Monday, April 30, 2012

Tempted by the Fates (WW110)

Dr. Catherine Neish stands atop one of the Kelso Dunes in the Mohave Dessert, California. Check out her website to learn more about her publications, activities and to view a slideshow of Catherine in front of things geologic.

We come now to our tenth episode. For those of you who think in astronomical terms, that means that we have increased our repertoire by an order of magnitude since our first presentation! For our tenth, we introduce a new interviewer to the mix - Marianne Mader. Her choice of interview subject is one whom I know well. My office mate for nearly four years at the University of Arizona and Titan expert, Dr. Catherine Neish of APL at Johns Hopkins. Those regular readers of this blog will know that nearly two years ago, I interviewed Dr. Neish for our sister program "York Universe." Luckily for us, she has always had time to speak to us and to you about the goings on out at Titan and close to home with our Moon.

In that respect, Dr. Neish is somewhat unique, someone who works across the solar system, but mainly on satellites instead of their primaries. However, Titan is large enough that it can be considered a world in its own right and in many ways is as interesting if not more so than some full-fledged planetary bodies. I've always been impressed by Dr. Neish's ability to make a lasting contribution no matter where she goes and you can include our analogue space missions here at Western University in that mix. Last summer, she was an integral member of Mission Control.

The ILSR Analogue Team relaxes at the Grad Club following the successful completion of week one of operations. Your humble narrator is located at the end of the table, clutching a green concoction. Catherine is at right (my left). Incidentally, WW Co-Host Raymond Francis can be seen at my right and Marianne Mader is second from the right.

As usual, my introduction can be found beneath the cut.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Across the Disc of Crimson (WW109)

Dave McCarter of the London Chapter of the RASC (pictured above) will be our guide this week on Western Worlds. Co-host Alyssa Gilbert spoke to him about the real star of the show, seen below!

The 2004 Venus transit as photographed in Hong Kong by Wikipedia user Mswggpai.

The transit isn't to be missed - there won't be another one for over a century, so if you're located in an area that will have a view, be sure to take it in. While I should point out that you should never look directly at the sun without serious protection for your eyes, if you do have a pair of welder's glasses, you should be able to see the spot that is Venus with the naked eye. To find out if you'll be in line to take a look, find a map below courtesy of Fred Espenak of the Goddard Space Flight Centre via Wikipedia, once more:

If you're not in the light toned areas, why not consider a trip overseas? If you do decide to take in this astronomical sight, arid locations are especially helpful. In 2004 Dave caught the transit on the island of crete and once again he will be close to the centre of the transit window on the big island of Hawai'i on the summit of Mauna Kea. Listen to our interview to hear some of Dave's tips or look below the cut for Alyssa's guide to ressources on the transit and my introduction!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Upon a Peak in Darien (WW108)

Our guest on WW this week was David Southwood. He and I both had the joy of working on the Huygens probe in 2005. Of course, our participation on that project was at very different levels - he as senior project leadership with ESA for many years, myself as a graduate student in the US contingent of the DISR Instrument. I was probably amongst the most johnny-come-lately participants, having started in 2004 on a project that had existed in one form or another since 1972.

I mention Huygens because Professor Southwood lists that mission amongst the highlights of his career. However, he has participated in more scientific projects, space missions and scientific endeavors and has won more awards and accolades than I can possibly list in this space. To give you a flavour, he has worked on missions to every classical planet in the solar system and astronomical projects beyond it, was part of the magnetometer team that discovered evidence of liquid water on Europa, led the Cassini Magnetometer Team and has contributed greatly to the study of space weather.

I was extremely fortunate to get the chance to speak with Professor Southwood as he was in Toronto a few weeks ago to give the annual J. Tuzo Wilson lecture at the University of Toronto. I also need to thank his host, Dr. Nigel Edwards (a former prof of mine, back in my undergraduate days) for fitting WW into his and David's schedule at the last possible moment. We and our listeners appreciate your flexibility and accommodation!

What makes this interview one of my favourites is that Professor Southwood really epitomizes what we are trying to do here on Western Worlds. Not only do we want to share the Science of other worlds with you, but also how we get there (Engineering/Space Technology) how the decisions about where to fly get made (Space Agency/Space Politics) and how all of that comes back around to you, our listeners (Education/Public Outreach).  Professor Southwood has led a hybrid career that has combined the best of all of these worlds, and I for one, will take his advice to heart. If I can achieve in my own career even a few percent of what he has been able to do in his, I will count it a resounding success.

If you missed our broadcast, fear not! You can download a copy of Professor Southwood's interview from the WW webpage here. As usual, my introduction is under the cut.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Explorers in the Old Fashioned Sense (WW107)

(Above) Roger stands next to a mock-up of the MSL Rover "Curiosity" The mast "head" which contains the LIBS aperture is up and to the right of Roger.
(Below) The ChemCam instrument in the lab. The LIBS aperture is to the right.

Arguably, the Planetary Science Event of the Year (TM) is going to be the landing of Curiosity on Mars on August the 5th. Tonight we have an interview with the leader of one of the instrument teams - Dr. Roger Wiens of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Dr. Wiens leads the ChemCam instrument which includes the infamous LIBS laser (that cyclops eye on top of the rover's mast). I'm hoping to use this instrument extensively to perform atmospheric sensing work so I know I will be talking a great deal with Dr. Wiens over the months and years which follow.

Since my introduction goes into detail about the rover, I'll leave it there for today. As usual, you can find that introduction under the cut.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Landscape in the Sky (WW106)

This Monday past marks the first interview of Parshati Patel, as she becomes the fourth member of the WW crew to try her hand at interviewing! She certainly couldn't have picked a better subject then Dr. Travis Barman (pictured above) of the Lowell Observatory and the results speak for themselves. If you haven't had the chance to listen, drop by the WW page and pick up a copy of the interview!

The solar system has, for a long time, been our own backyard to astronomers - out beyond our home but not as exotic or enticing as that which lies beyond. But, exo-planets are an interesting cutting-edge convergence of Planetary Science and mainstream Astronomy each of which counts this field as their own. It's a productive rivalry with "Planetary Science" missions like Kepler, a space mission currently conducting a planetary census, coordinating with "Astrophysics" telescopes on the ground to confirm discoveries of new worlds. The statistical results then get put into models, such as those of the Nice group, that help to tell us why our own solar system looks the way it does today. By understanding the initial conditions required to make our solar system "work" and how ours differs from others, we can get a handle on the process more generally.

It's a fascinating study and the explosion in planets over the last decade is nothing less than breath-taking. The expansion in techniques is no less so. While it may be awhile before we get to see them up close and know them the way we do our own solar system, Dr. Barman's direct images of exoplanets far from their parent stars brings to mind what Uranus and Neptune might have looked like a century ago. Who knows what the future in this fast-breaking field will bring? I hope you enjoy the episode, and, as always, my introduction is underneath the cut.