Rosettas Comet Is Younger Than Previously Thought

Scientists have long considered 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, or Chury for short, the comet studied by ESAs Rosetta, to be a relic of the early days of the Solar System. But researchers now think that its famous duck shape is actually much younger.

In a paper published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, Martin Jutzi and Willy Benz from the University of Bern, Switzerland, in collaboration with colleagues, created a simulation to work out the comets history, and the findings suggest that the bilobed shaped might have formed within the last 1 billion years.

It is unlikely that a body like Chury has survived for such a long time without damage our computer simulations show this, said Jutzi in a statement.

The simulation is backed by other studies that looked at the origin of this comet. Researchers from the University of Padua, Italy, argued last year that Chury was indeed formed by two cometary nuclei that fused into one after a low-velocity impact.

More recent studies point out that the formation of bilobed comets like Chury might happen often. All the objects in theSolar System have experienced collisions throughout the 4.5 billion years of its history. 67Ps duck shape is too fragile to withstand all those impacts.

We have found that this structure can be destroyed easily, even with low energy collisions, said Jutzi.

Churys present shape is the result of the last major impact which probably occurred within the last billion years.

Jutzi and Benz also published another paper, also in Astronomy & Astrophysics, focusing on the composition of the comet. Comets are studied because the material they are made of is unchanged since the formation of theSolar System.

The fact that their shape changes might be problematic, but the research has shown that the impacts that have shaped Chury have been low energy enough to maintain its original composition.

“So far, it has been assumed that comets are original building blocks similar to Lego,” said Benz. “Our work shows that the Lego blocks no longer have their original form, but the plastic that they consist of is still the same as in the beginning.”

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Thanks To Cosmic Rays, We Finally Know What The Inside Of A Pyramid Looks Like

The pyramids of ancient Egypt have harboredtheir secrets for some 4,500 years. But thanks to some incredible technology, archeologists have finally begun to unlock them.

The Scans Pyramidsproject usescosmic rays to createmaps that showthe internalstructures of Egypt’s pyramids.On Tuesday, April 26, archeologists and researchers from the project unveiled their latest work.

Theimages show the internal chambers of the4,600-year-old Bent Pyramid, a 105-meter (345-foot) limestone monument found just 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the modern Egyptian capital, Cairo. For the first time, the images also clearly showthe shape and structure of the pyramid’ssecond chamber.

Known in ancient times as the Southern Shining Pyramid, its thought to be one of Egypt’s earliest pyramids.As you can almost tell from its rather weird look, this particular pyramid is seen as a transition between step-sided and smooth-sided pyramids.

The technique to look inside is comparable to how X-rays work, except it relies on muon particles. These particles, which originatefrom the interactions of cosmic rays from the distant universe with the atoms of the upper atmosphere, can penetrate hundreds of meters of stonebefore being absorbed. By placing 40 muon-sensitive films deep inside the pyramid, the researchers can work out the thickness of the stonewithin the structure. After 40 days of exposure to muon particles, the information from these films were put together to create an image.

This is just the beginning of the incredible work you can expect to see from thisproject. Theyre now going to use the same techniqueon other Old Kingdom pyramids such as Khufu, Khafre, and the Red Pyramids.

The Bent Pyramid, as seen without the use of “cosmic ray” detectors. Image credit:Gurgen Bakhshetsyan/Shutterstock

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Google Glass Will Have Automatic Picture-Taking Mode


project-glass-demo-600Google co-founder Sergey Brin revealed one of the features of Google Glass — the upcoming headset/eyewear device the search giant is developing — in an email to followers today.

Copying a post he had shared to followers of Project Glass on Google+, Brin said he was trying out a new feature of the product that automatically takes a photo every 10 seconds. Brin said he had the mode engaged while he was driving in Montana, with the device sending all the pics to his Google+ account via instant upload.

Browsing the images later, Brin picked one he thought best captured the beauty of the Montana landscape. The image has just 512 x 384 resolution — less than a megapixel — though that that’s probably not an indication of Google Glass’s capabilities. It could be an aspect of the auto-photo mode, using lower resolutions so storage isn’t taxed that much. Here’s the photo:


In the message, Brin emphasized that Glass allowed him to take pictures as he drove without distraction. He also talked about the vision of Project Glass. “We started Project Glass believing that, by bringing technology closer, we can get it more out of the way,” he wrote. “Whether you’re exploring a new city, hiking in the woods, or playing with your kids — Glass allows you to enjoy and share life’s moments without being tied down by technology.”

It appears only attendees of Google I/O who signed up for Google Glass received the email. On the Google+ post, however, Brin encourages followers to leave a comment and provide feedback on the project. He also promises that Google has some “great things” coming the next few months. He’ll have a tough time topping his spectacular skydive at the I/O conference.

Although it was first reported Google Glass would go on sale before the end of 2012, Brin himself has said it’ll be ready for consumers by 2014. Developers who were interested in receiving one of the prototypes were asked to commit to paying $1,500 for each one, though that figure has no bearing on what the retail price will be.

What do you think of the latest news about Google Glass? Does automatic picture taking sound like a feature you’d use? Share your thoughts in the comments.

BONUS: The Long and Winding Road to a True Heads-Up Display

Yes Theres Hope, But Treating Spinal Injuries With Stem Cells Is Not A Reality Yet

The ConversationThe 2017 Australian of the Year award went to Professor Alan Mackay-Sim for his significant career in stem cell science.

The prize was linked to barbeque-stopping headlines equating his achievements to the scientific equivalent of the moon landing and paving the road to recovery for people with spinal cord injuries.

Such claims in the media imply that there is now a scientifically proven stem cell treatment for spinal cord injury. This is not the case.

For now, any clinic or headline claiming miracle cures should be viewed with caution, as they are likely to be trading on peoples hope.

Why stem cells for spinal cord injury?

Put simply, injury to the spinal cord causes damage to the nerve cells that transmit information between the brain and the rest of the body.

Depending on which part of the spine is involved, the injury can affect the nerves that control the muscles in our legs and arms; those that control bowel and bladder function and how we regulate body temperature and blood pressure; and those that carry the sensation of being touched. This occurs in part because injury and subsequent scarring affect not just the nerves but also the insulation that surrounds and protects them. The insulation the myelin sheath is damaged and the body cannot usually completely replace or regenerate this covering.

Stem cells can self-reproduce and grow into hundreds of different cell types, including nerves and the cells that make myelin. So the blue-sky vision is that stem cells could restore some nerve function by replacing missing or faulty cells, or prevent further damage caused by scarring.

Studies in animals have applied stem cells derived from sources including brain tissue, the lining of the nasal cavity, tooth pulp, and embryos (known as embryonic stem cells).

Dramatic improvements have been shown on some occasions, such as rats and mice regaining bladder control or the ability to walk after injury. While striking, such improvement often represents only a partial recovery. It holds significant promise, but is not direct evidence that such an approach will work in people, particularly those with more complex injuries.

What is happening now in clinical trials?

The translation of findings from basic laboratory stem cell research to effective and safe treatments in the clinic involves many steps and challenges. It needs a firm scientific basis from animal studies and then careful evaluation in humans.

