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Spaceflight takes a serious toll on the human body. As NASA’s Twin Study demonstrates, long-duration stays in space lead to muscle and bone density loss. There are also notable effects on the cardiovascular, central nervous, and endocrine systems, as well as changes in gene expression and cognitive function. There’s also visual impairment, known as Spaceflight-Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS), which many astronauts reported after spending two months aboard the International Space Station (ISS). This results from increased intracranial pressure that places stress on the optic nerve and leads to temporary blindness.

Researchers are looking for ways to diagnose and treat these issues to prepare for future missions that will involve long-duration stays beyond Earth and transits in deep space. A cross-disciplinary team of researchers led by the University of Western Australia (UWA) has developed a breakthrough method for measuring brain fluid pressure that could reduce the risk of SANS for astronauts on long-duration spaceflights. This research could have applications for the many efforts to create a human presence on the Moon in this decade and crewed missions to Mars in the next.

The team was led by William H. Morgan, a Professor of ophthalmology specializing in glaucoma and diabetic/vascular retinopathies. He is also the head of the UWA Centre for Visual Science (COVS) and the Managing Director of the Lions Eye Institute in Perth, Australia. He was joined by researchers from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), the International Space Centre (ISC), and Murdoch University. The study that describes their findings was published in npj Microgravity, a publication maintained by Nature Partner Journals (npj).

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Lions Eye Institute Director Professor Bill Morgan in the lab. Credit: UWA

As Prof. Morgan explained in a recent UWA press release, human bodies have evolved to counter the effects of gravity by pushing blood upwards into the head:

“In microgravity, this can lead to an increased average pressure in the cerebrospinal fluid, which adversely affects the retina and deteriorates vision and other important functions. The strength of the pulsations in the tiny veins of the retina should, in principle, depend on the cerebrospinal fluid pressure. All blood vessels experience tiny pulsations coming from the heartbeat.”

Until recently, intracranial pressure could only be measured through a lumbar puncture, a skull burr hole, or other invasive measures that are painful, risky, and difficult to perform in microgravity. For their study, Morgan and his associates used a special eye camera to measure tiny pulsation changes in subjects placed in different positions on a tilt table. This mimicked the effects of variable gravity on the cerebrospinal fluid pressure, simulating what astronauts experience while transitioning to microgravity and back.

According to co-author Danail Obreschkow, an Associate Professor with the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research and the Director of the International Space Centre, their team has developed the first non-invasive method for measuring cerebrospinal fluid pressure changes that can be performed safely in space. These results study could be crucial to overcoming a type of blindness that frequently develops in astronauts on long-duration space flights. Said Obreschkow:

“The so-called Space Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome is one of the most serious risks for astronauts on long-duration flights and one that NASA identified as a significant challenge on future crewed missions to Mars. Tilt table experiments on Earth are the only way of controllably altering the gravitational force upon the human body and allowed us to alter the cerebrospinal fluid pressure in small definite increments It also forced us to develop systems which can be used in any postural position necessitating portable, small handheld devices which are essential if such systems are to be used in space.”

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Transporter-8 Mission



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SpaceX is targeting Monday, June 12 for Falcon 9’s launch of the Transporter-8 mission to low-Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The 57-minute launch window opens at 2:19 p.m. PT (21:19 UTC). If needed, there is a backup opportunity Tuesday, June 13 with the same window.

The first stage booster supporting this mission previously launched NROL-87, NROL-85, SARah-1, SWOT, and four Starlink missions. Following stage separation, Falcon 9 will land on Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4) at Vandenberg Space Force Base.

Transporter-8 is SpaceX’s eighth dedicated smallsat rideshare mission. There will be 72 payloads on this flight, including CubeSats, MicroSats, a re-entry capsule, and orbital transfer vehicles carrying spacecraft to be deployed at a later time.

A live webcast of this mission will begin about 15 minutes prior to liftoff.

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Triggered Star Birth in the Nessie Nebula



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Star formation is one of the oldest processes in the Universe. In the Milky Way and most other galaxies, it unfolds in cold, dark creches of gas and dust. Astronomers study sites of star formation to understand the process. Even though they know much about it, some aspects remain mysterious. That’s particularly true for the “Nessie Nebula” in the constellation Vulpecula. An international team led by astronomer James Jackson studies the nebula and its embedded star-birth regions. They found that it experienced a domino effect called “triggered star formation.”

“So, one of the interesting and open questions remaining in the field of star formation is, what happens when a star forms and ejects energy into the surrounding medium?” he said. “Does it make new stars, or does it prevent the formation of new stars?”

To answer those questions, Jackson and an international team of observers peered deep into the Nessie Nebula. It’s a so-called “Infrared Dark Cloud” (IRDC) with the official catalog name Lynds 772. Jackson named it the Loch Ness Monster Nebula a few years back. That’s because it resembles a spindly version of the famous and elusive Scottish lake monster. What the team found reveals that triggered star formation actually does take place under special circumstances in this nebula.

Putting the Nessie Nebula in Perspective

In 2013, Dr. Alyssa Goodman of Harvard Center for Astrophysics called the Nessie Nebula one of the “bones” of the Milky Way. That’s because it’s one of many webs of dusty filaments threaded through the galaxy. “It’s possible that the Nessie bone lies within a spiral arm, or that it is part of a web connecting bolder spiral features,” she said, noting that it probably spans at least 80 parsecs long and about a half-parsec wide.

As a galactic “bone”, it’s a prime place to look for triggered star formation. Nessie has a density of about 600 solar masses per parsec across its entire length. It’s also cold, with an average temperature of about 10K. There are many such cold clouds in the Milky Way, notably places like the famous Pillars of Creation or regions in the Carina Nebula.

The Pillars of Creation is another region of cold, dark gas similar to the Nessie Nebula where young stars are forming. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA
The Pillars of Creation is similar to the Nessie Nebula where young stars are forming. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA

A star gets started when gravity pushes the material in the cloud together to form a hot core. Temperatures and pressures rise, and eventually, a star is born. The Nessie Nebula is actually dense enough to form many very high-mass stars, according to Jackson. “By high mass, I mean a star that’s about 8 times the mass of the Sun, or more,” he said. “They have so much more energy than the Sun, and they inject this energy into the surrounding material, and they form these H II bubbles that ionize the gas around them.”

Essentially, those H II bubbles form as stellar winds from the hot young protostars push into surrounding space and photoionize (or heat) the gas there. As they expand, they stir up material around them. That creates a lot of energy. “The question I’m trying to answer is, does this energetic feedback trigger or hinder the formation of other new stars?” said Jackson.

The Domino Effect in the Nessie Nebula

The scenario for triggered star formation requires an almost perfect set of circumstances, starting with the cold dense nebula. Jackson explained that once a star (or group of stars) forms, its H II bubble triggers the birth process of the next star. That process repeats, almost like a domino effect.

So, does this triggered star formation really happen? Jackson pointed out two different scenarios. “If bubbles are just dispersing the gas, then that gas is gone and no stars can form,” he said. “On the other hand, if you have a clump of gas that’s almost ready to make a star, but not quite, can you hit it with an expanding shell and compress it? It could push it over the edge and gravity can take over. Some people say you make new stars and some say you don’t.”

To find out, the team looked at Nessie with the infrared-sensitive SOFIA flying observatory. It allowed them to peer through the clouds of gas and dust at the central region of the nebula. They coupled their observations with radio data from the Australia Telescope Compact Array and the Mopra radio dish. They zeroed in on its most luminous young stellar object, called AGAL337.916-00.477. This high-mass stellar object is part of a cloud in the nebula that has several other high-mass young stellar objects and so-called “dust cores” where the process of star

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New Detailed Images of the Sun from the World’s Most Powerful Ground-Based Solar Telescope



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Our Sun continues to demonstrate its awesome power in a breathtaking collection of recent images taken by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Daniel Inouye Solar Telescope, aka Inouye Solar Telescope, which is the world’s largest and most powerful ground-based solar telescope. These images, taken by one of Inouye’s first-generation instruments, the Visible-Broadband Imager (VBI), show our Sun in incredible, up-close detail.

“These images preview the exciting science underway at the Inouye Solar Telescope,” Dr. Alexandra Tritschler, who is a National Solar Observatory Senior Scientist, tells Universe Today. “These images are a small fraction of the data obtained from the first Cycle. They exemplify the many and much broader science objectives and the much more powerful spectroscopy and spectropolarimetry data that now goes along with the images, none of which was available in 2020 when the Inouye Solar Telescope released its first-light images.”

The solar features in Inouye’s images include sunspots which reside in the Sun’s photosphere. These are the dark spots on the Sun’s “surface” and one of the Sun’s most well-known features, often reaching sizes that equal, or even dwarf, the size of the Earth. It is their dark appearance that can be deceiving, however, as sunspots are responsible for solar flares and coronal mass ejections that produce solar storms, which is a type of space weather.

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Image of a sunspot taken by the Inouye Solar Telescope. While they have a dark appearance, sunspots are responsible for solar flares and coronal mass ejections that produce solar storms. Sunspots often reach sizes that equal, or even dwarf, the size of the Earth. (Credit: National Science Foundation (NSF)/Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA)/National Solar Observatory (NSO))
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Image of a sunspot with a light bridge, which is hypothesized to be the beginning stages of a degrading sunspot. (Credit: NSF/AURA/NSO)

Other features from the Inouye images include convection cells, which also reside in the Sun’s photosphere, and consist of upward- and downward-flowing plasma, known as granules or “bubbles”. The last feature in the Inouye images are fibrils, which exist in the Sun’s chromosphere and are produced from the magnetic field interactions within the Sun.

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Image of solar granules or “bubbles”, intergranular lanes, and magnetic elements in the quiet regions of the Sun. In these features, solar plasma rises in the
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