The Johns Hopkins Gazette: January 14, 2002
January 14, 2002
VOL. 31, NO. 17


In Brief

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Astronomers determine color of the universe--and it's turquoise

Astronomers at Johns Hopkins have produced a unique new insight into the nature of existence: They've determined the color of the universe.

"The color is quite close to the standard shade of pale turquoise, although it's a few percent greener," says Karl Glazebrook, an assistant professor of astronomy in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

The irregularities of individual computer screens make it tough to convey the new cosmological hue with complete accuracy, but scroll down to the third illustration on

for a glance at the average color of all the light of the universe. It is, in other words, the color you would see if you could somehow view all the visible light in the universe together. For computer buffs, the RGB values are 0.269, 0.388, 0.342.

Glazebrook and Ivan Baldry, a postdoctoral fellow at Hopkins, are the authors of a presentation at last week's meeting of the American Astronomical Society that included the new discovery.

Although both authors joke about promoting "color of the universe T-shirts and coffee mugs" and other humorous implications, their determination of the color is really a byproduct of a serious attempt to use the light from thousands of galaxies to assess scientists' theories of the history of star formation and stellar population dynamics.

To read about how they reached their conclusion, go to

Comet-chasing spacecraft nears completion at APL

Capping nearly two years of detailed development and assembly, engineers at the Applied Physics Laboratory have put the last touches on the CONTOUR spacecraft, which will provide the closest and most detailed look ever into the icy heart of a comet. Environmental testing on the craft begins today on APL's large vibration tables.

"These rigorous checks will verify that CONTOUR can stand up to the shaking during launch and the harsh conditions of outer space," says Edward Reynolds, CONTOUR mission system engineer at APL, which manages the mission for NASA and will operate the spacecraft.

CONTOUR has had all onboard systems tested, including its scientific instruments: two cameras, a dust analyzer and a mass spectrometer. APL technicians have attached solar panels and the final layers of the resilient, Kevlar-and-Nextel dust shield designed to protect CONTOUR from speeding bullet-like particles around the comets.

Slated to launch July 1, CONTOUR will encounter at least two diverse comets as they zip through the inner solar system. From as close as 100 miles away, the spacecraft will snap high-resolution photos of the comet nucleus, map the types of rock and ice on the nucleus and analyze the composition of the surrounding gas and dust.

On Jan. 28, CONTOUR will ship to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., for nearly three months of additional tests. In May, CONTOUR will leave for Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in final preparation for launch aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket.

Appetite suppressant affects brain messengers in mice

Johns Hopkins scientists report success in figuring out how an experimental compound prevents mice from recognizing that it's time to eat, profoundly suppressing appetite and causing weight loss.

The compound, called C75, alters the natural balance of brain messengers that normally send signals of hunger during fasting and of satiety when full. In both lean and obese mice, C75 affects those signals, according to a report on the work in the Dec. 26, 2001, online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Obesity in humans is a major public health problem and is linked to a heightened risk of developing diabetes, stroke and heart disease. While mice are not men, there are common pathways in fundamental activities.

"If we can understand the pathway that triggers eating, we may be able to find safe ways to intervene," says Daniel Lane, professor of biological chemistry in the School of Medicine's Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences. "We're close to figuring out how these neurotransmitters are connected, at least in mice, and what really affects their expression."

For details on the research, go to JANUARY/020108A.htm.

APL engineer to lead space research team

Harry K. Charles Jr., assistant department head for engineering in the Technical Services Department at APL, has been named team leader for the Technology Development Team of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. A NASA-sponsored consortium of 12 research institutions led by the Baylor College of Medicine, the NSBRI focuses on research to pave the way for human exploration of space.

Charles will manage scientists from six institutions working on eight projects, which focus on designing lightweight, compact research tools and on developing simple, minimally invasive and noninvasive methods of gathering health-related data in space. On Earth, these transportable and remote technologies will increase a physician's ability to provide care in a variety of settings such as rural clinics, nursing homes and isolated areas.