The Voyager Interstellar Golden Records & How They Represent Humanity (Part 2 of 2)
According to the Voyager Interstellar Mission Web site, on June 28th of this year, Voyager 2 completed 12,000 days of continuous operation since its launch on August 20th, 1977. Each of the Voyager spacecrafts has crossed the edge of the solar system, also known as the termination shock, and is headed towards uncharted territory. After its primary mission of planet exploration was completed in 1989, a new mission objective, the Interstellar Space Exploration, was launched.
"Our solar system exists inside a heliosphere, a bubble created by the outward flow of the solar wind. The region that separates our system from interstellar space is the heliopause. In between these is the termination shock, where the solar wind slows from supersonic to subsonic speeds." --Credit: JPL / NASA
The primary mission was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn and then, after some successful snapshots, one of the space craft was sent to Uranus and Neptune. When both spacecraft made their closest approach to Jupiter in 1979, they took more than 33,000 photographs, revealing a number of things that were previously unknown. For example, when scientists examined the photographs of one of Jupiter's moons, "Io," this is the first time that they discovered active volcanism somewhere else in the Solar System.
Below is a time-lapse video recording Voyager 1's approach to Jupiter during a period of over 60 Jupiter days.
The spacecraft made their way to Saturn (about 9 months apart) in 1980-81. The fly-bys of Saturn produced a ton of scientific findings including the fact that its atmosphere is composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, and that it is the only planet less dense than water. The famed rings of Saturn were measured on a level never before seen, and we learned more about the structure of the rings, their thicknesses, ring-gaps and even variations in brightness due in some parts to the existence of clumps and in others to the near absence of material. New satellites were discovered as well. Previously there were thought to be 11 satellites surrounding Saturn, while now we know there are approximately 17. The two spacecraft discovered about six of those. More have been observed using ground-based observation since then.
Below is a picture of three Voyager 2 images of Saturn, taken through ultraviolet, violet and green filters—and then combined.
The spacecraft did a fly-by of Uranus in 1986, discovering 10 previously-unseen moons and two newly detected rings. We also discovered a Uranian magnetic field, giving us the first conclusive indication that the planet actually possesses a magnetosphere. A great deal of knowledge was gained about its surface and also its atmosphere, which is only comprised of 15% helium (studies based here on Earth previously put that figure around 40%).
Below is a photo of a crescent of Uranus that was taken by Voyager 2.
The summer of 1989 was the first time a spacecraft had ever observed the planet Neptune. Neptune is beyond the asteroid belt and is also known as a gas giant. It doesn't have any solid surfaces and is comprised of mainly hydrogen and helium. It's about 17 times as massive (heavy) as the Earth but not nearly as dense. Voyager 2 discovered that Neptune had a large dark area of swirling gases (similar to a hurricane) but the Hubble Telescope later discovered in 1994 that it had vanished.
Below is Voyager 2's view of Neptune (35 million miles away)
Click here to find the location of both Voyager Spacecrafts through 2015 (PDF Document: Credit: JPL / NASA)
The spacecraft are now over 10 billion miles from Earth and are still returning valuable scientific data. They have sufficient electrical power and thruster fuel to operate until around 2020. The equipment on the spacecraft are limited by that of time and it's "most likely" that they will pass silently into interstellar space. At some point, we will no longer receive signals from them and communications will be lost.
The Voyager space craft made history just a few months ago, as they approach the very boundary of the solar system, which is determined by the volume of space swept out by the solar wind and radiation. They continue to push the frontiers of science.
Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."
- Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
- Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
- Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
A plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just proposed a bold education reform plan that would forgive billions in student debt.
- The plan would forgive the debt held by more than 30 million Americans.
- The debt forgiveness program is one part of a larger program to make higher education more accessible.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
In most states, LGBTQ Americans have no legal protections against discrimination in the workplace.
- The Supreme Court will decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gay and transgender people.
- The court, which currently has a probable conservative majority, will likely decide on the cases in 2020.
- Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws effectively extending the Civil Rights of 1964 to gay and transgender people.
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