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Researchers look for unique ways to collect data as COVID-19 changes methods – Ponoka News

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Aaron Fairweather has 27 colonies of ants to keep happy in the living room by getting the temperature, humidity and light just right although the environment at home may not feel quite as comfortable as in a lab.

The PhD entomology student from the University of Guelph said it was the only way to continue collecting data as COVID-19 puts a damper on research and labs can’t be used.

Fairweather, like several other scientists, is trying to make the best of the summer when researchers typically spend long hours outdoors collecting data in the field.

“It’s a pretty bleak year for research,” Fairweather said. “There will be a gap in the knowledge.”

Fairweather had been planning an intensive research project on ants since last fall but said a lack of the usual resources could mean a setback for an entire year.

“I have to wait till next year, probably, to be able to get in and do the active experiments that I wanted to do.”

While the data collected from the colonies of ants at home could help, that type of research is not feasible for many scientists so a gap in research might mean data could be skewed or years of work have to be thrown out, Fairweather said.

Arthur Fredeen, a professor in the Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Institute at the University of Northern British Columbia, said he is concerned about teaching field work.

His ecology class this fall requires working with students taking measurements and observations in the field, he said.

“I’ve had to grapple with the technologies that can help me deliver the course online, even though it will be quite challenging to do so in an adequate way.”

Pascal Lee won’t be testing equipment and studying rocks in the high Arctic this month, likely for the first time in nearly 25 years.

The chairman of the Mars Institute and a planetary scientist with the California-based SETI Institute does research on Devon Island because its surface resembles the “red planet.”

This year his team planned on testing a new space suit and an “astronaut smart glove.”

The group hopes to make it to the island in September but if that falls through, their equipment may have to be tested in the United States.

“Missing a summer for us means missing a year,” he said.

The choice for some researchers is between losing out on a year of data collection through field work and adapting to quarantine on a boat for a month.

The director of the University of British Columbia’s Marine Mammal Research Unit will be doing the latter with eight researchers as they continue a study from last year to determine if there is a shortage of chinook salmon for southern resident killer whales.

Andrew Trites said the researchers are creating their own bubble on the boat, starting with a two-week quarantine period before they board the vessel in mid-August.

Everybody is “a little paranoid,” Trites said.

“In the end if the pandemic doesn’t kill us, maybe being confined together will,” he said laughing. “It’ll be quite a challenge.”

On a similar research trip last year, scientists got off the boat after docking and went into cities and towns, but that won’t happen this year, he said.

Only one person, masked and gloved, will be allowed to leave the wooden boat called Gikumi to get supplies while the vessel is refuelled.

“We’re going to be packed a little bit like sardines but everybody has a job on the boat,” he said, noting team members are aware of the effect the quarantine period might have on their mental health although being able to see the horizon may help.

Field work is important, Trites said because there is an element of biology, which can’t be done without being near animals.

While computers and mathematical models make projections and look at probabilities, he said answers to some questions can come only by observing animals in their natural habitat and recording what’s going on to make meaningful comparisons and draw conclusions.

What the team will miss, Trites said, is the interaction with researchers on other boats.

One of the biggest losses this research season may be the generation of new ideas, reflection, and the “ability to brainstorm together to solve biological mysteries,” he said.

“So, we’ll be waving at other researchers whom we know from a distance, and hoping there will be an opportunity in six months, a year, year-and-a-half, where you can finally sit down together and have much more meaningful conversations.”

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For those experiencing homelessness, lives already hanging by a thread 'snapped' by COVID-19, say advocates – CBC.ca

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More than a third of Canadians say they’ve been homeless or know someone who has — leading to health problems and even deaths that advocates worry could worsen as encampments multiply during the pandemic.

The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness says the ranks of people lacking a roof over their head will grow without urgent investments in affordable housing during pandemic recovery and as provincial plans preventing landlords from evicting tenants are lifted.

The Encampment Support Network Toronto, a group of volunteers who check in on people, says the number of encampments in the city has increased, with more than 100 groups of people living in tents during COVID-19. Vancouver, Edmonton and Hamilton have also reported encampments.

In Toronto, encampments popped up after outbreaks of COVID-19 occurred in the city’s homeless shelters. Then, after two-metre physical distancing measures were enforced at shelters, people were provided free, temporary housing in apartments and hotels.

But those weren’t a perfect solution either, said Rev. Leigh Kern of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. 

Temporary housing doesn’t create a stable situation for people, she said, and rules against visitors in hotel rooms, along with scarcer overdose prevention services, could also be contributing to increases in overdose deaths.

Advocates say homeless camps have been growing during the pandemic in several parts of the country. This encampment, in a parking lot next to Vancouver’s Crab Park, was dismantled in June following a court injunction, but people needing shelter have moved to other tent cities. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Kern handed out her last tent two weeks ago to a man who was just evicted.

“The beds are full so it’s really hard as a worker and as a priest to see people in these dire situations.”

‘I didn’t realize how hard it is’

Last month, Norman Black, 62, became homeless for the first time after he experienced a severe panic attack precipitated by a break down in the computer he uses to keep his mind occupied.

“I lasted five days and nights, and I was losing my mind staring at the walls,” Black recalled.

He moved out to save up for the repair, but he now regrets that decision.

