The Star Spot

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

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

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

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

Current in Space

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

About Chris Matzner

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

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

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

About Stuart Robbins

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

Current in Space

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

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

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

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

About Dr. Chris McKay

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

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

Current in Space

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

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