KSJ Tracker November 20, 2012

Science Times: Ecstasy and cosmic fatigue.

Hidden Galaxy IC 342

Today's Science Times in The New York Times features a couple of stories I particularly liked.

One, by Benedict Carey, reports on new research showing that the drug Ecstasy, or MDMA, when used in combination with psychotherapy, sharply reduced post-traumatic stress in 15 of 21 people. The subjects, who had severe symptoms in the early 2000s, have "virtually no symptoms" today, Carey writes. Experts cautioned that the work is preliminary, he is careful to note.

The researchers stay with the patients for as long as the Ecstasy-altered state continues, perhaps for 8 to 10 hours, they tell Carey. I wonder how much that kind of treatment might cost (a psychiatrist at $300/hr times 10 hours for each session?), and whether, with that demand on professionals' time, the treatment will be practical for the many, many people who suffer from PTSD. 

The other Science Times story that caught my eye was one by Dennis Overbye, who delivers the news that the birthrate of stars has declined precipitously and continuously over the past 11 billion years. "The stars we have are dying, and we're not making new ones the way we used to," he begins. (This is vaguely reminiscent of what's now happening with Twinkies--we're about to stop making new ones--but I'm guessing the two phenomena are unrelated.)

If this "decline in breeding" continues, Overbye reports, it means that the universe "has already made 95 percent of the star mass it will ever make." 

I laughed out loud about a third of the way through the story, when Overbye wrote, "There is no cause for immediate alarm." That must be a line inserted in response to an editor's harebrained query. Overbye consoles us with the news that the Sun, "a middle-size and middle-aged star," has 5 billion years to go.

Still, I'm going to go out and look at the stars this evening. At this rate, who knows how many starry, starry nights we have left.

-Paul Raeburn


comments powered by Disqus