What do Pamela and Fraser think will happen or be discovered in 2016? What would they like to see in the near future?
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Announcer: This episode of Astronomy Cast is brought to you by Swinburne Astronomy Online, the world’s longest running online astronomy degree program. Visit Astronomy.Swin.edu.au for more information.
Fraser Cain: Astronomy Cast episode 401 Future Predictions. Welcome to Astronomy Cast, our weekly fact-based journey through the cosmos. We help you understand not only what we know but how we know what we know. My name is Fraser Cain. I’m the publisher of Universe Today and with me is Dr. Pamela Gay, a professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and the director of CosmoQuest. Hey Pamela, how you doing?
Pamela Gay: I’m doing well. How are you doing, Fraser?
Fraser Cain: Doing great. So I just wanna let people know that we are switching the way we do the live show of Astronomy Cast. So we were doing it through Google Plus [Inaudible] [00:00:51] through Google Plus. We’re switching to YouTube Live for reasons.
But the thing that you’re gonna wanna know is if you haven’t already, go to YouTube, find the Astronomy Cast channel and subscribe to it. And then you should get notifications in your telephone or into your email inbox or your Google notification little jobby when we’ve got new shows happening. And we’re gonna be live streaming, which is great because if you’ve always wanted to catch us live and you always miss it, hopefully you’ll get a better notification.
The chat for being able to talk with each other is a lot better. So that’s gonna happen for next week. So if you haven’t already, go to YouTube, subscribe to Astronomy Cast channel and then kick back and enjoy the space.
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Fraser Cain: Okay. So last week we updated everyone on what’s happened since we started Astronomy Cast nine years ago. So now we’re gonna look forward and predict the future with hilarious result, what we think will happen in the near and far future.
So I’ve put together a bunch of categories, Pamela, and what I thought we would do is that we would just be pundits. Let’s just sort of talk about the different topics that I’ve outlined here and let’s try and make some predictions on what we think is gonna happen based on trends that are going on about the complexity of the science, about all this kinda stuff. Are you ready?
Pamela Gay: I’m gonna try. I’m over caffeinated. That’s the best I can hope for, for an episode like this is over-caffeination.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, okay. Right. Okay. So let’s start with what I think is one of our favorite topics, and this is extra solar planets. And we made a big deal last week about how much extra solar planets have changed since we started doing Astronomy Cast. What do we think the future holds for the science of extra solar planets?
Pamela Gay: I’m really looking forward to being able to do better spectroscopy of the atmospheres. And I’m gonna keep saying this, that within the next ten years I’m thinking we’re gonna find that first world that has some atom or molecule that can only exist if there’s life, hopefully molecular oxygen. So that’s the big thing that I’m looking for. It may not be in the next 100 episodes but it’s gonna be the next big thing.
Fraser Cain: Okay. So hopefully by the time we do, you know, maybe not in the next couple of shows but we should hopefully see some sign of an atmosphere or detecting and analyzing atmospheres will become a lot more commonplace but that there will be just hopefully a discovery of some of these really interesting molecules, the ones that indicate the presence of life.
Pamela Gay: Exactly.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, okay. What about finding Earth 2.0? Do you know what I mean? The sad part about Kepler, like Kepler was designed to find Earth 2.0 but Kepler had its failure with its not-enough-gyros problem and so it wasn’t able to turn up Earth 2.0, you know, the earth-size world or [Inaudible] [00:04:46] Star inhabitable zone. So do you think – when do you think that’s gonna come around?
Pamela Gay: That one has me a little bit more perplexed because when you talk about Earth 2.0, I think finding one would be easy if we would just get lucky with the right telescope. But because right now we’re gonna have to find it with probably Doppler shifting or one of those other can’t-look-at-a-million-stars-at-once sort of technologies, it relies on luck. And when it comes to luck I’m a lot more – I don’t know what to say.
Fraser Cain: Yeah well, yeah, I mean, it feels to me like – and I’ve tried to get people to admit it, that the data is in there in the Kepler –
Pamela Gay: But we don’t have enough years of data [inaudible] –
Fraser Cain: Well, we don’t have enough years of data but I’m guessing there’s enough kind of hints that using other telescopes and ground-based observatories in other ways, they could try to confirm some of those hints as actual planets.
So I feel like we’re gonna see an answer to that. I was sure we would’ve seen an answer to this by now. I’ll bet you within the next couple of years that we’re recording this; we will have found that true Earth 2.0, I think.
Pamela Gay: I’ll go with your prognostication.
Fraser Cain: And then we’ve got all the other observatories, right. We’ve got Gaia, which isn’t really specifically designed for that but it can do some planet hunting in a heartbeat. And then there are other ground-based missions that are doing a really great job of finding worlds. So what’s gonna happen when the large Magellan telescope or sort of the overwhelmingly large, extremely large telescope, the next big, the 30 meter telescope gets online, right, things like that? Although it might not get built thanks –
Pamela Gay: Well, those aren’t – the thing with those is they’re not really designed to do this kind of survey work. But LSST, it’s certainly going to be truing them out. So atmospheric willing, yeah, LSST is probably our next big hope for spitting out planet after planet after planet within the arabars that’re ground-based prone to dealing with the atmosphere kind of telescope.
Fraser Cain: Okay. Astrobiology, which is sort of related to this, search for aliens, so what do you think about SETI? Do you think we’ll get a signal form SETI soon?
Pamela Gay: You know, that one I place it very low probability just because of the energy requirements. And what we’re finding here on earth is the more advanced our civilization gets, the quieter we get just in terms of reusing lower energy transmission. We’re doing more cable-based transmission, fiber optic-based transmission. So unless they’re beaming a signal straight toward us, I think that life is gonna be found, again, back to the atmospheric argument.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, I totally agree. And here’s sorta the way I think about it is that any alien life form within thousands of light years, any advanced civilization within thousands of light years knows that there’s life here –
Pamela Gay: Yeah.
Fraser Cain: — and knows – right, and they would’ve predicted the oxygen like, we’re going to do it. They would know that there’s oxygen on this planet that’s being produced by life and they would’ve – 2000 light years away, they’re looking at us 2000 years ago, they’re starting to see fires, starting to see wood-burning fires and things like that.
And so they could almost know what phase of technology and then they could send signals directly at planet earth with the kind of amplitude that they know we would receive. And so I feel like because we’re not seeing these signals that we’re not going to. That’s just like my sort of firmy paradox version of that thought process. So I don’t think we’re gonna get a signal from SETI for years.
Pamela Gay: Yeah, but the kinds of exceptions are like if – I have brought this book up so many times on this show – Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow where they detect an alien civilization because the planet’s moon is reflecting back radio and they detect the music and the signal. But that’s a special – lots of geometry and it’s fiction, for crying out loud.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, also fiction, yeah.
Pamela Gay: Yeah, so I [inaudible] [00:09:17] –
Fraser Cain: Yeah, and so I think you’re right, right. It’s like an unintended signal is gonna be really hard to receive. The only ones we’re gonna be able to receive are the ones that are blasted right at earth with a really coherent beat. So that’s my feel. Sorry Seth Shostak and the folks at SETI. That’s my feeling. I mean –
Pamela Gay: Yeah, we still love all the other research you’re doing. Keep doing it.
Fraser Cain: Yep, so, okay. So let’s talk about the other kind of astrobiology which is finding life in the solar system.
Pamela Gay: I think it’s just a matter of figuring out how to sterilize things well enough to go in and look at the places that life is likely to exist. I can’t imagine, given the amount of shrapnel that we’ve sent around the solar system when the earth has gotten hit and the amount of basically cross-pollination of rocks, that we’re the only world that has life. And I hate to think we’re the only place that life evolved to begin with.
So as we find that Mars has [inaudible]-laced soils with waters, very briny, briny waters but that doesn’t stop stuff here on earth, as we realize the Titan’s atmosphere is chemically out of balance, as we look at all of these moons and asteroids and everything else that has water and frozen water and subsurface water, yeah, let’s start sterilizing things and sending them out.
Fraser Cain: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I think the only thing that’s hampering this is that there just aren’t a lot of missions that are really purpose built yet to do the search for life. Someone’s not making the Martian life finder. And so – you know what I mean?
Pamela Gay: Well, so it was actually congressional mandate here in the United States that NASA was not allowed to look for life.
Fraser Cain: I know.
Pamela Gay: We realized, wait, wait, it might be here. Well, not here. We think there’s life here, we pretend there is but there might be life on Mars, like, for reals, guys. And so it’s now become the follow of the water.
Fraser Cain: And so – exactly, and so they’re doing it sort of half – they’re sneaking it in, right. They’re searching for water or searching for an inch of water but if there are no plans in the works to send the Martian life finder mission which would go with like 14 different experiments to search for life, to sell the atmosphere, to lick the rocks, to take soil and run experiments on it. And I think that’s what you’re gonna wanna send.
Pamela Gay: And really, only the robots should be licking the science because all the rest of us would just contaminate stuff.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, no, no, only robot tongues tasting the rocks. But geologists do this so this is not – you’re a crazy person.
Pamela Gay: No, I know, I know. I actually have a sign on my door, do not lick the science.
Fraser Cain: Okay.
Pamela Gay: But the thing is, there’s like part of me that keeps hoping, with these close-up zoomy cameras and the ability to bevel in that Curiosity has, that we’ll find fossilized shrimp or something.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, or like little fossilized, yeah, shrimp or some kind of seashell or –
Pamela Gay: Yeah.
Fraser Cain: — yeah, that would be amazing.
Pamela Gay: And that’s probably overzealous wishful thinking but I’d settle for single-celled mats of something that got nicely fossilized.
Fraser Cain: I think it’s the most important question we could have answered in sort of planetary science. And I would love to see a bunch of missions specifically designed to search for it or search the limits of it. As you said, Titan, let’s go to Titan, let’s go to Europa, let’s go to Enceladus, let’s go to Mars. Send a mission its only job is to search for life under every nook and cranny and let’s find it.
So I don’t think – by the time we have this show again, I don’t think we’ll have a more definitive answer because there’s just – I don’t think the tools have been built yet to get to the answer definitively.
Pamela Gay: And just to – since this is a pie in the sky, so just to throw an idea out there, imagine that instead of trying to build an entire rover here on earth where every nook and cranny is properly sterilized and this and that and you have to worry about melting things when you’re radiated, imagine getting to the point where we can 3D print things in a 0G environment so that they never touch anything else.
And then we take this thing that we built in the vacuum of space without gravity and that’s what we use to explore so that we have so much more capacity to make sure that stuff is clean .
Fraser Cain: Don’t worry, aliens, we will have washed our spacecraft’s hands.
Pamela Gay: Or just bubble [inaudible] [00:13:54] it.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, exactly. Okay. I got so many topics here. Let’s talk about human space flight.
Pamela Gay: Oh, it feels like with human space flight we’re always three years away from the cool stuff. And we’ve been three years away from the cool stuff since we started recording in 2006. So, I’ve given up hope and I throw this one back at you.
Fraser Cain: Whoa. Okay. Let’s see, I think that the space station is gonna get a bunch of stays and execution because it’s very expensive and very cool and they’re gonna keep funding it, even if the Russians pull out. They’ll keep funding it for literally as long as they can keep the thing going. And ideally they’ll just keep adding to it.
I think the Chinese are gonna probably be the first people to set foot on the moon, I think.
