The LIUniverse with Dr. Charles Liu

A half-hour dose of cosmic conversation with scientists, educators and students about the cosmos, scientific frontiers, scifi, comics, and more. Hosted by Dr. Charles Liu, PhD, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History. Support us on Patreon.

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Saturday May 18, 2024

Do gravitons exist? What are blazars? How did our universe begin? To grapple with questions on a cosmological scale, Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu welcome Dr. Ron Gamble, a theoretical astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
As always, though, we start off with the day’s joyfully cool cosmic thing, the gravitational wave background. Luckily, we have the “cosmological - gravitational wave - black hole meister dude” Ron on board as our expert to unpack the concept. Ron’s explanation involves pulsars, pulsar timing arrays, and gravitational waves. You’ll hear about how ripples in spacetime can help us date the age. Ron compares the gravitational wave background to the cosmic microwave background, how both compare to sound waves, and how we decipher them.
We interrupt Ron’s flow for an audience question from Kelly for Dr. Gamble: Do gravitons exist? Ron explains why gravitons should exist for the force of gravity the same way that particles exist for each of the other fundamental forces. (And yes, bosons and fermions get discussed.)
Next, Chuck asks Ron about his journey to NASA, a path that began when he was 4 years old with a question and continued as a search for answers to this day. You’ll hear how he learned grad school level math 2 years before grad school so he’d be ready when he needed it to study non-linear gravitational wave theory. He explains why he had to relearn how to learn math and science, and how, after that, everything else was just like “building Legos.”
He's currently studying little understood objects called “black hole lasers” – relativistic black hole jets, or blazars. You’ll hear all about them, as well as learning about the work of Roger Penrose and Dr. Reva Kay Williams, the first black woman to get a PhD in theoretical astrophysics in the U.S. which lead to a Nobel Prize in Physics –unfortunately awarded only to Penrose, as Chuck and Ron discuss.
Our next cosmological question comes from Nicholas, who asks, “Is the big bang theory in trouble?” Not in trouble, Ron says, but incomplete. We have a pretty good idea of cosmology, but we’re still testing it, and we don’t know exactly what happened or what we might find.
Ron is also a wide-ranging artist, and he shows off some of his work on the walls of his office, from artistic depictions of equations to visions of urban decay. (Sorry, podcast listeners – but Chuck does his best to describe what they look like!) If you’re interested in his work, you can find it in his new online store at
Finally, Chuck asks about what it’s like to be an artist and a NASA scientist. Ron talks about his role as the Director of the NASA Cosmic Pathfinders Program.
You can keep up with Ron on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter (X) at @dr_gamble21. Or you can visit his website at
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon.
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:
– Animation of a Pulsar – NASA SVS, Public domain
– The planned Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) – NASA, Public Domain
– The four fundamental forces – NASA, Public Domain
– A 4x4 matrix representing a tensor – Public Domain text
– A Christoffel Symbol – Public Domain text
– Illustration of a black hole jet – NASA/JPL-Caltech, Public Domain
– Dr. Reva Kay Williams – (Fair Use)
– A cosmology timeline of the universe – NASA/WMAP Science Team, Public Domain

Saturday May 04, 2024

Volcanoes in space...supervolcanoes here on Earth... and lava lakes everywhere! To get an expert opinion on eruptions, Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu welcome Dr. Sam Tramontano, a Post-Doctoral researcher in geology and Earth sciences at The American Museum of Natural History.
As always, though, we start off with the day’s joyfully cool cosmic thing, the Juno spacecraft’s two recent close passes (under 1000 miles) of Jupiter’s moon Io and the amazing images of volcanic activity and Io’s lava lake “Loki Patera” with an island in its center!
Allen and Samantha dive into the fascinating and little-understood mechanics of lava lakes, which continue to remain liquid at their surface and persist for years at a time despite tidal fluctuations. You’ll hear about the Erta Ale lava lake in Ethiopia and the Kilauea lava lake in Hawaii.
For our first audience question, Ellis asks, “Are there volcanoes on Venus?” Sam explains how studying volcanism on Venus is a promising avenue but that we don’t yet have a clear answer to that question. She talks about how scientists are only now untangling the Magellan mission data that suggests geologic activity on Venus.
You’ll find out how Sam, a sax player who went to Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (the school in Fame), ended up falling in love with geology and never looking back. And you’ll hear all about the interesting geology – including billion-year-old rocks and “mica book crystals” – that you can find in and around New York City.
Our next audience question is from Bianca, who asks, “How did global warming begin?” Samantha explains the difference between normal climate cycles and the climate crisis we’re in now as a result of human activity. We discuss the impact of volcanic super-eruptions on atmospheric CO2, including prehistoric eruptions like the three Yellowstone eruptions and the rifting of the Atlantic ocean and splitting of Pangaea. Dr. Tramontano, a self-described “Ash Lady” who is currently studying active volcanoes on Iceland’s Reykanes Peninsula, explains how we would have at least a year’s notice if something that large were to happen in the future. We end the episode with Sam describing what eruptions and cooling lava flows sound like.
If you’d like to know more about Sam, you can follow her on Instagram @samtramrox and X @samtramrox. And if you’re a young undergraduate in Earth Sciences, you should check out her YouTube channel @EarthOpticsVideos to see what rocks look like under the microscope.
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon.
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:
– Columnar basalts in the Palisades – Mark Wyman, CC BY 2.0
– The Staten Island Ferry – Estormiz, Public domain
– Jupiter and Io seen by the Juno spacecraft – Andrea Luck, CC BY 2.0
– Io’s lava lake “Loki Patera” and its island – Cropped from NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Simeon Schmauß, CC BY 3.0
– Erta Ale lava lake in Ethiopia – Alton Chang, CC BY 3.0
– Magellan Spacecraft leaving the Space Shuttle – NASA, Public Domain
– Rocks near Orchard Beach – Peter Romano, Public Domain
– Ash fall from the “Lava Creek” Yellowstone eruption – Metrodyne, Public Domain
– Volcanic calderas in Yellowstone – National Park Service, Public Domain
– January Eruption on Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula – Veðurstofa Íslands, Attribution
#TheLIUniverse #CharlesLiu #AllenLiu #SciencePodcast #AstronomyPodcast #Palisades #SuperVolcano #SpaceVolcano #EarthScience #Geology #Venus #Io #ErtaAle #Kilauea #LavaLake #LokiPatera #Iceland #ReykanesPeninsula #VolcanicEruption #YellowstoneEruption #Volcanism

