"Like a wounded Starship Enterprise, our solar system's natural shields are faltering, letting in a flood of cosmic rays," David Shiga reports for New Scientist. "The sun's recent listlessness is resulting in record-high radiation levels that pose a hazard to both human and robotic space missions." Earth's magnetic shield and atmosphere protect its inhabitants, but outside this shield spacecraft electronics and astronaut DNA can be damaged by the high-energy cosmic particles. The sun's magnetic field also normally blocks some of the cosmic rays, preventing them from entering the solar system, but this protection has weakened of late. Cosmic rays are at a record level - 19 per cent more abundant than any previous level seen since space flight began half a century ago. The sun is at a minimum in its 11-year cycle of magnetic activity and this particular dip is deeper than any seen in nearly a century; it might be entering a "grand minimum" that could last centuries. Long-duration human missions in space would be more challenging.
Spiritual and sexy
"Is it sexy to be spiritual?" Sally Law writes for LiveScience. "New research has found that spirituality has a greater effect on the sex lives of young adults - especially women - than religion, impulsivity or alcohol. 'I think people have been well aware of the role that religious and spiritual matters play in everyday life for a very long time,' said Jessica Burris, one of the study's researchers at the University of Kentucky. 'But in the research literature, the unique qualities of spirituality - apart from religiousness - are not usually considered.' According to a research measure known as the Spiritual Transcendence Scale, those qualities are connectedness, universality and prayer fulfilment. But the data found that of the three, connectedness plays the largest role in spiritual sexuality and leads to more sex with more partners, often without the use of condoms."
Germany has opened its first nude hiking trail, The Independent reports. "The [18-kilometre]path - upon which wearing anything other than sturdy hiking boots is strictly verboten - winds its way through the wooded hills of the upland Harz district in the centre of northern Germany, whose rugged beauty once inspired Goethe to write poems about it. … Nudist hiking has been practised in the German, Swiss and Austrian alpine regions for several years. This year, the Swiss canton of Appenzell banned nude hiking after receiving complaints about the large numbers of naked Germans hiking through it." Germany's new trail has yet to be approved by the local tourist board. "We do not expect the trail to provide much of a problem," a spokesman said. "Last March we held a nude tobogganing race and it was very popular."
To boldly name
Swedish judges have overturned a legal ban on science-fiction fans naming their son "Q" after their favourite Star Trek character, Ananova.com reports. The parents, from Jamtland, Sweden, appealed to the Swedish supreme court after two previous hearings upheld a court order saying the name could cause the boy "mental anguish." The child is now almost a year old. Rickard Rehnberg, his father, said: "He's been called Q almost since day one. … He is a unique child and we thought he should have a unique name."
Careful with the logo
"When IKEA decided to switch its logo font last month from Futura to the ubiquitous Verdana, it took some customers by surprise," Mary Tuma reports in The Houston Chronicle. "Many are wondering why a seemingly insignificant change erupted into controversy." Vikas Mittal, a marketing professor at Rice University and co-author of the study Do Logo Redesigns Help or Hurt Your Brand? , said: "One of the things we did is change logos of different recognized brands, like Adidas and New Balance, to either make them more round or more angular. … We found customers with a high commitment to the brand became unhappy with the change and customers with a low level of commitment were more happy. The very interesting thing here is that a lot of managers think loyal customers will always buy their products. … But we find these customers see themselves as so connected to the brand that they feel threatened [by the change]"
Age and prejudice
"There are a lot of clichés thrown around about the elderly, but one that seems to be true - or at least is backed up by research - is the belief that they tend to be more prejudiced than younger people," Tom Jacobs reports for Miller-McCune.com. In two recently published papers, psychologists William von Hippel, of the University of Queensland in Australia, and Gabriel Radvansky, of the University of Notre Dame, provide compelling support for this concept. In the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, they describe a series of experiments in which older adults had greater memory for "stereotype-consistent situation models." They add that it appears to be a general phenomenon of aging and that some older adults "may be relying on stereotypes despite their best intentions to the contrary."
Thought du jour
"People don't choose their careers; they are engulfed by them."
- John Dos Passos (1896-1970), U.S. novelist