Chasing Shadows – Stellar Occultations and the Outer Solar System

Shadow Chasers (Photo: Jack Jewell)

Shadow Chasers
(Photo: Jack Jewell)

Chasing Shadows [starts at 9:40]  Astronomy is a science that depends on watching things happen in the universe that we don’t have control over: supernovae, formation of stars, orbits of planets, and the spectacle of solar eclipses.  You can’t grab a distant galaxy and bring it into the lab for experiments, so astronomers have to depend on studying the light that fortuitously comes to them from distant objects.  However, by studying just that light, we can learn much about the objects in the universe and how they formed and evolved.  For example, studying solar eclipses have taught us about the corona of the sun and about general relativity.   To make those observations and measurements, scientists have to chase the shadow and set up their laboratory in remote places to catch it.  In this edition of How on Earth we talk with one such shadow-chaser: astronomer Dr. Marc Buie from the Boulder office of the Southwest Research Institute.  Marc organized a set of expeditions around the Earth to observe occultations of the Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69, which is is the next flyby target of the New Horizons space mission that flew past Pluto in July 2015.  He explains the science of occultations, what can be gleaned from these shadowy observations of 2014 MU69, and talks about planning for observation expeditions to remote places around the world.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Chip Grandits
Producer / Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Alejandro Soto

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Grad School Science

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What is graduate school and how does it differ from the undergraduate experience?  What drives people to go through another 4…5…6…or more years of school? Today’s show features some people who might be able to tell us about the grad school experience in the sciences.  We have three grad students from the University of Colorado at Boulder:
* Joe Villanueva in the Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology department.
* Annie Miller, in the Integrative Physiology department.
* Marcus Piquette, in the Astrophysical and Planetary Science department.
Each of them works in a lab with an advisor and is doing projects that will eventually lead to a thesis and getting a PhD, and they talk about what they do and what grad school is like.

Host: Joel Parker
Producer and Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett
Additional Contributions: Beth Bennett, Susan Moran

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Extended interview with Alan Stern

On today’s show we featured an interview with Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, who is principal investigator on NASA’s New Horizons mission. He told us about a fourth, tiny moon orbiting Pluto—found last month by his team during observations in support of New Horizons, which will arrive at Pluto in 2015. Here’s an extended version of that interview.

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How On Earth is produced by a small group of volunteers at the studios of KGNU, an independent community radio station in the Boulder-Denver metro area. KGNU is supported by the generosity and efforts of community members like you. Visit kgnu.org to learn more.

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