Fiorina’s Presidential Road Not Taken


One of the most amazing and frustrating things about this year’s U.S. presidential race is that no one learned Obama’s lesson on how to make effective use of technology to win an election. It was a powerful lesson, too.

Largely using a mix of analytics and social networking, a young inexperienced politician was able to roll over the anointed candidate for his party. Four years later, he was able to overcome a negative approval rating to do it again — schooling Mitt Romney, who should have known how to use those tools better.

In the current election, the woman he defeated the first time didn’t learn this lesson and now is losing again. The one candidate who actually ran a technology company didn’t learn this lesson either, and what should have been a huge advantage never materialized. Are these people idiots?

I’ll offer my views on that and close with my product of the week: a set of high-tech morphing dark glasses that use smart glass to adjust for lighting changes automatically.

How Analytics and Social Media Can Win an Election

One of the most interesting lectures I’ve ever attended was one EMC hosted a few years back — a talk by the man who served as CIO in Obama’s election and re-election campaigns. He walked us through how the campaign staff used technology to beat the pants off Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Mitt Romney — all far more experienced politicians.

The first two evidently couldn’t spell “analytics” and put up no credible technology defense. While business expert Romney got that he needed a response, he executed it so badly you had to wonder how he was successful in business.

Granted, some argue that the quid pro quo for this with Obama was that Google basically owns him now. Still, the fact is he showcased that hiring a competent analytics team (Romney forgot the “competent” part) can result in a huge advantage.

What analytics and social networking provide is the combination of knowing what resonates and a low-cost model for delivering the related message. In effect, as I’ve noted before, social media gives someone who has natural manipulation skills a massive scale. Analytics is a force multiplier, because it identifies what voters want to hear.

It is an obvious lesson, so why didn’t Fiorina, who used to run HP, learn it?

Fiorina’s Failure

One of the things that you learn if you follow CEOs is that each one has self-created blind spots that let others repeatedly stab them in the back. Fiorina’s are an unwillingness to acknowledge and learn from a mistake, and an inability to build loyalty with the folks most critical to her.

There were two key reasons Fiorina failed at HP, according to insiders. One: She obviously never understood the technology, so the folks who reported to her took many of her orders as ill-advised suggestions, not directives. Two: She wasn’t loyal to her people, so they weren’t loyal to her. This is often a problem with executives who overuse layoffs as a financial management tool. It builds disrespect, disloyalty and outright hatred.

Fiorina never understood the power of analytics, and the people who used to work for her who did understand how to use this technology for the most part either hated her, thought she was incompetent, or both. In any case, they never would be an asset — only a liability. Her tenure at HP is perceived as a failure, so it didn’t even set a good foundation for the argument that she would be a qualified choice for president.

As a female politician, she had a huge potential advantage over the folks running against her for the nomination — particularly against a female candidate from the opposing party — but only if she was solid on women’s issues.

Instead, she picked as her pivotal issue Planned Parenthood selling baby parts, which was discredited.

Planned Parenthood is a pro-women’s rights organization and by taking that position, Fiorina was at odds with much of what could have been her core constituency. Standing up for women’s equality in the workplace would have been a far more legitimate issue and one that was far more deeply connected to the female demographic, with no real potential downside.

Put another way, she made it easy for women to choose Clinton as the one who would best represent them. This is something a combination of analytics and simulation should have showcased easily, but it looked like Fiorina shot from the hip instead — and shot herself in the foot as a result.

Analytics vs. Confirmation Bias

I’m a strong believer that as a race, we are more likely to be wiped out because of some screwy political or scientific decision than any natural disaster. (Our last word as a race easily could be a scientist saying “oops.”)

At the heart of this is the concept of confirmation bias, or the hard-wired behavior we all have that inclines us to pay attention only to facts that support our pre-existing position.

Global warming contrarians are an excellent example, but there are folks who believe that the moon landing was a hoax, that the world is actually flat, and that electric cars are more inefficient than gas cars. (By the way, all are untrue.)

While you most often notice this when people take political, religious or racist positions, the fact is we all have this trait to favor information that agrees with what we already think. Analytics, done right, provides a data-rich tool that can refute a stupid and self-destructive position we have taken. Some of us likely need this as a defense against choosing dates unwisely (something very personal to me, because my mother died as a result of a bad choice like this).

Even though analytics can keep executives from doing stupid things, many refuse to use it because it also can be used to showcase they are wrong — and many, if not most, would rather believe they were right than ever admit they weren’t.

Apply that to scientists or politicians (the WMD Iraq war for instance) and you see the potential for a race-ending “oops.”

For example, much of the analysis on whether the Hadron Collider would end the world was done after the effort was funded and people were committed to its success. (Oh, and much of it also was wrong.) That should make you sleep soundly tonight.

Wrapping Up: The Lesson

The unspoken lesson is that it is far better to learn from others’ mistakes than make them yourself. Fiorina lost a lot of her money and a lot of money that was invested in her, both as HP’s CEO and as a failed candidate in two elections, because she didn’t learn from her mistakes or from the successes of the sitting president.

In the end, she didn’t prove her firing from HP was wrong — she proved she likely shouldn’t have been hired as CEO in the first place.

Maybe this showcases a set of questions boards should, but don’t, ask prospective CEOs. Do you understand, and can you demonstrate the proper use of analytics to make decisions? Can you point to a key group of competent people who are both loyal and will follow you into the new job? Can you show you can learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others? Do you understand the industry and business you are being hired to work in and manage? Fiorina’s performance suggests that boards don’t ask those questions nearly enough.

By the way, as a side note on confirmation bias and the news — if you want to see how often news channels leave out contradictory information, Cracked does a regular series on how often we miss the story behind the story. One of its latest disclosures is that while the European petition to ban Trump for calling for a ban on Syrian refugees has around 560K Signatures, the UK petition to do nearly the same exact thing has nearly 430K signatures (it is No. 5 on the list). Pot meet kettle.

This is one of those products that is just cool.

CTRL Eyewear has used an Indiegogo campaign to successfully launch a product — in this case, smart glass-based dark glasses.

CTRL ONE Tint Changing Sunglasses

CTRL ONE Tint Changing Sunglasses

Smart glass is a technology that uses electrical current to change the state of glass — in this case from clear to dark. Unlike the auto-adjusting glasses of old, the change is instant. This technology has been used by fighter pilots and astronauts to protect against blindness.

This is especially cool in sports-oriented glasses, because the adjustment is so fast that your vision isn’t as compromised by rapidly changing light conditions.

Eventually the glasses will cost US$300 a pair, but they remain available on Indiegogo for $200. (I bought two myself).

They charge like a smartphone or Bluetooth headset with a micro-USB cable, and you can order the glasses to take prescription lenses. They also have a special version that has a blue lens for $25 more. That didn’t come out until after I’d ordered mine, unfortunately, but the black lenses work just fine.

So, because CTRL Eyewear is just cool, its new smart glass sunglasses are my product of the week.

Mattel’s 3D Printer Will Let Kids Do More Than Play With Toys

Mattel's 3D Printer Will Let Kids Do More Than Play With Toys

Mattel last week announced that it is giving its ThingMaker a high-tech makeover by equipping it with 3D capabilities.


Using the original 1960s iteration, children could create small toys, such as dragons and flowers, by pouring liquid plastic into molds, which were heated and cooled.

The updated ThingMaker was designed in partnership with Autodesk, which created the 3D app that works in tandem with the printer. The app and printer will let children design, create and print their own toys.

“We initially announced our collaboration with Mattel back in April 2015 to provide an experience for kids and families where they could combine physical toys with a digital making adventure,” said Jennifer Gentrup, spokesperson for Autodesk consumer and 3D printing.

“So, Autodesk helped develop the ThingMaker design app for Mattel, and the app was launched with Mattel’s printer,” she told TechNewsWorld.

Mattel ThingMaker 3D Printer and ThingMaker Design App Eco-System

The printers, slated to hit shelves in the fall, can be preordered from Amazon. The price is expected to be US$299.99, Mattel said.

How It Works

The app will provide kids with a couple of ways to make their own 3D-printed objects. For example, they can choose one of the templates included in the app, or they can come up with something unique, using hundreds of parts available.

The parts, or 3D files, then are sent to the printer where they are printed in batches and ultimately assembled using ball and socket joints, Mattel said.

The 3D ecosystem for kids is a response to a quickly growing 3D printer market. Companies like Barnes & Noble are selling relatively inexpensive models, priced at about $350 to $400, in stores and online.

What Can Parents and Kids Expect?

How do the toys to measure up in comparison with other 3D printers?

Most desktop models, like the kind available in stores today, are inferior to their industrial or business-oriented counterparts.

The most common type of desktop printer is a fused deposition modeling printer, or FDM, according to Max Mittler, an executive assistant at Solid Prototype.

“There are so many different types of printers out there, but if you print using a desktop printer, then you’re going to get FDM printing,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“For those types of printers, you’re going to see the little build lines. It won’t be smooth. That’s because of the method the 3D printer uses. Ours uses a liquid resin, which lays down full layers at a time which creates solid models. FDM printers, on the other hand, will create a 2D with a support built inside,” Mittler said.

In addition to the lack of smoothness, desktop models won’t be able to produce the level of detail more sophisticated printers can.

“The biggest difference is going to be in what we call ‘resolution.’ We use PolyJet printers (stereolithography, or SLA), so it looks just like an injection-molded part. It’s got a smooth finish,” Mittler added.

It makes sense that Mattel would create a 3D printer for kids, he noted.

“This is definitely a natural progression for 3D printing,” Mittler said. “It’s become more and more popular. Most of our customers already have their own 3D printers at home.”

Leap Motion Unleashes Orion


Leap Motion on Tuesday introduced Orion — a faster, more precise, more capable and more reliable hand tracking system than its predecessor. Orion is purpose built for virtual reality, and it represents a stark shift in how Leap Motion tech tracks hands and fingers, according to the company.

“Orion starts tracking faster and with lower latency,” the company said in a statement provided to spokes person Eva Babiak. “The software will track hands when fully extended at arm’s length. And Orion maintains reliable hand tracking even when the sensor can’t fully see your fingers or if you’re in a cluttered background environment.”

Leap Motion’s solution is unique in that it doesn’t require users to manipulate physical game pads and other controllers. The platform lets consumers use their hands in virtual worlds in the same way they use them in the real world.

“Imagine playing a game in virtual reality where you could stack bricks to build a shelter, throw a punch, disassemble a bomb, etc., using your actual hands,” said Leap Motion. “Orion helps to enable that sense of presence and immersion in VR.”

Leap Motion has made a beta version of Orion available to developers who’d like to get their hands on the touchless technology as soon as possible.

The Orion software is compatible with the first generation of Leap Motion hardware. However, the improvements won’t be quite as pronounced as they will be when Orion is paired with the upcoming hardware, the company said.

Leap Motion hardware currently lives in a table-top box, but the company has been working with several developers of VR and augmented reality headsets to integrate Orion into their head-mounted displays.

On the Right Track

Leap Motion’s progress in making VR hands free is a laudable effort, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“Not only has the company made the leap — pun intended — from PC-tethered devices to mobile VR, but it has also significantly upgraded overall performance and user experience,” he told TechNewsWorld. “These advances should all help the company establish or extend its market traction.”

While hands-free hand tracking isn’t necessary for passive VR entertainment, it is critical to more interactive experiences, King said. Though the major movers in the VR market have been developing their own tracking technologies, Leap Motion should see multiple business opportunities among smaller original equipment manufacturers.

“That’s particularly true in business-focused VR solutions, many of which are sadly overshadowed by entertainment-centric platforms,” he said. “Plus, if Leap can establish itself as a leading player in the VR market, partnerships with larger companies will likely be in the company’s future.”

Rail Junction

As promising as Orion is, it depends on headset platforms that are still a long way from the consumer market, noted Mike Jude, program manager,Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

Still, hands-free tracking is poised to evolve into a critical component of all active VR experiences. If it does, it could change the way people learn.

“People tend to learn better when they’re interacting with their environment than if they’re in a static situation and are being told what the environment is like,” Jude told TechNewsWorld.

Frost & Sullivan listed VR Education as a Service as one of the most intriguing convergences of technology likely to emerge in the near term.

The development of Orion and other hands-free technologies could make VR more accessible to people outside the ranks of hard-core gaming, starting with those inside the classroom.

Given the enthusiasm VR already has among educators, big leaps forward with the tech should be well received, and this year should be filled with such advances, according to Jude.

“I think we’re going to see a quantum shift in the space this year,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of devices out there and a lot of enthusiasm. And all it takes is one [independent software vendor] writing one application that gains a lot of traction, and then everyone else will jump into it.”

Atlas Robot Turns the Other Cheek


Google-owned Boston Dynamics on Tuesday gave the world a look at the latest version of Atlas, a bipedal robot that someday could threaten manual laborers’ livelihoods.

Boston Dynamics certainly didn’t say or imply that the fast-progressing Atlas robot would force humans out of their jobs. The clandestine group merely demonstrated the latest build of the bot, and gave it a cringeworthy battering to show how it responded to abuse.

Giant Holding the World

The latest generation of Atlas is more compact than its predecessor even though it also is unleashed from the power tether that pumped life into its grandfather’s hydraulic limbs.

This current version is 5 foot 9 inches tall and weighs in at 180 pounds, compared to the previous Atlas’ 6 foot 330-pound build.

Atlas is featured in a demo video walking away from his stable mates and heading outside to showcase its ability to trek across uneven, snowy terrain. Later, the bot shows off its industrious side, and then allows its handler to torment it.

Atlas reclaims items knocked out of its grip and eerily springs back to its feet after being shoved onto its face. After enduring its human antagonist’s repeated assaults, Atlas is shown leaving the scene.

It was just last year, during the DARPA challenge that made Boston Dynamics famous, that none of the robotic entrants was capable of opening doors, as is this latest version of Atlas.

“This video counters some of the skepticism about how fast the field of robotics is moving forward,” said Aditya Kaul, research director for Tractica.

Still, it’s important to question just how controlled the environment was when Atlas was being filmed, Kaul told TechNewsWorld. One has to question if the robot would behave similarly in the real world, “without any preprogramming or preconditioning.”

They Took Our Jobs!

Big Dog, Boston Dynamics’ bot of burden, may hint at the future of warfare, as the four-legged robot marches up and down hills to the eerie songs of its hydraulic joints. That notion was, if anything, heightened by the fact that it was an entrant in a DARPA competition.

Though based on much of the same technology, Atlas is a different beast. It’s anthropomorphic proportions and humanoid build empower the robot to tackle tasks that typically are intended for humans, noted Wendell Chun, principal analyst at Tractica.

“This is natural, since everything in this world is built for and around humans: using hand tools, passing through doors for ingress and egress, ascending stairs, cooking, painting a house, and so on,”.

The human body can serve as a model for certain types of robot, but even though it’s a “remarkable work of nature,” Chun said, there are some inherent limitations to the human form.

It may be a good while before robotic adherents to Asimov’s laws find their place in the home, suggested Kaul. Atlas, et al, seem more suited to enterprise settings.

“Our thesis is that the most successful consumer robot that will have an impact on society as a whole will be the autonomous or partially autonomous car,” Kaul said. “By 2020, we forecast that 60 percent of all luxury cars will have some form of partial or fully autonomous capability.”

Giant Leap for Humanoidkind

Still, Atlas may have taken a few steps down the path to welcoming humanoid robots into the workforce.

Getting a robot to balance on two legs and avoid obstacles has been a 25-year journey for Boston Dynamics, observed Chun.

Yet there is still a considerable amount of work to be done. For example, Boston Dynamics must find a better source of wireless power and a better means of reducing engine sounds to allow for stealthy operations, he pointed out.

“Robot mechanics, dynamics and control are continuously evolving,” Chun said. “The next big step is to incorporate the advancement of AI software to make the robot more capable.”

That’s something Google’s other divisions have been working on, through initiatives such as its self-driving cars and DeepMind artificial intelligence research.

“Processing hardware capabilities are still increasing exponentially, but it is the advancements in learning, reasoning and inference software that will push robotics to a new level,” Chun said. “When that day comes, we at least know that if the Atlas robot falls, it will be able to get up by itself.”

Nasa Invites India to Jointly Explore Mars, Send Astronauts

Nasa Invites India to Jointly Explore Mars, Send Astronauts

In future, India and the US could jointly explore Mars and who knows an Indian astronaut could also head to the Red planet on a joint mission.

India’s maiden mission to the Red Planet, Mangalyaan, has opened the eyes of the world on Isro’s capabilities at undertaking low cost, high value inter-planetary mission.

Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or JPL, a part of Nasa and an institution better known for piloting most of the American planetary exploration efforts with rovers like Curiosity, says India and the US could jointly explore Mars and even invited India to send astronauts to the Red Planet.

Excerpts of an interview:

Q) The US is interested in going back to Mars, so is India. Will India and America look at a joint robotic mission to explore Mars?

A) We hope so that it will be the case in the future. At Nasa, we are just beginning to plan for next mission to Mars for the next decade, which is 2020-2030. In fact shortly, there is a meeting in Washington on possible collaborations for the next 5-6 mission to Mars and Isro is invited for that meeting. This is in preparation for the ultimate human space flight to Mars. We clearly hope that India would be interested. Hopefully, India will be part of the consortium between US, Europe, France, Italy among others where all can capitalise on our capabilities to explore the solar system.

