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We always say that the Universe is trying to kill you, but we thought we’d really hammer the point home. Dr. Phil Plait from Bad Astronomy joins Fraser Cain for a very special episode of Astronomy Cast. Join us as we hammer out all the ways the Universe wants you dead.
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This episode is sponsored by: Swinburne Astronomy Online, 8th Light
Recording: This episode of Astronomy Cast is brought to you by Swinburne Astronomy online, the world longest running online Astronomy degree program, visit Astromony.swin.edu.au for more information. Astronomy class, episode 343, this episode of Astronomy Cast is brought to you by Swinburne Astronomy online, the world longest running online Astronomy degree program, visit Astromony.swin.edu.au for more information. Astronomy class episode 343, the universe is trying to kill you.
Frazier: Hey, everyone, Fraser here, so this is a special interview that we did with Dr. Phil Plait, our good friend, the bad astronomer about how we always say, here on Astronomy Cast, the universe is trying to kill you. This was a part of the hang-out-a-thon of 2014 and if you are listening to this, you still have time to donate, just go to cosmoquest.org\hangoutathon.
Big thanks to Phil Plait for jumping in and answering all my questions. This episode of Astronomy Cast is brought to you by 8th Light Inc. 8th Light is an agile software development company, they craft beautiful applications that are durable and reliable. 8th Light provides discipline software leadership on demand and shares its expertise to make your project better. For more information, visit them online at www.8thlight.com. Just remember, that’s www.eightlight.8thlight.com, drop them a note. 8th Light, software is their craft.
Nicole: All right, you two, why is the universe going to kill us?
Dr. Plait: Hey Del, I remember you.
Frazier: It’s been awhile.
Dr. Plait: It has been awhile since we have been on a hangout together.
Frazier: I know you have been doing a lot of stuff, I have been seeing a ton of your video happening over on Slate and all the work you’ve been doing there, so good job.
Dr. Plait: It’s been keeping me hopping actually and I have been writing a lot more and I have a lot of travel coming up over the summer, so I’m desperately trying to write a few, what they call evergreen blog post, things that don’t depend on immediate happening news, trying to get those written and banked so I can use them later and it’s been a crazy couple of weeks, I’ll say that much.
Frazier: Well, we just wrapped up shooting our 100th episode of our Guide to Space videos that we have been doing.
Dr. Plait: Nice.
Frazier: Yeah, it’s been crazy, we have learned so much and we are this far away from being able to do essentially documentaries. Just have to learn how to write longer than 4 minutes, which will be the hard part.
Dr. Plait: You wouldn’t think that there’s that much stuff in space to talk about, but there you go.
Frazier: Yeah, exactly. So, the plan then, if I understand it and as I am making it up on the fly right now, is that essentially we are going to be plucking out this chunk of conversation for an episode of Astronomy Cast and strangely, we have got the such, which is like the universe is trying to kill you, we are constantly talking about how the universe is trying to kill you in Astronomy Cast.
We haven’t actually done an episode about this kind of malevolent all knowing, all seeing, hatred that the universe has for each and every one of us. If it’s not now, it will be eventually, the universe is trying to kill us. Now I know, you delved into that concept with your book, Death from the Skies, which is sort of all of the ways the universe is trying to kill you on a local level, perfect.
Dr. Plait: This is really a lot harder to do than it looks, there you go.
Frazier: Run, help. And so, what I wanted to do, is taking the better part of this hour and really delve into all of the ways the universe is trying to kill us. You know the sort of the ways that maybe we are sort of understanding asteroids, killer solar flares, terrible space aliens and maybe some existential threats, like strange matter and the very end proton decay. So, let’s kind of keep it close to home, how does the universe really want to kill us at a local level? What are some of the ways that the universe is really bringing death and destruction right down where you live?
Dr. Plait: Well, first of all, it’s nothing personal, you know, it’s not trying to kill you, it’s just –
Frazier: Well, it can kill everyone.
Dr. Plait: Yeah, and I always say that as a joke, that’s it’s trying to kill us. Of course it’s not trying to do anything, it just is. But the universe is a remarkable hostile place for life and only sort of locally, in little spots, is it really habitable. Is it really hospitable and has climate conditions for people to exist. So, we live on this surface of this little planet where we have air and water and we are the right distance from the sun and have the right temperature.
We have the right sort of chemistry mix top have life arise and if the chemistry were a little bit different, we might not be here and there might be some other form of life. You know, you kind of think life arise pretty easily. The problem is, that is a fairly delicate balance and so if you change conditions much, things can happen. Certainly there are a lot of local, let’s say that way, you used the word local and I’m going to make this like hyperlocal.
There are things that can happen right here on earth, like volcanoes, climate change, the epidemics and whatever. I’m sure Scott Sigler, later on, will be happy to talk about epidemics. That is all great, for a significantly broad definition of great, it’s interesting, but what I like to focus on is the stuff that can happen from space. So, to use your term for local now, what you’re talking about now is the solar system and what can change. In the solar system, that can affect us.
Really the two biggies that have happened before, so we know they are likely and actually, of all of the things we will talk about are the most likely to happen and things that can affect us directly, are going to be impacts of some kind, of course, and something happening on the sun. I know Astra has been in the news a lot lately, certainly in the past year and a half because of the Chelyabinsk impact in Russia as well as some other things. There has been some news about that in the past few weeks, so that’s probably where we want to start.
Frazier: We just learned, I mean, we have kind of known about this for a while, but we really had some pretty interesting evidence that came out in the last couple of weeks about how, in fact, there has been what, thirtyish kiloton plus asteroid impacts hit the earth just in the last few decades that, in fact, these big, big impacts are happening all of the time. It’s just a matter that they are mostly in the ocean, mostly in Russia, like you do, so they just haven’t been that visible and that well publicized, expect for these big ones like Chelyabinsk was like a 500 kiloton blast.
Dr. Plait: Something like that.
Frazier: You know, detonated above Russia. These things are happening all the time and now we are starting to get aware of what is going on.
Dr. Plait: Right, the big thing that happened with Chelyabinsk is that it’s a big enough impact, we are hit by stuff all the time, they are little grains of sand or whatever, something the size of a grapefruit will make a fireball in the sky, something really bright that might light up the sky for a second or two.
When you get to a certain size, they start to become dangerous and Chelyabinsk is sort of on the very low end of that. This was an object 19 meters across, so 60 feet that came in much faster than a rifle bullet, and its energy of motion was converted into heat and light, which is basically an explosion, that’s what we call an explosion. The shock wave from that came down and blew out windows all of the city of Chelyabinsk in Russia and that is where all of the injuries came from, 1,000 people were injured by flying glass.
If it had been much smaller, that probably wouldn’t have happened. If it had been a little bit bigger, the damage would have been more. So, Chelyabinsk is right on that thin hairy edge. So, in that sense it was good that this event happened because it sort of put a little dot on the plot, right where we want to see that because we have the Tunguska impact from 1908, which was huge and was a 20 megaton blast so, 1,000 times bigger and we have lots of data from smaller ones, but this one is sort of in that nebulous in between region, that’s good.
