SGU Episode 750

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SGU Episode 750
November 23rd 2019
SAMPLE icon.jpg
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 749                      SGU 751

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


F: Fraser Cain

Quote of the Week

The deflation of some of our more common conceits is one of the practical applications of astronomy.

Carl Sagan

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


Voiceover: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

Special Segment: Astronomy and Skepticism ()[edit]

  • Open discussion about astronomy and skepticism with Fraser Cain, Canadian engineer, book and magazine author, YouTuber and astronomy popularizer, and publisher of Universe Today.

S 0:10 Hello and welcome to the skeptics guide to the universe. Today is Monday, November 4 2019. And this is your host Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella.

B 0:19 Hey Everybody.

S 0:20 Cara Santa Maria.

C 0:22 Howdy.

S 0:22 Jay Novella.

J 0:23 Hey guys.

S 0:24 Evan Bernstein.

E 0:25 Good evening, folks.

S 0:26 And we have a special guest rogue this week. Fraser Cain. Fraser, welcome back to the SGU.

F 0:33 Hey, everybody. Thanks for having me back. The whole show. I feel so honored.

S 0:37 Yes, the whole show. So Fraser, you're the publisher of Universe Today.

F 0:42 That is That is correct. So far, so good.

S 0:45 Yeah. Which I do read all the time. It's actually a great source. I scroll through it every day.

F 0:49 Great.

S 0:49 That's where I troll for my astronomy news.

F 0:51 Perfect.

S 0:51 Yeah, it's really great resource.

F 0:53 We do this only for you.

S 0:54 Yeah. Thank you for curating all my astronomy news for me.

B 0:58 That's what he said to me last time.

Number of clicks each day one.

F 1:02 You wanna hear something crazy? We just passed the 20 year mark. That is crazy. Yeah, yeah. So we passed 20 years back in March, actually. So we're closing in on 21 years of of me doing this job.

C 1:15 Wait, is that 20.. 20 years online?

F 1:17 21 years of publishing universe today online on the interwebs? Yeah.

C 1:22 Woah, on the interwebs. Yep. Makes me feel really old.

F 1:24 Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I've been doing this job for 20 years now.

B 1:28 Yeah, you're ancient.

C 1:29 No, but that's amazing. Like, we were just connected to the interwebs when I was in school in college. So

S 1:37 Early nineties...

F 1:38 Some of us were already deep into our careers.

C 1:42 Yeah, but that's not really when people were reading things like universe today online.

B 1:46 True That's when worldwideweb was born. That's such a huge milestone,

C 1:49 But most people didn't use it.

B 1:50 You know, a lot of times like, yeah, this happened in 89-90. I'm like, that was before the web. It's such a milestone in my head.

I still have my CompuServe address. I don't get emails anymore, though.

S 2:03 So it's, you came on the show this week in a funny way. So actually, we tend to show early this is the shows coming out on 11/23 November 23rd. We're recording on the fourth because we are going to be will be leaving for our trip down under when the show is coming out and we need to get a few shows ahead. So I needed to record an extra episode. And we can't do like just straight up news item show because it's going to be three weeks out of date by the time it comes out. And then I got an email from some guy named Visto Tutti. Visto said, hey, it's been a long time. It's been almost a decade since you had Fraser Cain on the show when I suggested he'd be a guest again on the SGU. His exact response was anytime, anywhere. Then he starts going into logistics and topics and everything. And I'm like, okay, so this is like he works for you. Because I get these emails all the time. So I said, Yeah, sure. Let's have an opening Monday. Let's book them for Monday. And then you send like this like, curious email to me. So I'm coming on the show? Spoke to your agent on email, didn't he tell you?

F 2:47 He's not my agent. Just a fan. A very organized, very proactive fan. And I wish I had you know, we don't we all wish we had more of those. That's incredible. Yeah. Yeah.

S 3:17 I don't know if it was deliberate on his part, or if he's just that kind of person. But he came off like official like he was working for you.

F 3:25 I clearly need to give him a job.

S 3:27 He quoted you. So he must have spoken to you at some point or just because he sent you an email today. You want to go on the SGU?

F 3:32 I believe my response was anytime, anywhere.

S 3:38 Or did he just make that up?

F 3:40 No, no, no, that's that's, that's that sounds like something I would say.

S 3:43 Okay. You're assuming you said that at some point. Yeah. That was funny. Cuz he totally, totally, I just assumed he was, you know, working for you.

F 3:53 So thanks for getting me on the show. Visto.

S 3:54 It was, it was perfect. You were think? Oh, God, we got to, we should pull somebody in. Yeah, one of our friends for Monday. Just good timing. So we're going to spend the whole show talking about cool astronomical topics. We always talk about astronomy items on the show. It's one of the one of the our favorite fields. So it's nothing unusual to have an entire show full of astronomy topics. There's plenty to talk about. So but we're going to start we're going to bookend it with some usual SGU segments. And Kara, you're going to start us off with an astronomically themed what's the word?

C 4:31 Yes. So when we were first emailing about doing the show this week, you were like, we're going to be talking about space. And then I started looking at all of my notes and trying to come up with some complicated Astro terms there of which there are many. I asked Bob to email me some ideas and he did not. And I ended up settling on the word.. Space.

B 4:54 Didn't even see your email. Sorry.

S 4:56 I'm the king of space. What's that from?

E 4:59 I'm the Space Pope.

C 5:00 I don't know what is that from?

S 5:01 That's from the Dark Mirror. Dark mirror.

C 5:04 That's like usually I'm correct. I guess this? Yeah,

S 5:06 The COVID Calypso episode Callisto.

C 5:09 Oh, you mean Black Mirror?

S 5:10 Black Mirror? Yeah. What did I say, Dark Mirror?

Unknown Speaker 5:13 We do that all the time Why?

C 5:16 I was like, are you talking about some vintage.. sci-fi show I've never heard of.

B 5:20 Matter dark energy, it's all the same.

Speaker 4 5:22 Whatever. Space too. It's all the same. I opened up a big can of worms when I was like, Yeah, let's do space. That's an easy one. It's pretty sure that on Merriam Webster there are 10 definitions of space as just a noun. Oxford English is bananas when you really start to dig in. This is like, I think, probably 40 pages of content in Oxford English Dictionary just on space. So yeah, as a noun space has several definitions. It's even used as a verb. The most interesting thing that I found out as I was starting to dig through, mostly I decided to take it from an etymological kind of angle, you know, how did it first come into be? And when did it start being used to refer to outer space? Since that's a little bit more relevant for our discussion today. And I'm surprised that space, as it refers to outer space, or this intergalactic space, or interplanetary space, or any of these astronomical terms, is actually relatively new. The word space from its earliest usage, referred more to room, like area. Yeah. And it also had this is the really interesting part, a similar and equivalently used definition of a period of time or an interval of time. So long before Einstein, space and time were the same word.

S 6:58 That kind of makes sense.

