Friday, January 7, 2011

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


What's up in Space
August 10, 2010

AURORA ALERTS: Did you miss the Northern Lights? Next time get a wake-up call from Space Weather PHONE

EARLY PERSEID METEORS: The 2010 Perseid meteor shower is underway. "Last night I counted 28 Perseids between 1 am and 4 am--including this bright one zinging past Jupiter," says Pete Glastonbury of Devizes, Wiltshire, UK. Indeed, says Bill Cooke of the MSFC, "the meteor rate is getting so high that last night we captured two Perseid fireballs at the same time using our all-sky camera in Walker County, Georgia. The shower peaks on Thursday, Aug. 12th; these early reports are a promising sign of things to come. [live meteor radar] [2010 meteor counts] [Bill Cooke's Perseid Twitter Feed]

INCOMING CME: The solar eruption of August 7th might affect Earth after all. Newly-arriving data from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) show a CME heading our way with a significant Earth-directed component. Click on the image to launch a "difference movie" of the expanding cloud:

The impact of this lopsided CME probably won't trigger a major geomagnetic storm---but the SOHO data show it could be bigger than expected. High latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras when the cloud arrives probably on August 10th.

ANTARCTIC AURORAS: The stage is set for a good display of auroras over Antarctica. The skies are already shimmering even before the CME arrives. J. Dana Hrubes sends this picture from the geographic South Pole:

Hrubes is wintering over at the Amundsen-Scott Station where he oversees operations of the South Pole Telescope (SPoT), silhouetted above by aurora australis. "After one of the windiest Julys on record, we finally got some very clear skies on August 9th," he says. "The auroras were a welcome surprise. The sun will be returning to the South Pole in a little over 6 weeks, so I'm hoping for more auroras soon."

He may get them. NOAA forecasters estimate a 30% chance of polar geomagnetic activity when the incoming CME arrives. Stay tuned for Southern Lights!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

THE BRAIN, Most Powerful Machine In The Universe

“We have successfully uncovered and mapped the most comprehensive long-distance network of the Macaque monkey brain, which is essential for understanding the brain’s behavior, complexity, dynamics and computation,” announced Dharmendra S. Modha of IBM. “We can now gain unprecedented insight into how information travels and is processed across the brain. We have collated a comprehensive, consistent, concise, coherent, and colossal network spanning the entire brain and grounded in anatomical tracing studies that is a stepping stone to both fundamental and applied research in neuroscience and cognitive computing,” he added.

The scientists focused on the long-distance network of 383 brain regions and 6,602 long-distance brain connections that travel through the brain’s white matter, which are like the “interstate highways” between far-flung brain regions, he explained, while short-distance gray matter connections constitute “local roads” within a brain region and its sub-structures.

“We studied four times the number of brain regions and have compiled nearly three times the number of connections when compared to the largest previous endeavor,” he pointed out. “Our data may open up entirely new ways of analyzing, understanding, and, eventually, imitating the network architecture of the brain, which according to Marian C. Diamond and Arnold B. Scheibel is “the most complex mass of protoplasm on earth—perhaps even in our galaxy.”

The brain network they found contains a “tightly integrated core that might be at the heart of higher cognition and even consciousness … and may be a key to the age-old question of how the mind arises from the brain.” The core spans parts of premotor cortex, prefrontal cortex, temporal lobe, parietal lobe, thalamus, basal ganglia, cingulate cortex, insula, and visual cortex.

This discovery aligns remarkably well with three decades of behavioral imaging studies that “exhibit a ‘task-positive’ network implicated in goal-directed performance and a ‘task-negative’ network activated when the brain is withdrawn and at wakeful rest,” they point out.

Similar to how search engines uncover highly ranked web-pages using network theory, by ranking brain regions, they found evidence that the prefrontal cortex is a topologically central part of the brain that might act as an integrator and distributor of information.

Modha and Raghavendra Singh (IBM Research-India) also found that the brain network does not appear to be “scale-free” like the web’s social networks, which are logical and can grow without constraints, but seems to be ”exponential,” like air traffic networks, which are physical and must satisfy resource constraints. “This finding will help us design the routing architecture for a network of cognitive computing chips,” they suggest.

“The network opens the door to the application of large-scale network-theoretic analysis that has been so successful in understanding the Internet, metabolic networks, protein interaction networks, various social networks, and in searching the world-wide web," they added. "The network will be an indispensable foundation for clinical, systems, cognitive, and computational neurosciences as well as cognitive computing.”

Casey Kazan