“I didn’t realize how hard it is for homelessness. And now, I’ve looked at eight different rooms [to rent],” he said. “Nobody’s replied. So, I just keep looking.”

A man and woman offer water bottles to people living in the homeless encampment in front of Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre. The city has tried to remove the tents and people living in them from the property. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Black said a doctor advised he quit his physically demanding job as a city sanitation worker decades ago to ease his anxiety. Social anxiety now makes it difficult for him to tolerate staying in a shelter.

“I can’t handle strangers,” he said.

The interaction triggers symptoms such as dizziness, pressure in his chest and trouble breathing, he said.

In contrast, Black said, he now feels safe with his fellow tent dwellers at Alexandra Park, who call him Pops.

Health suffers without supports

Naheed Dosani, lead doctor with PEACH, or Palliative Education And Care for the Homeless, in Toronto, said COVID-19 has perpetuated inequities for people experiencing homelessness in Canada.

He said it exacerbated their physical and mental health needs when access to social support, drop ins and respite also dropped because of physical distancing requirements.

“What I’ve seen from people experiencing severe and persistent mental illness in our communities is that they were already hanging by a thread before the pandemic and that thread is now snapped,” Dosani said.

The Toronto Homeless Memorial features a stained glass top with a list of names honouring people who died while experiencing homelessness. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Symptoms like depression and psychosis can then worsen.

“What I’ve seen with my own eyes is a strong desire for people who have mental illness to be more connected.”

Instead, he said, people experiencing homelessness have been treated like criminals in parks and public spaces when they have nowhere else to go.

Before COVID-19, Dosani said the average lifespan of those experiencing chronic homelessness ranged from 34 to 47 years.

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Puerto Rico's Arecibo Radio Telescope Damaged By Falling Cable – KCCU

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A broken cable at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory has torn a gaping 100-foot hole in the dish of one of the largest radio telescopes in the world, taking the instrument offline until repairs can be made.

Arecibo’s massive reflector dish, which is built inside a sinkhole in northern Puerto Rico, was damaged when a 3-inch diameter support cable unexpectedly snapped before dawn on Monday, according to the University of Central Florida, which manages the observatory.

In a photo of the damage, twisted panels that make up the 1,000-foot dish can be seen hanging from the structure or lying on the ground beneath it.

When the cable fell, it also damaged several panels on the Gregorian Dome that is suspended above the dish and houses sensitive receivers to collect signals from space.

“We have a team of experts assessing the situation,” Francisco Cordova, director of the observatory, said in a statement emailed to NPR. “Our focus is assuring the safety of our staff, protecting the facilities and equipment, and restoring the facility to full operations as soon as possible, so it can continue to assist scientists around the world.”

The statement said it is not yet clear what caused the cable to break and it did not give a timetable for repairs.

In an email to NPR, Ramon Lugo III, director of the University of Central Florida’s Florida Space Institute, said that “the removal of the damaged cable and the procurement of a cable to replace the damaged cable” were under assessment.

“We are also working on a determination of the cause of this failure, including non-destructive testing of the remaining cables,” he said, adding that after a full assessment, “we will develop a recovery plan, schedule and budget.”

Since its completion in 1963, Arecibo has played a key role in discoveries ranging from new insights into pulsars to detecting planets outside our solar system. It has figured prominently in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI. The observatory was also featured in the film Contact and the James Bond movie GoldenEye.

The observatory held the record for the world’s largest radio telescope until 2016 when an even larger instrument of similar design, known as the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, was completed in southern China. After testing, FAST officially went online last year.

In 2017, one of Arecibo’s much smaller dishes and a few panels on the main dish were damaged when Category 4 Hurricane Maria raked the island.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Top tips for watching the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks Aug. 11 and 12 – ThePeterboroughExaminer.com

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This year’s Perseid meteor shower is expected to peak overnight on Tuesday into Wednesday morning with streaks of shooting stars running across the night sky.

The Canadian Space Agency says that “during the peak, typically in the darkest hours after midnight, up to 50 to 80 meteors per hour can streak across the sky.”

To get an even better view, the agency says to “look up at the sky between moonset and dawn to see the most meteors of the night.”

The Perseids peak every August as the Earth passes through the debris trail of the Comet Swift-Tuttle.

Perseid is the champion of meteors, with more fireballs than those of any other comet, NASA’s research has revealed.

The CSA says that the Perseids take their name from the constellation Perseus because “they appear to fall right from it.

“Right before dawn, when we see the most meteors, Perseus is at its highest point in the sky. The constellation was catalogued by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy and named after the Greek mythological hero Perseus.”

In 2016, Leslieville resident and Etobicoke native Adam Evans offered these tips to skywatchers who want to take in the Perseid meteor shower:

1. Get out whenever you can.

“If you’re not keen to get up at 5 a.m., you might see a few things in the night sky.”

2. Suppress the instinct to go out and buy a telescope.

“You can take photos of space with a decent SLR camera. Try using a long lens on a tripod.”

3. Before you buy a camera, buy a good pair of binoculars.

“Binoculars are cheap, portable and as good as a small telescope.”

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4. Astronomy is for everyone.

“There’s always something to see … It’s a buffet … I’m taking high-resolution photographs. But astronomy is pretty accessible to people with binoculars or just the naked eye. Right now, Saturn and Mars are visible at sunrise.”

With files from Ted Fraser

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