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Still Got Those Eclipse Glasses? Put Them Back On to See Huge Sunspots

If you didn't donate your eclipse glasses already, hold onto them for a little bit longer. Despite the name, the glasses can be used to look at the Sun anytime, and right now, you can use them to see some pretty amazing sunspots.

As Bob King of the astronomy blog Astro Bob writes, "Two large sunspot groups, regions 2673 and 2674, have made a beautiful mess of the Sun's otherwise smooth complexion." The latter has become one of the largest sunspots of the year.

Sunspots are areas of intense magnetic fields that appear dark against the surface of the Sun because they're cooler than the areas around them. Their presence is linked to space weather events like solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Their number waxes and wanes in roughly 11-year periods, and as astronomer Phil Plait tells Mental Floss, "we’re sliding into the minimum now." But that doesn't mean there are no sunspots. The longest period of time the Sun has gone without observable sunspots in the past few years was 15 days in March 2017.

This NASA video below shows the movement of a sunspot in July. That one was about 78,000 miles across—nearly 10 times the size of Earth.

Since sunspot sightings are on the downswing for now, this latest appearance is a good reason to get outside and stare at the Sun—with a few safety measures, of course. "These beauties just showed up a few days ago," Plait says. "Sunspots big enough to see with the naked eye are rare, but these are big enough to spot with proper protection."

Hopefully you didn't toss your eclipse glasses immediately after the August dalliance with totality, because there will be plenty of other solar events to look at before the next big solar eclipse in the U.S. in 2024. As always, we must remind you not to stare directly into the Sun, or at best, you'll probably see more spots than you bargained for. If you're not sure about the provenance of your eclipse glasses, make sure to check the certification listed on the temples.

[h/t Astro Bob and Phil Plait]

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Land Cover CCI, ESA
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Afternoon Map
European Space Agency Releases First High-Res Land Cover Map of Africa
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Land Cover CCI, ESA

This isn’t just any image of Africa. It represents the first of its kind: a high-resolution map of the different types of land cover that are found on the continent, released by The European Space Agency, as Travel + Leisure reports.

Land cover maps depict the different physical materials that cover the Earth, whether that material is vegetation, wetlands, concrete, or sand. They can be used to track the growth of cities, assess flooding, keep tabs on environmental issues like deforestation or desertification, and more.

The newly released land cover map of Africa shows the continent at an extremely detailed resolution. Each pixel represents just 65.6 feet (20 meters) on the ground. It’s designed to help researchers model the extent of climate change across Africa, study biodiversity and natural resources, and see how land use is changing, among other applications.

Developed as part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Land Cover project, the space agency gathered a full year’s worth of data from its Sentinel-2A satellite to create the map. In total, the image is made from 90 terabytes of data—180,000 images—taken between December 2015 and December 2016.

The map is so large and detailed that the space agency created its own online viewer for it. You can dive further into the image here.

And keep watch: A better map might be close at hand. In March, the ESA launched the Sentinal-2B satellite, which it says will make a global map at a 32.8 feet-per-pixel (10 meters) resolution possible.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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iStock
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science
Scientists May Have Found the Real Cause of Dyslexia—And a Way to Treat It
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iStock

Dyslexia is often described as trying to read letters as they jump around the page. Because of its connections to reading difficulties and trouble in school, the condition is often blamed on the brain. But according to a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the so-called learning disability may actually start in the eyes.

As The Guardian reports, a team of French scientists say they've discovered a key physiological difference between the eyes of those with dyslexia and those without it. Our eyes have tiny light-receptor cells called rods and cones. The center of a region called the fovea is dominated by cones, which are also responsible for color perception.

Just as most of us have a dominant hand, most have a dominant eye too, which has more neural connections to the brain. The study of 60 people, divided evenly between those with dyslexia and those without, found that in the eyes of non-dyslexic people, the arrangement of the cones is asymmetrical: The dominant eye has a round, cone-free hole, while the other eye has an unevenly shaped hole. However, in people with dyslexia, both eyes have the same round hole. So when they're looking at something in front of them, such as a page in a book, their eyes perceive exact mirror images, which end up fighting for visual domination in the brain. This could explain why it's sometimes impossible for a dyslexic person to distinguish a "b" from a "d" or an "E" from a "3".

These results challenge previous research that connects dyslexia to cognitive abilities. In a study published earlier this year, people with the condition were found to have a harder time remembering musical notes, faces, and spoken words. In light of the new findings, it's unclear whether this is at the root of dyslexia or if growing up with vision-related reading difficulties affects brain plasticity.

If dyslexia does come down to some misarranged light-receptors in the eye, diagnosing the disorder could be as simple as giving an eye exam. The explanation could also make it easy to treat without invasive surgery. In the study, the authors describe using an LED lamp that blinks faster than the human eye can perceive to "cancel out" one of the mirror images perceived by dyslexic readers, leaving only one true image. The volunteers who read with it called it a "magic lamp." The researchers hope to further experiment with it to see see if it's a viable treatment option for the millions of people living with dyslexia.

[h/t The Guardian]

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