Saturday Apr 20, 2024

How does the brain actually work? And is there anything we can do when it doesn’t? To find out, Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu welcome Dr. Nicki Driscoll, CTO and Co-Founder of NeuroBionics.
As always, though, we start off with the day’s joyfully cool cosmic thing, the recently announced discovery of Super-Earth TOI-715 b that is within its star’s habitable zone. It’s roughly 1.5x the diameter of Earth and orbits an M-4 Red Dwarf star in a zone where liquid water could exist and be stable on the surface of the planet. And where there’s liquid water, there is the possibility for life.
Charles and Nicki quickly move from the search for intelligent to the actual activities inside the brain itself that give rise to consciousness. As Nicki points out, as incredible as it is that our brains can ponder what’s out there, it’s equally incredible how little we know about what’s inside them... especially when things go wrong in the brain.
Dr. Driscoll explains stochastic processes and brain complexity, with over a billion neurons, each behaving like its own little computer with thousands of connections with other neurons called synapses.
You’ll hear about white matter and gray matter, and what they have in common with the interstate highway system. Nicki points out how humans frequently create systems that mirror efficient systems found in nature. Chuck points out that when we map the large scale structure of the universe, including the cosmic background radiation and dark matter, it looks like a brain!
Then it’s time for a question for Nicki from the audience. Madison H. asks, “What is the most interesting thing about the brain that impacts the way humans think?” Nicki settles on the fact that the brain uses multiple mechanisms for signaling, from electrical signals in the neurons to chemical signaling via neurotransmitters and chemicals in the brain, and how they can vary due to minute differences.
Nicki explains the field of neurotechnology, where her company NeuroBionics creates devices that allow us to interact with the brain, recording and even stimulating activity in the brain. She describes the two different areas of neurotechnology.
The first, the domain of Elon Musk’s company Neuralink, is recording neural activity with brain computer interfaces that use electrodes to record brain activity and then try to decode that activity to try to help people with paralysis or who are unable to communicate.
The second area, which involves stimulating the brain, is called neuromodulation and is very useful for therapy for people with epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. NeuroBionics has developed a technique for neuromodulation that doesn’t require invasive surgery by feeding very thin fiber devices into the brain through catheters in blood vessels using the same process that neurosurgeons already use in treating strokes.
Our next question comes from Elene, who asks Nicki, “Since you have your PhD, do you think it was worth it or gratifying going through that many years of schooling?” Nicki answers with a resounding yes, for herself, but explains that it depends on your career goals.
Elene also asks, “Do you think AI will ever reach a point where it will start dangerously affecting our day to day life such as job opportunities?” Charles and Nicki agree that AI is a useful tool, especially for scientists, but that the ability to generate misinformation and deep fakes is already troubling and that, like nuclear power, we should be able to maximize the positive use while minimizing the worst excesses.
The subject turns to AI and brain science in games and science fiction, and Nicki describes the first book in a series she’s reading, called “Children of Time.” In it, a character uploads their consciousness into a computer, and act which is still most decidedly in the realm of fiction. You’ll hear about the still incomplete efforts to map the 212 neurons in the brains of C. Elegans, a simple primitive worm with a simple brain structure that scientists use to study the activity of individual neurons and small quantities of synapses.
Before we run out of time, Chuck asks Nicki whether he should freeze his brain when he dies and whether supercomputers could  be used to recreate who he is – but to find out the surprising answer to that question (or perhaps not so surprising after all), you’ll need to watch or listen to the episode.
If you’d like to know more about Dr. Driscoll, follow NeuroBionics on LinkedIn or visit
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon.
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:
– Illustration of Super-Earth TOI-715 b – NASA/JPL-Caltech, Public Domain
– Map of “white matter” in the brain – Xavier Gigandet et. al. CC BY 2.5
– A growing slime mold – Christian Grenier, Public Domain
– A large-scale simulation of the universe – Andrew Pontzen and Fabio Governato, CC BY 2.0
– C. Elegans worms – ZEISS Microscopy, CC BY 2.0t
#TheLIUniverse #CharlesLiu #AllenLiu #SciencePodcast #AstronomyPodcast #neurobionics #NickiDriscoll #Stochasticprocesses #neurons #synapses #whitematter #graymatter #neuralactivity #Neuralink #braincomputerinterfaces #neuromodulation #epilepsy #Parkinsonsdisease #AI #brainscience #ChildrenofTime #CElegans #supercomputers

The Great American Eclipse

Thursday Apr 04, 2024

Thursday Apr 04, 2024

The total solar eclipse is almost here! In this special episode of The LIUniverse, Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu bring you both the basics and some more in-depth investigations of how eclipses work, how to see them, and what makes them so unique. This episode includes clips from Chuck’s recent public talk at the College of Staten Island to a packed house. So, if you hear some background chatter, it’s the audience getting as excited about the eclipse as we are.
Today’s joyfully cool cosmic thing is, of course, the eclipse itself! Dr. Liu discusses why total solar eclipses are so rare at any given spot on the planet, and how illustrations of eclipses can miss the mark. While a total eclipse will happen somewhere on Earth every year or two, each is only visible in a narrow band, so to see one you need to get lucky – or travel.
With a path over land stretching from Mazatlán, Mexico (where Dr. Liu saw a previous eclipse in 1991) through Newfoundland, Canada, there are already tens of millions of people in place to see this astronomical wonder this time around. Millions more will travel to join them. Since the Moon’s shadow races across the landscape at about 1,000 miles per hour, Chuck likens the visual effect to something out of Lord of the Rings.
Speaking of rings, the “diamond ring effect” and the “Baily’s beads” will become visible right before totality as the sun peeks through the Moon’s valleys. Chuck and Allen talk about how to protect your eyes so to enjoy these last rays of sun safely.
Dr. Liu shares how best to get yourself into the ~100 mile wide path of totality. One piece of advice: Don’t try to battle the traffic driving up on the morning of the 8th!
What if you can’t reach totality? Charles explains that 99% of the best parts of an eclipse happen in that last 1% of the eclipse where the Sun becomes completely covered. Don’t worry if you can’t make it to the path of totality – Charles and Allen share cool stuff you can watch for including a method for calculating the true size of the Moon (link below).
Dr. Liu also explains his idea about how to have the most fun with the eclipse, and why his favorite 2017 eclipse photo isn’t a masterpiece.
If you’re a fan of the LIUniverse, you know we love questions. At Dr. Liu’s recent public talk at the College of Staten Island, he fielded live questions from the audience which we’ve included here. The first is about a comet called 12P Pons-Brooks that you can spot in the direction of the sun during the eclipse, perhaps just on the edge of visibility with your unaided eye.
The next question is about how we are able to predict eclipses so far in advance. Allen explains how the Babylonians used Lunar eclipses (or “Blood Moons”) as the key to predict Solar eclipses. Allen also adds his own calculations about where else in the solar system you can see a total eclipse – it’s often said that the Earth is the only planet where total eclipses happen, but that might only be partially correct. Also, find out where you’d need to park a spaceship to create your own eclipse whenever you want!
Our last question ponders why the Sun throws out such large and bright flares and coronal streamers which become visible as fiery red and ghostly white spikes coming from the Sun during an eclipse. The answer explains how the Sun is like a pot of boiling water, with some fun science terms thrown in for flavor! Can you say “magnetohydrodynamics” three times fast? We conclude the discussion with a little more Solar physics: how we’ve recently sent a space probe into those very same coronal streamers, and how the Sun is nearing the peak of its 11 year cycle, offering some bonus chances to test out your eclipse glasses.
The LIUniverse wants to help you have the best, safest, and most informed experience for the celestial display of the decade. We hope you enjoy this episode. Please support us on Patreon.
How to measure the Moon’s size.
Smarter Every Day’s ISS video. 
Credits for Images Used in Episode
– Baily’s beads, 2017 total solar eclipse – NASA/Aubrey Gemignani, Public Domain
– Diamond ring, 2017 total solar eclipse – NASA/Aubrey Gemignani, Public Domain
– The ISS in front of 2017 eclipse – NASA/Bill Ingalls, CC BY 2.0
– Comet 12P Pons-Brooks – Nielander, Public Domain
– A Total Lunar Eclipse in January 2019 – Giuseppe Donatiello, Public domain
– Phobos in front of the Sun (from Perseverance rover) – NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS/SSI, Public Domain
– Jupiter and Galilean Moons (photos combined) – NASA/JPL/DLR, Public Domain
– The bubbling surface of the Sun – NSO/NSF/AURA, CC BY 4.0
– Solar Flare seen from Skylab in 1973 – NASA, Skylab 4 crew, Public Domain
– Coronal streamers seen by Parker Solar Probe – NASA, Public Domain
– The giant sunspot in Feb. 2024 – NASA SOHO space probe, Public Domain
#TheLIUniverse #CharlesLiu #AllenLiu #SciencePodcast #AstronomyPodcast #TotalSolarEclipse #GreatAmericanEclipse #eclipse #sunspot #coronalstreamer #solarflare #Sun #Comet12PPonsBrooks #Baily’sbeads #Diamondring #magnetohydrodynamics #Jupiter #GalileanMoons #Moon

