Brains & Light | SciByte 21

Brains & Light | SciByte 21

Hello everyone and welcome back to SciByte!

We take a look at memory, flexible brain implant, supernova’s, light absorption, a new space station crew, the latest news on Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission and take another peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

Direct Download:

MP3 Download | Ogg Download

RSS Feeds:

MP3 Feed | Ogg Feed | iTunes Feed

Grab a book to support the show, this week’s pick:

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan


Show Notes:

SciByte 20 Correction

  • One letter can make a world of difference …
  • Today’s power plants use fission to generate heat and do useful work. The creation of the first man-made fission reactor, known as Chicago Pile–1, achieved criticality on December 2, 1942. Fusion differs from the fission reactions used in current nuclear power plants for it occurs when light nuclei travelling at high speed combine, without radioactive waste as a byproduct.


  • What’s the deal with Ceres?

  • The low down

  • Ceres is also the largest Main Belt asteroid, comprising about a third of the mass of the asteroid belt

  • Discovered on 1 January 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi, it was the first asteroid to be identified

  • surface is probably a mixture of water ice and various hydrated minerals such as carbonates and clays, and may even harbour an ocean of liquid water under its surface

  • Significance

  • International Astronomical Union (IAU) gathered at the second General Assembly on August 24, 2006 and voted on an official definition of planet

  • There is now a new category of planets designated as “dwarf planets,” including Pluto, Charon (its moon), and Ceres

  • * Of Note*

  • Ceres was almost the 5th planet, but the definition to planet requires the orbit to be ‘cleared’

  • The 2006 IAU decision that classified Ceres as a dwarf planet never addressed whether it is or is not an asteroid

  • The IAU has never defined the word ‘asteroid’

  • NASA continues to refer to Ceres as an asteroid, saying in a 2011 press announcement that “Dawn will orbit two of the largest asteroids in the Main Belt”,as do various academic textbooks

  • Social Media

  • NASA’s Dawn Mission @NASA_Dawn

  • Further Reading / In the News

  • Ceres: Overview @

  • Ceres Designated a ‘Dwarf Planet’ @ Dawn Spacecraft

  • Ceres and Pluto: Dwarf Planets as a New Way of Thinking about an Old Solar System @

  • Dawn Mission: Dawn – Home Page – NASA

  • International Astronomical Union

*— UPDATES — *

Phobos-Grunt Update

*— NEWS BYTE — *

Memory and your brain

  • The low down
  • Scientists have long studied people with memory deficits, but there haven’t been many studies on people with exceptional memories
  • some real-life people can remember every day of their lives in detail
  • Those superrememberers have more bulk in certain parts of their brains, possibly explaining the remarkable ability to recall minutiae from decades ago
  • The reserachers fund 11 people who scored off the charts for autobiographical memory. These people could effortlessly remember, for instance, what they were doing on November 2, 1989, and could also tell you that it was a Thursday
  • Significance
  • Using brain scans, researchers found that people with supermemories had larger brain regions associated with memory, specifically a brain structure called the lentiform nucleus, a cone-shaped mass in the core of the brain, was bigger in people with exceptional memories
  • Brain region involved in such incredible recall has been implicated in obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • OCD and superior memory might have a common architecture in the brain
  • The subjects haven’t been clinically evaluated for OCD, but LePort says that there are some similarities
  • The ability to organize their memories by dates seems to relieve anxiety
  • Though no genetic tests have been performed, some of the volunteers have reported that family members share extraordinary powers of recall
  • The volunteers are now keeping detailed diaries, so that the scientists can test whether particular kinds of memories are better suited to recollection. People might be better at remembering emotional memories, for instance
  • Social Media
  • UC Irvine @UCIrvine
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Society for Neurosciencce
  • Exceptional memory linked to bulked-up parts of brain @
  • Enlarged Brain Parts Linked to Extraordinary Memory

Flexible Brain Implant for Seizures

  • The low down
  • The brain contains billions of interconnected neurons that normally transmit electrical pulses
  • During a seizure, these pulses occur in abnormal, synchronized, rapid-fire bursts that can cause convulsions, loss of consciousness and other symptoms
  • Significance
  • Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have developed a flexible brain implant that could one day be used to treat epileptic seizures
  • In an animal model, the researchers saw spiral waves of brain activity not previously observed during a seizure
  • Similar waves are known to ripple through cardiac muscle during a type of life-threatening heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation.
  • Someday, these flexible arrays could be used to pinpoint where seizures start in the brain and perhaps to shut them down
  • A stimulating electrode array might one day be designed to suppress seizure activity, working like a pacemaker for the brain
  • These flexible electrode arrays could significantly expand surgical options for patients with drug-resistant epilepsy
  • the array could be rolled into a tube and delivered into the brain through a small hole rather than by opening the skull
  • * Of Note*
  • The implant is a type of electrode array that conforms to the brain’s surface – to take an unprecedented look at the brain activity underlying seizures
  • is made of a pliable material that is only about one quarter the thickness of a human hair
  • It contains 720 silicon nanomembrane transistors in a multiplexed 360-channel array, which allow for minimal wiring and dense packing of the electrodes
  • The flexibility of the array allows it to conform to the brain’s complex shape, even reaching into grooves that are inaccessible to conventional arrays
  • The researchers tested the flexible array on cats. Although mice and rats are used for most neuroscience research, cats have larger brains that are anatomically more like the human brain, with simplified folds and grooves
  • Social Media
  • The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) @SfNtweets
  • Penn Medicine Media @PennMedMedia
  • NIH for Health @NIHforHealth
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Society for NeuroScience
  • Nature Neuroscience
  • National Institutes of Health
  • Ultrathin flexible brain implant offers unique look at seizures @
  • Flexible Brain Implant Could Treat Epilepsy @
  • Brain implant ‘could be used to treat epilepsy’ @

