The Star Spot

Feature Guest: Brian Schmidt

The 1929 discovery of the expanding universe by Edwin Hubble forever changed our picture of the cosmos and our understanding of our place in the universe. In 1998 we learned that wasn’t the only surprise. That’s when two teams of astronomers announced that the expansion of our universe isn’t slowing down as everyone assumed. Its speeding up. Today we're joined at The Star Spot by Distinguished Professor Brian Schmidt who won the Nobel Prize for discovering our accelerating universe.

Current in Space

Anuj describes the Orion spaceflight, the first mission since Apollo eventually aimed at deep space. Then Tony wonders if the stuff of life could seed itself on other worlds following the disocvery that DNA returned from the exposure to the vacuum of space in good working order. And Dave extends the lifetime for Mars’ watery past after learning an ancient lake may have lasted tens of millions of years. Finally Celine explains how “cliff-bots” now being tested in the Moroccan desert may one day dig up deposits left over from such long extinct bodies of water.

About Our Guest 

Dr. Brian Schmidt is Distinguished Professor at the Australian National University Mount Stromlo Observatory and holder of an Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship. In 2011 Schmidt received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his co-discovery that the universe isn’t merely expanding, it’s actually accelerating in its expansion. Shmidt is Fellow of the Royal Society, a recipient of the Pawsey Model, the Dirac Medal and the Shaw Prize in Astronomy.


Direct download: TheStarSpot-Episode67-BrianSchmidt-TheAcceleratingUniverse.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Alison Sills


It’s a phenomenon so mysterious one astronomer wondered if it could be evidence of an advanced extraterrestrial intelligence. Meet blue straggers, the black sheeps of the stellar family. Today we're joined at The Star Spot by Professor Alison Sills to learn all about the stars that shouldn’t exist.

Current in Space

Dave mesmerizes us with the carnival funhouse like effect around black holes, where the warping of space and time is so intense you can see the front and back of blackholes simultaneously. Celine discusses an upcoming unmanned mission to drill the moon for lunar samples and establish the viability of a future human outpost. And while you may have heard of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, Tony wonders if the entire spot is red, why it's red and why so little else on the gas giant shares the iconic colour. Finally Yonna brings us news of Europe's first space plane set to launch shortly.


About Our Guest



Alison Sills is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. She received her PhD from Yale University and held postdoctoral positions at the Ohio State University and the University of Leicester in the UK. She studies weird stars in odd places, utilizing computation tools to model the evolution of stellar populations. Along with researchers from Canada, the US and Europe, she is an active member of the MODEST collaboration, which stands for MOdelling DEnse STellar Systems.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep66-Dark_Stragglers-Alison_Sills.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Gordon Sarty

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, has become a vital technique for diagnosing, treating and monitoring disease. The technology has saved countless lives. But can we ever get MRIs into space where they can help keep astronauts alive and well on the long duration missions of the future? To help us answer that question today we're joined at the star spot by Gordon Sarty

Current in Space

Anuj explains why some researchers now think dark matter may not be so much exotic as strange... as in strange quarks. Then Celine reports what's next from the Chinese lunar exploration program following the success of their first round-trip probe to the moon. And Tony brings a startling discovery from studies of primitive meteorites that suggest water was present on our planet much earlier than we thought.


About Our Guest


Gordon Sarty is Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. A renaissance man, Dr. Sarty is also associate member of the university’s departments of physics, medical imaging, and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences. He combines those interests as a member of a pioneering team working to design portable and eventually space-based MRI machines.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Episode65-BringingMRIsIntoSpace-GordonSarty.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Doug Welch

Imagine being able to go back centuries to study the great supernova of the past. Tycho’s nova of 1572 for example. Now we may be able to do the next best thing. Astronomers have discovered a phenomena known as light echoes which allow us to study long ago supernova events from our past and find supernova we never even knew occurred. To help us understand these mysterious light echoes, which can give the illusion of superluminal speeds, Doug Welch joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot.