C 6:59 Yeah, I mean, it makes sense intuitively now, I think with everything we know. But it's actually kind of an interesting thing that as we developed this language to try and describe room or area or what was around us, we were also seeing that concept as an interval, or a distance of time. So we saw these things popping up around the year 1300. The earliest known origin is actually Latin from spatium, and then that sort of evolved into an old French phrase, espace, and we're not really sure where the Latin came from before that. The trail seems to be lost. But when we start to talk about space from an astronomy sense, some people will say that the first reference was in Paradise Lost by Milton, and that would be from 1667. But we started to see it regularly used in the 1700s. To describe emptiness, quote, unquote, which we now know it's not empty between celestial objects. And some kind of more modern usages space age wasn't used until 1946. Spaceship wasn't used until 1894 spacecraft in 1928 space, well, that was kind of silly. A Spaceman 1942.

S 8:31 What about Space Invaders?

C 8:33 I don't know about space..

E 8:35 1977.

C 8:35 Yeah, I mean, probably when the game was developed. And so it's kind of interesting to look at how the definition has changed. So obviously, the first definition, as I mentioned, had to do with distance or area or volume, but at the exact same time or very similar in time, we saw space used as a definition of a period of time or an interval of time. So those things were exchangeable there, then we started to see a space as a musical term. So spaces were above or below the lines of a staff, then we started to see space used in a more kind of scientific way as physical space. So not just like the space in an area or my space to move from point A to point B, but actually, scientifically as physical space, independent of what's inside of it. And not until halfway through our definition. So the fifth definition of Merriam Webster, Webster and of course, they are listed in terms of by usage. The fifth definition is the region beyond the Earth's atmosphere. And then we see space used in all sorts of specific places. Like if you go to the Wikipedia page for the disambiguation of the word space, I can't even tell you there are so many bullet points. There's different okay, it's used in art and architecture, film, gaming literature, music, nightclubs, there are nightclubs called space, theaters and concert halls, TV computing keyboarding printing places and of course in science and mathematics we see that use. So it's I think probably the thing that was the coolest to me was this idea that space and time have been inextricably linked since we first started using this as a linguistic label. And then of course, that came full circle when we started to explore relativity. And lastly, I will say that what kind of a lot of people now use as the current definition of quote unquote, safe space, or specifically outer space, is that it's the zone that occurs about 60 miles or 100 kilometers above the planet. And that's where we're not seeing air. So we're not seeing light being scattered or no appreciable air, not enough oxygen to scatter light. That's when it goes from blue to black. That's when we start to see the near vacuum. So we start to lose the ability to hear.

S 11:00 And to breathe.

C 11:01 And to breathe. Yeah.

S 11:03 That's the demarcation when the when the sky goes from looking blue to looking black?

C 11:07 Well, it's basically where it's beyond the what they say the appreciable atmosphere. And and also, some people have defined it because I've looked in there are different definitions based on different outlets. But they also say it's the place where satellites won't fall.

S 11:22 There's not enough drag.

B 11:23 Right? Yeah. The drags not there.

C 11:24 Yeah, it's kind of that demarcation line. Yeah.

S 11:27 Yeah, that's a good practical demarcation.

E 11:28 I think it's amazing that the human brain can seamlessly understand the context of the word. And you don't even you don't even realize in the front of your mind that your brain is deciding how it wants to apply what meaning to the usage of the word.

Speaker 4 11:45 Yeah, you don't have to make a cognitive or an overt decision to do that. It's just you know, if there's enough context in the conversation, you're right, it's completely seamless.

E 11:55 It's all about context.

S 11:57 All right. Well, Fraser, we want to talk about outer space.

F 12:00 Yeah, I only I only answer to one of those terms. You know, outer space.

E 12:04 What about space cadet?

F 12:06 space? Sure. That's okay. As long as you're in outer space, part of Space Force.

E 12:10 Right.

F 12:11 The Space Force.

C 12:12 Please no.

F 12:13 get political

E 12:14 watch that when I was a kid

F 12:15 yeah, I love Space Force. The marionettes I think.

S 12:21 Those were cool.

B 12:22 Oh Yes. That's called isn't that called Supermarination

Speaker 3 12:26 It's the only way to really realistically depict space travel.

S 12:33 With like meteors hanging from swinging threads.

E 12:39 That was the one I was saying. Like when they had the spaceship flying through, you know, the fake outer space like mobile you know? Yeah, you can see the smoke going up. The ship is flying perpendicular like horizontal but the smoke is going up. It's like you know, guys come on.

That that was totally fake. I don't believe that.

Speaker 3 13:03 Part. That's crazy, though, is that SpaceX? The starship kind of looks like those spaceships. So everything is just coming full circle.

E 13:10 Yeah, we just talked about we went like how cool is that though? You kidding me? And retro rockets. redheal thought that retro rockets were ever going to become a real thing.

S 13:18 You mean like landing vertically. And made of stainless steel, stainless steel.

F 13:24 We are living in the future. Finally, the future like science fiction accurately predicted the future that we're gonna live in.

E 13:32 Right. next decade, we'll have the Jetsons kind of things flying all over the place.

Speaker 5 13:38 I just want to be able to turn my car into a briefcase and carry it away. Well, not just that, but that would just that's that's on my my list of things I would like.

J 13:47 I would just like a robot to clean my house. They make those? Yeah, get the its called a roomba. Yeah.

E 13:53 Oh, no, no, no. First off, I've never I am never getting a Roomba because I read a story about someone who had one and their dog pooped in the kitchen and the Roomba smeared the entire house. I will not Wow.

J 14:07 Yes, they would have a poop algorithm at this point.

Unknown Speaker 14:09 Yeah, they may have they may be a

F 14:12 Dog or a Roomba, you got to decide.

B 14:17 Well, that's one of the things isn't it? I mean, who wouldn't have thought like a quarter century ago? Yeah, we will have robots in our household by then. And not just Roombas level robots, but like real, you know, real bipedal butler robot and it's like, you know, we're getting there for sure. But man, it's slow.

F 14:35 In other words is too slow for Bob.

B 14:37 I'll be like on my deathbed, and I'll see. I'll see. I'll be scrolling through Amazon. Oh, yeah, there's a robot and I'm on my deathbed. And I'll never get to enjoy it finally.

Speaker 3 14:49 Yeah, that'd be your robot body. They'll be bringing it up to you, wheeling it up.

Unknown Speaker 14:52 Singularity.

B 14:53 Okay, that would cheer me up.

S 14:56 Bob You'll have robotic pallbearers, so that you got that.

He was a good man.

A robot will dig the hole.

All right, Fraser Fraser, hit us with some space news. What's going on in space?

F 15:11 Well, how far back in time do you want to go? What you want to talk about?

That's right. Yeah, can't talk about space without talking about time.

Speaker 5 15:19 what's been in the news relatively recently that really gets you going it really intrigues you?

