The Star Spot

Feature Guest: Jim Bell

Does our solar system really have 35 or even 40 planets? Is Mars merely the moon with an atmosphere or is it actually an ancient Earth? From the red planet to the jovian moons and then out to Pluto, destination for the New Horizons space mission, today we're joined at The Star Spot by Jim Bell for a brief tour of our own special home, the solar system.

Jim Bell and Justin Trottier discuss early discoveries from the Curiosity rover showing evidence of clays that could only be formed in fresh water. And Professor Bell responds to Mars One, an audacious plan to send - and document via reality TV - a group of humans on a one way trip to Mars.

Current in Space

Following up on today's theme of our very own solar system, Anuj presents new discoveries on our beloved sun and Denise shares our growing understanding of the water and ice word of Europa.

About Jim Bell

Jim Bell is an astronomer and planetary scientist at the school of earth and space exploration at arizona state university. His studies focus on many of the bodies of the solar system, including the planets, especially Mars, as well as asteroids, comets, and a variety of moons such as tantalizing Europa. He’s worked on several NASA space exploration missions, including the Mars Science Laboratory, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous. He is President of the planetary society.

Direct download: TheStarSpotEp43-JimBell.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Feature Guest: Christine Wilson

No neighborhood avoids change, and that certainly includes the neighborhood around stars. As the stars that populate galaxies form and develop through their life cycle, how exactly do they change the interstellar medium and drive galaxy evolution? and what larger processes are at play governing the interaction between stars and the galaxies they call home? To help us answer these questions today I’m joined at the star spot by Professor Christine Wilson


Current in Space


On today's Current in Space, Benjamin offers new discoveries helping to date the age of the Marsian surafce. Then Dave tells us how the Milky Way's supermassive black hole Sagitarrius A Stars has some life in it yet.

About Christine Wilson
 

Christine Wilson is professor of radio astronomy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. She has worked with the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, the Submillimeter Array and the Herschel Space Observatory. She is currently on research leave as Canadian project scientist at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA,  a large international collaboration involving europe, north america and japan. Her work studies star formation through observational work with large galactic surveys.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep42-ChristineWilson.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Feature Guest: Paul Higgs


What is the answer to “Life, the universe and everything”,  Douglas Adams’ great question about the meaning of it all? (Assuming it’s not 42.) We may never have an answer to possibly undefinable questions, but thanks to science, we’re actually getting a little closer to understanding a big part of one our universe’s mysteries: life. Today we're joined at the star spot by Professor Paul Higgs, origin of life researcher.


Paul Higgs and Justin Trottier enjoy a wide ranging discussion, including a focus on recent progress in astrobiological research, the RNA world model and its rival hypotheses to account for life's origins, and the interaction between the SETI search, planetary exploration in our solar system, and studies in our laboratories right here on Earth.


Current in Space


On episode 38 SETI researcher Jill Tarter joined us at The Star Spot. In answer to a question about the likelihood of finding life in the cosmos, she cited two critical discoveries: the growing zoo of extremophiles here on earth and the growing zoo of exoplanets across our galaxy. Anuj and Dave have excited news to share on both those fronts, to copmliment this episode’s feature interview on life’s origins. And Benjamin shares new technological developments toward space-based power generation!


About Paul Higgs
 

Paul Higgs is professor of biophysics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He holds a joint appointment in the departments of Physics and Biochemistry. Higgs participates in McMaster’s new Astrobiology graduate level research program as well as the Origins Institute, both of which are looking at the question of life’s origins. He is coauthor of the textbook Bioinformatics and molecular evolution, and co-editor of Planetary System and the origin of life.


Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep41-PaulHiggs.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

Feature Guest: Matt Dobbs

Dark energy is described as one of the most mysterious phenomenon in our already generally baffling universe. To help us shed some light in the darkness, Matt Dobbs joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot. His observations of galaxy clusters at the south pole telescope are at the leading edge of our exploration into the unknown.

Current in Space

Benjamin reminds us that astronomers get as close as likely possible to working as time travellers - or at least time voyeurs - and recently discovered the furthest - and hence oldest - galaxy in the universe. Then, as if competing for best entries in the Book of Guinness World Records, Anuj and Victoria tell us about the Boomerang Nebula, a place in our galaxy so cold it makes Toronto winters - and even the afterglow of the Big Bang - seem balmy by comparison. And Dave rounds out our news with the announcement of a major milestone in our search for candidate extrasolar planets in our hunt for Earth's twin. 

