York’s Canadian equipment working well on Mars

A thin beam of green-coloured light flashed into the Martian skies on Wednesday, indicating that a Canadian-built weather instrument is working flawlessly on the surface of the red planet, wrote The Globe and Mail May 30.

Until late Wednesday night, York researchers were still uncertain about the condition of the lidar, which emits pulses of laser light into the sky and then uses the data that bounce back to monitor dust and cloud particles in the atmosphere.

“This is the instrument we were most worried about,” said Jim Whiteway, professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering and lead scientist for the Canadian contribution to the US-led mission to Mars. “All of our components that we provided [to the Phoenix lander] are up and running,” Whiteway announced yesterday at a news conference in Tucson, Ariz., the headquarters of the science operations for the Phoenix mission.

“We are very happy that it is still working and we can report we have observed dust being lofted up [by the wind] to heights above three kilometres,” he said. The device is capable of monitoring atmospheric particles 20 kilometres above the Martian surface.

Canadian scientists have a long tradition of assembling these sophisticated instruments, Whiteway said in an interview. However, for this mission, the equipment had to be compact, lightweight and energy-efficient while still sturdy enough to operate in the hostile Martian environment.

  • As might be expected given the arctic location, the weather conditions are frigid, wrote The New York Times May 30 in a story about the Mars Phoenix mission. James A. Whiteway of York University, the science team leader for the weather station that the Canadian Space Agency built for Phoenix, reported a high of minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of minus 112. 
  • Canada’s most important instrument on Mars is working perfectly on its first trial, shining a pencil-thin laser beam 20 kilometres up to measure the thick, swirling dust in the atmosphere, wrote the National Post May 30.

    The lidar – like radar, but using a laser – found the winds, commonly only 20 km an hour, are enough to whisk dust up to 3.5 km above the ground. “The Canadian team is walking on moonbeams today because all three of our instruments are up and running,” York Professor Jim Whiteway said. Canada furnished the $37-million mini-weather station aboard the new Mars Phoenix lander and yesterday was the final day in the first phase of unwrapping all the gear and making sure it can send home data. 

  • York University researchers led the Canadian science team for NASA’s Phoenix Mission, marking the first time Canada has taken part in a Mars landing, wrote Inside Toronto’s online news May 29. “It’s a great relief to the Canadian team,” Peter Taylor, professor of atmospheric science and applied mathematics in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, said regarding the lidar’s success. Taylor said scientists are now holding their breath for Phoenix’s robotic arm to start digging into the surface to see if ice exists below, which he expects will happen in several days.

Anti-abortion club ban is more ‘theft’ than free speech, says Post editorial

Can student organizations rightly withhold funding from some groups that are morally objectionable?, asked the National Post in an editorial May 30. Certainly, they can. Because the question involves the disposition of fees that undergraduates have no choice but to pay – at least if they are to receive access to the tax-funded benefits of university life – the line has to be drawn somewhere. Nobody would be comfortable with a student union using its effective control of the campus gates to extort endowments for groups in favour of, say, genocide.

But of course, the compulsory status of student-union (SU) fees cuts both ways. It is certainly wrong to take money from some students and use it in a lopsided fashion to promote the opposite side in a legitimate, ongoing public debate. And what else is the executive of the York Federation of Students (YFS) doing by meeting during the summer to sneak through a ban on funding and access to SU resources for pro-life groups? The YFS’s actions are not so much a free-speech issue as a simple instance of theft.

Student unions – at York and elsewhere – are free to posture all they like on behalf of fashionable progressive causes. But a line is crossed when they stifle the truth-finding function that is at the core of a university’s mission. If the YFS is so beholden to a radical and intolerant political agenda that it cannot conduct itself in accordance with that mission, the university should strip it of its powers and oversee student services in its own administrative capacity. 

  • As a York student I was not surprised to learn of the York Federation of Students’ most recent attempt to stifle free speech – a proposal to ban student clubs opposed to abortion, wrote Jonathan Roth, president of York’s Campus Coalition of Zionists in a letter to the National Post May 30. Robert J. Tiffin, York’s vice-president of students, says he is “disappointed” by the policy and adds that denying students access to the various aspects of the abortion debate is “not in keeping with the school’s mandate.”  

I’m not convinced he believes this, wrote Roth. In fact, Tiffin failed to take action when informed that University administrators had banned the pro-Israel Campus Coalition of Zionists from conducting events on campus. That decision sparked a complaint that is now before the Ontario Human Rights Commission. With York’s administration suppressing free speech, it’s little wonder that the school’s student government is also headed in the wrong direction.

  • University administrators and student union officials are at odds over a controversial motion put forward by the union that aims to restrict a particular type of advocacy group from participating in campus debates and discussions, wrote the Toronto Star May 30.

“The motion reads that student union resources will not be granted to organizations that are anti-choice…in regards to abortion,” said Gilary Massa, vice-president external of the York Federation of Students.

Robert Tiffin, the school’s vice-president students, disagrees. “The university believes that we should be promoting opportunities for debate to occur,” Tiffin said. “When one does decide to support one side or the other, at least you’re making an informed decision when you’ve been exposed to both sides.”

On air

  • Douglas Cumming, finance professor in the Schulich School of Business at York, spoke about why a single national securities regulator would be good for Canada, on CBC Radio May 29.