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Geoff Brumfiel

The explosive volcanic eruption in Tonga on Saturday appears to dwarf the largest nuclear detonations ever conducted, according to a global group that monitors for atomic testing.

The shock wave from the blast was so powerful that it was detected as far away as Antarctica, says Ronan Le Bras, a geophysicist with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna, Austria, which oversees an international network of remote monitoring stations.

NASA researchers have an estimate of the power of a massive volcanic eruption that took place on Saturday near the island nation of Tonga.

"We come up with a number that's around 10 megatons of TNT equivalent," James Garvin, the chief scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told NPR.

That means the explosive force was more than 500 times as powerful as the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II.

A key part of protecting endangered species is figuring out where they're living. Now researchers say they have found a powerful new tool that could help: vacuuming DNA out of the air.

"This is a bit of a crazy idea," admits Elizabeth Clare, a molecular ecologist at York University in Toronto, Canada. "We are literally sucking DNA out of the sky."

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A key part of protecting endangered species is figuring out where they're living, and that can be tricky. But now two teams of scientists have discovered a technique that might help. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel has more.

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The prominent biologist E.O. Wilson died yesterday. As NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports, he shaped modern thinking on evolution and the environment.

In October, a conference filled with anti-vaccine activists in Nashville, Tenn., received a high-profile political guest: former President Donald Trump's son Eric Trump.

While portions of the younger Trump's half-hour address were typical political platitudes, some of his biggest applause lines came when he attacked COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Updated December 5, 2021 at 10:27 AM ET

Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those who live in areas that went for now-President Biden. That's according to a new analysis by NPR that examines how political polarization and misinformation are driving a significant share of the deaths in the pandemic.

For much of the pandemic, Dr. Lee Merritt has appeared on talk shows and in lecture halls to spread false information about COVID-19.

It began with what appeared to be a missing rocket. In July, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology announced the 77th launch of one of its Long March 2C rockets; in late August it announced the 79th. What happened to launch No. 78?

The Nobel Prize in physics was awarded this year for work on finding order in chaos — some made by humans and some found in nature.

Half of the prize went to Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann for their studies showing how humans were changing the climate on Earth. According to the prize committee, it was Manabe, now at Princeton University, who built one of the first climate models in the 1960s that explained how human-produced carbon dioxide could warm the planet.

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Last month, Dr. Simone Gold stood before a crowd at a conservative church in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and delivered a talk riddled with misinformation. She told people to avoid vaccination against the coronavirus. As an alternative, she pushed drugs that have not been proven effective at treating COVID-19 — drugs that she also offered to prescribe to the audience in exchange for $90 telehealth appointments.

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Big news from Mars this weekend. A small helicopter zipped around its surface, and as NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports, it's exceeding all expectations.

Spend any time around a baby and you're likely to hear some babbling. Now, new research shows baby bats can do it too.

A paper published on Thursday in the latest issue of the journal Science finds similarities between the babbling of human infants and the babbling of the greater sac-winged bat (Saccopteryx bilineata) — a small species of bat that lives in Central and South America.

Sore arms. Headaches. Low-grade fevers.

These are some of the expected side-effects of a COVID-19 vaccine — a sign that the body's mounting an immune response and learning how to fend off the novel coronavirus.

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China appears to be expanding its sprawling nuclear weapons testing complex in the nation's western desert. Satellite imagery shared exclusively with NPR shows a possible new tunnel being dug and fresh roads added at the site, known as Lop Nur, where China has tested its nuclear weapons in the past.

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The world's richest man briefly left planet Earth today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AUTOMATED VOICE: Two, one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROCKET LIFTING OFF)

Misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines can appear almost anywhere: from an uncle's Facebook post to a well-trusted news commentator. But where does it come from, and why do some myths spread further than others?

With the help of the internet research firm Graphika, NPR analyzed the rise of one persistent set of lies about COVID-19 vaccines: that they can affect female fertility.

Despite a mountain of scientific evidence showing the vaccines are safe and effective, the false information persists.

With about a third of adults in the U.S. still completely unvaccinated, and cases of COVID-19 on the rise, the U.S. surgeon general is calling for a war against "health misinformation."

It inspires comparisons to Area-51: A massive, three-mile-long runway in a remote patch of Chinese desert, hundreds of miles from any cities.

Now, it looks like the site is undergoing an expansion. Satellite imagery from the commercial company Maxar supplied exclusively to NPR shows around a dozen large concrete buildings under construction near the landing strip. The buildings mark a significant change at the airfield, which up until now lacked much in the way of permanent accommodation.

The largest U.S. database for detecting events that might be vaccine side effects is being used by activists to spread disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.

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This week, President Biden directed his intelligence agencies to take another look at whether the coronavirus resulted from a lab accident in China. For many, the announcement felt like a big change, putting what had been a conspiracy theory about the virus's origins back on the table.

The end of this pandemic sometimes gets boiled down to two words: herd immunity. But now, as an academic debate swirls over when or even if America can get to a high enough percentage of people with immunity to reach that goal, some scientists say it's time for the public to stop worrying about it.

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Sayer Ji is a 48-year-old proponent of what he calls natural medicine.

"My parents didn't know about natural medicine, so it really wasn't until I was 17 that I learned some basic principles of nutrition and self care," he told attendees at a recent virtual conference. "I was liberated from needing pharmaceutical medicines."

Ji was also there promoting his website, full of natural remedies and reams of anti-vaccine misinformation. He sells subscriptions for anywhere from $75 to $850 a year.

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A SpaceX rocket lifted off from Florida early Friday morning on what is becoming a routine mission, carrying four astronauts to the International Space Station.

Joyce Ann Kraner is eager for the pandemic to end and for life to get back to normal. Kraner, 49, wants to be able to hug her mother, who lives in a nursing home.

But she says she has no plans to get the vaccine, even though it's widely available in her community of Murfreesboro, Tenn. "I feel like I'm healthy," she says.

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