Current in Space

The key mechanism for triggering solar flares - potentially harmful events for our civilization - may have been discovered, explains Anuj. Then Tony shares new developments in futuristic skintight shape remembering materials that could revolutionize spacesuits. In an unusual response to the building of a telescope, Celine tells how the Thirty Metre Telescope has been attracting controversy and even opposition. And Dave gives us an update on mysterious organic clouds discovered on Saturn's moon Titan, the only moon in solar system with an atmosphere.

About Our Guest

Doug Welch is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster University and formerly served as Chair of the department. He received his PhD from the University of Toronto, worked at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics’s Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria, BC. He has been awarded the McNeil Medal of the Royal Society of Canada for the promotion and communication of science and is currently Vice Chair of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Corporation. His research has led him from studies of dark matter to a current focus on supernova light echoes.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Episode64-DougWelch.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Jim Cline

Dark matter. Dark energy. String theory. At the frontiers of fundamental physics science seems confronted with mystery and progress is grinding to a halt. But can studying the early universe provide the answer? To help answer that question we're joined at The Star Spot by Jim Cline. We’ll dive into esoteric concepts like string cosmology and cosmic strings, lumps of massively energetic space time fault lines left theorized to be left over from the Big Bang. 

Current in Space

Denise shares an update on the voyage of comet Siding Spring, followed by a stargazer's report for the coming weeks. 

About Our Guest


Jim Cline is professor of theoretical and particle cosmology at McGill University. He works at the intersection of cosmology and fundamental physics, studying the cosmic microwave background radiation, dark matter, and particle physics coming out of the large hadron collider. He received his phd from Caltech and performed his postdoc at Ohio State University before joining the faculty at McGill University in Montreal in 1995.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Episode63_JimCline-fixed.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Gioia Massa

Imagine enjoying a romantic and nutritious picnic - on Mars! If such a dream is ever to be realized, we're going to have to learn how to grow plants in space and on other worlds. Today we're joined at The Star Spot by space biologist and NASA scientist Gioia Massa to discuss the building of a green oasis in space.

Current in Space

Today's news team on all the Red Planet developments:

MOM is on Mars. Dave explains how India became the first nation to successfully reach Mars on its initial attempt with MOM, a mission the budget of which is less than a hollywood Mars blockbuster.

After 2 years Curiosity has arrived at its primary destination: Mount Sharp. Celine gives us a retrospective on the rover's history and shares excitement over upcoming drilling operation in the mountain promised land.

Finally Anuj introduces us to the newest NASA member of the Mars exploration family: MAVEN, an orbiter designed to study how the Martian atmosphere evolved over hundreds of millions of years, seeking to determine whether liquid water was around long enough for life to evolve.

About Our Guest


Dr. Gioia Massa is NASA project scientist at the kennedy space centre. Massa studied plant and space biology at Penn State University and worked as a research scientist at Purdue University. Her expertise is in space life sciences, advanced life support and agriculture. She is supervising a project called VEGGIE, the most advanced vegetable garden, or salad bar, ever grown on the international space station.

Direct download: TheStarSpot_Ep62_GioiaMassa.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Jan Cami

Did you know that buckyballs, complex soccer-ball shaped molecules formed from 60 carbon atoms, were recently discovered deep in interstellar space. Atoms and molecules may be small, but they can tell us lot about the very large, from the temperature of stars to the evolution of galaxies to the startling locations where life might be found. For more on the chemistry of the universe, today I’m joined at the start spot by Jan Kami

Current in Space

Think interesting geological events only happen on Earth? Anuj shares groundbreaking new evidence of subduction occurring on Jupiter's icy moon Europa.

About Our Guest

Jan Kami is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Western Ontario. His research is in molecular spectroscopy, dust mineralogy and diffuse interstellar bands. Kami has worked as a research scientist with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI and is deeply involved in astronomy outreach

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_-_Episode_61_-_Jan_Cami.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Pauline Barmby

Just like the cities of our world, galaxies are the busy and over-crowded population centres where so much of the action takes place in our universe. The study of globular clusters and starburst galaxies are providing new insights into the how these cities of the cosmos were built. To share with us new discoveries from the Spitzer space telescope, including gossip about the weird behaviour of our next door metropolis, the Andromeda Galaxy, today I’m joined at the star spot by Pauline Barmby.