About Matt Dobbs

Matt Dobbs is an Associate Professor of Physics and associate member of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at McGill University in Montreal. He is a Canada Research Chair and is a Senior Fellow in the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Cosmology and Gravity program. He was a recipient of an Owen Chamberlain Fellowship at the Lawrence Berkely Laboratory in 2002 and a Sloan Fellowship in 2009. His work explores the intersection between particle physics and cosmology. His research has brought him to some exotic locations, but none more remote than his observations with the South Pole telescope.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep39-MattDobbs.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

Feature Guest: Peter Visscher

The return of humans to the moon is well over a decade away. But one key step, the development of unmanned lunar rovers that could be scaled up for human exploration, is well underway. Today on the star spot i’m joined by Peter Visccher, an engineer working to design just this future.

Ontario Drive and Gear Ltd, popularly known as Argo after their trademark all-terrain amphibious vehicles, was founded in 1962. The company’s vehicles are well known in recreational, industrial and search and rescue functions. More recently under contract to the Canadian Space Agency and in coordination with NASA, they’re moving into lunar rover design. To bring us up to speed on the return to the moon agenda and where lunar rovers fit into the plans, I’m joined here at the Star Spot by Peter Visscher, profession engineer and program manager of space and robotics at Ontario Drive and Gear.

Current in Space

In today’s Current in Space, Benjamin waxes poetic with an ode to death... of the largest known star in our universe. Then Anuj picks up the narrative by sharing what astronomers are now able to learn from the ashes of long gone planets circling deceased stars.

About Peter Visscher

Peter Visscher graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering Science from western University in Mechanical Engineering, and became achieved his professor engineer status in 2011. He was the lead designer on the Artemis Jr. analogue rover and Juno Rover for the Canadian Space Agency. He is a specialist in vehicle and vehicle systems design and was awarded NASA's Group Achievement Award in 2010 and 2011. Since 2010 he has been Space/Robotics Program Manager with Special Projects and Space Exploration at Ontario Drive & Gear Ltd.

Direct download: Ep39-petervisscher.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:39pm EST

Feature Guest: Jill Tarter

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. No other space-related program so effectively stirs our emotions, symbolizes our sense of hope and optimism for the future, or provokes philosophical debates about the meaning of our life and our place in the universe. Today Justin Trottier talks with Dr. Jill Tarter, a key player and icon of SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The Star Spot was privileged to be invited to interview the real life inspiration behind the protagonist in the film Contact in front of a live audience at a special fall equinox event hosted by the educational charity the Centre for Inquiry.

Current in Space

In today’s Current in Space, Denise shows that weather isn’t a boring topic of conversation, provided you’re talking about cloud cover on an extrasolar planet. Then Anuj surprises us with new discoveries of early atmospheric oxygen that could push back the clock on important components in the the evolutionary tree. And finally Victoria talks of two-face pulsars, which can alternates between X-rays and radiowave emission in just a few weeks!

About Jill Tarter

Jill Tarter is the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI. She led Project Phoenix which studied about 750 nearby star systems. She is currently heading the SETI Institute's ongoing effort to build the Allen Telescope Array, which will eventually incorporate 350 antennas. Jill Tarter graduated with degrees from Cornell and the University of California at Berkeley and she's won many awards, including two public service medals from NASA and a fellowship of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She was named one of the 100 Most influential People of the World of the Year by Time Magazine in 2004 and she won the Wonderfest Carl Sagan prize for science popularization in 2005.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep38-JillTarter.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

Feature Guest: Wayne Ellis

The weekend of November 14 to 16 in Ottawa the Canadian Space Society will be hosting their annual space summit, with keynote speakers including the President of the Canadian Space Agency, the associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate at NASA, and leading members of the aerospace industry, the Ministry of Defense, and the world of space journalism. The earlybird pricing for the summit ends september 30 so visit www.css.ca as soon as possible for information.

The theme of the summit this year is Canada’s space economy. Wayne Ellis, President of the Canadian Space Society, joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to argue that when we think of the space economy of any nation, we should be thinking well beyond just the business of space. Making the general argument for why we should support space exploration is the primary mandate of the world’s many non-profit space advocacy organizations. Wayne explains what drives space exploration enthusiasts and how organized advocacy groups fit into a national and even international space program.

