Discovered: Saturn's moon has a damp, spongey surface; creativity strongly correlates with mental illness; the neurons engaged in eye contact; the moon is wetter than we thought.
Huygens lander feels out the surface of Titan. Curiosity isn't the only space-exploring probe to take a giant leap for machinekind in recent memory. The European Space Agency's Huygens probe recently explored Titan, and a new analysis of its landing shows that the surface of Saturn's largest moon feels roughly equivalent to wet sand, or snow that has frozen on top. Researchers were able to reconstruct Titan's surface from sensor data beamed back by Huygens and recreation experiments on Earth. Landing on Titan at a speed of about 10 miles per hour, Huygens sunk five inches into the moon's methane-rich ground. Researchers could tell that it bounced and skidded a bit, but eventually came to a safe, full and complete stop. Stefan Schröder of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research says, "We also see in the Huygens landing data evidence of a 'fluffy' dust-like material—most likely organic aerosols that are known to drizzle out of the Titan atmosphere—being thrown up into the atmosphere and suspended there for around four seconds after the impact." [Discover]
The link between creativity and insanity. You don't have to look very far to find artists with suffering from mental illnesses. Van Gogh cut off his ear in a fit of anger, unyielding depression drove Virginia Woolf to suicide, and contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama produces all of her art from a Japanese mental hospital. Now, a team of Swedish researchers from the Karolinska Institute have established a correlation between creativity and mental illness. The survey took stock of over a million people, and found that artists also tend to have more relatives with mental illnesses than most people. While warning against romanticizing mental disorders, lead researcher Simon Kyaga hopes that the findings will show that otherwise the undesirable symptoms associated with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and other illnesses can also provoke great art. "If one takes the view that certain phenomena associated with the patient's illness are beneficial, it opens the way for a new approach to treatment," Kyaga says. "In that case, the doctor and patient must come to an agreement on what is to be treated, and at what cost." Breaking down the results by artform is interesting. Dancers and photographers showed elevated rates of bipolar disorder. And writers were two times more likely to commit suicide than the average population. [BBC News]
The neurons that make eye contact so intense. We all intuitively know that our brains engage on a new level when we're looking into someone else's eyes as opposed to, say, a blank wall. Now, neurophysiologists from the University of Arizona in Tucson are honing in on the reason behind eye contact's intensity. Studying the brains of Rhesus macaques as they engage each other visually, the researchers were able to pinpoint a newly discovered type of neuron that fires during eye contact. These "eye cells" are located in the amygdala, the brain's center for processing emotional and social cues. Lead researcher Katalin Gothard says, "These are cells that have been tuned by evolution to look at the eye, and they extract information about who you are, and most importantly, are you making eye contact with me." It remains to be seen whether these neurons also exist in humans. If they do, the findings have relevance for people with autism and schizophrenia, conditions that affect sufferer's ability to make eye contact or interpret it as most people do. [New Scientist]
More water on moon than we previously thought. Americans watching the Apollo 11 mission never saw Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin take a dip in a moon lake, but water does exist on the moon. In fact, a lot more water exists on the moon than scientists previously estimated. The University of Tennessee's Lawrence Taylor has been studying samples from the moon ever since the Apollo landing, and after new analyses he believes that a process by which protons from the sun convert hydroxyl and water molecules trapped in glass deposits found in the moon's topsoil. "That means you've got a lot of water stuck around in this glass that we never even thought too much about before," says Taylor. The new reservoirs raise the stakes in theoretical speculation about harvesting the moon for raw materials, and potentially making it a pit-stop for astronauts venturing deeper into the solar system. [Christian Science Monitor]