Frazier: I think it is interesting though, right, because the universe doesn’t usually telegraph its fierce hatred for us in such a way, but in this case, it really showed us and said here it what I can do to you, if it was to hit you with something just a little bit bigger, but all we are going to do it blow out all of the windows.
Dr. Plait: This was a good wake up call. There were no fatalities, you know.
Frazier: I think the universe is being particularly merciful to us for this one time, but we can’t always count on that.
Dr. Plait: Right and it was a boom for scientists, because now, we said, oh look, we can actually start to map these two regions of really common impacts and what are the uncommon ones and get that idea. This has been done before and a lot of the data, that made the news today or last week, has been around for a while, I think, what I found interesting, about the press conference, is that most people were just not aware of it.
There wasn’t any real new stuff that they presented, it’s like, look, we have known this for a while, but now, this is what’s going on and we need to be aware of it. So, in that sense, I thought that was pretty interesting that was the hook on it and well, yeah, hello, we have been talking about this for a while, but every now and again I think people need to be reminded of it.
Frazier: I think, go ahead and finish.
Dr. Plait: No, that’s all right.
Frazier: I was going to say, I mean, we have so many things to talk about and so much depth and destruction and think, you know, asteroids, we’ve got the centennial mission maybe coming out, we’ve got a lot of missions and wide survey and we are going to map these asteroids out and there may be the occasional city killer, but I think, what’s really more worrisome is the larger icy objects in the out solar system that we have no warning, no surprises and they come out of nowhere, evil calls.
Dr. Plait: I think that is my bigger concern, too. Asteroids tend to be in the plane of the solar system, so when you look at that solar system from the side as sort of a flat disk and most of the asteroids orbit in that disk and so, if you can look in one part of the sky, you can find most of the asteroids that are going to hit the earth, With some of these missions that are coming up, we are going to be able to map some of these.
The problem there is that at the small end, the hundred meter range or something that, we haven’t found all of them and so, we could be surprised by something even bigger than Chelyabinsk, that is a worry and something we are learning about. But, as you point out, comets, pound for pound, are more dangerous than asteroids, simply because they are coming in from farther out in the solar system.
It’s just like dropping a rock on your foot. If y6ou drop a rock on your foot from holding it out at your waist and letting go, it hits your foot and you go, ouch. You drop it from a hundred meters in the sky and it hits your foot, it’s moving a lot faster and it’s going to hurt.
Frazier: These comets, these are the universe’s sucker punch, we are not going to see these coming, it’s distracting, pretty, solar flares and here comes a couple of big comets.
Dr. Plait: We are going to see them coming, in most cases, the thing is, we just won’t see them coming soon enough. When you look at something like Hale-Bopp, which was this huge comet in the late 1990’s, which was naked eye visible gorgeous comet. This was discovered 19 months before it passed earth’s orbit. So, if this thing had actually been aimed at us, that is how long we would have had.
The solid bit of that comet was 30 kilometers across, that is 20 miles that is extension level event beyond anything that we have seen on this planet, for hundreds of millions of years. Bigger than the dinosaurs, those are more dangerous than asteroids because of that and they tend to come from very far away, so they are very faint until they get close enough to see and by that time there is only a couple of years in advance.
Frazier: There are 30 earths masses worth of that stuff out in the York cloud.
Dr. Plait: Right, now these things don’t pass us very often. When was the last time we had an extension level event like that, you know, you’re talking about 400 million years ago, but they are out there and it’s something to think about. It doesn’t take something that big to do a lot of damage, as Chelyabinsk showed. So, I’m glad that the B612 foundation is out there and they are thinking about ways of preventing these impacts from happening and they have a lot of ideas.
Frazier: It’s hopeless though, because there are the solar flares coming from the sun, so let’s talk about those.
Dr. Plait: Right, the next thing that could happen and probably will eventually, is a gigantic solar flare. These are enormous explosions on the surface of the sun that are caused by magnetism, which I think is something that most people don’t understand. The sun has a very complex magnetic field, it’s not just like a bar magnet you buy in a store, that has a north pole and a south pole.
It has thousands of like these little magnets inside of it that are moving around and it has to with the way the gas is behaving inside the sun. It rises and sinks, and it’s got an electrical and a magnetic field associated with it and it’s all very complicated, but the bottom lines is, as these parcels of gas rise up to the surface of the sun, that magnetic field is dragged with them and that connects with the other magnetic fields around it, in these gigantic loops, and that prevents that packet of gas from sinking back down once it cools.
So, this packet of gas is hot, rises up, gets to the surface of the sun, stays there, cools off and a cooler gas is darker. So, what you see is a spot on the sun, which we call a sun spot and this is a magnetic phenomenon and there is a lot of energy stored in those loops and if those loops get all connected and tangled up, they can snap and release that energy and that is what we call a solar flare.
We just had a decent sized one a couple of days ago probably won’t hurt us, but they can get really big. 150 years ago, the very first one ever seen, the Carrington Event in 1859 is still, to this day, the largest solar flare plus another type of event called a Coronal Mass Ejection. Just thinking of these as explosions and that was the biggest one ever seen and it had measurable effects on the earth. It was sending electricity through railroad tracks and all kinds of craziness like that.
Frazier: Well, at a time that we didn’t have very much technology, right, so the fact that we could preserve and experience one of these solar flares at a time when it was all steam powered and railroad tracks and telegraphs that you didn’t have.
Dr. Plait: They turned the power off to telegraphs and the telegraphs could work because of the current running through them from this event. Its nuts and if that were to happen now, we would lose satellites, power grids and we would lose a lot of important stuff.
It wouldn’t kill everybody, it’s not like an asteroid, but it would definitely put the kibosh on civilization depending on how big of an event this was. We can’t prevent them and we are talking about explosions that are millions times bigger than a nuclear bomb, but what we can do is gird the grid, as I like to say, and to protect our power grid, that would be a good way to do this.
[Inaudible] [00:15:59] transformers at different ways of letting that power dissipate in other ways, the problem is, that is very, very expensive and power companies don’t want to do that, so what do you do? I guess the thing is, I kind of hope that we have a Chelyabinsk like solar flares, something small, you know, the next couple of years that actually blows out power in some city. It doesn’t necessarily hurt or kill anybody, but it definitely put the fear of nature in –
Frazier: But we have had some warnings of this before, right. We have had the power go down in Quebec, we have had some situations where the power has been overloaded, we have had some satellites get damaged, or at least, freaked out by some solar flares and as you said, it’s just a matter of times before we get, if we are lucky, the universe is going to give us that warning shot and say, here is what we are capable of, perhaps you might want to consider a different way that you project your technology infrastructure.
But, we might also get that situation, like the one that happened in the 1800’s, where you have a lot of technology to go down and then we are going to have to, sort of, put everything back. We will have some nice dark skies in some big cities for a while and that will be great.
Dr. Plait: People will really appreciate astronomy, it’s a double whammy, you lose all of your power due to astronomy and then you go outside and see the Milky Way for the first time in your life.