Many clinical studies examining stem cells for spinal repair are currently underway. The approaches fit broadly into two categories:

  1. using stem cells as a source of cells to replace those damaged as a result of injury

  2. applying cells to act on the bodys own cells to accelerate repair or prevent further damage.

One study that has attracted significant interest involves the injection of myelin-producing cells made from human embryonic stem cells. Researchers hoped that these cells, once injected into the spinal cord, would mature and form a new coating on the nerve cells, restoring the ability of signals to cross the spinal cord injury site. Preliminary results seem to show that the cells are safe; studies are ongoing.

Other clinical trials use cells from patients own bone marrow or adipose tissue (fat), or from donated cord blood or nerves from fetal tissue. The scientific rationale is based on the possibility that when transplanted into the injured spinal cord, these cells may provide surrounding tissue with protective factors which help to re-establish some of the connections important for the network of nerves that carry information around the body.

The field as it stands combines years of research, and tens of millions of dollars of investment. However, the development of stem cell therapies for spinal cord injury remains a long way from translating laboratory promise into proven and effective bedside treatments.

The promise and uncertainty of breakthroughs

Each case is unique in people with spinal cord injury: the level of paralysis, and loss of sensation and function relate to the type of injury and its location. Injuries as a result of stab wounds or infection may result in different outcomes from those incurred as a result of trauma from a car accident or serious fall. The previous health of those injured, the care received at the time of injury, and the type of rehabilitation they access can all impact on subsequent health and mobility.

Such variability means caution needs to accompany claims of man walking again particularly when reports relate to a single individual.

In the case that was linked to the Australian of the Year award, the actual 2013 study focused on whether it was safe to take the patients own nerves and other cells from the nose and place these into the damaged region of the spine. While the researchers themselves recommended caution in interpreting the results, accompanying media reports focused on the outcome from just one of the six participants.

While the outcome was significant for the gentleman involved, we simply do not know whether recovery may have occurred for this individual even without stem cells, given the type of injury (stab wounds), the level of injury, the accompanying rehabilitation that he received or a combination of these factors. It cannot be assumed a similar outcome would be the case for all people with spinal injury.

We are not there yet but there is hope

Finding a way to alleviate the suffering of those with spinal cord injury, and many other conditions, drives the work of thousands of researchers and doctors around the globe. But stem cells are not a silver bullet and should not be immune from careful evaluation in clinical trials.

Failure to proceed with caution could actually cause harm. For example, a paraplegic woman who was also treated with nasal stem cells showed no clinical improvement, and developed a large mucus-secreting tumour in her spine. This case highlights the need for further refinement and assessment in properly conducted clinical trials before nasal stem cells can become part of mainstream medicine.

Its also worth noting that for spinal cord injury, trials for recovery of function are not limited to the use of stem cells but include approaches focused on promoting health of surviving nerves (neuroprotection), surgery following injury, nerve transfers, electrical stimulation, external physical supports known as exoskeletons, nanotechnology and brain-machine interfaces.

Ultimately, determining which of these approaches will improve the lives of people with spinal injury can only be done through rigorous, ethical research.

Megan Munsie, Head of Education, Ethics, Law & Community Awareness Unit, Stem Cells Australia, University of Melbourne; Andrew Nunn, Adjunct Research Associate , Monash University, and Claire Tanner, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Hubble’s Breathtaking Snap Of An Ancient Galactic Merger Is Undeniably Awesome

In general, everything in the cosmos is moving apart, but there are some exceptions to this. The nearest galaxy to our own, Andromeda, is barreling towards us, which means that in 4 billion years or so, it’ll merge with the Milky Way. If we want to see examples of galaxy collisions, though, we only need look to the deep dark shadows above us.

The dance of these stellar museums are violent and sometimes highly destructive; other times, they look more like a ballet than a mosh pit. If a larger galaxy meets a smaller one, it devours it and destroys its junior partner – something our own Milky Way has accomplished at least eleven times.

An image recently released by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) illustrates one such galaxy merger event, but arguably a more peaceful one. Pictured here in NGC 3256 is a distorted galactic soup that resulted from the clash of two separate ones that started colliding around 500 million years ago, around the time complex life on Earth was just starting to flourish.

As explained by the press release accompanying this breathtaking shot by the Hubble Space Telescope, the aftermath of this galactic bloodbath can be located 100 million light-years away, in the constellation of Vela. As the galaxies involved were originally of a similar size, they had a equal influence on each other, which resulted in a somewhat calm merger rather than a winner-takes-all event.

The galaxy is about 100 million light-years from Earth and is the result of a past galactic merger, which created its distorted appearance. ESA/Hubble, NASA

See those tails? They’re packed with young stars, formed during the collision of some raw material perfect for forming new thermonuclear furnaces, particularly all that hydrogen.

In fact, as it turns out, in much the same way that asteroid belts in movies are damned lies, the spaces between stars are probably far, far greater than you think. After all, the nearest star system to the Sun is still around 4 light-years away.

Their orbits may be severely perturbed if they get close enough, but these intergalactic candles are still likely to remain segregated. Indeed, it’s the gas and dust that tends to mix together and transform into new stars and worlds, which is what can be seen here.

In fact, NGC 3256 is referred to as a “starburst galaxy”, in that it’s exhibiting a far-above-average rate of star formation. This has resulted in a stellar fireworks show most luminous in the infrared. Thanks to its face-on orientation, it’s giving astronomers a perfect opportunity to study how starbursts are borne from such mergers.

The collision, rather excitingly, is still taking place from our point of view. In a few hundred million years’ time, their cores will merge fully, and it’ll become one single, huge elliptical galaxy. Sadly, of course, we won’t be around to see it happen.

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The Strange, Isolated Life Of A Tuberculosis Patient In The 21st Century

While volunteering for the Peace Corps in Ukraine in 2010, I contracted a severe version of drug-resistant tuberculosis. Two years of painful, isolating treatment taught me the vital role social media may play in finally eradicating this disease.

One of the loneliest nights of my life was when I masturbated for an Australian stranger on the only webcam chat site that would load on the shitty hospital Wi-Fi. He didn’t want to show his face on camera, and I didn’t care whether it was because he was famous, married, or ugly. The internet was so slow that the sound stalled, so the dirty talk had to be typed.

It was a terse, space-economizing raunch, pounded out letter by letter with his left index finger, since his dominant hand was busy. I WANT TO VERB YOUR NOUN. But the artlessness was a relief. The more work it took to type, the less likely he’d waste time asking about my hospital bed and IV rack. If I didn’t mind him being headless and talking like a filthy grown-up “see spot run,” couldn’t he handle a naked stranger in a tuberculosis sanatorium?

Nor did he mention the armband, which hid the nozzle nurses screwed to dripping sacks of drugs during infusions. Three times a week, amikacin seeped down the skinny 2-foot-long tube inside and up my arm, leading behind my collarbone to splash into a big fat artery over my heart.

Just please don’t fucking ask, I thought. It was exhausting to explain. Screw this guy. Wouldn’t it be weirder if he had inferred a medical emergency, but resolved not to let it ruin his hard-on? Do virtual strangers without heads even have cognition? What the hell was wrong with this guy’s face, anyway?

Who cares? I had been in that room in Denver for almost a month. I was days away from lung surgery to remove my upper right lobe, where the bulk of the disease was headquartered. This was the last goddamned time I’d ever get to show my tits to a stranger without any scars. And it was the skinniest I’d ever been.

I had contracted extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, or XDR-TB (a severe version of multidrug-resistant, or MDR tuberculosis), while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine. The National Jewish Health Center is no longer a sanatorium, but it is still one of the country’s top TB research facilities, staffed by worldwide mycobacteria experts and equipped with properly ventilated rooms for the infrequent consumptives who turn up there.

When I was admitted to the hospital, the state of Colorado dispatched a guy to my hospital room to read me my legal quarantine order. I’d be in isolation for however long I was contagious.

During my stay, I started a two-year course of harsh antibiotics, including an IV drip. I had two surgeries, which flanked a blood transfusion and peskily recollapsing lung. I lost 12 pounds and half my blood, which have been replaced, and the upper lobe of my right lung, which hasn’t. I wish I could be more inspiring. But I didn’t use that time to write a novel, learn yoga, or even plow through a beach read. Falling into a trance and getting off strangers was all I felt capable of.

Objectifying? Sure. So is being sick.

Such isolation — both physical and emotional — takes a serious toll on TB patients. From the 18th century glory days up to the modern rise of MDR, tuberculosis went from being a relatively universal human experience to being a profoundly lonely one. Isolation and stigma make long treatments even harder to endure and inhibit public consciousness that could lead to more meaningful progress. But we may be approaching a new historical moment: Social media makes it easier than ever for patients to find and support one another. These connections can improve patient morale and treatment outcomes and ultimately raise the profile of MDR-TB in global health policy.

Because I was never as alone as I thought: Five thousand miles away in Siberia, a woman my age named Ksenia Shchenina was also suffering. So are patients in dozens of other countries, and more and more of them are beginning to use the internet to combat the solitude that has long not only defined the disease and its treatment, but kept it from being eradicated for good.

Most people don’t spend much time thinking about tuberculosis. If pressed, they might make a few basic generalizations. It was a very serious disease in the olden days. It killed your great-great-grandfather, all of the Brontës, and Nicole Kidman’s character in Moulin Rouge. But then it was cured. It doesn’t exist anymore. So we’ll all just have to get Ewan McGregor’s attention some other way and die of something else.

Tuberculosis has been on the scene since ancient times, but it only reached menace status in filthy, urbanizing mid-17th century Europe. It went on to dominate the continent’s “cause of death” list for over two centuries. This makes sense, if you know how germs work. Poverty and bad sanitation — e.g., the Industrial Revolution’s toxic work conditions and shantytowns — made toppling immune systems a cinch. Before germ theory caught on, some people even saw TB as a sort of moral retribution for the sins of modernity.

Even the disease’s classic name — consumption — implied a physical and spiritual connection. It consumed you; it devoured you from within. Before the scientific consensus on how an infectious disease was transmitted, many people assumed a person could be predisposed to consumption. (They caught on to genetics before they unraveled epidemiology.) An entire family of consumptives probably meant they were ill because they had all inherited the proper preconditions for the illness — not because they lived together and coughed fatal microbes into one another’s food. Similarly, researchers couldn’t help but notice that consumption disproportionately seized writers and artists, whose lifestyle was practically synonymous with urban poverty. But when it was still assumed that the disease grew from within, many scientists searched for a link between consumption and genius. This is the kind of factoid that makes you feel smug when modern doctors are really, really surprised that you got this.

The jig was up in 1882. A German bacteriologist named Robert Koch zeroed in on the Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterial cause of consumption. It spread from person to person by air.

Robert Koch Ann Ronan Pictures / Getty Images

Koch’s early attempts to develop a vaccine failed, but his efforts did yield a valuable diagnostic tool: the tuberculin skin test. It’s a shot that scans for TB antibodies. If you’ve been exposed to the disease, the injection site on your forearm will flare up into a BRIGHT RED SKIN MOUNTAIN. The test is still part of routine checkups today among grade-schoolers, teachers, cops, and — as I would learn — Peace Corps volunteers.

There is a photo of me on Facebook from early 2010, lodged between a handful of party shots with fellow volunteers. We had traveled to Kiev from across Ukraine to make a weekend out of our mid-service medical checkups. I’m 23, hamming it up in melodramatic distress, and twisting my left elbow up over my head to show off the swollen red splotch on my forearm.

A positive skin test usually doesn’t mean you have TB — less than than 10% of people with positive skin tests ever develop an active case, because healthy immune systems can usually defeat the bacterial intruder. Several volunteers each year end up with the telltale red blotch; it was really nothing to worry about. We’d need a follow-up X-ray, but an active case was highly unlikely. So I cracked a few jokes and went back to pounding flat Chernigivske beers with my friends.

I had been in Ukraine since September 2008, after studying Russian in college. I volunteered at a school in an eastern mining town called Antratsyt. The town borrows its name from anthracite coal. The region is flat, but you can see hills in the distance — they’re “slag heaps,” or piles of debris extracted from mines. The town only runs water for a few hours a day to protect the mines from mudslides or collapse. But life wasn’t as bleak as it sounds. I had students who were so excited to practice their English that they would chat with me after school, perched in a row on the edge of a Soviet-era fountain long-since bone-dry. I struck up friendships with their parents and my fellow teachers. I toasted my colleagues over champagne and chocolate on Ukrainian holidays. One time, I even gave a thickly accented speech on international education at a school assembly that ended up on the TV news. I was happy.

My follow-up X-ray was two weeks later, in Kiev. Taking yet another 17-hour train trip felt like an epic hassle. Is there a word that means the opposite of hypochondriac? There should be, because that’s what I am. In hindsight, of course I had symptoms – I just wrote them off to other things. I had a bad cough, because I was a smoker at the time. I’d lost weight, because there was no American junk food to lose my will power around. I was run-down and sluggish, because it was the Ukrainian winter!

I got a ride with Dr. Sasha, one of the Peace Corps’ Ukrainian staffers, to my screening at a tuberculosis dispensary — tubdispensar — on the edge of the city. He spoke the sort of English that made me self-conscious about my Russian. He carried my Peace Corps medical history file on his lap. The most dramatic thing in it was an allergy to mangoes. (Not exactly a significant handicap in Ukraine.)

I was X-rayed in a machine that looked like an iron colossus. In the waiting room, I tried to distract myself with a biography of John Adams. (His son, John Quincy, spent years in the Russian Empire as Ambassador and managed to stay consumption-free.) Soviet-era medical facilities are much more dimly lit than their Walmart-bright American counterparts. To see the page, I had to squint.

The head TB doctor finally called me into the office. He explained the X-ray results and prognosis to Dr. Sasha, who relayed them in English to me. But when Dr. Sasha asked a follow-up question, they flipped back to Russian and cut me out of the triangle. My Russian was good – but not “unfamiliar medical jargon” good. But this wasn’t a conversation I could stand to be excluded from. I was on the brink of a tantrum.

