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.
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. Alicia Lanz talks about the history of astronomical instrumentation, starting with the first telescope. She describes some bizarre historical telescopes and shares a surprisingly inspirational story about bubbles in glass.
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.
The James Webb Space Telescope hasn't launched yet, but scientists already have plans to use it. Dr. Kartaltepe talks about how she'll use it to study galaxies. She's interested in the first galaxies that ever formed, as well as galaxies at a wide range of distances from Earth.
Dr. Luisa Rebull returns to the show to describe new research with the Kepler space telescope. Her ingenious study takes advantage of Kepler's strengths, and has produced results that stump theorists. Dr. Rebull explains why this data has given her "a whole new appreciation for post office workers."
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.
Dr. Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil talks about her amazing discovery-- a galaxy with both an inner and outer ring. The existence of such a galaxy had not been predicted before she discovered it, and there's no theory yet that can explain how such an unusual object was created.
Dr. Thomas Connor stops by the show to talk about massive galaxy clusters and the CLASH project. We talk about naturally occurring gravitational "telescopes" that allow us to see even farther into space, and Dr. Connor makes some fun analogies to cupcakes and crime bosses.
Image: Gravitational lensing as seen by Hubble. Read more here.
Dr. Jeff Rich returns to the show to talk about the interstellar medium— all the rocks, dust, and particles that exist between the stars. After some beer, we end up talking about black holes and how Jeff studies nearby galaxies to learn about the early universe.
Mario Cabrera tells us about the specialized detectors used in professional telescopes. He talks about how he’s helping to develop new detectors that don’t require coolant and provide more science for less money. He talks about the ways a detector is tested, and how he’s walked through miles of waist-deep snow (both ways!) in the name of science.
Dr. Jonah Kanner talks about LIGO’s spectacular detection of two neutron stars merging together. This merger was not only detected by gravitational wave detectors in the US and Europe, it was also seen by many telescopes across the world and in space. This new discovery will help unlock many longstanding mysteries in astronomy and fundamental particle physics.
Dr. Emily Kramer stops by the show to try some tea and talk about her trip to South Africa to observe the next New Horizons target, 2014 MU69. She was one of several astronomers and planetary scientists who flew to other countries to watch this object pass in front of a star in the hopes of measuring its diameter.
Dr. Jessie Christiansen returns to the show to talk about newly discovered exoplanets! She explains why this planetary system was devilishly difficult to observe with ground-based telescopes, and how one of the planets poses a puzzle.
Dr. Tiffany Meshkat describes direct imaging of exoplanets, which astronomers have used to discover enormous, young planets. She also talks about WFIRST, a mission under development that would be able to find and characterize exoplanets.
Dr. Meshkat mentions star HR 8799, read more about it here!
Dr David Ciardi talks about Vega, a bright star that’s “been a part of human lore forever.” Dr. Ciardi and his colleagues discovered that Vega has a nearby ring of dust, implying the presence of planets. He also describes an encounter with a giant inflatable bumblebee at Palomar Observatory.
Marta Bryan shares her new results on exoplanets! She explains how she tested a theory of hot jupiter formation, and how she figured out that planet rotation rates are likely set early on in the planet’s lifetime.
Dr Rahul Patel describes his search for undiscovered disks of dust around other stars. He explains how looking for fainter and fainter debris disks may bring us closer to discovering a planetary system similar to our own.
Dr Roberta Paladini talks about the space-based Herschel Space Observatory, which was the largest infrared telescope ever launched. It looked at the sky in the far infrared, and discovered an abundance of water in star-forming regions.
Dr. Luisa Rebull explains why it is vital to archive astronomical images. NASA archives, such as the ones at IPAC, are accessible everyone on Earth at no cost. Luisa also describes how you can take a tour through archived data via the Dustier, Messier, Messier Marathon.