Current in Space

In today’s Current in Space, Victoria reports on how one private space company is aiming to get people into space by reducing costs through spacesuits constructed from items purchased at local hardware stores. And from sources of destruction to the seeds of life, Benjamin tells us why comets are now seen as the potential origin of life’s building blocks.

About Wayne Ellis

Wayne Ellis is chief consultant for aerospace and defence analysis at AppSpace Solutions Inc. and served as space instructor at the canadian forces school of aerospace studies. Wayne specializes in canadian space and defense activities and currently serves as President of the Canadian Space Society.

Direct download: Ep37-WayneEllis.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

Feature Guest: Martin Laforest
 

Martin Laforest joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to discuss the fascinating, complex and bizarre world of the quantum. After describing the Institute for Quantum Computing and the uniqueness of its home, the University of Waterloo and the technological industrial hub of Waterloo, Ontario, the two explore quantum information, cryptography, and the often counter-intuitive theoretical underpinnings of these technological breakthroughs.
 

Justin then goes through his list of fanciful “science meets science fiction” topics, ranging from quantum teleportation and replication to what possible effect it would have on SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) if aliens have moved on to using quantum encoded signals in their communication.
 

Finally Laforest comments on how we can harness a topic like quantum computing - which has excited public interest but is inherently complicated - to drum up interest in science.
 

Current in Space
 

As a special treat, given that we missed our last regularly scheduled episode, we’ve included an expanded Current in Space segment featuring:

* Jessica sharing new evidence that shows we might all be martians after all
* Benjamin describing new studies which are making us rethink our conception of a bone dry moon
* Denise expaining how iron could get into necklace beads thousands of years before the iron age (hint: it came from outer space!)
* Justin discussing how our supermassive central black hole offers the galaxy's least hospitable neighborhood for a recently discovered pulsar
* Julia telling us how crowfounding can get a space start-up off the ground (literally when you’re talking about a $1.5 million kickstarter-funded public space telescope project!)

About Martin Laforest
 

Martin Laforest is Senior Manager for Scientific Outreach at the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, where he networks with government, industry and academia on behalf of the university and its quantum computing programs. He leads the Undergraduate School on Experimental Quantum Information Processing and the Quantum Cryptography School for Young Students. A mathematics and physics graduate from McGill university, Laforest is a passionate proponent of science communication and recently presented at TEDx Waterloo 2013

Direct download: Ep36-MartinLaforest.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

“When beggars die there are no comets seen. The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”

- William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 2

Feature Guest: David Levy

As we are quickly learning, our solar system is anything but quiet. Today we celebrate the very dynamic and violent place that is our home and immediate neighborhood. In Current in Space we covers the stormy space weather that will greet us shortly when the sun’s magnetic field flips.  Then we ask if supposedly dead comets can be resurrected to continue their adventurous and on rare occasions, disastrous, lives.

Finally David Levy joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot .The giant of comet hunting, who discovered 22 comets, including Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 which collided with Jupiter in 1994, explains why comets are part of our culture. Following a far ranging interview sprinkled with quotes from Shakespeare, comparisons to cats, and the famous Shoemaker-Levy 9 discovery story, Levy concludes with musings on the grim decline in amateur comet hunting but a hopeful future of comet discovery around extrasolar planets.

About David Levy

Despite the lack of formal training in astronomy or space sciences, David Levy would go on to become a comet hunting legend, discovering or co-discovering 22 comets and publishing 34 books, most on astronomical subjects. He is best known as the co-discover of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 which crashed into Jupiter in 1994.

A literature student, he received a PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2010 for his thesis “The sky in early modern english literature.” As I learned during our conversation he enjoys combining his love of comets with his passion for literature, especially Shakespeare, whom he is likely to quote when discussing the importance of comets to our culture.

In 1998 Levy also won a News and Documentary Emmy Award for the script of 3 minutes to impact, a documentary produced for the discovery channel.

Direct download: Ep35-DavidLevy.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Feature Guest: Anne-Marie Weijmans

Dark matter and galaxies turn out to live together as intimate partners. What role did dark matter play in the formation, characteristics and subsequent evolution of galaxies in our universe? And what do our studies of galaxies in turn teach us about the nature of dark matter haloes? To help answer those questions, Dr. Anne-Marie Weijmans joins Justin Trottier at the Star Spot.

The two touch on tantalizing and little known discoveries. Evidence of ancient dwarf galaxy mergers from the movement of stars in our galaxy. Dark matter in our own solar system. And the previously empty space between galaxies turns out to harbor dark matter haloes extending between galactic islands.

