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Comet at its closest to Earth before heading out of sight for 6000 years – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Comet NEOWISE, a massive burning “icy snowball,” will be closest to the Earth Wednesday night, before its orbit begins to take it out into the solar system.

It will be another 6,000 years before it passes this way again.

The comet — officially named C/2020 F3 NEOWISE using a formula for when it was discovered and the name of the infrared telescope that discovered it — is more than a 100 million kilometres away.

The sun is responsible for the heavenly glow that has been visible from Earth with the naked eye for about 10 days. The solid, icy and rocky surface of the comet has got so hot that it has converted to gases, which glow bright and illuminate the debris that is falling off comet, creating a tail as it moves through the sky.

But as the comet continually moves further from the sun, it is cooling off, and those hot gases will dim.

But earthlings are lucky to have been able to spot the comet at all, according to astronomer Chris Vaughan, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Toronto Centre.

Two other comets this year were supposed to have been as bright as this one but broke up as they neared the sun.

“But this one survived and hasn’t disappointed.”

According to NASA, the comet is about five kilometres wide and was formed near the birth of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

It will be visible for several more weeks with binoculars and then telescopes and he hopes seeing the comet will spur a whole new generation of astronomy buffs.

“It’s a bucket list for sky watchers, who always hope to see a spectacular comet.”

Brett Gladman, who holds a Canada Research Chair in planetary astronomy at the University of British Columbia, has been studying space for more than 30 years and he’s never before seen a comet with his naked eye.

He went to Vancouver’s Stanley Park to see NEOWISE a little over a week ago and then took pictures of it while on vacation in the interior of B.C.

“I was extremely pleased to see it,” he said, and was especially thrilled with some pictures he got on his smartphone.

He’s tried to see comets before, including watching from a rooftop in Edmonton for Halley’s Comet in 1986, but it was too cloudy. That was the last time a comet has been visible with the naked eye in the northern hemisphere, he says.

Others that have travelled around the Earth since have been much more visible below the equator due to the planet’s orbit, he says. To see this one, says Gladman, get out into the darkest possible night sky at about 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. 

Mike Kukucska wasn’t sure he had captured the comet until he checked his Nikon’s viewfinder on July 13 at about 11:30 p.m. Sure enough, there it was, streaking over the idyllic barn in Dundas, Ont.

“It’s not that dark in Dundas, so I couldn’t really see it with my naked eye… but it was quite exciting to see it on my camera.”

Kukucska, who owns a set-designing and manufacturing company in Dundas, got into long-exposure photography when he fell in love with capturing the Milky Way. He’s been out every clear night since NEOWISE came into view about 10 days ago.

“I love to get an earthly subject in the foreground because I think that gives meaning to the heavenly objects in the sky.”

Vaughan says take this opportunity to see a comet while you can because they are unpredictable and unscheduled.

“You just never know the show it’s going to be.”  

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Calgary researchers zero in on gut bacteria as potent cancer fighter – The Province

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FILE – Dr. Kathy McCoy, director of the Western Canadian Microbiome Centre, explains the purpose of the facility on a tour prior to it opening in Calgary in this 2017 file photo.

Jeff McIntosh / CP

Employing intestinal bacteria could boost the effectiveness of some cancer treatment four-fold, say researchers at the University of Calgary.

Employing intestinal bacteria could boost the effectiveness of some cancer treatment four-fold, say researchers at the University of Calgary.

A lead scientist in an ongoing study said Thursday her team has made huge strides in understanding how such microbiomes supercharge the potency of immunotherapy in targeting cancer cells.

“We think the impact is huge,” said Dr. Kathy McCoy of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases at the U of C’s Cumming School of Medicine.

“With cancers (normally) susceptible to immunotherapy 20 per cent of the time, and it responds at 80 per cent, that’s a major increase in efficacy.”

A series of published studies on the approach dating back to 2015 hinted strongly at the potential of combining some forms of gut bacteria with immunotherapy in treating diseases like melanoma and colorectal cancer.

But scientists weren’t able to pinpoint how it worked, said McCoy, who set about using germ-free mice as research subjects.

“We’d have to identify a mechanism…we identified three bacteria that were in an animal model of colorectal cancer and we wondered if we could tease apart the differences in the microbiomes,” she said.

Her team noted immunotherapy by itself was conspicuously ineffective.

But the bacteria that worked, she said, activated a T-cell which ultimately takes on cancerous tumours, shrinking them significantly.

“The three specific bacteria by themselves turn on a first switch on the T-cells within the intestine,” said McCoy.

That bacteria generates a tiny molecule called inosine that interacts with the T-cells to boost the immunotherapy that in turn eradicates cancer cells.

Another bacteria, akkermansia, has also been found to be an effective tumour fighter, said the scientist, and like the other three bacteria, is one present in humans who have been the subject of some study.

“We actually found there was an increase in bacterium in the patients responding, but the studies were too small,” said McCoy.

The U of C studies using humans remain preliminary for now with researchers seeking grants to further and broaden that work, to focus on lung cancer and melanoma over several years, she said.

“We’re going to see if we can find this metabolite in the serum, or blood, and in feces and see if they’re working with the same mechanism,” said McCoy.

And there’s a strong likelihood that approach could be applied to a much wider variety of cancers, she added.

That latest work is set to be published in the magazine Science, which has highlighted earlier discoveries using gut bacteria to enhance the immune system.

Efforts that have pushed the envelope on the treatment, said McCoy, are “a purely Calgary” achievement and one that should help undermine public skepticism over the effectiveness of cancer research funding that’s often led to conspiracy theories.

“I don’t know what people expect – research has made amazing strides in developing cancer therapies,” she said.

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

On Twitter:

@BillKaufmannjrn

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ATLANTIC SKIES: Much more than a full moon – Learn about the phases of Earth's closest celestial neighbour – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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Although I was wishing the night sky was devoid of the interfering light of the moon on the nights and mornings preceding and following the Perseid meteor shower’s peak dates last week, it did afford me the opportunity to pay closer attention to the slowly-changing phases of the moon.

Most people only notice the full moon, giving little, if any, attention to the other lunar phases. The changing phases of the moon follow a precise timetable, which, once you understand it, might help with your plans, and bolster your interest, to observe the moon.

It is always best to observe the moon, whether with a telescope or binoculars, in its quarter, crescent or gibbous phases. During these phases, the sun’s light strikes the moon at a shallower angle (as opposed to directly, at the full moon phase), highlighting the moon’s terminator (the line between the illuminated and non-illuminated sides), and markedly defining the moon’s mountains, ridges, and impact crater walls.

A lunar phase is defined as the shape of the sunlit portion of the moon’s surface as seen from Earth. The moon completely orbits the Earth in an average time of 29.5 days (referred to as a “synodic month” or a “lunation”), marking, essentially, the period between consecutive new moon phases.

Due to variations in the angular rate at which the Earth orbits the sun (based on the fact that the Earth’s orbital path around the sun is elliptical, rather than circular, in shape), the actual time between lunations varies between 29.18 days and 29.93 days (the average being 29.530588 days, or 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.8 seconds).

As the moon orbits the Earth, and as the Earth orbits the sun (also an elliptical path), the area of the sunlit portion of the moon changes. As discussed in one of my earlier columns, gravity tidally locks one side (or face) of the moon towards Earth. Each moon phase depends on the position of the moon relative to the sun as seen from Earth, and the portion of the Earth-facing side that is illuminated by the sun.

There are four distinct lunar phases, with an average of 7.38 days between each of these phases. The first phase, the new moon, is when the sun and the moon are aligned on the same side (called a “conjunction”) of Earth. During this time, the moon is too close to the sun to be seen, and the side of the moon facing Earth is not illuminated by the sun (though, in fact, it is faintly lit by “earthshine”, which is washed out by the sun’s light). In the northern hemisphere, the new moon rises around 6 a.m., and sets around 6 p.m.

The next distinct lunar phase is the first-quarter moon, where the moon’s right side is 50 per cent lit by the sun. In the northern hemisphere, first-quarter moons are visible in the afternoon and early evening skies, rising around noon and setting around midnight.