Speaker 3 15:24 Man, hell, let me just let me just look at this handy website universe today and see some interesting news. So at the time that we're recording this today, and then people can, I guess, figure it out, Boeing did a Pad Abort test of their new Starliner spacecraft. This is their version. So there's gonna be two companies providing transportation from the United States to the International Space Station, which strangely, is the thing that the United States is not able to do anymore. They rely on their good friends, the Russians to do this.

Speaker 5 15:57 And also don't forget though, it's also not only to the ISS, but also to eventually private space stations, like I think, when the proposed Bigelow Aerospace commercial space station, but that's just a little, you know, footnote to that state.

Speaker 3 16:09 Yeah. So obviously, it's a it's a slight security concern in that the United States has no way to get its astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and hopefully on to the moon and other places in the solar system. So, you know, when they wrapped up the space shuttle program, they thought they would be ready to go anytime now. So they they picked two companies, right SpaceX and Boeing. SpaceX built the Crew Dragon, which they did some of their tests earlier this year, both are have been delayed. Boeing with their Starliner just got to the point that they did their Pad Abort test, just today. And so they put the, this is the thing that will help the humans live, should there be a catastrophic accident with the rocket underneath them. And so then this is a capability. This is a capability that the space shuttle did not have, right, as we saw, tragically, if there's anything wrong with the space shuttle, it takes the lives of the astronauts with it. And both the Boeing Starliner and the Crew Dragon from SpaceX have to be able to abort at some point way partway through the mission. And so what they do is they have these retro rockets that fire accelerating the capsule off the top of the rocket and then the rocket can you know, rockets on its own, but the astronauts are carried away to safety, and then it will deploy its parachutes and return back to Earth. And so SpaceX has already done their demonstration of their abort system. And then they actually have flown to the International Space Station, delivered cargo with the Crew Dragon and then have it returned back to Earth. And then one exploded. So that was that was a setback. But with the with Boeing, they had been falling behind. And so they finally did their Pad Abort test. And that was today. And so the thing took off flew a mile above the the Pad Abort System, deployed two of its three parachutes. That was not the intention, the intention was to deploy all three, but then it landed safely back down on Earth, and apparently, two is fine. Two is two is nominal. Three would be ideal, but it can still work on two.

Speaker 5 18:19 And don't forget, there's also the airbag cushioning system that they have, which is really fascinating. And that's so that it could land on the ground, right? Rather than in water, they don't need to land in water anymore. And when those two when that thing hit the ground with the two of the three parachutes, which now remember, it's missing one parachute. It's got two parachutes, and it's got the airbag cushioning. That thing landed like a feather almost. It was such a beautiful landing. It really doesn't need three I think that the third parachute is just is for safety anyway, to try one I wouldn't have right I wonder if that would be a little bit of a rough landing. But this is Starliner was impressive. I really took a deep look at it today. It's gorgeous. It is so slick and and it's innovative as well it's weldless it has no welds in the entire structure. It's and it's reusable up to 10 times and then I think after 10 times it takes six months to to give it a turnaround up if I'm if I was interpreting that right

C 19:11 But how'd they put it together if it was weldless? Do they bolt it?

B 19:16 I think they.. it just grows Yeah,

F 19:20 that's gotta be it.

Speaker 5 19:21 Crazy Crazy glue or something. But and then I'll one more thing it's really fun.

C 19:26 Wait, what's the answer?

B 19:28 Like we know I don't think we know I don't know. But the website had a great quote website the Boeing website has Starliner uses a proven parachute and airbag system, except Except sometimes the third one doesn't deploy, but it's proven. But still it's just kind of ironic that they have that right in their website.

Speaker 3 19:46 I think when you talk to the astronauts who have flown to the International Space Station the return on the Soyuz capsule is one of the most harrowing parts of the entire journey they land in the steppes of Kazakhstan. The It has a lands really hard, and they don't have very comfy seats and right at the last minute, so it uses parachutes as well. And then right at the last minute it fires these retro rockets, but it's a really hard landing. And I've heard it described as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. But with a hard landing,

F 20:21 don't eat before you descend. Oh Boy, yeah.

B 20:24 So we're not surprised,

F 20:26 It is not a thing that I would want to try. And when you look at night, how gently these new this next generation is coming down, I think that's, that's the the way to go. They found the lowest mass black hole. So they've Yeah, astronomers have have always predicted that there would be sort of a minimum size to a to a black hole, you've got the black holes that are formed when stars, many times the mass of our Sun detonated, supernova implode, and you get this stellar mass black hole with around five times the mass of the Sun. And then of course, there are the supermassive ones, which I'm sure you've talked about many times on the show with, with a million millions, billions of times the mass of the Sun. And now astronomers think they've found what looks like the lowest mass black hole only 3.3 times the mass of the Sun. And the problem is, is that this is like a little complicated to actually get a black hole with this little mass. And so they're thinking that it's actually located in a binary system, where you've got like one star collapsing as a neutron star, and then it's feeding on material, and then finally crosses over that, that minimum threshold and collapses down to the next level, which is the, which is the black hole. And so now the impact, they think they've got a technique to be able to find others of these out there just based on the Doppler shift of, of when you've got the black hole orbiting in some kind of binary system with some of the stars you can sort of detect as the stars being being wobbled around. So.

B 22:00 Yeah, I recently talked about this. I mean, yeah, there was definitely a missing, you know, missing Mass, so to speak, because I mean, a neutron star has a maximum mass of say, what 2.5 to three solar masses. So between three and five, there should be some black holes, but that we had never found any until until this one. But it was really interesting to me is that some astronomers were like, Yeah, this is probably you know, it's probably a black hole. But wouldn't it be awesome if it was like a 3.3 solar mass neutron star, which would mean, of course, that, that our calculations are off, because there should never be a neutron star that doesn't collapse, you know, beyond the neutron degeneracy pressure, you know, that shouldn't exist at 3.3 solar masses. So he said, it would be more interesting if it were actually a neutron star, but it probably isn't probably just a solar mass Black Hole.

F 22:46 Well, one of the really interesting ideas is this in between stage so this is something that's still fairly theoretical, is this idea that there's something called a quark star. So Oh, yeah. Right. And so you can, a white dwarf is just mashed together matter, you know, carbon in some kind of great big crystal lattice, like one big diamond. But if you have enough temperature and pressure, you can mash that down so that the protons and the neutrons squish together and turn into sorry the protons and the electrons squish together and so the entire thing is neutrons, but then the stars, that's what a neutron star is, yeah, but a neutron star has a kind of a, you know, it has its own thanks towards that the Pauli exclusion principle has has a minimum size that it's willing to do this, there's a certain point that a neutron star won't allow the neutrons to be mashed to go to essentially can't be in the same place at the same time. But if you get enough mass onto it, then it should collapse into a into a black hole. But it's theorized that there might actually be some intermediate step one step down from a neutron star, but not full, black hole. And that's this idea of a quark star. And so in theory, you should be able to see flashes of neutron stars that have been feeding, you know, they've been feeding on material from some binary partner, then material piles up onto it, and then it colla.. then it hits perfectly hits that that tipping point collapses down one level releases a flash of energy and now it's this idea of a of a quark star and then gets more mass and goes to the next one.

S 24:18 What's the relationship between that and Quarks Bar.

F 24:20 Quarks bar? Both a hole? I don't know.

S 24:24 So before we totally get off the Spanish travel topic, though, I do want to talk to you about because we didn't mention this we were talking about this recently on the show. The Sabre engine yes Skylon sabre engines it's this is really neat. This The idea here is that it's like a jet engine that could go really fast and really high right to the point where you could almost like fly it into space, right? That's the idea. You probably need some kind of rocket at the end there to get once you get the atmosphere, it gets too thin. But and this is technologically very challenging, but you know, the skyline is the British company is getting close apparently.

F 25:02 I wouldn't say close. So they passed a big significant milestone. So the the holy grail of spaceflight is this idea of a single stage to orbit. And this is what our mind imagines a rocket should be, it takes off from the ground flies up into space does a thing returns through the atmosphere lands again. But it turns out that the rocket equation makes that just barely possible. Like, if you had the most efficient engine possible rocket engine, you could just barely get yours, you know, with all the fuel that you have to carry, without kicking stages overboard, you could just barely get to space and do some kind of mission and come back with very small payload. And so what what Skylon wants to do is they want to take advantage of this idea of flying in the atmosphere using aerodynamic lift, which is more efficient, being able to bring in atmospheric oxygen as as the oxidizer for the fuel that they're carrying. And then, as the thing gets faster and faster, it starts to bring in and it continues to bring in this atmospheric oxygen. And then when it runs out of oxygen, it switches over to a rocket engine, and flies off into space. And so the entire spacecraft is called the Skylon. But the the rocket and this is the engine, which is the revolution that they're really trying to figure out is how do you build an engine that allows you to take off from the ground, fly in the atmosphere, go to hypersonic speeds, and then be able to transition into a rocket. And so the big technical accomplish that they made this week was they're able to figure out how to bring hot air into the front of the engine, and then cool it down in a fraction of a second to be able to use that as an oxidizer for the rocket fuel that they're doing. And every little part of this entire process is very technically challenging. And so they were able to demonstrate that they were able to make that pre cooler work at Mach Five. And that's like one more step of making the Skylon work. So we are still years and years and years away from this thing, demonstrating actual practical single stage to orbit but the company has been is being funded now as part of the European Space Agency. So it's got some sort of serious people working on it and funding it. And they're going to keep picking away at this challenge. But it is, is a long, long way from it being an actual prototype that can fly and achieve all of these engineering goals that they've that they've got. And when you look at what's happening with with SpaceX with the starship, it's gonna be really hard to compete against a fully reusable, two stage rocket, right? Once you don't have to worry about trying to carry your entire spaceship to space, and you're able to disconnect the stages and have them fly back to earth as they run out of fuel. That's a really, really compelling model. So it may very well be that the Skylon never gets off the ground. If SpaceX demonstrates that, that multistage traditional rockets, but fully reusable are the way to go,

S 28:28 Yeah, there's just so much of an advantage to a two stage to orbit versus one stage. And if that as you say if that second stage is reusable, that you know, that's, that just may be inherently advantageous. But there is something sexy about the idea of like the entire ship just blasting off a surface going into space coming back. That's like the Millennium Falcon. That's what we think of as a spaceship.

F 28:49 Yeah, there's one version. There's another idea that's out there right now, which I really like. It's called the Astro clipper. And it's by a company called Exodus space. And what they're proposing is a two stage but space plane. And so the whole thing takes off from a runway and then it flies up into the atmosphere. Same thing uses jet jet engines to get itself up to Mach Five. And then the the first then then it fires its rocket engines, and carries the thing up to about 100 kilometers altitude, and then the the stages separate. And then the first stage flies back to the landing pad to the to a runway and lands like an airplane. And then the the the second stage flies up in orbit does its thing. Then it reenters the Earth's atmosphere and it lands on the landing pad and then the two halves are joined again. And so that feels like the the next step is that it's it's both a space plane but it's also fully reusable both and it's an it's two stage. So I think what's exciting about this is just there's just so many companies now that are trying to take a crack at this. SpaceX is really demonstrating what's possible with reusability. And I love the fact that there we're gonna see all of this, the Chinese are doing their own reusable rocket tests as well. So I think 10 years from now, all rockets are going to be reusable, and then they're going to be iterating on the fine nuances of it for smaller payloads for bigger payloads and, and for maybe monster payloads,

Speaker 5 30:21 You guys, there's another angle to this, you know, the classic rocket engine nozzle right at the end where the exhaust gases come out. That's I mean, it's, you, maybe you'll be surprised to learn it that that nozzle is actually shaped in the shape is critical, right. But the thing is, the shape is designed, the classic shape is designed for a specific altitude and atmospheric density. So that's when it's most efficient. So that means that that for the vast majority of the rocket's trip up through the atmosphere, that that nozzle is not very efficient. So that's why when you drop that first stage, the second the second stage's nozzle will be optimized more for the area of the atmosphere that it flies to so so what they have they have, they have like they've actually created created examples of this, like it's, I forget the exact name, but it's like an inverted nozzle that actually optimizes itself, regardless of where you are in the atmosphere.

F 31:14 You're talking about the aero spike.

B 31:16 Yes, I think yeah, I think that's it. It's really bizarre looking.

S 31:18 So it's adaptive.

B 31:19 Yeah. Right. So I just shocked that That's it, just that thing is not more of a priority, because that really, you know, overcomes the limitations of the classic rocket engine nozzle. And they did a lot of research. They put a lot of money into it. But then it kind of like fell to the wayside. I think when, when the the shuttle was being developed, and it never really picked it up again.

Speaker 3 31:38 Yeah, there's one company called Arca aerospace. And they're actually working with an aerospace with an Aerospike engine. But the classic one that was done with this was the X34 Venture Star, X33 Venture Star designed by Lockheed Martin. And they were and they had actually made it a linear Aerospike. So it's one, it looks like a kind of a wedge. And you're exactly right, it inverts the, so normally, with a rocket, you've got the rocket bell, and the gases come out of the nozzle inside the rocket engine, and they come out of the bell. And the trick is that you want to get the the angle of this right, and you get the pressure working just perfectly. And the size of the bell for a when a rocket takes off from the surface is actually much smaller. And then the ones that are used in vacuum are huge. But at the end of the day, it's kind of the same engine underneath is pushing all these gases into different shapes. And so the linear Aerospike brings in those gases, sort of, as you say, in the opposite direction, down this v. And then it can change the angle on how this is how and how this is is exhausted, depending on whether you're down at the at the surface, or whether you're, you know, trying to use this in the vacuum. And in theory, then you don't need to have a difference between the rocket that you use to take off from the surface to the one that you're using up in a vacuum. But it's you know, they did some tests, because you're exactly right back in the 80s and 90s. And the they just haven't really progressed that technology.

