Daily Orbit – Solar Impulse Crosses US

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 11,477
    7-8-13: On this episode of the Daily Orbit, Solar Impulse completes its trek across the US, SpaceX’s Grasshopper rocket reaches new heights, and studying the surface of asteroids.

    Emerald Robinson: Who's feeling a little impulsive about breaking records? Asteroids  are feeling a little unstable. A new study gets a little magical inspiration. And another reason to exercise on the Daily Orbit!


    Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit. I'm Emerald Robinson. Felt a little impulsive this weekend? So did the Swiss pilots who made history completing the first cross-country solar powered flight in their sun-powered aircraft, the Solar Impulse. 


    They landed at JFK Saturday night at 11:09 pm Eastern, three hours ahead of time. A tear in the fabric of the left wing forced an earlier landing. The plane traveled a total of 105 hours and 41 minutes in its trek from San Francisco to New York, completely on solar power without a drop of gas.


    Now it's time to part-ay! Several events are scheduled in the Big Apple to celebrate, press conference, opening the NASDAQ, a UN presentation, an open house for the public and more. Whew! I'm tired just thinking about it!


    And another aircraft is also making the record books, well kind of its own record book. SpaceX's Grasshopper reusable rocket reached 1,066 feet in the air before a successful landing back to its launch pad. Though the number may seem pretty impressive, engineers say it's actually the smooth return to the launch pad of this reusable prototype rocket that is most impressive. 


    This test flight marks the first time the rocket used its navigation sensors to return to its launch pad. Unlike other rockets, Grasshopper is designed to be able to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere whereas other rockets burn up upon re-entry. I guess you could say Grasshopper is a smoother operator... smooth operator.


    What's not smooth? The surface of an asteroid. Researchers recently found that rubble and dust covering asteroids and comets could feel changes between particles over much larger distances than Earth making them less stable...meaning AVALANCHE! 


    Scientists likened it to pulling out an orange from a pile in the supermarket. Some come out easily, and some send the whole bunch crashing down. The findings come from an experiment in microgravity. This could have an effect on NASA's asteroid mission, as well as private companies looking to mine asteroids. A spacecraft landing on one side of an asteroid could cause an avalanche on the other side, by long-range transmission of forces through chains, but there are a lot of variables involved. Well, isn't that just the story of life? Cause and effect.


    And then there's always positive and negative in life, which is a whole other web. And that's precisely what one researcher at UC Berkeley is looking at. He found that spider webs don't attract the prey; rather the prey attracts the web. As insects fly through the air they generate a positive charge. This charge can be helpful, in bees for example, it attracts pollen to their legs when they land on a flower. 


    But this positive charge also attracts the negatively or neutrally charged spider web. In his experiment, he applied positive charge to some dead insects and dropped them on spider webs. Using a high-speed camera, you can see the web deformed and touched the insect even before it reached the web. He says that the thin flexible silk is able to reach out and grab the insect. His inspiration for the study? A magic wand? Actually he was playing with his daughter's magic wand outdoors, which produced a positive electrostatic charge and noticed it attracted spider webs, and then a study was born. All it took was a little magic.


    And here's a little magic for your mind, exercise. Okay so it's a little less than magical but new research shows that physical activity reorganizes the brain so that its response to stress is decreased. Previously researchers didn't understand why exercise reduces anxiety, because it promotes growth of new neurons in the ventral hippocampus, the brain region that regulates anxiety. 


    This should mean the young neurons should be more excitable, resulting in more anxiety. But the new study showed that exercise also strengthens the mechanism that prevents these brain cells from firing in excitable moments. Researchers say figuring out how the brain regulates anxious behavior could help patients with anxiety disorders as well as help us understand how the brain modifies itself to respond optimally to its own environment. And yet one more reason that we should exercise... ugh!


    Well that's all for the Daily Orbit. See you tomorrow!