Feb 6, 2017

Space travel warps human brains

The brains of astronauts compress and expand in space, a study by a research team from the University of Michigan found. Using astronaut MRIs taken before and after previous NASA space missions, the researchers were able to show that the brains underwent stress.

Why this matters: The findings could have implications for future space travel, and for treating other health conditions that affect brain function.

The study, published in Nature Microgravity, is the first of its kind to look at structural changes to the human brain during spaceflight. It shows that the volume of gray matter increases or decreases slightly in space. The extent of those changes depends on the amount of time a human spends in space.

To be clear, the changes are slight and likely wouldn't affect an astronaut during travel to Mars or beyond. But they are changes in the human brain, so experts will need to determine what it means before humans spend considerable time in space.

Why does this happen? The short answer may be that the fluid in your brain shifts around while you're in space and not subject to the pull of gravity, causing the brain's size to increase or decrease slightly. Essentially, gray matter volume decreases slightly as fluid is redistributed. It later returns as gravity pulls that fluid down in the body.

Though they haven't pinpointed the exact nature of the changes, the findings may lead to new ways of thinking about potentially debilitating health condition — for instance, people on long-duration bed rest or people who have a condition where fluid accumulates in ventricles in the brain and causes pain and pressure.

What's next: Researchers are going to study possible repercussions on cognition and physical performance, as well as how long the brain changes last.

Go deeper

NASCAR driver Ryan Newman hospitalized after fiery Daytona 500 crash

Ryan Newman, driver of the #6 Koch Industries Ford, crashes and flips during the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Monday. Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Racing driver Ryan Newman was hospitalized in a serious condition with non-life threatening injuries after his car crashed at the Daytona 500 on Monday, NASCAR said in a statement.

The big picture: The 42-year-old was leading the final lap of the race, won by Denny Hamlin, when his car flipped in the fiery crash. President Trump tweeted after the crash, "Praying for Ryan Newman, a great and brave @NASCARdriver!"

Go deeper: Trump takes presidential limousine for lap at Daytona 500

Bolton indicates more Ukraine details if book prevails WH "censorship"

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton on stage at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, on Monday. Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton said during a talk at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina he hopes his new book is "not suppressed" by the White House, according to journalists present in the room.

This is an effort to write history and I did it the best I can. We'll have to see what comes out of the censorship."
Bolton's comments, per Bloomberg and the New York Times

There are warning signs that Nevada could be Iowa all over again

Former Sen. Harry Reid (D) lines up to cast an early vote for the upcoming Nevada Democratic presidential caucus. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The alarms are increasingly sounding over Nevada's Democratic caucus, which is just five days away.

Why it matters: Similar issues to the ones that plagued Iowa's caucus seem to be rearing their ugly heads, the WashPost reports.