What Causes The Northern Lights?

Physicists have long speculated about what gives rise to this very specific light phenomenon that occurs in the Earth’s polar regions.

Now they’re certain.

An article published in the journal Nature Communications this week suggests that the natural light show starts when disturbances on the sun pull on Earth’s magnetic field. That creates cosmic undulations known as Alfvén waves that launch electrons at high speeds into Earth’s atmosphere where they create the aurora…

The researchers used what’s known as the Large Plasma Device at the Basic Plasma Science Facility at the University of California, Los Angeles to re-create the interaction between Alfvén waves and electrons…

The researchers suggested that their findings could help understand more broadly how particles are energized and also give them a clearer picture of how events on the sun affect space near Earth as well as the technological infrastructure we have there, such as satellites.

For Schroeder, there is another much simpler benefit from this kind of research.

“This appeals to our sense of awe and wonder,” he said. “We’ve been captivated by auroras for thousands of years and looking at the night sky and appreciating their beauty. And I’ve always found that understanding more about how something is created enhances my appreciation of that beauty.”

I’ll second that emotion.

Is Alzheimers drug Aducanumab a breakthrough or a boondoggle?

Patients and their families may see hope in the news that the Food and Drug Administration has approved a drug to slow the pace of Alzheimer’s disease. Aducanumab is the first medicine authorized to treat what might be an underlying cause of the disease: amyloid beta clumps that accumulate in the brain. Yet the evidence from clinical trials that this drug reduces Alzheimer’s is incomplete; it may be only minimally effective, if it works at all. The FDA’s own expert panel strongly objected to the drug’s approval.

All of which makes the FDA’s announcement both perplexing and wrong. It threatens to mislead millions of Alzheimer’s patients. At the same time, because Biogen plans to price the drug at $56,000 a year for the average patient, it also stands to cost Medicare and other insurers a bundle. This underlines the need for two kinds of reform. First, the FDA needs to rethink its processes for approving drugs. Second, the rules controlling how Medicare chooses and pays for medicines need a thorough overhaul.

The FDA has failed to fully explain why it overruled the almost unanimous advice of its advisory panel on aducanumab. The agency didn’t deny that the clinical-trial evidence was poor. It simply ignored that problem and used different reasoning to grant the drug “accelerated approval.”…In fact, it’s a more limited endorsement than ordinary approval, indicating that the drug has not proven a “real effect on how a patient survives, feels or functions,” in the FDA’s words, but nevertheless acts on an underlying disease process in a way that might predict such a benefit…

Despite that, Biogen will sell aducanumab — under the brand name Aduhelm — at an exorbitant cost…The nonprofit Institute for Clinical and Economic Review has said that even if the drug works as well as Biogen suggests it can, it would be cost-effective at a price of $2,600 to $8,300 a year…

But, hey…Congress apparently thinks Biogen should get every penny they can squeeze from us, our tax dollars and anything else they lay their greedy hands on.