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Science in space: Twins and black holes

(NSF) The very first photo of a black hole captured from the Event Horizon Telescope.

A study by NASA published in the magazine Science on a set of identical twins finds that maybe humans aren’t cut out for living in space for the long term.

Astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year space aboard the International Space Station from 2015 to 2016 while his identical twin, retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, stayed on Earth.

What we learned from the twin study

On Monday’s edition of The JayMac News Show, Luke Gangi-Wellman, of the Leonardo museum in Salt Lake City, explained there are things called telomeres in our DNA, which keep our genes safe.

“Think of it as a protective little hat that protects your genes,” he said.

While Scott Kelly was in space aboard the ISS, Gangi-Wellman explained, his telomeres got longer,  shortened when he returned to Earth and then stabilized.

“That’s not something we’ve never seen before, but it’s hard to draw a conclusion, from a scientific perspective, because we have a sample size of one,” he said.

Picturing black holes

JayMac and guest Gangi-Wellman continued a discussion begun last week about the first photo of a black hole.  The composite image was taken by four different teams using seven telescopes snapping photos as the Earth rotated, all from a distance of 55 billion light-years.

“Here’s the thing about a black hole,” said Gangi-Wellman. “It’s black. There’s nothing there, so you can’t really take an image of it. It’s a big deal because it’s a fundamental part of our understanding of the universe. Black holes were very much theoretical. Seeing is believing.”

JayMac added that it’s like dark matter and until it can actually be documented, it’s hypothetical: “Like Big Foot.”

Gangi-Wellman explained that black holes are so massive and their gravitational pull so strong that they actually pull in the light around them.

“They are actually taking a photo of the photons that are circling the black hole,” Gangi-Wellman said. He said it’s analogous to taking a photo with your cellphone of the date on a quarter that someone’s holding in Los Angeles from Washington, D.C.

“Black hole confirmed,” concluded JayMac.

Jay Mcfarland hosts the JayMac News Show, weekdays from 12:30 to 3 p.m. on KSL Newsradio, as well as the fictional podcast, Hosts of Eden. KSL Newsradio is part of Bonneville Media and based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Don’t forget to review and subscribe to the JayMac Mac News Show podcast on Apple Podcasts. Or follow Jay on Twitter and Instagram or on Facebook.