galaxy quest

A mysterious, subtle signal is emanating from the interstellar medium

Plus: Ancient bacteria reveals what early humans actually ate.

Illustration of the supercontinent Gondwana. This ancient landmass was comprised of what are today S...

Voyager 1 is 14.1 billion miles from Earth. It is the furthest man-made object from our planet, and it moves farther and farther away from us and into interstellar space every day. And still, more than 43 years after it launched into space, this intrepid explorer of the cosmos continues to feed scientists here on Earth with incredible details about our corner of the galaxy.

Now, it has made yet another discovery: a mysterious, subtle signal emanating from the interstellar medium.

The bursts were detected by Voyager 1’s Plasma Wave System, one of the few instruments still operating on the craft. The Plasma Wave System works a bit like a voltage meter an electrician might use on a household electric outlet.

That’s how reporter Mordechai Rorvig describes the instrument that alerted researchers here on Earth to the mystery signal. I am Claire Cameron, managing editor of Inverse. Celebrate making it to the midweek point and scroll on for more illuminating details from Rorvig’s story, as well as other vital stories from Inverse.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for May 12, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox.

Don’t eat me.

Cristian Bortes / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

A controversial diet change could reduce air pollution and save lives — The evidence linking agriculture and air pollution is growing ever greater. That has big implications for one of the most intimate and personal decisions we can make: what we are going to eat. Inverse nature reporter Tara Yarlagadda explains:

New research implicates air pollution caused by agriculture production in the premature deaths of 17,900 Americans. This air pollution is linked to both ammonia and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). These findings were published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

There are solutions that could curb air pollution deaths significantly, the study team says. These include eating a more plant-based diet. President Joe Biden might not be limiting access to red meat (despite false claims), but this study suggests it could be wise for individuals to make that choice themselves.

What the researchers say: “Dietary shifts toward more plant-based foods that maintain protein intake and other nutritional needs could reduce agricultural air quality-related mortality by 68 to 83 percent.

Read the full story.

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A long way from home.

Space Frontiers/Archive Photos/Getty Images

NASA’s Voyager 1 hears a faint sound coming from deep space Spoiler: It isn’t aliens. Mordechai Rorvig has the story:

The research, published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, provides the first continuous measurement of the density of the plasma in the interstellar medium.

By looking back at the last three years of observations from Voyager 1, the researchers were able to assemble consistent measurements of this elusive interstellar plasma. They continue to monitor it as Voyager 1 speeds out of the Solar System at more than 38,000 miles per hour. It is approximately 14.1 billion miles from Earth.

Prior to Voyager 1, researchers could only get clues on the interstellar plasma from observations with distant telescopes. But once Voyager 1 passed beyond the heliopause, separating the Sun’s neighborhood from interstellar space, it began registering direct signals from the plasma. These signals came in the form of occasional bursts of strong electrical discharge.

One astronomer behind the discovery says “it's pretty incredible how a mission that's so old can still produce such exciting new discoveries.”

Read the full story.

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A true paleo diet.


Ancient bacteria reveals the critical food early humans ate — Mineralized dental plaque preserved ancient microbial information, new research reveals. Reporter Kaitlin Sullivan has the story:

All microbiomes include a core microbe, which is more or less the same in all members of a species, and a variable microbiome, which varies between individuals based on what they eat, where they live, and physiological differences.

Fellows Yates and colleagues discovered that a set of core oral microbes have remained consistent throughout African hominid evolution, and are shared today by modern humans, gorillas, and howler monkeys.

Like the microbes living in the human gut, scientists are just beginning to understand how each of these oral microbe species evolved to live here and what they mean for the health of modern-day humans.

Get the inside scoop.

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Have you ever wondered what a truly dark night sky looks like?

Ivan Vizcaíno Mugica / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Take a virtual tour of the darkest place in the world The darkest places left on Earth are revealed in a new study, which uses brightness measurements of the night sky to track light pollution in remote areas. As Inverse’s Bryan Lawver explains:

A team from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias has completed a study on the natural brightness of the night sky, revealing the darkest places left on Earth.

The team analyzed 11 million photometer measurements from 44 of the darkest locations around the globe.

The autonomous community of Extremadura in Spain, the Montsec commune in France, and the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the U.S. were found to be among the darkest spots on Earth. But as Lawver writes, these were not the darkest the study identified.

Find out where the darkest place on Earth is.

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Let me know what you think of this daily dispatch by emailing You can follow me on Twitter at @ClaireHCameron, where I share some of my favorite stories from Inverse and elsewhere around the web every day.

May 12 birthdays — Stevie Wonder (71), Dennis Rodman (60), Harvey Keitel (82), Pusha T (44), Robert Pattinson (35) (Source: AP)

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