Current in Space

Victoria Duncan shares new data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter focused on the Mars northern lowlands showing evidence of fossilized water channels and even an ancient river delta. Jessica Campbell on what we’re learning about how dark holes accrete mass and grow by studying gas around the Milky Way’s own supermassive black hole. And Denise Fong asks, Where are all the waves on Saturn’s larget moon, Titan?

About Anne-Marie Weijmans

Dr. Anne-Marie Weijmans is Fellow at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. This summer 2013 she is working as lecturer at the school of physics and astronomy at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Her specialty is in galactic dark matter haloes. She is part of a project to use Sloan Digital Sky Survey data to look deep within galaxies, to map velocities of stars and gas within 10,000 nearby galaxies, as part of these studies. Dr. Weijmans is also keenly interested in education and public outreach. She set up the first Dutch Astronomy Olympiad for high school students, helps run workshops to improve science communication skills, and gives frequent public talks on those topics for which she is passionate: galaxies and dark matter.

Direct download: Ep34-AnneMarieWeijmans.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Feature Guest: James Robert Brown

We talk a lot at The Star Spot about space, but what, exactly, is space, or time for that matter, and how is it we can know anything at all about our universe and its laws. Some have pronounced the death of philosophy at the hands of science. But are rumours of the discipline's death greatly exaggerated? Philosopher of science James Robert Brown joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to discuss the history and philosophy of astronomy.

After introducing the work of philosophy of science, Brown describes the pervasive nature of arguments over the basic nature of space and time, defends Platonism, speaks to the odd power of thought experiments, and provides an update from the frontlines in the Science Wars. Brown also assures us why we should not worry over new attempts to rehabilitate the reality of time. The passage of time is still an illusion after all!

Current in Space

Denise Fong and Jessica Campbell discuss new insight into space wind and why it should matter to you, plus what we're learning from the leftovers of supernovae 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

About James Robert Brown

James Robert Brown is philosopher of science and mathematics in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. He is the author of many excellent books including The Laboratory of the Mind: Thought experiments in the natural sciences, Smoke and mirrors: how science reflects reality, and Who Rules in Science: An opinionated guide to the wars. His diverse interests include scientific realism, platonism, foundations of physics and the relationship between science and politics, religion and commercialization.

Direct download: Ep33-JamesRobertBrown.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Feature Guest: Christopher McKee

Astronomy and science popularizaer Carl Sagan famously declared “We are all starstuff.” He was referring to the discovery that much of the heavier elements in our body formed in the supernovas of dying stars. But after supernovas eject material out into the galaxy, how does that gas - and the rest of the interstellar medium - form into new stars, planets and ultimately us? To help answer that question Christopher McKee joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot.
 

The two discuss McKee's contribution to our understanding of the interstellar medium, how the discovery of dark matter effected his model, and what role his work in two very different areas of astrophysics - quasars and the space between the stars - played in advancing his career.


Current in Space


Chinese astronauts blast off on a new mission to their space lab in what will be the longest duration Chinese mission to date. And could crowdfunding be the new mechanism by which we build  space telescope to detect alien worlds?


About Christopher McKee
 

Astrophysicist Christopher McKee is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California Berkeley, where he co-founded the Theoretical Astrophysics Center. He has had appointments at Caltech, Harvard and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. McKee is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is an authority on the interstellar medium, the environment of sparse gas that exists between the stars of our galaxy.


Direct download: Episode32-ChristopherMcKee.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Feature Guest: Laila Zichmanis

The Google Lunar X Prize. The NASA Space Apps Challenge. And Chris Hadfield nearing 1 million twitter followers. As the face of space exploration changes, government space agencies, commercial and non-profit organizations, and even the occasional astronaut are all seeking to market to the public both themselves and the space industry they represent. Today I’m joined at the star spot by Laila Zichmanis, branding authority now mixing her marketing credentials with a lifelong passion for astronomy and space. 

Current in Space

After four years peering into the depths of the universe, the European Space Agency’s Herschel space observatory mission came to an end. And "What's Up in Space?": The Star Spot on location covers this annual astronomy event for Astronuts.

