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Ed White, spacewalking in a hostile universe

Ep. 264: Hazards of Spaceflight

We hold all these romantic notions about humans exploring the Solar System, turning humanity into a true spacefaring race. But the cold hard reality is that space, really the entire Universe, is trying to kill you. Any humans venturing out into space will face all kinds of hazards. (more…)

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RTG Reactor on the Moon.

Ep. 263: Radioactive Decay

Nothing lasts forever, even atoms. Heavier elements decay into lighter elements, releasing energy as radiation. But thanks to this radiation, astronomers can get a glimpse into what’s going on inside distant start. Let’s take a look at the whole process of radioactive decay, the different events that happen, and how humans use this fundamental force […]

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Artist illustration of a quasar. Image credit: CfA

Ep. 261: Lasers and Masers in Astronomy

Last week we introduced the science of lasers and masers. This week we apply that knowledge to our favourite field: astronomy. Learn how naturally forming masers teach us about the cosmos, and how the artificially produced lasers help us gather better science. (more…)

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ESO's VLT with its laser guide star

Ep. 260: The Technology of Lasers and Masers

Just when you think you understand it, light will do some amazing things. Just look at the discovery of lasers, and their use in almost every technology you can think of: from cutting, to transmitting information to, yes, astronomy. And nature has figured out its own version of laser technology, called the maser, which has […]

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Surface of Venus, from Venera

Ep. 259: Exploration of Venus

Mars gets all the attention, but you might be surprised to know how much Venus has been explored. From initial telescope observations and the early flyby missions, to the landers… yes landers and orbiters. We know quite a lot about Venus, but the planet sure didn’t give up its secrets easily. (more…)

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Viking Lander

Ep. 258: Viking Landers

Last week we talked about the orbiter portion of the Viking Missions. But that was only half the adventure. Each Viking spacecraft carried a lander as well, which touched down on the surface of Mars, searching for evidence of past and current life. And what they discovered is still up for debate. (more…)

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The Viking Orbiter, releasing the lander. Image credit: NASA

Ep. 257: Viking Orbiters

Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity get all the news now, but it was NASA’s Viking Missions that gave us our first close up view of the surface of Mars. These twin missions, both made of orbiter and lander set the stage for the exploration of Mars, demonstrating that we could actually reach the surface of Mars, […]

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High resolution lets you separate these binary stars. Image credit: Caltech

Ep. 256: Resolution

When it comes to telescopes, astronomers really just care about resolution: how much can you see? Your resolution defines how much science you can get done, and it depends on your gear, wavelength, and conditions. Putting a telescope in space really helps too. (more…)

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The Sun in Hydrogen Alpha

Ep. 255: Observing Hydrogen

Hydrogen is the most common element in the Universe, formed at the beginning of everything in the Big Bang. It’s the raw material of stars, gathering together through mutual gravity into vast nebulae. Astronomers can learn so much looking for hydrogen in the Universe. Here’s why, and how they do it. (more…)

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