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February 24 2014

Ep. 335: Photoelectric Effect

Pop quiz. How did Einstein win his Nobel prize? Was it for relativity? Nope, Einstein won the Nobel Prize in 1921 for the discovery of the photoelectric effect; how electrons are emitted from atoms when they absorb photons of light. But what is it? Let’s find out.

December 30 2013

Ep. 327: Telescope Making, Part 1: Toys and Kits

Why pick up a low quality, wobbly telescope from the department store when you can craft your own – just like Galileo, and all the great astronomers from history. For a minor investment, you can build a worthy telescope out of spare parts and high quality kits.

Tags: Astronomy

December 09 2013

Ep. 324: Sun Grazers

Comets can spend billions of years out in the Oort Cloud, and then a few brief moments of terror orbiting the Sun. These are the sun grazers. Some survive their journey, and flare up to become the brightest comets in history. Others won’t survive their first, and only encounter with the Sun.

December 03 2013

Ep. 323: Isotopes

The number of protons defines an element, but the number of neutrons can vary. We call these different flavors of an element isotopes, and use these isotopes to solve some challenging mysteries in physics and astronomy. Some isotopes occur naturally, and others need to be made in nuclear reactors and particle accelerators.

Tags: Astronomy

November 19 2013

Ep. 321: Solar Flares

Sometimes the Sun is quiet, and other times the Sun gets downright unruly. During the peak of its 11-year cycle, the surface of the Sun is littered with darker sunspots. And its from these sunspots that the Sun generates massive solar flares, which can spew radiation and material in our direction. What causes these flares, and how worried should we be about them in our modern age of fragile technology?

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

November 04 2013

Ep. 319: The Zodiac

Although the Zodiac is best known for astrology nonsense, it has a purpose in astronomy too. The constellations of the Zodiac define the plane of the ecliptic: the region where the Sun, Moon and planets appear to travel through the sky. What are the constellations of the Zodiac, and how do astronomers use them as waypoints?

October 23 2013

Episode 317: Observatories

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to visit one of the big research observatories, like Keck, Gemini, or the European Southern Observatory? What’s it like to use gear that powerful? What’s the facility like? What precautions do you need to take when observing at such a high altitude?

Show Notes

October 15 2013

Ep. 316: Observational vs. Experimental Science

Sometimes you can do science by watching patiently, and sometimes you’ve just got to get your hands dirty with an experiment or two. These two methods have their advantages and disadvantages for revealing Nature’s secrets. Let’s talk about how and why scientists choose which path to go down.

October 07 2013

Ep. 315: Particle Accelerators

Who knew that destruction could be so informative? Only by smashing particles together with more and more energy, can we truly tease out the fundamental forces of nature. Join us to discover the different kinds of accelerators (both natural and artificial) and why questions they can help us answer.

Show Notes

Tags: Astronomy

September 09 2013

Ep. 314: Acceleration

Put that pedal to the metal and accelerate! It’s not just velocity, but a change in velocity. Let’s take a look at acceleration, how you measure it, and how Einstein changed our understanding of this exciting activity.

Ep. 313: Precession

The Earth is wobbling on its axis like a top. You can’t feel it, but it’s happening. And over long periods of time, these wobbles shift our calendars around, move the stars from where they’re supposed to be, and maybe even mess with our climate. Thank you very much Precession.

Tags: Astronomy

August 07 2013

Ep. 312: The Inverse-Square Law and Other Strangeness

Why don’t we have insects the size of horses? Why do bubbles form spheres? Why does it take so much energy to broadcast to every star? Let’s take a look at some non-linear mathematical relationships and see how they impact your day-to-day life.

July 29 2013

July 24 2013

Ep. 309: Creating a Scienc-y Society

Our modern society depends on science. It impacts the way we eat, work, communicate and play. And yet, most people take our amazing scientific advancement for granted, and some are even hostile to it. What can we do to spread the love of science through education, outreach and media?

July 11 2013

Ep. 306: Accretion Discs

When too much material tries to come together, everything starts to spin and flatten out. You get an accretion disc. Astronomers find them around newly forming stars, supermassive black holes and many other places in the Universe. Today we’ll talk about what it takes to get an accretion disc, and how they help us understand the objects inside.

June 25 2013

Ep. 303: Equilibrium

So many of the forces in space depend on equilibrium, that point where forces perfectly balance out. It defines the shape of stars, the orbits of planets, even the forces at the cores of galaxies. Let’s take a look at how parts of the Universe are in perfect balance.

Show Notes

Tags: Astronomy

Ep. 304: Death of a Spacecraft

In the end, everything dies, even plucky space robots. Today we examine the last days of a series of missions. How do spacecraft tend to die, and what did in such heroes as Kepler, Spirit, and Galileo (the missions… not the people).

Show Notes

Four short links: 25 June 2013

  1. Cliodynamics: History as Sciencea systematic application of the scientific method to history: verbal theories should be translated into mathematical models, precise predictions derived, and then rigorously tested on empirical material. In short, history needs to become an analytical, predictive science.
  2. Cricket — indoor location system from MIT. In a nutshell, Cricket uses a combination of RF and ultrasound technologies to provide location information to attached host devices. Wall- and ceiling-mounted beacons placed through a building publish information on an RF channel. [...] The listener runs algorithms that correlate RF and ultrasound samples (the latter are simple pulses with no data encoded on them) and to pick the best correlation. Even in the presence of several competing beacon transmissions, Cricket achieves good precision and accuracy quickly.
  3. The World at Nightan international effort to present stunning nightscape photos and time-lapse videos of the world’s landmarks against celestial attractions.
  4. Paul Steinhardt on Impossible Crystals (YouTube) — quasi-crystals with five-fold symmetry previously believed impossible. And then he found one, and led an expedition in 2011 to Chukotka in Far Eastern Russia to find new information about its origin and search for more samples. As you do when you’re the Albert Einstein Professor of Science at Princeton, a job title that comes with no pressure at all to bring home the impossible.

June 24 2013

Ep. 302: Planetary Motion in the Sky

Even the ancient astronomers knew there was something different about the planets. Unlike the rest of the stars, the planets move across the sky, backwards and forwards, round and round. It wasn’t until Copernicus that we finally had a modern notion of what exactly is going on.

May 25 2013

Ep. 301: Planetary Migration

We’re so familiar with the current configuration of the planets in the Solar System, but did the planets always orbit in this way? Did they form further out and then migrate inward to their current positions? And what about other star systems out there?

Show Notes

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