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NASA spacecraft opens new year 4 billion miles from Earth

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Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press


Published Tuesday, January 1, 2019 6:34AM EST


Last Updated Tuesday, January 1, 2019 12:56PM EST

LAUREL, Md. — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has survived the most distant exploration of another world, a tiny, icy object 4 billion miles away that looks to be shaped like a peanut or bowling pin.

Word of success came 10 hours after the middle-of-the-night encounter, once flight controllers in Maryland received word from the spacecraft late Tuesday morning. Cheers erupted at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, home to Mission Control, as mission operations manager Alice Bowman declared: “We have a healthy spacecraft.”

A huge spill-over crowd in a nearby auditorium joined in the loud celebration, cheering each green, or good, status update. Scientists and other team members embraced, while hundreds of others gave a standing ovation.

“I don’t know about all of you, but I’m really liking this 2019 thing so far,” lead scientist Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute said to applause. “I’m here to tell you that last night, overnight, the United States spacecraft New Horizons conducted the farthest exploration in the history of humankind, and did so spectacularly.”

New Horizons zoomed past the small celestial object known as Ultima Thule 3 1/2 years after its spectacular brush with Pluto. Scientists said it will take nearly two years for New Horizons to beam back all its observations of Ultima Thule, a full billion miles (1.6 billion kilometres) beyond Pluto. At that distance, it takes six hours for the radio signals to reach Earth.

Scientists did not want to interrupt observations as New Horizons swept past Ultima Thule — described as a bullet intersecting with another bullet — so they delayed radio transmissions. The spacecraft is believed to have come within 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometres) of Ultima Thule.

Weary from dual countdowns late Monday and early Tuesday, the New Horizons team members were visibly anxious as they reassembled in late morning. “Happy New Year again,” they bid one another. But the hundreds of spectators went wild nonetheless when the good news came in.

New Horizons’ 2015 encounter with Pluto was the most distant exploration until Tuesday. The Ultima Thule rendezvous was more complicated, given its 4 billion-mile (6.4 billion-kilometre) distance from Earth, the much closer gap between the spacecraft and its target, and all the unknowns surrounding Ultima Thule.

Based on rudimentary pictures snapped just hundreds of thousands of miles (kilometres) before the 12:33 a.m. close approach, Ultima Thule is decidedly elongated — about 22 miles by 9 miles (35 kilometres by 15 kilometres). Scientists say there are two possibilities: Ultima Thule is either one object with two connected lobes, sort of like a spinning bowling pin or peanut still in the shell, or two objects orbiting surprisingly close to one another. A single body is more likely, they noted. An answer should be forthcoming Wednesday, once new and better pictures arrive. The best colour close-ups, though, won’t be available until later in January and February.

The icy rock has been in a deep-freeze preservation state since the formation of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists hope to learn about those origins through New Horizons’ observations deep inside the so-called Kuiper Belt, or frozen Twilight Zone, on the fringes of the solar system.

New Horizons will continue to zoom farther away. The hope is that the mission, now totalling $800 million, will be extended yet again and another target will be forthcoming sometime in the 2020s.

Ultima Thule is the first destination to be reached that was not even known until after the spacecraft’s launch. New Horizons rocketed from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2006.

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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