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People Can't Tell Their Toes Apart Without Looking

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There are few things in life as familiar as your own body, but a study published in the journal Perception shows that our sense of self starts to disappear when we lose our sense of sight. In fact, the scientists report that people have a difficult time identifying their own toes when their eyes are closed.

The study participants were touched on their fingers and toes without their being able to see which digit was being touched, and then asked to identify the digit being singled out.

Fingers were a cinch, with testers identifying the correct one about 99 percent of the time. Accuracy dropped slightly, to 94 percent, for the big and pinky toes. But it plummeted with the three middle toes, to as low as 57 percent. These little piggies gave testers the toughest time.

“The key issue was distinguishing between the second and third toes [the toes next to the big toe],” said Dr. Nela Cicmil of Oxford's Department of Physiology.

While some did better than others, every participant had some degree of difficulty in identifying the correct toes. This sort of misidentification is called “agnosia.” The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes it as “an inability to recognize and identify objects or persons.”

Not only did people share the struggle to correctly identify their digits, they exhibited a similar pattern in which the second toe was believed to be the third, and the third toe was believed to be the fourth. The troubles were even worse when testing the nondominant foot. The most surprising discovery: Nearly half of the testers reported feeling as if one toe were gone.

The results could be a valuable tool for understanding more about how agnosia or other body misperceptions work. Moreover, the fact that the healthy humans in the study still had trouble with what might have been considered an easy task could also hold answers for future brain-damage testing. 

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Scientists Analyze the Moods of 90,000 Songs Based on Music and Lyrics
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Based on the first few seconds of a song, the part before the vocalist starts singing, you can judge whether the lyrics are more likely to detail a night of partying or a devastating breakup. The fact that musical structures can evoke certain emotions just as strongly as words can isn't a secret. But scientists now have a better idea of which language gets paired with which chords, according to their paper published in Royal Society Open Science.

For their study, researchers from Indiana University downloaded 90,000 songs from Ultimate Guitar, a site that allows users to upload the lyrics and chords from popular songs for musicians to reference. Next, they pulled data from labMT, which crowd-sources the emotional valence (positive and negative connotations) of words. They referred to the music recognition site Gracenote to determine where and when each song was produced.

Their new method for analyzing the relationship between music and lyrics confirmed long-held knowledge: that minor chords are associated with sad feelings and major chords with happy ones. Words with a negative valence, like "pain," "die," and "lost," are all more likely to fall on the minor side of the spectrum.

But outside of major chords, the researchers found that high-valence words tend to show up in a surprising place: seventh chords. These chords contain four notes at a time and can be played in both the major and minor keys. The lyrics associated with these chords are positive all around, but their mood varies slightly depending on the type of seventh. Dominant seventh chords, for example, are often paired with terms of endearment, like "baby", or "sweet." With minor seventh chords, the words "life" and "god" are overrepresented.

Using their data, the researchers also looked at how lyric and chord valence differs between genres, regions, and eras. Sixties rock ranks highest in terms of positivity while punk and metal occupy the bottom slots. As for geography, Scandinavia (think Norwegian death metal) produces the dreariest music while songs from Asia (like K-Pop) are the happiest. So if you're looking for a song to boost your mood, we suggest digging up some Asian rock music from the 1960s, and make sure it's heavy on the seventh chords.

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Space
Watch NASA Test Its New Supersonic Parachute at 1300 Miles Per Hour
NASA/JPL, YouTube
NASA/JPL, YouTube

NASA’s latest Mars rover is headed for the Red Planet in 2020, and the space agency is working hard to make sure its $2.1 billion project will land safely. When the Mars 2020 rover enters the Martian atmosphere, it’ll be assisted by a brand-new, advanced parachute system that’s a joy to watch in action, as a new video of its first test flight shows.

Spotted by Gizmodo, the video was taken in early October at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Narrated by the technical lead from the test flight, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ian Clark, the two-and-a-half-minute video shows the 30-mile-high launch of a rocket carrying the new, supersonic parachute.

The 100-pound, Kevlar-based parachute unfurls at almost 100 miles an hour, and when it is entirely deployed, it’s moving at almost 1300 miles an hour—1.8 times the speed of sound. To be able to slow the spacecraft down as it enters the Martian atmosphere, the parachute generates almost 35,000 pounds of drag force.

For those of us watching at home, the video is just eye candy. But NASA researchers use it to monitor how the fabric moves, how the parachute unfurls and inflates, and how uniform the motion is, checking to see that everything is in order. The test flight ends with the payload crashing into the ocean, but it won’t be the last time the parachute takes flight in the coming months. More test flights are scheduled to ensure that everything is ready for liftoff in 2020.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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