About Laila Zichmanis

Laila Zichmanis is the CEO of Lumena, a marketing consulting company with a focus on brand launch and invigoration. She is a 20 year veteran in brand management, which she describes as the science of marketing, something we’ll get into. A graduate from the York University Schulich School of Business, Zichmanis was Senior Vice President of Marketing at Shoppers Drug Mart, President of the Petroleum Divisions at Canadian Tire Corporation, and Brand Manager at Procter and Gamble.

Recently Zichmanis has turned her focus to her lifelong passion for astronomy and space exploration, acting as a consultant to a variety of bodies focusing on both public education and commercial support for entrepreneurs.

Direct download: TheStarSpotEp31-LailaZichmanis.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

On the weekend of April 20, 2013, 9000 people from over 80 countries responded to NASA’s call to hack their way towards unique and innovative solutions to special space challenges. A huge array of projects were available, from designing a deployable greenhouse for Mars to building an app to help visualize the topography of the dark side of the moon, to more arts related projects like designing jewellery celebrating the unique properties of 55 Cancri E, a carbon-rich Super Earth planet.


 

To assist NASA provided scientists and other experts as consultants through live international hookups. The goal? To open up both space exploration and social need while empowering citizens around the world. The event was the international space apps challenge.

Special Guests


On today’s episode of The Star Spot we chat with Jonathan Moneta, an organizer with the Toronto contingent. Then, we speak with William Sellier, a member of the team Green Mars. Green Mars, which answered the challenge of designing the concept for a deployable greenhouse for a future mission to Mars, won one of the two Best in Hardware awards. Finally, we hear from 4 members of the Team known as Museum of Intergalactic Species (Jane Saputra, Charlotte Tang, Kris Nicolaoum, and Mario Dabrowski). Their challenge was to adopt a space-craft, that is to humanize the voyager mission by telling the story of the first human object to leave the solar system in an innovative and interactive way that connected it to people’s lives.


Current in Space


Jessica Campbell and Dennis Silin provide a retrospective look at the remarkable expedition of Chris Hadfield, recently returned to Earth from the ISS. Plus, just how did the moon lose its mojo?


Direct download: Ep30-InternationalSpaceAppsChallenge.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Feature Guest: Seth Shostak

With ever more groundbreaking data coming in from exploratory missions in our own solar system to the burgeoning array of extrasolar planets being discovered on a regular basis, are we getting closer to answering the age old question: Are we alone in the universe? Dr. Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer with the SETI Institute joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to explore the history, current status and future directions in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

The two discuss the impact that changes in technology are playing in the nature of the search, how we might overcome the language barrier of communication, and the the potential impact on our civilization of the discovery of a signal. In a broad conversation ranging from musings on the synchronicity problem to whether a response might come from AI rather than carbon-based lifeforms, the SETI enterprise is explored from its many angles: part science, part philosophy, part psychology (both human and alien). SETI might even be, as Dr. Shostak explains, good for the soul.

Current in Space

Iron Man meets space exploration. In Current in Space, Julia and Justin report on the development of advanced robotics and the role they could play in helping astronauts exercise, travel and one day perform complex tasks on other worlds.

About Seth Shostak

Dr. Seth Shostak is an expert in radio astronomy, which he puts to good use as Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute: the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Dr. Shostak hosts the SETI institute radio program Big Picture Science as well as the monthly podcast Skeptic Check that focuses on debunking pseudoscience. He won the 2004 Klumpke-Roberts Award from the Astronomical Socierty of the Pacific for his work in the public understanding of astronomy and in 2010 was elected a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry at the Center for Inquiry. He is the author of several books, including Confession of an Alien Hunter, and  Life in the Universe, co-authored with Jeffrey Benett and Bruce Jakosky

Direct download: Ep29-SethShostak3.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

A quick episode to break up our usual interview-focused show. At The Star Spot today in Current in Space, can we boldly go where no one has gone before, and do so at the speed of light via space-time distortions? Harold White, a scientist at the Johnson Space Center at NASA, thinks the science says such a prospect is a possibility. And what do 1960s cocktails, lego and live music have in common? We give a brief report on Yuri's Night 2013.

Direct download: Ep28-short.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Chris Matzner joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot for a wide ranging conversation focused on the dynamical periods of a star’s life. He shares insights into the fascinating activities occurring in stellar nurseries, based on a major discovery by his research group of a region of our galaxy, dubbed Dragonfish, that hosts the most numerous cluster of young, supermassive stars yet found in the Milky Way. Then jumping ahead Matzner discusses gamma ray bursts, a mysterious phenomena tied to the death of some high mass stars, finally weighing in on an age old question: which should our species fear more - supernovae or gamma ray burst.

