close up on female gypsy hands on a glowing crystal ball

Inverse Daily

How does your brain imagine the future?

Plus: Red crystals that were supposed to be green, but because of atomic bombs, they aren’t.

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Think back to a year ago. Even though spring weather had slowed the waves of new cases, we were still being crushed by an oppressive pandemic.

Below are a few headlines published one year ago today (May 18, 2020).

  • CNN reported that “early results from Moderna coronavirus vaccine trial show participants developed antibodies against the virus.”
  • The scientific journal Nature reported that the “animal source of the coronavirus continues to elude scientists.
  • We were reporting why exactly masks were so controversial.

A year later, the Moderna vaccine has been found to be 94 percent effective (CDC); we’re still unsure about Covid-19 origins (WHO); and now it’s the unmasking that’s controversial (Washington Post).

As far as Covid-19 is concerned, matters are objectively better than a year ago. (Massive problems remain: The seven-day average for new cases in India is still above 325,000.)

It would have been very difficult to imagine a rosy picture on this day last spring. That’s the center of our lead story: imagination.

What is imagination? How does it work? It’s a notoriously difficult thing to study. But as Inverse’s Katie MacBride writes in today’s lead story, we have a few clues. New research is helping us learn more about how we visualize the days and years ahead.

Read more on that story below. I’m Nick Lucchesi, editor-in-chief at Inverse. Thanks for being here. Gmail users, scroll to the bottom for a helpful video by a guy named Igor.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for May 18, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox.

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Come with me and you’ll be...” — A new study offers clues about the biology that underlies different aspects of our imagination — specifically, our ability to imagine the future. Really! Here’s a snippet of the story from Katie MacBride:

Using a combination of brain imaging and a detailed scale system that allowed study participants to evaluate different aspects of imagined scenarios, a team of researchers was able to monitor which areas of the brain were active during different kinds of imagined scenarios — specifically, of the future.

The study, published Monday in The Journal of Neuroscience, reveals that two distinct processes occur in the brain’s default mode network when someone imagines the future. Previous research indicated this network activates when we imagine something, and it is involved in daydreaming, planning, and imagining the future. This study moves the needle forward by drilling down into the functions of two subnetworks within this imagination highway: the ventral and dorsal default mode network.

Pssst... the full story is here.

More stories on the mind:

A section of a glacier is seen from NASA's Operation IceBridge research aircraft. Arctic sea ice levels have been badly affected by climate change.Getty

What’s hiding in the permafrost? Scientists have found that in overlooking the emissions from permafrost, we are falling short of the fossil fuel reductions we need to make if we want to ease the climate crisis. It’s a searing new study, reported on by Tara Yarlagadda:

In the summer of 2020, trouble was brewing. Temperatures in the Siberian permafrost were reaching record highs of 100 degrees Fahrenheit — an alarming feat, even for scientists who knew the Arctic was warming two to three times faster than the rest of the Earth.

Warming temperatures aren’t just a problem for the Arctic. According to a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, melting permafrost could drastically undercut efforts to combat the climate crisis, threatening the entire planet, according to study co-author and climatologist Brendan M. Rogers of the Woodwell Climate Research Center.

“We're effectively in a race against time to reduce emissions and avoid the most severe impacts of climate change. Without including permafrost emissions and northern wildfires, we're using the wrong mile markers in that race,” Rogers tells Inverse.

Here’s what we can do to stop it.

More proactive climate change stories:

This red trinite sample is defying the very rules of crystal science.

Seein’ red Scientists have discovered something extraordinary about remnants of the first atomic bombs that were detonated in New Mexico in the 1940s. Sarah Wells has the story. I love this lede:

At 5:30 a.m. local time on July 16, 1945, a bomb was detonated in the deserts of New Mexico at a site 210 miles south of Los Alamos, codename Trinity. The intense heat and pressure emanating off the bomb, nicknamed “Gadget,” was enough to not only spark the Atomic Age but to fuse sand and metal infrastructure around it into a green, glass-like material dubbed “trinite.”

Now, 76 years after that event, a team of geologists from Italy and the U.S. have discovered that Gadget did more than create green trinite during its explosion; it also created a science-defying crystal that had thus far only been found in meteorites.

This blood-red cousin of trinite is known as a “quasicrystal”.

Except this one wasn’t green...

Related science stories:

Brilliant, isn’t it?

The Sun just burped The ESA and NASA's Solar Orbiter have captured a coronal mass ejection — before the mission has even formally started. Here's every view of the extraordinary event, from card story editor Bryan Lawver:

The Sun doesn’t just account for much of Earth’s weather reports. It also causes space weather like solar flares and storms. These chaotic events can affect us all the way on Earth.

Eruptions of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun — coronal mass ejections (CME) — can disrupt power grids on Earth, and even pose a danger to astronauts in space.

See the stunning images from space.

More solar stories:

oxygen/Moment/Getty Images

Breathing through your butt A new study shows mammals can breathe through their rectum with some assistance. The strategy could prove useful in treating Covid-19. It’s weird. It’s true. It’s by Tara Yarlagadda.

It turns out certain mammals can also breathe through their intestines using a process researchers describe as “enteral ventilation via anus.” The breathtaking finding is described in a new paper published last week in the journal CellPress.

There’s also a timely reason for researchers to explore this technology: Covid-19. The study team argues the method explored here could eventually be used to help humans experiencing lung failure. This intestinal breathing technique, facilitated by external ventilation, could aid patients failed by or without access to current tools like ventilators.

There’s more weird science this way.

More life science:

Thanks for reading. Oh, and if you’re a Gmail user, be sure to drag this email to your Primary tab so you never miss a mailing. I found this video on YouTube by a guy named Igor — stay with me — who works at a travel agency (I think). Igor made a video and uploaded it to YouTube to show you how to drag your emails to the Primary tab in Gmail. Igor, you are amazing.

WATCH THE IGOR VIDEO ON HOW TO DRAG YOUR EMAILS TO THE PRIMARY TAB. BE LIKE IGOR!

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  • Before we go, happy birthday (🎂) to these folks: Tina Fey (51), Chow Yun-Fat (66), Miriam Margolyes (80), Jack Johnson (46), Reggie Jackson (75). (Source: AP.)