Yuri’s Night at Cornell attracts community to celebrate space exploration

Asteroid mining, deep space exploration, and improving astronaut food were the main topics of discussion at the Yuri’s Night event last Friday at Cornell’s Fuertes Observatory. 

 The event was put on by Cornell’s Astronomical Society. It included two lectures, tours of the museum, observatory viewings, a viewing of different types of pre-packaged astronaut food, a flight simulator, space food samples and a screening of the film First Orbit. 

Yuri’s Night is a yearly international celebration to commemorate the first human launch into space, which occurred on April 12, 1961. These events occur all around the world with the intent to celebrate and promote space exploration milestones.

The event ran from 7:30 to midnight last Friday, and about 175 people attended.  Cornell sophomore Brecken Blackburn coordinated Yuri’s Night at Cornell. Blackburn said in the past, this scientific holiday had mainly been celebrated at Cornell by people in the Astronomical Society in a smaller event, but this year, it was promoted to also include the general public.

“We [Cornell Astronomical Society] think it’s really important that people understand space and understand why we go into space,” Blackburn said. “So we think Yuri’s Night is a really great way to reach out to people and explain why these sorts of things are so important.”

Topics of Discussion

The first speaker at Yuri’s night was Cornell Professor Mason Peck, a former Chief Technologist at NASA. Peck spoke about the need for space exploration, and the possibility of mining asteroids for minerals and precious metals. He stressed the importance of citizen science in making advancements in space information.

Cornell Professor Jean Hunter was the second speaker at the event. She presented from her research on creating the best space food that will both satisfy and adequately nourish astronauts.

Last year, Hunter worked on a research project that was funded through NASA’s Human Research Program. The project, led by Cornell and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, was a simulated Martian base where six “astronauts” lived to compare how taste and nutritional value compared in foods that were pre-packaged to foods that were freshly prepared by the crew themselves.

Hunter said it is important to present scientific research to the public because it helps people understand more about the world they live in and the possibilities to make advancements.

“A lot of what NASA does is very technologically complex and sometimes we [researchers] tend to go off in our own little pool of jargon and we miss a chance to engage with people who could really help us with good ideas,” Hunter said.

Community Interest in Astronomy

Gary Bergstrom, a professor of plant pathology at Cornell, attended the event because of an ad he had seen in the newspaper to promote the event.

“It’s funny because my wife and I had talked about coming over here [the Fuertes Observatory] for probably 30 years and this is the first time I’ve been here,” Bergstrom said. “We decided we wanted to do something fun this evening and we had always talked about doing this … I’m glad we finally made it, it was really fun and interesting.”


Stores suffer loss of business due to Ithaca Commons construction

Businesses located on the Ithaca Commons are feeling the negative effects of recent reconstruction, despite efforts by the City of Ithaca and the Downtown Ithaca Alliance to attract people to the area.

The project has recently begun its third and final stage and will be finished in November, when it’s contract runs out with Vacri Construction Corp, the company hired to carry out the new Commons plan.  

Michael Kuo, Project Manager, said the main reason for the construction is to update aging infrastructure, plant new trees to improve plant health, update the streetscape, and install a new telecom system.

Many of the updates were needed because the original Commons was constructed in 1974 and parts of it were aging and overgrown, which cost a lot in maintenance fees. 

“It’s really important for the livelihood and the development of the city,” Kuo said. “It was time to hit the reset button and we were fortunate to get a mix of financing from federal, state and local government, as well as contributions.”

Kuo said these updates will be beneficial for local businesses because it will create an aesthetically pleasing environment outside of their shops and will attract people to the Commons.

Businesses feel the impact

Ithaca Hemp Co, a business located on the commons, will be closing its doors on March 30, citing the construction as the cause for loss of business. Christian Diemand, founder and owner of the company, said he his store has been located in the commons for 17 years and has seen profits of 20 to 30 percent every year except last year, in which there was a 40 percent loss. 

“There’s not a chance in hell we’ll survive if we wait it [the construction] out,” Diemand said.

Diemand also said his store’s basement flooded several times because water mains were being updated, which cost him a lot of money in both labor and clean up. 

Jerry Martins, co-owner of Now You’re Cooking, a kitchen utensil store located on the Commons said he has seen some loss of business, but some of it could be explained by the cold winter.

Martins said he is optimistic about the outcome of the project and that construction is a necessary negative aspect of updating any location.

“We are taking out parts of the Commons people didn’t like and what we like is being kept,” Martins said

Minimizing Impact 

 Tammy Baker, the outreach coordinator of the project, said the majority of reactions to the construction have been positive.

Baker said in an effort to minimize the impact of the construction, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance has actively been promoting the Commons through events, signage and the art located on the barriers of construction.

Diemand said tax breaks were given to property owners in the Commons, but did not really trickle down to business owners. He thinks more should have been done for the business owners because they are the ones taking serious losses from the lack of foot traffic the construction has caused.

