The Star Spot

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
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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
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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
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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
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Sara Seager, a world authority on the study of atmospheres of extrasolar planets joins Justin Trottier to share how cutting edge research is pushing the frontier not just in discovering planets beyond our solar system, but in starting to actually characterize their attributes like atmosphere and composition.

The two discuss the startlingly diverse zoo of objects out in our galaxy, Dr. Seager's excitement being part of the team that detected evidence of the first extrasolar planet atmosphere, and most tantalizingly, how we are now on the cusp of being able to identify biosignatures of life as we home in on other Earths out there in space. Dr. Seager also provides some insider information on the pseudoscientific History Channel program Ancient Aliens, on which she's appeared on several occasions.

On January 25th of this year, the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society based out of the University of Toronto hosted its 10th annual Expanding Canada’s Frontiers symposium, a series that has become a fixture in the city for celebrating achievements in astronomy and space sciences and engineering. This 10th event in the series was a real landmark, focused on the search for life beyond Earth. The Star Spot caught up with Dr. Seager following her presentation on campus, and on an upcoming episode of The Star Spot we will be joined by NASA's eminent astrobiologist, Dr. Chris McKay, another of the symposium's keynote speakers.

About Dr. Sara Seager

Dr. Sara Seager is currently professor of astronomy at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology and a world authority on the study of atmospheres on extrasolar planets, the subject of her Harvard University PhD. She's the recipient of the Helen B. Warner Prize from the American Astronomical Society, Harvard’s Bart J. Bok Prize in Astronomy, and named to Popular Science’s Fifth annual brilliant 10. Even more cool, NASA’s planetquest has described Dr. Seager as “an astronomical indiana jones.”


Current in Space

On Current in Space, we comment on the excitement and destruction generated by the recent meteor that shot across the Russian skies and crashed into Chebarkul Lake, followed by a quick update on the ongoing adventures of the Mars Curiosity rover.

Direct download: Ep24-SarahSeager.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Keith Vanderlinde joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to share his Antarctica experience, studying the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation from the South Pole Telescope. He explains the ambiance, challenges and thrills of working in cold and darkness for nearly a year. The two then discuss how the origin and evolution of large scale structure in the universe can be read from imprints left on the first light released into space, and what we can learn about dark matter and dark energy from characterizing the universe’s earliest galaxy clusters.

Keith Vanderlinde is Global Scholar with the Canadian Institue for Advanced research and Assistant Professor in the University of Toronto's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics. Vanderlinde previously worked as a Research Assistant at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics in Chicago. He participated in crafting a number of science exhibits at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium and Museum of Science and Industry. More recently he was stationed for nearly a year in Antarctica working with the South Pole Telescope to study data from the universe's youngest days taken at one of the coldest locations on earth.

In Current in Space, we look at some notorious recent international examples of space adventures - or sometimes misandventures. 

Direct download: Ep23-KeithVanderlinde.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Professor Sabine Stanley joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot to discuss everything to do with magnetic fields: how they're created, where they can be found, and what they tell us about the composition and behaviour of planets. Why does Mercury have a magnetic field when we originally predicted it shouldn't? Why does Saturn's magnetic field line up so perfectly with its geographic poles? What makes the magnetic field of Mars so different in its northern and southern hemispheres?

The two then focus on Earth's magnetic field which is known to flip north and south poles throughout its history. Why do flips happen? Why do they occur at seemingly irregular intervals? Are they dangerous to life? Dr. Stanley shares her excitement for how using mangetic fields as another tool in searching for habitable exoplanets. Finally the two discuss upcoming missions to study the magnetic fields of objects in our solar system, such as the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) which will use mgnetic field information to tell us more about the oceans under Europa's ice sheets.

Sabine Stanley is Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Toronto, having received a PhD in geophysics from Harvard University. She has been awarded a Canada Research Chair in Planetary Physics, a Sloan Research Fellowship, and the Early Researcher Award from the Ministry of Research and Innovation of the Province of Ontario. 

Direct download: Episode22-SabineStanley.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT