NASA releases stunning new pic of Milky Way’s ‘downtown’

NASA releases stunning new pic of Milky Way’s ‘downtown’

This false-color X-ray and radio frequency image made available by NASA on Friday, May 28, 2021 shows threads of superheated gas and magnetic fields at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. X-rays detected by the NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory are in orange, green, blue and purple, and radio data from the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa are shown in lilac and gray. The plane of the galazy is horizontal, in the center of this vertical image. Astronomer Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts Amherst said Friday he spent a year working on this, while stuck at home during the pandemic. (NASA/CXC/UMass/Q.D. Wang, NRF/SARAO/MeerKAT via AP)
This false-color X-ray and radio frequency image made available by NASA on Friday, May 28, 2021 shows threads of superheated gas and magnetic fields at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. X-rays detected by the NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory are in orange, green, blue and purple, and radio data from the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa are shown in lilac and gray. The plane of the galazy is horizontal, in the center of this vertical image. Astronomer Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts Amherst said Friday he spent a year working on this, while stuck at home during the pandemic. (NASA/CXC/UMass/Q.D. Wang, NRF/SARAO/MeerKAT via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA has released a stunning new picture of our galaxy’s violent, super-energized “downtown.”

It’s a composite of 370 observations over the past two decades by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, depicting billions of stars and countless black holes in the center, or heart, of the Milky Way. A radio telescope in South Africa also contributed to the image, for contrast.

Astronomer Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts Amherst said Friday he spent a year working on this while stuck at home during the pandemic.

‘Ring of fire’ solar eclipse will be visible in North America on June 10

‘Ring of fire’ solar eclipse will be visible in North America on June 10

  • The full eclipse will last for roughly an hour and 40 minutes. No part of the U.S. will see the full eclipse.
  • The most ideally situated metropolitan areas to view the partial eclipse at sunrise are Toronto, Philadelphia and New York.
  • Solar eclipse glasses must be worn at all times during an annular or partial solar eclipse to avoid the threat of blindness.
The moon appears to cover the sun during an annular eclipse of the sun on May 20, 2012 as seen from Chaco Culture National Historical Park in Nageezi, Ariz.STAN HONDA, AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The moon blocked out the sun for part of the Earth on Dec. 14, plunging southern Argentina and Chile into darkness.

Just two weeks after a lunar eclipse, skywatchers are in for another treat in June: A “ring of fire” annular solar eclipse will be visible in parts of North America on June 10. 

The path of the eclipse starts at sunrise in Ontario, Canada (on the north side of Lake Superior), then circles across the northern reaches of the globe, EarthSky’s Bruce McClure said. “Midway along the path, the greatest eclipse occurs at local noon in northern Greenland and then swings by the Earth’s North Pole, and finally ends at sunset over northeastern Siberia,” he said.

The full eclipse will last for roughly an hour and 40 minutes. No part of the U.S. will see the full eclipse.

While the U.S. will miss out on the “ring of fire” part of the eclipse, folks who live along the East Coast and in the Upper Midwest will get a chance to see a partial solar eclipse just after sunrise.

How to see the ‘Super Flower Blood Moon,’ 1st lunar eclipse of this decade

In a once in a lifetime event, the night sky on Wednesday will be both the brightest and darkest ever seen.

This week’s full moon will be the second supermoon of the season, appearing brighter and larger than usual. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the “Flower Blood Moon” will be roughly 222,000 miles away from the Earth early Wednesday morning.

May’s full moon is known as the “Flower Moon,” and because a total lunar eclipse — also known as a “blood moon” as it gives the moon a reddish hue — is also set to happen at the same time, it’s being called the “Super Flower Blood Moon.”https://d-15986500134082916044.ampproject.net/2105072136000/frame.html

The moon will be at its brightest and largest at 4:14 a.m. PT, according to astronomers.

PHOTO: The full moon, known as the 'Super Pink Moon', rises over the skyline of New York City, seen from West Orange, in New Jersey, April 26, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters, FILE)
PHOTO: The full moon, known as the ‘Super Pink Moon’, rises over the skyline of New York City, seen from West Orange, in New Jersey, April 26, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters, FILE)

With the moon this close to the planet, stargazers in certain parts of the world will get to see an impressive sight.

