Does Deep Space Cause Heart Disease?

Does Deep Space Cause Heart Disease?


It’s not often that we get to see astronomy
happen right before our eyes. But in the issue of the Monthly Notices of
the Royal Astronomical Society being published next week, a team of astronomers reported
that they’ve watched a young star get hundreds of times brighter in just a couple years. That’s lightning fast, by astronomy standards
— and nobody’s exactly sure how it’s happening. Stars are generally born in stellar nurseries,
which are huge clouds of gas and dust where hundreds of stars can form at a time. The stars in these nurseries usually take
a really long time to sweep up all the gas around them, but every once in a while astronomers
will see a young star that suddenly starts vacuuming up everything nearby. All the gas that would’ve taken thousands
of years to fall onto the star gets sucked up in just a few years. And with all that gas falling onto the same
place, the star’s surface heats up and gets hundreds of times brighter than it was before. Then, after a few months or years of intense
activity, the stars cool off and start to calm down. Astronomers have seen about a dozen of these
sorts of stars before, but they think it’s something that most stars go through before
they leave the nursery. So when they noticed a young star called CX330
rapidly getting brighter in 2009, it seemed like just another one of these super-active
events. But there are a couple of things that set
CX330 apart. Not only did it start out hotter and denser
than other stars — it’s over a thousand light-years from the nearest stellar nursery. So all that gas that’s been falling onto
the star and heating it up? Astronomers aren’t sure how it got there. CX330 could have been thrown out of a nursery,
but that wouldn’t explain all the gas. The star is only about a million years old,
so it would’ve been thrown out too quickly to be able to drag all that gas along with
it. Another possibility is that there’s a lot
more gas around CX330 than we’d expect, which would put the star in a kind of tiny
nursery of its own. If all this extra gas is there, astronomers
haven’t seen it — though they have been actively looking for it. So for now, CX330’s explosive growth is
still a mystery. But while some space researchers are studying
how stars are born, others are examining how astronauts die. In a paper published last week in the journal
Scientific Reports, a group of researchers announced that the Apollo astronauts who went
to the Moon were 4-5 times more likely to die of heart disease than other astronauts. But don’t… like, unpack your spacesuit just yet. There are a lot of strict physical requirements
to be an astronaut, which means that they tend to be much healthier than the average
person. So it was important to compare astronauts
against each other instead of against just random people of the same age. The researchers started by splitting the data
on 84 deceased astronauts into three groups: 7 who went to the Moon, 42 who went into low-Earth
orbit, and 35 who trained as astronauts but never left Earth. Then, they looked at the difference in how
the astronauts in the three groups died. On the surface, the results look pretty grim:
43 percent of the Apollo astronauts died of heart disease, compared to only about 10 percent
of both of the other groups. There’s a simple way to explain this huge
difference: the Apollo astronauts were the only people to ever leave Earth’s protective
magnetosphere, which blocks out most cosmic radiation long before it hits us. And mice exposed to increased radiation tend
to show early signs of heart problems, so it’s possible that there’s a link between
radiation and heart disease. But it’s hard to draw too many conclusions
from this study, because … most astronauts are still alive. There were only 7 Apollo astronauts in the
sample, and only 3 of them died of heart problems. Yeah, that’s 43%, but it could have easily
been a statistical fluke that three of them died in similar ways. So these results aren’t exactly conclusive
proof that astronauts who go far from Earth will have heart problems. But it is something for future, larger studies
to look at, and for astronauts and their doctors to consider if they’re planning a mission
to the Moon or Mars. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
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