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Pockets of the Brain Can Fall Asleep During the Day

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A team of neuroscientists at MIT think they know what causes people to zone out when they're sleep deprived. According to a study published this week in the journal eLife, as far as sleep is concerned, the brain is not a binary system. The researchers discovered a brain circuit in the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) that triggers small areas of the brain to become less alert or even fall asleep. This neurological phenomenon is known as "local sleep," but it is often referred to as spacing out.

The researchers weakly stimulated the TRN of mice with optogenetics, which MIT News explains is a technique that allows scientists to stimulate or silence neurons with light. The stimulation caused slow waves to appear in a small part of the brain's cortex, and with more stimulation the entire cortex showed slow waves. These slow waves are associated with deep sleep (as well as coma and general anesthesia). After TRN stimulation, the animals start to act like they’re drowsy, lead author of the study, Laura Lewis, said. "They’ll stop moving around, their muscle tone will go down."

The results have given the researchers more knowledge about the TRN's role on the local level as a "gatekeeper for sensory information entering the thalamus," which is important in studies of memory, cognition, and sleep. Understanding the brain's arousal mechanisms could be instrumental to developing sleep aids and anesthetics that better mimic natural sleep.

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History
When Chuck Yeager Tweeted Details About His Historic, Sound Barrier-Breaking Flight

Seventy years ago today—on October 14, 1947—Charles Elwood Yeager became the first person to travel faster than the speed of sound. The Air Force pilot broke the sound barrier in an experimental X-1 rocket plane (nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis”) over a California dry lake at an altitude of 25,000 feet.

In 2015, the nonagenarian posted a few details on Twitter surrounding the anniversary of the achievement, giving amazing insight into the history-making flight.

For even more on the historic ride, check out the video below.

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Mrs. John Herschel, Wikimedia Commons
8 Stellar Facts About the Most Accomplished Female Astronomer You’ve Never Heard Of
Mrs. John Herschel, Wikimedia Commons
Mrs. John Herschel, Wikimedia Commons

Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) was a German woman who made great contributions to science and astronomy. 

1. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO DISCOVER A COMET.

Herschel spotted the comet (called 35P/Herschel-Rigollet) in December of 1788. Because its orbital period is 155 years, 35P/Herschel-Rigollet will next be visible to humans in the year 2092.

2. SHE INITIALLY WORKED AS A HOUSEKEEPER.

In her early twenties, Herschel moved from Germany to England to be a singer. Her brother William (the astronomer who discovered the planet Uranus and infrared radiation) gave her singing lessons, and she was his housekeeper. She later became his assistant, grinding and polishing the mirrors for his telescopes.

3. BUT SHE LATER TURNED HER REAL PASSION INTO A PAYING GIG.

Herschel was the first female scientist to ever be paid for her work. Starting in 1787, King George III paid her £50 per year to reward her for her scientific discoveries.

4. SHE WAS TECHNICALLY A LITTLE PERSON.

Herschel was only 4 feet 3 inches tall—her growth was stunted due to typhus when she was 10 years old.

5. SHE BROKE BARRIERS, EARNING RESPECT FROM THE HERETOFORE MALE-ONLY SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY.

Herschel was the first woman to receive a Gold Medal from London’s Royal Astronomical Society, in 1828. The second woman to receive one was well over 150 years later, in 1996.

6. SHE CHEATED AT MATH ... KIND OF.

Because Herschel was female and thus wasn’t allowed to learn math as a child, she used a cheat sheet with the multiplication tables on it when she was working.

7. EARTH'S MOON HONORS HER LEGACY.

By NASA / LRO_LROC_TEAM [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A crater on the moon is named in honor of Herschel—it’s called C. Herschel. The small crater is located on the west side of Mare Imbrium, one of the moon's large rocky plains.

8. SHE GARNERED AWARDS WELL INTO HER NINETIES.

For her 96th birthday, Prussian King Frederick William IV authorized that Herschel receive an award: the Gold Medal for Science.

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