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. 

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.

On this week's Blue Dot, Dave talks to retired NOAA climate scientist David Goodrich about his new book, "A Hole in the Wind: A Climate Scientist's Bicycle Journey Across the United States."

Goodrich had a rich and distinguished career working for the UN's Global Climate Observing system in Geneva. When he returned to the United States, he found the issue of climate science embroiled in politics.

He decided to combine his love of long-distance cycling with his interest in climate science to deliver talks across the country as he cycled from Delaware to Oregon in 2011.

Dave has a last preview of the Total Solar Eclipse on August 21 as he talks with his eclipse buddy, Tyler Nordgren. Dave and Tyler will be near John Day Fossil Beds National Monument for the big event. Nordgren is an astronomy professor at Redlands College in Southern California and the author of Sun Moon Earth: Solar Eclipses From Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets. When he was nine years old he was in Portland for the last total eclipse that touched America in 1979. Frightened by news reports about the dangers of looking at the eclipse, he hid indoors and missed the spectacle. He's been making up for it ever since, chasing eclipses around the world. Nordgren was one of the featured astronomers in the CuriosityStream documentary Eclipse Across America.

Dave talks to Ranger Kevin Sweeney from Lassen Volcanic National Park. After the 9/11 attacks, he found himself in need of natural solace and went to Joshua Tree National park in Southern California. A business major at the time, Kevin decided to change his career and life path, volunteered for the Peace Corps and then set out to become a National Park Service Ranger. He's been at Lassen Volcanic National Park and knows the backcountry in all four seasons. He also started up the Dark Sky Festival that takes place around the time of the Perseid Meteor Shower every August.

In this installment of Blue Dot, Dave talks to Matt Golombek from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Matt has been involved in the site selection for every American rover on Mars. On July 4, 1997, the Mars Pathfinder mission landed on the Red Planet and deployed the tiny Sojourner Rover. Since that time, for the past twenty years, there has always been American rovers on Mars from Sojourner to Spirit and Opportunity and now Curiosity. Learn about this amazing proof of concept mission -- Pathfinder was the first lander to utilize landing air bags -- and the amazing career of Matt Golombek exploring the red planet!

In this episode, Dave talks to filmmaker Mark Bender. His documentary, Eclipse Across America, was produced for and is airing on CuriosityStream. Mark is a veteran eclipse chaser and documentary filmmaker. The film, in four parts, traces the path of the eclipse across the United States and features some of the most scenic and interesting spots that will be in or very near the path of totality.

As we count down to the big event, the Eclipse Across America on August 21, Dave talks to two people preparing for a logistical challenge to say the least. One million visitors are expected to come to Oregon to be in the 65 mile wide path of the eclipse. Shelley Hall is the Superintendent for John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. It's remote location and limited infrastructure (there is no camping in the park unit) make for a particularly challenging opportunity for park staff and visitors alike. Shelly explains how the park is preparing for a large influx of visitors and shares her concerns and aspirations for the event. Then we chat with Dave Thompson from the Oregon Department of Transportation about their messaging campaign designed to keep people safe and traffic moving. Bottom line? It won't be easy -- especially if large numbers of people try to get to the eclipse path late and leave early.