Current in Space

If the American can't get back to the moon Earth does have other options. Denise shares excitement over Chinese plans for a lunar sample return mission

About Our Guest

Pauline Barmby is an observational astrophysicist and associate professor in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Western Ontario. She worked at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Canada France hawaii telescope and is a member of the instrument team for IRAC, the InfraRed Array Camera on the Spitze Space Telescope. In her spare time Dr. Barmby gives public talks clarifying misconceptions about astronomy.  She is a science fiction enthusiast and enjoys listening to podcasts, perhaps including the star spot.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_60_Pauline_Barmby.mp3
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Feature Guest: Stanimir Metchev

Brown dwarfs: giant planets or failed stars? The debate rages on with comparable intensity to the surprisingly violent storms seen to roil these fascinating bodies. To help settle the debate, and for cutting edge discoveries of brown dwarfs and their startling behaviour, Stanimir Metchev joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot.

If a brown dwarf is neither a planet exactly nor a star exactly, what is it exactly? What keeps it from collapsing? And since they aren’t necessarily brown, what’s in the name? Metchev and Trottier then discuss the weird and surprising behaviour of brown dwarfs, the ubiquity of their massive storms and their role in helping us study the clouds of extrasolar planets,

Current in Space

Benjamin brings us a ray of sunshine, announcing a breakthrough in the level of efficiency of new transparent solar panels. And super storms are all the rage on today’s episode of The Star Spot as Denise shares discoveries of violent turbulence on the ice giant Uranus.

About our Guest

Stanimir Metchev is Canada Research Chair in Extrasolar Planets and Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Western Ontario. He studies the atmospheres of exoplanets and brown dwarfs, and the formation and evolution of planets. He is principal investigator of brown dwarf research with NASA’s spitzer space telescope.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Episode59-StanimirMetchev.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: David Pankenier

The scholar of Chinese science Joseph Needham wrote that "astronomy was a science of cardinal importance for the chinese since it arose naturally out of that cosmic religion, that sense of the unity and even ethical solidarity of the universe." To help me understand how the mandate of heaven and astrological portents led to the rise and fall of ancient dynasties, and ruled the life and death of the average Chinese, Professor David Pankenier joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot.

Current in Space

Benjamin shares the fascinating discovery of the largest gas tail ever found, a trail of gas spanning between galaxies and consisting of more matter than the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies combined!

About our Guest

David Pankenier is a Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Lehigh University. He has degrees in Chinese and Asian languages, as well as three years of private study in Chinese classics in Taiwan. His interests are in archaeology, astrology, cosmology and ideology, with an expertise in the role of the celestial in ancient China. He researches the connection between astromical phenoma and pivotal political and military events in ancient China. Pankenier has published two volumes of translations of many hundreds of ancient Chinese astronomical observations. He has written about ancient Chinese cosmology and released a new book in october 2013, Astrology and Cosmology in Early China: Conforming Earth to Heaven.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Episode58-DavidPankenier2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Paul Delaney

The next time you look up at the night sky, struck dizzy by the sheer number of stars shining down on you, here’s something to consider. On average each star host at least one planet. That’s the accumulated result of our exoplanet hunting efforts to date. To help us explore the implications of this profound discovery and to make sense of our zoo of exoplanets, from Super Earths to Hot Jupiters and everything in between, Professor Paul Delaney joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot.

We’ve focused much attention on exoplanet discoveries. Today we step back and provide some perspective. Professor Delaney takes us from the earliest planet hunting pioneers all the way to the latest technological developments that are pushing the distance of our planetary discoveries, reducing the size of the objects we are able to detect, and leading us on to the next frontier: exoplanet atmospheres.

Professor Delaney explains his surprise at the ubiquity of so-called “rogue planets” and shares his touching story of becoming an astronomer despite living with albinism. Though in his own words he does not have a good relationship with the sun, he has fostered a great one with the stars, and he works to share his infectious enthusiasm with the world.

Current in Space 

Dave shares the discovery of an exoplanet found near the all important “frost line,” the first time we’ve found a planet with a history potentially similar to that of Jupiter. Benjamin describes how the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope may search the atmosphere of exoplanets for signs of life - including long self-destructed life! Closer to home, Anuj tells of a new spacecraft being sent to sample an asteroid for organics. And Denise wonders if the next space race will be far more crowded than the last one.

About our Guest 


Paul Delaney is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at York University. He received his undergraduate degree from the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, and his graduate degree in astronomy from the University of Victoria in Canada. Professor Delaney oversees the York University campus observatory and its public outreach programs, and he appears regularly on York Universe, one of The Star Spot’s affiliated podcasts.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_-_Ep57_-_PaulDelaney.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Robin Kingsburgh 

Albert Einstein once said "After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well." To help us understand the dynamic between the arts and the science of astronomy, today Robin Kingsburgh joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot.

Current in Space 

Some like it hot. But what happens when it gets a little too hot? For those who like to work those tans, Benjamin warns you to beware. Scientists have discovered the highest UV index ever, though not near any beaches you'd probably be travelling to this summer.

Dave shares the mystery of the magic island, a structure that appeared and disappeared within a matter of days on the seas of Titan.

And Benjamin on the fascinating field of archaeoastronomy in which we learn about ancient civilizations down here on Earth by studying the sky the ancients would have seen up above.

About our Guest 

Robin Kingsburgh received her PhD in astronomy from her studies of stars and planetary nebulae. A renaissance woman, she now teaches in the faculty of arts and sciences at the Ontario College of Art and Design and in the division of natural sciences at york university. She combines her love of art and science by introducing astronomy subjects to artists and through her own work curating exhibits like Occam’s Razor: art, science and aesthethics, currently on public display.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Episode56-RobinKingsburgh.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Scott Menary

Are there anti-matter galaxies out there in space? Will we ever be able to make anti-atoms of heavy elements? How do you trap something that is detroyed immediately upon contact? And of course, will anti-matter become an energy source for space exploration propulsion systems a la Star Trek?

Professor Scott Menary joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to discuss his work studying the properties of anti-matter, the relationship between anti-matter and anti-gravity, and his attempts to answer one fundamental question: where did all the anti-matter go?

Current in Space

Benjamin brings us a whiff of space, helping us add the sense of smell to our repertoire of data on alien worlds.

About our Guest

Scott Menary is professor of physics at York university. He works on the ALPHA experiment at CERN to produce and trap antihydrogen atoms in order to study their properties. He has also worked at fermilab studying neutrino oscillation physics and charm quarks. He is also a recipient of the Polanyi Prize in honour of the 1986 nobel prize winner John Charles Polanyi.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Episode55-ScottMenary-Version2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Dan Falk

Astronomy meets Shakespeare? An unlikely pair you might imagine, but “There are more things in heaven and earth, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. Today on this special audio and video edition of the show we're joined by Dan Falk at The Star Spot at the Toronto book launch of his new Science of Shakespeare.

A special video edition of this interview, featuring a live recording from the book launch, is available on our YouTube Channel: TheStarSpotTV.

The Star Spot’s YouTube channel features special additional media from our program, as well as re-released YouTube versions of our regular episodes. 

Current in Space

Surfs Up on Titan? Benjamin revisits a previous report purporting to show a lack of waves on the ocean's of Saturn's moon. Moving on to another gas giant, Arjun wonders if the Great Red Spot is about to lose its greatness. 

