All Summaries for Starts With A Bang podcast

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The Universe is out there, waiting for you to discover it. There’s a cosmic story uniting us. We’re determined to bring it to everyone.

Starts With A Bang #97 - Tiny Galaxies and Us
When we look at our nearby Universe, it's easy to recognize our own galaxy and the other large, massive ones that are nearby: Andromeda, the major galaxies in nearby groups like Bode's Galaxy, the group of galaxies in Leo, and the huge galaxies at the cores of the Virgo and Coma Clusters, among others. But these are not most of the galaxies in the Universe at all; the overwhelming majority of galaxies are small, low-mass dwarf galaxies, and if we want to understand how we formed and where we came from, it's these objects that we need to be studying more intensely. So what is it that we already know about them? What has recent research revealed about these tiny galaxies in the nearby Universe, both inside and beyond our Local Group, and what else can we look forward to learning in the relatively near future? Join me for a fascinating discussion with Prof. Mia de los Reyes of Amherst College, as we dive into the science of the tiniest galaxies of all, and what they can teach us about our cosmic history as a whole! (This image shows a map of stars in the outer regions of the Milky Way, from the northern celestial hemisphere, with several galactic streams visible. The color-coding indicates the distance to the stars, and the brightness indicates the density of stars in that patch of sky. In the white circles are faint companions of the Milky Way discovered by the SDSS: only two are globular clusters, the rest are all dwarf galaxies. Credit: V. Belokurov and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey)
Sat, September 2, 2023
Starts With a Bang #96 - Detecting the Cosmic Gravitational Wave Background
We all knew, if Einstein's General Theory of Relativity were in fact the correct theory of gravity, that it would only be a matter of time before we detected one of its unmistakable predictions: that all throughout spacetime, a symphony (or cacophony) of gravitational waves would be rippling, creating a cosmic "hum" as all of the moving, accelerating masses generated gravitational waves. The intricate monitoring of the Universe's greatest natural clocks, millisecond pulsars, would be one potential way to reveal this cosmic gravitational wave background. But not many expected that here in 2023, we'd be announcing the first robust evidence for it already, and that future studies will reveal precisely what generates it and where it comes from. Yet here we are, with pulsar timing taking center stage as the second unique method to directly detect gravitational waves in our Universe!For this edition of the Starts With A Bang podcast, I'm so pleased to welcome Dr. Thankful Cromartie to the show, where she guides us through the gravitational wave background, the science of pulsar timing arrays, and the underlying astrophysics of the objects that we monitor with them: millisecond pulsars. It's a fascinating story and one that's more accessible than ever with this latest podcast, and I hope you learn as much as I did listening to it! (The illustration shown here maps out how merging black holes from all across the Universe generate ripples in spacetime, and as those ripples pass across the lines-of-sight from a millisecond pulsar to us, those signals create timing variations across this natural array. For the first time, in 2023, we've detected strong evidence indicating the presence of this cosmic gravitational wave background. Credit: Daniëlle Futselaar ( / Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy)
Sat, August 12, 2023
Starts With A Bang #94 - Dark Energy And Cosmic Growth
We have a pretty good idea of both what's in our Universe and how it grew up. But it's only because we have several different, completely independent lines of evidence that point to the same consensus picture that we actually believe that our Universe is 13.8 billion years old and composed of a mix of normal matter and radiation, but is dominated by dark matter and dark energy on the largest of cosmic scales. In particular, we form large, cosmically bound structures on the scales of galaxies and galaxy clusters, but on larger scales, dark energy and the expanding Universe dominate, working to drive everything apart. The story of how we've come to know this information about the Universe and how we're using both old and new techniques to push the our understanding further is the subject of this edition of our podcast. It features PhD candidate Karolina Garcia, who's kind enough to walk us through a variety of types of research that all serve the same end: to reveal the story of the Universe and how it grew up to be the way it is today. Take a listen; you won't regret it! (This image shows a series of structure-formation simulations: at low resolution, medium resolution, and superior/high resolution, for both cold dark matter and fuzzy dark matter models. If we can measure the Universe precisely and accurately enough, we can distinguish between these types of models, contingent on whether we simulate it to great enough precision. Credit: M. Sipp et al., MNRAS (submitted), 2023)
Sat, June 17, 2023
Starts With A Bang #93 - Mars From The Ground
One of the most exciting possibilities for life beyond Earth doesn't require us going very far. While Mercury and the Moon have no atmosphere and Venus is an inferno-esque hellscape, Mars offers a tantalizing possibility for a new line of life, independent of Earth, here in our Solar System. With the same raw ingredients and more than a billion years of a watery, wet past, Mars could have had, or might even still have today, some form of life on its surface. Part of the reason Mars is so exciting for us is that we've been there: at least, robotically, with a series of orbiters, landers, and even rovers. We've seen and learned so much about the red planet, including some tantalizing hints of what might be biological activity. But there's so much more to learn, and we're reaching the limits of what we can accomplish without having human beings walk on the Martian surface. On this episode of the Starts With A Bang podcast, we're joined by Mars expert Dr. Tanya Harrison, who's worked on three generations of Mars Rovers and is a strong advocate for a variety of future missions to Mars. Join us for this fascinating conversation where she lays out what we know, what remains uncertain, and what we'll need to do if we want to take those next, critical steps. (And, as a bonus, she corrects one or two of my misconceptions along the way!) (This image shows the Mars Perseverance rover in one of its "selfie-mode" images, where its own tracks and the Ingenuity rover are both visible in the background. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS/Seán Doran)
