April 18, 2013

Proba-3 Satellites To Perform Cosmic Ballet – The Daily Orbit

What mission will have satellites moving in sync?

Drinking and dancing, is it better for the brain?

What’s white and black and a lot like us?

And we’re stressed out on today’s Daily Orbit!

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

The satellite ballet…or that’s how I like to think of ESA’s Proba-3 mission that aims to demonstrate that two satellites can be synchronized to move as one object with sub-millimeter precision to create a huge space telescope with the lens and detector hundreds of feet apart. Set to launch in 2017, this will be the first time two spacecraft will fly through space as a single unit. The washing machine-sized satellites will launch as one unit and separate into a tandem orbit once in space. They will fly autonomously, without guidance from the ground. The pair’s eccentric orbit will range from 370 miles to 37,000 miles from Earth. In one experiment, one satellite will block out the Sun so the other can examine the sun’s corona in unprecedented detail. But the team really has its eye on Mars mission applications. It will be like they’re dancing in space.

And you might want to get to dancing if you’re a heavy drinker. A recent study shows that aerobic exercise may help to curb the negative effects that heavy drinking can have on the brain. Aerobic exercise has been found to improve learning, memory, and self-control and protect white matter in the brain from damage associated with aging. Since heavy alcohol consumption has similar effects on the brain as aging, researchers believe that aerobic exercise will help protect the white matter in heavy drinkers’ brains as well. But peeps, it is no excuse to drink a couple red-bull vodkas and hit the gym, like a couple other people I know.

Just the thought of exercise stresses me out. Ugh! Well, at least a little stress is good for ya! Researchers recently found that acute, short-lived stress primes the brain for improved performance. And here I had thought all stress was bad. They say it pushes you just to “the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance.” While studying rats, brief stressful events caused stem cells in their brains to proliferate into new nerve cells that helped to improve the animals’ mental performance. But scientists found that the new nerve cells needed time to mature and weren’t useful until a couple of weeks post-stress. So I guess most things are good for you in moderation—with moderation being the key word!

NASA is keeping it in moderation with their Small Explorer Mission which was developed to deliver space exploration missions for under $120 million. Well, I guess you could considerate that to be a moderate budget as far as space exploration goes. Its next satellite to go into space, IRIS, will launch no earlier than May 28. It will be used to give scientists a better view and understanding of energy and plasma movement near the surface of our Sun which in turn will hopefully provide for more accurate space weather forecasts. It will particularly look at the region between the Sun’s photosphere and corona with its single instrument, a multi-channel imaging spectrograph with an ultraviolet telescope. Godspeed IRIS, and good luck looking at the sun—a mission for which you are appropriately named.

What do you and a zebrafish have in common? How about protein-coding genes. Researchers say that 70% of protein-coding human genes are related to genes found in the zebrafish; and that 84% of genes known to be associated with human disease have a zebrafish counterpart. Scientists developed a highly-annotated zebrafish genome sequence to compare with humans. They say it’s a model organism for studying human disease and has already led to advances in cancer and heart disease research and could help find new targets for drug development.

And that’s all for today’s Daily Orbit! See you tomorrow!

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