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Anyone who has done a significant amount of traveling knows that seeing the world can change the way you think, but when that travel involves going into space, it can actually change how your brain works.
In a recent study of 12 male cosmonauts, researchers discovered that, in a sense, the brain rewires itself during spaceflight, changing both its shape and its fluidity. Using MRI scans, they observed an increase in grey and white matter, changes in the neural connections among various motor areas, shifting cerebrospinal fluid, and an altered shape of the corpus callosum, which is the bundle of nerve fibers connecting the brain's two hemispheres. The study, a joint effort between the European and Russian space agencies, was conducted just before and just after the cosmonauts flew to the International Space Station (ISS) for stays that averaged five and a half months.
While some structural changes were expected based on previous studies, the researchers were surprised to see the changes still in place after seven months back on Earth. While no negative effects were uncovered, the study's lead researcher, Floris Wuyts from Belgium's University of Antwerp, said that additional safety measures should be put in place. "Our research shows that we should invoke countermeasures to be sure that the fluid shifts and shape changes of the brain are limited," he said.
Space station stuff:
- The International Space Station moves at roughly 5 miles (8 km) per second, meaning it circles the Earth every 90 minutes.
- The only thing in the night sky brighter than the International Space Station is the Moon; you can see the ISS with the naked eye.
- The ISS truly is international – travelers from 18 countries have visited the space station.