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Science
Natural Sciences

Orbital Path

Updated 3 days ago

Science
Natural Sciences
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Astronomer Michelle Thaller takes a look at the big questions of the cosmos and what the answers can reveal about life here on Earth. From podcast powerhouse PRX, with support from the Sloan Foundation.

Read more

Astronomer Michelle Thaller takes a look at the big questions of the cosmos and what the answers can reveal about life here on Earth. From podcast powerhouse PRX, with support from the Sloan Foundation.

iTunes Ratings

176 Ratings
Average Ratings
152
12
5
3
4

Black Holes from the Dawn of Light

By Bernie Zack - Apr 16 2019
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What a fantastic episode! I wish she would restart this podcast!!!

So sad Orbital Path has ended.

By cruzdann - Dec 22 2018
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We, humans from planet Earth need a podcast like this one. Please consider coming back! Thank you.

iTunes Ratings

176 Ratings
Average Ratings
152
12
5
3
4

Black Holes from the Dawn of Light

By Bernie Zack - Apr 16 2019
Read more
What a fantastic episode! I wish she would restart this podcast!!!

So sad Orbital Path has ended.

By cruzdann - Dec 22 2018
Read more
We, humans from planet Earth need a podcast like this one. Please consider coming back! Thank you.
Cover image of Orbital Path

Orbital Path

Updated 3 days ago

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Astronomer Michelle Thaller takes a look at the big questions of the cosmos and what the answers can reveal about life here on Earth. From podcast powerhouse PRX, with support from the Sloan Foundation.

Rank #1: The Most Dramatic Sky

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The most rare objects in the night sky are only visible in some extreme places. Dr. Michelle Thaller introduces us to Dr. Anna Moore, a scientist whose trips to Antarctica help us better understand the solar system.

Feb 18 2016
15 mins
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Rank #2: The 11 Dimensions of Brian Greene

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We live our lives in three dimensions. But we also walk those three dimensions along a fourth dimension: time.



Our world makes sense thanks to mathematics. Math lets us count our livestock, it lets us navigate our journeys. Mathematics has also proved an uncanny, stunningly accurate guide to what Brian Greene calls “the dark corners of reality.”



But what happens when math takes us far, far beyond what we — as humans — are equipped to perceive with our senses?  What does it mean when mathematics tells us, in no uncertain terms, that the world exists not in three, not in four — but in no fewer than eleven dimensions?



In this episode of Orbital Path, Brian Greene, director of Columbia’s Center for Theoretical Physics and a celebrated explainer of how our universe operates, sits down to talk with Dr. Michelle Thaller. Together they dig into the question of how we — as three-dimensional creatures — can come to terms with all those extra dimensions all around us. 


Orbital Path is produced by David Schulman and edited by Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler. Hosted by Michelle Thaller.



Photo credit: World Science Festival / Greg Kessler.



For more, visit briangreene.org

Oct 20 2017
29 mins
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Rank #3: Making (Gravitational) Waves

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Nearly 100 years after Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves — huge undulations in the fabric of space-time itself — in 2015, detectors here on Earth finally picked up the signal of these massive disturbances.

Dr. Michelle Thaller pulls apart the power and mystery of gravitational waves, and talks with Dr. Janna Levin, theoretical astrophysicist and author of the book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs From Outer Space.

Image caption: The LISA Pathfinder Mission paves the way for our first space-based gravitational wave detector. Having these detectors in space, instead of on Earth will make them much more sensitive and have less interference from other Earth-based noises, in our search for more clarity on gravitational waves.

Image courtesy NASA JPL / ESA.

Orbital Path is produced by Justin O’Neill and editor Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler. Hosted by Michelle Thaller.

Apr 21 2017
26 mins
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Rank #4: Episode 21: First Light

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There was a time before planets and suns. A time before oxygen. You could say there was time, even, before what we think of as light.

Back in 1989, the Big Bang theory was still in question. But that year, a NASA team led by cosmologist John Mather launched a mission to probe the earliest moments of the universe.

Mather won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE). This work dramatically confirmed the Big Bang theory — and, as part of it, Mather and his team took a picture of the very first light escaping into our universe.

In this episode, Dr. Thaller visits Mather to talk about these discoveries, which transformed scientific understanding of the universe. We also hear about Mather’s current project: an orbiting space telescope twice the size of the Hubble. It promises to capture the first light of galaxies and stars, and even distant planets not unlike our own.

Orbital Path is produced by David Schulman and edited by Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler. Hosted by Michelle Thaller.

Photo credit: NASA

For more, here’s a vintage 1989 video on the COBE project.

Aug 18 2017
22 mins
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Rank #5: Episode 20: Holy Sheet!