Current in Space

In Current in Space, Mallory Warren and Jessica Campbell report good news and bad news from Mars. Plus, could the private sector compete with government in the provision of earth observation satellites?

About Chris Matzner

Chris Matzner is Assistant Professor of Astronomy at the University of Toronto, and Canada Research Chair in Stellar and Interstellar Astrophysics. He received his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley based on research into the birth and death of stars. He is a recipient of a National Science Foundation Fellowship, a Ford Foundation Fellowship, and the National Merit Scholarship, among other distinctions. Matzner is a member of the Canadian Astronomical Society and the American Physical Society.

Direct download: Episode_27_-_Chris_Matzner.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Pseudoscientific belief in mysterious non-observable planets in the far off solar system span the gamut from small Earth-size objects to brown dwarf failed stars, the source for such nearly mystical beliefs range from Sumerian tablets to the  Biblical Book of Revelation. On today's episode, Dr. Stuart Robbins, host of the Exposing Pseudoastronomy podcast, joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot, to discuss the varieties of Planet X. The two also discuss how Dr. Robbins first became interested in responding critically to misinformation, what motivates his continued passion, and what lessons we can learn from true believers who promote pseudoscience over genuine discovery.

About Stuart Robbins

Dr. Stuart Robbins in a postdoc at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the first recipient of the Baruch Blumberg Citizen Science postdoctoral fellowship through the NASA Lunar Science Institute. He is the Science co-Lead on the citizen science project "Moon Mappers" and maintains active involvement tin education and public outreach in astronomy. In particular, he leads a project called Exposing Pseudoastronomy, a blog and podcast of the same name that responds to bad science in the fields of astronomy, physics and geology, taking on topics such as UFO's, young earth creationism, astrology, galactic alignment paranoia and russian meteor conspiracies.

Current in Space

Mallory Warren joins Justin Trottier to ruminate on the puzzling dearth of dwarf galaxies in our neighborhood, and what the discovery of the Higgs Boson might mean for the future of existence.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep26-StuartRobbins.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

On this special first year anniversary edition of The Star Spot, NASA's preeminent astrobiologist Dr. Chris McKay talks all things Mars: the possibility of past life, the hunt for current spots of habitability by the Curiosity rover, and the prospects for a human future on the Red Planet. In conversation with Justin Trottier the two discuss the ethics of terraforming and why Mars deserves a future rich with the biodiversity of life. 

Plus a behind the scenes look at The Star Spot, highlights of our first year, and a conversation with a familiar voice.

About Dr. Chris McKay

Dr. Chris McKay is a planetary scientist, with a PhD in Astrogeophysics from the University of Colorado.  As a NASA Research Scientist with the NASA Ames Research Centre since 1982, he studies planetary atmospheres, the evolution of the solar system, the origin of life, astrobiology and terraforming. He’s been co-investigator for the Huygens probe to Saturday’s Moon Titan, the Mars Phoenix lander and the Mars Science Laboratory whose Curiosity rover is now on the red planet.

Dr. McKay conducts research on extremophiles in Mars-like environments on Earth, including in the ice-covered lakes of antarctica, Siberia, Death Valley, the Canadian Arctic. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Planetary Society.

Current in Space

Confirmation of Marsian past habitability is one of two space-related headline news stories of the last few weeks. The other is the discovery by astronomer Mike Brown and colleague Kevin Hand that Europa's vast liquid water ocean deep below its icy crust might not be isolated from the surface after all. Mallory Warren and Julia Mazurchuk discuss this new discovery and its implications. 

Direct download: Ep25-ChrisMcKay.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:01pm EST

Sara Seager, a world authority on the study of atmospheres of extrasolar planets joins Justin Trottier to share how cutting edge research is pushing the frontier not just in discovering planets beyond our solar system, but in starting to actually characterize their attributes like atmosphere and composition.

The two discuss the startlingly diverse zoo of objects out in our galaxy, Dr. Seager's excitement being part of the team that detected evidence of the first extrasolar planet atmosphere, and most tantalizingly, how we are now on the cusp of being able to identify biosignatures of life as we home in on other Earths out there in space. Dr. Seager also provides some insider information on the pseudoscientific History Channel program Ancient Aliens, on which she's appeared on several occasions.

