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New Horizons’ First Close-up Pictures of Ultima Thule Reveal a Binary World

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Ultima Thule

Scientists say Ultima Thule is actually two objects stuck together. They’ve dubbed the big one “Ultima” and the small one “Thule.” (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL)

NASA’s New Horizons’ team released the first close-up images from Ultima Thule on Wednesday afternoon. Even at the speed of light, signals from the outer solar system take a long time to reach Earth. But the pictures were well worth waiting for. They reveal Ultima Thule is actually two objects stuck together. That’s prompted scientists to dub the big one “Ultima” and the small one “Thule.”

And while the first images may still be a bit disappointing, the best pictures will be arriving in the days and weeks ahead.

“We have far less than one percent of the data that’s stored on (New Horizons),” New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute said at a press conference Wednesday.

New Year’s Flyby

As billions of people across the world ushered in the new year, the New Horizons spacecraft whizzed by a far-flung space rock named Ultima Thule, making it the most distant object ever visited by humanity.

Traveling at a speed of nearly 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) per second, New Horizons’ didn’t take long to zip past Ultima Thule, which is only about 20 miles (30 km) long and 10 miles (15 km) wide.

During its closest approach at 12:33 a.m. EST on January 1, New Horizons passed within just 2,200 miles (3,500 km) of the mysterious bowling-pin-shaped rock, collecting data all the while. Within just 10 hours, at 10:28 a.m. EST, the spacecraft successfully “phoned home,” confirming to NASA scientists that it had survived its close encounter with the distant object.

“We have a healthy spacecraft,” announced Alice Bowman, Mission Operations Manager for New Horizons, to a cheering crowd of scientists, engineers, members of the media, and guests on Tuesday morning.

Since New Horizons sent its first post-flyby message, the mission team slowly but surely has been receiving a trickle of data on Ultima Thule (pronounced TOOL-ee, a Latin phrase meaning “a place beyond the known world”), which is located a staggering 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion km) from Earth.

In a press conference this afternoon, they’ve released their latest batch of results.

Ultima Thule formation

New Horizons scientists were surprised by Ultima Thule’s binary composition, and the team has spent the past day trying to figure out how the object formed. (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL)

What We Know So Far

Ultima Thule is a tiny, icy body known as a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). KBOs are a distinct class of solar system objects that lie far beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto. Although over a thousand KBOs already have been discovered (including the most famous KBO, Pluto), Ultima Thule wasn’t found until 2014.

Because Ultima Thule is so small and distant, it’s very hard for researchers to tease out many of its attributes, even with the most advanced telescopes available today. But from early on, astronomers figured the small body was likely made of dirty ice and rock.

Early observations of Ultima Thule taken by New Horizons suggested that the rock is rather elongated and shaped somewhat like a bowling pin. Today’s imagery reveal that the world is actually two objects which were stuck together in a slow cosmic collision.

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Ecology

Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science

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YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Ecology

Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth

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Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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Ecology

COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0

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We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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