Watching the skies: Dal Planetarium forges community connections for Perseid meteor shower - Canadanewsmedia
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Watching the skies: Dal Planetarium forges community connections for Perseid meteor shower



Here’s something you might not know about meteor showers: those beams of light that you see dashing across the night sky? They’re tiny — no more than specks of dust, really.

“They’re particles about the size of a grain of sand,” says Stephen Payne, senior instructor in the Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science and manager of the Halifax Planetarium at Dalhousie. “When they strike the Earth’s atmosphere, they heat up and give off light.”

This weekend marks the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, perhaps the most popular stargazing event of the year. At times, there may be as many as 60 meteors visible in the sky per hour, making it one of the most active and visible meteor showers of the year.

And for the third year in a row, Payne and his team are hitting the road to Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore to help others learn more about the meteor shower, the night sky and how to become better star watchers.

Sharing science

The Planetarium team, including Kaja Rotermund and Tolson Winters alongside Dr. Payne, are featured as part of the Sealight Skylight Festival in Ship Harbour on August 11 and 12.

Organized by the Deanery Project (a not-for-profit cooperative focusing on the environment, youth and community, natural building and the arts), the event links together the peak of the Perseid shower with an abundance of bioluminescence in Ship Harbour, making it a great opportunity to experience — and learn about — some of our universe’s natural wonders.

Each evening, the Planetarium team will lead a short presentation on the night sky and the meteor shower itself, prior to the actual observation (complete with telescopes).

“We focus on showing them how they can find things on their own, and how to remember how to find them,” says Rotermund. “It’s called ‘star hopping,’ making it easier for them to find the same things the next night or in the future when they’re doing it on their own.”

Of course, the shower itself is the main attraction: an event caused by the debris of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 133 years.

“Comets are basically dirty snowballs,” says Payne, “and their ices partially evaporate near the Sun, leaving solid particles behind. The Earth then passes through that debris field every year in July-August.”

As for why the Perseids seem to capture people’s imaginations each year,  Payne credits the timing. “It’s summertime, people are outside, it’s warm and there’s more time to look up,” he says. “It’s also a fairly active shower event — the count rate of meteors can be quite high.”

Connecting with the natural world

With a good weather forecast for the weekend, the team is hoping for a quality viewing experience. (It’s been somewhat cloudy at the Perseid’s peak the past two years.)

The team will also do a presentation on bioluminescence, paired with a viewing in the harbour, as well as hands-on astronomy activities before dusk and during the daytime on Sunday, perfect for kids and families.

They’re also not the only Dal connection to the festival: recent Master’s of Environmental Studies grad shalan joudry (who also performed as part of the Bicentennial Launch event for Dal 200), is a new addition to the event this year for Sunday’s activities, presenting on Mi’kmaw ecology in the afternoon and sharing a Mi’kmaw night story during the evening.

“I will be talking about my understanding and work as a Mi’kmaw ecologist and what that means to me,” says joudry about her presentation. “I will share some of the teachings that the Elders shared with me through my research process and my work life, but then also describe what I find as differences and complementary ways of seeing and learning, through Mi’kmaw and mainstream science.”

For the Dal Physics team, the festival is an opportunity to engage people of all ages in science.

“It’s great to see the young people engaged, but it’s always interesting to see how enamored the parents are as well,” says Rotermund. “They’re just as excited.”

“It’s a great unifier, too,” adds Winters. “You can do most of the sciences with astronomy. There’s obviously a lot of physics, a lot of chemistry, biology, geography and the list just keeps going. And it really unifies people because everyone loves space.”

The Sealight Skylight Festival takes place on Saturday, August 11 from 7:30-11 p.m. and on Sunday, August 12 from 2:30-11:30 p.m. in Ship Harbour, Nova Scotia. For full details, visit the Deanery Project website. You can also learn more about the Halifax Planetarium at


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Error in major climate study revealed – warming NOT higher than expected




A major new climate study in the journal Nature got worldwide media coverage for finding that the oceans warmed dramatically faster than previously thought — but now the researchers have retracted that conclusion after a man in the United Kingdom blogged about flaws he discovered in the paper.

Just two weeks after publication, the study authors have revised their paper, and now conclude that the oceans are warming fast — but at the same rate as other measurements have found.

A study co-author took responsibility for the error. “I accept responsibility for these oversights because it was my role to ensure that details of the measurements were correctly understood and taken up by coauthors,” study co-author Ralph Keeling wrote in an explanation of the revision.


The error was first discovered by Nic Lewis, a retired British man who holds a bachelors degree in math from the University of Cambridge and who reads science papers for fun. He has also written a couple of published papers of his own on climate science.

“I’ve always liked to understand the world and to check whether people’s research makes sense to me. Once I find something that seems wrong to me, I like to get to the bottom of it,” Lewis told Fox News.

Lewis said the incident should serve as a cautionary tale.


