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
Colorado Drought Conference (start time 4:35): Experts are meeting at a conference in Denver this week to discuss the implications of prolonged drought conditions here in Colorado. How On Earth’ Susan Moran speaks with biologist Dr. Chad McNutt of the NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information Center about wthe drought means for the ecosystem, and for Western cities — and how we can start to address the problem.
A More Perfect Heaven (start time 11:50): Joel Parker speaks with Dava Sobel, a science journalist and author who tells the stories of the science and the scientists from the past and how they connect to the present. Those stories reveal that the course of scientific progress is far from orderly — it often takes unplanned twists, has failures that require going back and starting over, and can be driven by the quirks of the personalities of individual scientists.
Today we hear about Sobel’s most recent book, A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos. This book also contains the play And The Sun Stood Still, which will be presented in a free staged reading by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company this Thursday, September 20th at 6:30 at the Dairy Center for the Arts.
Hosts: Ted Burnham, Joel Parker
Producer: Ted Burnham Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Dr. Paul Lightsey and JWST (start time: 5:55). Paul Lightsey, mission system engineer for the James Webb Space Telescope, joins us to share his intimate knowledge of the telescope’s optical element. JWST is the replacement for the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. The telescope will stare back so far in time and space that it will be able to see the first stars and galaxies in the universe being formed.
Hosts: Jim Pullen and Beth Bartel Producer: Jim Pullen Engineer: Jim Pullen Executive Producer: Joel Parker
Listen to the show:
In today’s How On Earth we have two features: Distributed Energy (start time 5:46): Enjoying the twinkling stars without nighttime light pollution is a luxury for many of us. We can flick on the switch when we return home, after all. But think what would it be like if you were among the 1.5 billion people around the world who lack to centralized electricity. Having no lights at night keeps many of them poor and illiterate, and it can create a public health and national security crisis. How On Earth co-host Susan Moran interviews two experts in the field of distributed and decentralized energy. Rachel Kleinfeld is co-author (along with Drew Sloan) of a new book called “Let There Be Light: Electrifying the Developing World with Markets and Distributed Energy.” She is CEO of the Truman National Security Project. Stephen Katsaros is founder of Nokero, a Denver-based startup company that makes solar LED light bulbs.
Pluto’s Occultation (start time 16:31): It is a good time these days for watching solar system. Last week there was a solar eclipse, next week is a lunar eclipse and a transit of Venus (where Venus can be seen moving across the disk of the Sun). Next week there is yet another solar system event of one object moving in front of another, though it’s not visible without the aid of a telescope. On June 4th Pluto will pass in front of a relatively bright star, an “occultation” event that will send teams of astronomers scrambling around the world to observe. One team member is How on Earth’s own Joel Parker, an astrophysicist with the Boulder office of the Southwest Research Institute. He’ll be deployed to an observatory in New Zealand to observe the occultation. Joel talks with How On Earth co-host Tom McKinnon on the eve of his adventure about the occultation and why scientists are interested in observing it. (Here’s an article and video about last year’s occulting Pluto.
Hosts: Tom McKinnon, Susan Moran Engineer: Jim Pullen Producer: Susan Moran Executive Producer: Joel Parker
The Accelerating Expansion of The Universe (start at 5:11). Have you ever had the feeling that things are moving faster and faster these days? Well, maybe it’s not your imagination. Proof that the universe is not just expanding but is accelerating garnered a Nobel Prize last year. To help explain what’s going on, we talk to Dr. Adam Riess, a professor of physics and astronomy at the Johns Hopkins University and is a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. When he was a research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1996 to 1999, Dr. Riess and his colleagues conducted the research that was to win him a share of the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics. The citation for the prize stated it was: “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae.” In today’s show, Dr. Riess translates what that means and the implications about the ultimate fate of the universe.
Pine Bark Beetles (start at 19:22). The tree-killing pine bark beetles used to breed once a year. Warming annual temperatures now allow them to breed twice, resulting in 60 times more offspring. Hungry, tree-eating offspring. University of Colorado biologists Jeff Mitton and Scott Ferrenberg have just published their findings that the doubled-up breeding season explains why the recent pinebark beetle epidemic has killed so many trees. And it’s not over yet. How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender talks with the scientists about which trees are the most vulnerable to pinebark beetles. You also can hear the extended version of that interview.
Hosts: Joel Parker, Beth Bartel Producer: Joel Parker Engineer: Jim Pullen Headline Contributor: Susan Moran Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender
We celebrate 20 years of How on Earth, featuring the 1st ever KGNU science show, 20 years ago, including Bucky Balls, Electromagnetic Radiation and Cows, Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble, and along the way, we give updates on current science issues, including Tom McKinnon talking about applications for Bucky Balls (Fullerenes) today, a conversation with CU Electrical Engineer Frank Barnes, who is one of the world’s most sought-after experts on EMFs, Southwest Research Institute Astrophysicist Joel Parker gives an update on space telescopes, and CU Science Journalism professor Tom Yulsman talks about an issue NOT on the radar 20 years ago — global climate change. We also share information about tonight’s Denver Cafe Sci, with Brian Hynek, about “Mars: Are We Alone?” Special thanks to How on Earth original producers Sam Fuqua and Jeff Orrey for being here as part of the show.
Co-hosts: Joel Parker and Susan Moran Engineer: Shelley Schlender Producer: Shelley Schlender Executive producer: Shelley Schlender
One often hears people state “I’m not good at math” or that they don’t like math because it they don’t think it has any relevance to their day-to-day life (other than, maybe, to balance a checkbook). However, both of those myths are addressed head-on in a new book titled “Math for Life: Crucial Ideas You Didn’t Learn in School.” The author of that book is Dr. Jeffrey Bennett, an astrophysicist and educator. He has written several text books and books for the general public including the popular series of children’s books (“Max goes to the Moon” and other places around the solar system) and now another new children’s book called “The Wizard Who Saved the World.” We are happy to have Jeff back on our show in this episode to talk about the importance of math to how we make decisions in our personal lives, in our community, and in Congress…and about being a Wizard.
Hosts: Joel Parker, Breanna Draxler Headlines: Breanna Draxler, Beth Bartel Engineer: Joel Parker Producer: Joel Parker Executive Producer: Tom McKinnon