Dr. Jeff Rich returns to the show to talk about the interstellar medium— all the rocks, dust, and particles that exist between the stars. After some beer, we end up talking about black holes and how Jeff studies nearby galaxies to learn about the early universe.
Dr. Kelly Fast tells us about the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which finds asteroids before they find us. She talks about a recent exercise involving the tiny asteroid 2012 TC4, where asteroid hunters across the world coordinated to observe this object on a recent fly-by. We also talk about ‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar asteroid ever discovered.
Dr. Mark Panning tells us all about “earthquakes” on other worlds. He talks about the InSight mission to Mars, which carries a seismometer to detect Marsquakes. He also explains how a seismometer on Europa could teach us about the interior of that icy moon.
Mario Cabrera tells us about the specialized detectors used in professional telescopes. He talks about how he’s helping to develop new detectors that don’t require coolant and provide more science for less money. He talks about the ways a detector is tested, and how he’s walked through miles of waist-deep snow (both ways!) in the name of science.
Dr. Jonah Kanner talks about LIGO’s spectacular detection of two neutron stars merging together. This merger was not only detected by gravitational wave detectors in the US and Europe, it was also seen by many telescopes across the world and in space. This new discovery will help unlock many longstanding mysteries in astronomy and fundamental particle physics.
Cassini’s spacecraft operations team manager, Julie Webster, stops by the show to reflect on Cassini. We chat about the time Cassini dove through Titan’s atmosphere, how Julie monitored thousands of channels of telemetry at once, and how she’s happy that she doesn’t have to spend her time thinking through worst-case scenarios (or “awfulizing”) now that the spacecraft is no more.
Dr Morgan Cable returns to the show to chat about the end of the Cassini Mission. We find solace in the fact that there’s still a tiny bit of Cassini in orbit around Saturn. Dr. Cable also describes Cassini’s discovery of hydrogen, “the easiest food for a microbe to digest,” in Enceladus’ plumes.
Sagan Prize winner Dr. Henry Throop tells us how scientists look for micron-sized dust that’s millions of miles away to protect the New Horizons spacecraft. This search involves computer modeling, occultation observations, and plenty of teamwork.
Dr. Fengchuan Liu talks to us about an international project, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). He describes the telescope, it's many mirrors, and how he helps manage such a complex project.
Dr. Cindy Hunt returns to the show to talk about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the 100 inch Hooker Telescope on Mount Wilson. She explains why this telescope looks like a battleship and tells us how it “completely upended our understanding of the universe”. Also: poetry!
Dr. Lisa Storrie-Lombardi returns to the show to discuss NuSTAR, Spitzer, and what it feels like to end a mission you’ve been working on for decades. Cassini’s Grand Finale has us reflecting on the upcoming demise of the Spitzer Space Telescope.
Professor Jay McMahon stops by the show to explain the YORP effect and how it changes asteroid spins and shapes. He also describes his NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) project that is investigating the use of soft robots to explore rubble-pile asteroids.
Dr. Mary Peterson tells us about basaltic glasses from the Galápagos Islands, and why they might have originated deep within the Earth’s mantle. She also describes her lab work, which involves cool lab coats, security badges, and meticulous sorting of samples.
Dr. Andrea Donnellan stops by the show to talk about GeoGateway, a website that combines different datasets to help geologists. She explains how rocks move like silly putty, and recounts the time a lone cloud masqueraded as tectonic motion.
Bonus music at the end is “Glorious Dawn” by Colorpulse. Hear more rad science tunes at www.symphonyofscience.com.
Dr. Emily Kramer stops by the show to try some tea and talk about her trip to South Africa to observe the next New Horizons target, 2014 MU69. She was one of several astronomers and planetary scientists who flew to other countries to watch this object pass in front of a star in the hopes of measuring its diameter.
Dr. Quan-Zhi Ye tries an unusual frappuccino and explains how meteor showers are related to comets. He tells the story of how he became interested in comets and asteroids, and fills us in on some of his recent research.
Dr. Jessie Christiansen returns to the show to talk about newly discovered exoplanets! She explains why this planetary system was devilishly difficult to observe with ground-based telescopes, and how one of the planets poses a puzzle.
Dr. Raymond Francis talks about a rock-vaporizing laser and the software that controls it. He describes how he and colleagues programmed a computer to make choices like a geologist would, allowing the Curiosity rover to do more science on Mars.
Dr. Bethany Ehlmann returns to talk about Ceres. She tells us what certain types of silicates have in common with phyllo dough, and explains how traces of ammonia on Ceres hint at unusual history for this dwarf planet.
Dr. Tiffany Meshkat describes direct imaging of exoplanets, which astronomers have used to discover enormous, young planets. She also talks about WFIRST, a mission under development that would be able to find and characterize exoplanets.
Dr. Armando Azua-Bustos talks about how he discovered the driest place on Earth— a region in the Atacama Desert not far from where he grew up. He explains how he collects and studies microbial life that live in these extremely dry regions.
Dr. Michele Koppes stops by to talk about her glacier research on planet Earth. She describes how a melting glacier triggered a staggeringly large landslide in 2015, and how glaciers can match even humans in their ability to transform the landscape.
Dr. David Ciardi talks about Vega, a bright star that’s “been a part of human lore forever.” Dr. Ciardi and his colleagues discovered that Vega has a nearby ring of dust, implying the presence of planets. He also describes an encounter with a giant inflatable bumblebee at Palomar Observatory.
John Dailey explains how he uses his software engineering skills to discover asteroids at IPAC/Caltech. He helps solve problems inherent to working with astronomical data, such as the challenge of reading in and out huge volumes of data from hard drives.
Dr. Ingrid Daubar stops by to talk about HiRISE, a camera on a Mars-orbiting spacecraft that takes amazing images of the Martian surface. She explains how she uses these images to search for fresh craters, and how you (yes you!) suggest areas of the planet for this camera to image. (Correction to episode: Mars’ atmosphere is 0.6% that of Earth, not 6%)