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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

Texas Republicans pass new congressional maps in their favor

Photo: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Texas House voted 84-59 late Monday to approve new congressional district maps that reduce the number of districts with Black and Hispanic majorities, per the Texas Tribune.

Why it matters: The legislation comes after recent census figures found Texas' growing diverse population doesn't bode well for Republicans, who then worked to protect incumbents with the redrawn maps.

2 hours ago - World

North Korea's military fires another ballistic missile into sea

A woman in Seoul, South Korea, walks past a television image if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired at least one ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast on Tuesday, per multiple reports.

Why it matters: Pyongyang's latest in a series of recent missile launches happened hours after U.S. officials emphasized their commitment to restart negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which have stalled since talks broke down during the Trump administration, AP notes.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump sues National Archives, Jan. 6 committee to block records request

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to block the National Archives from releasing White House records to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, citing executive privilege.

Why it matters: It's the latest escalation in Trump's campaign to disrupt the committee's sweeping probe into the circumstances surrounding Jan. 6, including his actions and communications leading up to the Capitol attack.