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NASA is relying on hi-tech lasers — and some vintage U.S. Navy hand-me-downs — to learn about the polar regions of a remarkable, watery planet. It’s located in the Orion spur of our galaxy. NASA scientists have detected mountain ranges completely under ice. But the remaining mysteries of the ice here are profound, and what the science tells us could have dramatic impact on human life.

In this episode, Dr. Thaller visits with two key members of NASA’s IceBridge mission — Christy Hansen, Airborne Sciences Manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center, and Joe MacGregor, Deputy Project Scientist for Operation IceBridge.

Orbital Path is produced by David Schulman and edited by Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler. Hosted by Michelle Thaller.

Photo credit: NASA

Aug 04 2017
20 mins
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Rank #6: Episode 22: Journey to the Sun

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Locked up on the Greek island of Crete, Icarus and his dad made wings out of  beeswax and bird feathers. They soared to freedom — but Icarus got cocky, flew too close to the sun, and fell into the sea. 

A few thousand years later, NASA is ready to do the job right.

The Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to fly in 2018. The spacecraft has a giant heat shield, tested to withstand 2,500-degree temperatures.

For something so basic to all of our lives — and fundamental to the science of astronomy — the sun remains surprisingly mysterious. To learn more, Michelle meets up with Nicky Viall, a NASA heliophysicist working on the mission. She describes how direct measurements of the sun’s super-hot plasma, and solar wind, may dramatically enhance our understanding of the star at the center of our lives.



Orbital Path is produced by David Schulman and edited by Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler. Hosted by Michelle Thaller.

Photo credit: NASA

Sep 15 2017
18 mins
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Rank #7: A World Without Boundaries

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From space, the view of earth has no boundaries for countries, no barriers to achievement. Michelle Thaller speaks with Aprille Ericcson, a senior engineer at NASA, about her career path and about current challenges recruiting more women and minorities into engineering and space science.

Orbital Path is hosted by astronomer Michelle Thaller and produced by Lauren Ober. Learn more about them here.

Jun 15 2016
18 mins
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Rank #8: Black Hole Breakthroughs

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Scientific discovery can happen in two ways: “Eureka!” moments of sudden understanding, where researchers glean unexpected insight into new phenomena. Or, a slower, less glamorous hunt for truth that happens day-after-day, for years. But both methods can lead to new understandings that pushes the field forward for future breakthroughs.

In this episode: the sudden realization that led to the discovery of the first ever black hole, and another more methodical search for the moment that a star dies and a black hole is born.

Guests:

Jeremy Schnittman

Paul Murdin

Christopher Kochanek

Image:

Created by Jeremy Schnittman; a simulation of a black hole accretion disk, and also inspired by “Interstellar”.

Oct 22 2016
13 mins
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Rank #9: Minisode 5: Scary Math

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In a scary time, in a scary world, in a scary universe, NASA astronomer Andrew Booth says one of the things that frightens him most is math.

Specifically, the power of mathematics to describe the universe.

That’s because, beyond the comforting world of Newtonian physics, math gets mind-bendingly weird. So from the relative safety of their backyard hot tub, Dr. Michelle Thaller and Booth (who happen to be married) try to sort out what it really means to live not in just three dimensions, but in eleven — as mathematics now tells us we do.

Join us in the hot tub as we turn on the jets, get wet, and weird…and just a little freaked out.

Orbital Path is produced by David Schulman and edited by Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler. Hosted by Michelle Thaller.

Photo: To see Michelle and Andrew in hot tub please use dimension 5.

Sep 29 2017
11 mins
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Rank #10: In Search of Planet 9

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Proposed mockup of our solar system (the sun is the tiny yellow dot in the middle), and the proposed orbit of Planet 9 (called Planet X here). (Courtesy of Scott Sheppard / Carnegie Institution of Washington)

An Orbital Path episode all about…an orbital path! Planet 9’s, to be exact. The replacement for Pluto as our solar system’s ninth planet is out there somewhere, and astronomers can see the ripples it creates, especially at this time of year.

In this Episode:

On November 5, 2012, astronomer Scott Sheppard and his team discovered a small, frozen space rock at the edge of what we’re able to observe in our solar system. He never anticipated that this observation would hint toward a big change in how we understand solar system: the existence of an undiscovered planet inside our solar system.

Astronomer Mike Brown, better known for “killing Pluto,” is leading the hunt for Planet Nine and he thinks that we won’t have to wait for much longer.

Nov 19 2016
16 mins
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Rank #11: Our Darkening Universe

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Secrets of the universe? A glimpse of the whiteboard in the office of Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist Adam Riess.

Adam Riess was only 41 when he was named a Nobel Prize winner. The Johns Hopkins distinguished professor of astronomy shared in the award for his work on something called “dark energy” — a discovery that over the past 20 years has profoundly shifted our understanding of the universe.

Riess made news again recently when he and colleagues working with the Hubble Space Telescope announced new findings about the rate at which the universe is expanding — findings which simply cannot be explained by physics as we know it.

