Canada's grand plan to explore the mysteries of the cosmos - Canadanewsmedia
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Canada's grand plan to explore the mysteries of the cosmos



There are about the same number of professional astronomers in Canada as there are active Canadian hockey players in the NHL. Hockey players get a lot more press than do the astronomers, and that’s too bad.

Astronomy research is a spectacular Canadian success story, in which a small community of scientists has racked up decades of major discoveries. Canadian astronomers have used government and other funding to participate in the world’s leading telescope and supercomputer projects, making discoveries about black holes, planets and galaxies at a rate well above our peer countries.

Why should Canada support research in astronomy? Astronomy doesn’t directly cure disease or solve environmental problems. What it does do is enrich our culture by reminding us of the larger context in which our day-to-day lives are embedded.

Compared to the vast universe, we are minute creatures on a tiny planet in a typical galaxy and yet we have managed to use our minds and hands to understand many aspects of how the universe works. Every new discovery brings new questions, which serve to drive progress in physics and engineering — some of which does help to cure disease, address social issues, protect endangered species and advance renewable energy — and inspire Canadians of all ages.

Canadian achievements

Canadians can be justifiably proud of our recent astronomy discoveries. The Canadian-built CHIME telescope, located near Penticton, B.C., is an entirely new type of radio telescope that is revolutionizing our understanding of the mysterious phenomenon known as fast radio bursts.

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CBC The National: The CHIME telescope will reveal new information about the cosmos.

Canadian scientists and engineers provided one of the key technologies for the ALMA telescope in Chile, part of the worldwide telescope that recently produced the first images of a black hole. A Canadian-led team were the first to ever directly witness planets orbiting another star.

In 2016, McGill astronomer Victoria Kaspi was the youngest ever researcher and first woman to win Canada’s top science prize, the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal. Kaspi received the medal for her groundbreaking research on neutron stars.

Mark Halpern and Gary Hinshaw of the University of British Columbia shared the 2012 Gruber Prize for Cosmology, for their work to precisely determine the age of the universe. (The answer is 13.8 billion years old, in case you were wondering.)

Successful collaborations

Some of the credit for Canadian astronomy success goes not only to brilliant individuals, but to a scientific community that works together. Astronomy research is enabled by technology, and the newest, most powerful telescopes are too expensive for any one scientist or university to build and operate on their own. These research facilities are designed, built and funded by huge national and international teams, and planning these large projects can take decades.

To decide which facilities show the most promise for the future, Canadian astronomers have engaged in a series of “long range plans” in which the community debates and then makes a recommendation on the most exciting science questions and opportunities for the years ahead. Canadian involvement in nearly all of the discoveries and telescopes mentioned above was the result of priorities set out in previous long range plans. As the two co-chairs of Canadian astronomy’s long range plan for the next 10 years (2020-2030), our job is to co-ordinate the decisions on which big discoveries the nation’s astronomy community should pursue next and what telescopes will be needed to make this happen.

Science planning on such long time scales has its drawbacks as well as its advantages. International projects rely on co-operation from many partners and have complex schedules over which Canada has limited control. Canadian involvement in the Thirty Meter Telescope was strongly recommended in the 2010 Long Range Plan and funded by the federal government in 2015, shortly before construction was slated to commence. However, protests and court cases over its planned location on Maunakea — a mountain sacred to Native Hawaiians — means that construction has still not begun. Canadian astronomers have not previously faced such a social issue in conjunction with their science and the community is grappling with how to respond.

In the near future, Canadian astronomers are looking forward to the launch of James Webb Space Telescope. Canada has played a significant role in this $12-billion mission, providing one of the four cameras that will fly on the telescope. Canadian astronomers hope to use it to study the atmospheres of planets around other stars, the most distant galaxies in the early universe and the building blocks of planets and life found between the stars.

The primary mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope consists of 18 hexagonal mirrors and will collect light for the observatory to better understand our solar system and beyond.
NASA Goddard

The 2020 Long Range Plan Canadian astronomy is now underway with an exciting array of future possibilities to consider. These include: participation in two new world-leading radio telescopes currently being designed; the first observatory-class space telescope led by Canada; transformations of existing telescopes with powerful new sensors; and developing the technology to find the signatures of life on planets orbiting other stars.