MORE: Pink moon is 1st supermoon of 2021: When to see it

People who live in western North America, western South America, eastern Asia, and Oceania, will have the best view of the “Flower Blood Moon,” according to astronomers.

“In the U.S., those who are located east of the Mississippi will experience a partial lunar eclipse before the moon sets below the horizon, and those along the East Coast won’t see much of anything, unfortunately,” the Farmer’s Almanac said.

PHOTO: A total lunar eclipse, known as the 'super blood wolf moon,' rises over San Francisco, Jan. 20, 2019. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: A total lunar eclipse, known as the ‘super blood wolf moon,’ rises over San Francisco, Jan. 20, 2019. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE)

MORE: Supermoon seen from around the world

This will mark the first lunar eclipse of the decade. The last one was recorded on Jan. 21, 2019.

A partial lunar eclipse is also scheduled for Nov. 19, according to astronomers.

New research suggests depression impacts emotional responses to autobiographical memories

New research suggests depression impacts emotional responses to autobiographical memories

New research from the journal Cognitive Behaviour Therapy points to a cognitive bias that might be involved in the maintenance of negative mood among people with depression. When compared to healthy controls, individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) reported less happiness when recalling positive memories but more sadness when recalling bad memories.

by Beth Ellwood via PsyPost

Beck’s cognitive model of depression — one of the most prominent theories of depression — proposes that people with depression show a bias toward the processing of negative information about themselves over positive information about themselves.

Study authors Dahyeon Kim and K. Lira Yoon sought to build on a previous study that showed that people with elevated depressive symptoms differed in their emotional responses to personal memories compared to healthy individuals. For healthy subjects, the intensity of their positive feelings when remembering pleasant memories outdid the intensity of their negative feelings when remembering unpleasant memories. For individuals with depressive symptoms, the intensity of their emotional responses was the same whether they were remembering happy or unhappy memories from their personal histories.

In other words, healthy subjects’ emotional responses to memories faded more strongly for unpleasant (vs. pleasant) memories, while this was not true for those with depressive symptomology.

Kim and Yoon were motivated to re-explore this effect among a clinical sample. The researchers conducted interviews among 30 individuals with MDD and 46 control participants. During the interviews, subjects were asked to recall three events from their past: their happiest, saddest, and most anxious moments. After describing each memory, the participants answered two key questions. For the happy memory, they were asked to rate how happy they were when the event originally took place, and then how happy they are now reflecting on it. Similarly, for the sad memory, they rated how sad they were then and now. For the anxious memory, they rated how nervous they felt then and now.

Notably, the two groups did not differ in the intensity of their emotions experienced at the time of the event — this was true whether it was a happy, sad, or anxious memory. This finding implies that the two groups were recalling events of comparable emotional intensity. Nevertheless, in line with previous findings, ratings of happiness “now” were significantly lower among the MDD group compared to the control group. This was true even after controlling for how much time had passed since the event.

In short, the MDD group experienced less happiness when reflecting on happy memories and more sadness when reflecting on sad memories compared to the control group. The same effect was not found when it came to the anxious memories, suggesting that this differential fading of emotional responses to memories was specific to sad memories.

“Given their negative schemas (Beck, 2002), the saddest autobiographical memories (AMs) may align with the current worldview of individuals with MDD,” Kim and Yoon discuss. “Thus, these AMs may seem more relevant, resulting in more intense emotional responses in the MDD group. In contrast, the happiest AMs may contradict their current negative worldview, impeding the experience of more intense happiness in individuals with MDD.”

Kim and Yoon point out that previous studies have shown that recalling positive memories does not improve low mood among individuals with depression. The authors say that their findings offer insight into this effect. “Applied to treatment,” they say, “restructuring positive AMs, with the goal of increasing the happiness experienced from the recall, may be beneficial.”

The study, “Emotional response to autobiographical memories in depression: less happiness to positive and more sadness to negative memories”, was authored by Dahyeon Kim and K. Lira Yoon.

As NASA’s Voyager 1 Surveys Interstellar Space, Its Density Measurements Are Making Waves

By Jet Propulsion Laboratory 

An illustration depicting one of NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft. Both Voyagers have entered interstellar space, or the space outside our Sun’s heliosphere. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As NASA’s Voyager 1 Surveys Interstellar Space, Its Density Measurements Are Making Waves

In the sparse collection of atoms that fills interstellar space, Voyager 1 has measured a long-lasting series of waves where it previously only detected sporadic bursts.

Until recently, every spacecraft in history had made all of its measurements inside our heliosphere, the magnetic bubble inflated by our Sun. But on August 25, 2012, NASA’s Voyager 1 changed that. As it crossed the heliosphere’s boundary, it became the first human-made object to enter – and measure – interstellar space. Now eight years into its interstellar journey, a close listen of Voyager 1’s data is yielding new insights into what that frontier is like.

If our heliosphere is a ship sailing interstellar waters, Voyager 1 is a life raft just dropped from the deck, determined to survey the currents. For now, any rough waters it feels are mostly from our heliosphere’s wake. But farther out, it will sense the stirrings from sources deeper in the cosmos. Eventually, our heliosphere’s presence will fade from its measurements completely.

This graphic from October 20218 shows the position of the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes relative to the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto. Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause, or the edge of the heliosphere, in 2012. Voyager 2 is still in the heliosheath, or the outermost part of the heliosphere. (NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft entered interstellar space in November 2018.) Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“We have some ideas about how far Voyager will need to get to start seeing more pure interstellar waters, so to speak,” said Stella Ocker, a Ph.D. student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and the newest member of the Voyager team. “But we’re not entirely sure when we’ll reach that point.”

Ocker’s new study, published on Monday in Nature Astronomy, reports what may be the first continuous measurement of the density of material in interstellar space. “This detection offers us a new way to measure the density of interstellar space and opens up a new pathway for us to explore the structure of the very nearby interstellar medium,” Ocker said.
NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft captured these sounds of interstellar space. Voyager 1’s plasma wave instrument detected the vibrations of dense interstellar plasma, or ionized gas, from October to November 2012 and April to May 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-CaltechLoading videohttps://www.youtube.com/embed/0dSlb3as9J0

When one pictures the stuff between the stars – astronomers call it the “interstellar medium,” a spread-out soup of particles and radiation – one might reimagine a calm, silent, serene environment. That would be a mistake.

“I have used the phrase ‘the quiescent interstellar medium’ – but you can find lots of places that are not particularly quiescent,” said Jim Cordes, space physicist at Cornell and co-author of the paper.

Like the ocean, the interstellar medium is full of turbulent waves. The largest come from our galaxy’s rotation, as space smears against itself and sets forth undulations tens of light-years across. Smaller (though still gigantic) waves rush from supernova blasts, stretching billions of miles from crest to crest. The smallest ripples are usually from our own Sun, as solar eruptions send shockwaves through space that permeate our heliosphere’s lining.

These crashing waves reveal clues about the density of the interstellar medium – a value that affects our understanding of the shape of our heliosphere, how stars form, and even our own location in the galaxy. As these waves reverberate through space, they vibrate the electrons around them, which ring out at characteristic frequencies depending on how crammed together they are. The higher the pitch of that ringing, the higher the electron density. Voyager 1’s Plasma Wave Subsystem – which includes two “bunny ear” antennas sticking out 30 feet (10 meters) behind the spacecraft – was designed to hear that ringing.

An illustration of NASA’s Voyager spacecraft showing the antennas used by the Plasma Wave Subsystem and other instruments. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In November 2012, three months after exiting the heliosphere, Voyager 1 heard interstellar sounds for the first time (see video above). Six months later, another “whistle” appeared – this time louder and even higher pitched. The interstellar medium appeared to be getting thicker, and quickly.

These momentary whistles continue at irregular intervals in Voyager’s data today. They’re an excellent way to study the interstellar medium’s density, but it does take some patience.

