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. 

This week, Dave is joined by special cohost Kate Fullam from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Kate and Dave interview Sara MacSorley. Her new coloring book Super Cool Scientists, profiles a diverse array of women scientists. The coloring book is designed to engage girls in thinking of scientific careers as possible futures for them. Super cool ones! This program is the second of an ongoing collaboration with the Alda Center based at Stony Brook University in New York.

Dave talks to Jess McIver. Dr. McIver is an astrophysicist with the LIGO gravitational wave detection observatory. She's been deeply involved in the first detections of gravitational waves from a black hole (which won a Nobel Prize for Physics earlier this fall) and the recent detection of the collision of two neutron stars. The collision produced not only gravitational waves, but bursts of electromagnetic radiation across the spectrum observed by telescopes around the world and in space. The observations have thrilled the astronomical community, releasing a torrent of research that will likely change how we view the Universe.

Dave talks to Kathryn Miles, author of Quakeland. In her new book, the journalist explores the less obvious threats due to seismicity than the usual "California and the west are earthquake country," point of view. In fact, most of the U.S. is shockingly vulnerable to earthquakes that could cost lives and damage an increasingly fragile infrastructure. Explore the deepest mine in the country and discover, along with our guest, how little we understand the inner workings of our own planet.

On this episode of Blue Dot, Dave talks to Gleb Raygorodetsky about his new book "The Archipelago of Hope." In it, the National Geographic correspondent and scientist tells the stories of six indigenous peoples from around the world.

For the past two decades Raygorodetsky has lived with and documented people like the Skolt Sami of Finland, the Nenets and Altai of Russia, the Karen of Myanmar and the Tla-o-qui-aht of British Columbia. These peoples don't debate the existence of human-induced climate change. They have been living with its effects for decades. Pushed to the edge by industrial civilization and its effects on our climate, these resilient peoples have learned to work with the ecosystems of their ancient homelands rather than the extractive model of modern society.

What can we learn from these people that can help us to pass on a livable world to our children's children? That's the central question explored in "The Archipelago of Hope."

When the Cassini orbiter was sent plunging into Saturn on September 15, it was the end of a mission and the end of an era of solar system exploration. In this episode, Dave talks to two Cassini team members — one who has been with the mission since the beginning and another that is a relative newcomer.

On March 27, 1964, Alaska was rocked by the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America. It caused widespread damage, landslides and destructive tsunamis. It also helped to cement our current understanding of the most important idea in the Earth Sciences — the modern theory of plate tectonics.

On this episode of Blue Dot, Dave talks to Henry Fountain, the New York Times science writer who wrote about the Alaska disaster and its aftermath in The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet

Fountain tells about his experience documenting the quakes victims and also its investigators from the United States Geological Survey, especially focusing on Henry Plafker. It was Plafker's painstaking field observations and conclusions that helped determine that the big temblor was caused by subduction — when an oceanic tectonic plate slides underneath a lighter continental plate. These are the most powerful earthquakes and tsunami generators on the planet — including the 2010 and 2015 Chilean quakes as well as the 2011 event in Japan. 

Dave talks to Emer Reynolds, the director of the new documentary The Farthest, which aired on PBS Nova this summer. It tells the epic story of the twin Voyager spacecraft.

Launched in 1977, the Voyagers were the designed to tour the outer solar system thanks to an alignment that happens once in every 175 years. Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter and Saturn and then was flung into the outer solar system above the plane of the planets becoming the fastest object ever made by humans. In 2012, it entered interstellar space becoming, literally, the farthest.

Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune before also heading out toward the stars. Both carry the famous Golden Record, containing music, greetings and images — a time capsule of life on Earth sent to the stars. The records and the spacecraft will last a billion years, far outlasting any other human artifact. In the film, Reynolds interviews nearly every surviving member of the teams that engineered the missions, did the science and made the record.

Dave interviews Rob Wesson, author of Darwin's First Theory. In it, the USGS Scientist Emeritus follows in Darwin's footsteps from England and Scotland to the Voyage of the Beagle around the world. Darwin is of course famous for his theory of evolution by natural selection, but he was actually hired on to be a geologist for HMS Beagle English gentleman to keep Captain Robert Fitzroy company. Darwin's observations of the geologic landscapes of South America in particular, especially his documenting of the 1835 earthquake there, lead him to a theory of uplift and subsidence that is tantalizingly close to our modern theory of plate tectonics. Wesson traveled in Darwin's footsteps and immersed himself in the experience while simultaneously looking for evidence of past earthquakes and tsunamis. He recounts Darwin's brilliance as an observer of the natural landscape and discusses the tragedy of the Chilean earthquake and tsunami of 2010 along with some amazing observations confirming what Fitzroy and Darwin observed nearly two centuries before.

We welcome Kate Fullam from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. She talks to Steven Jaret about his experience learning the fine art of communicating science at the Alda Center and then Dave has a conversation with Steven about his life as a planetary scientist and his interest in impact geology. Kate will be joining us on a regular basis as we interview folks who have gone through the Alda Center's training. One of these episodes, who knows, maybe Mr. Alda himself will pop by. Stay tuned!

On this episode of Blue Dot, Dave talks to Sarah Scoles, author of Making Contact: Jill Tarter and The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Jill is a pivotal and inspirational leader for women in scientific careers as well as being a pioneering leader for SETI. Her career and personal life served as one of the major influences for the character of Ellie Arroway, played by Jodie Foster in the 1997 scifi epic Contact based on the novel by the late Carl Sagan.