Yawn Tennis, Midnight Snacking, Gobbling Galaxies, Light for Flight, Wednesday is Indigo Blue

 

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Yawn Tennis

yawn.jpg Self-portrait of Joseph Ducreux (1735-1802)

If you see, hear, or even read about someone yawning, there's a pretty good chance that you'll feel the urge to yawn yourself. This is the well known, but not well understood, phenomenon of contagious yawning, sometimes known as "yawn tennis." Dr. Mel Goodale, a professor in the department of psychology and Director of the Centre for Brain and Mind at the University of Western Ontario, used brain imaging to try and understand this phenomenon. He discovered that people hearing yawning have activation of their mirror neurons, a unique system in the brain that's thought to be associated with imitation, learning and empathy. This suggests, to Dr. Goodale, that contagious yawning might be associated with social coordination, as a small part of a mechanism for bonding between members of groups.

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Midnight Snacking

fridge.jpg Copyright Sannse, CC Attribution-Sharealike

Weight control in humans has always been thought to be a matter of how much you eat and the calories you take in, versus the amount of energy used. But a recent study at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, shows that the time of day you eat may also be part of that weight control equation - at least in mice. Over a six week period, Ph.D. student Deanna Arble, at the University's Center For Sleep and Circadian Biology, tested two groups of mice. One group was fed a high fat diet during normal waking hours, the other group was fed that same diet during their normal sleeping phase. The calorie intake and energy output were equal for both groups. The mice that were fed during normal sleeping hours had a significantly higher weight gain than the other group. This demonstrates that in mice, this weight gain due to eating at a time that conflicts with their natural body rhythm - or circadian rhythm. For humans, this may mean that 'midnight snacking' is probably not a good idea.

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Gobbling Galaxies

andromeda.jpg Andromeda Galaxy, courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/K. Gordon (Univ. of Ariz.) & GALEX Science
Galaxies aren't just cannibals, they're also sloppy eaters, according to new research by Dr. Alan McConnachie, an astronomer at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria. Using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, they mapped the space around the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest large galaxy, and found the remains of many small dwarf galaxies, as well as signs that Andromeda is currently nibbling on the nearby Triangulum galaxy. Dr. McConnachie says this confirms recent thinking on how large galaxies get that way - by eating smaller ones.

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Light for Flight

worm_bomber.jpg Arrow indicates detatchable glow-bombs, courtesy Casey Dunn

Combat fighter jets sometimes make use of defensive "flares", which are meant to distract incoming heat-seeking missiles. Dr. Karen Osborn, a marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, has discovered a deep-sea worm that does much the same thing. The worm, which lives more that a kilometer under the surface in the blackness of the deep sea, grows small sacks filled with bioluminescent fluid. When threatened or disturbed, it releases these sacks, which then light up, and with luck, distract hungry predators.

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Wednesday is Indigo Blue

wednesday_blue.jpg

Imagine a world where you see numbers and letters, and even days of the week, in specific colours - every number 7 looks red; every time you see the letter A, it appears to be green; and Wednesdays feel indigo blue. Or a world where violins sound pale brown, while pianos sound bright yellow. Or a world where images evoke tastes, sounds have smells, and personalities have colours and shapes. Well, that world is real for thousands of people with a condition called synesthesia, where their senses overlap and combine in strange ways. Dr. Richard Cytowic is a professor of neurology at George Washington University, a pioneer in synesthesia research, and co-author of the new book, Wednesday is Indigo Blue - Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia.

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein.
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