The National Today

Planet-hunting TESS space telescope to blast into an orbit never tried before

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

NASA's TESS space telescope, shown here in an illustration, is designed to identify exoplanets orbiting the brightest stars within hundreds of light years of our solar system. (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) space telescope's liftoff has been pushed to Wednesday
  • Toronto Police name eighth victim of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur
  • Germany's Trier, birthplace of Karl Marx, is pulling out the stops to mark his 200th birthday
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Looking out into space — and back in time

NASA's latest, greatest "eye in the sky" will blast off into space this evening, if the weather — and the multimillion-dollar technology — cooperate.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, is set to ride into a never-before-attempted high-elliptical orbit around Earth, courtesy of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Liftoff had been scheduled for Monday evening, but has now been moved to Wednesday because the team determined it needed to run another check of the spacecraft's systems.

The relatively tiny, 1.2 metre by 1.5 metre telescope weighs 362 kilograms. Although small, it has been designed to provide a much bigger vision of our universe, flying out as far as the moon and back every 14 days as it searches the skies for faraway planets.

Technicians prepare the TESS space telescope for launch. The relatively tiny, 1.2 metre by 1.5 metre telescope weighs 362 kilograms, but has been designed to provide a much bigger vision of our universe than any previous telescope. (NASA)
The $200 million US TESS replaces NASA's Kepler telescope, which was launched in 2009 and is now nearing its end as it runs low on fuel.  

Kepler focuses on one tiny patch of the heavens at a time using its 950 millimetre camera to detect the smallest of shifts in the brightness of stars — an indication that something might be orbiting around them. Over nine years, it has confirmed the existence of 2,600 "exoplanets," including 30 located in human-style "habitable zones," and identified 2,200 more possibilities.

TESS, with a larger orbit and four cameras, will survey up to 400 times more sky. Scientists are predicting that it could discover as many as 20,000 new planets during its two-year mission.

TESS will ride into orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket like the one seen here. (Joe Raedl/Getty Images)
Based on the Kepler observations, astronomers now believe there might be as many as two billion planets capable of supporting life in our galaxy.

NASA's first space-based telescope, the bus-sized, 11,000 kilogram Hubble, was launched from the space shuttle Discovery in 1991. It remains in service 547 kilometres above the Earth, in "low" orbit. Hubble has occasionally captured amazing views of deep space exoplanets, but that was never its primary purpose.

While Kepler has focused on distant stars — 500 to 1,500 light years away — TESS will be looking much closer to home, training its cameras on red dwarfs 300 to 500 light years distant.

Team members put the final touches on TESS, including removing protective covers from its cameras, before encapsulating it within the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. (NASA)
Neither planet searcher is capable of detecting atmospheres or biomarkers — potential signs of alien life. That capability will come with the next evolution, the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2020 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket lifting off from French Guiana.

The Webb's 6.5-metre-diameter, 705 kilogram mirror, and unique vantage point — 1.5 million kilometres away from Earth — will allow humans to see where they have never seen before. And because of the way light travels, it will also give a view all the way back in time to the very beginning of the universe.

"It will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System," promises the space agency.

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Eighth victim identified in McArthur case

Toronto Police have identified an eighth victim of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur.

Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam was 37 years old when he disappeared some time between Sept. 3 and Dec. 14, 2015.

McArthur, a 66-year-old landscaper, made a brief video appearance in court this morning to be formally charged with his murder.  

Police took the extraordinary step on March 5 of releasing a photo of a then-unidentified male, saying they believed the image had been taken post-mortem and that the bearded man was one of McArthur's alleged victims.

Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam is shown in a Toronto Police Service handout released April 16. (Toronto Police Service/Canadian Press)
While lead investigator Det.-Sgt. Hank Idsinga has refused to say where he obtained the picture, police sources tell CBC News that it was among a cache of "trophy photos" McArthur kept on his computer.

A plea for public assistance in identifying the man brought in more than 500 tips, which police narrowed down to 70 possible identities, and finally late last week, to Kanagaratnam.

At this point, little is known about Kanagaratnam beyond the fact that he arrived in Canada from his native Sri Lanka in 2010, settling in Scarborough, Ont..

"He was not on file as missing and we have no evidence that would link him to the Gay Village," Idsinga told reporters this morning.

Officers are now in communication with Kanagaratnam's family in Sri Lanka, trying to determine more about the man's time in the Toronto area.

The detective said Kanagaratnam's remains were among the seven sets of human bones recovered from large planters that were stored at the Toronto home McArthur used as a base for his landscaping business.

Former landscaper Bruce McArthur, 66, is accused of killing eight men. (Bruce McArthur/Facebook)
Forensic investigators have used three methods to identify those remains — fingerprints, dental records and DNA.

Idsinga said today that it wasn't possible to obtain comparative DNA samples for Kanagaratnam in short order, as he only had "distant relatives" in the Greater Toronto area. He also refused to clarify the man's immigration status.

Canada has been collecting fingerprints from asylum seekers and would-be refugees since 1993. In 2010, the country accepted 513 claimants from Sri Lanka.

McArthur now faces first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Kanagaratnam, Andrew Kinsman, 49; Selim Esen, 44; Soroush Mahmudi, 50; Dean Lisowick, 47; Skandaraj "Skanda" Navaratnam, 40; Abdulbasir Faizi, 42; and Majeed Kayhan, 59.

Only Kayhan's remains have yet to be identified, although police charged McArthur with his murder on January 29. The 59-year-old was reported missing in October 2012.

Bruce McArthur is accused of killing Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, as well as these seven men. Top row, from left to right, Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, and Abdulbasir Faizi, 44. Bottom row, from left to right: Dean Lisowick, 47, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, and Majeed Kayhan, 58. (CBC/Toronto Police Service)
Police intend to begin searching 75 more properties linked to McArthur as soon as the weather improves.