On January 25th of this year, the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society based out of the University of Toronto hosted its 10th annual Expanding Canada’s Frontiers symposium, a series that has become a fixture in the city for celebrating achievements in astronomy and space sciences and engineering. This 10th event in the series was a real landmark, focused on the search for life beyond Earth. The Star Spot caught up with Dr. Seager following her presentation on campus, and on an upcoming episode of The Star Spot we will be joined by NASA's eminent astrobiologist, Dr. Chris McKay, another of the symposium's keynote speakers.

About Dr. Sara Seager

Dr. Sara Seager is currently professor of astronomy at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology and a world authority on the study of atmospheres on extrasolar planets, the subject of her Harvard University PhD. She's the recipient of the Helen B. Warner Prize from the American Astronomical Society, Harvard’s Bart J. Bok Prize in Astronomy, and named to Popular Science’s Fifth annual brilliant 10. Even more cool, NASA’s planetquest has described Dr. Seager as “an astronomical indiana jones.”


Current in Space

On Current in Space, we comment on the excitement and destruction generated by the recent meteor that shot across the Russian skies and crashed into Chebarkul Lake, followed by a quick update on the ongoing adventures of the Mars Curiosity rover.

Direct download: Ep24-SarahSeager.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Keith Vanderlinde joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to share his Antarctica experience, studying the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation from the South Pole Telescope. He explains the ambiance, challenges and thrills of working in cold and darkness for nearly a year. The two then discuss how the origin and evolution of large scale structure in the universe can be read from imprints left on the first light released into space, and what we can learn about dark matter and dark energy from characterizing the universe’s earliest galaxy clusters.

Keith Vanderlinde is Global Scholar with the Canadian Institue for Advanced research and Assistant Professor in the University of Toronto's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics. Vanderlinde previously worked as a Research Assistant at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics in Chicago. He participated in crafting a number of science exhibits at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium and Museum of Science and Industry. More recently he was stationed for nearly a year in Antarctica working with the South Pole Telescope to study data from the universe's youngest days taken at one of the coldest locations on earth.

In Current in Space, we look at some notorious recent international examples of space adventures - or sometimes misandventures. 

Direct download: Ep23-KeithVanderlinde.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Professor Sabine Stanley joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to discuss everything to do with magnetic fields: how they're created, where they can be found, and what they tell us about the composition and behaviour of planets. Why does Mercury have a magnetic field when we originally predicted it shouldn't? Why does Saturn's magnetic field line up so perfectly with its geographic poles? What makes the magnetic field of Mars so different in its northern and southern hemispheres?

The two then focus on Earth's magnetic field which is known to flip north and south poles throughout its history. Why do flips happen? Why do they occur at seemingly irregular intervals? Are they dangerous to life? Dr. Stanley shares her excitement for how using mangetic fields as another tool in searching for habitable exoplanets. Finally the two discuss upcoming missions to study the magnetic fields of objects in our solar system, such as the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) which will use mgnetic field information to tell us more about the oceans under Europa's ice sheets.

Sabine Stanley is Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Toronto, having received a PhD in geophysics from Harvard University. She has been awarded a Canada Research Chair in Planetary Physics, a Sloan Research Fellowship, and the Early Researcher Award from the Ministry of Research and Innovation of the Province of Ontario. 

Direct download: Episode22-SabineStanley.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Dr. Stuart Clark joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to share his unique work dramatizing the great stories of science. Clark combines his background in astrophysical research with his career in science journalism and writing to author a trilogy of novels that focus on the lives of the great minds of astronomy, from the Trials of Galileo to the personality conflicts between Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke, to the discovery of the Big Bang by Einstein, Lemaitre and others. Clark also discusses his blog for The Guardian called Across the Universe, and shares his insights into teaching critical thinking and how to use the history of discovery to deepen the public appreciation and understanding of science. Dr. Stuart Clark.

Stuart Clark, PhD in astrophysics, is fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, former Director of Public Astronomy Education at the University of Hertfordshire and a writer for New Scientist, The Guardian and BBC Science programmes. He is the author of over a dozen books, including a trilogy of novels that dramatize pivotal periods in the development of our understanding of the universe, incorporating as characters in the plot the scientists at the centre of discovery. These books include The Sky’s Dark Labrynth about Galileo and Kepler, The Sensorium of God focused on Isaac Newton and his contemporaries, and the forthcoming The Day Without Yesterday on Albert Einstead and George Lemaitre.

Direct download: Ep21-StuartClark-Complete.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

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