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Eclipses, new spacecraft and moon visits: What’s ahead in space in 2019





When it comes to space, 2018 was a pretty exciting year.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launched successfully — even to CEO Elon Musk’s surprise. NASA’s InSight spacecraft landed on Mars. Another NASA spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, arrived safely at the asteroid Bennu. And, of course, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques is working away on the International Space Station until June.

The year ahead should be no less exciting. Here are some of the highlights to look forward to in 2019. 

Happy New Year!

On July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft gave us the first look at Pluto, which is more than five billion kilometres away.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured this high-resolution, enhanced-colour view of Pluto on July 14, 2015. (NASA)

On Jan. 1, New Horizons will once again zip past another far-off world 6.5 billion kilometres away: 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule. The icy, irregularly shaped body is only about 30 kilometres in diameter and found within the Kuiper Belt, a disk believed to contain hundreds of thousands of icy worlds and perhaps millions more comets.

New Horizons will fly closer to Ultima Thule than it did Pluto, allowing for a closer examination of its surface. In 2015, planetary scientists were surprised by what they found on Pluto — ice volcanoes and a thicker atmosphere than expected — so there’s no telling what surprises Ultima Thule might reveal.

New crew spacecraft

When NASA mothballed the space shuttle program in 2011, it had no means of its own to get its astronauts to the International Space Station. Instead, it has been relying on $75-million-a-seat rides aboard the Russian space agency’s Soyuz rockets.

That’s all about to change.

In 2014, NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to develop the next spacecraft to launch Americans from home soil. And in 2019, after years of development and testing, both companies are set to blast off.

On the left, NASA astronaut Suni Williams, fully suited in SpaceX’s spacesuit, interfaces with the display inside a mock-up of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in Hawthorne, Calif., during a testing exercise on April 3, 2018. On the right, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, Eric Boe and Doug Hurley conduct a fully suited exercise in Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner mock-up trainer in early May at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. (SpaceX/Boeing)

On Jan. 17, SpaceX is scheduled to conduct a test of its Crew Dragon capsule — but without a crew. The capsule will launch aboard SpaceX’s successful Falcon 9 rocket, called Demo-1. Demo-2, with Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on board, is scheduled for some time in June.

After a delay last year, Boeing will conduct the first uncrewed launch of its CST-100 Starliner in March, to be followed by a launch with Eric Boe, Chris Ferguson and Nicole Mann.

Howl at the moon

The first eclipse of the new year is a total lunar eclipse that will be visible right across the country on Jan. 21.

Lunar eclipses occur an average of two to four times a year. There are three different types of eclipses: total, partial and penumbral.

A lunar eclipse of a full ‘blue moon’ is seen in Santa Monica, Calif., on Jan. 31, 2018. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Total lunar eclipses last for hours, as the moon glides through Earth’s shadow. During January’s eclipse, totality will last for more than an hour.

You might hear this eclipse referred to as the super blood wolf moon. There are three reasons for this dramatic moniker.

First, the moon will be almost at perigee, or the closest point to Earth in its elliptical orbit. When this happens and it’s a full moon, it’s become popular to refer to it as a “super moon” (though visually it’s difficult to tell the moon is larger).

Secondly, full moons are given names monthly, and this one happens to be the “wolf” moon.

And finally, a lunar eclipse tends to turn the moon a coppery-reddish colour as the sun — which lies behind it — refracts light. Blue is scattered, leaving only red, which is reflected off the moon.

No matter what you call it, though, it should be quite a sight.

To the moon!

Over the past few years, there’s been more talk about returning to the moon. Three countries have successfully landed a spacecraft on the moon: the U.S., Russia (the former Soviet Union) and China. But another country is about to be added to the list: Israel.

In February — the date has not yet been confirmed — the non-profit company SpaceIL, together with Israel Aerospace Industries, will send a time capsule to the moon.

The capsule will launch as a secondary payload aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. It will contain three discs filled with hundreds of digital files storing information such as Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the Bible, dictionaries in 27 languages and much more.

Technicians surround the lander Beresheet — the Hebrew word for Genesis — which is expected to launch to the moon in February. (Yoav Weiss)

Meanwhile, China is preparing for a one-of-a-kind return to the moon after its successful Chang’e 3 rover landed in 2013.

Chang’e 4 was launched on Dec. 7 and reached orbit on Dec. 12. It’s expected the rover will head to the surface in early January, when the far side of the moon is illuminated by the sun.

China is also expected to launch Chang’e 5 in late 2019. It is designed to collect material from the moon’s surface and return to Earth.

Mercury crosses the sun

Being on the third planet from the sun, every so often we are treated to a unique visual spectacle: a planet crossing the face of the sun. These events, called transits, are rare, and and can only happen with Mercury and Venus.

A jet is silhouetted by the sun, with Venus appearing just above its tail in 2012. (Gene Blevins/Reuters)

Canada is in a great location to catch the transit of Mercury on Nov. 11. The entire transit will be visible in the early morning in parts of central and southern Ontario and Quebec and all of Atlantic Canada.

In the West, the transit will already be in progress at sunrise. The entire event will take about 5 ½ hours.

Of course, it’s important to remember never to look directly at the sun. Instead, people are encouraged to plan ahead and purchase special glasses that block out the sun’s harmful light.

The last time Mercury crossed the sun was in 2016, and it won’t happen again until 2032. If you’re hoping to see Venus, its next transit is in 2117.


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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal





A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist





Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’





Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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