“Goddamn it! I wanted to shriek at the TB doc. “Don’t say it in his Russian. Say it in mine.”

My face must have looked like a cartoon teakettle. So he slowed down and turned toward the image pinned to the light board.

“Classic pulmonary TB,” he said to me. (Words like pulmonary and tuberculosis are cognates.) “It’s strange that it advanced so quickly. Especially for a healthy young girl.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I heard you guys muttering about bronchitis or pneumonia before. Could it be one of those?”

“No. We assumed it could have been at first, but this is a clear case. See, on an X-ray, healthy lungs should look solid black. See the contrast down by the lower ribs? But now look up on the right. See the [blahblahblah]? The [blahblahblah] is the tuberculosis.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t get that word. What part is the tuberculosis?”

He sighed. It would have been easier to let Dr. Sasha translate. Now he had to dumb down his lexicon for a rattled American.

“Up there. Upper right. Well, left on here. That white spot? The part that looks like a ghost.”

That night, I started treatment in a studio apartment the Peace Corps rented for me in Kiev. My prognosis was good. For two weeks, I took pills, got X-rayed, and hocked up sputum — a polite word for loogies — into sterile plastic cups for lab work. One set stayed in Ukraine; the other was shipped according to special biohazard protocol to an American facility to better coordinate my care at home.

Eight weeks later, just as life was settling down back in Chicago, I was surprised to find an ominous number of missed calls on my phone: from the diagnostic lab, my mom, my American pulmonologist, my mom, the Cook County Department of Public Health, my mom, my mom, the Cook County Department of Public Health Epidemiology Unit, my mom, my mom, my mom, my mom, my mom.

Those loogies had yielded bad news. I had XDR-TB. The bad kind.

Effective immediately, I was placed under an isolation order. I was told to stay home whenever possible — I could go outside sparingly, but any other indoor space was off-limits until I was noninfectious. A few months, at least. The police could get involved if I didn’t comply.

A month into my quarantine, my Chicago doctors were stumped. They’d rarely seen anything like this.

So I set off on a journey not unlike those taken by consumptives a century before. I left my bustling, industrial Midwestern city and headed west, to the National Jewish Health Center in Denver.

It was the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives back then. In 1899, the brand-new philanthropic institution was brimming with needy patients. In 2010, I was the only one.

I told almost no one where I was going. I had already been avoiding friends who tried to contact me. It is exhausting to have your life flipped around by something people know nothing about. You get so damn sick of telling the story. Weird caveats demand exposition. Here is what I have. Here is why it’s bad. Here is why I had to evacuate Ukraine and leave the Peace Corps early. Here is why I can’t be in public or see anyone for the foreseeable future. Here is why I am going to some hospital in Denver for a long time. Here is why they chopped off a big chunk of my lung. Here is why I have this IV armband thing for nine months. Here is why I puke a lot. Here is why food tastes all wrong. Here is why my hearing got warped. Here is why I can’t feel my toes. Here is why I am not supposed to drink any alcohol. Here is why I’m still going to anyway.

Since I was on the no-fly list, we drove the 15 hours by car. I wore a mask the whole time so I wouldn’t infect my parents.

National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives c. 1920

Basic infection control, like isolating the sick and using protective gear to lower transmission risk, may seem primitive compared with modern medicine. But the truth is, public health measures like quarantine and mouth covering did more to eradicate tuberculosis than drugs did. We never did figure out a great way to cure TB; we just got better at preventing it. That is, until it caught up with us.

After Dr. Koch’s splashy 1882 debut of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the medical community was certain a surefire solution was close behind. But they were disappointed. No cure came.

Forty years later, a new vaccine — Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, or BCG — entered human testing. But BCG was never that good. Most researchers believe that adults are just as likely to wind up with TB whether they get BCG or not. It also suffered a major PR setback as the center of one of the worst vaccination disasters in history. In 1930, 73 babies died of tuberculosis meningitis after being injected with BCG in Lubeck, Germany. The vaccines had been contaminated after getting mixed up with a virulent live TB strain back at the lab. (Life hack: Always be sure your doctor has a label maker.)

It wasn’t until 1943 that a team at Rutgers University pinpointed streptomycin, the world’s first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis. TB’s staggering cultural legacy made the discovery a shoo-in for the Nobel Prize, but streptomycin was nonetheless terribly flawed. It was toxic, and patients quickly developed antibodies that resisted the drug. The only solution was to scrape around for more options and blitzkrieg every case of TB with several so-so drugs at once. The first-line regimen has hardly been tweaked in nearly 50 years. It was never a secret that such a long and tedious course of antibiotics would, like a Shakespearean hero, engineer its own demise.

But that hardly seemed to matter. By the time streptomycin ‘n’ friends showed up, barely anyone even needed them. Throughout the 20th century, people gradually stopped getting TB in the first place. We got healthier, cleaner, and smarter. We could contain disease and catch it early. It nearly disappeared.

Then, in the early 1990s, it bounced back. Two global crises — the rise of HIV/AIDS and the fall of the Soviet Union — helped resurrect the scourge of the 19th century. The World Health Organization declared a worldwide TB emergency in 1993. (It just goes to show: Don’t count your eradicated diseases before they hatch.)

AIDS was even harder on human bodies than the Industrial Revolution had been, and millions of centuries-won immune systems were suddenly wide open to infection anew. TB remains the leading cause of death among AIDS patients.

The collapse of the USSR spread TB in even more complicated ways. The year 1991 saw the traumatic birth of 15 brand-new post-Soviet republics. Each of these new countries was in economic and social turmoil. They were broke. They had no central government or public health system. Before their independence, everything had more or less filtered through Moscow. In some places, there were few to no supplies or institutional infrastructure, let alone money for health care workers. Alcoholism and malnourishment soared. People lost their savings. Rampant crime stuffed the prisons — notorious hotbeds of TB — to well over capacity. Released inmates carted these germs back to their communities. By the time the 15 new countries had smoothed things out, they already had a new old epidemic to battle.

Even as the immediate post-Soviet crisis improved, other factors played into treatment interruption and new infections. These have been beautifully documented by experts like Dr. Lee Reichman in his 2001 book Timebomb and are easily rattled off by every post-Soviet MDR expert I’ve come across. Treatment in prisons has been badly underfunded, so for years people didn’t get the meds they needed. There is often subpar follow-up for ill prisoners after they’re released. Infected migratory workers are tough to treat and track. The Soviet-era mentality of medical specialization has made the region slow to coordinate HIV and TB care. Both illnesses are also correlated with substance abuse, and addicts often turn out to be less-than-diligent patients. In sum, the long, hard treatment places economic, social, and physical strain on patients.

Antibiotic treatment is an all-or-nothing game. Patients need to take every dose by the book, or germs acquire resistance. Getting it done right depends on stupendous public health programs, not to mention stupendous patients. Once a strain does acquire resistance, it can’t be undone — and the stronger, harder-to-treat germ is passed on to others, like me. If the best drugs don’t work, doctors are forced to use drugs that are even harder on the body. All of these factors collude to paint a grim reality. In former Soviet countries, only around 60% of patients who begin tuberculosis treatment ever successfully finish it. The rest of them flee, slip through the cracks, fail to respond to treatment, or die before they are cured.