“They’ve only been seen about once a year, so relying on these kinds of fortuitous events meant that our map of the density of interstellar space was kind of sparse,” Ocker said.

Ocker set out to find a running measure of interstellar medium density to fill in the gaps – one that doesn’t depend on the occasional shockwaves propagating out from the Sun. After filtering through Voyager 1’s data, looking for weak but consistent signals, she found a promising candidate. It started to pick up in mid-2017, right around the time of another whistle.

“It’s virtually a single tone,” said Ocker. “And over time, we do hear it change – but the way the frequency moves around tells us how the density is changing.”

Weak but nearly continuous plasma oscillation events – visible as a thin red line in this graphic/tk – connect stronger events in Voyager 1’s Plasma Wave Subsystem data. The image alternates between graphs showing only the strong signals (blue background) and the filtered data showing weaker signals. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stella Ocker

Ocker calls the new signal a plasma wave emission, and it, too, appeared to track the density of interstellar space. When the abrupt whistles appeared in the data, the tone of the emission rises and falls with them. The signal also resembles one observed in Earth’s upper atmosphere that’s known to track with the electron density there.

“This is really exciting, because we are able to regularly sample the density over a very long stretch of space, the longest stretch of space that we have so far,” said Ocker. “This provides us with the most complete map of the density and the interstellar medium as seen by Voyager.”

Based on the signal, electron density around Voyager 1 started rising in 2013 and reached its current levels about mid-2015, a roughly 40-fold increase in density. The spacecraft appears to be in a similar density range, with some fluctuations, through the entire dataset they analyzed which ended in early 2020.

Ocker and her colleagues are currently trying to develop a physical model of how the plasma wave emission is produced that will be key to interpreting it. In the meantime, Voyager 1’s Plasma Wave Subsystem keeps sending back data farther and farther from home, where every new discovery has the potential to make us reimagining our home in the cosmos.

For more on this research, read In the Emptiness of Space 14 Billion Miles Away, Voyager I Detects “Hum” From Plasma Waves.

Reference: “Persistent plasma waves in interstellar space detected by Voyager 1” by Stella Koch Ocker, James M. Cordes, Shami Chatterjee, Donald A. Gurnett, William S. Kurth and Steven R. Spangler, 10 May 2021, Nature Astronomy.
DOI: 10.1038/s41550-021-01363-7

The Voyager spacecraft were built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Ancient Australian Aboriginal Memory Tool Superior to ‘Memory Palace’ Learning

The students who used the Aboriginal method of remembering had a significantly improved retention of facts compared to the control and the “memory palace” group (2.8x).

An ancient Aboriginal memorization technique has been proven to be superior to the ancient Greek “memory palace” technique for recalling and retaining factual information.

Australian scientists have compared an ancient Greek technique of memorising data to an even older technique from Aboriginal culture, using students in a rural medical school.

The study found that students using a technique called memory palace in which students memorised facts by placing them into a memory blueprint of the childhood home, allowing them to revisit certain rooms to recapture that data. Another group of students were taught a technique developed by Australian Aboriginal people over more than 50,000 years of living in a custodial relationship with the Australian land.

The students who used the Aboriginal method of remembering had a significantly improved retention of facts compared to the control and the “memory palace” group.

The study led by Dr David Reser, from the Monash University School of Rural Health and Dr Tyson Yunkaporta, from Deakin University’s NIKERI Institute, has just been published in PLOS One.

Medical students, and doctors, need to retain large amounts of information from anatomy to diseases and medications.

Because one of the main stressors for medical students is the amount of information they have to rote learn, we decided to see if we can teach them alternate, and better, ways to memorise data,” Dr Reser said.

The memory palace technique dates back to the early Greeks and was further utilised by Jesuit priests. Handwritten books were scarce and valuable, and one reading would have to last a person’s lifetime, so ways to remember the contents were developed.

In Aboriginal culture, which relies on oral history, important facts like navigation, food sources, tool use and inter and intra tribal political relationships are important for survival. Aboriginal methods of memorising also used the idea of attaching facts to the landscape, but with added stories which describe the facts and the placement to facilitate recall.

