The evening sky over the Northern Hemisphere treated stargazers to a once-in-a-lifetime illusion on Monday as the solar system’s two biggest planets appeared to meet in a celestial alignment that astronomers call the “Great Conjunction.”
The rare spectacle resulted from a near convergence of the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn that happened to coincide with Monday’s winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. For those able to observe the alignment in clear skies, the two frozen-gas spheres appeared closer and more vibrant – almost as a single point of light – than at any time in 800 years.
Jupiter – the brighter and larger of the pair – has been gradually nearing Saturn in the sky for weeks as the two planets proceed around the sun, each in its own lane of an enormous celestial racetrack, said Henry Throop, an astronomer at National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters in Washington.
“From our vantage point, we’ll be able to be to see Jupiter on the inside lane, approaching Saturn all month and finally overtaking it on Dec. 21,” Throop said in a statement last week.
At the point of convergence, Jupiter and Saturn appeared to be just one-tenth of a degree apart, roughly equivalent to the thickness of a dime held at arm’s length. In reality, of course, the planets remained hundreds of millions of miles apart, according to NASA.
A conjunction of the two planets takes place about once every 20 years. But the last time Jupiter and Saturn came as close together in the sky as on Monday was in 1623, an alignment that occurred during daylight and was thus not visible from most places on Earth.
The last visible great conjunction occurred long before telescopes were invented, in 1226, halfway through construction of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
The heightened brightness of the two planets as they almost merge in the sky has invited the inevitable speculation about whether they formed the “Christmas star” that the New Testament describes as having guided the three wise men to the baby Jesus.
But astronomer Billy Teets, acting director of Vanderbilt University’s Dyer Observatory in Brentwood, Tennessee, said a Great Conjunction is only one of several possible explanations for the biblical phenomenon.
“I think that there is a lot of debate as to what that might have been,” Teets told WKRN-TV in Nashville in a recent interview.
Astronomers suggested that the best way to view Monday’s conjunction was by looking toward the southwest in an open area about an hour after sunset.
“Big telescopes don’t help that much, modest binoculars are perfect, and even the eyeball is okay for seeing that they are right together,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, wrote in an email to Reuters.
The next Great Conjunction between the two planets — though not nearly as close together — comes in November 2040. A closer alignment similar to Monday’s will be in March 2080, McDowell said, with the following close conjunction 337 years later in August 2417.
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First Private Crew Will Visit Space Station. The Price Tag: $55 Million Each – KCCU
A crew of private astronauts will pay around $55 million each to spend about eight days at the International Space Station next January in what would be a new step for joint private-public space missions. Axiom Space, a Houston company, says the trip will be led by former NASA astronaut and space station commander Michael López-Alegría.
The proposed Ax-1 mission will use a SpaceX rocket to put three paying customers — American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe – into low-Earth orbit on the space station. All of the trio are wealthy entrepreneurs and investors. The group will be under the command of López-Alegría, who is now an executive at Axiom.
It would be the first time an entirely private mission sends astronauts to the International Space Station. Russia sold the first ride to the station to a private citizen, American businessman Dennis Tito, in 2001.
All of the private astronauts for the upcoming mission are far older than the average NASA astronaut’s age of 34. The space agency does not have age restrictions for astronaut candidates, who generally range from 26 to 46 years old. At 70, Connor is surpassed in age only by John Glenn, who flew on the space shuttle when he was 77.
Under NASA’s rules for private astronaut missions, Axiom must ensure its astronauts meet the space agency’s medical standards. They must also undergo training and certification procedures required for crew members of the International Space Station.
While the paying customers represent a new era of space tourism, they will also perform research as the space station whizzes over the Earth.
Connor will work with the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic on research projects, Axiom says, while Pathy will collaborate with the Canadian Space Agency and the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Stibbe plans to do experiments for Israeli researchers, working with the Ramon Foundation and Israel’s space agency.
“We sought to put together a crew for this historic mission that had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of the people on Earth, and I’m glad to say we’ve done that with this group,” Axiom Space President and CEO Michael Suffredini said as the company announced the crew.
Similar missions are planned for the future, Suffredini said. Axiom hopes to arrange up to two trips per year — and the company also wants to build its own privately funded space station. Under that plan, its modules would be attached to the space station as soon as 2024. And when the space station is retired, the Axiom modules would break off to continue in orbit on their own.
NASA announced its plans to open the International Space Station to commercial activities in June 2019, saying it wants businesses to use innovation and ingenuity to speed up development of “a thriving commercial economy in low-Earth orbit.”
The space agency has a plan to recoup the steep costs of a private citizen visiting the space station. Its pricing policy lists expenses such as a daily fee of $11,250 per person for “regenerative life support and toilet” and $22,500 per person for crew supplies such as food and air. The price sheet also includes a data plan, priced at $50 per gigabyte.
New app makes figuring out CBRM solid waste collection schedule easier – CBC.ca
Residents of Cape Breton Regional Municipality will now have an easy way to find out what day their solid waste collection falls on.
A new app has been developed that allows residents to enter their address and find the specific day and time their garbage or recycling should be sitting at the end of their driveway.
The CBRM solid waste department had been working for months with an app developer who has made similar apps throughout North America.
Francis Campbell, the solid waste manager for CBRM, said one of the best parts of the app is the database that allows residents to search for what to do with specific waste materials.
“The search tool will educate residents in how to recycle or properly dispose of materials, and it’ll provide the curbside drop-off locations,” said Campbell.
The app sets up reminders through the calendar on a person’s phone so they will be reminded the night before to put out their garbage, recycling or green bin.
It also will be able to quickly let residents know if there is a cancellation or delay on a collection day, as well as post holiday cancellations.
Earlene MacMullin, the deputy mayor of CBRM, said she downloaded the app while getting the presentation on it and already found it useful.
“This is already fantastic and it seems very simplistic. I know deep down it isn’t, but in my first three minutes of using it, I encourage residents to check this out,” said MacMullin.
There will also be a web-based version along with online information regarding waste collection on the CBRM website. This will be coming when the app is fully launched in a few weeks time.
Coun. Cyril MacDonald said he is glad that people who do not have access to a smartphone can still have access to the information.
“We’re not removing a service. You’re still able to get your calendar printed off, so I think this is great,” said MacDonald.
People who may not have access to a computer or a smartphone will still have the option to call the CBRM solid waste hotline to find out the information they need.
Mayor Amanda McDougall said she is happy she has an easy way to never forget what waste is being collected each week.
The app is now available for download through smartphone app stores.
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Limited COVID-19 data until Friday as Middlesex-London Health Unit moves to new database – Globalnews.ca
The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) says it will only be able to provide limited COVID-19 information for the region over the next few days as it implements a new database for its website.
After using an internal case and contact management tool to collect local COVID-19 data, MLHU will now switch to Salesforce, a database system that’s already being used by the Ontario government.
Migrating to the new database means the health unit will be able to provide only limited information about case numbers, recoveries and deaths during daily updates for Wednesday and Thursday on MLHU’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Regular updating of the dashboard is set to resume on Friday, but MLHU notes some data fields may be missing in subsequent updates as staff adjust to the new database.
The health unit adds that it intends to have any potential missing information filled in once the new database is fully implemented.
Along with aligning the regional health unit with the province’s database, Salesforce will also allow the health unit to provide virtual notifications to those diagnosed with COVID-19.
The notifications will be sent via text message and will notify recipients of their test results, provide them information about self-isolating and prompt them to provide information about their symptoms and close contacts.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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