So it is no surprise that the region has the highest rates of MDR-TB in the world — as many as 30% of all newly detected cases are impervious to first-line drugs. (The global average is reportedly less than 5%, but statistics are widely believed to be low, especially in resource-poor countries. In the U.S., there were fewer than 100 cases of MDR in 2013.) Even in optimal conditions, the difference between a case of run-of-the-mill TB and MDR can be the difference between a moderate inconvenience and a life-threatening catastrophe. A standard case can be cured for less than $100 with a daily dose of four different drugs for six to nine months. My treatment cost taxpayers seven figures and lasted well over two years.

On paper, many of these problems have already been fixed. A decade ago, Tracy Kidder’s best-seller Mountains Beyond Mountains lauded the achievements of Dr. Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health and other global health organizations in revolutionizing worldwide MDR-TB care. The region’s TB programs are now relatively well-organized and padded with funding from global health mammoths like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There are detailed and standardized treatment guidelines. TB drugs are fully subsidized. So why are so many patients still failing their treatments?

Without an effective vaccine or better drugs, efforts to curb MDR-TB face a serious paradox. As a strain becomes more resistant, it becomes simultaneously more painful and more urgent to treat it. Many countries have responded by adopting stringent patient monitoring policies, which improve cure rates but are nonetheless no small imposition in patients’ lives. Public safety overrides patient agency, which is a tough pill for victims to swallow (and they’ve already got plenty of those to worry about).

A patient receives the TB vaccine in 1949 Cornell Capa / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

During my treatment, I felt sick for two years. Nausea became my baseline. Sometimes the drugs make you puke, or give you the kind of diarrhea that makes you need a nap. One screws with your nervous system, and I permanently lost most of the feeling in my feet. I’ve tracked blood across kitchen floors because I can’t tell if I’ve stepped on shattered glass.

And I had it lucky. I had no comorbidities like HIV or diabetes, which make everything even worse. Being on amikacin cost me some low-frequency hearing, but it has caused deafness in others. And I got to take it by IV drip, instead of the painful upper-thigh injections that leave some patients too sore to sit up. And while cycloserine — a drug nicknamed “psychoserine” for its notorious mental and behavioral effects — makes some patients hallucinate and scream, I got away with confusion. I had trouble with reading, organization, and paperwork. It’s an especially tough break if you’re dealing with a workers’ comp claim for a medical disaster. I couldn’t keep it all straight, and walloped my credit.

Even worse, most patients in former Soviet countries and across the world get practically no social support during the crisis. They get little help with side effects, and suffer serious social and economic strain. Many of them have no way to make up for lost wages over the course of their treatments. Some even face lasting discrimination. In 2011, an undercover Ukrainian journalist wrote an exposé about being iced out by hiring managers after casually mentioning a past bout of TB.

The reason why boils down to one key factor: Tuberculosis remains highly stigmatized throughout the world. In the former Soviet Union, people associate it with painful memories of the lawless, chaotic ‘90s. Having it means you’re a crook, a junkie, a drunk, a bum, or a sewer rat.

Stigma makes epidemics worse — it gives people a reason not to be seen walking into a clearly labeled TB clinic to see a doctor when they should. Loneliness and despair can convince someone that health doesn’t matter, so why take these pills? And stigma shuts people up, so they’ll never organize, influence funding, or change minds about TB. Stigma means more stigma.

When patients are silenced and isolated from one another and their communities, it stymies progress against the disease. The WHO estimates more than a $1.3 billion worldwide funding gap in TB research and development, and the number threatens to grow. Even though investment in new drug research is one obvious way to improve treatment, AstraZeneca, Novartis, and Pfizer recently pulled a combined $50 million out of the fight. According to an email from the Treatment Action Group, a TB and HIV advocacy nonprofit, this steep loss amounts to a full third of private-sector TB investment since 2011.

Erasing stigma, combating TB’s chronic underfunding, and promoting new research and drug development are incredibly lofty goals. But similar barriers have been conquered before in diseases like breast cancer and HIV/AIDS, where passionate activism made incredible inroads in raising awareness and influencing policy. If former and current TB patients joined together, could they build the first real advocacy movement centered on patients?

llustration by Ashley Mackenzie for BuzzFeed

Tuberculosis patients haven’t always felt so alone.

After leaving Denver, I read The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann’s sprawling 1924 classic novel about a Swiss sanatorium. I forced myself to finish it, but it’s the most boring book I’ve ever read. It’s the story of a total wiener named Hans Castorp who goes on a trip to hang out in the Alps and visit his TB-stricken cousin. Then Hans ends up sticking around and living there for seven years even though he doesn’t really have tuberculosis, just so he can do stupid crap like spend 70 pages talking about the nature of consciousness.

Ugh, I’m still so mad at him. But maybe it’s because I’m a tiny bit jealous. So what if he’s a fake person with fake tuberculosis? It would have been so nice to have someone to be sick with.

Sanatoriums, like National Jewish and the one atop The Magic Mountain, bridged the gap between the mid-19th century and the 1940s discovery of streptomycin. With no cure in sight, the ill had long made do with an iffy array of treatment options. Some doctors stuffed people’s windpipes with vacuum contraptions to simulate lazy lung capillaries. Cottage industries of miracle cures gorged on ad space in periodicals, sandwiched among serial installments of now beloved classics. (If you liked Great Expectations, you’ll love Daffy & Son’s Natural Miracle Multi-Purpose Health Elixir! Available wherever fancy wool top hats and snuff boxes are sold!!!) But the White Plague seemed to beat them all.

Tuberculosis did have one semi-formidable opponent, though — one hope that physicians agreed on. It wasn’t a cure; it wasn’t a given. The idea came from an 1840 pamphlet written by Dr. George Bodington, a British family doctor who covered a large area by making his house calls on horseback. His essay was based on a simple observation: that consumptives in wide-open spaces fared better than those packed tightly in cities.

But Dr. Bodington drew a further conclusion: It must have been the country air that healed them. Their bodies need pure, unsoiled air, shared with as few people as possible. Depending on the severity of their case, they might need months or years of it. In the disease’s final stages, Mycobacterium tuberculosis finally chews through the lung tissue, resulting in the bloody cough that famously beckoned death (but, curiously, couldn’t stop the heroines of Les Misérables, La Bohème, and La Traviata from singing). If combated early with the right dose of air, the process could drag to a halt.

And where could patients find such magic air? The best stuff was nippy, clean, and thin. Way up high, where no one can spoil it with industrial factory smog. And so, for the next 100 years, sick city-dwellers left their crowded hubs by the thousands and set off for specialized tuberculosis hospitals in the mountains. These sanatoriums treated patients with Dr. Bodington’s “rest cure” — medical observation, a generous binge diet, and hours a day in rows of canopied outdoor beds. In The Magic Mountain, characters traveled to Switzerland from places like England, Italy, and Poland. For months or years at a time, consumptives at sanatoriums lived and breathed together far away from real life, in their own little communities up in the sky.

Denver — the Mile High City, full of its own magic mountains — thus became America’s magnet for the dying who wanted to live. In the late 19th century, nearly a third of Colorado’s population suffered from tuberculosis, after journeying west for the air that might save them. At the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives, they slept two by two, tucked into each of its dozens of bunk beds.

By the time I showed up, the bunk beds were long gone. There were no pretty canopies or breezy napping patios. And all that oh-so-edifying “virgin air” stuff? Turned out to be bunk. The bump in survival rates among patients who spent all that time outdoors wasn’t because of the air; it was the sun. Vitamin D is good for the immune system. They could have gotten the same effect on the roof of a tenement house. Or by taking sunshine stuffed into Vitamin D pills, like I did, supplemented by the UV light in my hospital room. (In a 21st century American city, you don’t just let a case of active tuberculosis run around outside.) Other times, patients’ health improved simply because sanatoriums gave them a badly needed break from lives of poverty and labor.

Still, the sanatorium era continues to be considered a public health success. Not because sanatoriums ever did much to help “lungers.” But because they kept them away from healthy people. By shooing contagious patients off to remote treatment complexes, Dr. Bodington had inadvertently pioneered the concept of infection control. Keeping sick people away from vulnerable populations seems so obvious now. But back then, would the idea of germs — invisible, flying disease pods — have sounded any less silly than magic air?

Tuberculosis treatment in 1942 D. Hess / Fox Photos / Getty Images

I tried seeing a therapist after my quarantine order was finally lifted. My mom made the appointment. I didn’t really want to go; I’ve never liked therapy.

But I hated doing this to my mom. This wasn’t just my crisis; it was my family’s too. And it was harder on my mom than anyone. She’d just spent 10 days next to me on a cot in the Denver ICU after my first lung surgery went wrong. She’d held my hand when the stiff chest tube draining blood from my lungs made breathing hurt so badly I got tunnel vision. She’d lost so much weight and was thinner than I’d ever seen her. So when she kept insisting that I talk to someone, I figured I could force myself to muster an hour of sincerity. And if I didn’t like it, I could lie, quit, and just find my own answers in some book.

I got to the office and we made our introductions. Then I broke the ice.

“Has anyone ever told you that you look like Laura Linney?” I asked.

She paused. For too long.“No. I’ve actually never gotten that.”

“No. I’ve actually never gotten that.”

BULLSHIT. She looks exactly like Laura Linney.

“I spoke to your mother on the phone. She said you contracted tuberculosis while you were in the Peace Corps in Russia?”

“No, I was in Ukraine. But yes. I mean, it was the Far East. The Russian-speaking part.”

“And so you’re going through chemo now? How long is that?”

“Well, I was hospitalized in Denver and got the part of my lung removed with the TB on it last month. So now I’m on chemo. It’s the IV drip. None of the radiation stuff. And I never lost my hair. So I don’t know if it even counts. I have nine months of that, and a total of two years or so on everything else.”

OK, it’s not like I’m uniquely hyperaware of Laura Linney or something. There’s no way I could be the first person to notice.

“And then…it goes away?” she asked.

Wait, is she pissed? Why? It’s a compliment, right? Hold on. Does she just, like, hate Laura Linney?

“Knock on wood. It can come back, hypothetically,” I recited. “That’s why they treat it so aggressively. They just want to make sure that it’s really, really dead. But they can’t, like, promise you anything.”

I went back once or twice for additional sessions. I tried to explain that I wasn’t scared about dying or anything. By then, doctors seemed confident that I wouldn’t. But I had this anxiety I couldn’t shake. I wanted closure in Ukraine, and the people in my town. I wanted to be moving toward something. I tried to convert the emotional fallout into a momentum that more closely resembled psychosis. I took 36 practice LSATs but was hospitalized the day of the test. But panic was a problem I couldn’t obsess my way out of. I’d pick up a book but just hold it in my lap and forget what the hell it was for. I had no job and no idea what to do with myself. I lived with my parents, who at that moment seemed to be trying to keep me alive by never letting me out of their sight. I felt timid and stuck. I felt cheated out of that rosy immortality my friends had. All those toxic meds made me feel like someone else. I was very, very tired. And I felt like I was failing. I wanted my sense of control back. I was so damn sad.

My mom picked that therapist because she specializes in treating patients with life-interrupting illnesses, like MS or cancer.

“It can be hard for people to lose their control,” the therapist told me. “Here’s something I suggest that people can do to feel like they have some power over everything. Next time you go for an infusion, try to close your eyes and think of the chemicals in the drugs coursing through you, attacking all of the bad cells. And concentrate on them, and really see them. Then, envision the chemo forcing them out of your body. Picture them floating away.”

I skipped my next appointment and never rescheduled. It wasn’t a therapist that I wanted. I wanted to connect with other patients like me.

llustration by Ashley Mackenzie for BuzzFeed

I’m not the only person to conclude that TB patients may be uniquely equipped to help each other. In 1907, a Boston-area internist named Dr. Joseph Pratt had the same idea while searching for innovative treatment alternatives for TB patients who couldn’t afford faraway sanatoriums. He had the hippy-dippy idea that bringing patients together could replicate the revitalizing effects of places like the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives, and help patients heal. Couldn’t they guide each other through the experience better than any doctor could?

Pratt tested his hunch with a trial of a dozen patients. Modern medicine’s first recorded support group was deemed a success. Moral support really did help combat tuberculosis. His destitute patients had made do without the magic air that wasn’t really magic and replaced it with something that was.

That’s one thing the sanatorium era got right that today’s TB control programs get wrong: the need for community. Today, the sanatorium era is thought of as a relic of medical quackery rendered moot by modern science. But to mock it in favor of enlightened antibiotic cures is to dismiss the lived experience of patients. For all their problems, sanatoriums were designed to heal patients. Today, treatment is primarily concerned with limiting threats posed to others. Patients’ lives are collateral damage.

I showed up at the radiology department of George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., for my final chest X-ray in late spring of 2012. I stood in the yellow foot outlines and assumed the TSA body scan position without even waiting for the technician’s spiel.

“Oh, you’re an old pro, then!” he said from the processing room. “OK, deep breath and hold it… Good… Now let’s just make sure that… Whoa, you’re missing a big part of your lung! Sorry, wasn’t expecting that!” That makes two of us.

But the Mycobacterium tuberculosis had indeed been destroyed. What was left of my lungs showed up as solid black — just as a healthy X-ray is supposed to be.

But somehow, it wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped. Once again, I wanted to share the moment with someone who understood what it meant. Moral support is nice for the good stuff too.

I began to find out how many patients felt the same way in June 2013, when I finally went back to Ukraine. I made a ring around the country to gather data for my master’s thesis: I traveled to Kiev, Lviv, Crimea, Mariupol, Kharkhiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, and my beloved Antratsyt. I visited hospitals, clinics, and met doctors, health care and nonprofit workers, and, of course, patients. No matter who they were, tuberculosis had a profound impact on their lives. Many had lost friends or even family members over their illness, or felt forced to keep the experience secret. Loneliness and shame were practically the default.

For as long as I’d spent surviving and learning about tuberculosis, one big question stuck in the back of my mind. I posed it to Oksana Viktorovna, a training coordinator for the Stop TB in Ukraine initiative in Donetsk. Why, I asked her, is there so little communication and coordination within the TB patient community, and so much of it — working successfully, by the way — in other diseases?

