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Science on the back roads could help us prepare for solar storms (5 images) –



There is science on the back roads and the new Solar Cycle 25 has begun.

The potential upswing in space weather will impact our lives and technology on Earth, as well as astronauts in space and a line of towers near Kapuskasing will play a role in understanding the effects.

The satellite-based economy is here and now, nearly all international banking, internet, television and communications are done by satellite.

Beyond the beauty of the Northern Lights, the space environment is extremely dangerous for the delicate electronic systems on every satellite. Conditions are particularly threatening during “magnetic storms” when astronauts are required to take shelter in the International Space Station and transpolar airline flights are diverted to avoid the dangerous radiation from space. These are storms that originate from the Sun and occur in space near Earth or in the Earth’s atmosphere

With the rising sophistication of our technologies and the number of people that use technology, vulnerability to space weather events has increased dramatically.

This unassuming bank of radar towers, located on Sylvain Road in Kitigan, 10 km east of Kapuskasing, are part of SuperDARN which stands for Super Dual Aurora Radar Network, it is a global program, with 35 radar sites around the globe, managed by sixteen institutes in ten countries. The SuperDARN radar outside provides valuable data over central Canada that promotes understanding of ionosphere processes and phenomena.

Researchers are looking forward to the radar contributing to the upcoming solar maximum during the new solar cycle that just started in early September.

Space Weather

“Extreme solar storms pose a threat to all forms of high-technology,” said Dr. J. Michael Ruohoniemi Associate Professor, Bradley Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering, Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).

He is the ‘Principle Investigator’ for the Kapusakasing (Kap) radar station as well as Goose Bay, and some others in the U.S.

“They begin with an explosion, a “solar flare”—in the magnetic canopy of a sunspot. X-rays and extreme UV radiation reach Earth at light speed, ionizing the upper layers of our atmosphere; side effects include radio blackouts and GPS navigation errors.”

Minutes to hours later, the energetic particles arrive, moving only slightly slower than light itself. Electrons and protons accelerated by the blast can electrify satellites and damage their electronics.

SuperDARN is a large international collaboration and the operation of the radar in Kapuskasing is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) through an award to Virginia Tech. A large group at the University of Saskatchewan operates five radars including three in the high arctic (‘PolarDARN’).

“Kap was built in 1993 and the site was selected because it has a good geometry with the radar at Saskatoon,” Ruohiniemi. “This means the fields-of-view of the two radars overlap substantially, making it possible to observe the same volume from two directions which is useful if you are trying to measure velocity. We also selected Kap because it is a substantial town with good facilities.”

He also has a personal connection to the town. “My father was born there and I visited my grandparents often as a kid and teenager. When we were looking at potential sites in northern Ontario I thought of the Experimental farm. We wound up going to the other side of town but it was a good start.”

Concern and Awareness

“Definitely the public should know about the potential dangers,” said Ruohoniemi. “The largest source of error on GPS measurements, for example, is space weather in the ionosphere. If GPS is being used to land aircraft this is a serious concern. “

There was a spectacular occurrence in 1859, known as the Carrington event, that interrupted telegraph systems.

“If we had an event of that magnitude again everyone would be aware of the damage to all the electrical systems in use today. The threat is cyclical with the 11-year sunspot cycle with more intense storms happening at the peak and declining phases. There was a near-miss due to a solar superstorm in 2012 – a really big flare went off but just missed Earth. We are in a quiet phase right now. I don’t want to sound alarmist, but yes, we should be paying attention to the danger posed by solar storms.”

The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center issues a continuous forecast of the weather in Earth’s near-space environment. Solar flares cause impacts that can make the evening news such as the severe geomagnetic storm in 1989; an aurora was seen as far south as Texas and knocked out the Quebec power grid.

“By combining the data from all the radars we get an image of plasma flows in the ionosphere (above 100 km altitude) that looks a lot like a typical weather map with atmospheric winds,” Ruohoniemi said. “The radars, in effect, see something like a radio wave version of the visual aurora and we can use the Doppler shift on the signal coming back to estimate plasma flow velocity.”

How it Works

“Village Media readers may be familiar with Ham radio, people who have a tall antenna by their house and a little room crammed with equipment to send and receive High Frequency (HF) radio signal. Because this signal bounces off the ionosphere at heights of 100-300 km, it can be received by other Hams a great distance away. The ionosphere is highly variable because of solar storms and sometimes the Hams can make amazing connections with people on the other side of the world but can’t connect to each other a few hundred kilometres apart. Our radar works basically like a Ham radio except that we have many antennas (16) and we are interested in how the signal bounces off the ionosphere and what that tells us about the space environment, not in communicating with other people (although we could). Not very much power is required and the radars operate continuously under computer control with connections to research labs in Canada, the U.S., and other countries.”