Q) A cooperative exploratory mission is what you are looking at?

A) Yes, that is right. With its accomplishment on the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) India is a great partner, India can be a full partner in the international endeavour for exploring Mars.

Q) In the long run, President Barack Obama has said America should send humans to Mars, so are you looking at a collaboration with India on that mission, since India also has a human space flight program?

A) Nasa is starting to plan for the human expedition to Mars, and Nasa is looking at it as an international endeavour. Nasa has invited international agencies to start thinking together on how to send humans to Mars and beyond. So clearly that is an area where there will be collaboration between India and the US considering the capability that India has, by showing that it can meaningfully contribute to international endeavours.

Q) What was Nasa’s role in India’s mission to Mars?

A) When India launched its mission to Mars, and I congratulate India on a superb mission by reaching the orbit or Mars in the very first attempt. JPL supported Isro in the navigation and communication because of the antennas we have.

Reaching the Mars orbit in first attempt was an amazing achievement and that too at such low cost. Now American scientists through its MAVEN mission and India through its Mars Orbiter Mission are sharing data.

Q) Nasa is looking to mine an asteroid, is India likely to participate on that mission?

A) We are looking at a mission using electric propulsion, which is a major advancement in technology, to capture an asteroid and bring it back to lunar orbit so that astronauts can go and do more deeper exploration. Nasa has opened the door for potential interest, be it from India or Europe. We are in a very early stage of planning so that is clearly an opportunity for more collaboration with India.

Q) Where are Indo-US relations in space heading?

A) I think they are heading for a very positive future, from five years ago the interest has now tremendously expanded. There is now good will both politically and scientifically, I am very optimistic about the future in space collaboration. Space is for everybody, the good will between two countries makes space a natural place to work together.

The two can cooperate even in astronomy, India has a long history in astronomy. I visited the ancient observatory made by Indians (at Jantar Mantar) that is a few hundred years old that furthered knowledge and now we can do it together. India has a great tradition of learning.

Q) What else is in store for Nasa and Isro in the future?

A) We have a mission called Nasa-Isro Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission. This is a major mission that will be launched in 2020. Here we are really collaborating as equals, between India and the US. This mission will allow us to look at natural resources across the world, natural hazards like

tectonic motion, climate impact and climate change. This is of direct day-to-day benefit for life both in USA and India. This came up as a collaboration among scientists but is now a full-fledged approved joint mission between both countries.

Q) How can you decipher things from space after a disaster strikes?

A) This is a RADAR mission, that has the capability to take a picture of the land, and then you come back a few days later and take another picture. In the meantime, if there was a change even down to a scale of a few centimeters we can detect it from space. This gives you a picture of the motion that has occurred as result of an earthquake or mudslide. This will allow us to better understand the physics behind an earthquake.

Potentially it will allow us to predict areas with large natural hazard.

This is of direct benefit be it for India or California where we see tectonic activity as well. The two main RADAR instruments are being developed by Nasa and Isro, the satellite bus will be Indian and it will be fabricated in India and then it will be launched using the Indian rocket the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle. This time we are truly collaborating as equals.

Scientists Create Biological Supercomputer

Scientists Create Biological Supercomputer

Scientists have created an energy efficient biological supercomputer that is able to process information very quickly and accurately using parallel networks in the same way that massive electronic supercomputers do.

The model of bio supercomputer, which opens doors to creation of biological supercomputers that are not only small but also more sustainable, was created by an international team of researchers led by professor Dan Nicolau from Canada’s McGill University.

According to an article, published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the supercomputer is a whole lot smaller than current supercomputers, uses much less energy, and uses proteins present in all living cells to function.

“We’ve managed to create a very complex network in a very small area,” said professor Nicolau.

He began working on the idea with his son, Dan Jr., more than a decade ago and was then joined by colleagues from Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, some seven years ago.

“This started as a back of an envelope idea, after too much rum I think, with drawings of what looked like small worms exploring mazes,” professor Nicolau added.

The model bio-supercomputer uses a combination of geometrical modelling and engineering knowhow (on the nano scale). It is a first step, in showing that this kind of biological supercomputer can actually work.

The circuit the researchers have created looks a bit like a road map of a busy and very organised city as seen from a plane.

