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Early Spring, Mumps On The Rise, Gulf Of Maine, Supermassive Black Hole. March 31, 2023, Part 1

Science Friday
Science Friday

A Supermassive Black Hole The Mass Of 30 Billion Suns

This week, astronomers reported that they may have found signs of one of the largest black holes ever detected–a space behemoth the mass of some 30 billion suns. The supermassive black hole, located in part of the Abell 1201 galaxy cluster, was detected using a combination of gravitational lensing and supercomputer simulations. First, the astronomers observed how the images of other more distant objects viewed by the Hubble Space Telescope were warped by the vast gravitational well produced by the black hole. They compared those images to thousands of simulations created via a supercomputer, and found that a simulation containing a supermassive black hole matched the real-world images. The work was reported in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Umair Irfan, staff writer at Vox, joins SciFri’s Kathleen Davis to talk about the finding and other stories from the week in science, including the FDA’s approval of over-the-counter Narcan, the real-world challenges of EV charging, and the creation of a meatball–made of mammoth.

What’s Driving A Rise In Mumps Cases In The United States?

In 1971, the United States rolled out a revolutionary new vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella. The MMR vaccine nearly eradicated all three of those viruses by the start of the 21st century. Over the last several years, there have been numerous measles outbreaks cropping up across the country, especially among unvaccinated kids.

What about mumps—that second “m” in the MMR vaccine? Since 2006, there have been mumps outbreaks too. But unlike measles, most of the people getting the mumps are vaccinated. And they’re older too, mostly teens and young adults. New research suggests that the efficacy of the mumps vaccine wanes over time, unlike the ones for measles and rubella. Guest host Shahla Farzan talks with Dr. Deven Gokhale, co-author of a recent study on the reemergence of mumps. Gokhale recently completed his PhD from the University of Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology, based in Athens Georgia.

Foundational Food Sources In The Gulf Of Maine Are Failing

At the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, researchers Barney Balch and Catherine Mitchell are looking at a map affixed to a large table. “We’re looking at a chart of the Gulf of Maine, and right across the middle there’s a line that’s drawn from Portland, in Maine, to Yarmouth, in Nova Scotia,” Mitchell says. That line is the route along which Bigelow researchers have been taking regular measurements for the last 25 years. They’ve analyzed chemical and temperature data that help describe how the waters of the gulf are changing. One tool they use is a six-foot long cylinder with wings.

“This is an autonomous underwater vehicle, or a glider,” Mitchell says. “So it’s a big robot that moves up and down in a yoyo-like pattern, from the top of the ocean to the bottom of the ocean right across the middle of the Gulf of Maine. So it’s measuring a bunch of science things as it goes. It looks a bit like a big yellow torpedo. It’s got some wings on it.”

Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.

Is Spring Falling Out Of Sync?

Each year, it feels like spring comes as a surprise—too early or too late. For example, new maps reveal that spring is 13 days late in Sacramento, California but two weeks early in Richmond, Virginia. And that could be a problem because plants and animals use environmental cues, like temperature, to know when to flower, migrate, breed, or emerge from hibernation.

So when the seasons are thrown off, what happens to those natural rhythms that once flowed together seamlessly? Guest host Shahla Farzan talks with Dr. David Inouye, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland and a researcher at the Rocky Mountain Biological Station, and Dr. Theresa Crimmins, director of the USA National Phenology Network and research professor at the University of Arizona. They discuss the variability in seasons, and the cascade of effects these changes can have on ecosystems.

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

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