One of These Pictures Is the Brain, the Other is the Universe. Can You Tell Which is Which?

Left: section of cerebellum, with magnification factor 40x, obtained with electron microscopy (Dr. E. Zunarelli, University Hospital of Modena); right: section of a cosmological simulation, with an extension of 300 million light-years on each side (Vazza et al. 2019 A&A).

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.” – Carl Sagan “The Demon-Haunted World.”

Learning about the Universe, I’ve felt spiritual moments, as Sagan describes them, as I better understand my connection to the wider everything. Like when I first learned that I was literally made of the ashes of the stars – the atoms in my body spread into the eternal ether by supernovae. Another spiritual moment was seeing this image for the first time:

Hippocampal mouse neuron studded with synaptic connections (yellow), courtesy Lisa Boulanger, from The green central cell body is ? 10µm in diameter. B. Cosmic web (Springel et al., 2005). Scale bar = 31.25 Mpc/h, or 1.4 × 1024 m. Juxtaposition inspired by Lima (2009).
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The Most Comprehensive 3D Map of Galaxies Has Been Released

Credit: Danny Farrow, Pan-STARRS1 Science Consortium and Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics

Atop the summit of Haleakala on the Hawaiian island of Maui sits the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS1 (PS1). As part of the Haleakala Observatory overseen by the University of Hawaii, Pan-STARRS1 relies on a system of cameras, telescopes, and a computing facility to conduct an optical imaging survey of the sky, as well as astrometry and photometry of know objects.

In 2018, the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Institute for Astronomy (IfA) released the PS1 3pi survey, the world’s largest digital sky survey that spanned three-quarters of the sky and encompassed 3 billion objects. And now, a team of astronomers from the IfA have used this data to create the Pan-STARRS1 Source Types and Redshifts with Machine Learning (PS1-STRM), the world’s largest three-dimensional astronomical catalog.

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A Stellar Stream of Stars, Stolen from Another Galaxy

The all-sky view that the Gaia survey would have of a simulated Milky-Way-like galaxy. [Credit: Sanderson et al. The Astrophysical Journal, January 6, 2020, DOI: 10.3847/1538-4365/ab5b9d]

Modern professional astronomers aren’t much like astronomers of old. They don’t spend every suitable evening with their eyes glued to a telescope’s eyepiece. You might be more likely to find them in front of a super-computer, working with AI and deep learning methods.

One group of researchers employed those methods to find a whole new collection of stars in the Milky Way; a group of stars which weren’t born here.

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Rovers Will be Starting to Make Their Own Decisions About Where to Search for Life

An artist's illustration of the ExoMars/Rosalind Franklin rover on Mars. Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

We all know how exploration by rover works. The rover is directed to a location and told to take a sample. Then it subjects that sample to analysis and sends home the results. It’s been remarkably effective.

But it’s expensive and time-consuming to send all this data home. Will this way of doing things still work? Or can it be automated?

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