The Star Spot (general)

In today's episode Professor John Percy, a professional astronomer with a passion for making astronomy and space exploration engaging, joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot.

Dr. Percy discusses his many educational astronomy activities, from hosting public events, to creating courses and resources for teachers, to finding creative cultural opportunities for outreach such as his work with the Toronto Tafelmusic baroque orchestra on their Galileo composition.

Starting their conversation on Dr. Percy's primary academic interest in variable stars, the two cover the challenges of developing relevant and engaging astronomy curriculum, the role of public science institutions in contributing to the vitality of city life, and how Dr. Percy ended up having an asteroid named after him.

About John Percy

Dr. John Percy is professor emeritus of astronomy at the University of Toronto. He is past president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the Royal Canadian Institute, and as honorary president of the science teachers’ association of ontario and vice-chair of the board of trustees of the ontario science centre.

Among a variety of awards and distinctions, Dr. percy won the 1997Royal Canadian Institute's Sandford Fleming Medal for contributions to public awareness and appreciation of science and technology and the 1999 Jack Bell Award for leadership in science education. He is a fellow of the american association for the advancement of science.

But perhaps his most long lasting recognition came with the naming of his own asteroid. He joins us here at the Star Spot to discuss that honour, and his insights bringing the world of astronomy and space exploration alive to students and learners of all ages.

Direct download: Ep15-JohnPercy-Final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

Our guest today is Professor Wendy J. Taylor who joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to discuss the Large Hadron Collider, the search for the Higgs Boson and dark matter, and how the new field of astro particle physics may prove that discoveries at the smallest scale can have cosmological implications.

In Current in Space, we present start S0-102 whose superclose orbit to the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy presents a unique opportunity to test Einstein. Then we comment on the Canadian Space Agency's hope for a renewed deal to fly astronauts with NASA's new Orion program in exchange for next generation space robotics, and finally turn to an update on Mars Curiosity and planned activities with its own robitic arm.

About Wendy J. Taylor

Wendy J. Taylor is Associate Professor of Physics at York University and Canada Research Chair in Experimental Particle Physics. She is a member of the university’s High Energy Physics Group as well as its ATLAS group.  ATLAS is a key experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Her research at the Fermilab particle collider showing differences in the production of matter and anti-matter in high-energy collisions is shedding light on the imbalance in matter and anti-matter in the early universe. Professor Taylor is a member of the American Physical Society and the Canadian Institute of Particle Physics.

Direct download: Ep14-WendyTaylor-Complete.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

Appropriate to Episode #13, given the superstitious associations of that particular number, our guest today, Guy P. Harrison, is a debunker of superstitions and paranormal beliefs of all stripes. He joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to discuss his newest book 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True. After an introduction to skepticism, why it's vitally important and how it differs from simply cynicism or denial, the two focus down on a variety of exciting specific beliefs: ancient aliens, modern UFOs, abductions, astrology, and the moon landing hoax. Harrison explains what convinced him to give up his belief that ancient aliens visited the Earth. He explains what we can learn about psychology and culture by looking seriously at alien abduction experiences. He confronts the most effective arguments of the moon landing hoax community and finally explains why we shouldn't take our newspaper horoscopes too seriously.

In Current in Space we comment on discussions from the 100 Year Starship initiative which seeks to prepare for interstellar travel within a century. At a recent symposium everything from new possibilities for warp drives to a debate about whether religion should accompany humanity was on the table. Finally, we provide an update on the status of  the B612 Foundation's Sentinel mission, a sun-orbiting telescope that will increase our ability to track dangerous asteroids on potential collision courses with Earth.
About Guy P. Harrison
Guy P. Harrison graduated with a history and anthropology degree from the university of southern florida. He is an award winning writer, journalist and photographer. Harrison is the author of a number of books, including Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know about Our Biological Diversity, 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God, and his newest book, 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True, described as a skeptical grand tour of extraordinary claims such as ESP, ghosts, psyhics, hoemopathic medicine, bigfoot and more. His primary interest is to promote science and skeptical inquiry.
Direct download: Ep13-GuyPHarrison-Final2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

Our guest today is Patrick Hall who joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to discuss one of the most energetic, myserious and ancient of phenomana in our universe: quasars. Hall shares his insights into the role quasars played in the evolution of the cosmos and galaxy formation, the mechanisms and physics of their behaviour, and the rare occurence of double quasars. He also describes the eventual fate of our Milky Way Galaxy to merge with Andromeda and produce quasars of our own. Finally, they focus on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and explore the tremendous opportunities afforded researchers by the growing scale and scope of large sky surveys.