About our Guest

Dan Falk is an award winning science journalist and broadcaster. He’s been published very broadly, including in the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, Cosmos magazine, and New Scientist, and has contributed to CBC and TV Ontario science programming. Dan Falk is also the author of three books, including In Search of Time: Journeys Along a Curious Dimension, Universe on a T-Shirt: The Quest for the Theory of Everything, and the newly released Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright's Universe


Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep54.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

International Astronomy Day 2014 occurred on Saturday, May 10. The Star Spot celebrated at the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill, Ontario, which boasts the largest telescope in Canada. The Dunlap Observatory was once the second largest telescope in the world, second only to the Hooker Telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory, famously used by Edwin Hubble to discover the expanding Universe. The Dunlap is now used purely for educational and outreach purposes and is maintained by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre, one of The Star Spot's affiliated organizations.   

On this episode of The Star Spot we bring you highlights from our event, Stump the Astronomer, held as part of International Astronomy Day 2014 at the Dunlap Observatory.

How big is space?  Is string theory the end of physics? Will an elevator ever take us into space? what happens if a regular matter black hole comes into contact with an anti-matter black hole? And most critical of all, was our astronomer stumped?

Current in Space

Ben introduces us to the sun's potential first known sibling, a star that is now thought to have formed in the same nursery, or nebulae, as our own. Then Anuj explores the search for hidden ancient impact craters on Earth and what they tell us about the history of our planet - and the evolution of life. And back to Ben for continued breaking news coming from the study of gravitational distortions of the early universe.

About our Guest

We were very fortunate to put on the spot at the star spot our resident amateur astronomer Ed Hitchcock, also known as SciTeacherEd on twitter. Ed Hitchcock is an evolutionary biologist, high school science teacher and volunteer telescope operator at the Dunlap Observatory. He blogs about science education at and amateur astronomy at He describes himself as a life long science geek

Direct download: TheStarSpot_Ep53_StumpTheAstronomer.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Norman Sleep

Have you ever wondered what the massive internal hot core of the Earth has to do with space? Enter the world of neutrino geophysics. It might sound technical, but in probing the nature of the mysterious centre of the earth scientists are getting closer to determining the habitability of other planets in space. Co-host Denise Fong opens the program as Professor Norman Sleep joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot.

Current in Space

Dave reports on the next stepping stone in our search for Earth's twin, the discovery of the first habitable Earth-sized planet within the habitable zone of its star. Anuj asks if the Martian atmosphere was ever a biosphere, citing studies of the chemical composition of Martian rocks found on Earth that are telling us about changes in the Martian atmosphere over time. And finally The Star Spot's poet-in-residence Benjamin shares a paean to recent geological work that contributes to our understanding of the Red Planet.

About Our Guests

Norman H. Sleep is a professor of geophysics at Stanford University. He has collaborated with NASA on topics related to life on the ancient Earth and on other planets. Dr. Sleep studies how the insides of planets work and he was a member of a committee to advise NASA on planetary habitability. He has made ​​major contributions to problems of plate tectonics and many other areas of geology and planetary sciences. Sleep has won numerous awards and hounours around the world, including the 2008 Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London. He is also the author, with Kazuya Fujita, of the book, Principles of Geophysics.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep52-NormalSleep.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Sarah Gallagher

Quasars are among the most energetic and mysterious phenomena of the ancient universe. Spiraling gas is heated to such extremes that the neighbourhood around the quasar glows brighter than the entire surrounding galaxy. In the process, quasars generate dust grains, winds and storms of unimaginable violence. To help us understand the growing pains of the young universe, today Sarah Gallagher joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot.



About Our Guest

Sarah Gallagher is assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the university of western ontario. She completed a  Spitzer postdoctoral fellowship in 2006 based on her studies of quasar winds. Since her PhD work she has specialized in X-ray studies of these active supermassive black holes at the centres of distant and ancient galaxies. Gallagher has worked at Penn State, MIT, and UCLA and at NASA observatories Spitzer and Chandra. A well rounded individual, Gallagher has coached soccer and has an interest in art history.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_ep_51_updated.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT


The Star Spot Episode 50


Today marks the 50th time I’ve welcomed you and our guests to the The Star Spot. It is also our two year anniversary. I wanted to thank each member of our great team of volunteers for getting us this far. We’ve had some amazing guests on the show. We hunted extraterrestrials with Jill Tarter and we built a universe from nothing with Lawrence Krauss. We explored saturn with Carolyn Porco and we chased comets with David Levy. We contemplated humanity’s future on mars with chris McKay and we searched for signs of life beyond the solar system with Sara Seager. We’ve talked with some truly fascinating people: astronomers, physicists, engineers, planetary scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, educators, historians, artists, activists, authors, journalists, and even a space travel agent! But the best has yet to come. So thank you for continuing to join us here at The Star Spot.


