Feature

Health & Science

Marital happiness by the pound; The blob where stars are born; A hunger for praise; California’s other big threat 

Marital happiness by the pound
Stop dieting, ladies. Just feed your guy a second course. A new study indicates that for marital happiness, it’s not critical for a woman to be thin—she just needs to be thinner than her mate. University of Tennessee researchers monitored 165 newlywed couples over four years, tracking their marital satisfaction via questionnaires. The numbers showed that men’s satisfaction wasn’t connected to how much a woman weighed in absolute terms, but did closely track to whether their wives were thinner than they were. Their wives were also happier if they were thinner than their husbands. Conversely, when a woman’s body mass index rose so that it was higher than her husband’s, the woman’s marital satisfaction declined. Simply put, researchers said, men want to feel that their wives are more attractive and sexier than they are, and when that’s the case, their wives are happier too. “Women of any size can be happy in their relationships,” researcher Andrea Meltzer tells Miller-McCune.com, “if they find the right partner.”

The blob where stars are born
A Dutch schoolteacher was looking through a series of photos of distant galaxies several years ago when she spotted a mysterious green blob suspended in space, 650 million light-years from Earth. The blob has puzzled astronomers ever since. Sharp new Hubble Space Telescope pictures of the blob, which is named Hanny’s Voorwerp (a Dutch word meaning “object”), reveal it to be a cloud of glowing gas in which stars are being born, says National Geographic News. The photos show that the massive cloud, which is the size of our own Milky Way galaxy, is actually part of a gaseous tail flowing from a nearby galaxy, IC 2497. University of Alabama astronomy professor William Keel, who led the Hubble study, says that the cloud of gas probably formed when IC 2497 collided with another galaxy about a billion years ago. The crash also created a supermassive black hole, or quasar, which discharged radiation that made Hanny’s Voorwerp glow green and compressed its gasses to form stars. That quasar has since gone dark, but Hanny’s Voorwerp glows on. “What we’re seeing is the afterglow from the quasar,” Keel says.

A hunger for praise
Has schools’ focus on instilling self-esteem turned young people into narcissists? New research has found that college students have such a compulsive need for boosts to their egos that they’ll choose compliments over their favorite foods, money, or even sex. “I was shocked,” lead researcher Brad Bushman tells The New York Times. “This desire to feel worthy and valuable trumps almost any other pleasant activity you can imagine.” In the study, University of Michigan students were asked to choose from among several pleasurable activities, such as sex, eating their favorite foods, receiving a paycheck, getting a good grade, or being given a nice compliment. Most chose the ego boosts of a compliment or a good grade. The students’ responses indicated they craved praise irrationally, similar to the way addicts “want” their fix. The danger of this compulsion, said researcher Jennifer Crocker, is that it may keep young people from admitting mistakes and accepting criticism. “Admitting you were wrong may be uncomfortable for self-esteem at the moment,” Crocker said, “but ultimately it could lead to better learning, relationships, growth, and even future self-esteem.”

California’s other big threat 
Californians are accustomed to earthquakes, and are resigned to the possibility of another Big One in coming decades. But scientists now say the state also faces the very real possibility of a catastrophic rainstorm so massive that it could do more damage than any earthquake, submerging one in four California homes under floodwaters and causing $300 billion in damage. Using improved satellite imagery, scientists have identified “atmospheric rivers”—moisture-laden air currents 200 miles wide and 2,000 miles long—flowing from tropical Pacific waters to the West Coast. Periodically, these rivers can conspire to create monsoon-like rainstorms over California in which 10 feet of rain could fall over just a few weeks. Tree-ring data shows evidence of vast floods in California’s past, and in the winter of 1861–62, enough rain fell to create “an inland sea” 300 miles long and 20 miles wide, from north of Sacramento all the way to Los Angeles. “We think this event happens once every 100 or 200 years or so, which puts it in the same category as our big San Andreas earthquakes,” Lucy Jones, chief scientist of the United States Geological Survey’s multi-hazards initiative, tells Science Daily. Though experts can’t forecast when the next “superstorm” will hit, Jones says, it could well be within current lifetimes.

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