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Famous alien-hunting telescope shut down to avoid ‘catastrophic failure’ – Global News

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Scientists have lost one of their most powerful tools for hunting asteroids, planets and alien life after damage forced Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory to shut down for good.

The massive facility is one of the largest single-dish radio telescopes in the world and has played a major role in scientific discoveries over more than five decades.

It also played major roles in the finale of GoldenEye, the 1995 James Bond film about a killer satellite, and in the alien-hunting movie Contact.

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on Thursday that it would begin decommissioning the 305 metre-wide telescope after an assessment found that it was teetering on the verge of collapse.

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“This decision is not an easy one for NSF to make, but the safety of people is our number one priority,” said Sean Jones, the agency’s assistant director for the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate. “We understand how much Arecibo means to this community and to Puerto Rico.”

The facility consists of a giant telescope bowl in the Arecibo forest, with an 816-tonne reflector dish suspended 137 metres above it by a series of cables.






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The telescope came online in 1963 and has been an invaluable tool for astronomers around the globe. It has been used to detect mysterious radio signals, distant planets and close-approaching asteroids, including a massive one that zipped past Earth in April.

It also helped discover the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in 1999, which paved the way for NASA to land a spacecraft on the asteroid last month.

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However, decades of wear and tear appear to have caught up with it.

A cable snapped on the dish in August, tearing a 30.5-metre hole in the reflector dish and causing damage to a dome. Then, on Nov. 6, one of the dish’s main cables snapped, sparking fears that the whole structure might come down.

The NSF says it commissioned several engineering assessments and they all came back with the same result: “The telescope structure is in danger of a catastrophic failure and its cables may no longer be capable of carrying the loads they were designed to support.”

The Arecibo Observatory is shown with a large hole in its telescope dish in November 2020.


The Arecibo Observatory is shown with a large hole in its telescope dish in November 2020.


University of Central Florida

The assessments also found that repairing those cables might put workers in life-threatening danger, and that the structure itself will not be stable for much longer.

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The NSF says it plans to decommission the telescope, but it will try to preserve other parts of the observatory for future research and educational purposes.

Scientists, amateur astronomers and Puerto Ricans mourned the news on social media, where they lamented the loss of a cornerstone in space research.

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The NSF says it will take the dish apart with care so that it doesn’t collapse on the rest of the facility.

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With files from Reuters

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Alberta researcher gets award for COVID-19 mask innovation – CTV News

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Salt that crystallizes with sharp edges is the killer ingredient in the development of a reusable mask because any COVID-19 droplets that land on it would be quickly destroyed, says a researcher who is being recognized for her innovation.

Ilaria Rubino, a recent PhD graduate from the department of chemical and materials engineering at the University of Alberta, said a mostly salt and water solution that coats the first or middle layer of the mask would dissolve droplets before they can penetrate the face covering.

As the liquid from the droplets evaporates, the salt crystals grow back as spiky weapons, damaging the bacteria or virus within five minutes, Rubino said.

“We know that after the pathogens are collected in the mask, they can survive. Our goal was to develop a technology that is able to inactivate the pathogens upon contact so that we can make the mask as effective as possible.”

Rubino, who collaborated with a researcher at Georgia State University in Atlanta to advance the project she started five years ago, was recognized Tuesday with an innovation award from Mitacs. The Canadian not-for-profit organization receives funding from the federal government, most provinces and Yukon to honour researchers from academic institutions.

The reusable, non-washable mask is made of a type of polypropylene, a plastic used in surgical masks, and could be safely worn and handled multiple times without being decontaminated, Rubino said.

The idea is to replace surgical masks often worn by health-care workers who must dispose of them in a few hours, she said, adding the technology could potentially be used for N-95 respirators.

The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval. It could also be used to stop the spread of other infectious illnesses, such as influenza, Rubino said.

Dr. Catherine Clase, an epidemiologist and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, said the “exciting” technology would have multiple benefits.

Clase, who is a member of the Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment and Materials in the engineering department at McMaster, said there wasn’t much research in personal protective equipment when Rubino began her work.

“It’s going to decrease the footprint for making and distributing and then disposing of every mask,” she said, adding that the mask could also address any supply issues.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recently recommended homemade masks consist of at least three layers, with a middle, removable layer constructed from a non-woven, washable polypropylene fabric to improve filtration.

Conor Ruzycki, an aerosol scientist in the University of Alberta’s mechanical engineering department, said Rubino’s innovation adds to more recent research on masks as COVID-19 cases rise and shortages of face coverings in the health-care system could again become a problem.

