The Cosmic Controversy Podcast
Episode 61 — Could A Snowball Earth Happen Again?

Episode 61 — Could A Snowball Earth Happen Again?

July 31, 2021

University of Chicago associate professor Dorian Abbot chats about his research on the controversial Snowball Earth Hypothesis.  That is, the idea that at least twice in Earth’s geological past, our planet was basically a glacial ball of ice and snow.  Abbot says it likely happened some 2 billion years ago and again some 600 to 800 million years ago.   There's evidence for at least four such snowball events that likely persisted for tens of millions of years.  

Episode 60 — Why Our Human Brain Is Undeniably Unique In The Cosmos

Episode 60 — Why Our Human Brain Is Undeniably Unique In The Cosmos

July 23, 2021

Our civilization and technology as we know it owes itself to a fluke of evolution that enabled the development of human intelligence.  It’s a marvelous and nuanced intelligence that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the cosmos.  That doesn’t mean that intelligent life isn’t out there.  But it’s likely not very similar to our own.  Guest Bret Stetka chats about his new book “A History of the Human Brain” from Workman Publishing and tackles some of humanity’s biggest questions. 

Episode 59 — Einstein’s Little-Appreciated Window Onto Far Flung Exoplanets

Episode 59 — Einstein’s Little-Appreciated Window Onto Far Flung Exoplanets

July 16, 2021

Darren DePoy, Professor of Astronomy and Associate Dean for Research at Texas A&M University in College Station, talks about using one of Einstein’s little-known and underappreciated method of microlensing to look for extrasolar planets around sunlike stars.  An expert on building telescope instrumentation, DePoy outlines the other methods of planet detection and a bit about the difficulties of funding huge astronomical projects such as the Giant Magellan Telescope.

Episode 58 — How The Unsung ‘Moon Buggy’ Saved The Final Three Apollo Missions

Episode 58 — How The Unsung ‘Moon Buggy’ Saved The Final Three Apollo Missions

July 9, 2021

Guest Earl Swift, a former reporter for The Virginian-Pilot and New York Times bestselling author of “Chesapeake Requiem” discusses his brand-new book “Across the Airless Wilds---the Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings,” just out from William Morrow.  Swift talks candidly about how NASA’s Apollo Lunar Moon Rover transformed the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions and argues that these last six moon-walking astronauts don’t get enough credit as bona fide explorers. 

Episode 57 — Why Our Earth Is Still One Of A Kind

Episode 57 — Why Our Earth Is Still One Of A Kind

July 2, 2021

University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward, co-author of the famed non-fiction title, “Rare Earth:  Why Complex Life Is Uncommon In The Universe" is my guest.  He and University of Washington astronomer Donald Brownlee’s controversial book was published two decades ago, but even in this age of astrobiological plenty, remains as prescient as ever.

Episode 56 — The Case For Antimatter Propulsion

Episode 56 — The Case For Antimatter Propulsion

June 26, 2021

Guest Gerald Jackson, former Fermilab physicist and advanced propulsion entrepreneur chats about his plans for an Antimatter Propulsion interstellar robotic probe.  First stop would be Proxima Centauri.  In a wide-ranging interview, Jackson talks about the politics and pitfalls of advance propulsion research. Too many people seem to think antimatter is something that is still science fiction.  It’s not.  It’s as real as the chair you’re sitting on.

Episode 55 — How Ford’s Tri-Motor Airplane Helped Create The Airline Industry of Today.

Episode 55 — How Ford’s Tri-Motor Airplane Helped Create The Airline Industry of Today.

June 18, 2021

Matt Anderson, the John and Horace Dodge Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, speaks candidly about the early days of The Ford Motor Company and its foray into aviation via its revolutionary Tri-Motor airplane.  Although the Ford Tri-Motor was in production for less than a decade, its influence spawned much of what we take for granted about today’s passenger airline industry.  Lots of interesting tidbits make for a lively episode.

Episode 54 — What Nearby Stellar Open Clusters Are Still Teaching Us

Episode 54 — What Nearby Stellar Open Clusters Are Still Teaching Us

June 11, 2021

Marc Pinsonneault, a professor of astronomy at The Ohio State University in Columbus, and an expert on stellar open clusters, chats about some of the most famous star clusters in the sky, including the beautiful, blue Seven Sisters of The Pleiades; the Hyades star cluster and the Beehive star cluster.  We also cover what such clusters teach us about our own Sun and the evolution of stars in general.

Episode 53 — John Glenn, JFK and the Cold War’s New Frontier

Episode 53 — John Glenn, JFK and the Cold War’s New Frontier

June 4, 2021

Historian and former Clinton presidential speechwriter Jeff Shesol chats about his new book, “Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy and the New Battleground of the Cold War” just out from W.W. Norton.  Shesol makes the case that the Cold War and the Space Race were inextricably intertwined in ways that are rarely appreciated in most conventional histories of the subjects.  Shesol gives us a great inside look into this mostly-forgotten early era.

Episode 52 — The Unexpected Origins of Life’s Genetic Code

Episode 52 — The Unexpected Origins of Life’s Genetic Code

May 28, 2021

Guest Ben K.D. Pearce, a Ph.D student in astrophysics and astrobiology at McMaster University in Toronto, and an expert on the origins of life’s building blocks here on Earth.  We discuss the idea that all the genetic components from which life emerged were incredibly readily available biogenically very early in Earth’s evolution.  As early as 4.5 billion years ago.  Pearce is part of a group making great strides in learning how this all may have happened in Earth’s very ancient warm little ponds. 

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