Monday, February 24, 2014- Geophysicist Kaustubh Thirumalai explains how the Earth has changed temperature over the last 11,000 years. Climate change is real.

28Feb

Geophysicist Kaustubh Thirumalai (@holy_kau) explained so much about the world we live in, and how it has been changing in time.  Over the last century, physical chemists like Harold Urey figured out that the relative abundances of isotopes were sensitive to the local temperature.  Kaustubh has applied these so-called 'proxies' as ways to indirectly measure the temperature and salinity of the ocean.  These measurements go back to the last 10,000 years (aka. the 'Holocene' - in between glacial worlds). Why was it hotter or colder in the past?  What will the climate be like in the next 100 years?  About 56 million years ago the world had a period of enhanced warming, which gives us an imperfect analog to the modern climate. Kaustubh breaks down the fact that the vast majority of scientists are in accord about anthropogenic climate change.

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Monday, February 3, 2014- Dr. Joel Green observes outbursting young stars.

18Feb

Dr. Joel Green's vivid descriptions of the observations of young stars bring to life the details of the star formation process.  Joel answers questions about how long it takes planets to form, and how to look for disks around stars.  The disks around stars are hotter closer into the star, and colder farther away from the star.  Using infrared-sensitive detectors connected to telescopes, astronomers like Joel and cohost DJ Gigayear discover properties of disks surrounding young stars.  We break down the different classes and types of protostars.  Joel describes his work with the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Herschel Space Telescope.  One of the things Joel is trying to figure out is the effect of chaotic sudden burst events seen in stars like FU Orionis.

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Monday, February 17, 2014- Astronomer Klaus Pontoppidan educates us about planet formation.

17Feb

Astronomer Klaus Pontoppidan visited us in the studio this week from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), in Baltimore, MD.  Klaus is attacking questions about the origins of life, and how planets form around stars.  He is one of the foremost experts in infrared astronomical spectroscopy and the detailed chemistry of the birth sites of planets.  Specifically, he has detected water in the form of either gas (water vapor), or ice (frozen water).  Back on Earth, there are still remnants of the 4.6 billion year old solar protoplanetary disk.  These shards of pristine and processed rock (rarely) rain onto our homes in the form of meteorites.  Klaus gives us advice on where to look for these meteorites so we can sell them on eBay.  We wrap up with a discussion of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), and how this and other technologies will dramatically improve the detail with which we can examine distant planets.

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Monday, January 20, 2014- Overview of exoplanets, and new tools for their discovery

17Feb

Exoplanets are planets around stars other than the sun.  We now know about thousands of exoplanets or candidate exoplanets, owing to advances in technology and space telescopes.  The main space telescope used for discovery of exoplanets is the NASA Kepler satellite, which can indirectly detect the presence of exoplanets orbiting stellar systems through the transit technique.  There is building evidence that most stars have planets.  A new class of instruments employing "extreme adaptive optics" are emerging, and we highlight the Gemini Planet Imager's first light in November 2013.  Astronomer and guest DJ Timber helps elucidate the challenge of exoplanet detection, and what it all means.

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Monday, January 13, 2014- Dr. Roz Eggo, Texas viruses and epidemics in general

16Feb

Dr. Roz Eggo joins us on the show to explain influenza (flu) pandemics, and how immunity works.  What to the H and the N mean in the flu strains, like H1N1?  What characterizes a flu pandemic?  What is the difference between a pandemic and just a bad flu season?  How do we predict what strains will be dominant for a coming flu season?  Herd immunity helps to slow down transmission in everyone, not just those people who have been vaccinated.  Roz's research involves how hospitalizations in Texas are related to infectious disease circulation.  She uses population level models to inform the hospitalization rates.  A key factor is the contact rate of students in- and out- of school, where students get colds more easily from others.  Roz sorts out the sources of data and answers all our questions about viruses.

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Monday, December 9, 2013- Amanda Lea explains mate choice in Tungara frogs.

3Feb

University of Texas at Austin Graduate Student Amanda Lea explains all about female mate choice in Tungara frogs.  Frogs convey information about themselves to their potential mates by their characteristic calls. Working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Amanda has done work in forests of Panama and in phonotaxis chambers.  We can now directly learn the preferences of frogs by playing back recorded sounds and watching their movements.  Amanda entertains us by replicating the characteristic "Tuunn-gara" calls.  The decoy effect is all around us!

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