Next is the full moon, with 100 per cent of its Earth-facing side illuminated. Full moons rise at sunset and set at sunrise.

The fourth lunar phase is the last-quarter moon, with 50 per cent of its left side illuminated. A last-quarter moon, visible from late night through the following morning, rises around midnight and sets around noon. It should be noted that the actual timing of the phases in the sky, and their location along the horizon, will vary with the latitude of the observer.

Between the four major phases, there are a number of intermediate phases: between the new moon and the first-quarter moon is the waxing (thickening), crescent moon (right side one to 49.9 per cent lit); between the first-quarter moon and the full moon is the waxing, gibbous moon (right side 50.1-99.9 per cent lit); between the full moon and the last-quarter moon is the waning (thinning), gibbous moon (left side 99.9- 50.1 per cent lit); and between the last-quarter moon and the new moon is the waning, crescent moon (left side 49.9 – 0.1 per cent lit).

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “the old moon in the new moon’s arms,” this refers to when the waning, crescent moon has shrunk to just a thin sliver. Also, the crescent moon (either waxing or waning) is sometimes referred to as the “Cheshire Cat Moon”, as it resembles, at some point, the glowing smile that the Cheshire Cat left hanging in the air when it disappeared whilst talking with Alice (in ‘Alice in Wonderland’).

On a clear night, look for “earthshine” on the unlit, back portion of the crescent moon – a faint illumination caused by indirect sunlight reflecting off Earth’s lit half striking that dark side.


This week’s sky

Mercury achieves superior solar conjunction (passes behind the sun as seen from Earth) on Aug. 17, and is not observable. Mars (magnitude -1.47) rises in the east around 11:30 p.m., reaching its highest point (49 degrees) in the southern sky shortly after 5 a.m., before being lost in the dawn twilight 47 degrees above the southern horizon by about 6 a.m.

Mighty Jupiter (magnitude -2.65) is visible in the southeast sky around 8:30 p.m., reaching 21 degrees above the southern horizon by 10:45 p.m., before sinking below eight degrees above the southwest horizon shortly after 2 a.m.

Saturn (magnitude +0.23) trails Jupiter across the evening sky, becoming visible to the left of the larger and brighter planet around 8:45 p.m., remaining visible until it, too, disappears from view as it sinks below 10 degrees above the southwest horizon around 2:30 a.m.

Until next week, clear skies.


Events

Aug. 17 – Mercury reaches superior solar conjunction

Aug. 18 – New moon

Aug. 20 – Moon at perihelion (closest approach to the sun)

Aug. 21 – Moon at perigee (closest approach to Earth)

Glenn K. Roberts lives in Stratford, P.E.I., and has been an avid amateur astronomer since he was a small child. He welcomes comments from readers at glennkroberts@gmail.com.

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Calgary researchers zero in on gut bacteria as potent cancer fighter – Calgary Herald

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Article content continued

“We’d have to identify a mechanism…we identified three bacteria that were in an animal model of colorectal cancer and we wondered if we could tease apart the differences in the microbiomes,” she said.

Her team noted immunotherapy by itself was conspicuously ineffective.

But the bacteria that worked, she said, activated a T-cell which ultimately takes on cancerous tumours, shrinking them significantly.

“The three specific bacteria by themselves turn on a first switch on the T-cells within the intestine,” said McCoy.

More On This Topic

That bacteria generates a tiny molecule called inosine that interacts with the T-cells to boost the immunotherapy that in turn eradicates cancer cells.

Another bacteria, akkermansia, has also been found to be an effective tumour fighter, said the scientist, and like the other three bacteria, is one present in humans who have been the subject of some study.

“We actually found there was an increase in bacterium in the patients responding, but the studies were too small,” said McCoy.

The U of C studies using humans remain preliminary for now with researchers seeking grants to further and broaden that work, to focus on lung cancer and melanoma over several years, she said.

“We’re going to see if we can find this metabolite in the serum, or blood, and in feces and see if they’re working with the same mechanism,” said McCoy.

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