Ruzycki, who works in a lab to evaluate infiltration efficiencies of different materials for masks and respirators, is also a member of a physician-led Alberta group Masks4Canada, which is calling for stricter pandemic measures, including a provincewide policy on mandatory masks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020

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Alberta researcher wins award for salt-coated mask innovation – CBC.ca

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Salt that crystallizes with sharp edges is the killer ingredient in the development of a reusable mask because any coronavirus droplets that land on it would be quickly destroyed, says a researcher who is being recognized for her innovation.

Ilaria Rubino, a recent PhD graduate from the department of chemical and materials engineering at the University of Alberta, said a mostly salt and water solution that coats the first or middle layer of the mask would dissolve droplets before they can penetrate the face covering.

As the liquid from the droplets evaporates, the salt crystals grow back as spiky weapons, damaging the bacteria or virus within five minutes, Rubino said.

“We know that after the pathogens are collected in the mask, they can survive. Our goal was to develop a technology that is able to inactivate the pathogens upon contact so that we can make the mask as effective as possible.”

Rubino, who collaborated with a researcher at Georgia State University in Atlanta to advance the project she started five years ago, was recognized Tuesday with an innovation award from Mitacs, a Canadian non-profit. Mitacs receives funding from the federal government, most provinces and Yukon to honour researchers from academic institutions.

The reusable, non-washable mask is made of a type of polypropylene, a plastic used in surgical masks, and could be safely worn and handled multiple times without being decontaminated, Rubino said.

The idea, she said, is to replace surgical masks often worn by health-care workers, who must dispose of them after a few hours. Rubino said the technology could potentially be used for N-95 respirators.

The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval. It could also be used to stop the spread of other infectious illnesses, such as influenza, Rubino said.

‘Exciting’ technology 

Dr. Catherine Clase, an epidemiologist and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, said this “exciting” technology would have multiple benefits.

Clase, who is a member of the Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment and Materials in the engineering department at McMaster, said there wasn’t much research in personal protective equipment when Rubino began her work.

“It’s going to decrease the footprint for making and distributing and then disposing of every mask,” Clase said, adding that the mask could also address any supply issues.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recently recommended non-medical masks consist of at least three layers, with a middle, removable layer constructed from a non-woven, washable polypropylene fabric to improve filtration.

Conor Ruzycki, an aerosol scientist in the University of Alberta’s mechanical engineering department, said Rubino’s innovation adds to more recent research on masks as COVID-19 cases rise and shortages of face coverings in the health-care system could again become a problem.

Ruzycki, who works in a lab to evaluate infiltration efficiencies of different materials for masks and respirators, is also a member of the physician-led Alberta group Masks4Canada, which is calling for stricter pandemic measures, including a province-wide policy on mandatory masks.

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China launches mission to bring back material from moon – World News – Castanet.net

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China launched an ambitious mission on Tuesday to bring back rocks and debris from the moon’s surface for the first time in more than 40 years — an undertaking that could boost human understanding of the moon and of the solar system more generally.

Chang’e 5 — named for the Chinese moon goddess — is the country’s boldest lunar mission yet. If successful, it would be a major advance for China’s space program, and some experts say it could pave the way for bringing samples back from Mars or even a crewed lunar mission.

The four modules of the Chang’e 5 spacecraft blasted off at just after 4:30 a.m. Tuesday atop a massive Long March-5Y rocket from the Wenchang launch centre along the coast of the southern island province of Hainan.

Minutes after liftoff, the spacecraft separated from the rocket’s first and second stages and slipped into Earth-moon transfer orbit. About an hour later, Chang’e 5 opened its solar panels to provide its independent power source.

Spacecraft typically take three days to reach the moon.

The launch was carried live by national broadcaster CCTV which then switched to computer animation to show its progress into outer space.

The mission’s key task is to drill 2 metres beneath the moon’s surface and scoop up about 2 kilograms of rocks and other debris to be brought back to Earth, according to NASA. That would offer the first opportunity for scientists to study newly obtained lunar material since the American and Russian missions of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Chang’e 5 lander’s time on the moon is scheduled to be short and sweet. It can only stay one lunar daytime, or about 14 Earth days, because it lacks the radioisotope heating units to withstand the moon’s freezing nights.

The lander will dig for materials with its drill and robotic arm and transfer them to what’s called an ascender, which will lift off from the moon and dock with the service capsule. The materials will then be moved to the return capsule to be hauled back to Earth.

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