In Current in Space we introduce a cryptic new start-up company Uwingu seeking to fundraising and raise public engagement in space exploration, comment on the enduring fascination with the concept of a space elevator, and pay tribute to one of the greatest explorers of our time - Neil Armstrong.

About Patrick Hall

Patrick Hall received his PhD in astronomy from the University of Arizona, worked at Princeton University as its Observatory Research Associate and is currently associate professor at York University. He is an expert in quasars and active galactic nuclei. He’s received a number of National Science and Engineering Research Council grants as well as the ontario early research award for studies on disks of matter orbiting supermassive black holes. Hall participates in analyzing data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a project that, among many many other things, resulted in the discovery of an asteroid that now bears his name Pathall.

Direct download: Ep12-TheStarSpot-PatHall.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

Our guest today is Neil Rowlands who joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to discuss the engineering and science of the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018. The two cover the exciting objects and phenomena JWST will study, explore why the JWST is a vast improvement over Hubble, and discuss how a project of this magnitude is organized and managed. Dr. Rowlands also shares insights from working in the private sector while under contract to a government agency, before concluding with the current status and upcoming milestones for this exciting project.

In Current in Space we ask whether space and time might not be fundamental after all but rather emerged at the Big Bang. We then detail some of the astronauts who have moved into the political world including first Canadian in space Marc Garneau, now likely to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. Finally, we give tribute to a little world recently demoted to dwarf planet status.


About Neil Rowlands

Neil Rowlands Neil obtained his B.Sc (Engineering Physics) from the University of Alberta and his Ph.D. (Astronomy) from Cornell University. At Cornell, he participated in the construction and use of infrared instrumentation for the Kuiper Airborne Observatory and the 5m Hale telescope at Mt. Palomar.   

He held NSERC post-doctoral fellowships at the Canada Centre for remote sensing and another  at the Université de Montréal working with an infrared camera for the Canada France Hawaii Telescope.

In 1995 he joined CAL Corporation now called COM DEV, as an electro-optical engineer, developing space-borne scientific instrumentation for the space physics, atmospheric sciences and astronomy communities.  He is currently a Staff Scientist at COM DEV.  He has been working on the Canadian contribution to the James webb space telescope or JWST since 1997 on an instrument on the Fine Guidance Sensor/and near InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectrograph or NIRISS  system

Direct download: Ep11-NeilRowlands.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

Our guest today is Julian Barbour who joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to share his unique insights into the elusive mystery of time. He explains how new perspectives and research he is leading on time - which take seriously the puzzling implications of the Many World interpretation of quantum mechanics - may herald a new revolution in physics. The two explore the paradoxes of simultaneity and duration, asking how we know a second today is the same as a second a billion years ago. They then discuss Barbour's own personal paradox, in which his belief that time is illusory exists alongside his fascination with human history. In his own eccentric, provocative and illuminating style, Barbour finally takes listeners on a tour of platonia, a new concept in which existence is turned into a series of nows - or time capsules - and time is intricately connected to every activity in the universe.

Barbour is a theoretical physicist. Uniquely, he contributes to various fields without holding an academic position. He works part time as a translator and lives on a farm north of Oxford village. He’s been a visiting professor at the University of Oxford since 2008. Barbour holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Buckingham and is the author of a number of books, including Absolute or Relative Motion?, The Discovery of Dynamics, and The End of Time. His interests include quantum gravity, the history of science, and of course time

In Curent in Space we remind listeners not to miss the final days of the Perseid Meteor Show and provide an update on the first few Sols of the Curiosity rover which is now sending its first colour images from the Red Planet.




Direct download: JulianBarbour-Complete.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

Our guest today is Professor Sarah Symons who joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to enlighten us about ancient Egyptian sophisticated conceptions of the night sky. The conversation ranges from understanding the intimate interplay between the supernatural and the scientific, to the practical uses of the stars for such purposes as predicting the flood of the Nile, and to the role of special classes of stars in ancient Egyptian myth and ritual. 

Dr. Symons shares her enthusiasm in detailing how the night sky was at the centre of Egyptian religion. Pharoahs sought to transform themself into celestial beings, while the very body of one goddess formed the foundation of the Egyptian conception of celestial regularities. To close their conversation, the two reflect on why ancient Egypt continues to catalyze so much wild and crazy pseudoscentific and pseudoastronomical theorizing.

In Current in Space we discuss the illuminating findings from the nineth collection of UFO files recently turned over by the British government, then prepare for the August 6th landing of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover by exploring the many unique attributes of this most exciting mission to the red planet.