Frazier: Yeah, as you wait for the power to come back on.
Dr. Plait: The good news too, statistically speaking, the universe does give us more warning shots than killer shots because just the low energy shots are more common. The Carrington event happened 150 years ago and hasn’t been seen since, in 2003 there were a series of solar flares that were huge, nowhere near as Carrington, but still pretty big, but they missed us. These things go off into space and if the earth is not in the right spot, they miss us and that’s fine.
So, chances are we will get a glancing blow or two or three or four or whatever and maybe we will lose a couple of expensive satellites and people will start to take this a little more seriously.
Frazier: All right, well you know what, maybe the universe is going to try and kill us on a local level, maybe it is just going to toy with us for a while, but the sun is heating up, so maybe in the short term it’s going to be toying with us but it’s really got that death glow coming in the long term. It’s going to happen a lot quicker than people think, the sun is heating up, and it’s going to part this planet in a much shorter period of time than I think most people are aware of.
Dr. Plait: Right, there is this shorter long term and then there is this longer long term.
Frazier: Yeah, the longer long term.
Dr. Plait: When you hear people talk about, how the sun is going to eventually going to kill us, most people say, well, it’s going to expand into a red giant in 6 billion years and consume the earth. It’s like, well, kind of, sort of, yeah, in about 6 billion years, the sun is going to change the way its generating energy and its core and there is a lot of complex nuclear physics that goes on, but basically it starts putting out a lot more energy and when you heat up a gas, it expands and the sun is basically a gas, it’s like a hot air balloon.
You’re pumping more energy into it so it’s going to expand out and cool off and become what is called a red giant. It’s going to consume mercury for sure and Venus probably. As far as consuming the earth, I’m not so sure, because between now and then, the sun is blowing off the solar wind and that means it’s loosing mass and it’s a tiny little bit every year, but when you are talking about a few billion years, it adds up and that means its gravity is weakening and losing mass and its gravity is getting lower and the earth, as it’s orbiting the sun, will actually get farther and farther out, slower and slower, but over a billion years, five billion years, it may be enough that when the sun expands out into a red giant, we won’t actually be engulfed inside of our star.
It’s kind of cold comfort, but maybe hot comfort is the word, because we are basically going to have a blast furnace filling our sky. It’s not like we are going to survive this anyway, the earth is going to be completely baked to a crisp, by this endeavor.
Frazier: Right, you say 5 billion years, but that is not when it’s going to do a lot of its damage, right? The sun is heating up bit by bit right now as it’s converting hydrogen to helium, the core is expanding a little bit, the heat output is coming out and its increasing and we really only have about 500 million years –
Dr. Plait: Maybe less.
Frazier: Maybe even less, before the temperature on the surface of the planet gets so hot that all of the oceans evaporate and all of the water evaporates, the hydrogen goes up into the atmosphere, the solar wind kicks it out of the planet and we have just got this horrible dry parched desert for a planet and the only place you can really live is deep underground.
Dr. Plait: In my book, Death From the Skies, however I do this, I can never get this quite right, there you go, I actually have a timeline of the sun turning into a red giant and I have to be careful because a couple of these numbers are a little bit difficult. The time that the sun, will actually get hot enough to boil the water on the earth, is about 1 billion years from now, but it turns out that’s just sort of just straight heating, it will actually cause a runaway greenhouse effect much sooner than that.
The numbers I have seen are about 100 million years, if we do nothing and mankind were to go away, the sun will still heat up the earth enough that in 100 million years, or something like that, it would trip the greenhouse effect bad enough to boil the oceans and do bad stuff.
Frazier: As soon as it walks down from the plates, we are done.
Dr. Plait: Yeah, it’s really bad and mind you, this is not what’s causing global warming right now, you are talking about a tiny, tiny millionth of a degree a year or something like that. It’s completely washed off by what humanity is doing to the environment right now.
The point here is that, you know, in 100 million years, in 500 or a billion years, this earth will be cooked and one can hope, by then, we will have evacuated and will have colonized Europa and sell it. In a million years, what’s our technology going to be like, hopefully we will have strategies and warp drives and will just be able to go off to other stars that are not showing their age quite as well as the sun is.
Frazier: But, at least our sun isn’t going to explode.
Dr. Plait: That is correct.
Frazier: But, others can and that’s a problem.
Dr. Plait: A lot of people email me saying, I heard about this new supernova, in this galaxy, can this hurt us? It’s like, no, this galaxy is 400 million light years away and we would need a huge telescope to even see that supernova, but they happen in our galaxy as well and what you are talking about is, it turns out there are a lot of ways to make a super nova. The one that most people think about is when a massive star, 20 or more times the mass of the sun, or actually eight times more, depending on what kind of situation.
We are talking about, they run out of fuel, the core collapses, the outer parts exploded and you are basically generating billions of times the sun’s energy, in one single event. So, it can outshine the whole galaxy, this is unbelievably catastrophic and violent event and that is kind of worrisome. It turns out though, that you can calculate how far away one has to be before it starts to affect the earth.
You can think, well, there is just straight heat, this is an explosion, how close does it have to be before it can really hurt us and it turns out, way closer than you might expect and just a few light-years away. There is nothing like that a few light years away, but there are other effects; it gives off high energy radiation, similar to a solar flare, except on a larger scale and that can hurt us. It turns out when you do that calculation, it’s a little more difficult, but is probably a hundred to several hundred light-years away.
Frazier: Which is scary, I mean, think about the fact that you can have one star, hundreds of light-years away, you know, it’s been a bright star in the sky, and then suddenly, boom, it goes off and although you don’t cook, you receive a dose of radiation enough to sterilize your planet and to wipe away your ozone later and set you back to the stone age.
Dr. Plait: Yeah, that’s roughly a quadrillion miles, you know, it’s this million, billion, trillion quadrillion, it’s a long way off. It’s amazing to think that it could blast off enough gamma rays to change the chemistry of our atmosphere; this high energy radiation can actually hit the nitrogen in our atmosphere and turn into smog.
That’s incredible and when you think about it, for 100 light years away, there are orders of magnitude, roughly 100,000 stars that close, or something like that. That number is probably off by a little bit, but you know, it’s a lot. The question is, how many stars can explode that are that close and actually, again, for the book, I compiled a list of the nearest stars that can go supernova and the nearest one is really Spica, which is a bright blue star in Virgo and it’s actually, a star that Mars is near right now.
You probably saw it during the lunar eclipse a couple of weeks ago. The moon was right next to it. That is actually 250 or so light years away, so, it’s actually just sort of on the edge of what can hurt us. There are other stars and there are other ways of supernova.
Frazier: There is another supernova possibility that is even closer, right?
Dr. Plait: Yeah, it’s Piracy or Persci, I’ve written about it before and I apologize for not having the name. This is a different kind of supernova, where a low mass star, white dwarf, is actually taking on material from a nearby star and, as that piles up, it can eventually blow up the star like a gigantic hydrogen bomb and that one is actually, pretty close at about 100 and some light years away right now.
