The Cassini Mission to Saturn

pia03883-nohuygensThe Cassini mission to Saturn launched 20 years ago, on October 15, 1997.  It took seven years to reach Saturn, and has been orbiting and intensely studying Saturn ever since…until last week when the mission ended in a final dive into Saturn’s atmosphere.  The mission studied Saturn, its famous rings, and its many moons using a suite of instruments that observed a broad range of wavelengths from ultraviolet, to visible, infrared, and radio as well as examining dust, charged particles, and magnetic fields.  It also delivered the Huygens probe that descended through the atmosphere of Saturn’s giant moon, Titan.

In this edition of How on earth, we have two scientists from the Cassini mission team.  Dr. Larry Esposito is a Professor at the Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences department at the University of Colorado at Boulder and member of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU.  Dr. Carly Howett is a planetary scientist and manager at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder.  They share with us some of the science from Cassini-Huygens and experiences working on such a long-term and successful space mission.

Host / Producer / Engineer: Joel Parker
Additional Contributions: Beth Bennett, Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Alejandro Soto

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Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets

Titan, a moon of Saturn, rises above the rings of Saturn. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL

Titan, a moon of Saturn, rises above the rings of Saturn. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL

Beyond Earth (start time 5:10) Many have dreamt of colonizing other planets. It’s been a staple of science fiction for decades. Most often, people imagine creating a colony of humans on Mars, where people would live on a cold, dry planet with a thin, unbreathable atmosphere. Mars, however, may not be the best destination for future human colonization. In fact, Titan, a moon of Saturn, may hold greater hope for extending humanity’s presence in the solar system. Either way, humans face tough but surmountable challenges as we move beyond Earth. As a planetary scientist, Dr. Amanda Hendrix is actively involved in the scientific research and future mission planning that will enable humans to settle on other planets. She’s the co-author, with Charles Wohlforth, of the new book Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets. Listen to How On Earth’s Alejandro Soto’s interview with Amanda Hendrix, where they discuss the opportunities and challenges for human space exploration.

Hosts: Alejandro Soto, Shelley Schlender
Producer: Alejandro Soto
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett
Additional Contributions: Joel Parker, Beth Bennett

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Other Rocky Planets are Common!

Kepler444 We talk with astronomer Travis Metcalfe about finding the oldest known planetary system in the Galaxy, and what it means about the formation of planets, the possibilities of extraterrestrial life, and how does one actually find planets around other stars? Headlines include switches in the man-made biological organisms that could possibly be used for bioterrorism, and the finding that chronic malaria infection in migrant great reed warblers  damages telomeres, shortening life in both the adult bird and its offspring.

Hosts: Joel Parker and Beth Bennett
Producer: Beth Bennett
Engineer Beth Bennett with help from Kendra Kruger
Additional Contributions: Jane Palmer, Shelly Schlender
Executive Producer: Kendra Krueger

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Living Planet Report // Finding Exoplanet Water

WWF_LivingPlanetLiving Planet Report (starts at 5:50): The environmental organization World Wildlife Fund just released its science-based biennial Living Planet Report.  It doesn’t paint a rosy picture overall; WWF shows that, for instance, wildlife populations across the globe are roughly half the size they were 40 years ago.  And although rich countries show a 10 percent increase in biodiversity, lower-income countries are suffering a drop of nearly 60 percent. The report also ranks the ecological footprints of 152 nations, and warns that the world is living beyond its means. But there are bright spots in the report, too. Even in the absence of national legislation and international treaties, some cities in the U.S., including Boulder, and around the world are making progress toward sustainability and greenhouse gas reductions. Co-host Susan Moran interviews Keya Chatterjee, director of WWF’s renewable energy and footprint outreach program.

Finding Exoplanet Water (starts at 18:15): For the first time, scientists have detected water vapor on a cold exoplanet the size of Neptune. Previously, it had only been possible to measure the atmospheres of larger, Jupiter-sized exoplanets, but these findings from the Hubble and Spitzer Telescopes bring scientists a significant step closer to studying the atmosphere of Earth-sized planets orbiting other stars. Understanding the atmosphere of exoplanets may tell us more about their evolution and formation – Eliza Kempton, assistant professor of physics at Grinnell College in Iowa, explains in this report from Roland Pease of the BBC’s Science In Action.

Executive Producer: Joel Parker
Producer: Ted Burnham
Co-Hosts: Susan Moran, Ted Burnham
Engineer: Ted Burnham
Headlines: Beth Bennett, Jane Palmer

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MAVEN: Mission to Mars // Communicating geophysics

Mars’ atmosphere may have been depleted following the loss of the planet’s magnetic field. Illustration courtesy of NASA.

On this week’s How On Earth, we’re joined by the University of Colorado’s Bruce Jakosky, principle investigator on the MAVEN satellite mission that will investigate Mars’ upper atmosphere. NASA granted final approval to MAVEN last fall, and the spacecraft is scheduled to launch in 2013. Also, Ted Burnham speaks with Carol Finn, incoming president of the American Geophysical Union, about the need for scientists to communicate better with the public.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Ted Burnham
Producer: Shelley Schlender

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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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