The Star Spot

Featured Guest: Katharina Brinkert

On Earth, we can thank the sun for making life possible. Now what if we could harness the power of the sun to make life possible on long duration space missions. Introducing the concept of artificial photosynthesis. Today we’re joined here at The Star Spot by chemist Katharina Brinkert, whose pioneering experiments on the International Space Station turning sunlight into fuel and breathable air might just pave the way for human exploration of the solar system.

Current in Space

Water World. No, not the awful movie, but according to Dave, the most common kind of exoplanet in our galaxy. Then Tony and Simon share tributes to NASA missions which ended within days of one another. Tony reflects on Dawn, the first mission to orbit two bodies in the asteroid belt. And Simon discusses the triumphs and legacy of the Kepler Space Telescope.

About Our Guest

Katharina Brinkert is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology.



Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_155_Artificial_Photosynthesis.mp3
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Featured Guest: Cosette Gilmour

The proper relationship between science and faith is a core question for the modern age. At the centre of this debate has often been the Vatican observatory. The fascinating history of the Vatican Observatory stretches from the 18th century up to today, controversially combining scientific scholarship and religious tradition. In the last few decades the Observatory hosted a conference exploring the search for alien life and another aimed at a scientific understanding of divine action.

Today we’re joined here at The Star Spot by Cosette Gilmour, an alumni of the Vatican Observatory Summer School program, to find out what goes on in this unique institution and whether the Vatican Observatory still has relevance in the modern world.

Current in Space

Simon says we've found the oldest (so far) massive galaxy supercluster in our universe.

About Our Guest

Cosette Gilmour is a PhD student in Earth and Space Science at York University. Her research interests include the physical and chemical analysis of meteorites, remote sensing of asteroids, and in-situ resource utilization. In 2016 she participated in the Vatican Observatory Summer School program, on the them of water in the solar system and beyond.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_154.output.mp3
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Featured Guest: Bruce Jakosky

Don’t shoot the messenger. The terraforming of Mars has been the dream for many of us who long for a future where humanity has colonized the Red Planet. But is it time to rethink those plans? Today we’re joined here at The Star Spot by Bruce Jakosky, Principal Investigator of the Martian MAVEN Mission, and he’s got some bad news.

Current in Space

Dave spotlights the first confirmed detection of an extrasolar moon, and its a whopper. Then Tony shares new research suggesting that a key component of life may have originated in space before landing on Earth. And Simon delivers a tribute to NASA in honour of the agency's 60th anniversary.

About Our Guest

Bruce Jakosky is Principal Investigator for NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission, which has been studying the Martian atmosphere from orbit. He is Professor of Geological Sciences and Associate Director for Science at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_153_A_Reality_Check_on_Terraforming_Mars.mp3
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Featured Guest: Ken Stedman

They aren’t pleasant, but viruses are the most common form life on our planet. So why aren’t the world’s space agencies taking viruses seriously in their search for alien life. Today we’re joined here at The Star Spot by astrobiologist and astrovirologist Ken Stedman who has a plan to change and that and put viruses front and centre as we explore our solar system and beyond.  

Current in Space

We’re roving around our first asteroid, reports Simon. And if its heading into oblivion, just why is matter falling into a black hole in such a big hurry, asks Dave.

About Our Guest

Ken Stedman is Professor of Biology at Portland State University and a self-described “extreme virologist” because of his passion for studying viruses in extreme environments. He received his PhD from the University of California Berkeley and is the recipient of the Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. His outstanding teaching has been recognized with a John Eliot Allen Teaching Award.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_152.output.mp3
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Featured Guest: Scott Sheppard

On the hunt for the solar system’s elusive Planet X, a team of astronomers accidentally stumbled upon the discovery of 12 new moons of Jupiter. Oops. But it gets even better, because one of these things is not like the others and the way that moon just doesn’t belong might just solve the mystery of lunar origins. To help us understand how one very happy accident is shedding light on the formation of our solar system, today we’re joined here at The Star Spot by the discovery team leader Scott Sheppard.

Current in Space

Is the universe just a simulation? Simon says maybe. Then Tony settles the question of the habitability of potential water worlds. And speaking of water, Dave ponders the origin of our own planet’s H20.