The problem is the problem for it, and the good news for us, turning into a supernova could take a million years. It’s moving away from us right now and by the time it can really blow, it’s going to be a long way off and it won’t affect us.
The bottom line is that there are no stars, right now, close enough to the sun that can really give us a reason to worry about a supernova at the moment.
Frazier: Maybe in a million years.
Dr. Plait: Sure, things will change, but right now, not so bad.
Frazier: You say that it sounds as if the universe has emptied its bag of tricks of exploding stars, but it’s gone back to the well and it’s come up with a way to detonate a star that can reach out across a galaxy and kill us all.
Dr. Plait: There are actually a couple ways it could do that. The universe can dig deep, now I know where you are headed right there. You are talking about gamma ray bursts and this is a special type of supernova and again, like a supernova, there is more than one way of making a gamma ray burst. We are still learning about these things, but the bottom line is that they are the most violent events in the universe that we know of, which means that they probably are the most violent events because if they were anything bigger than this, they would be even more obvious.
They were first discovered in the 1960’s as flashes of gamma rays in the sky. They are so fast; they are over usually within a few minutes and sometimes within a fraction of a second. There wasn’t time to actually detect them in gamma rays and get an optical telescope to look and say, what was that thing? Over the years, we have gotten better at this and we were able to move our telescopes more quickly and be able to get the note, oh there’s a gamma ray flash, look over there quickly and then we would see it and see sort of the dying afterglow of this explosion.
We realized that a lot of these were caused by supernova or a super massive star and now we are talking about things that are maybe 80 to 100 times the mass of the sun. You can get it with a lower mass star, but it depends on this and depends on that, but in the end what happens is, instead of exploding outward in a sphere like most explosions would in space, all of that energy is now focused into these two twin beams that come out, sort of the pole of the star.
So, it’s like you are taking this vast amount of energy and concentrating, it’s like taking all of the energy from a light bulb and concentrating with a magnifying glass into a little tiny dot and you know what happens. Every 12 year old kid who has ever had a magnifying glass and you put a leaf under that magnifying glass, it catches on fire.
The amount of energy in a gamma ray burst is incredibly well focused and that beam can actually travel a lot father and do damage over a supernova explosion. It turns out; they can be up to something like 8,000 light years away, not 100, like a supernova, but 8,000 light years away. If one of those beams catches the earth, it could still do a lot of damage.
Frazier: Yeah, I mean, just to be clear; the center of the Milky Way is about 26,000 light years towards Sagittarius, the edge of the galaxy’s’ is 26,000 light years in the other direction, so 8,000 light years, as a distance, that this thing can reach out and ruin you, is pretty far. Now, the universe, these are its super weapons and it’s got to take a lot of time, it’s got to build up a lot of mass, you know, 800 solar mass stars and then, be willing to sacrifice it, to take us out. Are there any gamma ray bursts progenitors in our local horizon?
Dr. Plait: Kind of, I’ve got this map of the Milky Way here. This is 100,000 light years across, here is the center, and we are about halfway to the edge, about 25,000 light years out. So, as a sense of scale, 25,000 light years, roughly one third of that distance, so anything within that distance, if there is a gamma ray burst, and it’s aimed at us, mind you, it’s dangerous.
If it’s a mile away from you, it’s not going to hurt you, the question is, are there any progenitors in that range and it turns out, there are two, kind of. One of them is, Eta Carinae, which is one of these unbelievable massive luminous stars that is basically holding itself together and, if it were generating anymore energy, it would tear itself to shreds.
So, that one is roughly 7,500 light years away and it’s actually difficult to get a good distance to this star. The good news, to this one, is we think that it’s aimed the wrong way. If you’re the earth, it’s sort of aimed this way, or this way, or you know this way or something like. If it does explode, we will get a hell of a light show, but it won’t kill us.
The other one is called WR104, which is another peculiar star that’s more towards the center of the galaxy, and again, it’s 8,000, 9,000 or 10,000 light years away, we are not really sure and we don’t know which way it is aimed. We don’t think it is aimed directly at us, so I don’t think either of these stars is necessarily a big concern.
Frazier: Do you know where I would hate to be? I would hate to live in a large magellanic cloud. Like, I think, we may have it rough here in the Milky Way, but if you are in a large magellanic cloud, you’ve got the tarantella nebula, you’ve got stars there, in some cases some of these heavy mass stars that actually collided with each other and have gotten monstrous.
Dr. Plait: Ultraviolet radiation blasting from some of these sites would be enough to cook a planet even from a pretty good distance.
Frazier: Yeah, they are going to kill you and not even explode, just as they are warming up, that is the appetizer. All right, okay, the universe as it goes, it detonates these stars, but it’s not done with them. The universe, after it detonates one of these stars, it’s still got a black hole that it can throw at you. About one out of a thousand, of these stars in the Milky Way, are black holes, we can’t even see them. There are buzzing around all of the time.
Dr. Plait: You need a massive star to make a black hole, as far as we know and so, those are the more rare stars. When you look up into the sky with a telescope and you count all the stars in the heavens, most of them are little, dinky red dwarfs, it’s like 80 to 90 percent in the universe, are these little tiny stars that cannot possibly form black holes.
Very roughly, 10 percent are like the sun, massive, but still not quite enough and then you have to get to that, sort of, upper percentile, the overachievers, these are the ones that can blow up and then form black holes and s, its one in a thousand, something like that as you said. So, over time, yeah, one out of every thousand stars, for every star you see in the sky, for every thousand stars you see, there is a black hole out there that you cannot see.
We only detect the ones that are in binaries and actually, literally orbiting another star, I’ve got my black hole here, but it’s big. Black holes are tiny compared to an actual star, and the only star model I have is a ping pong ball and the black hole is bigger so, I won’t use that and confuse people. But, if the black hole was orbiting a star, it can syphon material off that and as that material falls into the black hole, it gets very hot. When you take a lot of gas and heat it up, it gets bright.
So, before it falls into the black hole, it gets tremendously bright and you can detect that. So, that is how we have actually seen all of these black holes that we have seen. We are not seeing them, we are seeing the junk falling into them or there a different kind of black holes. There are the kinds that form when stars blow up that have three, ten, fifty times the mass of the sun, but then there are these super massive ones which have millions or billions of times the mass of the sun in the centers of galaxy’s.
And again, here is our Milky Way, right in the center we know that there is a super massive black hole about four million times the mass of the sun and we know that because you can look, with a telescope, in the center of the galaxy. You don’t see anything there, but there are lots of stars that moving, you can physically trace their motion and you can calculate by how fast they are moving what kind of mass is in there, what is holding them and making them orbit, and it turns out you get four million times the mass of the sun.
Some of these have millions the time the mass of the sun, but it’s not glowing at all. Four million suns would be very bright and if there is no light coming from that, it’s got to be a black hole so; many of those are out there as well.
Frazier: Right, so you know, if one of these black holes was to happen to find its way into the solar system, what would happen?
Dr. Plait: Sucky, sucky things. Nicole is just shaking her head. It would be bad and it’s everything you have imagined. You are talking about something with, roughly, the mass of the sun, but it’s concentrated down to a little point. Now, if you are far enough away from this thing, the fact that it’s a black hole doesn’t matter, it could be something much larger, it could just be another star or whatever; its gravity would be the same.
If you were to collapse the sun into a black hole, which cannot happen, but if you did and shrink it down into something just a few kilometers across, it becomes a black hole, but from far away the gravity doesn’t change. So, we would continue to orbit the sun and we would freeze to death because there would be no light coming from it.
So, we have a black hole coming into the solar system, would just be dangerous, simply because it would be just like any other star coming in, its gravity would yank on the planets, toss them aside, it could drop Jupiter into the inner solar system, that could eject the earth from the solar system, where we would freeze to death, or it would drop us into the sun where we would burn up, you know. It’s a Robert Frost poem; Turned to Life, fire or ice, is that right, Robert Frost? The earth will end by fire or ice, two roads in the wood with the leads of grass. I’m not a poet unfortunately.
Frazier: I think, most people, when they imagine the black hole, they imagine this horrible black hole moving through the solar system, gobbling up the planets one by one, finally reaching earth and us getting spegetified and then the sun and it’s all just gone, but no, no, it’s just scatter the solar system around.
Dr. Plait: That’s right, the black hole is only black hole dangerous when you get close to it and that’s when you are literally just a few thousand kilometers away and that is when the gravity gets so intense that it can actually start to destroy things and gobble them down. So, just having one pass through the solar system would be bad, it would have to actually get very close to the earth before it could actually destroy the earth physically, crunch it up and swallow it down.
Now think about this, if there is one black hole for every thousand stars in the galaxies, say, well, how often does a star come by and do this? The answer is never, right? In four and a half billion years, of the earth orbiting the sun, there has never been a single star pass through the solar system and disrupted, because if there had, we wouldn’t be here, right? That is pretty easy, if that would happen a thousand times more often, then a black hole coming through, so honestly, the odds of a black hole coming into the solar system and disrupting things, is incredibly, incredibly small.
It would take, I did the numbers once, and we are talking about trillions of years, you are talking way longer than the life span of the universe now, before the odds even get close, for something like that. So, that is way down on my list of things to really be concerned about.
Frazier: All right, well let’s dig deep down into your bag of tricks, then, because we have gone through most of the things that I think that most people might consider might come to get us so, why don’t we get a little weird. First, I think we should talk a little bit about aliens, because, you know, this is one of those existential threats that we worry about in science fiction, what are the chances that some horrible alien’s civilization is going to come in here and take us out?
Dr. Plait: That’s a good question and the problem with it is, you know, who knows? We would need to have some examples of alien life before you could even apply any kind of statistics to that. You can kind of sort of work your way through the drake equation, for example, which is a way of sort of estimating how many civilization’s there are in a galaxy by saying how often are stars formed, how often are planets formed, how often are earth like planets formed, how many of these have conditions right for life, how many of them have life, how many of them have life long enough before they become civilized?
The problem is, we have only filled out a couple of those terms. One of the more important ones is how many planets are out there? That was something we had no idea 20 years ago and now we are actually getting a good idea and the answer is billions. So, each one of these numbers is represented in sort of a fraction, what fraction of these stars have planets, what fraction of these planets are earth like and it turns out, those fractions, we think, are pretty high.
We are talking about billions of planets in the galaxy alone that may be earth life. How many of them have life on them? We don’t know. The thing about earth is, life formed on it pretty easily. When you look at the timeline involved, the earth formed four and a half billion years ago. It was very hot for a long time, cooled off enough to form water on its surface and then got bombarded by all of this crap in the solar system; giant asteroids and comets came screaming down and basically turned the earth incandescent again.
It had to cool down again and then you had after form, you know, life formed, at least, three billion years ago on the planet and we are thinking it is older than that. So, really, as soon as the earth cooled enough and had water on it, boom, we had life and that makes me think that it’s not rare. If it formed that easily on earth, it should form that easy on other places as well. We know that after is abundant in the universe and I’m thinking there is a lot of life out there, but I don’t think it’s as advanced as we are, technologically.
Frazier: Here’s the thing, there is nothing, in the laws of physics that would prevent us from eventually sending, if not our fleshy meat bodies to other worlds, at least our robot explorers that we could create even within the limits of our capabilities right now. Within the next 100 years or so, it would be feasible for us to make probes to slowly make their way self-replicating robot factories to go to other star systems and create more robots and travel to other star systems.
It would take about one million years to fully colonize the entire galaxy and the way you sort of think about this is, think about a sandwich, right, you take your sandwich and you put a little bacteria colony on one little corner of your sandwich, a week later the whole thing is covered in bacteria.
It doesn’t matter where you start those little bacteria colony, your whole sandwich is going to be colonized by mold. It’s the same thing, we are the mold, the aliens are the mold, they will colonize the entire galaxy, it won’t take them long, a million years is a fraction, an eye blink, in the age of the universe and yet, where are they?
Dr. Plait: And that is sort of my key problem with this thing is this, Enrique Fermi, who allegedly said, where are they, life is so easy? It’s really still a good question, even after all of these decades. As you said, if there were a technological civilization out there, it could colonize the galaxy in a million years. A million years ago, on earth, there were still hominates, you know, we are not talking about billions of years ago when life was still single cells on this planet, we are talking about a tiny, tiny fraction of the lifetime of the earth.
So, if we could colonize the galaxy, in a million years, it’s not too hard to imagine a slightly older civilization, and by slightly I mean, slightly in cosmic terms, there earth, or whatever they call it, just got a head start on us by twenty million years and that’s nothing. They should have populated the entire galaxy, they haven’t, we are here and we are pretty sure that we evolved here on our own.
Let me just set aside aliens and UFO’s coming here and abducting us and scrapping the anuses of cows and stuff like that. That’s really not happening folks, I’m not really putting a lot of money to bet on that stuff being more than just bad eye witness reports and personal issues that people see things like that. I think that when you start looking through the UFO reports and you start comparing them to people who understand what they are seeing in the sky, that number drops a lot.
A lot of UFO’s really are Venus and satellites and different things like that. It would only take one clear case and even the cases that are the best UFO cases, when you look at them carefully, the evidence falls apart. So, I dismiss that and even if you present me with that great evidence, it like okay, even if I don’t dismiss it, we would need something a little more solid before we can start to jump to that conclusion.
Frazier: Nobody thinks that UFO’s are visiting you, don’t worry about that.
Dr. Plait: I just want to make sure because I get pinged by that by [inaudible] [00:42:51] all the time.
Frazier: Absolutely, but the conspiracy theory that they should be worried about is, this idea of, you know, like Frederick Pole wrote, you know, populated this idea of the bizerkers, that if any one alien civilization can pretty much colonize the entire galaxy over the course of a million years, then what makes sense is to send out your robot probes who will exterminate all life on any planet that reaches a certain level of technological advancement to then, you know, make sure it’s a nice fertile place when you do finally show up.