Working with Dr Yunkaporta, formerly at the Monash School of Rural Health, the research team randomly divided 76 medical students attending Monash’s Churchill Campus, in rural Victoria, into three groups.

The students were given 30 minutes of training in the memory palace, Aboriginal techniques, or were in a control group who watched a video rather than undergo training. The students were then asked to memorize 20 common butterfly names (to dissociate from medical curriculum).

They were then tested on their recalls at 10 minutes and then 30 minutes after using their assigned techniques to memorize the list.

The researchers found the students who used the Aboriginal technique for remembering ie a narrative plus locations from around the campus were almost three times more likely to correctly remember the entire list than they were prior to training (odds ratio: 2.8). The students using the memory palace technique were about twice as likely to get a perfect score after training (2.1), while the control group improved by about 50% (1.5) over their pre-training performance.

Importantly a qualitative survey found the students using the Aboriginal technique found it more enjoyable, “both as a way to remember facts but also as a way to learn more about Aboriginal culture,” Dr Reser said.

Dr Reser said the Monash School of Rural Health is considering incorporating these memory tools into the medical curriculum once teaching returns to a post-COVID normal. “This year we hope to offer this to students as a way to not only facilitate their learning but to reduce the stress associated with a course that requires a lot of rote learning,”he said.

Scientists Fired Tardigrades Out of a Gun to See if They Can Survive Space Impacts

Steve Gschmeissner/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Scientists Fired Tardigrades Out of a Gun to See if They Can Survive Space Impacts

We can now add “being fired out of a gun at high speeds” to the growing list of weird things tardigrades can survive.

By MICHELLE STARR via Science Alert

How do we know? Scientists actually did it – and, believe it or not, it’s for a good cause. They wanted to know if tardigrade-like organisms could survive certain conditions in space, in order to place constraints on where and how we might be able to find extraterrestrial life in the Solar System – and how we might avoid contaminating it.

Tardigrades, microscopic invertebrates also known as water bears and moss piglets, are globally ubiquitous, found both in terrestrial and water ecosystems pretty much everywhere. That’s hardly a surprise, really: the tiny creatures are able to survive some insane conditions.

When conditions get nasty, they can dry out, reconfigure their bodies and enter suspended animation – called desiccation – for years. You can throw virtually anything at them: frozen temperatures, zero oxygen, high pressures, the vacuum of spacecosmic radiation, and even being boiled.

These so-called “indestructible” beasties made global headlines in 2019, when a spacecraft carrying some crash-landed on the Moon, prompting speculation about the tardigrades’ survival on our satellite.

It certainly raised some interesting questions. How violent an impact can tardigrades survive? The answer would have implications for astrobiology, including the panspermia model, which proposes life can be distributed throughout the cosmos via asteroids and comets that crash into planets.

It can also tell us how likely tardigrades are to survive in places like the Moon or the Martian moon Phobos, which could have been impacted by ejecta from Earth and Mars respectively, potentially carrying microscopic life.

Finally, it can help us gauge the survival rate of tardigrade-like organisms in the saltwater plumes ejected from icy ocean worlds like Europa and Enceladus.

So, astrochemist Alejandra Traspas and astrophysicist Mark Burchell, both of the University of Kent in the UK, designed an experiment to find out.

Burchell specializes in hypervelocity impacts, and his department has a two-stage light-gas gun, which uses a two-step process to accelerate projectiles. First gunpowder, then a light gas such as hydrogen or helium placed under rapid pressurization, are used to achieve velocities up to 8 kilometers (5 miles) per second.

The researchers loaded two or three individuals of Hypsibius dujardini, a species of freshwater tardigrade, each into a number of nylon sabots, which were frozen to induce the creatures’ hibernation state, known as tun.

These sabots were then loaded into the gun, and fired at sand targets in a vacuum chamber at a range of velocities from 0.556 to 1.00 kilometers per second.

