June 4, 2013

Solar Power Is Powering On – The Daily Orbit

Who’s got the shot we’re calling hot?!

Solar power is powering on — across the country…

Poor little puffins getting puffed out…

And blending in, on today’s Daily Orbit!

Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit.  I’m Emerald Robinson.

VLT got the hot shot of the week.  ESO’s Very Large Telescope captured a direct image of possibly the least massive exoplanet to date.  The team said they imaged a faint object moving near a bright star.  They estimate the possible planet’s size at four to five times the mass of Jupiter, making it potentially the lightest planet to be directly observed outside the Solar System.  And I keep saying “direct,” that’s because very few planets have been directly observed so far.  The new exoplanet circles its host star at twice the Neptune-Sun distance. Good eye VLT—you’re such a hot shot!

The solar-powered plane, Solar Impulse, has completed the third leg of it’s journey, but not without a little drama.  The vehicle made the journey from Dallas to St. Louis in 21 hours and 22 minutes, but had delays due to the horrible storms that ravaged the south-central US, making this leg of the journey the most difficult. Upon arrival at St. Louis’s Lambert airport, there was no place for the plane, as the storm had caused considerable damage.  Where did Impulse “hang out” then?  Not to worry—Impulse whipped out it’s portable, inflatable hanger.  Now it’s on to Washington D.C. for this green plane that is being billed as the first cross-continental, solar-powered flight.

And technology just keeps getting better and better.  Researchers say they are one step close to creating an artificial liver.   Liver cells, which are known for their ability to regenerate in the body, usually stop working once removed to a lab setting.  But by combining liver cells with mouse fibroblast cells and using different chemical compounds, scientists can now help these cells continue to function normally and also produce new tissue when grown in layers in lab dishes.  They say cells grown in this manner could generate tissues to treat people who suffer from hepatitis C and other chronic liver conditions.

Oh no!  The puffins are in danger.  Though you probably hear puffin and think of some pastry filled with whip (or that’s what I thought at first), it’s actually an iconic bird that visits the Gulf of Maine.  NOAA says that the Atlantic puffin has been losing body weight and dying of starvation, possibly due to a lack of herring—their main food source.  Over the winter 2,500 dead puffins washed up on Scotland’s shore and 40 on Maine’s and researchers say for every dead bird that washed ashore, there were a dozen more that didn’t.  Scientists say they don’t know what climate change will bring and if puffins will adapt.  Don’t they kinda look like what would happen if a penguin and a parrot had a bird baby?

And from exotic birds to even more exotic fish, researchers have discovered a new way that fish camouflage themselves in the ocean.  Scientists at UT Austin say that fish can actually manipulate light to help hide themselves in the open ocean.  They studied the “lookdown” fish because it’s known to be a good at camouflage.  For the last 40 years, scientists thought the state-of-the-art camouflaging in fish was “mirroring,” where the fish reflected sunlight like a mirror.  The research was funded by the US Navy, because of course they are looking to Mother Nature for better ocean camouflage technologies for defense.  What if we could blend in with our background?

And that’s all for the Daily Orbit.  I’m kind of like a fly on the wall—be careful what you say!!!!

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