The process will identify the critical present and future science questions and develop a vision for what cutting-edge equipment and facilities will be needed to advance Canadian astronomy. We couldn’t be more excited.

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Interstellar visitor is reddish, new study finds –




In a new study published in Nature Astronomy on Monday, astronomers are pulling back the curtain on some of the mysteries behind our solar system’s first confirmed interstellar comet.

The comet, 2I/Borisov, was discovered by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov on Aug. 30, though its orbit was unknown.

But by the end of September, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center confirmed that the comet came from beyond our solar system

Because Borisov is so distant — 420 million kilometres from Earth — it’s difficult to determine a lot of its characteristics. However, this new study, the astronomers were able to determine a few of its interesting qualities.

Using two telescopes, the Gemini North Telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the William Herschel Telescope in La Palma, Spain, they were able to determine that the nucleus, or core, is roughly one kilometre in diameter. 

They also identified a short tail and an extended coma, or cloud of debris that gives comets their fuzzy appearance. And they determined its colour.

“We found this colour of the comet is almost the same as other colour of the typical comets in our solar system,” said co-author of the paper Piotr Guzik, an astronomer at the Astronomical Observatory at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. “It’s not red like Mars … it’s just a bit more red light in its spectrum than the blue light.”

In another study, researchers also found that Borisov contained cyanogen, which is made up of a carbon atom and a nitrogen atom that are bonded. It is a poisonous gas to us, but commonly found in comets.

Second interstellar visitor

Borisov is the second known object to come from another star system.

The first was 1I/’Oumuamua. It’s believed that it was an asteroid, however, it’s also been hypothesized that it did have some activity — called outgassing — that is similar to a comet’s.

This artist’s impression shows the first interstellar object, 1I/’Oumuamua. It was discovered two years ago by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. (M. Kornmesser/ESO)

While ‘Oumuamua was detected on its way out of the solar system, Borisov was detected on its way in, which means astronomers will be able to study this one for some time.

“The next year is going to be extremely exciting, as we will be able to follow 2I’s evolution as it zooms through our solar system,” said Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory, in a statement. “In comparison, we had only a few weeks to study ‘Oumuamua before it became too faint.”

So far, the Borisov findings suggest it isn’t very different from our own local comets, something that Guzik believes could shed light on exoplanets, which orbit other stars.

“Such objects are just part of other planetary systems. It was not until, I guess, around 1990 that we found the first planet systems around other stars, and now part of such a system is here,” Guzik said. “So we can investigate some material that left some planetary system and compare it to what we see here and probably learn something about the formation of other planetary systems.”

Though the recent study found cyanogen, Guzik said that he’s hopeful that, as the comet gets nearer the sun, astronomers will discover more about its composition.

“It will be very interesting to find out more, especially what’s driving its activity,” he said.

Borisov will reach perihelion — its closest approach to the sun — on Dec. 7, when it will be roughly 300 million kilometres away. 

Guzik also hopes that, eventually, astronomers will be able to determine its home star system.

“It would be really nice to know where it originated,” Guzik said. “If we could point to the star and say, ‘This is the star.'”

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Asteroid news: Did alien space rock dust cloud spark new life on Earth? –




Scientists have now posited an asteroid disintegration once blanketed Earth with dust millions of years ago. It is thought the cosmic event dramatically cooled Earth, triggering an ice age followed by significant increases of new animals. The work, led by Professor Birger Schmitz of Sweden’s Lund University, provides new insight into the impact of extraterrestrial events on Earth’s evolution.

The asteroid expert told the Observer: “We know about the 6 mile (10km) asteroid that crashed on Earth 67 million years ago and killed off the dinosaurs, but this event was very different.

“It occurred about 470 million years ago when an asteroid 3,000 times bigger than the dinosaur-killer was destroyed during a collision with another asteroid beyond the orbit of Mars.

“It filled the solar system with dust and caused a major dimming of sunlight falling on Earth.”

The theory is a reduction in radiation made the planet’s temperatures drop significantly.

READ MORE: Dashcam fireball footage shows space rock hurtle above Alberta

This triggered a succession of ice ages, meaning water froze, ice caps spread and sea levels dropped.

This created isolated shallow seas which were an ideal breeding ground for generating new species.

Cold water also holds more dissolved oxygen, which would also have boosted speciation.

