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Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, dubbed 'Christmas Star,' visible tonight – Times Colonist



EDMONTON — A rare celestial event is making an already unique holiday season even more unusual, as what’s been dubbed the “Christmas Star” is set to appear over Canada on Monday evening, brighter than it’s been in nearly eight centuries.

It’s not really a star at all — it’s a convergence of Jupiter and Saturn — but because of their close proximity they will appear to the naked eye to be one, single bright star.

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For the last few weeks, the two planets have appeared nearer and nearer in the night sky, and will be at their closest on Dec. 21, appearing above the southwest horizon shortly after sunset.

“It’s a sense of anticipation, which of course, is what Christmas is all about, that waiting. And here we’re waiting for those planets to almost merge in the sky,” said astronomer and physicist Brian Martin, a professor emeritus at King’s University, a Christian institution in Edmonton.

“It captures the sense of what it’s like to be waiting for the birth of Christ and to celebrate that on the 25th of December.”

Every year around this time, Stephen Jeans, who teaches earth and space science at Ambrose University, another Christian institution in Calgary, delivers a “Star of Bethlehem” lecture for the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation, a fellowship of Christian scientists.

The lecture, which isn’t being held this year due to COVID-19, focuses on the star that the Magi, or the Three Wise Men, followed to Bethlehem, and what astronomical event it possibly could have been.

There’s some who speculate it was a comet, but Jeans said those are typically bad omens, so he suggests it may have been a conjunction of planets similar to what’s on display now.

“The nice thing about this is it can be seen across the country at the same time,” Jeans explained.

“You’re going to have the opportunity to see the same event that all your friends and relatives will see: a really large double planet that looks like the Christmas star.”

The last time there was such a convergence of Jupiter and Saturn was in the 17th Century, but it wasn’t visible at night. You have to go back to March 4, 1226, that the conjunction was seen by people.

Martin notes that in 2 BCE, there was a conjunction between Jupiter and Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo, which the Magi may have been following.

Jupiter was the Roman god of sky and thunder while Leo, the lion, is king of the beasts.

“If you saw the king of the gods circling around the king star, Regulus, in the constellation Leo, that would get your attention of you were an astrologer,” Martin said.

“It’s kind of interesting that we have this wonderful conjunction right now in one of the darkest Christmases we’ve experienced, and just before the birth of Christ there was this amazing conjunction of three kings, in a sense bowing before one another.”

Stargazers typically gather in groups at observatories or with backyard telescopes for such events, but that won’t be happening this year due to COVID-19.

There’s also the chance the conjunction won’t be visible because of the weather. Clouds, heavy snow, or rain are in the forecast for many Canadian cities. The planets will still be visible on Tuesday night, but by then they will be moving apart.

Jeans said to look south between where the moon is visible and the sun just set. He said if you bring your cellphone, you can call friends and family and look at it at the same time.

“It only lasts about an hour and then the ‘Christmas Star’ will follow the sun and set itself in the west.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2020.

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First baby tyrannosaur fossils discovered in Alberta, Montana –



Researchers have discovered the first baby tyrannosaur fossils in Alberta and Montana. 

Experts say the fossils are a rare discovery, as little is known about young tyrannosaurs and their development, according to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences on Monday. 

The study, led by Greg Funston, was based on two fossils: a small toe claw found in Morrin, Alta., and a small, lower jawbone found in Montana. 

Tyrannosaurs have been well-researched but fossils from tyrannosaur eggs or embryos have never been found — until now. 

“What this does is give us a starting point that we didn’t have,” said Mark Powers, a University of Alberta PhD student and second author on the study. 

“We had partway of their growth spurt and we didn’t really have where they originated. To find specimens like this, which is definitively a tyrannosaur in the shell or before it hatched, it says something about that development.”

A scale of the specimens found by Greg Funston and his team. (Submitted by Greg Funston)

What do the discoveries mean?

The unprecedented finds offer a lot of information to researchers. 

Using a 3D scan of the fossils and measurements of the bones, researchers were able to find out more about the size of the hatchlings and prove that the specimens are of unborn tyrannosaurs. 

The 71.5 million-year-old claw found in Alberta has what Powers called “a cartilage cone” on the back of the claw, which means the area hadn’t yet turned to bone and was still developing. 

The roughly 75 million-year-old jawbone found in Montana had triangular teeth with shallow roots, confirming they were the first generation teeth of the tyrannosaur.

“This fits with a lot of other discoveries and embryonic studies of birds and other dinosaurs found in the shell so we do suspect that it is an embryonic individual compared to a hatched one,” Powers said.

The location of these fossils is also telling. 

The claw was found after a large sentiment was taken from a dig expedition in Alberta several years ago, Powers said.

Generally, smaller dinosaur remains are harder to come by. 

Smaller fossils would have been more susceptible to the flowing rivers and flood plains of the cretaceous period, compared to larger dinosaur remains which are often buried deep and preserved in sentiment, Powers said.  

The areas where the fossils of the young dinosaurs were found are now possible locations for other important discoveries, according to one professor. 

“We don’t have very much of a skeleton by any means, these are relatively scrappy bits. But because we know the area where it seems tyrannosaurs may have been making their nests, we know to go back to that spot and go over with a fine-tooth comb and find more and more stuff,” said Scott Persons, professor of paleontology at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

“I think undoubtedly that is going to happen so eventually that great prize of actually finding a tyrannosaur egg is going to happen.”

