The Star Spot

Feature Guest: Gurtina Besla

The 14th annual Expanding Canada’s Frontiers symposium was hosted on January 27th, 2017 by the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society, a student group based at the University of Toronto. This year’s unique theme was “What Ifs: Is the Impossible, Possible?”!

And now in a special three episode series, we’re joined here at The Star Spot by the event’s keynote speakers as we explore three provocative questions at the cutting edge of astronomy.

First up, on today’s episode Dr. Gurtina Besla asks, what if humans are around to witness the awesome collision of the Milky Way with the Andromeda Galaxy? What would that look like and how would it affect life on Earth?

Current in Space

We always knew life on Earth started soon into the planet's history, but scientists have just set the clock back, and Anuj tells us how unbelievably far back. Then Tony explains how Breakthrough Starshot would design a starship that could travel between stars within a single generation. And while you may have heard about that new exoplanet system with 3 planets in the habitable zone, Dave tells us you won't believe what the sky would look like from the surface!

About Our Guest

Dr. Gurtina Besla is Assistant Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona and Principal Investigator of the outreach project TIMESTEP. She is part of a number of collaborations, including TiNy Titans, which aims to quantify the role of dwarf interactions and mergers as drivers of galaxy evolution at the low mass end, and also SMASH, which is studying the Magellanic clouds, our Milky Way Galaxy's largest satellite galaxies. Dr. Besla received her PhD from Harvard University.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_120_When_Galaxies_Collide.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Paul Sutter

Imagine travelling a very long way in space only to return just where you started, but upside down.  Or consider living in an exotic donut-shaped universe, or one with far more than our usual three dimensions. The amazing thing is that we very well may. Today we’re joined at The Star Spot by Paul Sutter who will explain the crazy possibilities for the shape of our universe.  

Current in Space

Imagine the view from an Earth-size object that spun on its axis once every minute? According to Dave, that’s what you get with a recently discovered new object, a mysterious white dwarf pulsar. Then Anuj explains why the mass beaching of whales is not only undeniably tragic, but critically important to all inhabitants of planet Earth. And from death on the beach to death from above. Tony shares the terrifying aftermath of a devastating asteroid collision!

About Our Guest

Paul Sutter is an astrophysicist at The Ohio State University and the chief scientist at the Center for Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio. Sutter hosts the show Ask a Spaceman where he welcomes your questions on the nature of space and time.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_119_-_Exotic_Shapes.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Terry Kucera

We see it there in the sky every day of our lives. And yet our own local star, the sun, is still in many ways a mystery. What causes the solar cycle? How does the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, reach a staggering temperature of over 1 million degrees. And could a really big solar storm turn back the clock on our technology and civilization? You’ll never look at the sun the same way again after we’re joined here The Star Spot by NASA astrophysicist Dr. Terry Kucera

Current in Space

As we focus today's feature interview on the Sun, Tony reminds us not to forget about the moon, and he competes for our attention with a startling new conjecture that rivals the mainstream theory for the origin of our close companion.

About Our Guest

Terry  Kucera is an astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Solar Physics Laboratory. She is Deputy Project Scientist for STEREO, the Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory. STEREO is the third mission in NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program and for the last decade has been revolutionizing our understanding of the Earth-sun system. Dr. Kucera has a PhD from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_118_The_Sun_Our_Local_Mystery_with_Terry_Kucera.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Matt Malkan

Was the early universe green? That’s the startling discovery by a team of UCLA astronomers studying the youngest galaxies in our universe. Why green? That’s what I’ll try to find out when Professor Matt Malkan joins us here at The Star Spot.

Current in Space

As 2017 gets underway, Anuj teases us with a trailer for space missions we can look forward to this year. In case that puts us in too ecstatic a mood, Dave quickly reminds us that nothing lives forever, and that includes exocomets which were recently detected dying in a fiery plunge into a far off star. And Tony closes with a mixed message. We’re moving forward with a Europa lander - but the challenges are significant!

About Our Guest

Matt Malkan is Professor of Astronomy at the University of California at Los Angeles. He’s interested in power, cosmological power. Malkan studies the primary sources of energy in the universe and galaxy formation in the early universe.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_117_Is_the_Universe_Going_Green.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Suzanna Nagy

Suzanna Nagy is President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Vancouver Centre. In May 2016 she took advantage of a rare and unusual aerial phenomena - a clear sky in downtown Vancouver - to share the wonders of our solar system with hundreds of people. The event was the transit of planet Mercury in front of the sun. In case you missed it, we’re going to have Suzanna joining us here at The Star Spot to describe her experience and to explain to us how astronomy educators use these naturally occurring marvels to provide others with a way into the world of astronomy.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_116.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Dan Werthimer

Physicist Enrico Fermi once asked, if aliens exist in the galaxy, then just where is everybody. And for nearly 40 years the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, has sought to answer that very question. Now they’re about to take it to the next level. Meet China’s FAST telescope (Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope). Now in the commissioning phase, when the largest single dish radio telescope in the world enters prime time early in 2017 it might give us a new year’s gift of galactic significance. To understand how the FAST Telescope will be a game changer in our search for alien intelligence, today we’re joined at The Star Spot by SETI pioneer and Chief Scientist for SETI@Home Dan Werthimer.

Current in Space

Do we really know the fate awaiting Earth when the sun enters its end of days? Anuj thinks we do now that we've found our future twin. Then Dave provides an update on Pluto's surprisingly complex and sensitive matters of the heart. And can globular clusters shed light on the heart of our own galaxy.

About Our Guest

Dan Werthimer is a SETI pioneer and co-founder. He works at the Berkeley SETI Research Centre where he is Chief Scientist for SETI@home and director of the SERENDIP project (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations). Dr. Werthimer was Associate Professor in the Engineering and Physics departments of San Francisco State University and a visiting Professor at Beijing Normal University.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_115_-_Dan_Werthimer.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Roberto Abraham

Imagine a galaxy that has a similar mass and volume to our own but where somebody turned off most of the stars. Meet Dragonfly 44, the most famous member of a new category of galaxies known as ultra-diffuse. Are they failed galaxies, bits of other galaxies or something even stranger. Today we’re joined at The Star Spot by Professor Roberto Abraham whose team was responsible for the discovery of what’s being dubbed the Milky Way’s Dark Matter Twin.

Current in Space

The killer asteroid that took out the dinosaurs - and much of life on Earth - came from somewhere in our solar system, and Anuj reports we’ve just identified its home base. Then in case you thought the universe was a big place Tony explains how our observable universe just got a whole lot bigger. And did you know Earth has at least one sidekick? Dave explains how a new mission will help study so-called Trojan asteroids that share a common orbit with our pale blue dot.

About Our Guest

Roberto Abraham is Professor and Associate Chair for Graduate Studies in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. He received his PhD from the University of Oxford and then performed post-doctoral work at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics and the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University. Professor Abraham has been awarded the National Science and Engineering Research Council Steacie Fellowship and is Honorary President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Toronto Centre.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_114_-_The_Milky_Ways_Dark_Matter_Twin.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Gail Higginbottom

The British gave us the world’s first parliament. And now it turns out the ancient British may have been among the world’s first astronomers. Today we’re joined here at The Star Spot by archaeoastronomer Gail Higginbottom. Thanks to her and her team we now have proof that megalithic structures build hundreds of years before Stonehenge were in fact ancient astronomical observatories whose purpose is still shrouded in mystery.

Current in Space

About Our Guest

Dr. Gail Higginbottom is an interdisciplinary archaeo-astronomer at home in a variety of fields. She is Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Adelaide and Professor in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University.


Feature Guest: William Sparks

Extraterrestrial life might be erupting into space from the surface of Europa. And a NASA mission to the icy world could fly right through it. Today I’m joined here at The Star Spot by William Sparks, whose team discovered evidence for water vapour geysers on Jupiter’s fascinating moon. 

Current in Space

Europa. Enceladus. Titan. Meet the newest ocean world: Saturn's moon Dione. Then just as we are coming to terms with an accelerating universe, astronomers suddenly announce we may have gotten worked up over nothing. 

About Our Guest

William Sparks has been an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland since his days as a postdoc in 1986. He is currently the Deputy Division Head for the Instruments Division and a member of the Advanced Camera for Surveys Instrument Definition Team (ACS IDT). His research focuses on active galaxies, radio galaxies, X-ray emission in galaxy clusters, and astrobiology.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_112_-_Geysers_on_Europa.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Feature Guest: Shawn Bishop

We’ve long known we’re made of star stuff, but now it turns out that life on Earth might be even more intimately connected to events in deep space than we imagined. Scientists recently reported the first ever discovery of supernova ash - atoms forged in the catastrophic explosion of dead stars - found buried in fossils created by bacteria right here on Earth. And most surprising of all these findings hint at a possible role for supernovae in bringing about mass extinctions, events which have changed the course of life on Earth and may do so again in our future. Today we’re joined at The Star Spot by the discovery team’s Professor Shawn Bishop.

Current in Space

We worry whether our search for extraterrestrial intelligence is looking in the right place. Tony tells us a better question might be whether we're looking at the right time. But might we be able to catch life ejected into space? Dave shares exciting evidence of enormous water jets coming from Jupiter's icy moon Europa. Finally Anuj provides an update on an exciting future space telescope that might just be built by little, green... robots. 

About Our Guest

Shawn Bishop is an experimental nuclear astrophysicist at the Technical University of Munich in Germany. Bishop studied at McMaster University and the University of Victoria and received his PhD from Simon Fraser University in 2003. He has worked at TRIUMF National Laboratory in Vancouver and the RIKEN National Laboratory in Saitama, Japan. He studies nuclear physics, nucleosynthesis and supernovae.

Direct download: The_Star_Spot_Episode_111_Shawn_Bishop.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT