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“The first stars in the universe and a mystery illness that is paralyzing parrots.”

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June 13, 2023: The first stars in the universe, a mysterious illness paralyzing parrots and come find us on Reddit! Read more below.
Andrea Gawrylewski, Chief Newsletter Editor

The First Stars

About 400,000 years after the big bang, the first atoms of hydrogen and helium formed and clumped together into immense clouds, eventually giving rise to the very first stars in the universe, which astronomers call Population III stars. As they burned their nuclear fuel, they forged heavier elements such as oxygen and carbon which fed into subsequent stellar generations. Scientists have yet to definitively observe any of them, but two new studies using data from the James Webb Space Telescope offer the best evidence yet that they exist. The data have revealed signs of the stars in a pair of early galaxies.
Why this matters: Seeing Population III stars could lead to breakthroughs in our understanding of how the universe transitioned from primordial chaos to the more orderly cosmos we know. More fundamentally, to study the first stars is to glimpse some of our deepest origins—the heavy elements within our own sun, our planet and even our bodies all emerged from a process that started with them.
What the experts say: “Searching for Population III stars in the early universe is a key part of the science that JWST was built to accomplish,” says Jane Rigby of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Paralyzed Parrots

In eastern Australia, thousands of rainbow lorikeets are afflicted every year with a mysterious paralyzing illness that makes them unable to blink or even flap their wings. About 40 percent of rainbow lorikeets that present with a severe case of this unexplained paralysis won’t survive, but scientists are baffled as to what is causing it.
Why this matters: Cases of lorikeet paralysis syndrome have been increasing in the past decade. It is now considered one of Australia’s most significant wildlife diseases in a place where lorikeets are the most common backyard bird.
What the experts say: Researchers are not just looking at plant DNA but also at fungal, bacterial and animal DNA to allow for the possibility that the birds are ingesting a venomous insect or spider in fruit, or a toxin produced by fungus or bacteria found on a plant. “It’s possible it’s not the plants themselves but a plant pathogen,” says Rachele Wilson, an adjunct research associate at Griffith University in Brisbane.
Eye drops are applied to a rainbow lorikeet suffering from lorikeet paralysis syndrome and is unable to blink. Credit: Peter Wilson/RSPCA Queensland
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More Opinion
In an article published in our June issue, therapist Rebecca J. Lester shares how she helped a young woman with 12 different personalities form a community of selves in one individual. Curious to learn more about this story? Join our Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Lester on Wednesday, June 14 at 1pm ET to ask her anything:
For all you math lovers out there, I hope you enjoy today’s article on how hackers crack your passwords. For more mind-bending mathematics of passwords, read our 2019 article. Drink your coffee before you take this one on!
We are ever-evolving here in the newsletters department. Send us your feedback on Today in Science by emailing me directly: See you tomorrow!
—Andrea Gawrylewski, Chief Newsletter Editor
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