By macleans.ca - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - 0 Comments
Marks the end of 30-year U.S. space shuttle program
NASA’s last surviving shuttle—the Atlantis—made its final landing Thursday morning, completing a 13-day re-supply mission and a 30-year U.S. space program. The shuttle landed in Florida, at Kennedy Space Center, 5:57 am ET. 2,000 people gathered to welcome the shuttle, as commander Christopher Ferguson addressed the crowd by radio: “After serving the world for over 30 years,” he said, “the space shuttle’s earned its place in history.” Atlantis’ final mission was to deliver enough spare parts and provisions to keep the International Space Station stocked for one year.
By macleans.ca - Monday, July 18, 2011 at 12:09 PM - 0 Comments
Public connection keeps agency relevant
With the launch of the U.S.’s last space shuttle Friday, the space race, it appears, is over. (Ironically, the maintenance of NASA’s International Space Station will rely on Russian spacecraft to ferry astronauts from Earth and back). Over the past few years as the White House’s interest in space exploration has dwindled, NASA has been forced to review and revamp their fundamental mission to stay relevant. One way they’re doing this is through social media—by allowing the general public to interact with astronauts, engineers and other key personnel. “The coolest thing for me is seeing how the astronauts are embracing social media tools to reach out to the public in new ways—without filters,” says NASA Outreach Program Manager, Beth Beck, to PC Magazine. The idea is that the public will better understand NASA, which will in turn strengthen the agency.
By macleans.ca - Monday, July 18, 2011 at 10:50 AM - 0 Comments
South Sudan celebrates the birth of a nation, while Ontario struggles to contain a C. difficile outbreak
The U.S. finally took a firm stand on Pakistan by suspending $800 million of the more than $2 billion in aid it offers the country each year. Pakistan has been, at best, an unreliable ally in the war on terror. It recently arrested a number of CIA informants who helped locate Osama bin Laden within its borders and cut visas for U.S. personnel operating near the Afghan border. Pakistan may not always see eye to eye with the U.S., but the fact is that American aid is what keeps its military and, lately, economy afloat. This warning shot should provide a crucial dose of reality.
Happy days, here again
A new quarterly Bank of Canada survey suggests a record 57 per cent of businesses “across all regions and sectors” will hire new employees over the next year (the highest level reported since 2005), while only four per cent expect to reduce staff. This coincides with a Statistics Canada report showing solid job growth for the third straight month, with a net gain of 28,000 jobs in June. That’s in sharp contrast to the U.S., where only 18,000 jobs were gained last month.
By Brian Bethune - Thursday, July 14, 2011 at 9:05 AM - 1 Comment
Thad Roberts stole 100 pieces of the moon from NASA, all to impress a woman
Boston author Ben Mezrich, 42, has made his name (and fortune) by crafting suspenseful, bestselling and film-friendly accounts of clever young people armed with daring, ambition, cutting-edge technological ideas and—often enough—a certain insouciance about legal niceties. His Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions (2002) became the successful 2008 movie 21, while The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal (2009), about social media pioneer Mark Zuckerberg, was turned into the Oscar-winning film The Social Network. Mezrich’s latest book, which will be released on July 12, is Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History, which describes how Thad Roberts led three other NASA interns in the 2002 theft of 100 pieces of incalculably valuable lunar rock from the space agency—a crime committed primarily to impress his girlfriend.
As much as he likes writing fiction, Mezrich thinks non-fiction provides “great stories”—if you can find them. That’s more easily done now than earlier in his career, he adds in an interview: “Ever since 21 and The Social Network, every genius kid who pulls something crazy emails or calls me.” But everything is still “all about the story,” Mezrich says, and he sifts everything he hears to find “something compelling enough that I want to become a part of it, for as long as it takes to get inside. Sex on The Moon is certainly one of those stories. Thad reached out to me through mutual friends; he’d just gotten out of prison and wanted to tell his story.” It was an immediately appealing project. “It was really something I had never heard about, and had all the elements I look for. I’ve always wanted to write about NASA—not the NASA of the ’60s but the NASA of today.”