Did a supernova kick start our solar system?

  • The low down
  • Scientists think the sun and surrounding planets were born from a churning disk of gas and dust, but what precisely caused the stuff to condense and form these bodies has been a mystery
  • New computer simulations support the supernova scenario
  • cold cloud of gas, and set it 15 light-years from an exploding supernova. Stun the cloud with the supernova’s shockwave. Incubate, and watch as the solar system begins to take shape
  • Significance
  • Understanding how the local solar neighborhood grew up is crucial for learning how other planetary systems are born
  • Some clues to the solar systems origin appear in radioactive elements that were injected into and swam around the presolar cloud
  • Today, they are embedded in objects such as asteroids, and are thought to mark the first solid bodies that emerged after the cloud’s collapse
  • aluminum–26, has helped scientists determine that the solar system was born a little more than 4.5 billion years ago
  • All of it appears to have enriched the cloud within roughly 20,000 years, much faster than most simulations can explain
  • The team ruled out solar wind from a nearby star or enrichment occurring from within the cold cloud itself, because the key elements would have been delivered too slowly or in the wrong quantities
  • approached the problem differently, by calculating in three dimensions rather than two, but also concluded that shocking the embryonic solar system would simultaneously trigger the cloud’s collapse and quickly inject the required radioactive elements
  • Social Media
  • Carnegie Institution @carnegiescience
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Supernova may have kicked off solar system @ Science News
  • Astrophysical Journal
  • Carnegie Institution for Science

Nano shag-carpet absorbs light

  • The low down
  • Black paint only absorbs about 90 percent of the light that hits it
  • in the cold dark of space, black paint takes on a silvery hue
  • other nanomaterials and metamaterials that can absorb nearly all light in some wavelengths
  • these require special fabrication processes to work in whichever wavelength researchers want
  • Significance
  • The new material is made of carbon nanotubes and can be grown on a variety of space-friendly substrates, from silicon to titanium to stainless steel
  • absorbs an average 99 percent of all the ultraviolet, visible, infrared, and far-infrared light that hits it
  • collecting and trapping light inside tiny gaps between the nanotubes, which are arranged in vertical fibrous strands
  • * Of Note*
  • It could also help scientists examine small spots in high-contrast areas, like planets orbiting other stars, and even look at the Earth, where weak light signals of interest to atmospheric scientists are washed out by the atmosphere’s reflectivity
  • Social Media
  • NASA Goddard @NASAGoddard
  • Results for #SPIEDigitalLibrary](!/search?q=%23SPIEDigitalLibrary)
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • New Super-Black Material Absorbs 99 Percent of All Light That Dares to Strike It @PopSci
  • New ‘super-black’ material absorbs light across multiple wavelength bands @
  • NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  • SPIE Optics and Photonics

An ancient horse of a different color … or spots

  • The low down
  • Previous genetic studies had suggested that horses were either bay or black before domestication, and more elaborate patterns emerged as a result of breeding selection imposed by humans
  • In new study published show that some prehistoric horses really did sport spots
  • Significance
  • A new analysis of DNA from the remains of 31 horses found in Europe and Siberia suggests that prehistoric horses came in bay, black and leopard-spotted at least 16,000 years ago
  • Of the 31 horses studied, 18 were bay, seven were black and six carried genetic variants that produce a leopard spotting pattern
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Prehistoric horses came in leopard print

