The Star Spot

Feature Guest: Jim Bell

Does our solar system really have 35 or even 40 planets? Is Mars merely the moon with an atmosphere or is it actually an ancient Earth? From the red planet to the jovian moons and then out to Pluto, destination for the New Horizons space mission, today we're joined at The Star Spot by Jim Bell for a brief tour of our own special home, the solar system.

Jim Bell and Justin Trottier discuss early discoveries from the Curiosity rover showing evidence of clays that could only be formed in fresh water. And Professor Bell responds to Mars One, an audacious plan to send - and document via reality TV - a group of humans on a one way trip to Mars.

Current in Space

Following up on today's theme of our very own solar system, Anuj presents new discoveries on our beloved sun and Denise shares our growing understanding of the water and ice word of Europa.

About Jim Bell

Jim Bell is an astronomer and planetary scientist at the school of earth and space exploration at arizona state university. His studies focus on many of the bodies of the solar system, including the planets, especially Mars, as well as asteroids, comets, and a variety of moons such as tantalizing Europa. He’s worked on several NASA space exploration missions, including the Mars Science Laboratory, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous. He is President of the planetary society.

Direct download: TheStarSpotEp43-JimBell.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

Feature Guest: Christine Wilson

No neighborhood avoids change, and that certainly includes the neighborhood around stars. As the stars that populate galaxies form and develop through their life cycle, how exactly do they change the interstellar medium and drive galaxy evolution? and what larger processes are at play governing the interaction between stars and the galaxies they call home? To help us answer these questions today I’m joined at the star spot by Professor Christine Wilson

Current in Space

On today's Current in Space, Benjamin offers new discoveries helping to date the age of the Marsian surafce. Then Dave tells us how the Milky Way's supermassive black hole Sagitarrius A Stars has some life in it yet.

About Christine Wilson

Christine Wilson is professor of radio astronomy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. She has worked with the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, the Submillimeter Array and the Herschel Space Observatory. She is currently on research leave as Canadian project scientist at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA,  a large international collaboration involving europe, north america and japan. Her work studies star formation through observational work with large galactic surveys.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep42-ChristineWilson.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00pm EST

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.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep41-PaulHiggs.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

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.

Direct download: TheStarSpot-Ep39-MattDobbs.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

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.

Direct download: Ep39-petervisscher.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:39pm EST

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 EST

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 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 EST

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 EST

“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 EST

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 EST