151: Game-changing asteroid images with Dr. Marsset

Dr. Michael Marsset  (pictured here at the 8 meter telescope at the Gemini observatory in Hawaii) and his collaborators use the world's biggest telescopes to image asteroids. They combine those images with other data to get shapes of asteroids. These results are comparable with spacecraft images, but are much less expensive. Dr. Marsset talks about new discoveries they have made using this technique.

Dr. Michael Marsset (pictured here at the 8 meter telescope at the Gemini observatory in Hawaii) and his collaborators use the world's biggest telescopes to image asteroids. They combine those images with other data to get shapes of asteroids. These results are comparable with spacecraft images, but are much less expensive. Dr. Marsset talks about new discoveries they have made using this technique.

Some of the  asteroid images taken with the SPHERE instrument . Clockwise from top left: 29 Amphitrite, 324 Bamberga, 2 Pallas, and 89 Julia. Images collected as part of an ongoing ESO large program by Pierre Vernazza et al.

Some of the asteroid images taken with the SPHERE instrument. Clockwise from top left: 29 Amphitrite, 324 Bamberga, 2 Pallas, and 89 Julia. Images collected as part of an ongoing ESO large program by Pierre Vernazza et al.

150: Undersea grippers and in-space assembly with Dr. Backus

Dr Spencer Backus  talks about his work at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He explains the complexities of trying to design hands for robots. An example of a robot hand is the undersea gripper he worked on, which looks like "an angry starfish." He also talks about the benefits and challenges of in-space assembly of spacecraft.    For images of the undersea gripper, go  here !

Dr Spencer Backus talks about his work at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He explains the complexities of trying to design hands for robots. An example of a robot hand is the undersea gripper he worked on, which looks like "an angry starfish." He also talks about the benefits and challenges of in-space assembly of spacecraft.

For images of the undersea gripper, go here!

148: Solving an Apollo mystery with Dr. Curren

When taking a sample of the Moon's surface, the Apollo astronauts discovered a sharp transition from powdery soil to harder rock. This transition was entirely unexpected, and remained unexplained for decades.  Dr. Ivy Curren  talks about an experiment she designed to explain this phenomena. She also tells us about a type of lunar dust formation that scientists call "fairy castle structures."

When taking a sample of the Moon's surface, the Apollo astronauts discovered a sharp transition from powdery soil to harder rock. This transition was entirely unexpected, and remained unexplained for decades. Dr. Ivy Curren talks about an experiment she designed to explain this phenomena. She also tells us about a type of lunar dust formation that scientists call "fairy castle structures."

147: Searching for extraterrestrial life with Dr. Seager

This episode is related to the March 2019 National Geographic cover story, "We are not alone."

Dr. Seager explains how she and other astronomers are looking for extraterrestrial life. We discuss the Drake and Seager equations. We also talk about how astronomers might be able to detect life by measuring chemicals in distant planet atmospheres.    Image:  Using a model, MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager demonstrates Starshade, under development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. Deployed in space, the device, more than 100 feet in diameter, would block the light from a star. A space telescope would capture an image of a planet when it’s between Starshade’s petals, seeking evidence that life may exist on the planet.  (PHOTOGRAPH BY SPENCER LOWELL / NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)

Dr. Seager explains how she and other astronomers are looking for extraterrestrial life. We discuss the Drake and Seager equations. We also talk about how astronomers might be able to detect life by measuring chemicals in distant planet atmospheres.

Image:

Using a model, MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager demonstrates Starshade, under development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. Deployed in space, the device, more than 100 feet in diameter, would block the light from a star. A space telescope would capture an image of a planet when it’s between Starshade’s petals, seeking evidence that life may exist on the planet.

(PHOTOGRAPH BY SPENCER LOWELL / NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)

145: Backyard Worlds with Prof. Allers

Professor  Katelyn Allers  talks about how you can discover small cold stars! She is a member of the  Backyard Worlds  project, which is a collaboration between astronomers and citizen scientists. This project searches for brown dwarfs, which are some of the closest objects to our solar system.  You can join the search at  www.backyardworlds.org .  Follow Professor Allers on  twitter !

Professor Katelyn Allers talks about how you can discover small cold stars! She is a member of the Backyard Worlds project, which is a collaboration between astronomers and citizen scientists. This project searches for brown dwarfs, which are some of the closest objects to our solar system.

You can join the search at www.backyardworlds.org.

Follow Professor Allers on twitter!

143: Telescope robots with Dr. Ramirez

Dr. Solange Ramirez  returns to the show to talk about her new position as Project Manager of the  Sloan Digital Sky Survey V . Amount other things, the project will study over six million stars and how black holes change over time. These millions of measurements will be made using a robotic telescope system that is currently being built.    Above: Dr. Ramirez, holding one of the telescope robots described in the episode.

Dr. Solange Ramirez returns to the show to talk about her new position as Project Manager of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey V. Amount other things, the project will study over six million stars and how black holes change over time. These millions of measurements will be made using a robotic telescope system that is currently being built.