Pamela Gay: I can go with that idea.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, I think that’s –
Pamela Gay: I support that.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, I think they’re gonna be the next people to set foot on the moon. They’re getting – they’ve got manned space stations, they’ve send Landers to the moon, they’ve sent missions around the moon to orbit it. These are all the pieces, making all the pieces –
Pamela Gay: And they’re motivated.
Fraser Cain: — and they’re motivated and they got the money to do it. They literally just don’t have necessarily the technology yet and all the kinks worked out. But they’ve got everything that NASA’s done to follow in the footsteps, everything the Russians have done and, as you said, the motivation. And so –
Pamela Gay: And they’re so savvy. They’ve been sending their best minds to the best universities around the world and then recruiting them heavily to come back. I can’t imagine the U.S. recruiting heavily to bring back its expats. That just doesn’t happen. And so they’re working really hard to get their best minds to come home and to recruit some of the best minds from the rest of the world.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, so that’s my feeling. If not, then we’re looking at the NASA doing potentially its asteroid mission. But that still feels so pie in the sky. I mean, you’ve got the SLS, you’ve got the Orion, you’ve got the capability –
Pamela Gay: I don’t trust the SLS to actually get completed without getting killed by congress.
Fraser Cain: Oh, well, so I was about to talk about that so let’s move on. Oh, before we talk about SLS, let’s talk about Mars. Do you think a human will land on Mars when?
Pamela Gay: 2025.
Fraser Cain: 2025? I’m gonna push it ten years after you, 2035.
Pamela Gay: I’m not saying they’re gonna live. I’m saying that some crazy job that gets a hold of a rocket, sends humans that way and they die. That’s what I think is going to happen initially and then everything gets put on hold for ten years. They’re like, whoa, there’s radiation. We need to figure this out.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, I think that – I mean, you look at what’s happening with SpaceX with Elon Musk and he’s absolutely committed, and I believe him that he’s gonna do it. I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel to me like setting human beings down on the surface of Mars to live is as useful as perhaps learning to live better orbitally with rotating space stations, things like that.
I’ve just been watching the expanse too much maybe and it’s really got me pretty stoked on sort of living on every nook and cranny in the whole solar system and not just necessarily the big planets. But that’s my feeling so I just think what you said but even more so.
Let’s talk a little commercial and private space launches. So SLS, do you think it’s gonna – you don’t think it’s gonna, in the end, launch?
Pamela Gay: So SLS is bogged down by the bureaucracy of big government and lots of statutory regulations, whereas SpaceX and these younger companies haven’t had as many years to develop policies and procedures and paperwork and more paperwork. And as someone who works for a government university, I understand the difference in nimbleness that just comes from having layers upon layers of paperwork that is generally in existence because someone at some point in the past expletived up. And so now there’s a policy.
Well, if you’re starting from scratch you don’t have all of that history. And you also don’t have the set in your ways. And this is something even just you and I have found that as technology changes; you’ve come to me before and said, “Well, we need to do this.” And I’m like, “No, no, no, it’s too hard, you can’t do that.” And you’re like, “But now we have this,” and like, “Oh, new technology. Yes, we can do this.”
But if you’re in a big company you can’t swing nimbly to take advantage of that stuff. So I worry that SLS is going to get caught up in bureaucracy and end up with lots of cost overrides and get brutally killed by congress. And I don’t see them having the same commercial contracts that you see with SpaceX and Sierra Nevada and [Inaudible] [00:18:46] and these other companies that are attracting commercial partners.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, I think what happens with the Falcon Heavy is gonna really answer a lot of questions. If the Falcon Heavy launches this year, which it’s supposed to, and it’s gonna be pretty much the most powerful rocket system on the earth, and if it starts to integrate the reusable rocket systems, then the SLS is gonna look like a really expensive option for NASA and for everybody. And if SpaceX can make it dependable and can continue to bring the prices down then it’s just gonna get harder and harder to justify any other launch system.
So I just –
Pamela Gay: Well, and it’s not just SpaceX is the thing. We only talk about SpaceX because they’re the ones that are doing the really awesome failure to consistently land correctly for NASA. But there are these other companies. There is Blue Origin, there is Sierra Nevada, there are others whose names never come straight to my mind.
