The Week (US)

The sound of space


Because sound can’t travel through a vacuum, it’s long been thought that the depths of space must be a silent expanse. But new data from NASA’s Voyager 1 probe has revealed that the vast regions between star systems actually have a unique soundtrack: a quiet “hum” caused by the constant vibrations of small amounts of interstell­ar gas. Voyager 1 set off from Earth in 1977 and in 2012 became the first man-made object to leave our solar system. The craft’s Plasma Wave System had previously picked up the sound of the sun’s solar flares crashing through the heliopause, the boundary of our solar system. Between those eruptions, researcher­s have now detected a steady and persistent signature. “The interstell­ar medium is like a quiet or gentle rain,” study co-author James Cordes, from Cornell University, tells Scientists say this discovery should help them better understand how the heliospher­e, which is formed by solar winds and acts as a protective bubble for the solar system, can be changed by interstell­ar conditions.

is in his 60s and lost all movement below his neck following a 2007 spinal injury— had two tiny computer chips surgically implanted in the left side of his brain, where neurons send signals to control the right hand. Scientists then asked him to imagine that he was holding a pen and to write individual letters of the alphabet. His brain produced distinct electrical signals for each letter, reports The Guardian (U.K.), informatio­n that was used to train an artificial intelligen­ce algorithm. In tests, the BrainGate system allowed the man to write about 90 characters a minute and to achieve 94 percent accuracy. Frank Willett, a research scientist at Stanford University, says the approach could eventually be used to help paralyzed people communicat­e via imagined touch typing or even via imagined speech for patients who have lost their voices. “Instead of detecting letters,” he explains, “the algorithm would be detecting syllables, or rather phonemes, the fundamenta­l unit of speech.”

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