This week, I had the privilege of chatting with famed physicist, author, NASA technologist, and interstellar travel expert Les Johnson. In addition to discussing the challenges of mounting human-rated missions to interstellar space, we talked about his science fiction writing – which includes multiple novels and anthologies. He’s also been a contributor and the chief editor of several collections that combine SF short stories with scientific essays, like Going Interstellar and Stellaris: People of the Stars.
We also talked about the upcoming anthology, The Ross 248 Project, which is available for pre-order through Baen Publishing and Simon & Schuster. This book explores how human beings could one day travel to rocky planets that orbit Red Dwarf suns and how these planets could be terraformed to make them habitable for Earth organisms (including us). I had the honor of contributing an essay to this anthology, “Under a Crimson Sun,” which explores potential terraforming strategies and was inspired by a series I wrote for Universe Today (The Definitive Guide to Terraforming). Follow the links below to check it out!
This week’s episode is a homage to one of the greatest science fiction authors and science communicators of all time: Arthur C. Clarke. In addition to his writing and research, Clarke was a noted futurist who made many famous predictions about the future. His ability to anticipate technological advancements and the effect they would have on society earned him the nickname “Prophet of the Space Age.”
The subject of his predictions and what he got right or wrong is something I’ve been examining since I read the novelization of 2001: A Space Odyssey a few decades ago. While there were many details that he got wrong and had to ret-con in later books, he was eerily right about many things. These included communication satellites, the internet, spaceplanes, commercial spaceflight, and orbital space stations. Follow the links below to hear more!
For this week’s episode, I sat down with Dr. Alex Ellery, a professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Carleton University – which happens to be my alma mater (Go Ravens!) Dr. Ellery has written extensively about a subject that is near and dear to the heart of SETI researchers – Von Neumann Probes! For those unfamiliar, the concept is named in honor of famed scientist and engineer John Von Neumann (1903-1957).
In a series of lectures and his posthumously-published book, Theory of Self Reproducing Automata, he described machines that could harvest raw materials and produce exact copies of themselves. Over time, this notion has merged with ideas like nanotechnology and additive manufacturing (3-D printing) to become an idea for space exploration. And as SETI reminds us, if we can think of it, someone else has likely created it already.
Since the 1970s, Von Neumann probes have become a focal point in the ongoing debate about the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence (aka. the Fermi Paradox). The argument goes like this: if an advanced civilization were out there, we’d see evidence of self-replicating probes by now. This argument has led to all kinds of speculation and theories, and you can bet that Ellery and I got into them with gusto! Follow the links below to have a listen!
This week was a bit of a departure. In honor of Christmas, I decided to dedicate this episode to the life and times (and accomplishments) of Sir Isaac Newton. Why? Simple! Because Sir Isaac Newton was born on December 25th, 1642 (Julian Calendar), which works out to January 3rd, 1643 today (Gregorian Calendar). Also because I am doing an ongoing segment where I talk about the most influential people in the fields of astronomy and the sciences.
And when it comes right down to it, Newton’s contributions to these various fields (according to countless polls) are comparable only to those of Einstein. But what made his contributions so significant was the way he synthesized the work of previous generations and scientists. Or, as Newton himself put it: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
This week, I sat down with legendary science communicator and educator Janet Ivey. Janet is the Governor of the National Space Society (NSS). the creator and CEO of Explore Mars, a NASA Science Ambassador, a TV/film personality, and the creator and host of Janet’s Planet. We talked about space exploration, its potential to unite and inspire, and what it’s like to bring that to the next generation of spacers!”
\We also got into what it’s like being a woman in what is still a “boy’s club” and how rewarding it is to inspire the next generation of women to pursue a career in space and the STEMs. Check out the episode below:
This week’s episode is a special one. Instead of the usual stories from space, I get to talking about stories about space and humanity’s bold future in it. In short, I talked about science fiction, the books that inspired me throughout my life, and how I dreamed of one day writing the kind of books that inspired me. By the time I became a science communicator who writes about this stuff for a living, I finally found my voice.
This journey eventually led me to write the Formist Series, which was published between 2017 and 2020. And frankly, I’m just getting started! Before I put my pen down, there are countless stories I would like to tell. And I am fortunate enough to work in a field that actively inspires me to think about humanity’s future in space and learn the technical aspects involved. I even recount the exact article I’d written in 2015 that made everything click in my mind!
Want to hear more about this journey? Check out the links below:\
The subject of this week’s episode is the science being transforming extraterrestrial planets to make them more “Earth-like” – aka. Terraforming! This is a subject near and dear to my heart and something I wrote about at length a few years ago over at Universe Today, titled “The Definitive Guide to Terraforming.” I also took the opportunity to share some good news: the essay I wrote about terraforming will soon be published in the upcoming The Ross 248 Project!
As I mentioned in a previous post, this is an anthology of SF stories and scientific essays edited by author and NASA scientist Les Johnson and terraforming expert Ken Roy. The topic is how humans could populate rocky planets that orbit red dwarf suns – like Ross 128, Proxima Centauri, or TRAPPIST-1 – in the near future. For the sake of fiction, Johnson and Roy decided to use Ross 248 (a red dwarf over 10 light-years from Earth) as the setting since it is not yet known if it supports a planetary system.
My contribution was an essay titled “Under Crimson Skies” that looked at how these planets could be ecologically engineered to make them into future homes for humanity!
This week, I got back into the Fermi Paradox (“Where are all the aliens?”) to address one of my favorite proposed resolutions. Could it be that the reason humanity hasn’t heard from extraterrestrial civilizations is that they have evolved beyond anything we would recognize? This is the thrust of the Transcension Hypothesis, a proposed resolution that has had many contributors over the past century.
This includes Russian-Soviet “farther of rocketry” Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, theoretical physicist John D. Barrow (inventor of the Barrow Scale), and John M. Smart – the man who crystallized the idea as we know it today. The reason why this proposed resolution is so appealing is that it combines so many ground-breaking ideas, ranging from nanotech, neural uploading, black hole physics, evolutionary development (evo-devo), and clinical immortality.
And as always, the implications of this theory could be incredibly profound. Not only does it mean we may someday encounter beings that are so far beyond our comprehension. It also offers a glimpse of what humanity itself could become someday.
In this episode, I circle back to the Fermi Paradox (“Where are all the aliens?”) and address the first proposed resolution. In 1975, astrophysicist (and white supremacist) Michael Hart framed the Fermi Paradox as we know it. As he defined it, there was a disparity between the assumed prevalence of life in the Universe and the dearth of evidence for it. Hart’s explanation: extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t exist. This argument was articulated a few years later by astrophysicist Frank Tipler (NOT a white supremacist), who provided far more intelligent parameters.
While it is a simple and arguably oversimplified answer to a very serious question, the Conjecture does have some good points. Given the age of the Universe, the sheer number of stars, planets, and galaxies in the Universe, and the fact that the ingredients for life are in abundance everywhere, why is it that we don’t see evidence of advanced intelligence out there? There are many reasons, and the question begs further investigation.
In 1964, Russian-Soviet astrophysicist and radio astronomer Nikolai Kardashev wrote a paper where he described how alien civilizations could be categorized based on the energy they could harness. At the time, Kardashev was trying to suggest the kinds of transmissions astronomers should be looking for in their pursuit of finding extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI). However, this paper spawned a means of classifying ETIs based on the amount of energy they could harness.
This has come to be known as the Kardashev Scale, which categories civilizations into the planetary, stellar, and galactic scales. Today, it remains a central feature in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).