It’s weird and profound stuff. Our story begins a century ago, with a riddle posed by a curious part of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity — something called the “Cosmological Constant.” The fate of the universe just may hang in the balance.

This episode of Orbital Path was produced by David Schulman.

Our editor is Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler.

Support for Orbital Path is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science, technology, and economic performance.

Image credit: David Schulman

Mar 09 2018
21 mins
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Rank #12: Space Robots to Europa!

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Galileo discovered Europa, Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon, in 1610. In 1977, the Voyager spacecraft buzzed past and we realized it was covered in ice. It took a few more years to understand that it also likely had unfrozen liquid water oceans.

In this episode, Kevin Hand, Deputy Project Scientist for the Europa mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) explains how his team plans to launch a series of missions to orbit, land on, and hopefully explore the curious moon’s deep salty oceans with a self-driving space submarine.

Hand thinks Europa has the best chance of fostering living alien life at this moment in time. “If we’ve learned anything about life on Earth, where there’s water, you find life and there’s a whole ton of water out at Europa,” Hand says.

And Tom Cwik, manager for JPL’s space technology program, describes how he looks to Earth-bound submarines, ice drills and self-driving cars for inspiration of how to explore this distant world.

Image credit: Courtesy NASA’s Galileo spacecraft.

Orbital Path is produced by Justin O’Neill and editor Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler. Hosted by Michelle Thaller.

Feb 24 2017
18 mins
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Rank #13: Chasing An Eclipse

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Michael Kentrianakis loves eclipses and has seen them from all over the world. Host Michelle Thaller and Mike talk about the stages of the eclipse we can see in his video that went viral a few months ago after an Alaska Airlines flight. That flight was diverted for better eclipse viewing thanks to Joe Rao, who has convinced airlines to do this before. We’ll hear how he pulled it off and learn where best to view the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse.

Episode Extras



Mike Kentrianakis taking a photo of the eclipse.

Mike viewing the eclipse with a solar filter.



Joe Rao and the captain.



Full group of eclipse chasers on the flight.

Orbital Path is produced by Justin O’Neill and hosted by Michelle Thaller.

Photos courtesy of Michael Kentrianakis.

Jul 15 2016
17 mins
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Rank #14: Star Death Tango

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On August 17, 2017, an alert went out.

Gravitational wave detectors in Louisiana and Washington state had detected a disturbance from deep space.

The effect was subtle — these detectors and a sister site in Italy measure disturbances smaller than a proton. But the evidence was dramatic. And the story they told was truly cataclysmic:

A pair of neutron stars had spiraled to their deaths.

That apocalyptic collision of two super-dense stars bent the very fabric of space time — just as Einstein had predicted. It sent Gamma rays out into deep space. It created an immense cloud of gaseous gold.

And, 130 million years later, astronomers on earth witnessed the final 100 seconds of these two stars’ dance of death. It’s taught us where gold came from, and helped humans understand other intractable mysteries of the universe.

In this episode of Orbital Path, Dr. Michelle Thaller speaks with two astronomers who watched this cosmic death tango from the best seats in the house.

We’ll hear from Dr. Vicky Kalogera. She’s Director of CIERA — the Center of Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics at Northwestern University. Kalogera was a lead author on a journal article on the neutron star collision co-authored by close to 4,000 scientists.

We’ll also hear from physicist Mike Landry. He’s Head of LIGO Hanford — one of the sites that, in collaboration with Italy’s VIRGO detector, measured the neutron stars’ characteristic gravitational waves.



Orbital Path is produced by David Schulman. The program is edited by Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler. Hosted by Dr. Michelle Thaller.

Support for Orbital Path is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science, technology, and economic performance. More at sloan.org

Image credit: CALTECH/NSF/LIGO Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

Neutron star audio chirp credit: LIGO/University of Oregon/Ben Farr

Feb 09 2018
24 mins
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Rank #15: Aliens Again!

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We’ve got some awkward news to share, folks: The producer of Orbital Path is claiming he’s been abducted by space aliens.

So this week, we’re dusting off the theremin and returning to one of our favorite early episodes — “Must Be Aliens.”

Dr. Michelle Thaller talks with Phil Plait — AKA the “Bad Astronomer” — about the Kepler mission to find planets circling other stars … and why we humans are so quick to ascribe the unknowns of the cosmos to aliens.

In the two years since this episode was originally produced, however, the universe has not stood still. So Michelle has an update on the Kepler project — and a discovery that, once upon a time, had certain astronomers murmuring the “A” word.

Orbital Path is produced by David Schulman and edited by Andrea Mustain. “Must be Aliens” episode produced by Lauren Ober. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler. Hosted by Michelle Thaller.

