Posts Tagged ‘gravity’

Returning to Earth from the International Space Station, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield remarked how making the right decision is vital in high pressure environments, saying:

Most of the time, you only really get one try to do most of the critical stuff and the consequences are life or death.

Mankind is preparing for a new space age: manned missions to Mars are no longer a distant dream and commercial ventures may open up the prospect for non astronauts to visit other planets. Understanding how gravity impacts the way in which we make decisions has never been more pressing.

All living organisms on Earth have evolved under a constant gravitational field. That’s because gravity is always there and it is part of the background of our perceptual world: we cannot see it, smell it or touch it.

Nevertheless, gravity plays a fundamental role in human behaviour and cognition.

The central nervous system does not have “specialised” sensors for gravity. Rather, gravity is inferred through the integration of several sensory signals in a process termed graviception. This involves vision, our balance system and information from the joints and muscles.

Sophisticated organs inside the inner ear are particularly important in this process. Under terrestrial gravity, when our head is upright, small stones – the vestibular otoliths – are perfectly balanced on a viscous fluid.

When we move the head, for instance looking up, gravity makes the fluid move and this triggers a signal which informs the brain that our head is no longer upright.

Long-duration exposure to zero gravity, such as during space missions, leads to several structural and functional changes in the human body. While the influence of zero gravity on our physical functions has been largely investigated, the effects on decision-making are not yet fully understood.

Given the technical limitations and the expected gap of a few minutes in communication with Earth if we go to Mars, knowing the impact of altered gravity on how people make decisions is essential.

Novelty versus routine

In a nutshell, human behaviour is a constant trade off between the exploitation of familiar but possibly sub-optimal choices and the exploration of new and potentially more profitable alternatives.

For example, in a restaurant you can exploit by choosing your usual chocolate cake, or you can explore by trying that tiramisu that you’ve not had before. Thus, exploitation involves routine behaviour, while exploration involves varying choices.

We investigated whether alterations in gravity impact the choice between routine and novel behaviour. We asked participants to come to the lab and produce sequences of numbers as randomly as possible.

Every time they heard a beep sound, they needed to name a number between one and nine. Importantly, there was no time to think or to count, just name a number.

Critically, this task requires our brain to suppress routine responses and generate novel responses, and it can be considered a proxy for successful adaptive behaviour.

But how does this change under the influence of gravity? We manipulated how the otoliths sense gravity by changing the orientation of participants’ bodies with respect to the direction of terrestrial gravity by asking them to lie down.

When we are upright, our body and otoliths are congruent with the direction of gravity, while when we are lying down they are orthogonal (at right angles).

This is a very efficient laboratory manipulation, which allows us to mimic alterations of gravitational signals reaching the brain. It is actually a better way to study the effects of gravity than sending someone to space.

That’s because when we are in space we are also affected by weightlessness, radiation and isolation – and it can be hard to separate what effect the lack of gravity alone has.

Our results indicate that lying down does seem to influence how people make decisions, with participants struggling with random number generation. This indicates that people are therefore less prone to generating novel behaviours in the absence of gravity.

This may be of importance to the planning of actual space missions. Astronauts are in an extremely challenging environment in which decisions must be made quickly and efficiently. An automatic preference for routine or stereotyped options might not help with complex problem solving, and could even place life at risk.

The results add to research suggesting that people also suffer changes in perception and cognition when under conditions mimicking zero-gravity. The absence of gravity can be profoundly unsettling, and can potentially compromise performance levels in many ways.

This suggests that astronauts may benefit from some sort of cognitive enhancement training to help them overcome the effects of altered gravity on the brain, and to assure successful and safe manned space missions.The Conversation

https://www.sciencealert.com/exposure-to-zero-gravity-can-change-how-human-make-decisions

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By Leah Crane

HIDDEN dimensions could cause ripples through reality by modifying gravitational waves – and spotting such signatures of extra dimensions could help solve some of the biggest mysteries of the universe.

Physicists have long wondered why gravity is so weak compared with the other fundamental forces. This may be because some of it is leaking away into extra dimensions beyond the three spatial dimensions we experience.

Some theories that seek to explain how gravity and quantum effects mesh together, including string theory, require extra dimensions, often with gravity propagating through them. Finding evidence of such exotic dimensions could therefore help to characterise gravity, or find a way to unite gravity and quantum mechanics – it could also hint at an explanation for why the universe’s expansion is accelerating.

But detecting extra dimensions is a challenge. Any that exist would have to be very small in order to avoid obvious effects on our everyday lives. Hopes were high (and still are) that they would show up at the Large Hadron Collider, but it has yet to see any sign of physics beyond our four dimensions.

In the last two years, though, a new hope has emerged. Gravitational waves, ripples in space-time caused by the motion of massive objects, were detected for the first time in 2015. Since gravity is likely to occupy all the dimensions that exist, its waves are an especially promising way to detect any dimensions beyond the ones we know.

“If there are extra dimensions in the universe, then gravitational waves can walk along any dimension, even the extra dimensions,” says Gustavo Lucena Gómez at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany.

Lucena Gómez and his colleague David Andriot set out to calculate how potential extra dimensions would affect the gravitational waves that we are able to observe. They found two peculiar effects: extra waves at high frequencies, and a modification of how gravitational waves stretch space.

As gravitational waves propagate through a tiny extra dimension, the team found, they should generate a “tower” of extra gravitational waves with high frequencies following a regular distribution.

But current observatories cannot detect frequencies that high, and most of the planned observatories also focus on lower frequencies. So while these extra waves may be everywhere, they will be hard to spot.

The second effect of extra dimensions might be more detectable, since it modifies the “normal” gravitational waves that we observe rather than adding an extra signal.

“If extra dimensions are in our universe, this would stretch or shrink space-time in a different way that standard gravitational waves would never do,” says Lucena Gómez.

As gravitational waves ripple through the universe, they stretch and squish space in a very specific way. It’s like pulling on a rubber band: the ellipse formed by the band gets longer in one direction and shorter in the other, and then goes back to its original shape when you release it.

But extra dimensions add another way for gravitational waves to make space shape-shift, called a breathing mode. Like your lungs as you breathe, space expands and contracts as gravitational waves pass through, in addition to stretching and squishing.

“With more detectors we will be able to see whether this breathing mode is happening,” says Lucena Gómez.

“Extra dimensions have been discussed for a long time from different points of view,” says Emilian Dudas at the École Polytechnique in France. “Gravitational waves could be a new twist on looking for extra dimensions.”

But there is a trade-off: while detecting a tower of high-frequency gravitational waves would point fairly conclusively to extra dimensions, a breathing mode could be explained by a number of other non-standard theories of gravity.

“It’s probably not a unique signature,” says Dudas. “But it would be a very exciting thing.”

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23431244-200-gravitational-waves-could-show-hints-of-extra-dimensions/

Here is the perfect example of how any two objects will fall at the same rate in a vacuum, brought to us by physicist Brian Cox. He checked out NASA’s Space Simulation Chamber located at the Space Power Facility in Ohio. With a volume of 22,653 cubic meters, it’s the largest vacuum chamber in the world.

In this clip from the BBC, Cox drops a bowling ball and a feather together, first in normal conditions, and then after virtually all the air has been sucked out of the chamber. We know what happens, but that doesn’t stop it from being awesome, especially with the team’s ecstatic faces.

http://www.iflscience.com/physics/dropping-bowling-ball-and-feather-vacuum

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.