A claw and jawbone of two baby tyrannosaurs were found by researchers, the first discoveries of their kind. (Submittd by Greg Funston)

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UOttawa startup gets $4M funding boost for technology that curbs 'freezer burn' in stem cell tissue – Ottawa Business Journal



A biotech startup co-founded in Ottawa has landed millions of dollars in new funding for its pioneering solution that helps preserve human cells used in next-generation medical research.

PanTHERA Cryosolutions says it’s secured a $4-million investment from a pair of U.S.-based firms, Washington state-based BioLife Solutions and New York’s Casdin Capital, to help get its system ready for market over the next two years. In exchange, BioLife will receive exclusive worldwide marketing and distribution rights to PanTHERA’s products for use in its cell and gene therapy applications.

Founded four years ago by University of Ottawa chemistry professor Robert Ben and University of Alberta researcher Jason Acker, PanTHERA makes small organic molecules that slow down the buildup of ice ​– known as recrystallization ​– that occurs when biological material used in the fields of cell therapy and regenerative medicine is frozen.

Scientists have been freezing cells and tissues for decades to preserve them for research into therapies for a wide range of diseases, explained Ben, who specializes in synthetic organic and medicinal chemistry. 

Protective agents such as glycerol are used to prevent the cells from drying out in the freezing and thawing process, he said. But that process “is kind of hit and miss,” Ben noted in a recent post on uOttawa’s website.

Preventing cellular damage

“We might freeze 100,000 cells, but only 25,000 will survive and be viable for research or clinical applications,” he said, likening the process to “freezer burn” that changes the structure ​– and subsequently the taste – of ice cream that’s been stored for too long. 

“That’s because up to 80 per cent of the cellular damage that happens during freezing is due to the uncontrolled growth of ice. Since current cryoprotectant solutions don’t address this problem, our returns, measured in cell recovery and function, are quite dismal.”

PanTHERA’s technology also allows cells to survive at higher temperatures than traditional methods, making it easier to store and ship them to remote locations.

“Small ice crystals are innocuous,” Ben said. “They’re like grains of sand on a Caribbean beach. They’re so small that they mould to your body and you can lay comfortably on the beach for an entire day. Now, let’s say those grains of sand were replaced by gravel or pebbles. That’s a lot less comfortable. Our cryopreservation technology prevents ice crystals from growing too large for comfort.”

For the past 10 months, Ben and his team have been working on a new class of compounds that can protect proteins and viruses. They’re now in the process of proving that the technology can preserve COVID testing materials and RNA-based vaccines.

“Our molecules are unique because, unlike conventional cryoprotectants, they prevent all that cellular damage caused by ice,” Ben said. “In the end, we recover more cells, they’re healthier and more functional. There is nothing else like it out there.”

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Global Ice Loss Is Speeding Up: the Risks of Melting Ice Sheets – Green Matters



Melting ice sheets is one of the most cliché signifiers of global warming and the climate crisis — but clichés originate in the truth, after all, and ice sheets are still melting. In fact, new research has found that the rate of global ice loss — aka melting ice sheets — is higher than ever before.

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On Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, researchers from the University of Leeds, the University of Edinburgh, University College London, and Earthwave published their findings in European Geosciences Union’s journal The Cryosphere.

ice melt
Source: Getty Images

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According to the study, ice melt over the past three decades has steadily increased — in the 1990s, there was an average global ice melt of 0.8 trillion tonnes per year; by 2017, there was an average of 1.3 trillion tonnes per year. In total, the rate of ice loss has increased by 65 percent between 1994 and 2017.

Overall, between 1994 and 2017, planet Earth lost 28 trillion tonnes of ice. To put that in perspective, that would be equivalent to a 100-meter-thick sheet of ice the size of the U.K.

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This melting ice has been the most concerning in two polar climates: Antarctica and Greenland. 58 percent of the ice loss happened in the northern hemisphere, while the other 42 percent happened in the southern hemisphere.

“Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most,” lead author Dr. Thomas Slater said in a statement for the University of Leeds. “The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea-level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century.”

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This rapid ice melt poses a series of significant issues for Antarctica, Greenland, and other cold climates. For one thing, it has a strong correlation with sea level rise.

“Sea ice loss doesn’t contribute directly to sea level rise but it does have an indirect influence. One of the key roles of Arctic sea ice is to reflect solar radiation back into space which helps keep the Arctic cool,” co-author Dr. Isobel Lawrence explained in a statement. 

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“As the sea ice shrinks, more solar energy is being absorbed by the oceans and atmosphere, causing the Arctic to warm faster than anywhere else on the planet,” she continued. “Not only is this speeding up sea ice melt, it’s also exacerbating the melting of glaciers and ice sheets which causes sea levels to rise.”

As these ice sheets melt and glaciers retreat, people and animals around the world “at both local and global scales” are at risk, according to report co-author Inès Otosaka.

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On a global scale, when sea level rise gets out of hand, coastal areas experience high flood risks. Cities like Miami, New York City, and New Orleans could wind up underwater by the end of this century if we don’t take action, as reported by Business Insider.

On a local scale, “mountain glaciers are also critical as a freshwater resource for local communities,” as per Otosaka. With fewer mountain glaciers, people who depend on these for a source of water could suffer. Not to mention, animals who rely on or live on glaciers and ice sheets may suffer; according to GlacierHub, this long list of animals includes polar bears, penguins, seals, snow leopards, bison, and reindeer.

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