High Flying Astronomy

One of the challenges of ground based astronomy is that Earth’s atmosphere is between us and the stars. Our atmosphere not only leads to the twinkling effect we see with stars, but it also absorbs many of the wavelengths of light we’d like to observe. One solution is to put telescopes in space. Another is to locate them at extremely high altitudes. But for some wavelengths such as infrared a high plateau isn’t high enough, but launching a telescope into space is excessively expensive. A compromise is to put a telescope on an airplane. Read more


The Science Behind ‘The Martian’ Hermes Spacecraft

In The Martian, journeys to Mars are made possible through a large spacecraft known as the Hermes. Unlike the Apollo program, where each trip to the Moon required a separate spacecraft, the fictional Ares program uses the Hermes as a taxi to between Earth and Mars. Individual missions dock with the Hermes, but the Hermes simply makes the rounds between Earth and Mars over and over. While the Hermes is a work of fiction, it’s based in well established science. Read more

Credit: NASA

Wish You Were Here

Modern astronomical instruments rely upon digital sensors. Images are gathered through CCDs, which can be manipulated to create wonderfully brilliant images. But it wasn’t that long ago that images still required photographic film. Then, the only way we could gather images from space was to physically transport the film into space and somehow get it back. Like family trips of the day you took photographs hoping they would turn out, and wait to develop them when you got home. This was true of our trips to the Moon and the images astronauts brought home. Read more


The Mathematics of Networks

Graph theory is an interesting idea of connecting dots with lines. It may sound like a simple game, but underneath it is some complex mathematics. On our show today is Dr. Paul Wenger, Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He’s going to talk to us about the mathematics of graph theory. In our second half we’ll talk social networks and the six degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Host: Brian Koberlein
Guest: Paul Wenger
Producer: Mark Gillespie
Music: Marcus Warner

The One Universe at a Time Podcast is produced at the Rochester Institute of Technology with support from the RIT College of Science.


The Comet That Was Once Two

When the Rosetta spacecraft reached comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, one of the striking features was its “rubber duck” shape with two distinct lobes. One of the questions it raised was whether the comet had simply eroded in its middle region, or whether it had formed from a low-speed collision. We now know the ducky comet was once two comets. Read more

Credit: NASA

Kronoseismology And The Rings Of Saturn

Seismology is the study of vibrations and waves through the Earth’s interior. By studying how vibrations are transmitted through the Earth we can study the structure of the Earth as a whole. Similar methods have been applied to the Sun, known as helioseismology, and through it we have an understanding of things such as the temperature and pressure of the Sun’s core. We’ve also been able to study some stars in this way (asteroseismology) from which we can determine things like a star’s age. While it’s a powerful tool, seismology methods pose a challenge for gas planets. But because Saturn has a complex ring system, its vibrations can be measured indirectly. The process is known as Kronoseismology. Read more


The Potsdam Gravity Potato

The Earth has a spherical shape (technically an oblate spheriod) but it’s gravitational field is not as spherical. There are regions of the Earth where it’s surface gravity is stronger and others where it is weaker. If we map the gravitational field of the Earth, and represent gravitational strength by elevation, then we find a distorted shape shown above, sometimes called the Potsdam Gravity Potato. Read more