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Txch This Week: Artificial Life Wiggles Into Digital Existence

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by Ysabel Yates

This week on Txchnologist, we learned about advances in transparent electronics that could one day lead to implantable devices that give us real-time status updates on our health. 

We also examined the development of algae biofuels after researchers announced they could create crude oil from the plants in under an hour,  and saw what happens when you unleash YouTube’s Slow Mo guys at GE laboratories.

Now, we’re bringing you the top science, tech and innovation news we’ve been following this week.

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Satellites Show Trials By Fire

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by Michael Keller

“After a scorching July, with many areas setting temperature records across the West leading to extremely dry conditions and active fire behavior, the first days of August may bring at least some temporary relief in the northernmost areas.” That’s the latest National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) situation report, a dry season forecast that will let residents in blaze-prone areas take a moment to relax.

But according to university and NASA scientists crunching remote-sensing data from satellites in computer models, those moments are going to remain fleeting into the foreseeable future.

Researchers monitoring and analyzing weather patterns have detected increasingly warmer and drier conditions in the U.S. since the 1980s, and climate change simulations suggest that we should expect that trend to continue. This drying increases the risk of fire, putting more homes, businesses and habitats at risk in a broader swath of the country.

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NASA Satellite Watches Plants Change Over Seasons

by Michael Keller

NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite keeps a vigilant eye on the herbal Earth. A representation of its work—a compilation of vegetation data taken over the course of a year—is below.

The satellite’s visible and infrared light sensor records the reflection of sunlight off vegetation to understand how plants sprouting and shedding their leaves change the land.

While interesting to watch on its own, this data is folded into an analytical tool called the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, which is used for environmental modeling and weather prediction. 

Top Image: Ecuador’s rainforest via Shutterstock.

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From Russia’s North to South Africa in 16 Minutes

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by Michael Keller

As the Earth-observing Landsat satellite zooms high above our heads, it records a continuous ribbon of the planet below. It is our ever-vigilant watchdog, sending back imagery since 1972 that is used by people working in agriculture, geology, forestry, peacekeeping, regional planning and land-use change. 

The video below was taken by Landsat, a joint program run by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, on April 19 over the course of around 20 minutes. It shows the satellite’s recording of a swath of Earth 5,665 miles long from the extreme northern latitudes of Russia down to the southern tip of Africa. Landsat was actually traveling at 16,800 mph and the video’s creators sped that up to to the equivalent of nearly 22,000 mph to adjust the clip’s length.

If you don’t want to see the full overflight below, NASA has made a highlights clip that comes in at under four minutes.

Top Image: A still from an animation showing the Landsat Data Continuity Mission working in its orbit. Courtesy NASA.

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