The sand target was then poured into a water column to isolate the tardigrades, which were separated and observed to determine how long it took them to revive from the tun state. As a control, 20 tardigrades were frozen and not shot out of a gun.

All of the control tardigrades recovered after about 8 or 9 hours. The impacted tardigrades survived up to and including an impact velocity of 825 meters per second; but they took longer to recover, suggesting internal damage. The next highest velocity, 901 meters per second, resulted in tardigrade jam. (That’s still higher than many handgun muzzle velocities.)

“In the shots up to and including 0.825 kilometers per second, intact tardigrades were recovered post shot, but in the higher-speed shots only fragments of tardigrades were recovered,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

“Thus, shortly after the onset of lethality, the tardigrades were also physically broken apart as impact speed increased.”

This suggests that the impact velocity survivability threshold is between these two numbers, equivalent to a shock pressure of 1.14 gigapascals – which places some serious constraints on their impact survivability.

While the study doesn’t directly answer the question on whether the Beresheet tardigrades made it alive after the Moon crash, we do know that the final data received from the spacecraft indicated a vertical velocity 134.3 m/sec and horizontal velocity of 946.7 m/sec.

Some of the material ejected from Earth, kicked up from meteorite impacts, then impacts the Moon within the range of tardigrade survivability. So… it’s possible that tardigrades could survive that voyage.

For Phobos, the scenario is grimmer: material from Mars is estimated to impact Phobos at velocities between 1 and 4.5 kilometers per second; and, in the unlikely event that any tardigrades did survive, harsh solar and cosmic radiation would ensure they didn’t survive long.

For icy moon plumes, the flyby speed of any spacecraft sampling the ejected water would produce high velocities, but that just means we might need to get creative. The shock pressures generated thereby could be mitigated by an aerogel collector or using an orbiter to reduce the relative velocities of the spacecraft and the plumes, the researchers suggest.

“That complex structures undergo damage in shock events is not a surprise,” the researchers wrote. “The peculiarity here may be that recovery and survival is still possible until just before the impact events begin to break the tardigrades apart.”

They suggest that future research perform ongoing observations of the tardigrades, to determine how being fired out of a gun affects their long-term survival.

The research has been published in Astrobiology.

H/T: Science Magazine

From Texas to Hawaii: SpaceX plans first orbital Starship test

SpaceX plans to have its first Starship test flight to orbit launch from Texas and splash down off the coast of an island in Hawaii, according to a document the company filed with the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday. The orbital flight test would mark the first time SpaceX stacks both elements of its massive Starship system together, the next key development step in its attempt to build a rocket that could one day land on Mars.

A Starship prototype in March carries out its complex landing-flip maneuver before attempting to land — a technique similar to how it would land off the coast of Hawaii. – SpaceX

By Joey Roulette via TheVirge

As outlined in the document, a super heavy booster stage will launch Starship from SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas, facilities and separate in midair nearly three minutes into flight. About five minutes later, that booster stage will return back to Earth and splash down in the Gulf of Mexico — or as SpaceX puts it: it will “perform a partial return and land in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 20 miles from the shore.”

Meanwhile, Starship (the top half of the entire rocket system) will continue into orbit, nearly completing a full trip around Earth before plunging back through the atmosphere over Hawaii roughly 90 minutes after launching from Texas. Starship will aim to nail a “powered, targeted landing” on the ocean about 62 miles off the northwest coast of Kauai, the state’s northernmost island.

The document didn’t name a specific date for Starship’s orbital flight. CEO Elon Musk and SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell have said it could happen by the end of 2021, but an email that accompanied Thursday’s filing indicated it could happen any time in the next year, before March 1st, 2022. That email also says the maximum altitude for Starship is 72 miles — an extremely low orbital altitude sitting just north of the boundary between space and Earth’s atmosphere.

SpaceX’s Starship system is the centerpiece of Musk’s goal to enable routine interplanetary travel. The system, designed to send humans and up to 100 tons of cargo to the Moon and Mars, recently won a $2.9 billion contract to serve as NASA’s first ride to the Moon carrying astronauts since 1972. SpaceX has launched five high-altitude Starship prototypes from its south Texas rocket facilities since December, nailing a successful landing on its fifth test flight earlier this month. A few more of those suborbital “hop” tests are planned in the next month or so.

