This Week in Research: Exercise and Anxiety; A Galaxy is Born

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The galaxy in question — unmemorably named MACS 1149-JD — shown at three different levels of detail.

In this series, we look at the newest findings coming out of our area’s top research universities. We’ve got some great minds in Baltimore — let’s learn what they’re learning!
Here’s a trippy thing about space and time:  the young galaxy that Johns Hopkins astronomers and NASA scientists recently spotted (thanks to the Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes) is a baby, relatively speaking (a mere 200 million years old); it’s also one of the oldest things we’ve ever seen in space.

Of course, that’s because the star system is so unimaginably distant from us that its light had to travel approximately 13.2 billion light years before our telescopes could pick it up. “This galaxy is the most distant object we have ever observed with high confidence,” said Hopkins astronomer Wei Zheng. It dates from when our universe was a mere 500 million years old, an infant in terms of cosmic time.

If you’ve already had coffee this morning, try wrapping your head around this explanation from Johns Hopkins:

These first galaxies likely played the dominant role in the epoch of reionization, the event that signaled the demise of the universe’s Dark Ages. About 400,000 years after the Big Bang, neutral hydrogen gas formed from cooling particles. The first luminous stars and their host galaxies, however, did not emerge until a few hundred million years later. The energy released by these earliest galaxies is thought to have caused the neutral hydrogen strewn throughout the universe to ionize, or lose an electron, a state which the gas has remained in since that time.

When Hopkins helps launch the James Webb Telescope in 2018, astronomers hope to have an even better look at these very early stars and galaxies.  “With his discovery, we are seeing a galaxy when it was not even a toddler. But, this infant galaxy will in its future grow to be a galaxy like or own, hopefully hosting planetary systems with astronomers who will look back in time and see our galaxy in its infancy,” commented Zheng’s colleague, Hopkins physicist/astronomer Holland Ford.

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Exercise is good for both your heart and your mental state, as any dedicated runner will tell you. But the question has always been how much good does it actually do, in terms of improving mood? According to recent research out of the University of Maryland, quite a bit.

Researchers from the university’s School of Public Health assessed students’ anxiety levels, then had half of them rest while the other half engaged in moderately intensive exercise. Then the somewhat-sadistic researchers showed the subjects a variety of intensely unpleasant images of “violence, mutilations, and other gruesome things” (as well as pleasant/neutral images of cups, furniture, puppies, and babies); meanwhile, the students were assessed for anxiety levels again.

“[UM researcher J. Carson] Smith found that exercise and quiet rest were equally effective at reducing anxiety levels initially. However, after looking at the emotionally charged images for roughly 20 minutes, the anxiety levels of those who had simply rested went back up to their initial levels, whereas those who had exercised maintained their reduced anxiety levels,” reports Futurity. In other words, exercise doesn’t just help reduce anxiety while the exercise is happening; its benefits extend beyond the bounds of the actual activity.

Smith’s next plan is to study whether exercise’s persistent beneficial effect can extend to patients with regular symptoms of anxiety and depression.



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