Direct download: TheStarSpot_Ep9-SarahSymons.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:30pm EST

Our guest today is Professor Marten Van Kerkwijk who joins The Star Spot to discuss the physics of astronomy. With host Justin Trottier, the two focus on the intersection of astronomy and physics, how astronomical discoveries inform our understanding of physics, and how physical theories help explain and direct astronomical research. Within this topic, Dr. Kerkwijk shares his unique insights into a whole host of objects like transients, white dwarfs, magnetars, neutron stars, supernovae and even a bit on dark matter.

In Current in Space we cover the ongoing travels of Voyager, the first human-made object poised to cross into interstellar space. We describe the Geoflow series, designed to use experiments aboard the International Space Station to study events far of in the core of the Earth. Finally in our new Entertainment section, host Justin Trottier provides his review of Ridley Scott's science fiction summer blockbuster Prometheus.

About our guest: Dr. Marten Van Kerkwijk obtained his Masters and PhD from the University of Amsterdam. He worked as a Hubble Fellow at Caltech, then a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Cambridge, before joining the faculty of the University of Toronto in 2003. He was part of a team that discovered a solar system consisting of the smallest body to orbit a star at the furthest distance. He’s been interviewed by several Canadian TV networks on a broad array of astronomy topics.

The Star Spot invites listeners to send in their thoughts on any of the news and variety pieces we cover, as well as our interviews, or send in ideas for topics we should cover. Email starspotpodcast@gmail.com


For full information please visit the official website of The Star Spot at www.starspotpodcast.com

Direct download: Ep8-MartenVanKirkwijk.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Our guest today is Chuck Black who joins The Star Spot to discuss the business case for space within the international scene. Following hot on the heels of the success of private spacecraft Dragon and the upcoming Chinese launch to the Tiangong Space Station, in this interview with Justin Trottier, the two discuss the space programs of various nations, debate private versus public-led initiatives, analyze the interaction of the 3 main players (government, industry and research centres), reflect on reforms being implemented by various countries to better respond to the changes in the space sector, and conclude with a focus on the challenges and opportunities of space exploration.


Chuck Black is Treasurer of the Canadian Space Commerce Association. He is an aerospace pundit and writer who runs the Space Conference News website and the Commercial Space Blog. Within the space sector, he creates business proposals and plans, networks among stakeholders and technical professionals, organizes and manages conferences, and is an all around space sciences and technology advocate.

In Current in Space we describe the recently launched NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) telescope, a space-based x-ray telescope set to open a new window on the universe by studying the highest energy x-ray phenomena like supernovae, gamma ray bursts and active galaxies. We then remind listeners of the upcoming summer solstice in the northern hemisphere with a quick archeoastronomical history lesson. Finally, we shift to space exploration by discussing the Shenzhou 9 mission which will make China the third country in the world to establish a crewed base in orbit.

For full information please visit the official website of The Star Spot at www.starspotpodcast.com

Direct download: Ep7-ChuckBlack-Final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Our guest today is Christopher Lintott, an astrophysicist, a researcher in the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford and a junior research fellow at New College. also at the University of Oxford. A fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, Dr. Lintott`s work focuses on galaxies and star formation. He is the co-presenter of the BBC series The Sky at Night and a co-author of the book Bang! – The Complete History of the Universe co-authored with Patrick Moore and Brian May. It’s this focus on public engagement, and in particular the concept of citizen science that we’ll get into today, because most excitingly, Dr. Lintott is also Director of the astronomy crowdsourcing projects known as Zooniverse and Galazy Zoo, which have turned hundreds of thousands of people from around the world into scientists and astronomers.

In this discussion with Justin Trottier, the two discuss the emergence and growing sophistication of citizen science projects like Galaxy Zoo and Zooniverse. From sorting galaxies with Galaxy Zoo to identifying lunar craters with Moon Zoo to searching for planets and signs of life, not to mention a growing number of non-astronomy focused projects, Dr. Lintott explains the significant participatory impact being made daily by hundreds of thousands of people. Whether through basic categorization or unnanticipated observations like the discovery of the mysterious galaxy-like "Voorwerp," a growing army of citizen scientists are directing telescope time and providing data for research papers. The two also discuss the motives propelling this new development, and how they might grow a citizenry better informed by the tools of science.

In Current in Space we provide a final reminder about the upcoming Transit of Venus before turning to the thrilling conclusion of Dragon's landmark visit to the International Space Station. We then cover stories of life and death in the universe, highlighting the future merger of our own Milky Way with its nearest neighbour Andromeda. And finally we introduce a new Entertainment segment which will feature books, films, music and other areas of pop culture that connect to astronomy and space exploration. In particular, we tell how Haydon Planetarium's Neil deGrasse Tyson scored a victory for scientific accuracy in Hollywood when he convinced film director James Cameron to get the sky right.


For full information please visit the official website of The Star Spot at www.starspotpodcast.com

Direct download: Ep6ChrisLintottComplete1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST