Episode 50: Mapping Our Galactic Neighborhood: Dark Matter, Galactic Collisions & Our Local Sheet

For more info on the podcast, please see our About page.

The Star Spot Celebrates Episode 50 

highlights

Today marks the 50th time I’ve welcomed you and our guests to the The Star Spot. It is also our two year anniversary. I wanted to thank each member of our great team of volunteers for getting us this far. We’ve had some amazing guests on the show. We hunted extraterrestrials with Jill Tarter and we built a universe from nothing with Lawrence Krauss. We explored saturn with Carolyn Porco and we chased comets with David Levy. We contemplated humanity’s future on Mars with Chris McKay and we searched for signs of life beyond the solar system with Sara Seager. We’ve talked with some truly fascinating people: astronomers, physicists, engineers, planetary scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, educators, historians, artists, activists, authors, journalists, and even a space travel agent! But the best has yet to come. So thank you for continuing to join us here at The Star Spot.

Feature Guest: Marshall McCall

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD

Today we’re joined by Marshall McCall for a special interview originally held in front of a live audience at an event hosted by the University of Toronto Astronomy and Space Exploration Society. A video excerpt from the event, featuring Professor McCall demonstrating the evolution of a galaxy, can be watched below

MarshallMcCallIn front of a live audience, Professor McCall joins Justin Trottier for a wide ranging discussion on all things galaxies. McCall tells how he wound up as a gardener at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, briefly the largest telescope on Earth, and then off to the opposite corner of the world working at observatories in Australia. A debate with the audience ensues over northern versus southern skies.

The two then discuss whether our galaxy is unique, the importance of dwarf galaxies, and get controversial exploring alternative theories of gravity. McCall explains the role of dark matter in giving rise to the superstructure we see as cosmic webs of sheets, filaments and voids. If dark matter dominated our past, the Andromeda galaxy will dominate our future when, in 3 billion years, we collide.

DSC00134The conversation concludes with a focus on McCall’s recent research on our mysterious local sheet of galaxies. Out to 20 million light years galaxies surrounding the Milky Way appear to lie on a surprisingly flat sheet. McCall describes this puzzling structure, which he dubbed the “council of giants,” and how work with his graduate student George Conidis is leading to startling revelations that suggest our neck of the woods might have some special qualities after all.

Current in Space

What effect does microgravity have on an astronaut’s internal organs? Ben gets to the heart of the matter. Then Anuj introduces us to an object called a Centaur which lives like an asteroid, behaves like a comet and has rings like a gas giant. And finally Dave shares the startling announcement  of an equally puzzling new addition to our family, a dwarf planet in the inner Oort Cloud and the possibility that its discovery could point to a super-Earth far out beyond Pluto.

About our Guest

DSC00136Marshall McCall is Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at York University. After graduating with degrees from the University of Victoria and the University of Texas at Austin, McCall spent two years observing southern skies at Mt. Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories in Australia. His research interests focus on the structure, evolution and formation of galaxies and galaxy aggregates. He was involved in recent discoveries of two hitherto unknown galaxies in the neighborhood of the milky way, research that is providing a new understanding of the puzzling arrangement of galaxies around our own.

Links

York University Faculty Page

York U astronomer maps out Earth’s place in the universe among ‘Council of Giants’ (Media release)

Council of Giants (YouTube video)

How Giant Galaxies Bind The Milky Way’s Neighborhood With Gravity: Universe Today

Where The Milky Way Stands In The ‘Council Of Giants’

George Conidis interviewed by York Universe on research investigating the local group of galaxies, the local sheet, and finding analogues of those out in the Universe

How to Listen to the Show

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD
Subscribe for free with itunes
Use feedburner in your browser

If you have interesting news and story ideas, as well as topics or potential interview guest, please send them to starspotpodcast@gmail.com

Episode 49: Enduring Mysteries of the Early Universe, with Mark Halpern

For more info on the podcast, please see our About page.

Feature Guest: Mark Halpern

mark1

The early universe is a place of mystery and paradox. But the one thing we are sure of is that to understand our far future we must look to our ancient origins. To help us make some progress today Mark Halpern joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot.

The two focuse on the 2012 Gruber Cosmology Prize which was awarded to Halpern’s team for work with the NASA Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe which used sound ripples from the earliest moments of creation to come up with key findings:

- determining the universe’s age with better precision than ever before, at 13.8 billion years (while still unresolved is the paradox that quantum mechanics and gravity suggest the universe should live no longer than a single second).

- assigning ratios to the constituents of the universe: ordinary matter, dark matter and dark energy

- studying the overall shape and geometry of the univers

- finding evidence of inflation, a theory that explains additional paradoxes of the early universe

The two then discuss CHIME, a new Canadian mission studying left over ripples from the big bang and evidence of the recent expanstion history of the universe

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD

Current in Space

We’re all worried about meteor collision induced apocalypse scenarios, but now Benjamin reminds us that magnetic storms, coronal mass ejections, and other severe solar activity could also prove catastrophic. And does Saturn’s moon Titan habour the most eerily calm lakes – and lamest surfing conditions - in the solar system? Then Anuj follows up with more on the sun and the special qualities of our star’s much bigger cousins, the yellow hypergiants

About our Guest

Mark Halpern is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of British Columbia. His focus is experimental cosmology of the early universe, specifically the cosmic microwave background and the history of early galaxy and star formation. He is involved in high redshift research with the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and BLAST, a submillimeter telescope that  hangs from a high altitude balloon.

Links

University of British Columbia faculty page

Balloon Borne Large Aperture Submillimeter Telescope (BLAST)

Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME)

How to Listen to the Show

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD
Subscribe for free with itunes
Use feedburner in your browser

If you have interesting news and story ideas, as well as topics or potential interview guest, please send them to starspotpodcast@gmail.com

Episode 48: Science and Technology at the Cutting Edge of Exoplanet Research, with Olivier Guyon

For more info on the podcast, please see our About page.

Feature Guest: Olivier Guyon

Oliver GuyonSince he was young his driving passion has been a single mystery: are we alone in the universe? Astronomer Olivier Guyon, who has now been awarded a half a million dollars MacArthur genius grant to answer that question, joins Justin Trottier at The Star spot.

Guyon explains why he’s so optimistic he pegs habitable planets at well over 1 in 100 stars. Then the two discuss the cutting edge of discovery, from merely detecting planets to incoming data on oceans, atmospheres and in the not too distant future even biosigns.

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD

Current in Space

Benjamin reports on the re-emergence of a debate about the plausibility of microbes in Martian meteorities. Plus, exactly how many world are there out there?…

About our Guest

Olivier Guyon is an astronomer who works at the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii and at the University of Arizona. Astronomy has been his life for a long time: an amateur astronomer at age 10, then a do it himself type building his own telescopes in the garage, and now at the cutting edge, working with theorists and engineers to design the most advanced equipment to detect extrasolar planets and possibly signs of habitation.

Links

Innovative astronomer Olivier Guyon named a 2012 MacArthur ‘genius’ fellow

Turning Point: Olivier Guyon

TED Talk

How to Listen to the Show

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD
Subscribe for free with itunes
Use feedburner in your browser

If you have interesting news and story ideas, as well as topics or potential interview guest, please send them to starspotpodcast@gmail.com

Episode 47: Quasars, Supernovae, Hypernovae and other Gamma Ray Exotica, with David Hanna

For more info on the podcast, please see our About page.

Feature Guests: David Hanna

62137david_smallSupernovae and hypernove, blazars and quasars: our universe is one exotic place. To help us to make sense of it, today we’re joined at The Star Spot by Professor David Hanna for an exploration of the zoo of the exotica as seen through the gamma ray universe.

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD

Current in Space

What do satellites and whales have in common? Anuj explains. Then, Benjamin on how a fight over the reliability of atmospheric extrasolar planet discoveries is a triumph for a science without dogmas.

About Our Guest

David Hanna is an astrophysicist at McGill University in Montreal. He works in experimental high energy physics, everything from particle accelerators probing the physics of the very small to gamma ray astronomy studying the incredibly large. Hanna was a founding member of the US/Canada collaboration known as STACEE, the Solar Tower Atmospheric Cherenkov Effect Experiment. Yup, that’s why they call it STACEE. STACEE was an experiment dedicated to the study of high energy gamma rays emitted by astrophysical sources and was active observations until 2007.

He is currently a member of a new gamma ray collaboration called VERITAS which revels in its even longer name: the Very energetic radiation imaging telescope array system. Through his work in high energy physics, Hanna studies black holes at the centre of active galaxies, pulsars, gamma ray bursts, supernova remnants, dark matter, quasars, hypernova, supernova, unidentified sources.

Links

David Hanna McGill website

Solar Tower Atmospheric Cherenkov Effect Experiment

VERITAS

How to Listen to the Show

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD
Subscribe for free with itunes
Use feedburner in your browser

If you have interesting news and story ideas, as well as topics or potential interview guest, please send them to starspotpodcast@gmail.com

Episode 46: A Space Travel Agent and A Space Journalist, with Leon Graafland and Elizabeth Howell

For more info on the podcast, please see our About page.