Dr. Plait: Drop a few asteroids on them.
Dr. Plait: Think about it, you bacteria example is good. What if your sandwich has a little bit of Ebola on it, well, you would probably freak out and call the CDC, but if you are pulling a head of lettuce to put on your sandwich and you see a little bit of brown, you snip that out and throw it away and then you put on the green stuff.
That is the sense of what you are saying, that we are the brown on the head of lettuce, that is the Milky Way and there are going to snip us off. Honestly, that makes perfect sense to me. You don’t wants possible compete races out there. Even if you are not maniacally evil, you don’t know that they are not going to be maniacally evil. I don’t know that there isn’t some planet over here that got some sort of proto-klingon, proto-kazinty, and proto-whatever alien race you would pick, you don’t know if they are evolving there or not and so just to be safe, it might be a good idea to just do that.
Frazier: And they don’t all need to be maniacal, just one does, they are all benevolent, except for one out of millions and it’s still snipping out the lettuce, I think that is the great example.
Dr. Plait: The part of it that gets me is that evolution, on our planet, tends to favor, not necessarily the carnivore, but you know, a race or species that can defend itself. So, you are either attacking another species or you can defend yourself and so you have weapons that will defend from this attacking species.
So, evolution tends to favor and I’m really super smoothing over a lot of important details here, but when you look at some of the most successful species on the earth, bacteria for example, they spread everywhere and have learned how to be symbiotic with their species. Look at human, we are very successful, we are taking over the planet, but yet we are destroying it, you know, we are just basically scraping it clean of resources and polluting the air and we don’t need another species like that to screw it up for everybody.
Frazier: We defiantly can see that is something that we can do.
Dr. Plait: The good news is where are they? They should have wiped us out millions of years ago and they didn’t, so there is a flaw in this reasoning someplace, we just don’t know where.
Frazier: Or they are just waiting for us to reach neutrino communication ability or something. Let’s get even more existential now, let’s imagine someone we survive the death of the sun, we dodge all of the black holes, turns out there are no aliens and we are the awful aliens, we last for a long time, what kinds of problems are we going to face in the far, far, far future? Keep adding ten to the power of and let us know how this is all going to play out.
Dr. Plait: This was, in fact, the last chapter of my book and that is where things got really kind of hairy for me because the numbers start to get really big, right. Everything we have talked about here is something that is going to happen in the next few hundred years to the next few billion years, when the sun turns into the red giant.
It turns out, if you start adding zeros to that, things get bad. When you go outside and look at the sky, its filled with stars, but stars have a finite lifetime and so the sun will go out in about six to ten billion years, something like that, lower mass stars last longer, there are more miserly with their fuel, but even the lowest mass star will only last about a trillion years.
Well, if you look at the supply of fuel to make stars in the galaxy, the gas that is out there, there is enough to continue to make stars, but only for a few more billion years, so, basically, if you want to think of it this way, in a trillion years, the last star in our galaxy, will go out. Let’s be generous, let’s say its five trillion years or ten trillion years, I don’t care, we are not talking about number this big and I’m not going to worry about a fact in ten, it’s nothing.
So, in a trillion years, the last star in the galaxy will go out, and then we are just going to have these cinders of black holes and brown dwarf’s and planets and stuff like that. Then you start talking about a 1,000 times that, a quadrillion years or a quintillion years, over those sorts of time spans, yeah, you are going to get collisions with stars in our solar system and its going to be common, at that length of time.
Common, you know, it’s still going to be a hundred trillion years between events, but when you are talking about a universe that is 10,000 times older than that, that’s still a common event and it messes with your sense of scale. So, yeah, the earth, even if we survive and even if we colonize with other planets, these stars will go out, the collisions will become common.
If you want to talk about having humanity last for the next octillion years, that’s stuff you have to worry about. Then there are galaxy collisions, we are going to collide with the Andromeda galaxy in a few billion years, there will be other galaxies that will collide with us and there are other weirder things that are going to happen –
Frazier: But, in that far future, where everything is a burnt out cinder, those galaxy collisions, will see what the precious gift of new energy and life, you know –
Dr. Plait: Yeah, if stars inside collide, yeah.
Frazier: You will have a moment of warmth that you can arm your space hands around before back to the cold darkness.
Dr. Plait: We will be organisms by then, you know, the Star Trek species that evolved.
Frazier: You know, that the universe was going to reach some point of sort of expand to a certain point and then the mutual gravity will bring it all back in, but now with the discovery of dark energy back in the late 1990’s, we are pretty certain that the acceleration of the universe and the expansion, is just going to keep on going and that everything is going to get further and further away, faster and faster and so there will be no more galaxy’s within any reasonable distance to collide with us anymore and eventually there will just be our Milky Way filled with black dwarf’s, black holes, rogue planets and some really cold aliens.
Dr. Plait: Yeah, because the universe is expanding ever faster every day, basically the distance we will be able to see, away from the earth, is going to get closer and closer to us. Anything past the distance will be moving away from us too rapidly to see and so eventually, all that is going to be left is some sort of super galaxy that is us and the Andromeda galaxy and all of the little dwarf galaxy’s, will have all combined into, sort of, one thing. Of course, all of the stars will be dead and then that’s it.
So, you know, if you are a civilization, somehow, that evolves a hundred trillion years from now, the universe is going to look way different than it does now. You are not going to see any other galaxies; it’s just going to be you.
Frazier: You are not going to see any stars, because it will all be dark.
Dr. Plait: That’s right and for a long period of time that is all there is going to be, it’s just going to be that. Even on the scale of what we are talking about, we are talking about a long period of time, now instead of an octillion years, which is what, ten to the twenty seven, now we are starting to talk about ten to the fifty and sixty years, so far into the future, that the present age of the universe, 13 billion years, is so small, that I don’t even have, ten to the sixty divided by ten to the thirteen is ten to the forty seven, that is such a huge number, that there is no ratio that exists today.
You know, it’s like, the age of the universe compared to a nanosecond, it’s like, no, that is not enough, that’s still too small of a ratio, so, we are talking about times that are now so huge, that you are kind of losing it, but over time, due to a bizarre quantum mechanics effect, even black holes can dissolve and evaporate.
You can take one of these super massive black holes in the center of the galaxy, and after ten to the ninety years, or something like that; these will evaporate due to the quantum effect. Its call hawking radiation and its very, very complicated, but in the end, basically, black holes emit tiny bits of radiation at a time and when you take those numbers and multiply them all out, you find that ever the super massive black holes will eventually evaporate away, in ten to the ninety years.
Frazier: So, all that we will be left with, is just the matter, the various rogue planets and the occasional protons that might have survived+.
Dr. Plait: Yeah, the planets are gone, the stars are gone, the black hole is gone, and everything is gone. Even we think protons decay over time, maybe, that still hasn’t been made for sure, but if that does happen, by ten to the ninety five or 100 years, literally a google years from now, there will be nothing. Nothing solid, noting big, it will just sort of be a thin soup of subatomic particles and really low energy stuff floating around.