Fraser Cain: Well, I mean, don’t count out Boeing and –
Pamela Gay: Yeah, but Boeing is SLS.
Fraser Cain: Well, I understand that but the Boeing has the Deltas and Walking [Inaudible] [00:20:03] –
Pamela Gay: Yeah, so on the – yeah.
Fraser Cain: — and they’ve got the Atlases. And right now I think the Atlas is the most powerful launch system on earth and it’s available [inaudible] five.
Pamela Gay: Right. And those are gonna keep going.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, they’re gonna keep going. And they’re watching SpaceX like a hawk. And they’re integrating the kinds of changes that they make. But what they have is they have decades of experience in building these things and running these systems. So I don’t think they’re out of the game either but I think that they brought a whole new track of launch systems. And it’s good. The competition is good. It’s good for the people who are gonna be buying these things. I’m super excited.
Okay. Let’s move on. Let’s talk about stuff here in the solar system. So what about anything with solar astronomy?
Pamela Gay: I think we’re going to continue to refine our understanding of the sun’s upper atmosphere. It is still continuing to be highly mysterious. I think we will continue to see once a year slightly conflicting but slowly moving towards convergence. While we now understand that Corona has this effect because of this.
Fraser Cain: Right.
Pamela Gay: I’m hoping that as we move through another solar cycle we start to – with all of the space imagery we have going on, to finally start to understand if we see this in the imagery it means this is about to occur, being able to predict coronal mass ejections, being able to predict which sunspots will flare out when. I’m looking for consistent weather models for the solar atmosphere.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, and I think that’s one that is really close, as you said. Astronomers are fairly certain about the way these things work. Okay. Let’s talk about other stuff in the solar system, other planetary astronomy, like will we know what’s causing those white spots on Ceres.
Pamela Gay: Oh, we already know that one. It’s salt.
Fraser Cain: It’s salt, okay.
Pamela Gay: Yeah, sorry, that one we figured out.
Fraser Cain: Okay. Anything else though?
Pamela Gay: I’m looking to find Planet 9.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, that’d be cool.
Pamela Gay: Yeah, so let’s – we need LSST – well, actually I don’t know if it covers that part of the sky. We need something to look in all the right places.
Fraser Cain: Does it cover the whole sky?
Pamela Gay: No, no, because it’s in the southern hemisphere, so there’s parts that it can’t see. And I don’t know the predicted where – it has the ecliptic – it can see the ecliptic but I don’t remember if Planet 9 sticks to the ecliptic. I don’t think it does.
Fraser Cain: What about planetary geology? And I guess we can say hydrology because there’s so much water out there.
Pamela Gay: Yeah, we’re gonna start having sample returns which is gonna start allowing us to hopefully be able to understand the solar nebula that form to the planets a little bit better. I think that’s gonna be a whole lot of slow incremental change. The big thing we need to figure out is how the heck do we keep getting geologic activity on tiny things?
Ceres had a volcano. Who would’ve thunk that? And Pluto, we – nothing. What the heck. So being able to figure out where tectonics comes from when you don’t have the kind of active squishing that you get around Jupiter and you’re just free floating things like Ceres and Pluto.
Fraser Cain: In the realm of asteroids I think the search for asteroids is really gonna continue and astronomers will have nailed down the next class of asteroids, right, the smaller ones. The ones that are potentially threatening to earth down to the city-killer size or it’ll be down to the 100-meter size. Like right now we’re at the one kilometer and above but within the next decade or so we should be down to the 100 meter and above.
Pamela Gay: Yeah, that’s LSST’s job.
Fraser Cain: And other missions that are potentially being put up as well. So –
Pamela Gay: Yeah, Gaia will also make major [inaudible] [00:24:13] to that.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, space – what’s it called, Space Defense, space – anyway it was the one that –
Pamela Gay: I think that’s the organization.
Fraser Cain: — the B612 Foundation’s mission, I forget the – Sentinel. So they’re planning on putting up Sentinel which is another mission, so there’s gonna be a bunch of these. So let’s talk about some stuff in sort of astrophysics and cosmology. So black holes.
Pamela Gay: They’re there. They exist.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, okay. I mean, we’re going to have the event Horizon Telescope built which is gonna allow us to see the environment around a super massive black hole which is pretty spiffy.
Pamela Gay: And the kinds of physics that we’re so close to being able to understand are things like it looks like galaxies are probably spinning at their maximum allowed level but we don’t have data on very many of them. So I’m hoping in the coming years as we’re able to see with higher and higher resolution the accretion [inaudible] [00:25:15] right down at the event horizon that will be able to do more to understand, well, just how are these suckers rotating? Because that does reveal itself outside of the event horizon.
I’m also hoping that we’re gonna start to be able to figure out why the heck don’t we see more binary black holes and galaxies that clearly merged in the past. And maybe if we’re lucky catch some that are just on the brink of merging or have just merged and not too close because some things you don’t want too close.
Fraser Cain: No. Let’s hope for an observation of an intermediate mass black hole, which is still a bit of an elusive creature and yet they should be out there.
Pamela Gay: I don’t think it has to exist. I don’t think we have to have intermediate black holes.
Fraser Cain: That would be weird.
Pamela Gay: I’m okay with not finding them. I am totally okay.
Fraser Cain: Okay. Well, I mean, that’s the question, right, do you think – so you don’t think we’re gonna find them. Like if we would’ve found one –
Pamela Gay: I think the formation mechanism for super massive black holes is going to be found to be consistently different. We already know that the most massive galaxies from theoretical models formed all at once possibly mostly in the early universe. And the smaller galaxies built up through combinations.
The open question is, did the black holes and the smaller galaxies form in a similar mechanism too and the massive galaxies, were they formed at the same time as the galaxy. That means that you can have super massive black holes that never went through the stellar mass black hole size scenario. And this whole myth that we’ve had of lots of black holes merging and merging and merging, I don’t think we need that story.
Fraser Cain: Right. So we’re at this thought that maybe super massive black holes just form directly.
Pamela Gay: Yeah, yeah, that’s what I’m looking to see.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, yeah, like just a big blob of stuff turned into a super massive black hole and it never was a star.
Pamela Gay: All the computer models, we need to do all of them.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, yeah. Gravitational waves, when will we find a direct detection of gravitational waves?
Pamela Gay: So everyone is making a whole bunch of noise about Lawrence Krauss’s tweet after he got a text message and how LIGO has everyone set aside for what is it, in February or March. If that –
Fraser Cain: Chatter.
Pamela Gay: Yeah, if that isn’t a sick signal or higher detection, I’m ready to throw in the towel. I remember back when I was an undergrad in ’95 when they started building the LIGOs. They were saying we’re three years away from a detection. Well, no, it’s been more than three years guys. Yeah, we’ve spent so many billions of dollars on these detectors it’s really hard to say this just doesn’t work from the surface of an active planet.
But my gut, my pessimistic, pessimistic gut is saying we’re not gonna detect them from the surface of the planet.
Fraser Cain: Wow. Now, we know they’re there. I mean, we’ve seen them indirectly in the way binary pulsar orbits interact but they haven’t been detected directly. And so you’re thinking that advanced LIGO will probably not provide the level of accuracy that’s required and that it’s gonna take something space space like Alyssa.
Pamela Gay: Yeah, that’s – again, I’m being pessimistic on this one –
Fraser Cain: No, that’s fine.
Pamela Gay: — but the noise is just far too complicated to get out of the system I think.
Fraser Cain: That’s super interesting. Okay. Partly speaking of physics, let’s talk about some particle physics. What kinds of – you know, the Large Hadron Collider turned up the Higgs boson on our watch. What’s next do you think?
Pamela Gay: I’m hoping that we start to find, not necessarily in the particle colliders but perhaps in the underground tanks, particles that correspond to dark matter. Just like we’re detecting nutrena as well, dark matter is probably a particle very similar to nutrenas. So what I’m looking for is that next flicker in a tank that says, hey, I’m dark matter.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, so based on that, I mean, I think the other big hope is that people are gonna see some particles from a super symmetry –
Pamela Gay: — super symmetry.
Fraser Cain: — which theoretically should be on the capabilities of the Large Hadron Collider. Okay. So let’s just go to dark matter then. Do you think we’re gonna find out what dark matter is?
Pamela Gay: I’m hoping?
Fraser Cain: Yeah.
Pamela Gay: I’m hoping that we reveal that next tier of particles that come and join the standard model that gives us dark matter. So the open question is, is it super symmetry or is it just another column that we haven’t thought about? And we’re finding these five-quart close-ons now, yeah.
Fraser Cain: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I ask this question to everybody who knows anything about it and it does feel to me like people feel pretty hopeful that the right apparatus is in place now, the right detectors are in place, the right – the VLHC is there to try and actually generate these particles, that all the tools are there now to kinda get to the bottom of this.
Pamela Gay: We are going to have to crank up the energies more than I think the people who built it are entirely comfortable with, but that’s always the case.
Fraser Cain: Yeah. Yeah well, I mean, as always they’re gonna push that thing to the absolute limits and take it way further than anyone ever expected. Okay. Dark energy.
Pamela Gay: I’m out. No idea. We’re gonna –
Fraser Cain: Yeah, and this is the same – I asked the same question. They were like, dark matter, yeah, I think we’re pretty close to dark energy and they’re like, I have no idea. I have no place to start. I got nothing.
Pamela Gay: Yeah, so I think the next big push is to verify that dark energy’s density has been constant through the age of the universe. And there’s some really cool instruments and missions planned, the dark energy explorer down at McDonald Observatory is one of them that will start to get us there. But they don’t tell us what dark energy is. They just tell us where it was and when it was.
And I honestly am thinking this falls into the category of one of those things that we just need a theoretical genius. We need that Einstein to come along and give us a new perspective.
Fraser Cain: Yeah, I talked a bit to one to Paul Matsetter and he kinda feels, yeah, like it’s still way out there, that there is some kinda connection between dark matter and dark energy but it’s still just all so out there that I’ll bet you ten years from now we’ll still be talking about dark energy and we’re just still gonna be.
Pamela Gay: Well, it depends if we can [inaudible] [00:32:20] genius or not. You can’t predict geniuses.
Fraser Cain: True, yeah.
Pamela Gay: And this is why we need more diversity in astronomy because we don’t know where that genius is coming from. So –
Fraser Cain: Yeah, it could be you. Not you –
Pamela Gay: I know it’s not me.
Fraser Cain: — well, I mean – oh, oh.
Pamela Gay: It’s true.
Fraser Cain: I was saying it to the listener but I was also including you, Pamela.
Pamela Gay: Yeah, I know.
Fraser Cain: Okay. Let’s talk about big bang cosmology then.
Pamela Gay: I’m happy with it. We’re gonna continue beating down the arabars at this part. We going to continue better constraining all of the different variables. I love the fact that when I started in astronomy, everyone was like, use a Hubble constant of 100 for H not because it just makes the calculations easier and we don’t know.
And now it’s just like we know and we have smaller bars.
Fraser Cain: Seventy-one or whatever it is, yeah.
Pamela Gay: Yeah, so let’s just keep going with all those parameters, beating down the arabars and that will make the search for dark energy more accurate.
Fraser Cain: What about inflation? We were all excited that we found primordial gravitational waves –
Pamela Gay: — that we didn’t.
Fraser Cain: — to help out with inflation. Now we’re back to square one. Do you think we’re gonna find evidence for inflation?
Pamela Gay: Not unless we build another space [inaudible] [00:33:36] I don’t think we can do it with plank. I think if we could do it with plank we already could’ve. I may simply be pessimistic but that’s my job on this show.
Fraser Cain: Yep, yeah, you’re the pessimist, you’re the hardened realist and I’m the wild-eyed optimist. Okay. So, anything else maybe in the Milky Way? I think one thing that’s gonna be intriguing is this – you know, we talked about this idea of the alien mega structure which is most certainly not an alien mega structure but it’s a very weird object, a very strange kind of star that’s been dimming over a long period of time. And something is transiting in front of it. This is a whole new class of object.
Pamela Gay: I think that we’re going to continue to realize that solar systems do things we never predicted because we had a sample size of one when we built all of our models for solar systems. So that one I put out there with anything a science fiction writer could come up with is probably not as crazy as reality. So, planetary systems will continue to shake the foundations of our lack of understanding.
But what I’m really looking forward to –
Fraser Cain: So vague. Okay.
Pamela Gay: — what I’m really looking forward to is – I had the sudden realization last week that graduate students are now starting to factor in being able to use the James Webb Space Telescope while they’re in graduate school. And I was like, whoa, we’re that close that students aren’t afraid to require it to do their dissertation. I don’t think that’s wise. I don’t think you should do that. I’m a pessimist thought.
Fraser Cain: Totally should do that.
Pamela Gay: But the thing is with James Webb Space Telescope we’re going to be able to start doing infrared astronomy that when we partner what’s possible with all [inaudible] [00:35:24] what’s possible with James Webb we’re going to nail the early days of star formation. So understanding how these molecular clouds collapse, how we get stars turning on, understanding initial mass function, all of these awesome things, where planetary systems do and don’t form, yeah, we’re gonna get details on that. And it’s awesome.
Fraser Cain: But, you know, we’re not just talking about the star formation within the Milky Way. I mean, James Webb will be able to take us right out to the very edge of the observable universe and see –
Pamela Gay: But it won’t be able to peer into IF7 [inaudible] universe. It will be able to tell us when galaxies [inaudible].
Fraser Cain: But it’s gonna [inaudible], exactly.
Pamela Gay: That’s the other side of it.
Fraser Cain: Right. And so it’s gonna show us both sort of the near side stars forming and sort of what goes on in those surroundings, but in the far side it’s gonna let us see right out to the very edge. The stuff that Hubble has to do, these crazy micro lensing bank shots. James Webb is just gonna brute force and go, you know, gaze like IF Saron onto all these different objects. So I’m totally, totally stoked about that. Anything else, kind of an extra galactic astronomy?
Pamela Gay: Well, going back to James Webb and Alma, we’re starting to figure out when stars turned on. And I’m hoping we’ll get the right kind of data to finally be able to say something sensible about how low metallicity stars formed and exploded. And what point all the types of supernova started to occur so that we can decouple all of the different problems with white dwarfs, having different chemical compositions with possibly different masses.
There’s so many different issues with supernovae when we start mucking about with metallicity that we think we know, we think we know. But with James Webb we’ll actually know.
Fraser Cain: And this gives us some of the answers to the kinds of questions that we talk about here on Astronomy Cast, right, is like, how long has life potentially been around? And that’s been dependent on those heavier elements. And so the question is, when did those heavier elements really start forming? That’ll give us some baseline; some boundaries for answering like the drake equation. How long has life been around to evolve, to ignore us?
Pamela Gay: Yeah, when did the stars turn on and when did they die violently and enrich everything around them?
Fraser Cain: And when did you have enough that you could get life, so very cool. Well, you know, we are out of time so I hope we’ll pick some time in the future, we’ll come back around and we will take another look and see if we can make an update on when all the stuff happened. And then we can go, we were right, we were wrong, we were right.
Pamela Gay: Exactly.
Fraser Cain: All right. Thanks, Pamela.
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