Sun, 17 November 2013
Feature Guest: Paul Higgs
What is the answer to “Life, the universe and everything”, Douglas Adams’ great question about the meaning of it all? (Assuming it’s not 42.) We may never have an answer to possibly undefinable questions, but thanks to science, we’re actually getting a little closer to understanding a big part of one our universe’s mysteries: life. Today we're joined at the star spot by Professor Paul Higgs, origin of life researcher.
Paul Higgs and Justin Trottier enjoy a wide ranging discussion, including a focus on recent progress in astrobiological research, the RNA world model and its rival hypotheses to account for life's origins, and the interaction between the SETI search, planetary exploration in our solar system, and studies in our laboratories right here on Earth.
Current in Space
On episode 38 SETI researcher Jill Tarter joined us at The Star Spot. In answer to a question about the likelihood of finding life in the cosmos, she cited two critical discoveries: the growing zoo of extremophiles here on earth and the growing zoo of exoplanets across our galaxy. Anuj and Dave have excited news to share on both those fronts, to copmliment this episode’s feature interview on life’s origins. And Benjamin shares new technological developments toward space-based power generation!
About Paul Higgs
Paul Higgs is professor of biophysics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He holds a joint appointment in the departments of Physics and Biochemistry. Higgs participates in McMaster’s new Astrobiology graduate level research program as well as the Origins Institute, both of which are looking at the question of life’s origins. He is coauthor of the textbook Bioinformatics and molecular evolution, and co-editor of Planetary System and the origin of life.
Sun, 3 November 2013
Feature Guest: Matt Dobbs
Dark energy is described as one of the most mysterious phenomenon in our already generally baffling universe. To help us shed some light in the darkness, Matt Dobbs joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot. His observations of galaxy clusters at the south pole telescope are at the leading edge of our exploration into the unknown.
Current in Space
Benjamin reminds us that astronomers get as close as likely possible to working as time travellers - or at least time voyeurs - and recently discovered the furthest - and hence oldest - galaxy in the universe. Then, as if competing for best entries in the Book of Guinness World Records, Anuj and Victoria tell us about the Boomerang Nebula, a place in our galaxy so cold it makes Toronto winters - and even the afterglow of the Big Bang - seem balmy by comparison. And Dave rounds out our news with the announcement of a major milestone in our search for candidate extrasolar planets in our hunt for Earth's twin.
About Matt Dobbs
Matt Dobbs is an Associate Professor of Physics and associate member of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at McGill University in Montreal. He is a Canada Research Chair and is a Senior Fellow in the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Cosmology and Gravity program. He was a recipient of an Owen Chamberlain Fellowship at the Lawrence Berkely Laboratory in 2002 and a Sloan Fellowship in 2009. His work explores the intersection between particle physics and cosmology. His research has brought him to some exotic locations, but none more remote than his observations with the South Pole telescope.
Wed, 23 October 2013
Feature Guest: Peter Visscher
The return of humans to the moon is well over a decade away. But one key step, the development of unmanned lunar rovers that could be scaled up for human exploration, is well underway. Today on the star spot i’m joined by Peter Visccher, an engineer working to design just this future.
Ontario Drive and Gear Ltd, popularly known as Argo after their trademark all-terrain amphibious vehicles, was founded in 1962. The company’s vehicles are well known in recreational, industrial and search and rescue functions. More recently under contract to the Canadian Space Agency and in coordination with NASA, they’re moving into lunar rover design. To bring us up to speed on the return to the moon agenda and where lunar rovers fit into the plans, I’m joined here at the Star Spot by Peter Visscher, profession engineer and program manager of space and robotics at Ontario Drive and Gear.
Current in Space
In today’s Current in Space, Benjamin waxes poetic with an ode to death... of the largest known star in our universe. Then Anuj picks up the narrative by sharing what astronomers are now able to learn from the ashes of long gone planets circling deceased stars.
About Peter Visscher
Peter Visscher graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering Science from western University in Mechanical Engineering, and became achieved his professor engineer status in 2011. He was the lead designer on the Artemis Jr. analogue rover and Juno Rover for the Canadian Space Agency. He is a specialist in vehicle and vehicle systems design and was awarded NASA's Group Achievement Award in 2010 and 2011. Since 2010 he has been Space/Robotics Program Manager with Special Projects and Space Exploration at Ontario Drive & Gear Ltd.
Sun, 6 October 2013
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.
Sun, 22 September 2013
Feature Guest: Wayne Ellis
Sun, 8 September 2013
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
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
Fri, 9 August 2013
“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.
Fri, 26 July 2013
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.
Fri, 12 July 2013
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.
Fri, 14 June 2013
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.