S 33:12 And we're still at the point of all this is just to make getting to space cheaper, right? Obviously, we could already get there. That's not the that's not the point. The point is just lowering the dollar cost of getting a pound of stuff into space.

B 33:23 Right. And right now it's like $10,000 a pound. I mean, that's ridiculous. Yeah. And there's this reusability that we're seeing a resurgence of this idea of the reusability that will bring that down by a lot. But still it's still so expensive. And then of course that could bring into the conversation could segue into the whole space elevator, which would be a lot cheaper believe wouldn't tours ever different.

Speaker 3 33:45 Well, yeah, yeah. So hold on. Let me just let me throw down here for one second. Oh, really? Yeah. So the the SpaceX starship its capability if if it actually works, according to Musk, and at the rates, you're looking at sub $100 per kilogram flights maybe is down around $35 per kilogram. Wow. Yeah, if they can, if they can get the if they can get this functioning on a regular basis, it could be getting the prices down that low. And the best estimates for a space elevator were in the $75 per kilogram. So in fact, a two stage fully reusable rocket is probably more economical than a space elevator and the the SpaceX starship in its current form with the oh I forget the exact diameter is it a nine meter diameter. This is their first version this is like essentially starship is the smallest possible rocket that can fulfill a fully reusable two stage mission. And but they but they get more efficient as they get bigger. And so Musk actually said that he's he thinks that they'll have one that is four times better next, and then the price of the economies of scale come down even further. And it gets even cheaper. So, so at this point if if this works, and of course, you know, we're still waiting for the SpaceX starship to actually re enter the Earth's atmosphere in one piece and land safely on Earth, if it can, if we can do that, then then I think the golden future has has begun. But if they can actually pull that off, then I think that it pretty much invalidates the need for space elevators at that point,

J 35:29 but how do we? How do we know what the cost would be? You know, like, it just seems counterintuitive, that all you're really doing is cranking something, you know, up an elevator shaft to get up to the height. So we're, you know, you said it's $75 versus, you know, whatever.

C 35:47 Like the amortized cost.

Speaker 3 35:48 Yeah, to had to build a cable all the way from geosynchronous orbit down.

S 35:56 So 23,000 miles.

F 35:58 Yeah. So, yeah, you had to do that. And then the other problem is that, essentially, you can only send a couple of payloads up the the elevator at a time. And they have to be powered by something like sunlight. And so there's actually limitations on how much cargo you can carry. The things we have to do fairly take a very long time to get up the entire you know, multiple days.

Speaker 5 36:20 Think about it. Imagine spending like, like weeks. Yeah, we orbit like that. After a while you're like, let's just get there. What the hell

Speaker 3 36:28 Yeah. And so when you look at the starship, the boosters are designed to work. What did he say six times a day, the super heavy booster, and then the starship will probably be able to fly four times a day. I forget the exact numbers. So the star each individual starship, within a year, not even will essentially be capable of launching more times than all rockets ever launched in the history of humanity. Like, like the scale at which this technology will function. If it if it works, if it works as envisioned, completely changes the way of just the way space exploration happens, the way we get anything into space. And at the same time, you're seeing this whole other revolution that's coming caught on its heels, which is space based resource harvesting, and manufacturing. So there's one company that is actually working on, say, 3d printing solar panels in space. They just spray like an inkjet printer, they can actually cover hundreds of meters of solar panel surface. So they 3d print the lattice that it's built onto. And then they spray this liquid onto the panel. And now they they're building as much power generation as as they need for as big as they want. People are building their there. There's a company called Argonaut, that is building a or the company is called Made in space and their spacecraft is called Argonaut. And it is going to it looks like a like a three armed spider that that extrudes girders out of its out of its well out of its spinnerette. And so it extrudes these girders, and then extrudes nuts and bolts out of the same spinnerette, a 3d printer, and then attaches them all together. And so it can build things structures in space of any size that have never had to undergo anything under the gravity of Earth.

E 38:30 How do you spray something in space?

Speaker 3 38:33 I don't know, with a sprayer. It still still worth that's how a rocket works, right? You're just spraying hot gas in the opposite direction of what you want to go.

E 38:43 So but you're not targeting something being specific with it are you. But that's interesting.

Speaker 3 38:49 Yeah. So I actually think, you know, as we get to the next, as, as the capability of these rockets pick up the capability of space based manufacturing and resource acquisition, at the same time, it's gonna go just as fast. And this might be a blip that 50 years from now, nobody will launch rockets, because everything is is built in space.

J 39:10 That would certainly solve a lot of problems of getting stuff up there. I mean, yeah, we have the raw material. You know, I know like the first thing that I remember reading about was using the moon's regolith to make fuel and oxygen, but you know, the raw material to build different components and things. I mean, man, if we had like an asteroid parked, somewhere where we could just mine it for raw material and build the stuff that we need right out there. Yeah, of course. That's, that's brilliant. That would be one of the one of the holy grails of creating habitats and everything on different planets.

Speaker 3 39:42 And one of the things that we're really finding is how much volatiles how much water, ammonia, nitrogen, all of these, these volatile chemicals that were thought to be completely blasted out of the asteroid field, are actually present in these objects even though they're very close to the sun, they actually still seem to contain quite a lot of volatiles just protected under the, under the surface. And we actually talked about this in in the latest episode of Astronomy Cast. But this idea that as OSIRIS REx, this is the NASA mission was approaching asteroid Bennu it got blasted in the face by pebbles, by by gravel. And it turned out that that the volatile elements inside this asteroid, asteroid cracked open a little bit volatile elements were released, it blasted out rock into space. And this struck OSIRIS REx and actually went through this, this cloud. And so now it really looks like a lot of these asteroids have a lot more of these really valuable elements and volatiles and things like that than anyone ever thought on so there's some other great ideas for being able to try and harvest and mine this kind of thing.

S 40:54 I wonder how long it'll be before we have a spaceship that's built in orbit and never ever lands? Right? Because if you're going to have a big ship flying around the solar system, you wouldn't want it to be like blasting off from the Earth every now all the time. Take a, right? Look at the kind of massive ship you want to be on if you're going to like, even to Mars isn't necessarily the same one that you want to blast off from the surface of the earth in right, yeah, well,

Speaker 3 41:19 You look at James Webb, James Webb has been eternally delayed has gone massively over budget. And a part of the reason is because it's such a gigantic telescope, it's going to be a 6.5 meter telescope that needs to fit within a much smaller fairing to fit within an Ariane five rocket. And so it's like origami, right the thing has to fold out has to deploy this tennis court size sunshade and this and so, it has to be able to do the tests here on earth thing has to be able to handle the rigors of of a rocket launch, which is a very terrifying experience has to be able to fly to the L to Lagrange point has to be able to unfurl itself in all these different ways. And it has to function. And, and the all those additional requirements if you just fly out with your Arca not to the Lagrange point, and then you just start web spinning the structure of a telescope, and they spray with your with your sprayers, the telescope surface, suddenly, this job becomes a lot more, less complicated from a from what you have to build on Earth standpoint. And so that really seems like that's going to be the next the next step for a lot. There's a lot of really interesting, Very Large Telescope ideas, which will be built completely in space. They don't have ever been on Earth.