Sat, May 6, 2023
Starts With A Bang #92 - Type Ia Supernovae
Back in the 1990s, observations of type Ia supernovae were the key data set that led astronomers to conclude that the Universe's expansion was accelerating, and some new form of energy, now known as dark energy, was permeating the Universe. Over the past ~25 years, those observations have gotten so good that we now have a tension within the expanding Universe, as different methods of measuring the expansion rate yield two different sets of mutually incompatible results. What's remarkable is that this result is robust even though we're still somewhat uncertain as to exactly how these type Ia supernovae occur. The original scenario, put forth by Chandrasekhar nearly a century ago, still has its adherents, but the evidence appears very strong that approaching and reaching a "mass limit" beyond which atoms are unstable can only explain a small fraction of white dwarf behavior. Instead, a new paradigm dominated by merging white dwarfs may explain nearly all type Ia supernova explosions! On this episode of the Starts With A Bang podcast, we talk to UC Berkeley astronomer Dr. Ken Shen, a theorist whose expertise lies in type Ia supernovae, and learn how just the last 20 or so years have led to a revolution in how we conceive of these "standard candles" in the Universe, and just what observations might soon lead us to know, for certain, how these cosmic events are truly triggered! (The titular illustration shows two merging white dwarfs, the preferred theoretical mechanism for the triggering of some, and perhaps most or even nearly all, type Ia supernovae. The double detonation scenario, where a "detonation" event on the surface propagates to the core and causes a detonation that leads to total destruction of the stellar remnant, it one very intriguing theoretical possibility. Credit: D. A. Howell, Nature, 2010)
Sat, April 8, 2023
Starts With A Bang podcast #91 — Hypermassive neutron stars
When stars are born, they can come with a wide variety of masses. But there are only a few ways that stars can die, and only a few types of remnants that can be left behind: white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. Neutrons stars and black holes are most frequently created from core-collapse supernova events: the deaths of massive stars. Somewhere, even though we're not sure exactly where it is, there's a dividing line between "what makes a neutron star?" and "what makes a black hole?" Somewhere out there, there's a heaviest neutron star, and someplace else a lightest black hole. But the dividing line might not be so clean, after all. It turns out that when neutron stars merge, they can form another neutron star, a black hole, or a third case: an in-between scenario. In this third case, you can temporarily form a hypermassive neutron star: a neutron star that's too massive to be stable, but that collapses in short order to a black hole, but only after persisting as a neutron star for a detectable amount of time. To help guide us through the science of hypermassive neutron stars, I'm so pleased to welcome Dr. Cecilia Chirenti to the show, a joint scientist at NASA Goddard and the University of Maryland, College Park. There's a whole lot of cutting-edge science right at (and even over) the horizon of what we know today, and you won't want to miss this information-rich episode! (This image shows the illustration of a massive neutron star, along with the distorted gravitational effects an observer might see if they had the capability of viewing this neutron star at such a close distance. Credit: Daniel Molybdenum/flickr and raphael.concorde/Wikimedia Commons)
Sat, March 11, 2023
Starts With A Bang #90 - How Galaxies Grow Up
One of the great advances of 20th and 21st century science has been, for the first time to show us two things: how the Universe began and what the Universe looks like today. The modern frontier is all about the in-between stages: how did the Universe grow up? How did it go from particles to atoms to the first stars and galaxies to the modern Milky Way, Local Group, and Universe-at-large? It's a question that, the more deeply we answer it, the greater the number of details that emerge, requiring us to make a special effort to pin each one down. For this episode, I'm so pleased to welcome Dr. Ivanna Escala to the podcast: an expert in how stars and stellar properties within the Local Group can reveal not only its stellar history, but its history of galactic assembly. While the Milky Way has had a few major mergers, its most recent was a whopping ~10 billion years ago. Andromeda, our Local Group's other large galaxy, has a remarkably different story: with a major merger that occurred only 2-4 billion years ago! Have a listen and enjoy, and thanks to Avenues Online for being our sponsor! (This image, assembled from very long wavelengths of light of the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy, shows features within Andromeda's galactic disk as well as the gas clouds of neutral hydrogen found in Andromeda's galactic halo. By examining these features, as well as streams and stars in and around Andromeda, we can reconstruct precisely how this galaxy came to be the way it is today. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF, WSRT)
Sat, February 11, 2023
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