Cosmic Breathing Room

On Universe, Claire L. Evans looks back on the starry-eyed futurism of the 1970’s, when Gerard O’Neill envisioned “massive colonies of human habitation in space—self-sustaining environments capable of hosting hundreds of thousands of people.” These colonies, housed in spinning cylinders, “would float in space at Lagrangian points, points of stable gravitational equilibrium located along the path of the moon’s orbit.” Today our ambitions are a bit less grand—and perhaps we should focus on taking care of the perennial spaceship Earth. But with unlimited room to grow and plenty of solar energy, the possiblities for cosmic urbanization are interesting (to say the least). Meanwhile, Greg Laden reports that the Herchel Space Observatory has confirmed the presence of molecular oxygen in space—not enough to breathe outright, but perhaps enough to collect for the space settlements of the future. The O2 was discovered in the Orion star-forming complex, 1300 light-years away.


Living by Light

Jellyfish aren’t reknowned for specialized organs; they lack brains, guts, hearts, and lungs. But some of them have eyes in spades. Mo writes on Neurophilosophy that box jellyfish have “24 eyes contained within a club-shaped sensory apparatus called a rhopalium, one of which is suspended from each side of the cube-shaped umbrella by a flexible, muscular stalk.” A crystal called a stratolith weighs down each of the four rhopalia and ensures that the “upper lens eyes remain in a strictly upright position, regardless of body orientation.” For the first time, researchers have shown that the four upper lens eyes can detect terrestrial landmarks above the surface of the water, helping lagoon-dwelling jellyfish to keep their bearings. And on Oscillator, Christina Agapakis takes a peek at the future, when light-sensitive proteins delivered to the retina by a virus could help blind people to see.