S 41:19 Right. And there are also that we have robots that can build three dimensional frameworks from from component pieces, you know, just by repeating certain actions that are kind of like space based worker bees, you know, drones.

C 42:58 how did we build the ISS?

F 43:00 Many, many launches of rockets, and especially the spaceship, and then humans.

C 43:06 And then but it was like built in place.

B 43:08 Yeah, yeah. Well, it was it was constructed in place, but the components were built on Earth.

S 43:14 It was assembled in space.

B 43:15 And one thing we're testing is the, you know, the blow up habitat that you can attach to, you know, to one of the one of the arms. I haven't read about it recently, I know that there was testing going on, but it seems like a pretty cool idea. As long as the you know, structurally it sound.

F 43:32 Yeah, there's one on the Space Station right now. So there's an inflatable module attached to a Bigelow module attached to the International Space Station and its job is exactly that to, to test out how well inflatable modules work. And so far, they're happy with it, they haven't deflated it and thrown it into the earth.

Speaker 4 43:50 So it's not vulnerable to like micro what are they called micro meteoroids?

F 43:56 No, if anything, they're actually better than the tin can type ones because when you get a, like, all of the Space Station modules have some level of shielding inside of them. But the these inflatable ones, they're multiple layers of different fabrics Kevlars things like that, and so they're able to handle an impact very, very easily because they don't, they don't I mean, when you think about like an aluminum can and you jab it and you get sort of jagged entry and the whole thing will kind of tear open like that, but with these they are they're fabric, they're various layers of fabric layered on top of each other.

C 44:32 So they can deform a little bit when they take the hit. they can catch.

Speaker 3 44:35 But the other thing is well as is important to understand that if you do punch a hole in the side of say the space station, it's not like it will be explosively decompress. You could go over, notice the slight air leak coming out of the space station, you can put your hand over top of it and stop it. So it's it's not as catastrophic as people think.

E 44:54 I saw it in a movie once though.

C 44:55 Because it's so pressurized.

F 44:57 Yeah, it's just that the the difference of pressure between The inside the space station and the vacuum of space is actually not that bad.

C 45:06 Oh, yeah, I think we're just so used to thinking about like airplanes. And what would happen if kind of like your window got knocked out of an airplane? Everybody thinks they would get sucked out,

F 45:14 but it's not that bad. Yeah,

S 45:16 I read a science fiction story once were they had a space station and floating around the space station were balloons.

E 45:23 the same story I was just about to

S 45:25 Yeah, excellent. So you ever got balloon filled with goo. And if there's a little micro meteorite or whatever, causing a leak, the balloon will float over to it. Because it would get just follow the currents to the leak. It'll, you know, basically get sucked into it, pop and then auto seal it. That's awesome.

B 45:42 Yeah. And Asimov story. Yeah, I think that's my

J 45:45 guys. Have you read any of the articles about how humans are not well built to handle outer space, and that long space travel is going to be a massive problem. It's devastating.

Speaker 4 45:59 I don't understand why several robots want to do it personally. Like I get why Star Trek astronauts want to, you know, they're good science. But no, that's just bananas. To me. It's just it's not? Well, there's to understand going and doing science. It's the same way that someday will the will. The generator is not like that. I really do not like that argument.

B 46:21 There's two camps. I mean, it really is like, I don't know, I don't want to just like make it super simplified. But there it is kind of an emotional question that you ask, because there are people that are really like boots on the ground, you know, I mean, I heard Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse. Tyson argue this at a TAM conference, probably a decade ago at this point. And they had it out about should we send people should we send robots and, you know, Neil was definitely boots on the ground. And, and Bill was like, you know, let's send robots first. You know.

Speaker 4 46:53 I mean, it's, it's easy to say when we're talking about the moon, but it's like, look here on Earth, you know that there, there are explorers, and there are scientists who go deep into the ocean to do good science, but nobody's like, I want to just go live on the bottom of the ocean.

F 47:08 Well, an easier analogy is Antarctica, right? Like Antarctica is, is one of the most inhospitable places you can go to on planet Earth, and

B 47:18 your most hospitable place in the universe besides the rest of the earth. Yeah.

Speaker 3 47:22 Yeah, exactly. So so you don't see a lot of people wanting to go and move to Antarctica, and try to like eke out a living amongst the penguins. And the reason is, because it's terrible. And yet, you still have, you can still breathe, the temperature rises to levels where you can wear a warm coat. And the ultraviolet radiation isn't punishing and nonstop. So I think

C 47:51 Fraser can get two guys Zealand pretty quick.

Unknown Speaker 47:54 And there's a magnetosphere over your head. Yeah,

B 47:56 Wait wait, but don't get too psyched about that. Because, you know, some of the people in your group might find an alien spaceship frozen in the ice, and they throw out the alien. And next thing, you know, like it's eating everybody. We've seen the movie movies. It's not it's not a safe, dog.

Unknown Speaker 48:15 It's just a dog.

Speaker 4 48:17 It really just to me, though, feel like a failure in a way of like, realistic reality testing. Like it worries me a little bit from a psychological perspective that people are willing to invest so much time, effort and energy and think that it's a more viable option to escape planet Earth and set up a new Yeah, colony than just to fix the problems that we have at home and continue to explore for scientific purposes,

Unknown Speaker 48:45 I think that's a straw man a little bit.

S 48:47 I don't think anybody thinks that.

Unknown Speaker 48:48 Well I was just responding to what Evan said.

Speaker 3 48:50 Yeah, but no, I think I think she's exactly right. I think she's exactly right, that there are people who feel that way. And I feel that it's sort of my job to, to drag them, to encourage them to join me on an exploration of just how awful the rest of the solar system is. Scientifically fascinating, but, but a really terrible place to try and live. The moon is terrible. Mars is terrible. Venus is super terrible. They all have their their brief highlights and I think I can imagine this future. And I know a lot of people in the Mars society, you know, I'm going to get the emails. Send them to the skeptics guide. But but that I don't see a future human presence on on any world, except for Earth to be anything beyond what we kind of have at Antarctica. We're going to have a research station on the moon to do Moon things. We're gonna have a research station on Mars to do Mars things. But But living and working and raising your kids and growing crops and all that, like that's, that's it's the worst place and and it really shows how wonderful the earth is. Yeah,

Speaker 4 50:01 yeah, it does. And it bugs me that that's what so much sci com coverage is when it comes to space exploration, it's like, oh, how do you have sex in space? What if you need to like have progeny in space, what's going to happen in an effort to maintain a life there 365 days a year. And it's like that not viable.

