Episode 200, June 23, 2014
Hosts: Paul, Shah, Lianne, Julie, Ryan, Harrison, Ted, Jesse
Title: The 200th Episode: Just getting warmed up!
York Universe began in 2009 with the International Year of Astronomy (called ‘Live from York University’ at the time). Over the last 5 years, we’ve grown from a couple hosts and a twinkle in our eye to a full team of motivated individuals, captained by our resident Australian (and Dundee lookalike) Paul Delaney. Now celebrating our 200th episode, we look back over the history, and talk about the future. In this episode we also feature 2 panel discussions: The Human Exploration of Mars and Life in the Universe. We’ve had a great time with every episode, and look forward to the next ones. Thanks for listening everyone, podcast and show notes below.
First Hour: hosted by Jesse, Paul, Julie, Lianne, Ted, and Harrison
The Ongoing History of York Universe: Paul et al. wax eloquently on the history of York Universe: where it started, how it has evolved, and where it may be going in the future.
This week in space/astronomy history:
1. June 18, 2009 – LRO and LCROSS missions to the moon launched. The launch of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) marked NASA’s return to the moon; these were the first lunar missions in a decade. The LCROSS mission’s goal was to look for ice in parts of craters that were permanently in shadow and did detect some ice in the crater Cabeus. The LRO has been mapping the moon in great detail. It has returned images of interesting geological features as well as images of equipment left behind at the Apollo landing sites.
2. June 21, 2004 – SpaceShipOne launched, first privately funded space flight. SpaceShipOne was a suborbital spaceplane air-launched from its mothership the White Knight. The craft were developed and flown by Mojave Aerospace Ventures. The project won the X Prize the year it was launched. This was the 15th test flight of the craft, but the first to reach space (100.1km altitude reached). Made pilot Mike Melvill the first non-governmental astronaut.
3. June 24, 1915 – Sir Fred Hoyle FRS is born (died August 20, 2001). He was both an astronomer and science fiction writer. Noted for his work on stellar nucleosynthesis, he was passionately opposed to the Big Bang Theory, despite being the originator of the actual name of the theory. He also is one of the earliest scientists to suggest panspermia, the transportation of life by natural means from one planet to another.
4. June 26, 1730 – Charles Messier is born (died April 12, 1917). Messier was a French astronomer most widely known for his compilation of 103 objects now known as the Messier Catalogue. This list was designed to help comet hunters distinguish between permanent sky fixtures (i.e., nebulae and clusters) from transient comets.
Panel Discussion #1: The Human Exploration of Mars
Participating hosts: Julie, Paul, Lianne, Ted
Introduction: The exploration of Mars traces back over hundreds of years to the time before telescopes even existed. Mars was simply a wanderer, silently traveling through the night sky in its complex, yet captivating, pattern. With the use of the telescope, and subsequent innovations over the years, humans have become increasingly familiar with the red planet. Perhaps the most famous pre-spaceflight-era discussions surrounded the observations of one Giovanni Schiaparelli on Martian Canali. Schiaparelli, and others, interpreted lines on the surface of Mars as channels. Some believed them to be artificially created by an intelligent civilization, and spent years trying to argue that conclusion.
Suddenly, in 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and changed the way we explored space. While Mars wasn’t the first destination for a planetary probe (Mariner 2 successfully flew by Venus in December of 1962), humans began up-close exploration of Mars in July of 1965 using Mariner 4. Since then, there have been another 18 successful missions to Mars ranging from flybys, to orbiting satellites, to landers and rovers. At the moment there are 5 operating missions on Mars, with two more en route.
Through out all this, humanity has always had an eye to setting foot on Mars. The top space agencies on the planet are actively researching how to carry out such a mission. Further, privatized space companies have begun developing possible solutions to putting humans on Mars. Perhaps the most notable of these private companies is Mars One, which has developed plans for a one-way trip to Mars to establish the first colony. It is quite clear that Mars will remain a very active part of humanity’s exploration of space; likely to hold permanent colonies of Earth in the future; and likely to remain an outpost pushing the boundaries of science, engineering, and discovery.
1. Why do you think humans have such an interest in Mars?
2. Robotics on Mars: successes and failures.
3. Mars One, SpaceX, Intergovernmental Cooperation
4. The Pros and Cons of Terraforming.
5. Curiosity celebrates one Martian year on the Red Planet (Suggested Reading: NASA article).
Reminiscing about York Universe:
The hosts share a couple personal highlights and memories from their tenure on the show. Also, hosts Jen and Shah put together a great video introducing many of the hosts, and then asked them trivia questions in an pitiful attempt to embarrass them….. it worked. Check out the video here: York Universe 200th Episode Trivia
Second Hour: hosted by Harrison, Ryan, Shah, Julie, Paul, Jesse
1. The passing of one of the greatest comet hunters of all time: William (Bill) Bradfield. He passed away on June 9, 2014 at the age of 86. He is credited with 18 visually detected comet finds from 1972 through until 2004. He was resident of Adelaide South Australia, past president of the Astronomical Society of South Australia. He has an asteroid named after him: 3430 Bradfield.
2. “Magic Island” observed in seas of Titan. Recent images from the Cassini spacecraft show a mysterious formation in Ligeia Mare, Titan’s second-largest sea. The “transient feature” did not appear on earlier passes and had disappeared by the time Cassini made another pass. Though the researchers have taken to calling it “Magic Island,” they do not believe it actually is an island. They believe the feature’s appearance may have its roots in the changing seasons: Titan’s northern hemisphere is entering early summer. Four possible explanations have been put forth by the team:
- Northern hemisphere winds may be kicking up and forming waves on Ligeia Mare. The radar imaging system might see the waves as a kind of “ghost” island.
- Gases may push out from the sea floor of Ligeia Mare, rising to the surface as bubbles.
- Sunken solids formed by a wintry freeze could become buoyant with the onset of warmer temperatures during the late Titan spring.
- Ligeia Mare has suspended solids, which are neither sunken nor floating, but act like silt in a terrestrial delta.
3. NASA recreates the smell of Titan’s atmosphere in lab. Using a spectrophotometer on the Cassini spacecraft, scientists have measured the atmosphere of Titan many times. We know it’s a mixture of hydrocarbons and nitrates based on the spectrum of light coming from the atmosphere. However, recreating it exactly in a lab is very difficult. By playing with multiple different initial molecules in a lab, letting them mix, the scientists were able to end up with a spectrum that very closely mimics that of Cassini’s data. As a result, we now know that Titan’s atmosphere smells a bit like gasoline (not so surprising given the amount of ethane there, Suggested Reading: NASA article, dbrief article).
Panel Discussion #2: Life in the Universe
Participating hosts: Harrison, Shah, Ryan, Paul
Introduction: When we think about life on Earth, we can’t ignore the fact that life is everywhere. Everything you look in your daily activities has some form of life on it, millions of tiny bacteria that populate surfaces, plants, humans are not the most populous species on Earth by a long shot. We have found life in the hottest volcanoes, the deepest parts of the oceans, inhospitable pools of acid, and even in the frozen wastes of the arctic ice. But when we look beyond our own world, we see the opposite, barren and apparently empty worlds in the vastness of space.
If there is hope of finding extraterrestrial life, where will we find it? Will life pop up in our solar system, on Mars? On Jupiter’s moon Europa? Perhaps on Saturn’s moons Titan or Enceladus? What would a discovery of life, or lack of life, mean about the origins of life on Earth?
Or are we to look to the stars, with billions of potential exoplanets dotting the galaxy, will life appear? Is life plentiful in the universe, or are we simply an oasis in an empty desert?
Since the first discovery of a planet orbiting a star in 1995, scientists have found over 1000 planets in a variety of ways, by looking at light curves of a star during a transit, by measuring the Doppler shift as a planet ‘tugs’ on its star with gravity, and by directly imaging planets with photographic techniques and the latest observing technology.
1. Where is the best place in the solar system to find life? If you had NASA’s budget, where would you look? Why? What would you do?
2. With all the work of Kepler in the past few years, we are getting closer to finding Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. With the sheer numbers, is it likely we will find life beyond our own sun? If so, when will we find it?
3. What will life look like? Do we expect it to look like us? Will it be basic, complex, advanced?
Thanks for listening!
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