‘Diamond dust’ snow falls nightly on Mars

Every night during Mars’s winter, water-ice crystals fall from high, thin clouds over the north pole, new data from NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander have revealed, wrote National Geographic News in its online edition July 2.

The clouds resemble cirrus clouds on Earth, noted lead study author James Whiteway, an atmospheric physicist in York University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering. And the precipitation, he said, is similar to ice crystals that fall through the air in the Arctic in the middle of winter, called diamond dust.

All told, though, there’s very little water locked up in the drifting ice crystals, said co-author Peter Smith, principal investigator for the Phoenix mission and a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “If you melted it all in a pan, [you] would be barely wetting the surface,” Smith said. “Mars is awfully dry. That’s why it’s surprising that you see snowfall.”

Examining one way to renew agriculture in Ontario

Since organic farming is the only agricultural sector that has been continuously growing in Ontario for the past 15 years, it would make sense to convert as much land and farmers as possible to organics, according to Rod MacRae, food policy analyst, author and professor teaching food security issues at York University, wrote Hanover’s The Post July 3.

MacRae suggests in a study that if the Ontario government invested $51 million in a 30 point program over the next 15 years in organic agriculture, we would end up with 10 per cent of the farms being converted and profitable. Right now one per cent of Ontario farms are organic.

It would also decrease Ontarians’ dependence on imported food, especially vegetables, 95 per cent of which come from California. “I’m not against trade but, to paraphrase a colleague of mine, trade philosophy should be ‘feed the family, trade the leftovers.’ Focus on meeting domestic demand, and ensure that you’re producing food that nourishes the population,” said the outspoken food analyst.

Although some of the ideas MacRae has may seem to be outlandish, his “outside-the-box” thinking has resulted in a debate in the agricultural community about what tomorrow may bring to farmers, and how to be one step ahead of the next phase. This is especially important if Ontarians want to keep eating locally grown and raised fresh food.

Inflatable tower may offer easier access to space

An inflatable tower nine miles tall and tethered to a mountaintop could cut the cost to launch spacecraft, reduce the need for geostationary communications satellites and improve cellphone signals, wrote MSNBC.com July 2 in an article on the Discovery Channel Web site.

“This structure could be made of commercially available materials,” said Professor Ben Quine, who, along with Raj Seth and Professor George Zhu, all of York’s Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering, wrote an article detailing their tower in the journal Acta Astronautica.

A 12.4-mile-high inflatable tower could also lower the cost of launching a satellite by 30 per cent, says Quine, reducing the amount of fuel necessary by an entire rocket stage.

Quine says the entire tower could be built using existing materials, and his team has constructed a 2000:1 scale replica of their tower in a stairwell at York University.

It’s an important point; the inflatable tower’s main competitor is a space elevator, a platform anchored 80,000 miles high and anchored to Earth with as-yet-to-be-developed material based on carbon nanotubes.

“Towers like this are much more feasible than a space elevator,” said J. Storrs Hall, a scientist who proposed a similar tower design several years ago as a potential X Prize goal. The York University scientists have so far created the most detailed plan about how a space tower could be built.

TTC, Viva team up to make rush-hour service to York University easier

Bus travel between York University and Downsview subway station should be easier starting September, thanks to a new service integration plan from York Region Transit and the TTC, wrote the Toronto Star July 3.

York students and staff will be able to ride either a Viva Orange bus or a TTC bus on and off campus on the same ticket. The only glitch is riders departing the University without a TTC pass or transfer will have to pay an additional fare on Viva buses because York’s fare dispensers don’t accept TTC tickets or tokens, said Bill Dawson, TTC service planner.

About 22,200 riders a day travel on TTC between Downsview and the University, compared with about 2,642 on the Viva Orange line, wrote the Star. Viva expects to pick up an additional 2,000 to 4,000 passengers a day as a result of the new arrangement, which has to receive final approval from the Ontario Highway Transport Board.

York deaf student overcomes personal challenges

Growing up, Drew Mastromartino often cried himself to sleep, wrote the Ajax News Advertiser July 2 in a profile of the York student. As a deaf boy raised in a hearing world, he wasn’t bullied but often felt ignored and frustrated.

“It’s easy to forget the childhood sometimes,” Drew said, sitting at his kitchen table in Whitby – his hearing impairment almost completely unnoticeable now.

On his way to York University this fall with $37,500 in scholarships, Drew hopes to inspire others with special needs to overcome the struggles they face. “I saw the bad was actually necessary for me to have the successes,” said Drew, winner of the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award Scholarship, the Millennium Excellence Award Scholarship, and other awards in recognition of his struggles, achievements and community contributions.

When York University profs hit bricks, Jane’s Party simply hit record

Jane’s Party has two words for the York University [contract faculty and teaching assistants] who started a three-month strike in November 2008, wrote The Sault Star July 3. Thank you.

All four members of the band are jazz performance students in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. When the academics walked, the musicians dedicated themselves to recording their album, The Garage Sessions.

“(The strike) was probably the best thing that could have happened,” said drummer Zach Sutton in a recent telephone interview from the provincial capital. “The whole time we were saying, ‘This is our lucky break. This is a time to make something happen.’ For us, it just gave us time to work on our album which we were slowly getting through just because of the demands of school.”

Rookie MP airs concerns about York

Thornhill MP Peter Kent does share Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s concern…that anti-Semitism is on the upswing, “most tangibly here in Thornhill with what happened at York University and continuing events in the student population and club activity,” wrote the Thornhill Liberal July 2 in a profile of the Conservative politician and former journalist.