Speaker 5 50:19 That that's just like it's romantic. It's sci fi with with the thing, the bottom line is that we will eventually we will live on the moon, we will live on Mars and other areas in the solar system. But it's going to take so many decades before, before that's really a viable option to take that let me finish, let me finish. It's going to take so many the technology we have to be at such a level, the robots will prepare it for us, we will go there, and it'll be relatively nice, so much better than the Antarctic is right now. But that's going to take it could take a century or more two years, many a really long time. But the thing is, the thing is, it's not going to happen in the near future, you know, for two, two main reasons. First off, microgravity totally screws your body over, and the cosmic rays, and solar radiation will fry you and give you cancer. And we don't have the money, or the technology right now to shield people from that. So that's not even going to happen in the short term. For those two reasons. There's no way we're going to Mars or anywhere else long term for those two reasons. And no one's got viable plans.

Speaker 4 51:19 you're still saying it as if it's de.. It's a definite that it's going to happen, I disagree with that fundamentaly.

Speaker 5 51:25 But what I'm projecting out, you know, 100-150 years, I mean.

Speaker 4 51:29 That is not that long, it is not, I really think that you're being a massive techno optimist right now

F 51:35 The technology gets to a point where we can overcome all of those downsides, then there are benefits to living in space, there's a lot of room. But I actually I'm a huge fan of Jeff Bezos' strategy on on this, which is that Earth is is the best place in the universe for life. And we are messing it up while we live here

C 51:38 We evolved to adapt to this place.

F 51:55 and yet we are polluting it every which way we can. And so it makes a ton of sense. If we want to continue to have a fairly modern way of life, it makes a ton of sense for us to push the pollution and manufacturing off of this planet out into space, which is just probably rocks, rocks and sunlight. And, and focus on Earth as being a really, really habitable place. And that's something that we're in right now. We're not at a stage where we can both live in this world, but also take care of it and to be able to live comfortably. And so it makes a ton of sense for us to push that manufacturing into space, push the power generating into space, and then be stewards of of this environment.

S 52:46 Fraser so I have a question for you What astronomy pseudoscience drives you crazy the most

F 52:53 all of them?

S 52:54 Yeah, it's a good answer.

Speaker 3 52:56 I mean, the one that's obviously been haunting me right from the beginning is this idea of Planet X Nibiru.

S 53:02 Nibiru.

F 53:02 Yeah, like when I started my job. 20 years ago, people were convinced that there was a mysterious planet called Nibiru that was flying into the inner solar system, it was going to cause a pole flip of planet Earth and, and that there was a vast conspiracy to cover it up. And here we are 20 years later, and people are still bringing this up. And so I still have to do to debunk it. Although I now I just get to point at the video that I made. I don't know, eight years ago. Watch that. And the things I said in that video are still relevant. I was just younger then

S 53:37 That's what I like about writing blog posts. I can just point people to Yeah, I already debunked that. Here you go.

Speaker 3 53:44 Yeah, that's now how I choose how to do many of my videos. Just what's the question I keep getting a lot of. I just did a three part in depth video on the Lagrange points, and just covered every single version of the Lagrange points so that now I can just refer to them.

S 54:00 Yeah, that's a great idea. Yeah, Nibiru is definitely one because it just, it's just made up. It's just a made up conspiracy. And there's so many reasons to think that it's nonsense, you know, it just doesn't really make any sense. Like, yeah, like, there will be a huge planet out there. And we wouldn't know about it. But the other ones that always just, you know, it's just annoying because it's just ignorant. Like, I wonder like, Yeah, you don't really care anything about astronomy Do you? Is people who think like, oh, this super moon, right, the super moon is going to be this amazing thing or that like, we're going to be able to see Mars with the naked eye. You know, like, not just as a point of light but as like the margin like the moon icon, the close approaching Mars.

Speaker 3 54:41 I like super moon. See, I don't mind talking about the super moon because it gives me a chance to talk about Syzygy and the the orbit that the moon takes and how it's a it's a perigee. Syzygy is the supermoon Yeah, I got that right. So at the, and so when you think about Moon, right? It has this elliptical orbit around the Earth. So sometimes it's close and sometimes it's far. But then it also has the phases as it moves from a new moon to a full moon. And when those two line up, when you get that perigee Syzygy then you get a super moon. And where the moon is both the closest in its orbit, but also a full moon. And I kind of like it it is, you know, you probably wouldn't notice but when people take pictures the moon is, is noticeably larger and a little bit brighter in those pictures. And so it's it's a thing that a person can observe if they were observant of the sky. But for most people, most of the time, they have no idea, the amount of brightness that you actually experience from the supermoon.

Speaker 4 55:43 Yeah, but like, there's all the additional ones too. There's like the Blood Moon and the super blue blood moon and the blue blood and everybody you're right, Steve, they think like, they're gonna all get their periods or we're all going start howling or like something weird is going to happen to our bodies because of that.

S 55:59 The one that again that is the most annoying is the people who think that we'll be able to see Mars will look like the moon, you know, because of Mars is close.

Speaker 3 56:07 Yeah that's a funny one. Do you know the origin of that?

S 56:10 No.

Unknown Speaker 56:10 No I don't.

Speaker 3 56:12 Yeah, so what happened was, and I and I don't remember the specifics, and I'm sure at this point, it's going to be lost to the to the internet's timelessness. But there was a an observatory, or like a planetarium that sent out an email that said that under a small power telescope, Mars will look as big as the moon looks to the naked eye. And so with an 80 power, if you look through a telescope an 80 power telescope, the size of the moon, when it was at that closest point back in, I think, was 2003, which was like the closest Mars that we had in in 10s of 1000s of years. If you looked at it in an 80 power telescope, it was roughly the same size as what the moon the moon looks like, with your own eyeballs. And so this this got somebody cut off the with an 80 power telescope. Yeah. Yeah, so then said Mars will look as big but but the rest of the email is exactly correct that this was the closest Mars is going to be in. It was this exact date in August. And I forget the exact date like August 18th 2003, was this close Mars approach, and then, and like I said from this well meaning planetarium and it went out as an email. And then somebody hacked up that one line, and then it just kept circulating. And so Mars is actually close and bright in the sky every two years. And it's never looks anything more than just a bright star. Yeah, but this email makes the rounds on the anniversary of that 2003 close approach of Mars. And so we get it even even though Mars is is sometimes Mars is on the other side of the sun when that that anniversary happens. Because when Mars makes its closest approach, it's a different time, roughly every two years and it slowly is shifting around. So it's it's a funny thing that that a well meaning actually, fairly scientifically accurate piece of information was slightly modified, and then it just won't die.

S 58:20 Just took on a life of its own.

F 58:21 Yeah.

but all this doesn't matter from our flat Earth does it Fraser

Well, my job has gotten a lot easier now that that Google with YouTube has put less emphasis on the pseudoscience videos on the platform. So it's actually has made a big difference. I get a lot less death threats on my YouTube channel. Wow. Yeah, I mean, so because, yeah, yeah. I appreciate that.