“I think it shows that the fact that a study is peer-reviewed and published by a premier journal gives very little assurance that its findings are valid,” Lewis said.

“I was slightly surprised that neither the peer reviewers nor the editor had spotted what seemed to me an obvious red flag on page 1 of the paper,” he added.

Lewis said that the reviewers who approved that paper may have looked less closely for errors because the conclusion agreed with the typical belief that global warming is an extreme crisis.


But all involved, including Lewis, agree that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are warming the oceans.

“People shouldn’t be left with the impression that the errors in this paper put into doubt whether the ocean interior is warming. It clearly is wholly or mainly due to human greenhouse gas emissions,” Lewis said.

The study co-author who took responsibility for the error also made that point.


“The evidence for ocean warming continues to be supported by millions of temperature readings throughout the oceans made by the international Argo network of sensors,” Keeling told Fox News.

The Argo network of sensors consists of nearly 4,000 floats around the world that observe the ocean. The study done by Keeling and his coauthors attempted to estimate ocean temperatures a totally different way — “by using measurements of atmospheric oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) … which increase as the ocean warms and releases gases.”

Keeling said that such a study still had some value.


“Our study still also provides independent evidence that the ocean is warming. We accept that our method doesn’t determine the amount of warming as precisely as we previously thought,” Keeling added.

Keeling also acknowledged Lewis for pointing out the error.

“The scientific process is self-correcting when errors are made or new evidence is discovered. Hats off to Nic Lewis for his role here,” Keeling said.


While the Earth has warmed — government data show that the planet is nearly 2°F warmer than in the 1970s — researchers like Lewis make the case that climate models are not that great and may overpredict warming.

“Climate science suffers from being politicized,” Lewis told Fox News. “It’s too infected by the idea of consensus and models… warming is likely to be less severe than global climate models say.”

The author, Maxim Lott, is Executive Producer of Stossel TV and creator of He can be reached on Twitter at @MaximLott

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Bizarre Microbes Represent a Major New Branch on the Evolutionary Family Tree




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  1. Bizarre Microbes Represent a Major New Branch on the Evolutionary Family Tree  Gizmodo
  2. Rare microbes lead scientists to discover new branch on the tree of life  Yahoo News Canada (blog)
  3. Canadian researchers have discovered a new kind of organism  Digital Journal
  4. Full coverage

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Cargo ship launch clears crewed mission to space station




FILE – In this Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018 file photo, the Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz MS-10 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. A Russian Soyuz rocket has put a cargo ship en route to the International Space Station, clearing the way for the next crewed mission. The launch on Friday, Nov. 16 of the Progress MS-10 resupply ship from Baikonur in Kazakhstan marked the fourth successful liftoff of a Soyuz since an crew launch last month. A Soyuz-FG rocket carrying NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos' Alexei Ovchinin failed two minutes into its flight on Oct. 11.

Dmitri Lovetsky / AP

MOSCOW — A Russian Soyuz rocket sent a cargo ship on its way to the International Space Station on Friday, a successful launch that cleared the way for the next crew to travel to the space outpost.

The launch of the Russian Progress MS-10 resupply ship from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan marked the fourth successful liftoff of a Soyuz since a launch with crew members had to be aborted last month.

A Soyuz-FG rocket carrying NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin failed two minutes into its flight on Oct. 11, activating an automatic rescue system that allowed their capsule to land safely. A Russian investigation attributed the failure to a sensor that was damaged during the rocket’s final assembly.

The accident was the first aborted crew launch for the Russian space program since 1983, when two Soviet cosmonauts jettisoned after a launch pad explosion and also had a safe landing. The Russian Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle that can ferry crews to the space station.

Since the October mishap, two Soyuz rockets were launched successfully from Plesetsk in northwestern Russia, while a third lifted off from French Guiana carrying satellites into orbit. They were of a different subtype than the rocket that failed in October, but the one that lifted off Friday was the same version.

The Progress ship is set to dock at the space station Sunday, delivering almost three tons of food, fuel, water and other supplies to the crew — NASA’s Serena Aunon-Chancellor, Russian Sergei Prokopyev and German Alexander Gerst.

In a separate supply mission, Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket with Cygnus cargo spacecraft is scheduled to lift off Saturday and dock at the station Monday.

The current crew is scheduled to return to Earth next month after the arrival of their replacements. American astronaut Anne McClain, Canadian David Saint-Jacques and Russian Oleg Kononenko are set to go up on Dec. 3.

Speaking Thursday at the Star City space training centre outside Moscow, McClain voiced confidence in the Soyuz despite October’s aborted launch.

“We trust our rocket. We’re ready to fly,” she said. “I think what we learned from the inside in October was how safe this rocket was. A lot of people called it an accident or an incident, or maybe want to use it as an example of not being safe. But for us it’s exactly the opposite because our friends came home, the systems worked and they worked exactly as they were designed.”

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