Feature Guest: Marshall McCall

Today we’re joined by Marshall McCall for a special interview originally held in front of a live audience at an event hosted by the University of Toronto Astronomy and Space Exploration Society.


In front of a live audience, Professor McCall joins Justin Trottier for a wide ranging discussion on all things galaxies. McCall tells how he wound up as a gardener at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, briefly the largest telescope on Earth, and then off to the opposite corner of the world working at observatories in Australia. A debate with the audience ensues over northern versus southern skies.


The two then discuss whether our galaxy is unique, the importance of dwarf galaxies, and get controversial exploring alternative theories of gravity. McCall explains the role of dark matter in giving rise to the superstructure we see as cosmic webs of sheets, filaments and voids. If dark matter dominated our past, the Andromeda galaxy will dominate our future when, in 3 billion years, we collide.


The conversation concludes with a focus on McCall’s recent research on our mysterious local sheet of galaxies. Out to 20 million light years galaxies surrounding the Milky Way appear to lie on a surprisingly flat sheet. McCall describes this puzzling structure, which he dubbed the “council of giants,” how work with his graduate student George Conidisis leading to startling revelations that suggest our neck of the woods might have some special qualities after all.


Current in Space


What effect does microgravity have on an astronauts internal organs? Ben gets to the heart of the matter. Then Anuj introduces us to an object called a Centaur which lives like an asteroid, behaves like a comet and has rings like a gas giant. And finally Dave shares the startling announcement  of an equally puzzling new addition to our family, a dwarf planet in the inner Oort Cloud and the possibility that its discovery could point to a super-Earth far out beyond Pluto


About Our Guest

Marshall McCall is Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at York University. After graduating with degrees from the University of Victoria and the University of Texas at Austin, McCall spent two years observing southern skies at Mt. Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories in Australia. His research interests focus on the structure, evolution and formation of galaxies and galaxy aggregates. He was involved in recent discoveries of two hitherto unknown galaxies in the neighborhood of the milky way, research that is providing a new understanding of the puzzling arrangement of galaxies around our own.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep50-MarshallMcCall.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Mark Halpern

The early universe is a place of mystery and paradox. But the one thing we are sure of is that to understand our far future we must look to our ancient origins. To help us make some progress today Mark Halpern joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot.

The two focuse on the 2012 Gruber Cosmology Prize which was awarded to Halpern's team for work with the NASA Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe which used sound ripples from the earliest moments of creation to come up with key findings:

- determining the universe's age with better precision than ever before, at 13.8 billion years (while still unresolved is the paradox that quantum mechanics and gravity suggest the universe should live no longer than a single second).

- assigning ratios to the constituents of the universe: ordinary matter, dark matter and dark energy

- studying the overall shape and geometry of the univers

- finding evidence of inflation, a theory that explains additional paradoxes of the early universe

The two then discuss CHIME, a new Canadian mission studying left over ripples from the big bang and evidence of the recent expanstion history of the universe

Current in Space

We're all worried about meteor collision induced apocalypse scenarios, but now Benjamin reminds us that magnetic storms, coronal mass ejections, and other severe solar activity could also prove catastrophic. And does Saturn's moon Titan habour the most eerily calm lakes - and lamest surfing conditions - in the solar system? Then Anuj follows up with more on the sun and the special qualities of our star's much bigger cousins, the yellow hypergiants

About our Guest

Mark Halpern is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of British Columbia. His focus is experimental cosmology of the early universe, specifically the cosmic microwave background and the history of early galaxy and star formation. He is involved in high redshift research with the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and BLAST, a submillimeter telescope that  hangs from a high altitude balloon

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep49-MarkHalpern.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Olivier Guyon


Since he was young his driving passion has been a single mystery: are we alone in the universe? Astronomer Olivier Guyon, who has now been awarded a half a million dollars MacArthur genius grant to answer that question, joins Justin Trottier at The Star spot.