Whenever it happens, the orbital test will demonstrate Starship maneuvers that can’t be simulated using computers, SpaceX says in the document. “SpaceX intends to collect as much data as possible during flight to quantify entry dynamics and better understand what the vehicle experiences in a flight regime that is extremely difficult to accurately predict or replicate computationally.” The flight data gleaned from Starship’s test “will anchor any changes in vehicle design… and build better models for us to use in our internal simulations,” SpaceX said.

Musk has envisioned using Starship for rapid orbit-based transportation between any two cities on Earth, an ambitious (or pretty wild) idea called point-to-point travel. A Starship trip (Startrip?) between New York and London, for example, would take an hour. The 90-minute trip from Texas to Hawaii somewhat mirrors the idea, though it’s just a test, and it’s been a while since SpaceX or Musk have discussed any updates on point-to-point travel plans.

With its new Moon lander contract from NASA — which has stirred quite a bit of FOMO in the space industry, likely to NASA’s ire — SpaceX is racing to test Starship for deep-space missions with a deadline to put humans on the lunar surface by 2024.

https://www.theverge.com/2021/5/13/22434825/elon-musk-spacex-first-orbital-starship-test-texas-hawaii

After researchers implanted microchips into his brain, a paralyzed man was able to write with his mind

A man who lost all movement below the neck after a spinal cord injury in 2007 was finally able to write again – After researchers implanted microchips into his brain, a paralyzed man was able to write with his mind

By ADRIANNA RODRIGUEZ via USA TODAY 

Stanford University researchers used artificial intelligence software and a brain-computer interface to help the man with immobilized limbs to communicate by text, according to a study published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature. 

Dr. Jaimie Henderson, professor of neurosurgery at Stanford, implanted two microchips the size of baby aspirin about 1 millimeter into the man’s brain in 2017. The chips have electrodes that record neurons in the motor cortex, the part of the brain that controls hand movement.

When the man imagined he was using his hand to write on a notepad, the computer converted his thoughts into text on a computer screen.

“This approach allowed a person with paralysis to compose sentences at speeds nearly comparable to those of able-bodied adults of the same age typing on a smartphone,” Henderson said. “The goal is to restore the ability to communicate by text.”

The man – referred to in the study only as T5 – texted at a rate of about 18 words per minute. A person of the same agewith full use of their hands can text an average of 23 words per minute on a smartphone.

His error rate was about one mistake every 18 or 19 attempted characters. When researchers used an autocorrect function, similar to most smartphones, error rates plummeted below 1% when he was asked to copy text and slightly more than 2% when he was asked to write something original.

“It’s exciting to improve the speed of these kinds of devices to approach a level where I think it could be very useful for someone who’s severely paralyzed,” said Dr. Frank Willett, study author and neuroscientist at Stanford. “It’s comparable to writing on a notepad or typing on a smartphone.

Study authors are excited not only about the breakthrough technology but about what their discovery means for future research.

Until now, scientists weren’t sure how long a person could retain motor skills without putting them into practice.

“We had no idea someone who had never moved his hands for 10 years, if you asked him to write, what his brain would do,” Willett said. “It shows these fine dexterous (movements) still evoke rich patterns of brain activity that we can use.”

Researchers hope the technology could be adapted to allow people who can’t talk to simulate conversation through writing.

“While handwriting can approach 20 words per minute, we tend to speak around 125 words per minute, and this is another exciting direction that complements handwriting,” said Krishna Shenoy, professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University.

More work needs to be done before the study’s results can be successfully transferred into real-world applications such as a tablet, smartphone or computer.

“The immediate next step would be refining and streamlining the algorithm, so it’s easier to get up and running quickly,” Willett said. “Every brain is unique, and you get different neurons that do different things, so there’s always a calibration.”

Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT. 

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2021/05/13/stanford-researchers-implant-microchip-paralyzed-man-communicate/5070495001/