The Star Spot

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

“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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT