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
Today’s show offers the following feature: Extraterrestrial intelligence? (start time: 6:30): It’s mid-summer, a time when many of us like to spend leisurely time outside at night, gazing at the stars and planets, and asking the big existential questions, such as, Are we alone? Is there intelligent life waaay out there? Our guest today, science writer Sarah Scoles, has pondered these questions for several years. She discusses with hosts Susan Moran and Joel Parker her just-published biography, Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Tarter, an astronomer, directed the Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research. Carl Sagan’s 1985 novel Contact” illustrates Tarter’s astronomical work. In the 1997 movie Contact (stemming from Sagan’s novel) actor Jodi Foster played a character who was loosely based on Tarter.
Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker Producer: Susan Moran Engineer: Joel Parker Executive Producer: Alejandro Soto
This special edition of How on Earth is produced in conjunction with the Conference on World Affairs. Our guests are two of the participants of the Conference: astrobiologist Dr. David Grinspoon and physicist Dr. Sidney Perkowitz. In keeping with the traditional format of the conference panels, our guests will start by talking about their interpretation of the topic “Across the Universe – You Can’t Get There From Here”, and we’ll go from there and see where in the universe we end up.
Interview with LIGO Scientist Dr. Matt Evans (6:22): The recent big news in physics was the announcement of the first direct detection of gravitational waves. The detection was made by the LIGO project, which stands for “Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory”. Reports have said that this is a confirmation of general relativity and a new way to view the universe. To help us understand that, and why this is such a significant achievement, we have on the phone Dr. Matthew Evans, an Assistant Professor of Physics at MIT. Dr. Evans is a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and the chair of the Advanced Interferometer Configurations working group. His research focus is on gravitational wave detector instrumentation, and the fundamental sensitivity of gravitational wave detectors.
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
Astronomy Through the Ages (starts at 4:10): If I ask you to close your eyes and imagine an astronomer, what do you see? Maybe you think of a lone figure hunched all night over the eyepiece of a telescope in a big, domed observatory. Maybe you think of Jodie Foster, as Ellie Arroway in the movie Contact, wearing headphones to listen in on cosmic radio waves at Arecibo.
My mind always wanders back to a woodcut of Tycho Brahe’s 16th-century observatory, filled with intricate equipment for making naked-eye observations of the night sky.
But do any of these ingenious images actually resemble the life of an astronomer today? And how are new technologies and “big data” changing the way we study stars today and in years to come?
To discuss those questions, we’re joined in our Boulder studio by Dr. John Bally, a professor of astronomy at the University of Colorado, and Dr. Seth Hornstein, director of the Sommers-Bausch Observatory on the CU campus.
Hosts: Shelley Schlender, Ted Burnham Producer: Ted Burnham Engineer: Shelley Schlender Additional Contributions: Jane Palmer Executive Producer: Joel Parker
Massive stars (start time 6:45) Dr. Emily Levesque is an astronomer who studies big stars, distant stars, exploding stars, and truly weird stars called Thorne–Żytkow objects. All of these topics relate to massive stars – stars that are more than eight time more massive than our Sun. Dr. Levesque is a postdoctoral Hubble fellowship and Einstein fellowship researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She received a physics degree from MIT, and a PhD in astronomy from the University of Hawaii, which resulted in the Astronomical Society of the Pacific awarding her the Robert J. Trumpler award for outstanding PhD thesis, and this year she was awarded the Annie Jump Cannon award by the American Astronomical Society for her work studying gamma-ray bursts. Dr. Levesque, is here in the studio with us today to talk about her favorite weird astrophysical phenomena and the life of an observational astronomer.
The concept of a parallel universe, a universe remarkably like our own but with some subtle difference, has been the staple of science fiction stories for years. But it is an idea that is seriously discussed in real science starting many decades ago when physicists wrestled with the weird implications of Quantum Mechanics, and recently has appeared in many other guises in other areas of physics. One of the leading scientists in studying these ideas and explaining the mind-bending concepts to non-experts is Professor Brian Greene. Dr. Greene is professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University and co-founder and director of the Institute for Strings, Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. He has written the books The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, both of which were adapted into mini-series on NOVA, and his most recent book is The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. We talk with him about the different concepts in modern day physics that point to the possibilities of parallel universes, what they may be like, and what observations and measurements may be able to prove or disprove their existence. (you can hear the extended interview with Dr. Greene)
Hosts: Joel Parker, Jim Pullen Producer: Joel Parker Engineer: Jim Pullen Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender