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Space to Grow – UVic



Astrophysicist Julie Claveau, BSc ’09, has taken a fascinating career trajectory to her current work on the James Webb Telescope, which will reveal new secrets of the universe.

For someone who’s spent most her life gazing up at the stars, Julie Claveau is very down to earth. Take a quick orbit around the UVic Science grad’s social media universe and you’ll discover Claveau is not only a Program Scientist for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) who’s been working on the newly launched James Webb Space Telescope, but a mother of three, a blogger, a YouTuber, an avid World of Warcraft gamer, violinist, dancer and former lifeguard. Her Instagram feed straddles the seemingly distant galaxies of astronomy, family, gardening and baking.

“People often have these stereotypes that if you’re an astrophysicist you’re this kind of person… But there are so many different facets of a person that adds to what they have to offer to the world, or a team,” Claveau says on a Zoom call from her home in Montreal while intermittently getting interrupted by one of her school-aged children. “I really want to give back to the world just so people can learn from what I know.”

The trajectory of Claveau’s journey to working with the international space community on a $10-billion telescope that’s been billed as one of the most ambitious engineering initiatives ever attempted is far from a straight line. There are stops along the way in Australia, Kitimat and Victoria. Her job experience includes everything from working in fast-food drive-thrus to a decade of climbing the rungs of federal bureaucracy. 

Claveau became enthralled by outer space as a child when she would lie on the lawn, night or day, and stare up at the sky. “I would lie there for hours trying to imagine how far infinity was. Like, ‘Oh, I’m looking this far… but it keeps going and it keeps going,’” she says. “It was a very mind-blowing concept to wrap my young brain around, that I still can’t wrap my head around today.”

Claveau grew up in Chicoutimi, Quebec, lived in Australia with her family for a time (where she became fluent in English) and graduated from high school in Kitimat, before enrolling at UVic as a science student. She eventually narrowed her focus to physics and astronomy.

“That’s where all of my loves are. There was enough challenging problem-solving to satisfy my thirst. There was enough creativity and freedom in order for me to express myself. So that really was the turning point.… When I found physics and astronomy [at UVic], it was so true to my heart, it was so engrained in my soul, it just made me so inherently happy that I knew I found my place.”

Julio Navarro was Claveau’s astronomy professor.

There are those students who are very proactive, and they are always trying to get to know more. Calveau was very intense, as well. She would come to my office hours and ask me questions, so she was very passionate about astronomy. I think that’s one of the things that separates her from an average student—this passion for astronomy that you only see rarely.”
Julio Navarro, UVic cosmologist 

While attending UVic, Claveau subsidized her studies by working as a naval reservist at HMCS Malahat. Her father had been in the military and she was an air cadet in high school, so it was a natural fit. After graduating from UVic in 2009, Claveau returned to Quebec, feeling aimless and unsure of what to do with her physics degree.

After a few years working for Health Canada, Claveau realized she needed a change. She saw there was an opening at the Canada Space Agency for a mission planner for the RADARSAT-2 Earth observation satellite. Her background in physics, military operations, administration and project management ticked all the boxes.

Once at CSA, Claveau made it known that she was an astrophysicist and wanted to work in astronomy. Colleagues noted her passion and drive. Word got around and two years ago, she became Program Scientist for Space Astronomy, acting as a conduit between Canada and other countries, governments, space agencies and universities. Her primary focus, however, has been the James Webb Space Telescope mission. More than 25 years and $10 billion in the making, the Webb Telescope is a collaboration between NASA, CSA and the European Space Agency (ESA), involving more than 1,000 people from 17 different countries.

Launch teams monitor the flight progress of Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket carrying NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, Saturday, Dec. 25, 2021. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Webb is often described as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which launched in 1990 and has well exceeded its 10-year life expectancy, but it’s different, says Claveau. For one thing, it’s bigger. Webb’s primary mirror is 6.5-metres across, compared to Hubble’s 2.4-metre span, and consists of 18 gold–coated hexagonal sections resembling a honeycomb.

Webb’s home is also considerably farther away. Whereas Hubble floats 547 kilometres above Earth, Webb orbits the sun in line with Earth, 1.5 million kilometres away at what is called the second Lagrange point or L2. Due to its proximity to the sun, Webb relies on a tennis court-sized sunshield, which, along with the mirrors, had to be folded up in an origami pattern in order to fit into its rocket.

Unlike Hubble, Webb is designed to capture infrared light, allowing the telescope to see farther into the universe than ever before, which will allow scientists to better understand how planets, stars and galaxies are born and evolve over time. Claveau compares Webb to a time machine.

“We will be able to see about 13.5 billion years ago, because light takes time to travel,” Claveau says. “The light of our sun takes about eight minutes to get to us… So, when you look at the sun, you are actually looking eight minutes into the past.”

When we use Webb to look at this far distant light, we’ll be looking back at the beginning of the universe. Just being able to see that will have tremendous impacts on every single field of astronomy possible. We might discover things that we never thought existed… It’s going to completely revolutionize astronomy and our general understanding of the universe.”
Julie Claveau, UVic Class ’09

Canada’s contribution to Webb is also significant. The CSA provided the telescope’s Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS). The FGS helps Webb point and focus on specific objects with an accuracy Claveau compares to “seeing a baby’s hair from a kilometre away.” The NIRISS contains a highly sensitive camera that will determine the atmospheric compositions of exoplanets, which are planets light years beyond our solar system that orbit stars other than the sun.

“So far, we’ve been able to identify exoplanets… but we don’t know if they are inhabitable or if there could potentially be life there,” Claveau says. “With Webb, we will be able to know the composition of the atmospheres of those exoplanets, which means we will potentially find new life or habitable planets.”

Although Webb was launched into orbit on Christmas Day in 2021 from French Guiana on an ESA Ariane 5 rocket, it will take approximately five to six months before the first official images are produced and transmitted back to Earth. Thanks to Canada’s contributions, Canadian scientists are guaranteed at least five per cent of Webb’s observation time and will be among the first to benefit from Webb’s powerful instruments.

Claveau is also co-chair of the Women in STEM Advisory Committee at the Canadian Space Agency, and is helping organize a 2023 event with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) to promote women’s empowerment in space.

Never stop looking up—I think it was Stephen Hawkings who said that. As humans we are always looking down at our feet or we’re focused on our day-to-day existence. But the moment you start looking up, you have an out-of-body experience where you feel so small and immediately you are in wonder. Be curious, look up and dare to dream.”

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NASA discovers double crater on the moon – CTV News



The moon has a new double crater after a rocket body collided with its surface on March 4.

New images shared by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the moon since 2009, have revealed the location of the unusual crater.

The impact created two craters that overlap, an eastern crater measuring 59 feet (18 metres) across and a western crater spanning 52.5 feet (16 metres). Together, they create a depression that is roughly 91.8 feet (28 metres) wide in the longest dimension.

Although astronomers expected the impact after discovering that the rocket part was on track to collide with the moon, the double crater it created was a surprise.

Typically, spent rockets have the most mass at the motor end because the rest of the rocket is largely just an empty fuel tank. But the double crater suggests that this object had large masses at both ends when it hit the moon.

The exact origin of the rocket body, a piece of space junk that had been careening around for years, is unclear, so the double crater could help astronomers determine what it was.

The moon lacks a protective atmosphere, so it’s littered with craters created when objects like asteroids regularly slam into the surface.

This was the first time a piece of space junk unintentionally hit the lunar surface that experts know of. But craters have resulted from spacecraft being deliberately crashed into the moon.

For example, four large moon craters attributed to the Apollo 13, 14, 15 and 17 missions are all much larger than each of the overlapping craters created during the March 4 impact. However, the maximum width of the new double crater is similar to the Apollo craters.


Bill Gray, an independent researcher focused on orbital dynamics and the developer of astronomical software, was first to spot the trajectory of the rocket booster.

Gray had initially identified it as the SpaceX Falcon rocket stage that launched the US Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, in 2015 but later said he’d gotten that wrong and it was likely from a 2014 Chinese lunar mission — an assessment NASA agreed with.

However, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the booster was from its Chang’e-5 moon mission, saying that the rocket in question burned up on reentry to Earth’s atmosphere.

No agencies systematically track space debris so far away from Earth, and the confusion over the origin of the rocket stage has underscored the need for official agencies to monitor deep-space junk more closely, rather than relying on the limited resources of private individuals and academics.

However, experts say that the bigger challenge is the space debris in low-Earth orbit, an area where it can collide with functioning satellites, create more junk and threaten human life on crewed spacecraft.

There are at least 26,000 pieces of space junk orbiting Earth that are the size of a softball or larger and could destroy a satellite on impact; over 500,000 objects the size of a marble — big enough to cause damage to spacecraft or satellites; and over 100 million pieces the size of a grain of salt, tiny debris that could nonetheless puncture a spacesuit, according to a NASA report issued last year.

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7 Amazing Dark Sky National Parks – AARP



James Ronan/Getty Images/Steve Burns

Great Basin, Arches, and Voyageurs National Park

Can’t afford to join a commercial space mission offered by Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson? Consider the next best thing: seeing a starry, starry night in a sea of darkness, unimpeded by artificial light, at one of the International Dark Sky Parks in the U.S. It’s a rare treat, since light pollution prevents nearly 80 percent of Americans from seeing the Milky Way from their homes.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA) has certified 14 of the nation’s 63 national parks as dark sky destinations. So visitors can take full advantage of such visibility, many of them offer specialized after-dark programs, from astronomy festivals and ranger-led full-moon walks to star parties and astrophotography workshops. If you prefer to stargaze on your own at a park, the National Park Service recommends bringing a pair of 7-by-50 binoculars, a red flashlight, which enhances night vision, and a star chart, which shows the arrangement of stars in the sky.

Here are seven of the IDSA-certified parks where you can appreciate how the heavens looked from the Earth before the dawn of electric light.

AARP Membership -Join AARP for just $9 per year when you sign up for a 5-year term

Join today and save 43% off the standard annual rate. Get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life. 

Award-winning travel writer Veronica Stoddart is the former travel editor of USA Today. She has written for dozens of travel publications and websites.​​

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A Mystery Rocket Left A Crater On The Moon – Forbes



While we think of the moon as a static place, sometimes an event happens that reminds us that things can change quickly.

On March 4, a human-made object (a rocket stage) slammed into the moon and left behind a double crater, as seen by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission.

Officials announced June 23 that they spotted a double crater associated with the event. But what’s really interesting is there’s no consensus about what kind of rocket caused it.

China has denied claims that the rocket was part of a Long March 3 rocket that launched the country’s Chang’e-5 T1 mission in October 2014, although the orbit appeared to match. Previous speculation suggested it might be from a SpaceX rocket launching the DISCOVR mission, but newer analysis has mostly discredited that.

On a broader scale, the value of LRO observations like this is showing how the moon can change even over a small span of time. The spacecraft has been in orbit there since 2009 and has spotted numerous new craters since its arrival.

It’s also a great spacecraft scout, having hunted down the Apollo landing sites from orbit and also having tracked down a few craters from other missions that slammed into the moon since the dawn of space exploration.

It may be that humans return to the moon for a closer-up look in the coming decade, as NASA is developing an Artemis program to send people to the surface no earlier than 2025.

LRO will also be a valuable scout for that set of missions, as the spacecraft’s maps will be used to develop plans for lunar bases or to help scout safe landing sites for astronauts.

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