And they continue to probe cold cases dating back to 1975.

This morning, Idsinga said that investigators have received a new tip about disappearances in Toronto's Gay Village in 1968 and 1969, although they are not actively looking into the cases at this time.

"Right now, I have no evidence that would link Mr. McArthur to any murder earlier than Skana Navaratnam," Idsinga said.

Navaratnam, who reportedly had a previous romantic relationship with McArthur, was last seen leaving a nightclub in September 2010.

200 years of Marx

Karl Marx is making a comeback. At least in his hometown of Trier, Germany.

On Friday, city officials unveiled a massive, five-metre-high bronze of the philosopher and Father of Communism, in advance of the 200th anniversary of his birth on May 5.

A worker covers the head of a statue of German philosopher, economist, political theorist and sociologist Karl Marx on April 13 in Trier, Germany. The statue by Chinese artist Wu Weishan will remain covered until its official inauguration on May 5. (Harald Tittel/AFP/Getty Images)
The three-tonne statue was a gift from the People's Republic of China. Some locals have found the homage unpalatable, both for its origins — concerns have been raised about China's human rights record — and the legacy of Marx himself.

The philosopher lived in Trier for only his first 17 years before moving on to Bonn and Berlin, and eventually to London, after he was exiled following the publication of the Communist Manifesto.

But that's not stopping the city — a quiet and conservative municipality of 105,000 near the Belgian border, which bills itself as the country's oldest town — from trying to cash in on his bicentennial.

Workers installed the statue of Marx in Trier, Germany, on Friday. The bronze tribute created by Chinese artist Wu Weishan weighs 2.3 tonnes and measures 4.4 metres high. (Harald Tittel/AFP/Getty Images)
More than 300 commemorative events are planned over the next year. Several pedestrian crossing lights have been given Marx's bearded and frock-coated silhouette. His birthplace, now a historical site, has undergone a refurbishment and will reopen May 4. And there are major Marx exhibits at the city's two museums.

The local tourism authority has also developed a smartphone app that provides guided Marx-themed walking tours. They highlight places like his grammar school and the former home of the woman who became his wife, Jenny von Westphalen, renowned as "the most beautiful girl in Trier."

True Marxists can opt for a series of more specialized events, like a three course Karl-themed meal, with a play about his life performed in 10-minute acts between plates. Or a tasting of the Mosel region's local wines — red, of course.

Some of Trier's pedestrian traffic lights show an image of Marx. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)
The city already draws over 150,000 Chinese visitors each year, and has been promoting its Marx tributes in the People's Republic in hopes of attracting even more.

However, the new "Mega Marx" statue, as it has been dubbed, might not be enough to put Trier at the top of the list of Communist tourism hotspots.

Even now, 27 years after the collapse of East Germany, monuments to the liberators of the proletariat remain scattered around the reunified country. Chemnitz, a city near the Czech border that was once known as Karl Marx-Stadt, still boasts a seven-metre-high head of the philosopher — the world's second-largest bust, behind a bronze Lenin melon in Ulan-Ude, Russia.

And a statue of Marx and his co-author Friedrich Engels remains a controversial sight in downtown Berlin.    

The building in Trier where Marx was born, now a museum, has been renovated for his 200th birthday. (Thomas Wieck/AFP/Getty Images)
Which is probably just as well, given previous attempts to bury the past.

In 1991, Berlin authorities spent more than €50,000 to dismantle a 19-metre-high red granite version of Vladimir Ilyich that dominated a square in the Friedrichshain neighbourhood. The pieces were then quietly taken to a forest on the outskirts of the city and placed in a giant pit.

Marx souvenirs on sale in Trier include rubber ducks, complete with writing quill and ink pot. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)
For years, the city claimed it didn't know what had become of the massive stone Lenin.

A pressure campaign by German historians and media finally led to the head's excavation in the summer of 2015, so it could be included in a museum exhibition entitled Unveiled: Berlin and its Monuments.

Quote of the moment

"We don't want people to make the assumption that when they tweet something, that it's going to be acted upon."

- Halifax Regional Police Const. Carol McIsaac warning citizens that they shouldn't use social media to report a crime, as the cops don't monitor their accounts 24/7.

Halifax Regional Police Const. Carol McIsaac. (CBC)

What The National is reading

  • Chemical weapons inspectors denied access to Syria's Douma attack site (Guardian)
  • 7 inmates dead, 17 hurt in South Carolina prison fight (CBC)
  • China's Weibo social network drops gay content ban after user backlash (BBC)
  • Tens of thousands protest 'liar' Abe, demand Japanese PM's resignation (Japan Times)
  • Shamed in his dog's death, Calgary man takes his own life (CBC)
  • Sweden's violent reality undoing its peaceful self-image (Politico EU)
  • Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst reveals HIV diagnosis (Deutsche Welle)
  • Google's new search engine answers questions by reading thousands of books (Quartz)

Today in history

April 16, 1979: Rolling Stones fans spend the night — on the sidewalk

In the days before the internet — and scalper bots — people used to line up to buy actual paper tickets to concerts. Or in this case, camp out for days on the sidewalk at Toronto's Yonge and Bloor in their sleeping bags. The Rolling Stones concert in Oshawa, Ont., came courtesy of a provincial court judge who agreed to let Keith Richards off heroin possession charges if his band played a free show for the blind. The remaining 10,000 seats went up for sale to the general public. When the ticket outlet finally opened, they sold out in two-and-a-half hours.

Fans bundled in sleeping bags wait for Rolling Stones tickets. 1:37

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.