Guyon explains why he's so optimistic he pegs habitable planets at well over 1 in 100 stars. Then the two discuss the cutting edge of discovery, from merely detecting planets to incoming data on oceans, atmospheres and in the not too distant future even biosigns.


Current in Space

Benjamin reports on the re-emergence of a debate about the plausibility of microbes in Martian meteorities. Plus, exactly how many world are there out there?...

About our Guest

Olivier Guyon is an astronomer who works at the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii and at the University of Arizona. Astronomy has been his life for a long time: an amateur astronomer at age 10, then a do it himself type building his own telescopes in the garage, and now at the cutting edge, working with theorists and engineers to design the most advanced equipment to detect extrasolar planets and possibly signs of habitation.



Direct download: The_Star_Spot_ep_48.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: David Hanna


Supernovae and hypernove, blazars and quasars: our universe is one exotic place. To help us to make sense of it, today we're joined at The Star Spot by Professor David Hanna.


Current in Space


What do satellites and whales have in common? Anuj explains. Then, Benjamin on how a fight over the reliability of atmospheric extrasolar planet discoveries is a triumph for a science without dogmas.


About Our Guests


David Hanna is an astrophysicist at McGill University in Montreal. He works in experimental high energy physics, everything from particle accelerators probing the physics of the very small to gamma ray astronomy studying the incredibly large.


Hanna was a founding member of the US/Canada collaboration known as STACEE, the Solar Tower Atmospheric Cherenkov Effect Experiment. Yup, that’s why they call it STACEE. STACEE was an experiment dedicated to the study of high energy gamma rays emitted by astrophysical sources and was active observations until 2007.


He is currently a member of a new gamma ray collaboration called VERITAS which revels in its even longer name: the Very energetic radiation imaging telescope array system.


Through his work in high energy physics, Hanna studies black holes at the centre of active galaxies, pulsars, gamma ray bursts, supernova remnants, dark matter, quasars, hypernova, supernova, unidentified sources. today he joins me to discuss this zoo of the exotica

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep47-DavidHanna.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guests: Leon Graafland and Elizabeth Howell

On today's episode of The Star Spot we conclude our coverage of the 2013 Canadian Space Summit with special back to back feature interviews. First we're joined by Leon Graafland, a space travel agent with the Adventure Travel Company. Looking for the ride of your life? Leon can sign you up for a space mission and turn you into an astronaut. And once you do, our second guest, space journalist Elizabeth Howell, will want to interview you. Elizabeth will take us to the front lines, from conversations with astronauts to coverage of ground breaking exploration missions.

Current in Space

We worry we won't find habitable extrasolar planets. But could many planets end up being more habitable than Earth? Dave explains why Super Earths might turn out to be Superhabitable? Then Benjamin describes new techniques to probe the interior of asteroids. 

About Our Guests

Leon Graafland is Adventure Travel Specialist with the Adventure Travel Company in Toronto. Leon has lived in Holland, Peru, Canada and South Africa and he’s visited some 60 additional nations. He’s a globe trotter and he’ll set you up with travel to exotic epic destinations like Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Everest, and Antarctica. But if this world isn’t enough, he’ll also sell you a trip into space.

Elizabeth Howell is a space, science and business reporter. She lists among her most impressive feats covering three Space Shuttle missions, interviewing astronauts while in space, and meeting all the Star Trek captains. She writes for, Universe Today, Live Science and other publications and is currently working towards a PhD in Aerospace Sciences at the Univerity of North Dakota.

