Dr. Varoujan Gorjian returns to the show! He explains what supermassive black holes are and how they work. He also tells us about an elegant technique that astronomers use to determine the size of the debris cloud around black holes.
The tables are turned! Regular host Professor Carrie Nugent talks about her research with guest host Anthropology Professor Caitrin Lynch. We discuss near-Earth asteroids, and how Prof. Nugent is building open-source asteroid hunting software with a team of students.
Dr. Abby Fraeman returns to the show to talk about NASA's Curiosity rover. For the past eight years, Curiosity has been exploring Gale Crater on Mars. Dr. Fraeman talks about a discovery she made on the Vera Rubin Ridge, and we discuss how the Curiosity scientists and engineers have kept the rover running during the coronavirus pandemic.
Prof. Bethany Ehlmann returns to the show to talk about the mission she's leading, Lunar Trailblazer. This low-cost mission will hitch a ride to the moon using the extra space in a large rocket. Once there, it will help scientists learn more about water on the moon.
Many of the discoveries you've heard about on this show were funded by NASA. But how do scientists get money from NASA? Dr. Henry Throop returns to the show to explain how NASA program officers evaluate scientific proposals. This episode was recorded in September 2019.
Dr. Larry Denneau talks about the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System, or ATLAS. He talks about how asteroid detection is a data processing problem. Every night ATLAS handles about a quarter terabyte of data. He describes how they find a few asteroids among a billion other sources, and tells us about a unique discovery by the program. This episode was recorded in June 2019, which explains the restaurant noises and the talk of air travel.
Prof Joe Levy talks about his research in the dry valleys of Antarctica. These valleys are dry, irradiated, salty, and cold, which makes them similar to parts of Mars. He explains why planetary scientists get excited about naturally occurring perchlorate. He also describes the changes he's witnessed over several field seasons. This episode was recorded in February 2020, before social distancing measures were recommended.
Dr. Sheyna Gifford describes the experience of being a simulated Martian astronaut, as part of the HI-SEAS experiment. She talks about the experiment and gives us all tips for staying mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy while living in a confined space with limited contact with the outside world.
Dr. Meg Schwamb tells us about the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS). She explains why she doesn't just want to find these distant objects, she wants to figure out what they are made of. We also discuss recent interstellar visitors to our solar system.
Dr. Matthew Tiscareno tells us about Saturn's rings. He describes how scientists measured their mass, and how the rings got their colors. He also explains why scientists are currently debating the age of the rings.
Professor Desireé Cotto Figueroa tells us about her research into the strength of meteorites. This research helps scientists understand the hazards from asteroids, and also will help engineers design asteroid-visiting spacecraft.
Dr. Scott Sheppard tells us about the two most distant objects ever observed in the solar system. He describes the clever techniques he and his collaborators used to spot these objects, and explains why he is searching for an undiscovered planet.
Lillian Cunningham talks about her podcast Moonrise. Moonrise explores why the United States decided to send humans to the moon. She talks about the surprising power of science fiction in shaping policy, and she comments on what might motivate nations to send humans to other planets in the future.
Dr. Jason Soderblom tells us about Titan, one of the largest moons in the solar system. He explains some of its geologic features, including dunes, probable cryovolcanos, and featureless plains that scientists nicknamed "the blandlands." He also tells us about Dragonfly, a new NASA mission that will explore Titan's surface.
Dr. Michele Bannister talks about interstellar objects, including the recent discovery of 2I Borisov. Astronomers are observing this object with every available telescope to answer key questions, such as: what is Borisov made of? Is it like comets from our own solar system, or is it "really weird and different"? Dr. Bannister fills us in on the latest results. This episode was recorded on November 13th, 2019.
Dr. Jessie Dotson talks about her asteroid risk assessment research. She describes how she and her team create comprehensive models of asteroid impacts. Their research shows that the consequences of an impact depends on asteroid size and where it hits on Earth.
Dr. Ross Beyer talks about Pluto's companion, Charon. He describes how he derived a theory explaining how Charon's "wonky" plains formed. He compares being a planetary geologist with a crime scene investigator, and tells us the story about how Charon got its name.
Prof. Christine Hartzell tells us about the bizarre ways dust and rock behave on asteroids. She explains, "asteroids are complicated because our intuition fails." Tools like shovels become useless, forcing spacecraft designers to innovate.
Dr. Bill Bottke stops by the show to talk about ancient craters on the Moon and Earth. He tells us about how you can figure out crater ages by looking at the nearby rocks, and how that led him and his colleagues to figure out that the impact rate on Earth changes with time.
Dr. Jeff Rich returns to the show to talk about the night sky. He explains how astronomers used constellations to communicate. He also tells us that anyone can invent their own constellation. In a time when people can create "universes inside a computer," we talk about ways to go outside and experience the cosmos.
Dr. Carolyn Ernst tells us about DRACO, a camera on the DART mission. DRACO will take critical images in the final seconds of the mission. Dr. Ernst talks about how heritage is important in spaceflight and explains how DRACO is designed to endure harsh conditions.
Dr. Mark Boslough describes what happens when an asteroid enters Earth's atmosphere. He tell the story of how he learned of the historic 2013 Chelyabinsk impact. He also shares what it was like to see the effects of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 Jupiter impact.
Professor Cristina Thomas talks about NASA's first planetary defense mission: DART. DART is a spacecraft that will impact a tiny asteroid moon. She explains why ground-based telescope observations are key to the mission's success.
Dr. Matthew Knight tells us about a discovery that excited astronomers all around the world. 'Oumuamua is the first minor planet from outside our solar system that we have found. Dr. Knight describes what it was like to observe this speedy object, and explains how it compares to local asteroids and comets.
Dr. Terik Daly talks about his experiments, where things hit other things at tens of thousands of miles per hour. These experiments create pressures greater than that at the center of the Earth, and temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun. Dr Daly tells us what it is like to design and witness these experiments, and how he uses them to learn about the solar system.