Weather station soon to be first Canadian science equipment to land on Mars

A Canadian weather station the size of a big shoebox with a tiny Maple Leaf flag and a price tag of $37 million is due to arrive on Mars to help in the search for water, wrote The Canadian Press May 13. If everything goes as planned on May 25, it will be the first Canadian science instrument to land on the surface of an alien world.

Prof. Jim Whiteway of York’s Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering, Faculty of Science & Engineering, is leading the Canadian scientific team, which also involves researchers from the University of Alberta and Dalhousie University in Halifax.

The team is getting ready to move to an operations centre at the University of Arizona in Tucson where they hope to spend 90 days studying data sent back from Mars. The daily weather reports will include temperature, atmospheric pressure, cloud height, humidity and wind speeds.

“We have a mast that sticks up from the deck of the station and it measures temperatures at three spots on the mast so we can characterize the climate on the surface,” Whiteway said in an interview. “We’ll take measurements of clouds and determine how much ice water is actually held within the clouds,” Whiteway said.

“One of the questions for understanding water on Mars is the role that clouds play and that’s the one we will address.”

The York University professor said if there is ever a manned mission to Mars, the first thing is to understand the environment the astronauts would be living in. “We’re not going to prove there is life on Mars,” he said. “It’s more about habitability. The Phoenix spacecraft will be looking for organic material and the building blocks of life.”

Whiteway admitted he has been trying not to get too excited as the landing of the Mars probe gets closer. “I try to be more like [Star Trek’s Lt. Commander] Spock than [Captain] Kirk,” he said.

  • CTV News and Current Affairs interviewed York Professor Jim Whiteway, lead investigator on the Phoenix project, May 13:

Phoenix headed out on a voyage more than nine months ago, now it’s days away from touching down on Martian soil and Canadian scientists are anxious to see if their baby, a weather station on the lander, will be safe, said reporter Genevieve Beauchemin. If all goes well the station will beam back temperature, pressure and wind conditions in the northern polar region of Mars. It’s spring there, too, but not exactly balmy.

Whiteway: We will see a high temperature of about -45 C. Not too different from the Arctic in winter. A low temperature of -75 C.

York-built device heads into orbit around earth

York University’s Argus microspectrometer is riding aboard the CanX-2 microsatellite, launched out of Sriharikota, India, on the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C-9 late last month, wrote the North York Mirror May 13.

“This is the first space instrument with the precision required to identify individual sources of pollution on a global scale,” said project leader Ben Quine, a professor in York’s Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering. The local university’s researchers will begin measuring pollution on Earth with instrumentation aboard the Canadian microsatellite.

The Argus device, which is small enough to fit in the palm of an adult’s hand, can identify sources of pollution up to a range of one kilometre by measuring carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. Its satellite host is equal in size, at about the size of a carton of milk. This micro-technology paves the way for a new era of sustainable space instrumentation, said Quine.

Quine believes Argus’ mandate is essential. “We need this kind of hard data to support Kyoto and other climate change initiatives,” he says.

Lone detainee Almrei costs taxpayers $2M annually at Kingston facility

It is costing Canadian taxpayers about $2 million a year to house the only prisoner at a special federal facility for foreign nationals who pose an alleged security risk to Canada, wrote CBC News online May 14 in a story about documents obtained under an access-to-information request by Michael Larsen, a graduate researcher at York University’s Centre for International & Security Studies.

The files show up to 17 employees are caring for and supervising Hassan Almrei at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre. Almrei, 34, is a refugee claimant from Syria who was arrested in Toronto in 2001 and subsequently held under a security certificate after being accused of having terrorist ties. He has not been charged with a crime.

Larsen, who obtained the information for his PhD thesis, said a federal document updated on Dec. 12 reported that ongoing costs, estimated at $2 million annually, would not change much depending on the number of prisoners. “It’s an extraordinary cost to detain one individual,” he told CBC News.

In response to the findings, NDP MP and justice critic Joe Comartin called on the federal government to close the facility and transfer Almrei to a provincial facility.

Larsen said he doesn’t advocate that, as the documents show the federal facility has better living conditions than the provincial facility that previously housed Almrei, and criticism about provincial facilities is what prompted the government to set up the holding centre in the first place.

However, he said, “Would it not be much cheaper, much more just and in keeping with the rule of law to simply charge or release these individuals?” That would introduce them to the normal court system, which already has provisions for detaining and prosecuting people, provided there is enough evidence, he added.

  • Larsen’s research was also featured in news reports on CBC Radio Canada and CBC Television May 13.

Jumping on the brand wagon

Branding is a hot topic in the marketing world and municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area are getting into the game, wrote the Toronto Star May 14. Formerly a preserve of the private sector, such marketing tactics have spread to institutions such as universities and hospitals as they try to attract students and money, says Alan Middleton, marketing professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Two good reasons for GTA municipalities to do it are to get noticed by potential tourists or corporations wanting to set up shop there, Middleton said. “You’ve got every little municipality now trying to find what we in marketing call ‘a positioning’ that is motivating for people to move jobs there, for people to live there or for people to visit as tourists,” he said.

It’s a good idea, said Middleton, who added municipalities can get into trouble by being long-winded and lacking focus. “The essence of positioning is that it must be clear and single-minded; you don’t do a laundry list of things. Good marketing is as much about what you leave out as what you leave in, and unfortunately these guys haven’t got it.”

If everybody is doing it, and not particularly well, municipalities risk cheapening their message, he warned. “What you have is a feeding frenzy where somebody starts doing it, somebody else says that’s a good idea, and then everybody starts doing it. Of course, just the weight of everybody doing this stuff, it becomes rather a joke,” Middleton said. “It doesn’t seem serious and loses the whole point.”

Colleges work with York to train nurses

“We have the collaborative baccalaureate four-year nursing degree, partnered with York University’s [Faculty of Health],” said Cherylyn Cameron, associate vice-president of the University Partnership Centre at Georgian College, wrote the Barrie Examiner May 14, in a story about changes in the field of nursing written during Nursing Week. “We get more applicants to that program each year than we have spots for, and we actually have to turn people down.”

On air

  • David Wiesenthal, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about road rage on Kitchener’s CKCO-TV May 13.