SuperDARN has shown how the circulation of plasma in the ionosphere (‘plasma winds’) at high latitudes is tightly controlled by the solar wind. The plasma consists of ions and electrons and can move at speeds greater than 1 km per second, so these winds are incredibly fast compared to the wind that blows in the atmosphere at ground level. “When viewed from well above the North Pole, you can see the winds forming giant cells of circulation similar to atmospheric winds. When the solar wind changes, especially when its magnetic field reverses direction, the pattern of circulation can flip in a matter of minutes. By combining data from multiple SuperDARN radars we are able to image these changes as they happen and to study the physics of the sun-earth connection, which is the basis for space weather.”

The back roads hold a lot of oddities.

This bank of radar towers doesn’t appear to be anything special but when the physics behind this space weather interaction is understood it can be seen in a different light. Scientists working on predictive models will one-day forecast space weather much like meteorologists forecast weather on Earth.

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Alberta family searches for answers in teen's sudden death after COVID exposure, negative tests –



A southern Alberta mother and father are grappling with the sudden, unexplained death of their 17-year-old daughter, and with few answers, they’re left wondering if she could be the province’s youngest victim of COVID-19.

Sarah Strate — a healthy, active Grade 12 student at Magrath High School who loved singing, dancing and being outdoors — died on Monday, less than a week after being notified she’d been exposed to COVID-19.

While two tests came back negative, her parents say other signs point to the coronavirus, and they’re waiting for more answers. 

“It was so fast. It’s all still such a shock,” said Sarah’s mother, Kristine Strate. “She never even coughed. She had a sore throat and her ears were sore for a while, and [she had] swollen neck glands.”

Kristine said Sarah developed mild symptoms shortly after her older sister — who later tested positive for COVID-19 —  visited from Lethbridge, one of Alberta’s current hot spots for the virus.

The family went into isolation at their home in Magrath on Tuesday, April 20. They were swabbed the next day and the results were negative.

‘Everything went south, super-fast’

By Friday night, Sarah had developed fever and chills. On Saturday, she started vomiting and Kristine, a public health nurse, tried to keep her hydrated.

“She woke up feeling a bit more off on Monday morning,” Kristine said. “And everything went south, super-fast.”

Sarah had grown very weak and her parents decided to call 911 when she appeared to become delirious.

“She had her blanket on and I was talking to her and, in an instant, she was unresponsive,” said Kristine, who immediately started performing CPR on her daughter.

When paramedics arrived 20 minutes later, they were able to restore a heartbeat and rushed Sarah to hospital in Lethbridge, where she died.

“I thought there was hope once we got her heart rate back. I really did,” recalled Sarah’s father, Ron.

“He was praying for a miracle, and sometimes miracles don’t come,” said Kristine.

Strate’s parents say her health deteriorated quickly after being exposed to COVID-19. She died at Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge on Monday. (Ron Strate)

Searching for answers

At the hospital, the family was told Sarah’s lungs were severely infected and that she may have ended up with blood clots in both her heart and lungs, a condition that can be a complication of COVID-19.

But a second test at the hospital came back negative for COVID-19.

“There really is no other answer,” Ron said. “When a healthy 17-year-old girl, who was sitting up in her bed and was able to talk, and within 10 minutes is unconscious on our floor — there was no reason [for it].”

The province currently has no record of any Albertans under the age of 20 who have died of COVID-19.

According to the Strate family, the medical examiner is running additional blood and tissue tests, in an effort to uncover the cause of Sarah’s death.

‘Unusual but not impossible’

University of Alberta infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger, who was not involved in Sarah’s treatment, says it is conceivable that further testing could uncover evidence of a COVID-19 infection, despite two negative test results.

However, she hasn’t seen a similar case in Alberta.

“It would be unusual but not impossible because no test is perfect. We have had cases where an initial test is negative and then if you keep on thinking it’s COVID and you re-test, you then can find COVID,” she said.

According to Saxinger, the rate of false negatives is believed to be very low. But it can happen if there are problems with the testing or specimen collection.

She says people are more likely to test positive after symptoms develop. 

“The best sensitivity of the test is around day four or five of having symptoms,” she said. “So you can miss things if you test very, very early. And with new development of symptoms, it’s always a good time to re-test because then the likelihood of getting a positive test is a little higher. But again, no test is perfect.” 

Sarah deteriorated so quickly — dying five days after she first developed symptoms — she didn’t live long enough to make it to her follow-up COVID-19 test. Instead, it was done at the hospital.

‘An amazing kid’

The Strate family now faces an agonizing wait for answers — one that will likely take months — about what caused Sarah’s death.

But Ron, who teaches at the school where Sarah attended Grade 12, wants his daughter to be remembered for the life she lived, not her death.

Strate, pictured here at three years old, had plans to become a massage therapist. She attended Grade 12 at Magrath High School and was an active, healthy teenager who was involved in sports, music and the school’s suicide prevention group. (Ron Strate)

Sarah was one of five children. Ron says she was strong, active and vibrant and had plans to become a massage therapist after graduating from high school.

She played several sports and loved to sing and dance as part of a show choir. She was a leader in the school’s suicide prevention group and would stand up for other students who were facing bullying.

“She’s one of the leaders in our Hope Squad … which goes out and helps kids to not be scared,” he father said.

“She’s an amazing kid.”

Sarah would often spend hours helping struggling classmates, and her parents hope her kindness is not forgotten.

“She’d done so many good things. Honestly, I’ve got so many messages from parents saying, ‘You have no idea how much your daughter helped our kid,'” said Ron.

“This 17-year-old girl probably lived more of a life in 17 years than most adults will live in their whole lives. She was so special. I love her so much.”

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China launches key module of space station planned for 2022



BEIJING (Reuters) -China launched an unmanned module on Thursday containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent space station that it plans to complete by the end of 2022, state media reported.

The module, named “Tianhe”, or “Harmony of the Heavens”, was launched on the Long March 5B, China’s largest carrier rocket, at 11:23 a.m. (0323 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.

Tianhe is one of three main components of what would be China’s first self-developed space station, rivalling the only other station in service – the International Space Station (ISS).

The ISS is backed by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. China was barred from participating by the United States.

“(Tianhe) is an important pilot project in the building of a powerful nation in both technology and in space,” state media quoted President Xi Jinping as saying in a congratulatory speech.

Tianhe forms the main living quarters for three crew members in the Chinese space station, which will have a life span of at least 10 years.

The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the space station, which will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450 km (211-280 miles).

In the later missions, China will launch the two other core modules, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft.

Work on the space station programme began a decade ago with the launch of a space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011, and later, Tiangong-2 in 2016.

Both helped China test the programme’s space rendezvous and docking capabilities.

China aims to become a major space power by 2030. It has ramped up its space programme with visits to the moon, the launch of an uncrewed probe to Mars and the construction of its own space station.

In contrast, the fate of the ageing ISS – in orbit for more than two decades – remains uncertain.

The project is set to expire in 2024, barring funding from its partners. Russia said this month that it would quit the project from 2025.

Russia is deepening ties with China in space as tensions with Washington rise.

Moscow has slammed the U.S.-led Artemis moon exploration programme and instead chosen to join Beijing in setting up a lunar research outpost in the coming years.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Simon Cameron-Moore and Lincoln Feast.)

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NASA Pays Rich Homage To Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins – Gadgets 360



NASA on Thursday paid a rich tribute to Michael Collins, the American astronaut who was the command module pilot for the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Collins, 90, passed away on Wednesday after battling cancer, his family said. Sharing a photograph on Instagram, NASA said the picture was clicked by Collins, who spent seven years of his career as an astronaut with them. The photograph shows the lunar module, “Eagle,” returning to the command module, “Columbia,” after landing on the Moon. The Earth can be seen in the background of the picture. NASA said the picture had all of the humanity in it, save for Collins who captured it.

Collins kept the command module flying while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. “We remember Michael Collins, @NASA astronaut and crew member of Apollo 11, who passed away on April 28, 2021,” NASA said.

In the post, NASA also quoted what Collins had said during a transmission to Mission Control on the trip back to Earth from the Moon on July 21, 1969. “This trip of ours to the Moon may have looked, to you, simple or easy… All you see is the three of us, but beneath the surface are thousands and thousands of others, and to all those I would like to say, thank you very much.”

NASA further shared what the mission control stated during Apollo 11. “Not since Adam has any human known such solitude as Mike Collins is experiencing during the 47 minutes of each lunar revolution when he’s behind the Moon with no one to talk to except his tape recorder aboard Columbia. While he waits for his comrades to soar with Eagle from Tranquility Base and rejoin him for the trip back to Earth, Collins, with the help of Flight Controllers here in Mission Control Center has kept the Command Module’s system going.”

Besides, the space agency also released a statement, saying the nation had lost a “true pioneer and lifelong advocate for exploration” in Collins. NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said that as the pilot of Apollo 11 some referred to him as the “loneliest man in history”.

“While his colleagues walked on the Moon for the first time, he helped our nation achieve a defining milestone. He also distinguished himself in the Gemini Program and as an Air Force pilot,” he said.

Jurczyk shared that Collins would say, “Exploration is not a choice, really, it’s an imperative,” adding “What would be worth recording is what kind of civilisation we Earthlings created and whether or not we ventured out into other parts of the galaxy.”

Jurczyk added that Collins’ own signature accomplishments, his writings about his experiences, and his leadership of the National Air and Space Museum helped gain wide exposure for the work of all the men and women who have helped our nation push itself to greatness in aviation and space. “There is no doubt he inspired a new generation of scientists, engineers, test pilots, and astronauts.”

We dive into all things Apple — iPad Pro, iMac, Apple TV 4K, and AirTag — this week on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.

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