Diemand also said the culture of the pedestrian mall is diminishing, and the construction has hit the stores located there hard.

 “We [local businesses] had a real good niche down there for quite awhile,” Diemand said. “But people are not going to come back immediately, it’s going to take a few years to rebuild business down there.”

Cold temperatures may cause damage to grape harvest in the Finger Lakes

Cold weather has caused damage to the grape vines

This winter’s extreme cold weather has raised concern about the health of grape vines in the upcoming harvest season, but local groups are taking measures to minimize the impact.

Currently, grape vines are in their dormant stage, meaning there are no blossoms, but the plant is still at risk to be damaged.

Dave Wiemann, vineyard manager of Sheldrake Point Winery in Ovid NY, said the coldest recorded temperature at their weather station was -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

“With this weather, the type of injury we suffer from with the vines is bud mortality,” Wiemann said. “Buds are the little itty-bitty things where the growth starts. And in that bud is the potential for having a crop, so if those buds freeze and die, the amount of crop we can have for the following year is reduced.”

Wiemann said this winter, Sheldrake Point has suffered about 20% bud mortality. He said other vineyards that reached colder temperatures will probably have a higher bud mortality, which results in less usable crops. These vineyards may have to outsource to get grapes for their wine production.

Hans Walter-Peterson, viticulture specialist and team leader for the Finger Lakes Grape Program, said this is the coldest winter vineyards have seen in this area in ten years.

The Finger Lakes Grape Program is a group that supplies participating vineyards all throughout the Finger Lakes with information about how to keep a healthy crop and maximize grape harvests. The program, a part of Cornell Cooperative extension, holds information sessions and distributes material from research that is being done at Cornell and elsewhere about grape farming.

Walter-Peterson said some varieties of grapes are less able to survive in this climate’s freezing temperatures than others, which makes them more susceptible to bud mortality.

“For example, something like concord, which is a grape that is based on a species from the northeast is much better adapted to these conditions than something like chardonnay, which is from a species that originated in the Middle East,” Walter-Peterson said.

In addition to bud mortality, Walter-Peterson said freezing of the woody part of the vine itself can also be damaging to harvests.

Ways to minimize impact

“The best thing to do every year is to make sure the vines are healthy going in and make sure they have plenty of the nutrients that make them winter hardy,” Wiemann said. 

One technique used to minimize impact to vines during the winter is ‘hilling up,’ which means arranging soil around the base of each vine so that it covers the graft. This helps ensure that even if the trunk of the vine freezes and dies, there is a chance enough wood will be insulated enough to be healthy and grow the following growing season.

Walter-Peterson also said having too big of a crop on the vines will weaken them and make them less likely to survive winter. Finger Lakes Grape Program makes sure to educate growers in order to minimize a decrease in harvest.

PUsh for Winter wine tourism

While vineyards are preparing for a possible decline in harvest, Finger Lakes Wine Country, a company that aims to attract people to visit the area, has been pushing to increase winter wine  tours in the past five years.

Christina Roberts, director of media relation and marketing of Finger Lakes Wine Country, said there is not any data yet to reflect this winter’s impact on tourism for wineries this winter, but they are working on collecting some.

Despite this extreme cold, Roberts said winter is a great time for people to visit wineries in the area and Finger Lakes Wine Country has been trying to change people’s perceptions that wine tours are only for the warmer months.

“We find the winter is really a wonderful time to visit,” Roberts said. “Accommodations typically are able to offer lower rates and it is more affordable to visit …. It’s also a great time to come because you don’t have to ‘fight the crowds’ and you get that individualized attention.”

Public access to scientific research expanded

The Open Access Movement refers to easy access to scientific scholarly articles.

There have been many debates about what information United States citizens are allowed to obtain. Often, the process, especially for government information, can take a long time to obtain.

Access to information is an important aspect of journalism, and many other professions. With the rise of technology, there has also been a rise in the Open Access movement.

Recently, the Public Library of Science (PLoS) announced they will be making changes to their data policy to make it easier for people to access data collected from scientific experiments. Beginning March 3rd, “authors must make all data publicly available, without restriction, immediately upon publication of the article,” according to PLoS. 

There are a few restrictions to the policy, but mainly in cases where a patient’s information can be compromised, or the research was funded by a third-party. In these cases, authors must make a claim that states the data can be obtained upon request.

This is great news for science journalists, because it will be much easier and cheaper to report on findings and trends in their articles.

And with technology making it much faster and cheaper to get information, why shouldn’t we? A Whitehouse.gov petition started last year to “require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research” obtained enough signature to prompt a response from the government.

This caused the US government to issue a memorandum in February 2013 to heads of these scientific article publications, that states “directs each Federal agency with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government.”

One downside of this is that there has to be a uniform way for scientific articles to be sorted, or there will be a lot of confusion down the road when referring to documents.

What do you think of the Open Access movement? Should it be more widespread? Or is there too much work to be put in to make it a reality?