan was driving his vehicle drifted off of the road. He overcorrected causing his car to travel across both lanes, off the side of the roadway, and through a fence before vaulting one time, coming to rest on its top.

Juan was not wearing a seatbelt. Excessive speed and alcohol are contributing factors into this crash.

The West Wendover Police Department wants to remind all occupants of any vehicle to buckle up as they continue their enforcement/education efforts on unrestrained, distracted and impaired drivers.


 

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ENTERTAINMENT

Posted on 18 August 2016 by Howard Copelan

Here are all the updates on the Entertainment in Northern Nevada, Wendover Concert Hall and Movies at the Cinemas, Ely Horse Races and Theatre, Jackpot’s  Cactus Pete, Elko Fair, Movies at the Cinemas and Ruby Mountain Balloon Festival, and Utah Shakespeare Festival.

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White Pine Horse Races-2016 b

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Updates On The Strawberry Fire

Posted on 17 August 2016 by Howard Copelan

Stawberry Fire (photo by Seth Trodahl)

The Strawberry Fire, 3 miles North West of Great Basin National Park Visitor Center, 5 miles West of Baker Nevada. (photo by Seth Trodahl, Supervisory Range Technician (Fire) at the Ely BLM ).

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The Strawberry fire started this August 8, 2016 (photo credit Eastern Nevada Interagency Fire).

 New Update on The Park 8/21/16:

 The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, Bristlecone and Glacier Trails, Alpine Lakes Loop Trail and the trail to Wheeler Peak will open at 6:00am daily and close at dusk each evening.

Weakened trees, loose and rolling material, undetected stump holes, and still-burning material from the recent fire activity can be pose a threat to public safety . The Wheeler Peak Campground, Osceola Trail, the Strawberry Creek Road at the park boundary, and burned areas of Strawberry Canyon are closed until further notice. Park staff will continue to assess conditions and will reopen these areas when it is safe to do so. 

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8/17/16
The Strawberry fire, started on August 8, as a small 15 acres fire, is currently covering 4,657 acres. Strong winds quickly caused rapid fire growth.
Now, August 17th, this fire as a 90% containment.

There are currently 360 personnel on this incident, including the following resources: 11 Crews, 1 Type 1 (Heavy) Helicopter, 2 Type 2 (Medium) Helicopters, 2 Type 3 (Light) Helicopters, 5 Engines, and 2 Dozers.

Last week, the BLM, Ely district has responded with two pumpers with crews and an helicopter. For now, four engines, two crews and an helicopter are working the fire as conditions allow. The major concerns are the heavy smoke and the unfavorable winds. The crews are expected to work until the fire is fully contained.
Wheeler Peak Campground is closed, and the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is closed above the Upper Lehman Creek Campground. The trail from Upper Lehman Creek Campground to Wheeler Peak Campground is also closed. The Park is asking campers and hikers to respect all closures for their own safety. The launching, landing, or operation of unmanned aircraft is prohibited because it impacts the ability of the firefighters to do their job safely and effectively.

No injuries were reported as a result of the fire, Andler said.

Cause of the fire is believed to be lightning.

This report was updated by Nichole Andler from the Great Basin National Park and 

Chris Hanefeld, the Public Affairs Specialist from the Ely BLM Field Office.

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