Direct download: Ep46-ASpaceTravelAgentandASpaceJournalist.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Peter Garland

On today's episode of The Star Spot we continue our highlights of the 2013 Canadian Space Summit. Justin Trottier is joined by Peter Garland, Vice President of Advanced Programs with MDA. The two discuss how satellite communication became the technological foundation that brought together a nation. They document the important milestones in communication innovations and the role they continue to play in connecting geographically expansive regions in our world. Garland concludes with stories of new and unique applications of satellite communications in fields ranging from telehealth, tele-education and even the criminal justice system.

Current in Space

Denise shares an exciting status report on our search to identify Dark Matter. And Justin discusses how new data from the Gaia-ESO project could answer long standing questions about the evolution of our galaxy.

About Peter Garland

Peter Garland is Vice President of Advanced Programs in the MDA Satellite Systems Division in Montreal, Canada. He has been involved at the leading edge of Satellite Communications for over thirty years. In the early nineties he led the Canadian Advanced Satcom team that performed early work on Ka Band systems and has subsequently led key Broadband developments, including the introduction of standard waveforms, working closely with both the Canadian and European Space Agencies. In his current work he is focused on applications that integrate new technologies in both the space and ground segments, particularly in the broadband mobile area.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-E45-PeterGarland.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Catherine Hazin

We begin our coverage of the 2013 Canadian Space Summit held in Ottawa in November 2013, with the first of five feature Star Spot interviews with guests at the Summit.

Co-host Denise Fong was pleased to be joined by artist Catherine Hazin at The Star Spot on location. Catherine was showcasing artwork on behalf of over 50 internationally acclaimed space artists as part of the Canadian Space Summit’s space art exhibition: The Inexorable Revolutions of Art.

Denise and Catherine discuss the little trodden territory where science and art overlap and the link between art and space exploration. What is the function that art serves for space exploration and what value does it add to the human interest in observing the Universe and in contemplating our ultimate human frontiers?

Historically in the 1800s, artists accompanied explorers on their excursions to discover the frontier of America, and their contributions to communicating the images of the new lands were prolific and highly valued, from the paintings of Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt to Frederick Church, considered the highest paid painter of his day in 1872. More often than not, Church was able to finance his very own exploratory expeditions by painting Earth’s new wonders, like the north pole Aurorae, icebergs of the Arctic sea, and volcanoes in South America.

The wonders of earth when they were first discovered inspired volumes of artwork and depicted places not yet known such as Yellowstone, and Yosemite, now protected national parks in the West. Today these visuals of the previously unknown American Western frontier serve to document our human heritage, and were the basis of immense inspiration, sense of adventure, risk, danger, and of the unknown.

So bringing to the present what we have seen from history, what about the artist’s role today for the human exploration…of space – the final frontier?

Denise and Catherine discuss the renaissance in the connection between art and the nature of exploration and discovery. How relevant is space art today? What function does it serve space exploration? Is it possible for artists’ impressions, and artistic works, to disappear into history just as it did alongside the disappearance of Earth’s new frontier lands? And if we leave out the art, how would space exploration suffer? 

Current in Space

Dave shares the first cloudy weather forecast for a Super Earth extrasolar planet. Then Arjun excites us with new data anticipated from the spacecraft GAIA, a super sensitive billion pixel camera set to survey a billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy (and costing some billion dollars). Finally Benjamin on how disappointment quickly turned to delight when researchers with the Hunt for Extromoons with Kepler (HECK) project made one heck of a discovery: no moon but the least massive gaseous world we've yet found.

About Catherine Hazin

Catherine Hazin is a professional writer and artist who received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Alberta College of Art and Design. She co-founded the Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Space Society in 2011, and is currently the Arts and Culture Director for the Canadian Space Society.

Catherine also has a love of fashion design and wearable art. She is the Editor of Luxe Magazine, and a senior writer for Calgary Bride. She is also the Fashion and Performance Coordinator for “Make Fashion,” the annual fashion show held in Calgary, Canada. Catherine is devoted to promoting and encouraging collaborations between artists and space science professionals in order to better engage the public, and communicate the accomplishments and the needs of the space industry. and she presented her work to the attendees of the Canadian Space Summit in November 2012, in Calgary.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep44-Art_at_the_Final_Frontier_with_CatherineHazin.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT