Season One of Western Worlds clues up tonight with my interview of Dr. Jaymie Matthews (pictured above) of the University of British Columbia. We'll be back on Monday, July 30th for Season Two, starting off with a discussion of the Mars Science Laboratory.
In his work as an anthropologist, the famed scientist Jared Diamond is known to express his fondness for the idea of a "natural experiment." What he means by this is that some systems are so large and complex and the ramifications of changing variables so severe that it would be impossible to simulate these systems in the laboratory or the real world. So, instead, what we do is to look at the world around us and its history. For significant events, if we can determine their proximate and ultimate causes and understand the variables in play we can understand the relationship between cause and effect. For instance, we don't need to go out and remove all the trees from an island to understand what deforestation does to the culture living there - the history of Easter Island tells us this.
Similarly, in Astronomy we are lucky that there are examples of just about every structure that exists both today and, through the finite speed of light, in the past. We didn't have to reconstruct the positions of all the near stars to understand what a galaxy looks like from all angles, there are examples of every type in every orientation out there, just waiting to be observed. And we understand the life-cycle of stars from birth to death even though the process requires more time than life has been on Earth because we can see examples of every stage out there.
Similarly, we can use Exoplanets to tell us what our own solar system and our own planet would be like were the conditions a little bit different. Earlier this year we heard from Nikku Madhusudhan about what might happen if Carbon exceeded Oxygen in abundance. This episode, we explore the full gamut of possibilities from planets both nearer and further from their parent stars than we, some with highly eccentric orbits that give them phenomenal seasons. This tells us about climate in general and its ability to regulate planetary temperature and weather. For that reason, this episode is entitled "Vastly Different Worlds." And like what we have learned from studying the clouds on Jupiter and, yes, the dunes on Mars, it can improve our understanding of our own planet and the processes that affect the world we experience.
It's a great way to cap off our season! And like the interview with David Southwood, there's a little something for everyone in the work of Dr. Matthews. As usual, my on-air intro is under the cut. After you listen to this episode, be sure to head on over to our Survey and help to pick out what episodes we'll air over the summer. Have a great couple of months and don't forget to make World Enough and Time for us again the week before Curiosity lands on Mars 10 PM EDT on Monday, July 30!