Black Hole Breakthroughs


Scientific discovery can happen in two ways: “Eureka!” moments of sudden understanding, where researchers glean unexpected insight into new phenomena. Or, a slower, less glamorous hunt for truth that happens day-after-day, for years. But both methods can lead to new understandings that pushes the field forward for future breakthroughs.

In this episode: the sudden realization that led to the discovery of the first ever black hole, and another more methodical search for the moment that a star dies and a black hole is born.

Jeremy Schnittman
Paul Murdin
Christopher Kochanek

Created by Jeremy Schnittman; a simulation of a black hole accretion disk, and also inspired by “Interstellar”.

Done in the Sun

Coronal mass ejection courtesy of NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

The sun can seem like a friendly celestial body. It is the source of summer, crops, and basically all life on Earth. But just as the sun decided when life on Earth could begin, it will also decide when life on Earth will definitely end.

Dr. Michelle Thaller speaks with Dr. C. Alex Young, Associate Director for Science in the Heliophysics Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. We’ll hear about the impressive fleet of spacecraft NASA uses to monitor the Sun, including the upcoming Solar Probe Plus, an exciting new mission to delve closer to our star than ever before.

Episode Extras

C. Alex Young’s office doormat at NASA Goddard!

This 2015 video celebrates five years of solar observations from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory:

Follow along with the development of Solar Probe Plus, slated for launch in 2018.

Find out about the fleet of Sun-observing spacecraft NASA uses to monitor our home star.

Howdy, Neighbor

When Proxima b’s discovery appeared in Nature on August 24, the media breathlessly announced a new Earth-like planet just 4.2 light years away from Earth.

Astronomers have, for years, anticipated a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. Michelle Thaller talks with astrophysicist Dr. Patricia Boyd about NASA’s ongoing search for exoplanets and what’s the next step in human exploration of other worlds.

Don’t miss the episode extra below. Michelle stands outside the clean room where the James Webb Space Telescope is being built and walks us through what we’re seeing:

Don’t miss the next Orbital Path episode, either! Subscribe here.

A Tale of Two Asteroids

The asteroid belt is portrayed in movies as a crowded place with massive rocks bouncing each other like pool balls, capable of sending a mile-wide missile hurtling toward Earth at any moment. The reality is much more fascinating.

Host Dr. Michelle Thaller speaks with Dr. Lucy McFadden, Co-Investigator of NASA’s Dawn Mission to orbit the asteroids Vesta and Ceres. She shares what they’ve learned by traveling 130 million miles to visit places we’ve always viewed from afar.

Episode Extras

PIA15506_hiresThis image of asteroid Vesta is one of many images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft to create an animation showing the diversity of minerals through color representation.

PIA20562_hiresThis view from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows a fresh crater among older terrain on Ceres.

Learn more about Dawn and see even more amazing photos right here.

Orbital Path is produced by Justin O’Neill and hosted by Michelle Thaller.

Chasing An Eclipse


Michael Kentrianakis loves eclipses and has seen them from all over the world. Host Michelle Thaller and Mike talk about the stages of the eclipse we can see in his video that went viral a few months ago after an Alaska Airlines flight. That flight was diverted for better eclipse viewing thanks to Joe Rao, who has convinced airlines to do this before. We’ll hear how he pulled it off and learn where best to view the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse.

Episode Extras

Mike Kentrianakis taking a photo of the eclipse.

MeLookingLindsayCourtesy6FMike viewing the eclipse with a solar filter.

Joe Rao and the captain.

Full group of eclipse chasers on the flight.

Orbital Path is produced by Justin O’Neill and hosted by Michelle Thaller.

Photos courtesy of Michael Kentrianakis.

Michelle & Her Mom

Michelle (L), her mom and sister.

In this special Mother’s Day episode, Michelle talks with her mom about what it was like raising a space-obsessed daughter in Wisconsin and watching her grow into a scientist.

Big hair ’80s. Michelle’s sister, Michelle and her mom.

Michelle’s sister, Michelle, and her mom today.

In Praise of Volcanoes

Astronomer Michelle Thaller talks with Ashley Davies, a research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, about the importance of volcanoes in the creation of Earth and how the study of volcanos in space can help us understand life here. Davies has journeyed to remote volcanos like Mt. Erebus in Antarctica and Erta Ale in Ethiopia as a way to help map volcanos like those on Jupiter’s moons, Io and Europa, and in turn come that much closer to understanding how life began.

Lauren Ober, Producer
Andrea Mustain, Editor
Genevieve Sponsler, Production and Distribution Manager
John Barth, PRX Chief Content Officer

Mass Extinctions Get Personal

Host Dr. Michelle Thaller talks to Prof. Lisa Randall, a theoretical particle physicist at Harvard, about her new book, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe. The scientists explore what caused the dinosaurs’ extinction and the role dark matter plays in the universe and our world.