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The Black Hole At The Center Of The Galaxy, Shipwreck Microbes. Oct 16, 2020, Part 1

Science Friday

News & Politics

The 2020 Nobel Prize winners have been announced, and among them is UCLA astronomer Andrea Ghez, who split the prize with Roger Penrose and Reinhard Genzel. Ghez, also the fourth woman to ever win the Physics prize, won for her 1998 work that resolved a decades-old debate among astronomers: What lurks at the difficult-to-observe heart of the Milky Way? After innovating new ways to peer through the obscuring gas and dust, Ghez and her team observed the orbits of stars around the galaxy’s seemingly empty center—and found they fit a pattern explained so far only by a supermassive black hole of at least four million times the mass of our Sun. In the decades since, she and her team have investigated the gravitational forces of the galactic center, and how well they match Einstein’s theory of relativity. (So far, her team has concluded, Einstein seems mostly right, but his theories may not fully explain what’s going on.) Ira talks to Ghez about how our understanding of the center of the galaxy has evolved, plus the questions that still puzzle her. Plus, off the coast of North Carolina is a large lagoon called the Pamlico Sound, which supports a diverse ecological landscape. It’s also home to the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck, a World War II vessel that’s partially submerged in the Sound. This wreck has become an artificial reef, and the life that surrounds it, big and small, is ripe for research. Just as humans have their own microbiomes, which are different for everyone, shipwrecks have microbiomes, too. Scientists study them to better understand what’s living on these sunken ships, and how to preserve them for future generations. While the vessel is not a natural part of the Sound, its role as an artificial reef makes it an important part of the ecosystem. By better understanding its microbes, scientists hope to help preserve this non-renewable cultural artifact. Joining Ira to talk about the marvelous microbes on the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck is Erin Field, assistant professor of biology at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. 


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