Above: Dr. Ramirez, holding one of the telescope robots described in the episode.

141: Eyes on the back of your head with Dr. Tholen

Dr. Dave Tholen  talks about near-Earth asteroids. He explains why they can be difficult to observe, and how he manages to spot them anyway. He also tells the story of a particularly famous asteroid that he discovered, and sets the record straight about its name.  Hear the performance of "Pirates of the Caribbean"  here .  Image:  Graphic  showing the path of asteorid 99942 Apophis changing after a close pass with Earth.

Dr. Dave Tholen talks about near-Earth asteroids. He explains why they can be difficult to observe, and how he manages to spot them anyway. He also tells the story of a particularly famous asteroid that he discovered, and sets the record straight about its name.

Hear the performance of "Pirates of the Caribbean" here.

Image: Graphic showing the path of asteorid 99942 Apophis changing after a close pass with Earth.

137: Documenting rapid change with Dr. Carey

Dr. Joanna Carey  talks about her research on our home planet, Earth. She explains how the climate change we're experiencing is ten times faster than any in geologic history. We also discuss why small changes in carbon emissions today will make a huge difference to the future climate, and things everyday people can do to mitigate the damage.    Lear more about Dr. Carey’s research  here , and follow her on  twitter !

Dr. Joanna Carey talks about her research on our home planet, Earth. She explains how the climate change we're experiencing is ten times faster than any in geologic history. We also discuss why small changes in carbon emissions today will make a huge difference to the future climate, and things everyday people can do to mitigate the damage.

Lear more about Dr. Carey’s research here, and follow her on twitter!

136: Would sailboats work on Titan? With Dr. Soto

Dr. Alejandro Soto  returns to the show to talk about how lakes on Titan and on Earth influence the nearby atmosphere. He talks about how lakes create breezes that allow for sailing on Earth, and how the situation changes on Titan.  Titan's seas reflect the sun's light.  Cassini spacecraft  photo, credit  NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona / University of Idaho .

Dr. Alejandro Soto returns to the show to talk about how lakes on Titan and on Earth influence the nearby atmosphere. He talks about how lakes create breezes that allow for sailing on Earth, and how the situation changes on Titan.

Titan's seas reflect the sun's light. Cassini spacecraft photo, credit NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona / University of Idaho.

135: Linking asteroid observations with Dr. Holman

Dr. Matt Holman, head of the  Minor Planet Center  in Cambridge, Massachusetts, stops by to talk asteroids. The Minor Planet Center handles about a hundred thousand asteroid observations a night, from observatories all around the world. He talks about the difficulties in linking asteroid observations, and the discovery of the first interstellar asteroid, 'Oumuamua.  Image: A collage of images of the asteroid Gaspra, taken by the Galileo spacecraft.  Credit: NASA/JPL.

Dr. Matt Holman, head of the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, stops by to talk asteroids. The Minor Planet Center handles about a hundred thousand asteroid observations a night, from observatories all around the world. He talks about the difficulties in linking asteroid observations, and the discovery of the first interstellar asteroid, 'Oumuamua.

Image: A collage of images of the asteroid Gaspra, taken by the Galileo spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL.

133: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Mercury with Dr. Padovan

Dr. Sebastiano Padovan  talks about the planet closest to the sun, Mercury. He compares the evolution of planets to movies, and says that understanding a planet's history from its current state is like trying to figure out the plot of an entire movie from a single snapshot. He also explains why Mercury is "a favorite" of scientists who do computational modeling.

Dr. Sebastiano Padovan talks about the planet closest to the sun, Mercury. He compares the evolution of planets to movies, and says that understanding a planet's history from its current state is like trying to figure out the plot of an entire movie from a single snapshot. He also explains why Mercury is "a favorite" of scientists who do computational modeling.

132: Introducing people to the reach of infinity with Tim Thompson

Tim Thompson , former JPL scientist and member of the Mt. Wilson Institute Board of Trustees, talks about the Mt. Wilson Observatory. He explains why he doesn't operate the Mt. Wilson telescopes himself, and tells us why astronomers hate the twinkling of the stars. This episode was recorded on location, and Tim talks about the many public events offered at Mt. Wilson.  Learn more about Mt. Wilson and see upcoming events at  www.mtwilson.edu.    Image: 1909 image of the dome housing the 60 inch reflector telescope.

Tim Thompson, former JPL scientist and member of the Mt. Wilson Institute Board of Trustees, talks about the Mt. Wilson Observatory. He explains why he doesn't operate the Mt. Wilson telescopes himself, and tells us why astronomers hate the twinkling of the stars. This episode was recorded on location, and Tim talks about the many public events offered at Mt. Wilson.

Learn more about Mt. Wilson and see upcoming events at www.mtwilson.edu.

Image: 1909 image of the dome housing the 60 inch reflector telescope.