Feature Guests: Leon Graafland and Elizabeth Howell

howellleon_graaflandOn today’s episode of The Star Spot we conclude our coverage of the 2013 Canadian Space Summit with special back to back feature interviews. First we’re joined by Leon Graafland, a space travel agent with the Adventure Travel Company. Looking for the ride of your life? Leon can sign you up for a space mission and turn you into an astronaut. And once you do, our second guest, space journalist Elizabeth Howell, will want to interview you. Elizabeth will take us to the front lines, from conversations with astronauts to coverage of ground breaking exploration missions

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD

Current in Space

We worry we won’t find habitable extrasolar planets. But could many planets end up being more habitable than Earth? Dave explains why Super Earths might turn out to be Super habitable? Then Benjamin describes new techniques to probe the interior of asteroids.

About Our Guests

Leon Graafland is Adventure Travel Specialist with the Adventure Travel Company in Toronto. Leon has lived in Holland, Peru, Canada and South Africa and he’s visited some 60 additional nations. He’s a globe trotter and he’ll set you up with travel to exotic epic destinations like Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Everest, and Antarctica. And if this world isn’t enough, he’ll also sell you a trip into space.

Elizabeth Howell is a space, science and business reporter. She lists among her most impressive feats covering three space shuttle missions, interviewing astronauts while in space, and meeting all the Star Trek captains. She writes for Space.com, Universe Today, Live Science and other publications, and is currently working towards a PhD in Aerospace Sciences at the Univerity of North Dakota.

Links

The Adventure Travel Company

The Adventure Travel Company: Final Frontier

Elizabeth Howell’s Website

How to Listen to the Show

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD
Subscribe for free with itunes
Use feedburner in your browser

If you have interesting news and story ideas, as well as topics or potential interview guest, please send them to starspotpodcast@gmail.com

Episode 45: Satellite Communication: The Technological Foundation of a Nation, with Peter Garland

For more info on the podcast, please see our About page.

Feature Guest: Peter Garland

garlandOn today’s episode of The Star Spot we continue our highlights of the 2013 Canadian Space Summit. Justin Trottier is joined by Peter Garland, Vice President of Advanced Programs with MDA. The two discuss how satellite communication became the technological foundation that brought together a nation. They document the important milestones in communication innovations and the role they continue to play in connecting geographically expansive regions in our world. Garland concludes with stories of new and unique applications of satellite communications in fields ranging from telehealth, tele-education and even the criminal justice system.

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD

Current in Space

Denise shares an exciting status report on our search to identify Dark Matter. And Justin discusses how new data from the Gaia-ESO project could answer long standing questions about the evolution of our galaxy.

About Peter Garland

Peter Garland is Vice President of Advanced Programs in the MDA Satellite Systems Division in Montreal, Canada. He has been involved at the leading edge of Satellite Communications for over thirty years. In the early nineties he led the Canadian Advanced Satcom team that performed early work on Ka Band systems and has subsequently led key Broadband developments, including the introduction of standard waveforms, working closely with both the Canadian and European Space Agencies. In his current work he is focused on applications that integrate new technologies in both the space and ground segments, particularly in the broadband mobile area.

Links

Peter Garland interview: Hosted Payloads

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA Corporation)

Canadian Space Society

How to Listen to the Show

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD
Subscribe for free with itunes
Use feedburner in your browser

If you have interesting news and story ideas, as well as topics or potential interview guest, please send them to starspotpodcast@gmail.com

 

Episode 44: Art at the Final Frontier, with Catherine Hazin

For more info on the podcast, please see our About page.

Feature Guest: Catherine Hazin

catherinehazinWe begin our coverage of the 2013 Canadian Space Summit held in Ottawa in November 2013, with the first of five feature Star Spot interviews with guests at the Summit.

Co-host Denise Fong was pleased to be joined by artist Catherine Hazin at The Star Spot on location. Catherine was showcasing artwork on behalf of over 50 internationally acclaimed space artists as part of the Canadian Space Summit’s space art exhibition: The Inexorable Revolutions of Art.

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD

Denise and Catherine discuss the little trodden territory where science and art overlap and the link between art and space exploration. What is the function that art serves for space exploration and what value does it add to the human interest in observing the Universe and in contemplating our ultimate human frontiers?

art5 art2Historically in the 1800s, artists accompanied explorers on their excursions to discover the frontier of America, and their contributions to communicating the images of the new lands were prolific and highly valued, from the paintings of Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt to Frederick Church, considered the highest paid painter of his day in 1872. More often than not, Church was able to finance his very own exploratory expeditions by painting Earth’s new wonders, like the north pole Aurorae, icebergs of the Arctic sea, and volcanoes in South America.

The wonders of earth when they were first discovered inspired volumes of artwork and depicted places not yet known such as Yellowstone, and Yosemite, now protected national parks in the West. Today these visuals of the previously unknown American Western frontier serve to document our human heritage, and were the basis of immense inspiration, sense of adventure, risk, danger, and of the unknown.

art1

So bringing to the present what we have seen from history, what about the artist’s role today for the human exploration…of space – the final frontier?

Denise and Catherine discuss the renaissance in the connection between art and the nature of exploration and discovery. How relevant is space art today? What function does it serve space exploration? Is it possible for artists’ impressions, and artistic works, to disappear into history just as it did alongside the disappearance of Earth’s new frontier lands? And if we leave out the art, how would space exploration suffer?

art4

Current in Space

Dave shares the first cloudy weather forecast for a Super Earth extrasolar planet. Then Arjun excites us with new data anticipated from the spacecraft GAIA, a super sensitive billion pixel camera set to survey a billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy (and costing some billion dollars). Finally Benjamin on how disappointment quickly turned to delight when researchers with the Hunt for Extromoons with Kepler (HECK) project made one heck of a discovery: no moon but the least massive gaseous world we’ve yet found.

About Catherine Hazin

Catherine Hazin is a professional writer and artist who received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Alberta College of Art and Design. She co-founded the Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Space Society in 2011, and is currently the Arts and Culture Director for the Canadian Space Society.

Catherine also has a love of fashion design and wearable art. She is the Editor of Luxe Magazine, and a senior writer for Calgary Bride. She is also the Fashion and Performance Coordinator for “Make Fashion,” the annual fashion show held in Calgary, Canada. Catherine is devoted to promoting and encouraging collaborations between artists and space science professionals in order to better engage the public, and communicate the accomplishments and the needs of the space industry. and she presented her work to the attendees of the Canadian Space Summit in November 2012, in Calgary.

Links

Catherine Hazin Interviews Space Artist Arthur Woods

Out of this world Canadian Space Society invites artists to the space sector (Fast Forward Weekly)

Canadian Space Society

How to Listen to the Show

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD
Subscribe for free with itunes
Use feedburner in your browser

If you have interesting news and story ideas, as well as topics or potential interview guest, please send them to starspotpodcast@gmail.com

References for today’s episode:

The IAAA Manifesto. International Association of Astronomical Artists. Retrieved January 11, 2014 from http://iaaa.org/.

Episode 43: A Brief Tour of Home, with Jim Bell

For more info on the podcast, please see our About page.

Feature Guest: Jim Bell

Jim_BellDoes 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.

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD

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.

Links

Introduction to Mars – Jim Bell (Video)
Jim Bell – Planetary Society Page
A Turning Point at Mars (Huffington Post)

How to Listen to the Show

If you have interesting news and story ideas, as well as topics or potential interview guest, please send them to starspotpodcast@gmail.com

Episode 42: The Changing Neighborhood: Stars and their Galaxies, with Christine Wilson

For more info on the podcast, please see our About page.

Feature Guest: Christine Wilson

christinewilson

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 Christine Wilson joins Justin Trottier at The Star Spot.

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD

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.

Links

Christine Wilson McMaster Physics and Astronomy Department Page

Origins Institute International Year of Astronomy 2009 Lecture

Professor Christine Wilson is Elected to the Royal Society of Canada (Sept. 9, 2013) (Canadian Astronomical Society)

Dr. Christine Wilson – “Galaxy Collisions, Star Formation and Galactic Evolution” (Video on McMaster University TV, on YouTube)

How to Listen to the Show

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD
Subscribe for free with itunes
Use feedburner in your browserIf you have interesting news and story ideas, as well as topics or potential interview guest, please send them to starspotpodcast@gmail.com

Episode 41: Astrobiology: The Search for Life’s Origins, with Paul Higgs

For more info on the podcast, please see our About page.

Feature Guest: Paul Higgs

Paul_Higgs-367x203What 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.

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD

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.

Links

Paul Higgs McMaster Homepage

Planetary System and the Origins of Life: Amazon book page

The Origins of Life Challenge: Searching for How Life Began: Origins of Life Magazine

How to Listen to the Show

LISTEN NOW OR DOWNLOAD
Subscribe for free with itunes
Use feedburner in your browser

If you have interesting news and story ideas, as well as topics or potential interview guest, please send them to starspotpodcast@gmail.com