Saturday Mar 30, 2024

What is the science behind the science fiction in Three Body Problem? In our second episode of “ChuckGPT” Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu welcome two members of our production team: Jon Barnes, our Editor, and Stacey Severn, our Social Media/Patreon Community Director, to delve into the questions and answers posed by the award-winning novel and new series on Netflix.
As always, though, we start off with the day’s joyfully cool cosmic thing: the recent discovery of an exoplanet by high school students in Mountain View, California in collaboration with the SETI Institute.
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence and exoplanets that could bear life brings us to the topic of our second episode of ChuckGPT: Three Body Problem. Dr. Liu will be answering questions about the Hugo award-winning Chinese novel by Liu Cixin and new television series on Netflix.
Jon, it turns out, is a big fan of Three Body Problem and he has a bunch of questions about the scientific reality of the science fiction in the story, which Chuck and Allen are happy to answer. (NOTE: We tried to avoid any spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the book or seen the first three episodes of the series yet, except for the last question, which comes with a mild SPOILER ALERT.)
Jon’s first question deals with the giant antenna on Radar Peak in the story. In the series, the antenna is turned on and a flock of birds flying by drop dead as they pass.
Chuck dives into the physics of both microwave radiation and radio waves, and why even our most powerful transmitters don’t emit enough energy to have that kind of impact. Allen describes the difference between ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation, further pushing the answer into the realm of science fiction, not science. Stacey asks about the relationship between magnetic fields and bird migration – Chuck explains that it is possible that magnetic transmissions could disorient the birds, but not kill them.
The next question is about whether suns can come in different colors like in the “Three Body” VR game in the story. The answer, according to Dr. Liu, is, yes – but primarily only because of their surface temperature, not their chemical makeup. Allen brings up the impact of the viewer’s atmosphere on their color perception of the star’s light.
Jon’s next questions is about lifeforms that can dehydrate themselves to survive unstable, life-threatening weather cycles and atmospheric conditions. Allen brings up the fact that tardigrades can do exactly that, allowing them even to survive in the vacuum of space. He also discusses some of the chaotic orbits we know about that could result in stable and unstable orbital periods.
Next up, Stacey asks one of Jon’s questions about whether snowflakes could be made of nitrogen and oxygen if the atmosphere is cold enough. The answer takes us from the nitrogen glaciers on Pluto to the methane rivers on Saturn’s moon Titan. And yes, depending on atmospheric pressure and temperature, there is a specific range where you could end up with nitrogen and oxygen snow.
For his last question (SPOILER ALERT), Jon asks about whether an advanced civilization could send out a message at the speed of light, and if so, could they use their sun as an amplifier to increase the strength of the signal. Allen and Chuck discuss how you might be able to use the sun for gravitational lensing, but that it would be more likely to drown out the signal than amplify it.
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon.
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:
– The Electromagnetic spectrum. Higher energy is to the right. – Edited from NASA, Public Domain
– Janus and Epimetheus viewed by the Cassini probe – NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute, Public Domain
– Orbit of 469219 Kamoʻoalewa, an Earth quasi-satellite – NASA/JPL-Caltech, Public Domain
– A tardigrade – Peter von Bagh, Public Domain
– Pluto with its heart shaped Tombaugh Regio – NASA/JHU APL/Southwest Research Institute/Alex Parker, Public Domain
– The surface of Titan from the Huygens lander – ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona; processed by Andrey Pivovarov, Public Domain
– A galaxy acting as a gravitational lens – ESA/Hubble & NASA, Public Domain
#TheLIUniverse #CharlesLiu #AllenLiu #SciencePodcast #AstronomyPodcast #ThreeBodyProblem #microwaveradiation #radiowaves #transmitter #electromagneticspectrum #ionizingradiation #nonionizingradiation #magneticfields #birds #aliens #SETI #searchforextraterrestrialintelligence #tardigrade #nitrogensnow #Pluto #Titan #Saturn #gravitationallens

Saturday Mar 16, 2024

What does the study of archeology, the study of the human past, offer to the astronomers of today? To find out, Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu welcome archaeology expert Hannah Liu, MEd, to connect the past, the present, and the future of astronomy in an episode Allen has described as, “A Fistful of Lius.”
As always, though, we start off with the day’s joyfully cool cosmic thing, a recent scientific paper just published by archaeologist Federico Bernardini and astronomer Paolo Molaro which suggests that a 3,000-year-old stone tablet discovered near Trieste, Italy may be the oldest European star chart yet discovered.
Hannah, who is an expert in archaeology, takes us back to the hilltop area where the tablet was found, which had been occupied since the Iron Age, and was more than likely a farming area. She explains how early civilizations used the stars to keep track of planting and threshing seasons, which could support the theory that the tablet has an astronomical purpose.
Then, it’s time for our first question. Hannah teaches History at the Pingree School in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, which is where we got the questions we answer on today’s episode. Maeve asks, “Are we the only living things on earth who have a sense of how small we are in the universe?”
The Lius answer includes ancient Greeks, sea turtles who use stars for directions and moths that fly towards light thinking it’s the moon, and the beginnings of astronomy and astrology! Hannah explains how constellations and asterisms are cross-cultural, even though they have different names. In particular, The Pleiades is an example of star cluster relevant to cultures around the world.
Coming back to that 3000-year-old star chart, Hannah breaks down the 29 markings on the tablet, and how 28 of them are connectable to constellations that we know like Scorpius, Cassiopeia The Pleiades, and Orion. However, the 29th marking, near Orion’s Belt, still remains a mystery, and until we can pin it down, we can’t definitively claim it’s really a star chart.
Our next question comes from Abby, who asks, “Where do you think human involvement in space exploration is going?” Allen runs down the planned manned missions beyond low Earth orbit, where we haven’t gone since our last trip to the moon in 1972, along with the reasons we haven’t. We also hear how the stars were very important to ancient explorers like the Greeks and the Phoenicians, as well as the ancient Polynesian Wayfinders, who used the stars as their guides in their ongoing excursions around the world.
After brief sojourns into Star Trek and The Odyssey, we dive into ancient alien visitors, gods, and supernatural forces. Hannah points out the inherent Western biases in theories that “ancient aliens” were responsible for building the Pyramids and other impressive accomplishments that just happened to have been created in non-Western cultures of the past.
Charles explains that in the past, some people who used science and astronomy, like midwives and scientists, were accused of witchcraft and other equally disparaging and unfounded claims. This could create a divide between science and religion, but luckily, not an unbridgeable one – you’ll hear about Gerbert of Aurillac, a scientist who became Pope Sylvester II and brought the Abacus back to Europe, and how the Catholic Church itself established the Vatican Observatory which has made numerous discoveries over the years.
Finally, we get into the history and anthropology of museums, a subject about which Hannah will be teaching a course in the upcoming semester. What is the role of a museum? Is it science, education, or something else? Is it a place where we hold our treasures, or, increasingly, one where we recognize we hold other people’s treasures, some of which were once plundered and taken from those people against their desires? And yes, we do bring up situations like the Elgin Marbles and the British Museum’s refusal to return those artifacts to Greece... especially in light of the new U.S. law regarding repatriation of artifacts.
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon.
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:
– 3,000-year-old stone tablet from Italy – Bernardini et al., CC BY-SA 4.0
– Trieste in Italy – F l a n k e r, Yiyi, and Allen Liu, Public Domain
– Sirius (bottom) in the night sky – Akira Fujii, Public Domain
– A thresher (Thanks Jon.) – SteveStrummer, Public Domain
– NASA’s SLS Rocket – NASA/Joel Kowsky, Public Domain
– SpaceX’s Starship rocket under construction – NASA, Public Domain
– Austronesian societies range – Obsidian Soul, CC BY 4.0
– Gerbert of Aurillac, Pope Sylvester II – Meister der Reichenauer Schule, Public Domain
– Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope in Arizona – Andromeda321, Public Domain
– Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum – Ejectgoose, Public Domain
– Map of Latin-descended languages in Europe – Servitje, Public Domain
#TheLIUniverse #CharlesLiu #AllenLiu #SciencePodcast #AstronomyPodcast  #starchart #astrology #astronomy #TheOdyssey #Scorpius #Cassiopeia #ThePleiades #Orion #OrionsBelt #GerbertofAurillac #PopeSylvesterII #CatholicChurch #VaticanObservatory #NASA #SLS #SpaceX #Starship #ElginMarbles #BritishMuseum #PolynesianWayfinders #Greeks #Phoenicians

Sunday Mar 03, 2024

How can college students who would like to work in the space industry and at NASA get their foot in the door? And what is the purpose of the Lucy mission to the Trojan Asteroids? To get the answers to both of these questions, Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu welcome Freya Holloway, a NASA L’SPACE Lab Tech at ASU.
As always, though, we start off with the day’s joyfully cool cosmic thing: the latest, most accurate coloration of Neptune. It turns out, the rich, deep blue Neptune we’ve come to know and love was placed by scientists to increase contrast which are no longer necessary. And Neptune is now a much lighter tone of blue, more in line with the current, turquoise coloration of Uranus.
And with that, we turn to the Lucy mission to investigate the “Trojan Asteroids” which share Jupiter’s orbit around our sun. Lucy recently did a flyby of the asteroid Dinkinesh and its moon Selam, discovering that it actually not one asteroid but three distinct bodies. Freya Holloway is an ambassador for Lucy, and she explains the purpose of the flyby and brings us up to speed on where the mission is at. In December this year, Lucy will be making her second Earth gravity assist flyby to build up momentum to slingshot her towards Jupiter. And in April 2025, Lucy will encounter her second main belt asteroid, Donald Johanson. That asteroid is named for the paleontologist involved in the discovery of the Lucy fossil (the mission’s namesake) in Ethiopia in the 1970s, and who has actually been involved in the current Lucy mission.
Freya explains why the mission is aptly named. Trojan asteroids are fossils, astronomically speaking, and they may be able to teach us something about the birth and evolution of our solar system the same way that Lucy has taught us about early hominids and our own evolution.
You’ll learn all about this unique population of asteroids, which are far less familiar to most people than either the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter or the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune. One group precedes Jupiter in its orbit around the sun and the other orbits behind, and both groups are relatively pristine and date back to the origins of our solar system.
In this episode, we have a special set of questions for Freya that all come from students who attend Notre Dame Academy on Staten Island. First up, Isabella wants to know who Freya’s favorite scientist is, and also, does she have a favorite song to listen to while studying. Freya tells us about Dr. Eugene Parker, the heliophysicist who predicted the existence of the solar wind and after whom the Parker Solar Probe and the “The Parker Instability” is named. For the second part, Freya listens to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” as a pick me up for long study sessions.
For the first time in the history of The LIUniverse, Charles then brings up a second joyfully cool cosmic thing: the recent meteor (a bolide) that broke up over Germany whose pieces have been collected, many by students! It turns out that Freya collects meteorites, although none which she found on her own. Her favorite is the lunar meteorite she keeps on display at home.
The next question from Notre Dame Academy comes from Caitlin Sweeney, who asks Freya, “What’s the coolest thing about labs in college?” Freya describes how, compared to high school, labs in college are her favorite part of college and are much more interactive.
Another Notre Dame Academy students asks, “What was the biggest challenge you overcame and how did you learn from it?” For Freya, that was finding her place in the academic and professional world. She tells the story of how in 2015, she was a single mom with two young children, one of whom was 8 and just diagnosed with leukemia who lost her job she loved in finance at the Columbus Ohio Zoo. She made the decision to show her children that no matter what life throws at us, we can still be who we want to be, and she enrolled in college and embarked on an entirely new direction.
As a student, Freya applied for and went through the NASA L’SPACE Program (Lucy Student Pipeline Accelerator and Competency Enabler), a workforce development program that consists of two academies. In one, the Mission Concept Academy, students work as a team to complete a mission task. In the other academy, students will work as a team to introduce new technology ideas to NASA. NASA chooses a winner each semester and gives them a $10,000 seed fund to develop the idea. After completing the Academies, Freya became an intern on the Lucy mission. She began as a Lucy ambassador, and then came back to serve as an outreach mentor and a student success advisor.
If you’re a student of at least 18 years of age and enrolled in a US college or university and you’d like to learn more about NASA’s L’SPACE Program, visit their website at You can follow them on Instagram @l_spaceprogram, where Freya helps manage the account, or at NASA L’SPACE Program on LinkedIn and Facebook.
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon.
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:
– Neptune calibrated in true color – NASA w/ color by Ardenau4, Public domain
– Neptune in exaggerated color – NASA, Public Domain
– Uranus in true color – NASA w/ color by Ardenau4, Public domain
– The Lucy spacecraft – NASA, public domain
– Dinkinesh and its moon Selam – NASA/Goddard/SwRI/Johns Hopkins APL, public domain
– The Lucy fossil – 120 on Wikimedia commons, CC BY 2.5
– Diagram of the main belt and Trojan asteroids –  Mdf at English Wikipedia, Public Domain
– Dr. Eugene Parker in 2018 – NASA, public domain
– Model of the Parker Solar Probe – NASA, public domain
– A bolide in the sky – Thomas Grau, Public Domain
#TheLIUniverse #CharlesLiu #AllenLiu #SciencePodcast #AstronomyPodcast #FreyaHolloway #Lucy #Neptune #Uranus #Dinkinesh #Selam #TrojanAsteroids #Jupiter #EugeneParker #ParkerSolarProbe #ParkertInstability #asteroid #bolide #meteorite #L'SPACE #NASA #NotreDameAcademy #MissionConceptAcademy

Saturday Feb 17, 2024

Welcome to the Season 3 premiere of The LIUniverse, your happy half-hour dose of cosmic conversation and geeky banter with host Dr. Charles Liu! In this episode, Chuck and co-host Allen Liu welcome back Dr. Jimmy Negus, who was our guest on our very first episode, to talk about Solar Flares, “Deep Space Nine,” and more.
As some of you may remember, Jimmy was only a PhD candidate back then, with his research focused on active galactic nuclei, including black holes, quasars and more. Now that he’s got his doctorate, Jimmy has pivoted to studying solar physics, which is the perfect lead in to discuss the upcoming Great American Eclipse, the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 that has them – and the rest of America – buzzing with excitement.
As always, though, we start off with the day’s “Joyfully Cool Cosmic Thing” – the discovery of a pulsar in a binary system with an unknown and mysterious object that seems to be somewhere between the mass of a neutron star and a black hole by astronomers using the radio telescopes in the MeerKAT array in the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO). Jimmy explains that the leading theory may be that it is a smaller mass black hole than we’ve yet observed that was created by the collision of two neutron stars. Special thanks to our friends at the All Things Unexplained podcast (@allthingsunexplained) for bringing today’s JCCT to our attention!
Our first question of the day – and the season! – comes from audience member Makalya, who asks, “What are the chances of having black holes consume each other, becoming giant black holes, and slowly start growing from there?”
Pretty high, it turns out. Dr. Negus explains how we use gravitational waves to deduce the frequency of black hole mergers in the universe. If we look across the entire observable universe, there are between 200,000-400,000 mergers EVERY YEAR! Of course, that includes all types of black holes. If we’re only looking Jimmy estimates only about 10% of that number are collisions of supermassive black holes. And we’ve got a little while before that happens to our supermassive black hole, which will someday collide with Andromeda’s – something on the order of 4 billion years or so.
Moving on, Jimmy tells us about his new gig at The University of Colorado, Boulder, where he stayed on as a research faculty member after getting his PhD. He’s now analyzing, calibrating and validating data from NOAA’s GOES-18 satellite (GOES is a suite of Geostationary, Environmental Operational Satellites, the longest running continuous stream of satellites, first launched in 1974.) In addition to its weather-sensing technology that points down at the Earth, the satellite carries X-ray and UV sensors that point towards the sun to track space weather.
Next up, we turn to the impending Solar Max period of our solar cycle, where the magnetic field of the sun completely flips every 11 years. Jimmy discusses the 2025 peak of the solar cycle, how solar emissions like X-Class Solar Flares can impact us. Charles points out that previous solar maxes have even taken down satellites, and Jimmy describes various ways we work to mitigate the damage from the next flare.
Speaking of which, for our next question Shana asks whether a solar flare can set her phone on fire. Jimmy explains why we’re not in danger here on Earth, thanks to technological advancements, but that a satellite disruption could disrupt service temporarily. He describes the Carrington Event of September 1859 during solar cycle 10, which was the most intense geomagnetic storm ever recorded, and actually caused some telegraph wires to burst into flame.
Finally, Chuck turns our focus to our obsession with science fiction. We revisit “The Expanse,” which Jimmy just finished watching, and while good, “certainly wasn’t a perfect show. It wasn’t “Deep Space Nine,” my favorite.” Chuck posits that Voyager was better, but the two wisely reserve judgment on the new Star Trek shows and sticking with the classics.
If you’d like to keep up with Dr. Jimmy Negus, you can visit his website at and @spacebound_negus on Instagram.
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon.
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:
– Path of the April 8 2024 eclipse through the USA – NASA SVS/ Michala Garrison, Public domain
– Radio telescopes in the MeerKAT array – Square Kilometre Array Organisation (SKAO) / South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) CC BY 3.0
– Animation of a Pulsar – NASA SVS, Public domain
– GOES-18 before launch – NOAA Satellites, Public domain
– An X-class flare in 2012 – NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Public domain
– The Solar Dynamics Observatory before launch – NASA/Jim Grossmann
#theliuniverse #charlesliu #allenliu #sciencepodcast #astronomypodcast #jamesnegus #jimmynegus #universityofcolorado #astronomy #astrophysics #totalsolareclipse #greatamericaneclipse #quasar #blackhole #activegalacticnucleus #agn #theexpanse #deepspacenine #supermassiveblackholes #solarmax #xclasssolarflares #solarcycle #neutronstar #carringtonevent #NOAA #GOES18 #satellite #MeerKAT #southafricanradioastronomyobservatory #SARAO

Chuck GPT 1.0 Year End Q&A

Saturday Dec 30, 2023

Saturday Dec 30, 2023

What happens to one sun of a binary pair if the other goes supernova? Can we mitigate the greenhouse effect? How big should a telescope be? For our Season 2 finale, we’re answering fan questions from YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. To bring those questions to life, Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu welcome two members of the LIUniverse social media team, “Vinyl Benjy” Schoenfeld, our TikTok manager, and Stacey Severn, our Social Media Director.
As always, though, we start off with the season’s final joyfully cool cosmic thing, the most recent image of Uranus by the James Webb Space Telescope. Taken using the JWST’s infrared imaging capabilities, rather than visible light, this incredibly beautiful photo of Uranus clearly shows its 7 spectacular rings and 14 moons.
Now, on to your questions! First, Stacey reads a question from YouTube fan Darker Void Scientist, who asks, “Wouldn’t some violently spinning galaxies produce strong magnetic fields that act as a barrier to some spectrum of traveling waves?”
To answer, Charles gets to discuss the Zeeman Effect and the Parker Instability. He explains that entire galaxies can’t spin fast enough, but that violent spinning does occur and produce magnetic fields closer to the supermassive black holes in the center of those galaxies.
Benjy reads our next question, from YouTube fan Mark Caesar 4443: “When stars go very near black holes and get sling-shotted around them, what would we see of them in terms of time dilation? Surely we would see them slow down as they approach the black hole, of course, that is assuming we can actually observe them.”
Chuck dives into what we would be able to perceive at all, from our perspective, and why we would see color shifts but not necessarily the impact of time dilation that the star itself would experience.
Allen tackles the next question, from Randy Starnes on Facebook, who wants to know whether we could take a rechargeable battery and use it to power a plasma rocket. Our co-host explains that while rechargeable batteries wouldn’t generate enough energy for a plasma engine, lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are used by Rocket Lab for the electric pumps on their reusable Electron rockets.
Stacey next asks another question from YouTube, from @sbkarajan: “How do NASA or anyone measure distance from the planet to the Sun? I heard for Earth they measure the distance to Mars or Venus transit using Keppler’s Third Law. Is it the only way?”
Chuck explains that when humanity was still stuck on Earth, that was the only way. But since we have more tactics at our disposal, from satellites to radar signals, to do far more accurate measurements, even at vast distances.
Next up, @frankwestphal8532 from YouTube: “What would happen to the other star in a supermassive star binary system if one of the stars ‘supernova-ed’ before the other?” It turns out that happens all of the time... and none of the outcomes tend to be good for the other star. But Frank’s not done, and his follow up question about the early universe, binary-system supernovae, and the creation of supermassive black holes is a bit of a chin-scratcher for Chuck!
Stacey’s next question comes via Instagram from our friends CJ Dearinger and Dr. Mounce on the “All Things – Unexplained” podcast: “When will astrophysics encounter/present undeniable proof of a new life form?” Predictions, obstacles, and discussion of alien cryptids ensue.
In another Instagram question, Ben Jordans asks, “How do you perceive the current efforts to mitigate the greenhouse effect? Are you of the opinion that we will succeed in mastering this problem, and if so, how?”
Chuck explains the greenhouse effect, on Earth as well as on Venus and Mars, and the difference between the effect itself and human involvement in it. He and Allen disagree as to how long it might take to redress the problem, while Stacey and Benjy jump in with their more pessimistic concerns about climate change, extreme weather, and the future.
Benjy gets the last question, from @emiliotorres2718 on YouTube: “How do we go about deciding how big we want a telescope to be? Is it simply the bigger the telescope we make, the farther we’ll be able to see into the universe?”
Chuck says the simple answer is yes, but the actual answer is more complicated. To hear it, you’ll have to watch or listen in to the final episode of Season 2 of The LIUniverse!
We hope you enjoy The LIUniverse, and, if so, please support us on Patreon. We’ll return for Season 3 in 2024.
Image Credits:
–Uranus and moons by JWST – NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Public Domain
–Time-lapse of stars near Milky Way’s central black hole – ESO/MPE, CC BY 4.0
–Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket – NASA Kennedy Space Center / Rocket Lab, Public Domain
–The Hobby–Eberly Telescope – Zereshk, CC BY 3.0
–3D model of Parker Solar Probe – NASA, Public Domain
–Chandra X-ray Observatory on the Space Shuttle – NASA, Public Domain
–Hubble photo of Saturn in UV light – NASA, Public Domain

Saturday Dec 16, 2023

Welcome to Part 2 of our interview with father and daughter team Franklin Chang-Diaz, NASA astronaut and founder of the Ad Astra Rocket Company™, and Miranda Chang, Ad Astra’s Global Communications Director.
We pick up where we left off, with a focus on fathers working with their children! Host Charles Liu shares how much he loves doing The LIUniverse with his co-host and son Allen, while Franklin talks about how important Miranda is to the running of Ad Astra.
Then it’s on to our next question, from Ebony, who asks, “Do you believe that traveling to space can find ways to fix the problem with climate change?” Franklin begins by reminding us that we would not be aware of climate change if we were not exploring space. And then he describes how the life support system on spaceship Earth is in need of a great deal of maintenance and repair, how at some point there will be more humans than can survive on it, and how he worries that we will damage our environment to the point that our civilization won’t be healthy enough to explore space and then we will be doomed.
In Costa Rica, Ad Astra is working to transition the country to a green, hydrogen economy. Using solar and wind energy, they generate hydrogen from water, to power their fleet of hydrogen-powered vehicles and fuel cell electric buses. Miranda points out that Costa Rica’s electric grid is already nearly 100% renewable, making it a perfect based for doing test projects like these with the goal of reducing carbon.
Miranda discusses ways to make the economy of space more sustainable, too, and describes the fuel efficiency of the VX-200 VASIMIR engine (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket), their new high-power, electric in-space propulsion system that will have a thirteen-year lifespan.
Chuck asks Franklin how me made the transition from astronaut to environmentalist. Franklin explains how the Overview Effect impacted him, and how he came back from space with a tremendous awareness of our environmental problem. Charles brings up the differences between the Gaia Hypothesis and the Medea Hypothesis, which says the Earth may be out to get us and will be fine without us.
Somehow, the conversation leads to “The Inner Light” – one of the most beloved episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation, which had tremendous but differing impacts on Franklin and Charles. In the episode, a civilization ignores climate change to the point where it is too late for them to do anything except memorialize their lives and their fate. Miranda talks about the unifying impact of space exploration, and the necessary realization we must reach if we are to survive that we are one species all in this together.
Finally, we turn to VASIMIR. Chuck wants to know how it will change our lives, and Franklin likens it to the trucking business that sprung up after WWII because of the availability of diesel engines. As of right now, he explains that we don’t have an equivalent for space: “We still fly to space in cannonballs.” What we want, he says, is powered flight over longer periods of time, which VASIMIR makes possible, changing the entire economics of space and enabling humans and the private sector to engage in sustained activity in space.
Franklin explains how VASIMIR may someday reduce the time from the Moon to Mars from 8 months to 2 months or less and catalyze the next period of humanity’s expansion into our solar system. In fact, it turns out that the engine Andy Weir used in his book The Martian was based on VASIMIR!
To find out more about Ad Astra, visit their website,, or follow them on social media at @adastrarocket on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, and @asastrarocketcompany on Facebook and LinkedIn.
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon.
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:
– Apollo 17’s Blue Marble photo of the Earth – NASA, Public Domain
– Crew of STS-60, first launch with US and Russian spacefarers – NASA, Public Domain
– Aurora from the ISS – NASA, Public Domain
#TheLIUniverse #CharlesLiu #AllenLiu #SciencePodcast #AstronomyPodcast  #FranklinChangDiaz #MirandaChang #NASA #VASOMIR #AdAstra #ionpropulsion #rockets #SpaceShuttle #HydrogenPoweredVehicles #FuelCell #ElectricBuses #OverviewEffect #StarTrekTheNextGeneration #TheInnerLight #STS60 #Cosmonauts #Astronauts #climatechange


The LIUniverse with Dr. Charles Liu

Join us for a half-hour dose of cosmic conversation with scientists, educators & students on the cosmos, scientific frontiers, scifi, more. And if you love science, please support us on Patreon.

Host: Dr. Charles Liu, Astronomer

Co-host: Allen Liu, Mathematician

Copyright 2022 All rights reserved.

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