“You’re right,” she told me. “People are ashamed to be associated with the fringe. And even though TB is curable, the stigma makes them think it would be better to have cancer.” And perhaps, she continued, people who survive TB are ready to forget it and move on.

But, this might be changing, Oksana said. Lately, she’d noticed a few groups pop up online, on Russian networking sites like LiveJournal and VKontakte. Some people even created entirely new accounts to be able to discuss their lives with tuberculosis anonymously. “They write about their experience, their worries, their questions,” Oksana told me. “It seems to increase their optimism. I think it helps them get better.”

The clandestine online TB clubs were easy to find. As soon as I started poking through them, I found someone my age from Khabarovsk, Russia, whom I felt like I already knew.

The Kyiv Tubdispensar or Tuberculosis Dispensary Photograph by Natalie Shure

I finally met Ksenia Shchenina face-to-face in Moscow this past spring. Even in the tourist-thick crowd by the famous Tretyakov Gallery, she wasn’t hard to spot. By now we’d already spent hours of our lives talking on Skype.

Ksenia maintains a patient-centered website about TB, as well as pages in English and Russian across several social media platforms. Her project’s slogan, “Being ill isn’t shameful,” challenges the negative cultural narratives about TB and the people who have it. Visitors can read the blog she kept during her treatment and her interviews with doctors and survivors. She regularly interacts with new patients from all over the world.

Social media has the potential to finally address the long-standing need for support among TB patients. Last month, Doctors Without Borders published a study that identified serious benefits for users of these online platforms, including TB & Me, the organization’s own blogging portal. Social media, they conclude, helps MDR patients adhere to treatment, gain back a sense of control, fight feelings of despair and solitude, and educate health care providers and the public. After treatment, survivors like Ksenia can continue to serve as mentors and advocates for the global patient community.

I strolled with Ksenia across the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, along the edge of Red Square, and up the fabled Arbat Street. We drifted between languages and talked about being sick. I told her how badly I wished I knew people like her back when I was diagnosed.

“I can’t find the words in English to explain how much I agree with you,” she said.

I’m not sure I could have, either. But then, it hit me: “I’ve spent years researching tuberculosis. I’ve toured hospitals, read books and articles, conducted dozens of interviews. But this is the first time I’ve ever told my story to another patient.”

How magical to find her in a world with 5,000 miles, two screens, and three healthy lungs between us.

llustration by Ashley Mackenzie for BuzzFeed

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Scientists Detect Direct Evidence of Big Bang’s Gravitational Waves

In the most anticipated announcement in physics since the discovery of the Higgs Boson, the first detection of a gravitational wave has been reported. If verified, the find will dispel any lingering doubts about Relativity theory, transform our understanding of the universe’s beginning and provide astrophysicists with a new tool to probe the universe. The importance of the detection is hard to overstate.

As part of his General Theory of Relativity, Einstein predicted that acceleration of large masses would cause waves to ripple through space in a manner analogous to ripples on the surface of a pond. Indirect evidence abounds for gravitational waves, but almost a century after Einstein predicted it direct evidence remained elusive – until today’s announcement by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The paper is now available on arXiv.

The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is the left over radiation from a four hundred thousand years after the  Big Bang stretched by the expansion of the universe to peak in the microwave part of the spectrum. In the mid 1990s astrophysicists proposed that the polarization of the CMB could provide evidence for gravitational waves from the birth of the universe. 

Photons can oscillate in different directions as they travel; up or down, side to side or even in a circular manner clockwise or anticlockwise. Hot sources produce photons with random orientations, but certain forces can create a bias where there is a preponderance of photons oscillating in a particular direction as they travel, making the radiation as a whole polarized.

The CMB was found to have a very slight polarization in 2002 as a result of density perturbations in the universe. Gravitational waves however, would be expected to induce a slightly different form of polarization. However, this pattern is so slight, and so vulnerable to false positives caused by other things, that there has been considerable skepticism that we would be able to detect the gravitational wave-induced polarization, at least with existing instruments.

The Plank space observatory has been studying the CMB since 2009, and some astronomers hoped it would be able to provide the evidence, but in the end the results came from an even more remote location, the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP) detector located at the South Pole, where the cold dry air makes microwave astronomy possible.

“Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today. A lot of work by a lot of people has led up to this point,” said Prof John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a leader of the BICEP2 collaboration. 
Rumors of the discovery leaked well before the announcement leading to considerable debate online. While some astrophysicists were sceptical as to whether such a subtle signal could be detected with confidence, others not involved in the research were given prior access to the data. “I’ve seen the research; the arguments are persuasive, and the scientists involved are among the most careful and conservative people I know,” Professor Marc Kamionkowski of Johns Hopkins University told BBC News. 

Technical papers are available and are being poured over by researchers from teams worldwide.

The discovery of the CMB polarization by gravitational wave, should it stand the test of time, settles one question on its own, the debate over whether the early universe was inflationary. According to the most popular, but not universally accepted, theory of the early universe, 10-34 seconds after it began the universe experienced a period of rapid growth – expanding 100 trillion trillion times to something the size of a marble. 

An inflationary period would produce larger gravitational waves than would have been generated without. Nevertheless, even most inflationary models do not predict a gravitational wave large and polarizing enough to be detected by BICEP. 

The signal BICEP has found is so strong it makes many of the inflationary models of the early universe untenable, and leaves non-inflationary versions completely on the outer, suggesting the energy in the universe at that moment was well very much at the upper end of what was previously thought possible.

One of the reasons gravitational waves are so keenly sought is the hope that they will provide information about the crucial first moments of the universe in ways other instruments cannot. “People talk about the Square Kilometre Array as enabling us to detect the radiation from the Big Bang, but that is not strictly correct, Professor Jesper Munch of Adelaide University told Australasian ScienceFor the first 300 million years the universe was opaque to all electromagnetic radiation. However, gravitational waves could propagate through this early universe, and we can thus in principle detect signatures from the time of the Big Bang. It is probably the only way we can get signals from the origin of the universe.

Merely detecting a way is exciting, but we want more information than that it exists. The strength of the wave is expected to vary at different wavelengths. Finding out where it is strongest and weakest will tell us a lot about how the inflation occurred. The most important information of all is how energy dense the universe was during this era, and this could potentially be found by comparing wavelengths.

Gravitational wave perturbations from those first moments are directly dependent on the inflation, unlike density perturbations which are modulated by an unknown potential energy function. Consequently they would give us direct evidence of the details of energy of inflation in those first moments. 

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15 Relationship Facts Everybody Should Know Before Getting Married

You can drive yourself crazy deciding whether to marry your partner.

Can you two really survive a lifetime together?

I mean, you adore them but they constantly leave hair in the shower. They tell the worst jokes but they’re always there to comfort you after a hard day.

Perhaps it would help to turn to the scientific research, which has pinpointed specific factors that can make or break a romantic relationship.

Below, we’ve rounded up 15 nontrivial things you might want to keep in mind before hiring a wedding planner.