Frazier: Accelerating faster and faster. Individual protons spread across hundreds of quadrillions of light-years.
Dr. Plait: Maybe, it turns out, the way the universe is expanding, there are different ways it can do that and different models of how dark energy will expand the universe; some of them actually predict that the universe will start to expand on smaller and smaller scales until it tears itself to shreds. Literally, space and time will sort of disintegrate, that is called the big rip.
The other one is that the acceleration will be constant and eventually anything that is sort of gravitationally bound, so galaxies will be able to prevent themselves from being ripped apart. It’s kind of like they are pulling themselves together, against that force.
So, it may be that, yeah, we survive it, but the existing universe will just be sort of a bubble a few million light years across, you know, the Milkamada, the Adromaway, whatever the Milky Way, Andromeda merger is, but even then, in a google years, that is just going to be filled with subatomic crap.
Frazier: We are about five minutes left and I wanted to save, what I think, is the scariest one for last, the one that I really call the universe self-destruct button. This is the one that the universe goes, that’s it, enough of all of it; we are switching to something else.
Dr. Plait: [Inaudible] [00:53:25] history eraser button is what I think about it.
Frazier: Yeah, so for those of us who were enjoying the universe as it is, there is no place for us in the universe as it will be. I think people don’t realize that physical reality is perched on a kind of knife edge of stability.
Dr. Plait: This is very complicated, and the physics of it is interesting, this is highly theoretical, it even sort of borderlines on the speculative, but there is this idea that you think of this vacuum as being nothing, there is no energy, no matter, no nothing. But, it turns out that there is a little bit of energy out there and its filing space and we think that there may be what is called a true vacuum state, a state of space time that sort of exist at a lower energy, even than it has now.
If you want to wrap your head around it, think of energy as a staircase and you can go up that staircase and give yourself more and more energy and get higher and higher up the staircase or you can descend that staircase, give up your energy and get lower and lower. Right now, we kind of think that we are on the bottom step, but we may not be, we may be on one step up and there is another step down that is this true quantum vacuum and there is something that happens to trigger that.
If something nudges off that last step that we roll down that bottom step and who knows what that could be, then what will happen is, the universe will basically change energy states. It’s kind of like when you have a liquid that is super cooled, in other words, it’s still a liquid, but it’s below its freezing point, you sort of tap the glass and it suddenly freezes all the way through, it releases its last bit of energy.
It blows out all of this heat and in itself, freezes; we think that might be what happens to the universe. If you trip into this last quantum state, this last fall, this true vacuum, basically, it will release some sort of wired energy that will unweave the fabric of space and time itself and basically, space time will disintegrate and be replaced with something we don’t understand.
Dr. Plait: Somewhere in the universe and expand outward at the speed of light. So, you won’t even get any warming, there wouldn’t be like, oh, what’s that, it just sweeps over the speed of light.
Frazier: Well, you know what, we have to wrap this up, I just got a warning from our producer, Nicole, but I think we kind of covered; obviously we could do days and days of this.
Dr. Plait: You could write a whole book.
Frazier: You could write a whole book, but if you want to get, we gave you the gist, the rest is in the book.
Nicole: Yeah, if you want to continue having this existential crisis of the end of all reality, check out the book.
Dr. Plait: I don’t want to leave people on that note, give me thirty seconds.
Frazier: Make them a little happy again.
Dr. Plait: Look, this whole thing about falling to the true vacuum state, that not only erases space, it erases time. So, it almost as if it can reach back in time and destroy time from the beginning of time itself, from the big bang. The fact of the matter is we are here; time exists, so I have a real problem with the idea of space and time unweaving and going away completely, because we are here.
Even if that does happen, it’s possible that a new universe would take the place. It would almost be like rewriting the big bang and we would get sort of a new universe out of it. So, in the end, it could rejuvenate a dead universe and to me, that gives me some measure of hope, even though it’s terrifying.
Nicole: Yes, hope is good Frazier.
Frazier: Look at that, thanks universe; you do love us after all.
Nicole: I’ve been sitting here, enthralled listening and I tweeted, although I know the same content that you are talking about, I love hearing Phil and Frazier talk about it, tell the story again, I love how you tell the story and I’m really honored to have you guys both as mentors and friends.
I want to remind everybody, that it’s this community again, this science and space education community that can take people like me, a tiny intern and bring us into the fold with what you guys have been doing for years and thank you. If you are watching and enjoyed that, please do donate, the link is right on there; cosmoquest.org\hangoutathon.
Remember the largest donor in this hour, which is two minutes away, will receive an amazing photography and map artwork done my Nancy Garciano’s daughter Nicky, so similar name, so please donate if you enjoyed this, I know you were watching, we have a whole bunch of viewer watching, please donate just a little bit, share the link, we will continue with this science education of entertainment.
I’m looking at the ticking clock, we are going to hand this over to Mike Simmons, who will be doing a live tour of the Snow Solar observatory, we will not be joining that hangout, and we will be switching over for the hour.
So, I’m going to sit here and switch all of the links over, I will tweet the link, I will switch the link on the cosmoquest home page, I will switch the link, on the Goggle plus event page, for cosmoquest, the one that says hangout with [inaudible] [00:58:14] with not part number.
So, if you are watching there, please follow along, they are going to give you a live tour of solar observatories [inaudible] [00:58:24] so, we are going to switch over to that. Please, please donate, we are trying to keep this great science education and citizen science community going, we need money to do it and science is not free, unfortunately, we need to pay and feed the people that keep doing that so, please keep sharing that and again, thank you guys.
I love this topic and we have had a couple of really great comments, such as, from Michael Joebit, I still maintain that astronomers have a wish down effect for [inaudible] [00:59:08] and I am surprised that they don’t give you that when you defend your thesis and Tom says, Phil and Frazier, they are so lethal over all the ways that the universe can do us harm.
Dr. Plait: Well, that’s because we don’t take it personally, right and the odds of these things happening are really low.
Frazier: We are not afraid.
Dr. Plait: It’s fun to think about it without having to panic about it.
Nicole: That’s right, don’t take it personally.
Dr. Plait: You know what; we are $500.00 away from $20,000.00.
Nicole: Oh, $500.00 away from $20,000.00
Dr. Plait: I have 300,000 twitter followings and I know most of those are spam and porn bods, but come on, if one tenth of 1 percent of those people donate, just a few bucks, that will go a long way toward cosmoquest being able to continue to do all of this great work. If you can spend an hour talking about this stuff, you can throw a couple bucks of filthy luckier their way, come on guys.
Frazier: Cosmoquest and the work that cosmoquest is doing, to act as this bridge between the scientists and the general public, this is the outreach, this is the education and this is sort of the science collaboration that Phil and I and Pamela and Nicole, we have all dedicated our lives to this. The fact that you, out there, are willing to donate your money and contribute to our cause, just allows us to do this as a full time job and try to keep the flame of science burning and we really lean on you folks to help keep this all rolling and we really appreciate it.
So, if you haven’t already and you enjoyed what Phil and I just did, please, please, please, kick in a few bucks and donate for the hangoutathon for cosmoquest to keep the whole machine moving, we really appreciate it.
Nicole: These guys have been mentoring me and took me in when I was a wee little grad student science communicating on the side and it’s really inspirational working with you guys, I get emotional, because [inaudible] [01:00:56]
Dr. Plait: Aww, I love you guys too, that’s why I keep inviting you over and stay.
Nicole: I know, my gosh, I was in Boulder and I’m going to go a little bit longer because we are waiting for the next broadcast to start. I was in Boulder for a conference and Phil and Marcella invited me over for dinner or lunch or some kind of meal and then I got snowed in and they had already made up the guest room for me and I ended up staying for like two days at their house.
Dr. Plait: Well, I have stayed with Pamela, and Frazier has come down here too, we all sort of travel around and sort of do all that stuff and it’s because we like each other and because I have a lot of respect for everything that you guys are doing and we don’t have to do that, and the fact is, we do. We do like each other, we respect what we are all doing and we support this effort and that is why I’m here doing this right now.
Frazier: I just booked three hotel rooms for Dragon Con.
Dr. Plait: Oh, you did? How many times are we here in a room at a Dragon Con.?
Frazier: Right, so we don’t have to anymore, unless you need a place to crash.
Dr. Plait: I’m not going this year, unfortunately.
Nicole: I am so sad about that Phil.
Dr. Plait: Yeah, sorry, I’m trying to mix it up a little, so I’m going to Phoenix and I’m working on another one as well, a different con to go to. I was going to go to San Diego, but then I got leaned on by some people so now I’m trying to go back to San Diego.
Frazier: I went to Pox last year.
Dr. Plait: Oh yeah, how was that?
Frazier: Amazing, super fun.
Dr. Plait: Cool.
Frazier: Video game city. So, are you set up? Have we bought you enough time to close?
Nicole: I’m watching, what will be the link for the live broadcast from snow telescope and I’m not seeing them live yet so, I kind of don’t want to leave you guys without anything to play with.
Dr. Plait: Well, we can keep you occupied here; I don’t want to leave you after, what’s it been, twenty eight or twenty nine hours?
Nicole: I don’t even know what hour we are on, I don’t have the schedule.
Frazier: We have been at it for twenty seven hours.
Dr. Plait: That’s not bad. You know what; I’ll tweet out a link right now.
Frazier: Well, why don’t you shamelessly self-promote something Phil?
Dr. Plait: I got nothing. Okay, well, because I’ve already promoted the book like twenty times this hour. So, I’ve written, Death from the Skies and it was actually a lot of fun, up until the last chapter, but again it was like the conversation Frazier and I were having.
You are talking about stuff that is really serious and scary, but the odds of it are so low, its kind of like going on a roller coaster ride, it’s scary, but eventually you get off and it’s kind of fun. I write for Slate.com and if you don’t know that, I write the bad astronomy blog there. I write a weekly column, a little more highfalutin, more sort of straight descriptive stuff about astronomy for Sen.com and that comes out every Saturday.
I also wrote a nerd insult book with Zach Weiner from Saturday morning breakfast cereal, called 2^7 Nerd Disses, a significant quantity of disrespect. They are basically nerd versions of your momma jokes. So, that was a lot of fun too and you can find that on Gumroad.com and I think it’s a buck and it’s on PayPal and you can find that on Amazon.
I’ve just in the past few days, I’ve been thinking about doing some different stuff for a while and I’ve had three different ideas sort of surface within the last week and all of them are sort of mutually exclusive and I can really only pick one because I don’t have enough time. I’m going to figure out which one actually takes the least amount of time and throws the most amount of money at me and that’s probably the one I’ll do and also the one that is the most fun.
Frazier: Okay, well, I’ll shamelessly self-promote, if you have a mobile phone, you can download our phases of the moon ap, which is on both IOS and on Android, we have had hundreds of thousands of downloads on that and it is one of the most popular weather aps on Android, so there it is.
Dr. Plait: You can only see the reflection of Frazier on there.
Frazier: Because the moon is so new.
Frazier: Move it with you finger, move it back and forth that is the part that’s great.
Dr. Plait: There we go, oh cool.
Frazier: You didn’t know it did this?
Nicole: You didn’t know that?
Dr. Plait: No, I knew it did this, I didn’t know it had the eclipse in there.
Frazier: Pinch it to zoom it, you can see the landing sites.
Dr. Plait: Full moon eclipse, but I can’t quite get the eclipse in there, there I can do this, watch this.
Frazier: Yeah, you can pinch it to make it bigger or smaller. There are all the landing sites and the creators and stuff.
Dr. Plait: Cool
Frazier: So, that’s in iTunes and on the Google play, also if you want to contribute directly to what we’re doing with universe today, you can go to patrium.com\universe today and we are just about to cross the $1,000.00 mark for our monthly patrons and that has been an amazing experience because it really, up until this point, we have been working for our advertising, but now suddenly we can work directly for the fans and it’s been a really wonderful experience so, I highly recommend, if you want to do that, we will shout your name out and the videos that we are doing and I’ll follow you on Twitter and you can join our secret hang loose that we do with our fans.
So, if you want to take your love of astronomy to the next level, definitely get involved. No ads on universe today, you click one button and you will never see another annoying ad on universe today. The other big thing is this video service, what we are calling the guide to space and we just wrapped up our 100th episode and have been just making these videos and really learning how to do documentaries.
My objective, over the long term, is to really make a series of videos [inaudible] [01:07:08] and wonders of the solar system and things like that, but you know, on a lower budget, but something that is a little more sustainable and something we can keep going and really kind of delve into some of the more interesting and fascinating topics that I really like, not the stuff you always hear about, but some of these really more obscure topics.
Some of the stuff that Phil and I talked and that we love to talk about. We know that you love that and we try to share that, so we have done things like, how can you extract energy from black holes and stuff about the Fermi paradox and how could you move the sun and does light experience time and things like that, so some pretty cool topics that I like to talk about.
So, go to utube.com\universetoday and you can subtribe to our channel there and go through our back catalog, there are about 93 of them for you there right now. Cool and Nicole probably has something to shamelessly self-promote or the hangoutathon.
Nicole: The video just started on the other side, so I’m going to switch you guys over, thank you, thank you, and thank you. Follow the link that says switch over now and keep donating and keep watching.
Frazier: Always a pleasure buddy.
Dr. Plait: Bye everyone thanks.
Frazier: Good to talk to you Phil.
Dr. Plait: You too Frazier, see you guys later.
Recording: Thanks for listening to Astronomy Cast, a nonprofit resource, provided by Astrosphere New Media Association, Frazier Cain and Dr. Pamela Gay. You can find show notes and transcripts for every episode at astronomucast.com. You can email us at email@example.com, tweet us at astronomycast, like us, on Facebook or circle us on Google plus.
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