Blue Dot

Fridays at 10 a.m.

Blue Dot, named after Carl Sagan's famous speech about our place in the universe, features interviews with guests from all over the regional, national and worldwide scientific communities. Host Dave Schlom leads discussions about the issues science is helping us address with experts who shed light on climate change, space exploration, astronomy, technology and much more. Dave asks us to remember: from deep space, we all live on a pale, blue dot. 

We revisit one of our favorite topics on this program over the years (back when this was a four minute show called The Blue Dot Report) The Kepler Space Telescope, the world's greatest hunter of worlds beyond our solar system. With two of its four reaction wheels (gyroscope like devices used to stabilize and point the telescope) failing, Kepler was unable to continue its primary mission. But the K2 mission uses the telescopes still operating instruments to not only hunt for exoplanets but also study objects both near and far from our solar system to energetic galaxies at cosmic distances. Dave talks to two of K2's mission scientists, Ann Marie Cody (who created the cool cartoon above) and Michael Gully-Santiago as we examine what is likely Kepler's last hurrah.

Summer travel season means it is time to hit the road. This one is very long if not winding as we learn about what it would be like to travel to planets beyond our solar system! Dave visits with Eric Mamajek, Deputy Project Scientist for NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program. Dr. Mamajek gives an overview of the history of detecting planets beyond our solar system as well as the many different kinds of worlds that we have discovered in the past few decades. Then we visit with Arielle Samuelson. Arielle is a web manager who has helped pool the resources of scientists and artists to create the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Exoplanet Travel Bureau. You can see what it would be like to travel to an alien landscape with virtual reality simulations and whimsical travel posters promoting destinations light years away from our solar system. FInally, Sheryl Hosler, aka The Roving Naturalist, joins us for her report on strange lifeforms on our own planet that emit their own light in a story about bioluminescence.

Our nation's fleet of weather satellites are one of our greatest orbital assets. They provide the data that is fed into sophisticated computer models which are then used by forecasters to give us accurate 5 to 7 day outlooks on the weather. In November, the Joint Polar Satellite System or JPSS-1 was launched with amazing instrumental capabilities. In the image above, you can see the smoke plumes from the devastating Thomas Fire, the largest wildfire in California history. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service operate the nation's weather satellites and provide their products for local forecasters, firefighters and disaster planners as well as commerce and industry. In this episode, Dave talks to Mitch Goldberg, the Program Scientist for the JPSS and an expert on all types of weather satellites. In the second half of the show, a three way discussion ensues with Joe Pica, the Director of Observations for the NWS and Rob Elvington, a television meteorologist with a deep level of understanding of how to use satellite data and imagery for his daily forecasts.

In this episode, Dave talks to volcanologist Erik Klemmeti to get us all educated about volcanoes since two have been huge stories in the news. We talk about magmas, lavas and eruption types with the focus on Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano that has been in an intense eruptive episode since early May. Volcano Fuego in Guatamala unleashed an explosive eruption in May that killed dozens of people in a dreaded "pyroclastic flow." Volcanoes invoke primal fascination and are a testament to Earth's classification as a "living planet." California and the Pacific Northwest have volcanoes too that are classified as potentially dangerous leading to the need for the USGS California Volcano Observatory.

This is the second part of our tribute to Apollo astronaut Alan Bean. Alan was the fourth man to walk on the Moon during the Apollo 12 mission in November of 1969 four month's after Neil Armstrong's "One small step for man..." Bean was a talented and prolific painter who was also extraordinarily kind and generous as one of NASA's legendary Apollo era astronauts. We are joined by his good friend and colleague Rusty Schweickart who was one of the first astronauts to fly the lunar module on the Apollo 9 test flight along with commander Jim McDivitt. in the spring of 1969. Then Dave talks to his friend Andrew Chaikin, author of A Man on The Moon which was the basis for the Tom Hank's produced mini series on HBO, From The Earth to The Moon. Chaikin met Bean when he was a 12 year old visiting the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and later in life interviewed the astronaut extensively for his book, eventually becoming longtime friends with the astronaut. Audio highlights from the surface of the Moon and the number one pop hit from 1969 also appear on the conclusion of this special two part tribute to an American icon and hero.

In this first installment of a two part look at the life and career of Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean we hear from two very special astronaut friends. Alan Bean devoted his life to creating masterful oil paintings depicting many aspects of the Apollo Moon landings. Bean passed away at age 86 on May 26, 2018. We talk to his longtime friend, fellow Apollo astronaut Walt Cunningham who flew the very first test of the Apollo Command and Service module in Earth orbit -- Apollo 7. Then we talk to a current member of the NASA astronaut corps, Karen Nyberg, who was befriended by Bean and shared his love of art. Join us as we celebrate the fourth man to set foot on the Moon, Alan Bean.

photo by Dave Schlom

The Sacramento River flows from its headwaters above Shasta Dam to the Pacific Ocean through the Delta and out the Golden Gate. It is one of the most diverse and productive fisheries in the world. In this episode we examine the anadromous fishery in particular. Anadromous fish are those that spawn in fresh water but spend most of their lives in the ocean like the imperiled Chinook salmon. But we also check out other species of game fish that live in the river like green sturgeon, striped bass and rainbow trout.


For the 100th episode of Blue Dot we go volcanic! Dave interviews Erik Klemetti, Professor of Geosciences at Denison University in Ohio. Klemetti is an expert volcanologist who writes about volcanoes for the Discover Magazine blog Rocky Planet. We'll talk about the ongoing and unfolding saga of the Kilauea Volcano's eruptions on the big island of Hawaii. In the second half of the show, we visit with three California State University Chico students who are doing volcanology research as undergraduate students under the guidance of Professor of Geosciences at CSU Chico, Rachel Teasdale. Two of the students, Amy Robson and Angie Rodriguez, are researching the hydrothermal system at Lassen Volcanic National Park and Evan Davis is modeling a lava flow emplacement on Mars. Dave also talks to their mentor about the value of having undergraduate students do high level scientific research projects.

Dave talks to Alan Stern and David Grinspoon, coauthors of Chasing Pluto: Inside The Epic First Mission to Pluto. When Voyager 2 flew by Neptune in 1989, it closed out the golden age of solar system exploration. But it left one unexplored body: Pluto. Stern was part of a group of scientists known as "The Pluto Underground." For years the proposed, lobbied and planned for a robotic mission to what was then, "the ninth planet." The mission that would be eventually called New Horizons went through decades of starts and stops. The story of how this mission ultimately succeeded in July 2015 is a triumphant tale of perseverence.

In this episode Dave visits with Adam Weymouth, author of the new book Kings of The Yukon. In it, he describes taking an epic trip down the length of the Yukon River in a canoe. His purpose is to learn about the longest Chinook or "King" salmon run in the world. As Adam leaves the spawning grounds at the headwaters, the salmon are entering the mouth of the river from the Bering Sea 2000 miles away. Somewhere along the way, the powerful swimmers and the human paddler will meet. As he journeys through Canada and Alaska, Weymouth learns more about both the imperiled salmon and the people who depend upon the salmon for their livelihoods and sustenance. The arcane world of fishing regulations from both the Unites States in Canada often conflicts with the ancient practices of the native people as well as the commercial fisherman profiled in the story. Add in the impacts of environmental degradation and what ensues is a gripping story about one of the last great salmon runs on the planet.