You might have missed: space cloverleaf; mindfulness benefits; human embryo contraction

Astronomers see “Cloverleaf” in new light

In 2021, astronomers discovered enormous circular radio features around some galaxies. Since then, the origin of these structures, collectively known as ORCs (odd radio circles), has remained unknown.

Now, new X-ray observations of an ORC dubbed the Cloverleaf suggest it was created by merging groups of galaxies. The findings are detailed in a new paper in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics Letters.

By studying X-ray emissions scientists could trace the distribution of gas within the group of galaxies in the Cloverleaf. This revealed they originally came from 2 separate groups that  merged.

“Mergers make up the backbone of structure formation, but there’s something special in this system that rockets the radio emission,” says Esra Bulbul, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, who led the study.

“We can’t tell right now what it is, so we need more and deeper data from both radio and X-ray telescopes.”

Image of the cloverleaf orc appears as a cloud of false-coloured blue and pink.
This multiwavelength image of the Cloverleaf ORC (odd radio circle) combines visible light observations from the DESI (Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument) Legacy Survey in white and yellow, X-rays from XMM-Newton in blue, and radio from ASKAP (the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder) in red. Credit: X. Zhang and M. Kluge (MPE), B. Koribalski (CSIRO)

Mindfulness to improve side effects of radiation therapy

A small pilot study in 27 men with prostate cancer has found that listening to mindfulness audio recordings significantly eased side effects of radiation therapy, such as fatigue, sleep problems, anxiety, and depressive symptoms.

The participants listened to short 3-6 minute mindfulness recordings while reclining and receiving their daily 5-15 minute radiation treatment. The recordings asked them to focus on their breath, posture, sounds and environment.

An audio file of mindfulness used in the study. Credit: Northwestern University

“Men with cancer — no matter the age — are a hard group to help because they don’t tend to engage in supportive care activities like their women counterparts. You build it and they don’t come,” says David Victorson, professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University in the US.

“The fact that this intervention is passive — they don’t have to go to a support group, and they can be getting their treatment while we layer on symptom support — is a twofer.”

The research is published in the journal Global Advances in Integrative Medicine and Health

Cell contraction shaping human embryos

Embryonic cell compaction is a crucial step in the normal development of a human embryo. New research has revealed that compaction is driven by the contraction of embryonic cells, with implications for assisted reproductive technology.

Microscope image of several human embryonic cells clustered into the shape of a ball against a black background. The cells are fluorescing with a blue ball at their centres, and with orange perimeters.
Human embryo at the blastocyst stage ready to implant. The nuclear envelope of the cells appears in blue and the actin cytoskeleton in orange. Credit: © Julie Firmin et Jean-Léon Maître

Four days after fertilisation when the embryo is composed of 8 to 16 cells, they move closer together in a process called compaction to give the embryo its initial shape. During assisted reproductive technology (ART), embryos that fail to compact or have delayed compactions show a lower implantation rate upon being transferred.

Previously it was assumed that defects in compaction are caused by a lack of adhesion between embryonic cells. Instead, the new evidence published in Nature indicates it’s caused by a fault in cell contraction.

The research team hope that the findings will contribute to the refinement of ART as nearly one third of inseminations are unsuccessful.

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