This is an update of an article originally posted by Drake Baer.

If you wait until you’re 23 to commit, you’re less likely to get divorced.

A 2014 University of North Carolina at Greensboro study found that American women who cohabitate or get married at age 18 have a 60% divorce rate, but women who wait until 23 to make either of those commitments have a divorce rate around 30%.

“The longer couples waited to make that first serious commitment [cohabitation or marriage], the better their chances for marital success,” The Atlantic reported.

The ‘in love’ phase lasts about a year.

The honeymoon phase doesn’t go on forever.

According to a 2005 study by the University of Pavia in Italy, it lasts about a year. After that, levels of a chemical called “nerve growth factor,” which is associated with intense romantic feelings, start to fall.

Helen Fisher, a psychologist and relationship expert, told Business Insider that it’s unclear when exactly the “in love” feeling starts to fade, but it does so “for good evolutionary reasons,” she said, because “it’s very metabolically expensive to spend an awful lot of time just focusing on just one person in that high-anxiety state.”

Two people can be compatible or incompatible on multiple levels.

Back in the 1950s and ’60s, Canadian psychologist Eric Berne introduced a three-tiered modelfor understanding a person’s identity. He found that each of us have three “ego states” operating at once:

The parent: What you’ve been taught

The child: What you have felt

The adult: What you have learned

When you’re in a relationship, you relate on each of those levels:

The parent: Do you have similar values and beliefs about the world?

The child: Do you have fun together? Can you be spontaneous? Do you think your partner’s hot? Do you like to travel together?

The adult: Does each person think the other is bright? Are you good at solving problems together?

While having symmetry across all three is ideal, people often get together to “balance each other.” For instance, one may be nurturing and the other playful.

Stephen Lovekin / Getty

The happiest marriages are between best friends.

A 2014 National Bureau of Economic Research study found that marriage does indeed lead to increased well-being, mainly thanks to friendship.

Controlling for premarital happiness, the study concluded that marriage leads to increased well-being and it does so much more for those who have a close friendship with their spouses. Friendship, the paper found, is a key mechanism that could help explain the causal relationship between marriage and life satisfaction.

The closer a couple are in age, the less likely they are to get divorced.

A study of 3,000 Americans who had ever been married found that age discrepancies correlate with friction in marriages.

The Atlantic’s Megan Garber reports:

“A one-year discrepancy in a couple’s ages, the study found, makes them 3 percent more likely to divorce (when compared to their same-aged counterparts); a 5-year difference, however, makes them 18 percent more likely to split up. And a 10-year difference makes them 39 percent more likely.”

Julian Finney / Getty

If you get excited for your partner’s good news, you’ll have a better relationship.

In multiple studies, couples that actively celebrated good news (rather than actively or passively dismissed it) have had a higher rate of relationship well-being.

For example,say a wife comes home to her partner and shares an accomplishment. An “active-constructive” response would be the best, according to Amie Gordon, a social psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley:

An active-constructive response from the partner would be enthusiastic support: “That’s great, honey! I knew you could do it. You’ve been working so hard.”

A passive-constructive response would be understated support: a warm smile and a simple “that’s good news.”

An active-destructive response would be a statement that demeaned the event: “Does this mean you are going to be gone working even longer hours now? Are you sure you can handle it?”

Finally, a passive-destructive response would virtually ignore the good news: “Oh, really? Well, you won’t believe what happened to me on the drive home today!”

Resentment builds quickly in couples who don’t tackle chores together.

Over 60% of Americans in one poll said that taking care of chores plays a crucial role in having a successful marriage.

It’s Not You, It’s the Dishes” coauthor Paula Szuchman recommends a system where each person specializes in the chores they’re best at.

“If you really are better at the dishes than remembering to call the in-laws, then that should be your job,” she writes. “It’ll take you less time than it’ll take him, and it’ll take him less time to have a quick chat with mom than it would take you, which means in the end, you’ve saved quite a bit of collective time.”

You’ll never get to know your partner perfectly.

After dating someone for a couple of years, you might feel like you know everything about them: what kind of toothpaste they use, which TV series they guiltily binge-watch, which foods nauseate them.

But you probably don’t know them quite as well as you think you do.

According to a 1997 study, couples who had been together longer expressed more confidence in how well they knew each other. But as it turns out, relationship length wasn’t related to accuracy.

Even when participants had to guess how their partners would rate themselves on intelligence, athleticism, and attractiveness, they were only right about 30% of the time.

If you’re moving in to ‘test’ the relationship, you’re probably not so confident in it.

A 2009 study led by researchers at the University of Denver found that most couples moved in for other reasons besides test-driving their relationship before marriage.

But couples who did report testing the relationship were more likely to experience a number of negative emotions. For example, among testers, men scored higher on measures of depression and anxiety, and women scored higher on measures of abandonment anxiety. Both groups were less confident in the relationship.

In a recent Psychology Today column, one of the study’s authors explains what these findings might mean:

“It seems to us that many people who think about testing their relationship by cohabiting already know, on some level, what the grade of that test may be; they are hoping that the answer looks better over time.”

If you’re economically dependent on your spouse, you’re more likely to cheat on them.

Contrary to popular belief, cheating isn’t necessarily more common among high-earning couples. The link between income and infidelity is more nuanced than that.

Recent research from the University of Connecticut suggests that a person who is economically dependent on their spouse is more likely to be unfaithful and that’s especially true for a man who relies financially on a woman.

Interestingly, when women are the breadwinners, they’re less likely to cheat. When men are the breadwinners, they’re more likely to cheat.

We think everyone except our own partner is cheating.

You can’t trust anyone except your boo, right?

A 2015 University of Calgary study found that heterosexual undergrads think the average member of the opposite sex has about a 40% chance of cheating on their partner. But those same participants said their own partner had only a 5% chance of cheating.

The rate at which participants said they’d ever really cheated on their partner? 9%.

Couples who appreciate each other are more likely to stay together.

As Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin reported, gratitude may be a key to lasting relationships.

In one University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study, researchers had participants keep private daily diaries in which they recorded things their partner had done for them and how it had made them feel. As it turns out, couples who were more grateful toward each other felt that the relationship was stronger.

Meanwhile, another series of studies, led by a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, found that more grateful couples were more likely to still be together nine months later.


Eventually you realize that you’re not one person.

Once you start living together, you may realize that you have different priorities and tolerances like, for instance, what does or doesn’t constitute a mess.

“People have to come to terms with the reality that ‘we really are different people,'” says Ellyn Bader, a couples therapist. “‘You are different from who I thought you were or wanted you to be. We have different ideas, different feelings, different interests.'”

It’s a stressful and necessary evolution.

When it comes to sex, quality is more important than quantity.

Business Insider’s Jessica Orwig reported on a fascinating Carnegie Mellon study on the link between how often you have sex with your partner and how happy you are.

Researchers split a bunch of heterosexual, married couples into two groups: For 90 days, half continued with their normal sex schedule and half had sex twice as often. When the researchers measured how each group felt at the end of the experiment, the group that had doubled their sex frequency was in fact slightly less happy.

As the lead researcher behind the study told The New York Times, if you want to be happy, focus on quality over quantity.

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