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NASA spacecraft takes up-close photos of comet Hartley 2.

Mild electrical current to brain boosts math skills

Applying a mild electrical current to a particular part of the brain could improve mathematical abilities in people who suffer impaired skills or in patients who have suffered strokes or other neurological problems, British researchers from the University of Oxford reported Thursday. The weak current apparently allows neurons to fire more freely, stimulating the ability to learn, the researchers reported in the journal Current Biology. Reversing the flow of the current made it more difficult for neurons to fire, impairing learning ability. The improvements in learning persisted for at least six months in the small study. An estimated 6.5 percent of the population has a severe problem with even basic numerical understanding, a problem called developmental dyscalculia. As much as 20 percent have milder difficulties with math that present significant practical, educational and employment difficulties.

Texan is oldest person in world

A 114-year-old East Texas woman is now the oldest person in the world. The Los Angeles-based Gerontology Research Group and London-based Guinness Records say Eunice Sanborn of Jacksonville has gained that distinction since the death of nun Eugenie Blanchard on Thursday. Blanchard, also 114, died on the French Caribbean island of St. Barts. The groups say Sanborn was born July 20, 1896, in Louisiana. Blanchard's birth date was Feb. 16, 1896. Dr. L. Stephen Coles of the Los Angeles-based Gerontology Research Group said he spoke to Sanborn's family Thursday and "she's doing well." Sanborn told the Tyler Morning Telegraph in an April interview that she loves everything about her life and has "no complaints."

NASA spacecraft visits another comet

A NASA spacecraft survived a rendezvous with a small comet Thursday, beaming pictures back to Earth that gave scientists a rare close-up view of its center.

The close encounter occurred 13 million miles away from Earth when the Deep Impact craft, hurtling through space, flew within 435 miles of comet Hartley 2.

Scientists are interested in comets because they're icy leftovers from the formation of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago. Studying them could provide clues to how Earth and the planets formed and evolved.

The flyby is actually an encore mission for Deep Impact.

It set off cosmic fireworks on July 4, 2005, when it fired a copper probe that crashed into the comet Tempel 1. The high-speed collision spewed a cloud of debris into space, giving scientists their first peek of the interior.

Deep Impact was then redirected to Hartley 2. Roughly 1 ½ miles wide, it is the smallest comet to be photographed up close.

British-born astronomer Malcolm Hartley, who discovered the comet, said he never imagined a spacecraft would get so close to his namesake find. "I'm extremely excited and feel very privileged. After all, I only discovered it," he said.

NASA spacecraft takes up-close photos of comet Hartley 2. 11/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 9:49pm]

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