Nov 17 2017
16 mins
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Rank #16: A Tale of Two Asteroids

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The asteroid belt is portrayed in movies as a crowded place with massive rocks bouncing each other like pool balls, capable of sending a mile-wide missile hurtling toward Earth at any moment. The reality is much more fascinating.

Host Dr. Michelle Thaller speaks with Dr. Lucy McFadden, Co-Investigator of NASA’s Dawn Mission to orbit the asteroids Vesta and Ceres. She shares what they’ve learned by traveling 130 million miles to visit places we’ve always viewed from afar.

Episode Extras

This image of asteroid Vesta is one of many images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft to create an animation showing the diversity of minerals through color representation.

This view from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows a fresh crater among older terrain on Ceres.

Learn more about Dawn and see even more amazing photos right here.

Orbital Path is produced by Justin O’Neill and hosted by Michelle Thaller.

Aug 22 2016
15 mins
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Rank #17: Mini-sode 1: NASA’s NICER Mission

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Listeners, we’ve heard you! You requested more episodes, so we present the first of our mini episodes. They’ll arrive two weeks after each monthly regular episode, and include Michelle Thaller’s insight on the latest space news. Enjoy episode one:

NASA’s NICER (Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer) mission will launch in May. Michelle explains the NICER mission’s many applications, including the possibility of using neutron stars as intergalactic global positioning systems.

Orbital Path is produced by Justin O’Neill and editor Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler. Hosted by Michelle Thaller.

Image courtesy NASA: A star’s spectacular death in the constellation Taurus was observed on Earth as the supernova of 1054 A.D. Now, almost a thousand years later, a superdense neutron star left behind by the stellar death is spewing out a blizzard of extremely high-energy particles into the expanding debris field known as the Crab Nebula. This composite image uses data from three of NASA’s Great Observatories.

Apr 03 2017
6 mins
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Rank #18: Lessons in Landslides

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Space science can help track what’s happening on Earth. In this podcast episode, Orbital Path talks landslides and the satellites that monitor them for the third anniversary of the deadliest landslide in US history.

On March 22, 2014 a 650-foot hillside collapsed and covered the community of Oso, Washington. Forty-three people died. Hear from scientists working to investigate this landslide and predict future ones, as well as a woman who witnessed the landslide.

David Montgomery studied the Oso landslide’s remains as part of the ‘Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance’ (GEER) team that investigated the landslide and tried to pinpoint the causes that lead to the Oso landslide.

Dr. Dalia Kirschbaum, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, studies landslides from space using satellites to create various models. Her goal is to develop a model that can be used as the foundation for a global landslide predicting software that can help keep people living in wet, mountainous regions safe from the slides.

And Asheley Bryson is the manager at the Darrington Sno-Isles Library, which is just a few miles from the site of the landslide. She shares her memories from that day.

Orbital Path is produced by Justin O’Neill and editor Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler. Hosted by Michelle Thaller.

Image by Jonathan Godt, courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey.

Mar 20 2017
22 mins
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Rank #19: How the World Came Together to Avoid Ozone Disaster

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In 1985, the British Antarctic Survey discovered something that shocked scientists around the world: the ozone layer had a hole in it. And the hole was growing very quickly.

When they were presented with the problem, politicians and world leaders quickly came up with an international agreement to immediately reduce chlorofluorocarbons released into the atmosphere. It was a success story, and we can learn from it on climate change.

In the episode:

Atmospheric chemist Dr. Susan Solomon shares her story of leading a team of scientists to Antarctica, scrambling to understand the problem and pretty quickly finding the root cause: a group of chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons that people were releasing into the atmosphere on the other side of the planet.

NASA chemist Dr. Anne Douglass explains ozone and and the very serious consequences of living in a world without an ozone layer. She also compares the decisive Montreal Protocol to the very different modern reaction to climate change, where American politicians openly deny the science at the root of a global crisis.

Jan 23 2017
18 mins
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Rank #20: From Another Star

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NASA’S office of planetary defense isn’t worried about Klingons or Amoeboid Zingatularians. 

They worry about asteroids and comets. 

Like the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013. It was about 20 yards across. An asteroid 150 yards in diameter could take out a city. An even bigger one — as the dinosaurs reading this will attest — could change earth’s ecology, and lead to mass extinctions.

Kelly Fast, program manager for NASA’s office of planetary defense, tells Dr. Michelle Thaller about an asteroid that watchers in Hawaii recently sighted:  a mysterious, massive, cigar-shaped object. 

Millions of years into its journey, it was traveling faster than any spacecraft ever built by humans. It’s the first object ever known to visit our solar system that originated in the orbit of another star. Too fast to be trapped by our sun’s gravity, it’s now traveling a path that will take it back into deep, interstellar space.



Orbital Path is produced by David Schulman. The program is edited by Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler. Hosted by Dr. Michelle Thaller.



Illustration credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Dec 15 2017
16 mins
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