About Our Guest

Scott Sheppard is faculty member in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science. He received his PhD from the University of Hawaii. A Hubble Fellow, Sheppard is credited with the discovery of many small moons of the gas giant planets. He has also been part of teams that have discovered comets, asteroids and Kuiper belt objects.

 

Direct download: Star_Spot_Episode_151_Scott_Sheppard.mp3
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Featured Guest: André Müller

Astronomers have taken their first image of an infant planet still developing around a newly formed star. Today we’re joined here at The Star Spot by André Müller, whose team is busy studying this baby world and has already discovered evidence of an atmosphere and possibly even moons, astounding knowledge of such a tiny speck 370 light years from Earth.

On a personal note, I want to dedicate this special 150th episode of The Star Spot to my amazing wife Denise and to our own newborn wonder, Lara Fong Trottier. Thank you for being the stars in my universe.

Current in Space

What secrets are hiding in the darkness on the moon? Tony sheds some light. And have you ever wondered just how we arrive at the mass of those thousands of extrasolar planets astronomers are busy studying?

About Our Guest

André Müller is a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. He has also conducted research at the European Southern Observatory in Chile. His interests revolve around young stellar objects and extrasolar planets.

Direct download: Star_Spot_episode_150_Andre_Muller_revised.output.mp3
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Featured Guest: David Hamilton

The recent discovery of a lake of liquid water beneath the Martian south pole culminates a series of stunning discoveries that are forcing us to rethink the question of habitability on the Red Planet. Now two space missions are underway aimed at sites on Mars that may be the best candidates yet for life and boasting the most advanced bio detection instruments ever sent into space. To help us prepare, today we’re joined at The Star Spot by space physicist David Hamilton.

Join us at Solar System Social this Thursday, August 23rd

The Star Spot will be live on location at an upcoming event hosted by Solar System Social, a prominent Toronto speaker series. Join us for a provocative discussion entitled Who Deserves to Explore Space on Thursday, August 23rd at 6pm at Burdock pub. Visit 
solarsystemsocial.com for details.

Current in Space

Our solar system has been playing host to a foreign tourist and now something is scaring it off. Then great ball of fire! Simon prepares us for a revolutionary new spacecraft that will shine new light on everyone’s favourite star.

About Our Guest

David Hamilton is a professor at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His research background is in the detection of life signs on Mars. He is also the leading force behind Social System Social, a series of public events aimed at connecting the dots between science, entertainment and storytelling.

Direct download: Star_Spot_Episode_149_The_Question_of_Life_on_Mars.mp3
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Featured Guest: Chuck Black

The Canadian Space Advisory Board was tasked with developing a plan to rejuvenate Canada’s declining world standing in space exploration. In 2017 the Board made a bold proposal that Canada designate space a national strategic asset and increase funding necessary for the “revitalization of Canada’s space capacity.”

But when in March 2018 the federal government released its annual budget, these calls were entirely ignored. The chair of the Canadian Space Advisory Board was so disappointed that she took the unusual move of publicly critiquing a government which seemed to be neglecting Canada’s space sector.

With little progress following years of industry consultation, where do we go from here? To help us understand how we got to this point and what can be done to reestablish Canada’s vision for space exploration, today we’re joined at The Star Spot by Chuck Black, the Editor of the Commercial Space Blog.

Current in Space

After the most extreme test yet of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, Dave reports on the amazing results that will not surprise you in the least. Then Maya dazzles with news that a long-held theory about black holes has been disproved, leaving a black hole in our understanding of black holes. And Tony shares his joy at the birth of an endearing infant planet.


About Our Guest

Chuck Black is a journalist, technology advocate, public speaker and activist. He edits and contributes articles to the Commercial Space Blog, the Canadian Aerospace News, and the Space Conference News. He organizes events focused on the commercialization of space-derived technologies which bring together industry experts for detailed in-person discussion, collaboration and networking.

Direct download: Start_Spot_Episode_148.mp3
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Today we turn our telescopes back around to study ourself. Our own solar system is undergoing a conceptual revolution. From its chaotic birth to its fiery end, our solar system is no longer seen as static and isolated. It is now understood to change and evolve, to offer great environmental diversity across its many worlds, and it now seems our solar system even interacts with the rest of the galaxy. In this special interregnum here at The Star Spot, today our news team of Tony, Maya and Dave take us on a journey across the history and the destiny of our solar system.