Instead of the electrons that are propelled by an electrical charge and move around within a traditional microchip, short strings of proteins (which the researchers call biological agents) travel around the circuit in a controlled way.

Their movements are powered by ATP, the chemical that is, in some ways, the juice of life for everything from plants to politicians.

Since it is run by biological agents, and as a result hardly heats up at all, the model bio supercomputer that the researchers have developed uses far less energy than standard electronic supercomputers do, making it more sustainable.

Brain Stimulation Technique Can Boost Pilot Skills

Brain Stimulation Technique Can Boost Pilot Skills: Study

Neurostimulation, a brain stimulation technique originally developed to help patients with brain injuries such as strokes and depression, can also be used to improve learning and skill retention in pilots, says a study.

Researchers from US-based HRL Laboratories used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to show that the technique can be effectively used to improve skills of pilots learning to fly.

“We measured the brain activity patterns of six commercial and military pilots and then transmitted these patterns into novice subjects as they learned to pilot an airplane in a realistic flight simulator,”said Dr Matthew Phillips from HRL’s information and system sciences Laboratory.

The team found that participants who received brain stimulation via electrode-embedded head caps improved their piloting abilities.

“We measured the average g-force of the plane during the simulated landing and compared it to control subjects who received a mock brain stimulation,” added Dr Phillips in a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

While a previous research demonstrated that tDCS can both help patients more quickly recover from a stroke and boost a healthy person’s creativity, HRL’s study is one of the first to show that tDCS is effective in accelerating practical learning.

According to the researcher, the potential to increase learning with brain stimulation may make this form of accelerated learning commonplace.

“As we discover more about optimizing, personalizing, and adapting brain stimulation protocols, we’ll likely see these technologies become routine in training and classroom environments,” he noted.

“It’s possible that brain stimulation could be implemented for classes like drivers’ training, SAT prep, and language learning,” Dr Philips noted.

Nasa’s Ibex Defines Interstellar Magnetic Field

Nasa's Ibex Defines Interstellar Magnetic Field

Using data from Nasa’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), scientists have determined the strength and direction of the magnetic field outside the heliosphere, giving us a peek into the magnetic forces that dominate the galaxy beyond.

Immediately after its 2008 launch, IBEX spotted a curiosity in a thin slice of space – more particles streamed in through a long, skinny swath in the sky than anywhere else.

The origin of the so-called IBEX ribbon was unknown – but its very existence opened doors to observing what lies outside the solar system.

Now, a new study uses IBEX data and simulations of the interstellar boundary – which lies at the very edge of the giant magnetic bubble surrounding our solar system called the heliosphere – to better describe space in our galactic neighbourhood.

The study is based on one particular theory of the origin of the IBEX ribbon, in which the particles streaming in from the ribbon are actually solar material reflected back at us after a long journey to the edges of the sun’s magnetic boundaries, researchers said.

A giant bubble, known as the heliosphere, exists around the sun and is filled with what is called solar wind, the sun’s constant outflow of ionised gas, known as plasma. When these particles reach the edges of the heliosphere, their motion becomes more complicated, they said.

“The theory says that some solar wind protons are sent flying back towards the sun as neutral atoms after a complex series of charge exchanges, creating the IBEX ribbon,” said Eric Zirnstein from Southwest Research Institute in US.

“Simulations and IBEX observations pinpoint this process – which takes anywhere from three to six years on average – as the most likely origin of the IBEX ribbon,” said Zirnstein.

The directions of different ribbon particles shooting back toward Earth are determined by the characteristics of the interstellar magnetic field.

For instance, simulations show that the most energetic particles come from a different region of space than the least energetic particles, which gives clues as to how the interstellar magnetic field interacts with the heliosphere, researchers said.

For the study, such observations were used to seed simulations of the ribbon’s origin. Not only do these simulations correctly predict the locations of neutral ribbon particles at different energies, but the deduced interstellar magnetic field agrees with Voyager 1 measurements, the deflection of interstellar neutral gases, and observations of distant polarised starlight.

“Voyager 1 crossed the termination shock at 94 astronomical units (AU) from the sun, and Voyager 2 at 84 AU,” said Zirnstein. One AU is equal to about 150 million kilometres, the average distance between Earth and the sun.

“That difference of almost 150 million kilometres was mostly explained by a strong, very tilted interstellar magnetic field pushing on the heliosphere,” said Zirnstein. The study was published in Astrophysical Journal.