SciTech Briefs

Morphine affects brain synapses

Researchers at Brown University recently performed a study showing that morphine’s influence on learning and memory may be the cause of the drug’s addictiveness.

According to the study, morphine hinders longterm potentiation (LTP) in the brain. LTP is the reinforcement of information that is transferred from one neuron to another, the process that sustains learning and memory. It also regulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of pleasure.

People who use morphine are unable to regulate the amount of dopamine in their system due to the drug’s influence on LTP.

Source: Scientific American

Distant planet may support life

Astronomers recently discovered a planet, called Gliese 581 c, that closely resembles Earth. The planet is warm enough to have water on its surface, and scientists believe that the planet may have extraterrestrial life.

The temperature of Gliese 581 c is between 0 and 40 °C, and its radius is one and a half times larger than the Earth’s radius.

Gliese 581 c is located near a star called Gliese 581, which the planet orbits every 13 days. The star is relatively cold compared to the sun, however, so the temperature on the surface of Gliese 581 c remains suitable for sustaining life.

Conventional telescopes are unable to provide a quality image of the planet because it is 20 light years away from Earth. Scientists discovered the planet by detecting small variations in Gliese 581’s velocity due to the gravitational force exerted by the orbiting planet.

Source: BBC News

Thin clouds attract NASA’s attention

NASA is currently studying thin clouds that exist over 200,000 feet above the earth’s surface. These clouds are noctilucent, which means that they appear by reflecting light from the sun after it sets.

NASA is sending a satellite to measure the conditions under which these clouds form. In particular, the satellite will measure the atmospheric temperature and moisture levels, as well as the volume of the ice crystals that comprise the clouds.

Researchers are also hoping to determine the source of the dust that leads to the formation of these clouds.

Sources: The New York Times

Electrodes used to simulate sight

Researchers at Harvard Medical School recently performed a study showing that animals perceive artificial stimuli produced by electrodes in their brain as actual stimuli. The electrodes are located in the thalamus of the brain, which connects sensory data from the eyes to the visual cortex.

The study showed that monkeys respond to artificial light signals in the same way as they do to actual light signals.

Researchers are considering the possibility of running such tests on humans. The goal is to simulate visual processes by detecting visual stimuli with video cameras. These cameras would then transfer information to the electrodes in the brain, which would send information to the visual cortex.