A new crew for the Space Station Arrives

  • The low down
  • A Russian rocket successfully lifted off from snowy Central Asia on Nov. 13, carrying a NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts to the International Space Station
  • Despite intense snowfall at the launch site, the winds remained calm, which enabled Russian controllers to proceed with the scheduled liftoff
  • The temperature was about 24 F, roughly 6 inches (15 cm) of snow had accumulated on the ground at launch time and moderate wind gusts partially obscured the view.
  • The spaceflyers are expected to arrive at the space station on Wednesday (Nov. 16) after a two day journey
  • Significance
  • NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, they will be joined in December by the next trio to round out Expedition 30
  • Burbank previously visited the space station in 2000 and 2006, on missions aboard the space shuttle Atlantis. This will be his first long-duration stint at the massive orbiting laboratory. Shkaplerov and Ivanishin are both conducting their first spaceflight.
  • The station’s Expedition 29 crew, which currently consists of commander Mike Fossum of NASA, Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov.
  • Commander Fossum and his two crewmates have been living and working aboard the station since June. They are scheduled to return to Earth on Nov. 21. Before his departure, Fossum will hand over command of the station to Burbank, who will lead the station’s new Expedition 30 mission for the duration of his stay
  • * Of Note*
  • The Expedition 30 crew could also be present for the test flights of two robotic commercial vehicle during their stay at the station
  • SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus freighter are tentatively scheduled to carry out demonstration flights of their spacecraft in the new year
  • The three newest station residents will remain at the massive orbiting complex until March 2012
  • Multimedia
  • Launch Video
  • Russian Spacecraft Going to Space Station
  • Expedition 29 Crew Gets Final Approval for Launch @
  • Social Media
  • NASA Astronauts @NASA_Astronauts
  • Results for [#SpaceX](
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • New Space Station Crew Launches in Spectacular Snowy Display @
  • New Crewmembers to Arrive at Space Station Early Wednesday @
  • Soyuz Launches to Station amid Swirling Snowy Spectacular @ UniverseToday
  • SpaceX’s Dragon capsule
  • International Space Station
  • NASA Astronauts

The last 14miles for the Endeavour

  • The low down
  • After travelling over 122 million miles the Space Shuttle Endeavour will make it’s final 14 miles from LAX to the California Science Center
  • the options for moving a nearly six story, 180-thousand pound spacecraft, with a 78-foot wing span are limited
  • The Randy’s Donuts sign was an absolute no, no to touch
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • How to Drive Space Shuttle Endeavour Down the Streets of Los Angeles


Looking back this week

  • Nov 22, 1809 : 202 years ago – The Pen : The first patent was issued in the U.S. for a metallic writing pen was issued to Peregrine Williamson a jeweller of Baltimore, Maryland. Williamson’s pens were made of steel rolled from wire, a sort of steel quill that would never need cutting to sharpen the nib. There are references to steel pens being used in Britain before this patent.
  • Nov 19, 1872 : 139 years ago – Adding Machine : the first U.S. patent for an adding machine capable of printing totals and subtotals, called a “calculating machine,” was issued to E.D. Barbour of Boston, Mass. However, it was not practical. (No. 133,188)
  • Nov 21, 1877 : 134 years ago – Edison’s phonograph : Thomas Edison announced his invention of his “talking machine” – the tin-foil cylinder recorder that preceeded the phonograph. The indented tin foil, however, would survive only a few playings. By the first public showing of a phonograph, which took place in New York City in early Feb 1878, its practical applications had not yet been realized.
  • Nov 19, 1895 : 116 years ago – Paper Pencil : the first U.S. patent for a paper pencil was issued was issued to Fredrick E. Blaisdell of Philadelphia, Pa. (No. 549,952)
  • Nov 17, 1970 : 41 years ago – Mouse Patent : a U.S. patent was issued for the computer mouse – an “X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System” (No. 3541541). The first mouse was a simple hollowed-out wooden block, with a single push button on top. Engelbart had designed this as a tool to select text, move it around, and otherwise manipulate it.
  • Nov 16, 1972 : 39 years ago – Skylab III : Skylab III, carrying a crew of three astronauts, was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on an 84-day mission that remained the longest American space flight for over two decades
  • Nov 20, 1998 : 13 years ago – International Space Station : the first module of the International Space Station was launched on a Russian Proton rocket. It was followed two weeks later by the Unity connecting module from the U.S. The project, initiated by NASA in 1983, also involved Canada, Japan and the 11 members of the European Space Agency. After the Cold War, the Russians had been invited to participate, not merely as an exercise in international cooperation, but also to employ Russian scientists who might have otherwise sold their expertise to renegade countries.

Looking up this week

  • Coronal Mass Ejections

  • It ejected from the sun on Nov 11th

  • Went past Mercury on Nov. 13th was predicted to hit Venus on the 14th. (above left)

  • astronomers around the world have been monitoring a dark filament of magnetism sprawled more than 1,000,000 kilometers across the face of the sun

  • On Nov. 14th the filament snapped and flung a fraction of itself into space and NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the action (above right)

  • Keep an eye out for …

  • Thursday, Nov 17 : Leonid meteor shower will peak, but will be contending with the last-quarter moon so only a few “shooting stars” will shine through the lunar glow

  • Friday, Nov 14 : Last-quarter Moon (exact at 10:09 a.m. EST). The Moon shines near Mars and Regulus this morning and tomorrow morning

  • Saturday Nov. 19 : Mars is visible to the upper left of the Moon at first light this morning

  • Saturday Nov. 19 : Venus is low in the southwest in the early evening with Mercury below it, although you may need binoculars to see it.

  • Tuesday, Nov 22 : Look to the southeast at first light for Saturn and the star Spica near the crescent Moon. Spica, the brightest star of Virgo, is close to the left of the Moon, with fainter Saturn a little farther to the left of Spica.

  • More on whats in the sky this week

  • Sky&Telescope

  • AstronomyNow


  • HeavensAbove


Question? Comments? Contact us here!