Scientists are already aware ice ages appeared around this time and life underwent a spike in biodiversity, particularly in the oceans.

READ MORE: This is what would happen if an asteroid hits Earth

The first coral reefs began to grow then and peculiar tentacled predators called nautiloids first appeared.

This is called as the great Ordovician bio-diversification event (GOBE).

Scientists have argued over GOBE’s cause but now Professor Schmitz, who studying space dust particles in seabed sediments, believes it was triggered by asteroid dust clouds.

He said: “The sediments laid down at this time are rich in the isotope helium-3 – which they could only have picked up travelling through space. It is a crucial clue.”

READ MORE: NASA chief reveals nuclear ‘game changer’

Professor Rebecca Freeman, of the University of Kentucky, told Science how she agreed with the idea.

She said: “Other scientists have backed his idea. “It isn’t necessarily the answer to every question we have about GOBE, but it certainly ties together a lot of observations.”

Professor Schmitz’s research has also caused interest for another reason.

As the world warms dangerously, some scientists have proposed spreading a veil of dust hovering in space over the Earth, reflecting sunlight away from our overheating planet.

But the idea is controversial with critics because it could have unexpected side-effects.

Now evidence shows such an experiment occurred naturally 470 million years ago.

The result was a major change in our meteorology and the evolution of life here.

Professor Schmitz added: “It is certainly worth bearing in my mind in coming years.”

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Alien life possibly found on Mars in 1970s, ex-NASA scientist says – Fox News




In a stunning op-ed, a former NASA scientist says he is convinced that the space agency “found evidence of life” on Mars in the 1970s.

In the article, Gilbert Levin, who worked on the Viking missions to the Red Planet during that decade, makes it clear that he believes data from the Labeled Release (LR) in 1976 was supportive of finding life.

“On July 30, 1976, the LR returned its initial results from Mars,” Levin wrote in the op-ed, entitled “I’m Convinced We Found Evidence of Life on Mars in the 1970s.”

“Amazingly, they were positive. As the experiment progressed, a total of four positive results, supported by five varied controls, streamed down from the twin Viking spacecraft landed some 4,000 miles apart.”

This artist’s impression shows how Mars may have looked about 4 billion years ago when almost half the planet’s northern hemisphere could have been covered by an ocean up to a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep in some places.
(ESO/M. Kornmesser)


He continued: “The data curves signaled the detection of microbial respiration on the Red Planet. The curves from Mars were similar to those produced by LR tests of soils on Earth. It seemed we had answered that ultimate question.”

The LR, which was led by Levin, took samples of Martian soil that contained organic compounds and looked for carbon dioxide. Astonishingly, the results seemed to indicate that the carbon dioxide was “being regenerated, possibly by microorganisms as on Earth.”

Fox News has reached out to NASA for comment for this story.

However, Levin seemed to criticize the space agency for not following up on the LR findings, even if NASA concluded that it “found a substance mimicking life, but not life.”

“Inexplicably, over the 43 years since Viking, none of NASA’s subsequent Mars landers has carried a life detection instrument to follow up on these exciting results,” he continued. “Instead the agency launched a series of missions to Mars to determine whether there was ever a habitat suitable for life and, if so, eventually to bring samples to Earth for biological examination.”

NASA has made subsequent visits to Mars, including the InSight lander, which landed in November 2018. The Curiosity rover, which has been on Mars since August 2012, detected a surprising spike in the level of methane that it has not yet been able to explain.

Last November, NASA announced that it had picked a landing spot for its upcoming Mars 2020 mission, a rover that will not include “a life-detection test,” Levin wrote.

“With our current measurements, we have no way of telling if the methane source is biology or geology, or even ancient or modern,” said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in a June statement. On Earth, methane is produced both biologically and geologically.

Levin pleaded for the space agency to put “life detection experiments on the next Mars mission possible” to be more precise in their hunt for life, but in also keeping “with well-established scientific protocol.” He also wants an independent group of scientists to review the Viking LR data.

“Such an objective jury might conclude, as I did, that the Viking LR did find life,” Levin concluded. “In any event, the study would likely produce important guidance for NASA’s pursuit of its holy grail.”

The newly published op-ed is not the first time Levin has suggested that life was found on Mars. In 1997, he published “his conclusion that the LR had, indeed, discovered living microorganisms on the Red Planet,” according to his website.


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