 

Current in Space

We’ve had interstellar asteroid tourists, but Tony wonders if we just found the first interstellar immigrant. Then Maya tackles the existential question of the sun’s ultimate demise. And finally Dave explores how the Earth-Moon love affair has profoundly changed us during our long years together.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_147_Postcards_From_Home.mp3
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Feature Guest: Brian Thomas

We have this impression of our planet as isolated from the rest of the universe, our lives cut off from the drama unfolding elsewhere in our galaxy. But what if the course of life’s evolution on Earth was intimately connected to events well beyond our solar system. It now seems likely that supernovae hundreds of light-years away have profoundly affected our history and may even account for climatic changes just as our species was emerging. Today we’re joined here at The Star Spot by astrophysicist Brian Thomas to explore this fascinating discovery.

 

About Our Guest

Brian Thomas is Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Washburn University where he leads the Washburn Astrobiophysics research group. His research focuses on the role of high energy astronomical events, in particular supernova and gamma ray bursts, on the atmosphere and biosphere of Earth. He is the principal investigator on a 3-year NASA grant to explore the terrestrial impacts of nearby supernovae.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_146_Supernovae_and_the_Evolution_of_Life.mp3
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Feature Guest: Stuart Ryder

When a massive star explodes in a supernova, it tends to gobble up all the attention. But what happens when that star has a binary companion with its own story to tell? That’s exactly what happened last month when the Hubble Telescope captured the first image of the surviving stellar companion to a supernova, and it turned out to be more than just a passive observer. Today we’re joined at The Star Spot by the discovery team leader Stuart Ryder to tell us how sibling rivalry might account for the origin of one unusual type of supernova. 

Current in Space

Tony details the launch of a new space telescope that will take planet hunting to the next stage. Then Maya shares a tantalizing discovery from Jupiter's largest moon. And finally while we have trouble seeing individual stars in the galaxy next door, Dave reports on a star called Icarus that we just image despite it being 9 billion light-years away!

About Our Guest

Stuart Ryder is Head of International Telescopes Support at the Australian Astronomical Observatory and is responsible for coordinating Australia's usage of large telescopes around the world. His research interests include core-collapse supernovae and star formation in nuclear rings of galaxies.


Feature Guest: Farhad Yusef-Zadeh

The gravity, radiation and tidal forces at the very core of the Milky Way is kind of intense. That’s why astronomers have long doubted the possibility of star formation in such a hostile environment. And then everything changed with the discovery last fall of 11 sun-like stars living closer to the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy then the distance between our sun and its closest neighbour. What does this breakthrough mean for our understanding of star formation and the possibility of life in what we once imagined were impossibly extreme environments? Today we’re joined here at The Star Spot by the discovery team’s leader Farhad Yusef-zadeh.

Current in Space

On behalf of The Star Spot, Tony says "Thank you, Stephen."

About Our Guest

Farhad Yusef-Zadeh received his undergraduate degree from the State University of New York at STony Brook then performed his PhD work at Columbia University. He worked as a National Research Council postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center before joining the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern University. He enjoys performing public lectures on the history of astronomy, science and pseudoscience and how science affects our lives.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_144_A_Rough_Upbringing.mp3
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Feature Guest: Xinyu Dai

Last month astronomers announced the first ever discovery of extrasolar planets… in another galaxy! We’ve already confirmed almost 4000 planets beyond our solar system, but these have all been in a single galaxy, the Milky Way. But then last month a serendipitous discovery opened the door to a galaxy 3.8 billion light years away and it turns out it’s home to thousands upon thousands of planets. Today we're joined here at The Star Spot by co-discoverer Xinyu Dai to describe the unplanned discovery and whether this is the beginning of a new era in extrasolar extragalactic planetary astronomy.

Current in Space

The Andromeda Galaxy has tried hard to hide its past, but Dave exposes its dirty secrets. Then Maya numbers our minds with the discovery of the most distant supernova yet. And when psychologists studied the likely ramifications of first contact Tony found the results surprising.

About Our Guest

Xinyu Dai is assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma Department of Physics and Astronomy. He performed undergraduate studies at Beijing University before receiving his PhD from Penn State. He is an expert in gravitational lensing, galaxy clusters, active galactic nuclei and gamma-ray bursts.

 

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_143_Planet_Hunting_Goes_Extragalactic.mp3
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Feature Guest: Scott Bolton

It’s our cosmic backyard, and yet our own solar system is still full of surprises. Now it turns out we were “totally wrong” when it comes to just about everything we thought we knew about Jupiter. That’s not me speaking, it’s Scott Bolton, principal investigator for the NASA Juno mission to Jupiter. From its magnetic field and atmosphere down to its very core, Jupiter is being rediscovered and transformed. Today we’re joined here at The Star Spot by Dr. Bolton to discuss the rewriting of our textbook on the solar system’s biggest world.

Current in Space

We've discovered a new family of extrasolar planets, and they're in a galaxy far, far away! Dave provides a trailer for the next episode of The Star Spot.

About Our Guest

Scott Bolton is the Director of the Space Science and Engineering Division at the Southwest Research Institute and Principal Investigator of NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter. In his 24 year career with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he has worked on many of its leading missions, including Cassini, Galileo, Voyager and Magellan He presently leads an international research group focused on modeling Jupiter and Saturn's radiation belts. He is an author of over 60 scientific papers. He has received over twenty NASA Group Achievement Awards including the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal and the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_142_Jupiter_Transformed_with_Scott_Bolton.mp3
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Feature Guest: Jason Hessels

The one thing we thought we knew about fast radio blasts was that these mysterious one-off phenomena must be associated with some of the most cataclysmic events in the universe. Then everything changed with last month’s announcement of the first ever detection of a source of repeating fast radio bursts. Today we’re joined at The Star Spot by co-discover Jason Hessels to rule on an important question: are scientists back to the drawing board or did they just achieve a breakthrough in our efforts to unlock this puzzle.

Current in Space

Europa is a tantalizing destination for exploration, but Dave worries that if we visit we might quickly find ourselves on thin ice. Then Maya reports on a windy conundrum surrounding hot Jupiters. And Tony brings new insights into the most powerful explosions in our Universe. Care to make your very own gamma ray burst?

About Our Guest

Jason Hessels is an astronomer at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy. He received his PhD from McGill University where he was the recipient of an NSERC Doctoral Fellowship. His research interests include pulsars and neutron stars, globular clusters and radio transients. His hobbies include hiking, camping, sailing and guitar.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_141.mp3
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Feature Guest: Susan Strahan

While human activity is what created the ozone hole, scientists just announced direct evidence that human activity is now responsible for healing that damage. That makes the Montreal Protocol, which banned the emission of chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, along with other ozone depleting substances, the most successful international environmental agreement to date. Today we’re joined at The Star Spot by Dr. Susan Strahan, who lead a team that studied the reduction of CFCs, to discuss the fall and rise of the ozone layer and what this means for future efforts to achieve international cooperation on critical environmental issues like climate change.

Current in Space

Tabby's star may no longer be the megastructure of another species, but as Tony explains, the way in which we figured that out says quite a lot about this one. 

About Our Guest

Susan E. Strahan is atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center where she works in the Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics Branch. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from the University of California Berkeley. Her research involves making stratospheric trace gas measurements and studying chemistry-climate models. She is a member of the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society.

 

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_140.mp3
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Feature Guest: Arjun Berera

Many of you are familiar with the idea of panspermia, the theory that life spreads itself throughout the galaxy by travelling from one world to another. We often think of big objects like asteroids, comets or spacecraft. But a new idea has emerged, and it’s must smaller: dust. Astronomer Arjun Berera joins me here at The Star Spot to discuss his new study, which considers whether alien life can hitchhike between planets on streams of space dust and if life on Earth might have just such an origin.

Current in Space

The solar system's first extrasolar asteroid visitor, Oumuamua, is even stranger than we thought, explains Tony.

About Our Guest

Arjun Berera is Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh. He received his PhD from the University of California Berkeley studying aspects of string perturbation theory. His research interests include quantum field theory, statistical physics, early universe cosmology theory and turbulence.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_139.mp3
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