That was only the start of a long slog. “I had to get deep inside Thad’s character, and he is extremely complex. It took a long time to gain his trust, but also to get to the real story beneath all the layers.” And Roberts was the co-operative part of the story. “It was tough working my way into NASA because NASA didn’t really want me to write this book. I also had to file with the FBI to get the file case, and I had to get all the court documents to corroborate what Thad was telling me.” The result is one of the summer’s best reads, part high-stakes Ocean’s Eleven, part crazy love story.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 11:06 AM - 0 Comments
NASA’s Fossum and Garan to retrieve failed pump from ISS
The last spacewalk ever to be part of a space shuttle mission is underway outside the International Space Station. NASA’s Mike Fossum and Ron Garan started their 6-and-a-half hour spacewalk at 9:22 a.m. ET Tuesday, when they switched their spacesuits to battery power. Even though the two astronauts arrived at the ISS on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft earlier this year, the spacewalk is considered part of the last-ever shuttle mission of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. That’s because Fossum and Garan are retrieving a broken ammonia pump outside the space station that will return to Earth on Atlantis. They will also install the Robot Refueling Mission, a box of tools and satellite components that will allow the Canadian Dextre Robot to test whether it can handle tools to repair satellites in space.
By macleans.ca - Friday, July 8, 2011 at 2:15 PM - 0 Comments
Shuttle program ends after 30 years
The last mission of the Space Shuttle Atlantis took off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center Friday morning. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered to watch the launch of the final flight of the 30-year-old NASA program. The four-member crew will deliver parts, supplies and science experiments to the International Space Station on its 12-day mission. NASA decided to cancel the program last year in favour of directing resources to deep-space exploration. Private companies are in works with the agency to create an alternative space vehicle to shuttles.
By macleans.ca - Friday, July 1, 2011 at 1:20 PM - 11 Comments
By many global measures we are a blessed bastion of privilege, peace, freedom—and big roomy houses
We are Canada. At 144 years we are neither young nor old, as nations go. And nations do come and do go, it bears remembering. You don’t have to be very old to appreciate that the world map that occupied a corner of your childhood classroom is a relic of another age; that borders once drawn in blood aren’t indelible at all, they are just lines to be moved, or bent or erased by popular will. Yet, here we are, still in this together, and doing rather well.
Like any worthy anniversary, it is deserving of celebration but also of the appreciation that future years together aren’t guaranteed, they must be earned, and mutually agreed upon. Back when Canada was a mere pup of 115 years, Ralph Klein, then the brash young mayor of a brash young Calgary, called Canada, “perhaps the only country in the world held together by curiosity.” He asked if such a confederation of interests and regions can endure. “[N]o one is quite prepared to give up on her yet,” he said, “as if we all have some lingering desire to see how this ongoing exercise in nation-building ends.”
And why not? No. 143 was not the easiest of years, but it was largely free of any soul-sucking existential debate on Canada’s future. There was a federal election, and no one died in the process. Economic uncertainty lingers, but we emerged stronger than the year before, and healthier in most every sense than a long list of wealthy, developed nations. And, yes, let’s not lose sight of that inarguable fact: we are rich.
By macleans.ca - Friday, May 13, 2011 at 11:10 AM - 0 Comments
The RCMP officers involved in Robert Dziekanski’s death face perjury charges, while scientists prove Einstein was right
Some justice at last
It’s been over three years since Robert Dziekanski died at the Vancouver airport after RCMP used Tasers to subdue him. Now B.C.’s attorney general has laid perjury charges against the four officers involved for allegedly giving misleading testimony during the exhaustive Braidwood inquiry. While some, including Dziekanski’s mother, Zofia Cisowski, are disappointed the charges don’t relate to the tasering itself, Cisowski still applauded the move. The wheels of the law may be slow, but they do keep moving, and in this sad case the charges offer at least some measure of justice.
Harnessing hot air
Energy sources such as wind and solar could provide 80 per cent of the world’s power supply within four decades if governments provide the cash and policies to make it happen. That is the landmark conclusion of a UN panel that says it’s not too late to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a “safe” level. In the meantime, farmers are enjoying the heat. According to separate research, Canadian crops have been largely spared from the scourge of climate change—and our historically hard-luck farmers are profiting from increased demand.
When the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded this year’s Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, it was a blow to China’s human rights record. But the big winner may be Scottish fish farmers. In a fit of pique, China has stopped buying salmon from Norway—its biggest supplier—and signed a deal with Scotland. Perhaps that contributed to the unprecedented majority won by Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party in the May 5 elections. Good news for nationalist politicians, not so much for fish.
It’s all relative
A NASA study has confirmed two of the “most profound predictions” about Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity: that space and time are both warped and pulled by Earth’s gravity. Astrophysicists say the results, based on data measured by an orbiting space probe, will have implications “beyond our planet.” In other physics news: engineers have developed a golf ball that won’t slice. Now there’s a breakthrough we can relate to.
In the post-Mubarak era, Egypt is transitioning, but to what? Christians and Muslims clashed in Cairo, leaving 12 dead and two churches in smoldering ruins, amid signs Islamist hard-liners are asserting their power. At the same time, Syria continued its crackdown against anti-government protesters, killing scores of people and injuring hundreds, while in Libya, forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi hammered rebels. Clearly the fight is far from over for the pro-democracy movement across the Middle East.
Tens of thousands more baby boomers will face retirement without a company pension plan, Statistics Canada reported this week. Since the recession, membership in private sector plans has fallen below that of the public sector for the first time ever. Which is why Canadians should be cheering the Canada Pension Plan’s tripling of its 2009 investment in Internet-calling-company Skype, recently purchased by Microsoft for US$8.5 billion. Unless you work for the civil service or at a university, the CPP may be all the help you will get.
Lord Triesman, the chair of England’s failed bid for the 2018 World Cup of soccer, is alleging at least four FIFA members demanded bribes for their votes, including a knighthood for Paraguay’s representative. Trinidad’s football head wanted $2.5 million cash for an “educational centre.” London’s Sunday Times reports two West African delegates were paid $1.5 million to support Qatar’s winning bid. And in France, the national team is embroiled in scandal after it emerged officials considered quotas to limit the number of African and Arab-born players on their development squads. The ugly side to the beautiful game.
A good marriage isn’t necessarily built on love or even physical attraction, suggests new research in the Journal of Politics. Among the strongest shared traits between U.S. spouses is their political attitudes, the study found. The political bond forms early in marriages, but it’s not always enough to keep them together. Just ask political power-couple Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, who separated this week.
By macleans.ca - Monday, March 14, 2011 at 10:06 AM - 0 Comments
Prince Andrew’s friends in all the wrong places, Natalie Portman just can’t win, and adios, Glenn Beck?
Dancing all the way to freedom
Following in the delicate footsteps of the great Mikhail Baryshnikov, who slipped away from his Soviet handlers during a ballet performance in Toronto in 1974, five Cuban ballet dancers appear to have defected to Canada following a performance in Montreal last month. Four are taking classes in Toronto with the National Ballet of Canada, while the fifth is in Montreal. Elier Bourzac, one of the lead performers of the National Ballet of Cuba, told the Montreal Gazette his reasons for leaving his troupe had more to do with artistic freedoms than escaping a Communist regime. It’s the same reason, virtually word-for-word, that Baryshnikov gave during his first post-defection interview at the height of the Cold War.
Time to pay le piper
For more than 20 years, former French president Jacques Chirac avoided prosecution for misusing public funds in order to fuel his rising political star. Between 1977 and 1995, while mayor of Paris, investigators say, the 78-year-old misused city money, having 28 phantom jobs on the payroll at city hall. Protected by presidential immunity until the end of his second term in 2007, he will now be tried in the courtroom in which Marie-Antoinette was sent to the guillotine. If he’s found guilty, his sentence would be lighter: a fine, up to 10 years in prison, or a 10-year ban on holding office. For now, the trial is delayed by three months, following an objection from the defence.
A blow for reform in Pakistan
News that Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet minister, had been assassinated on March 2 hit Jason Kenney hard. On a visit to Ottawa in February, Bhatti had told the Canadian immigration minister he expected to be killed for advocating changes to Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, which are used as a pretext to persecute religious minorities. Kenney told Maclean’s Bhatti even asked Canada to help his family when he was dead. In a strange twist, while Kenney was in Pakistan to attend Bhatti’s memorial service, his staff broke parliamentary rules by issuing a partisan fundraising letter on his ministerial letterhead—resulting in calls for Kenney’s resignation.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 7:24 PM - 3 Comments
Reporter Kate Lunau on how the Kepler telescope works
Shot and edited by Kerrin McNamara
Produced by Claire Ward
Read Kate’s article ‘The biggest story in the universe’ in the February 21 issue of Maclean’s
By Kate Lunau - Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 11:21 AM - 27 Comments
The discoveries are coming so fast—1,235 new planets—that the universe as we knew it is history
Just one generation ago, the thought of finding a planet that might support life was the stuff of science fiction. Last week, NASA scientists announced they’d discovered a whopping 1,235 potential planets orbiting faraway stars, using the Kepler space telescope. If confirmed, this would almost triple the number of known planets outside of our solar system (called “exoplanets”), which currently stands at just over 500. “What we’re anxious to learn is whether there’s other life in our galaxy,” says Kepler co-investigator Natalie Batalha. She and other members of the team are trying to learn whether planets like our own are abundant or rare. “The answer will drive all future missions,” she says.
Among Kepler’s haul were 54 possible planets in the habitable zone, where temperatures could allow for liquid water at the surface, which is necessary to support all life as we know it. Five are close in size to Earth, and orbit in the habitable zone of stars that are smaller and cooler than our sun. The rest range in size from so-called “super-Earths” (up to twice the size of our planet) to ones bigger than our solar system’s kingpin, Jupiter. Most of Kepler’s findings still need to be confirmed as actual planets, but it’s almost certain the vast majority of them will be.
The mission’s goal is to find other planets like Earth, but along the way, we’re finding all sorts of things we didn’t expect: like a system of six confirmed planets orbiting a sun-like star called Kepler-11, packed so tightly together that, according to Jack Lissauer of NASA Ames Research Center, who led the work on Kepler-11, “we didn’t know such systems could even exist.” It’s becoming clear that the universe is much more diverse, and more prolific, than we ever imagined.
By macleans.ca - Saturday, February 12, 2011 at 9:47 AM - 2 Comments
Canada and U.S. look to ease border restrictions, while the RCMP’s top job is once again open
Undefending the border
Prime Minister Stephen Harper emerged from a meeting with Barack Obama last week with an agreement in principle on a common security perimeter. The pair are turning bureaucrats loose on a bilateral search for ways to protect the world’s largest international trading relationship from 10 years’ worth of accumulated border obstacles. Ideas range from shared cargo inspections to a second Detroit-Windsor bridge, but the mere will to restore the Canada-U.S. friendship to its old, friendly terms may be more valuable than any particular tech or law measure.
Yes, it is ethical oil
Meanwhile, a U.S. Department of Energy report issued on the eve of the Harper-Obama announcement provided hope for Transcanada Pipelines in its quest to nab U.S. regulatory clearance for the Keystone XL project connecting Alberta oil markets with the Gulf of Mexico. The report confirms the pipeline would be unlikely to affect net global carbon emissions, but would relieve the dependency of U.S. refiners and end-users on Middle Eastern and other oil—shifting profits to Canada without significant greenhouse consequences.
One last ride
Mark Kelly, astronaut husband of wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, displayed an impressive, old-school devotion to duty in resuming preparations to command April’s final mission of the space shuttle Endeavour. With Giffords stable and undergoing rehab, Kelly passed a special round of tests of his ability to concentrate on critical tasks. A NASA spokesman said that the three-time space traveller’s presence would “reduce the overall mission risk.”
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 10:20 AM - 4 Comments
An unusual microbe shows how little we may still know about life on our own planet, let alone elsewhere
Last week, NASA scientists gathered to reveal a discovery they promised would “impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.” The public’s expectations couldn’t have been higher: widely read blogger Jason Kottke mused the space agency might even have found signs of life on another planet. But when NASA finally lifted the curtain on its finding—which turned out to be not a real-life alien, but a lowly microbe here on Earth—there was a collective yawn.
Even so, it’s not every day NASA says our biology textbooks should be rewritten. Life is thought to require six basic building blocks to exist: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. This bacteria, dug up from the salty, arsenic-rich mud of Mono Lake in eastern California, defies that expectation. As astrobiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon and her team found, the microbe, called GFAJ-1, seems to swap arsenic for some of its phosphorus, incorporating the toxin into its DNA, proteins and cell membranes. (University of British Columbia professor Rosie Redfield slammed the research, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, calling it “flim-flam” on her blog.)
By Kate Lunau - Friday, September 17, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Human explorers will set foot on the red planet one day. And it might be sooner than most of us realize.
Viewed through a telescope on a clear night, the planet Mars glows a soft, dullish red. It seems foreign and strange, but familiar, too: like Earth, Mars has polar ice caps, clouds drifting in its thin atmosphere (even snow), and changing seasons. Its day is just 40 minutes longer than our own. And even though it’s now a freeze-dried wasteland, a growing body of evidence suggests Mars was once wet and warm, and might have harboured life around the same time life sprung up here. Human explorers are bound to set foot on Mars one day. And it might be sooner than most of us think.
But our neighbouring planet, fourth from the sun, is also unimaginably remote: at its closest point in orbit to Earth, which happens only once every 26 months or so, Mars is still about 200 times farther away than the moon. At best, it would take a manned spacecraft roughly six months to reach it. By comparison, “the moon is three days away,” says Bret Drake, who leads mission planning and analysis for the Constellation Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “You can go any time, and if things go wrong, you can return any time.” Once a spaceship left Earth’s orbit for Mars, there’d be no turning back.
By Jane Swittzer - Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 2:47 PM - 11 Comments
What to do with all the man-made junk in Earth’s orbit
When clutter consumes your basement, a well-executed cleaning does the trick. When human-generated junk clogs the Earth’s orbit, things get a little more complicated.
Low Earth orbit space debris has increased since the dawn of the space age. But the wake-up call came last year, when the U.S. Iridium 33 and Russian Kosmos 2251 collided. It was the first accidental collision between an operational and defunct satellite, and it produced large amounts of debris. The NASA orbital debris program office at the Johnson Space Center now predicts eight or nine such collisions will occur in the next 40 years.
By Andrew Potter - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 9:21 AM - 0 Comments
Even NASA sees it as a case study in isolation
Reflecting on his trips down a Lancashire coal mine, George Orwell wrote that aside from the lack of ﬁre, “most of the things one imagines in hell are there—heat, noise, confusion, darkness, foul air, and above all, unbearably cramped space.” If Orwell found a few days in a coal mine just this side of hell, imagine what it must be like for the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped 700 m underground since the main shaft of the San Jose gold and silver mine collapsed on Aug. 5.
When the miners were finally discovered on Aug. 22, rescuers quickly realized that it could take as many as four months to bore a hole wide enough to pull the men out. As a result, a great deal of attention has been paid to the urgent need to secure not only the miners’ physical well-being, but also their mental health. In addition to the food and water being sent down through the four-inch-wide boreholes, rescuers are sending down movies and games, notes from friends and families, and instructions for sanity-preserving measures such as the need to establish a clear night-and-day cycle.
By Andrew Potter - Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 9:55 AM - 0 Comments
Whether alien culture resembles our own depends on one big question: do they have sex?
A few weeks ago, NASA announced that it had discovered 700 new planets in our galaxy, 140 of them apparently “Earth-like.” People immediately went nuts speculating about life on other planets, and many scientists called for a renewed push in the largely moribund search for extraterrestrial intelligence. But before we get too excited about finding E.T., we might ask ourselves a hard question: what’s in it for us?
Stephen Hawking actually brought this up a few months ago, when he said that while he believes aliens are out there, it is probably too dangerous for us to try to interact with them. “I imagine they might exist in massive ships . . . having used up all the resources from their home planet,” he said. “Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”
By Kate Lunau - Monday, July 19, 2010 at 11:07 AM - 0 Comments
In 2013, our sun will hit its solar maximum, creating disturbances that could take out the power grid
In March 1989, six million Quebecers lost power for nine hours after a massive solar flare—an explosion of magnetic energy from the sun—created electric ground currents here on Earth, collapsing the power grid. Another geomagnetic storm, in 1921, brought ground currents 10 times as strong. But the fiercest one ever recorded, called the Carrington Event of 1859, electrified telegraph lines—even setting telegraph papers on fire—and created northern lights visible as far south as Cuba and Hawaii. If such a storm were to strike today, the consequences would be devastating. But NASA researchers say severe space weather could be on the way.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 12:30 PM - 3 Comments
Strange new clues in the search for extraterrestrial life
This month marks the 50th anniversary of a day some say changed the course of science. In April 1960, Frank Drake, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia, turned a radio telescope (basically a huge antenna) toward two nearby stars. Drake thought he might—just might—hear signals broadcast from another planet. “For the first time in history, we had the chance of detecting a civilization no more advanced than our own,” he says today. “For all we knew, every star in the sky had a civilization that was transmitting.”
Of course, Drake didn’t hear any alien broadcasts. But his experiment (dubbed Project Ozma for the princess of the land of Oz) marked the beginnings of what’s called SETI: the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He’s spent half a century trying to answer one of our most enduring questions: are we alone? Today, an answer seems tantalizingly close. Scientists have now found hundreds of previously unknown planets, and even water in our own solar system; the new Allen Telescope Array, with 350 interlinked radio dishes, promises to vastly improve the search. (It’s run by the University of California, Berkeley and the SETI Institute, where Drake now works.) If the universe really is teeming with life, though, why haven’t we found it yet?
Physicist Paul Davies, who directs Arizona State University’s Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, addresses this in his new book, The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence. “We need to think more creatively, and give up hope that some benevolent alien community will send us a ‘Hi guys’ message,” says Davies. After all, it takes time for radio signals to travel through space; if we found a civilization 1,000 light years away, it’d take at least 2,000 years for us to send them a message, and get a response back. (“However powerful their instruments, they can’t go faster than light,” Davies says.) Luckily, we don’t need to pick up a message to know for sure we’re not alone. “We merely have to see a footprint,” he says. And scientists are chasing that footprint not only in distant galaxies, but in our own solar system—and here on earth.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 3 Comments
Scientists may have a first—stardust—thanks to a Canadian
We’re all made of stardust, Joni Mitchell once sang, and technically, she was right. Like giant nuclear ovens, stars cook up almost all of the elements in the periodic table, expelling them after the star’s death. A stream of this interstellar dust, which makes up our homes, cars, even our bodies, flows through space. For the first time, scientists say they may have recovered some, with the help of one Canadian space buff.
Back in 1999, NASA’s Stardust spacecraft was launched. Shaped a bit like a tennis racket, this collector was outfitted with blocks of aerogel—a ghostly blue-white material, similar to glass but only a few times denser than air, in which particles bury themselves upon impact. The Stardust mission was designed to fetch samples from an ancient comet containing the “best-preserved samples of the building blocks of our solar system,” says Don Brownlee, a cosmic dust expert at the University of Washington, its principal investigator. “As a bonus,” he says, “we used the backside of the collector to gather dust flowing in from the galaxy.” The Stardust collector returned to earth in 2006, bringing the first solid samples ever retrieved from beyond the moon.
In the lab, comet particles were easy enough to find, Brownlee says; visible to the naked eye, they leave long tracks in aerogel “like hollow carrots.” But tiny interstellar dust particles are another story. Researchers considered making a computer program to seek them out, but soon noticed that people—even untrained ones—did better. Inspired by other crowdsourcing efforts, Andrew Westphal of the University of California, Berkeley created Stardust@home, an Internet application where the public could sift through images of aerogel for signs of interstellar dust tracks. Since it was launched in 2006, more than 27,000 people (so-called “dusters”) joined in, completing over 71 million searches. Altogether, 28 tracks have been found.
By Mark Steyn - Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 11:50 AM - 390 Comments
Take the disappearing Himalayan glaciers.
Turns out that ‘research’ was idle speculation.
Whenever I write about “climate change,” a week or two later there’s a flurry of letters whose general line is: la-la-la can’t hear you. Dan Gajewski of Ottawa provided a typical example in our Dec. 28 issue. I’d written about the East Anglia Climatic Research Unit’s efforts to “hide the decline,” and mentioned that Phil Jones, their head honcho, had now conceded what I’d been saying for years—that there has been no “global warming” since 1997. Tim Flannery, Australia’s numero uno warm-monger, subsequently confirmed this on Oz TV, although he never had before.
In response, Mr. Gajewski wrote to our Letters page: “Steyn’s column on climate change was one-sided, juvenile and inarticulate.”
By Andrew Potter - Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 8:00 AM - 16 Comments
The space race was always a creature of the Cold War. With Communism gone, there’s nothing noble about our goals up there.
The news media reported last week that NASA’s robot rover Spirit, stuck in the Martian equivalent of a ditch, is still spinning its wheels in the deep powder like some suburban doofus trying to free his SUV from a snowbank.
NASA scientists have been working hard trying to figure out some way of rocking the space buggy free, and they hope to give this a shot in a few weeks. But in the meantime, the trapped robot explorer serves as a perfect metaphor for humanity’s entire extraterrestrial ambitions. Continue…
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 8:40 AM - 1 Comment
A new telescope system will keep watch for killer asteroids from space
In 1908, the skies over Siberia lit up in a sudden and massive explosion: an asteroid, 40 m wide, had entered earth’s atmosphere and was breaking up in a multi-megaton burst. Although the asteroid itself didn’t make it to the ground, the shock wave and massive fireball that resulted destroyed 2,000 sq. km of forest, laying waste to the ground below. The Tunguska Event, as it’s called, took place in a remote area, so no human lives were lost. If the blast happened over Toronto, London or Shanghai, it would be another story.
Thousands of asteroids, most of them untracked, swarm around our planet; some are over 10 km wide. “Right now, the most probable amount of warning we’ll have for an asteroid impact is zero, because we don’t know where most of them are,” says Robert Jedicke, 46, a University of Hawaii astronomer originally from Niagara Falls, Ont. Jedicke is part of a team at UH’s Institute for Astronomy that’s working to change that. A new program, called Pan-STARRS, will combine the world’s most powerful asteroid-tracking telescope with the largest digital camera ever built. The first of four planned telescopes is set to begin its full scientific mission any day now. “In the past 200 years, we’ve discovered half a million asteroids,” he says. The first telescope alone “should find a comparable number in a single year.”
By Paul Wells - Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 11:23 PM - 11 Comments
JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, as you have no doubt already heard, is spectacular, touching, funny, gorgeous. It is not flawless, and it’s only a superbly executed piece of pop culture after all, but I can’t imagine anyone else doing a better reboot for the series. Abrams is much more than just another skilled technician. He’s good for the movies.
It contains one sequence designed to appeal, not to Star Trek geeks, but to fans of real-life space exploration. In the third act it becomes necessary for the Enterprise to hide somewhere briefly. Scottie and Sulu pick Titan, the cloudy moon of Saturn. The sequence lasts about a minute and a half — this movie moves fast — but as a guy who used to spend hours poring over Voyager pictures from Saturn and Jupiter in Discover and National Geographic, I was happy for a chance to see Titan again. Continue…
By Kate Fillion - Wednesday, February 4, 2009 at 9:50 AM - 1 Comment
Astronaut Julie Payette talks to Kate Fillion about her next trip to space—the luggage, the food, the office politics, the calls home
Q: You were the first Canadian to go into the international space station, in 1999, and you’re scheduled for another space shuttle mission in May. Is being 10 years older an advantage, or a disadvantage?
A: Well, you certainly don’t have the energy you had when you were 20. But the fact that I’ve been to space before is a huge advantage. You’re less apprehensive when you know what to expect. Also, the first flight is very important in this performance-driven culture I work in; it establishes your reputation. If you don’t do well, it’s probably your last flight. So although I have a longer and more complicated mission this time, I don’t have that same pressure. I think I’m going to enjoy it even more.
Q: Do astronauts specifically apply for each mission?
A: You’re always under the microscope, and you don’t know which mission you’re going to get. It’s a surprise.