Daily Orbit – It’s a Touch Screen World

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 12,531
    7-11-13: On this episode of the Daily Orbit, any surface can become a touch screen, IBEX is tailing the solar system, and wildfires are on the rise.

    Emerald Robinson: A touchy new technology. A NASA tail. Earth's fiery future. And time is a changin' on the Daily Orbit!


    Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit. I'm Emerald Robinson. Imagine your dining room table, or a tree for that matter, becoming a digital touch screen? Well, new technology in development is working that out. Called Statina, the technology uses low-cost sensors and web cameras to make any surface sensitive to touch. Researchers say you could play computer games or draw sketches on walls or windows. They are working to commercialize their invention and plan to make it available to a large audience.


    Who is NASA tailing now? The solar system's heliosphere. The agency's Interstellar Boundary Explorer spacecraft, or IBEX, has unveiled an unexpected structure in the first complete picture of the solar system's heliotail. The heliosphere is the giant bubble our solar system resides in. Scientists believe a tail, similar to a comet, trails the heliosphere as it moves through interstellar space. 


    More data coming in shows a second tail region in addition to the first found in 2009 suggesting that the tail is better classified as lobes instead of a single unit, kind of like a four-leaf clover. The tail, or tails I guess, are formed as solar winds from the sun flow down and escape the heliosphere. Well, that's an interesting interstellar tale!


    And if you thought that last story was hot, well it's about to get hotter. Researchers say wildfires worldwide are expected to become far more severe over the next several decades. They predict the severity will increase three-fold by the end of the century and become increasingly more dangerous which means existing wildlife management plans need to adjust, including sharing resources around the globe as well as having efficient early warning systems in place. 


    So what's influencing the changes? Fuels, ignition agents, climate and weather and, of course, people. Things we can change to help? Reduce human-caused ignitions and modify fuels. Things we can't change? The weather or lightning activity. Kind of challenges Smokey the Bear's slogan "only you can prevent forest fires."


    Another thing we can't change? The ticking of Father Time. Or can we? A new clock may be redefining time. The new device, called an optical lattice clock, or OLC, is three times more accurate than current atomic clocks, losing only one second every 300 million years. Most think of a second as the time it takes the small hand to pass from one click to another. But scientists redefine it more precisely as "the duration of 9,192,631,770 oscillations of the microwave radiation absorbed or entitled when a caesium atom jumps between two particular energy states." I think I'll stick with the first definition. Just trying to explain it takes up a lot of time!


    And something else is changing over time, our understanding of muscles. Biceps, for example, are packed with filaments. To lift a heavy object or flex, we thought these long ropes of filaments shortened or contracted the muscle to give it its power. But a new study says that the shape of filaments is different than previously thought. They say that instead of shortening, filaments spread out across the muscle in a mesh arrangement, which is responsible for the lifting power of biceps and the force generated by other muscles. They say the old theory isn't consistent with the force that physiologists know muscles are capable of producing. That's a strong accusation.


    And that's it for the Daily Orbit. See you tomorrow!