News from All Over

There were two excellent articles in the science section of today’s New York Times, and I encourage all of you to go and read them.

The first is about an impending crisis in space. Just we have always done, with ruthless efficiency, everywhere else our species has settled, we have now fouled the orbital space above our atmosphere as well — in this case with orbiting debris. There are over 7,000 pieces of such junk large enough to be tracked, including 2,000 derelict spacecraft. The problem is that every time a large item breaks up, it creates dozens or hundreds of new pieces large enough to shatter another object in turn. The folks who study these things expect that soon a chain reaction will begin — quite similar to the chain reaction of nuclear fission — that may well make it impossible to launch any new missions, because as soon as they get into orbit they’ll be smashed to flinders. You can read this depressing story here.

The second item is about recent developments in the study of the brain — regarding in particular an area, somewhat neglected by neuroscientists until recently, called the insula. It seems that patients who have suffered damage to this area are suddenly able to quit smoking without any trouble, and it appears that this “prune-sized slab of brain tissue” has an enormously important role in mediating all sorts of mind-body interactions, including social emotions and, rather aptly as regards recent discussions in this space, moral intuition. It is also uniquely well-developed in humans. Learn more here.

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  1. […] We mentioned a little while ago the increasingly vexatious problem of space debris. Astronomers and aerospace engineers worry that we are fast approaching a sort of critical mass, in which the breakup of some some large orbiting derelict will generate enough fragments to begin a chain reaction that could well end up with the lowere reaches of orbital space too cluttered with lethal projectiles to fly safely through any longer. For this reason the recent demolition of a Chinese satellite in a weapons test was greeted by shock and derision from the spacefaring community, and now comes the news that things may have just got a good deal worse. […]