S 58:45 You were getting death threats from flat from Flat Earthers.

F 58:48 Well, yeah, so I mean, you know, the death threats that we all get as being science communicators,

E 58:52 Because you're part of the conspiracy.

J 58:53 Everybody loves me.

C 58:55 Yeah. Which are worse for you, Fraser is it the Flat Earthers or the moon lander people?

Unknown Speaker 58:59 I ignore them equally.

C 59:01 Okay. Like are any more violent than than other?

F 59:05 Oh, the the flat earth I would say the Flat Earthers are more angry than the moon hoaxers. But it's a tough call and the UFO conspiracy people as well. Right. Because they all feel that there is this grand conspiracy that is keeping the truth secret. And as one of the shills I am mortally endangering the souls of humanity by continuing this scam, you're a threat and a threat to humanity. And so they are they feel like it's perfectly fine to speak to me in in a kind of language that, you know, has a certain amount of threat to it. And that's just like that just goes along with the job. I mean, righteous Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's, it's it's tough though. I mean, what we get as I think as male science communicators is a fraction of what I know a lot of the females get like it's terrible out there.

S 1:00:04 Yeah, actually, most of my, those hostile emails are about alternative medicine though to me personally.

F 1:00:10 Right? Of course. Yeah. Same thing, right?

C 1:00:12 Yeah. Cuz that's his specialty.

S 1:00:15 Yeah. So there's boiler plate, right? Do you get that too? They're so boilerplate like these people think that they're being so original, like they're thinking for themselves. And they're regurgitating these lines that somebody else obviously wrote and thought of. You, I mean, they're, it's, it's I find it so incredibly ironic.

Speaker 7 1:00:33 They pasted your name on a template and sent it to you. That was it.

S 1:00:37 Yeah. Like, there isn't an original thought in the entire email. It is all propaganda that somebody else thought of.

Unknown Speaker 1:00:44 And don't they always write them as if you've never heard their argument.

S 1:00:47 Well, yeah.

Speaker 3 1:00:49 Although now I'm starting to wonder how much of these are actually like Russian troll farms? Yeah. To increase a distrust in science? Oh, gosh.

S 1:01:00 Well, I've been getting the same one for 20 years. So it's probably not the Russians.

F 1:01:06 But like, I think I've gotten pretty Zen about the whole process at this point, like I don't, like I don't really engage, I don't really talk to them. I'm not really interested in having that conversation. So for me, like, if you want to come and you want to talk about space, and you want to talk about astronomy, and if you want to have some disagreements about this stuff, then then that's fine. Let's, let's have these conversations. But but if you're not here, to talk about space, you just have some agenda that you're trying to push. This isn't for you. Right, there's the door, I advise you to take it. Yeah.

J 1:01:39 The thing I find interesting is that there are certain kinds of people that are listening to the content. You know, they listening, they're listening, it seems like they're listening to deliberately get angry. So they can deliberately, yeah, so tell the content creators, you know, to go F themselves, you know,

S 1:01:57 Well people have said that to us as I listened to you guys. Because I wanted to hear, you know, the bad arguments of the other side. You know, sometimes they say that after they've come around, and but then I realized that you actually had something intelligent to say, Yeah.

Speaker 4 1:02:11 It's a good thing Right? Like, it's Yeah, we talked about this as skeptics, like, it's a good thing to listen to other opinions, other arguments, blah, blah, but it's just sad, when other is the scientifically backed one. You know what I mean, when that's like, this isn't like a political thing, like listening to the other party's take on health care. This is like, Oh, I'm just gonna listen to the scientific opinion, as opposed to the pseudo scientific opinion.

Speaker 3 1:02:34 Yeah, my, I mean, my approach with all of this is to is to try to give everybody a chance to be nice. And so someone will say something, and I will respond in what is like, like, Hey, buddy, here's your chance to not be an asshole. And, and then if they double down, then the conversation is over. And I'm not interested.

S 1:02:56 Yeah, that's the exact approach that I take.

F 1:02:58 Yeah. And then if they do, act, you know, and often they're, they're taken off guard, by me being a polite Canadian, and then I will, and then often, they will turn into, you know, longtime fans of what we do. And I find it's, it's almost 50-50, like, someone will say something super snarky. And either they were just trolling and then disaster averted. Or they were, they just had no one had ever, like, had a conversation with them yet about this kind of stuff. And so they've got someone who, who will, will have a fairly civil conversation with them. But you know, that I would say that's about half the time, and then sometimes they can come around, and they'll stick around. And years later, they're a really great member of the community. But others, they just, they're just there for the fight, and they're not going to get a fight out of me. You know, one response, and then that's it.

Speaker 4 1:03:47 I would say, for me, it's a lot less than half. But there have been a few really interesting kind of like anecdotal experiences that I've had where somebody was like being, you know, really sexist, horrible troll. And then I like, talk to them like a person. And they realized that I am a person and not just like, some sort of weird figure. And yeah, so they apologize. Like, they were like, Oh, my gosh, I didn't think you would actually read that. I don't know what I thought I was having a really bad day. I really feel terrible that like, the things that I said, made you feel bad, you know, and then I was like, you know, yeah, I'm human too like, just like you. And that conversation did lead to sort of like more fandom or more of like a an appropriate, I think, online relationship with, you know, a consumer of my content. But I actually find that that's not that common. And so unfortunately, it's really hard to make the decision about what you want to waste your energy on.

F 1:04:42 But I think it's tough for you guys. Because you are going out and finding pseudoscience finding places that require more skepticism and actively engaging in it. So So you are you're kicking the hornet's nest. Yeah, all of them simultaneously and for me Like there's definitely some channels out there on on YouTube where they are looking at the pseudoscience aspects of of YouTube and questioning their beliefs. That's not interesting to me. So I'm never going to pick a fight with a flat earth channel or a UFO channel or any of that. I'm going to I'm going to report on interesting and fascinating and wondrous stuff in the universe. And if somebody wants to make a comment, then I will respond as politely and disarmingly as I can. But I'm definitely not, I'm not going into battle, I think in the way that you are. And so it's got to be a tougher one for what you do. Because by just the nature of the show, you've got to, you've got to call some of this stuff to question.

Speaker 4 1:05:45 Yeah, people do, I think they feel more called out by virtue of like, being kind of a more skeptical activist. And of course, then there's the additional layer that you already mentioned, which is that, like, a lot of what I deal with is just entrenched in basic misogyny. Like it just goes so much, far farther beyond, you know, actually advocating for pseudo scientific things or being anti establishment or conspiratorial, there's also a facet and I do I actually am interested and I don't know if there is any real evidence on this or data on this, if there is any sort of correlation at all, or what the correlation might be between conspiratorial thinking, and sort of engagement in that kind of trolling behavior on the internet and sexism, misogyny, racism, those kinds of things. I wonder if there is really any crossover? Or if it's just that when, when all those things align, when syszgy occurs, right, then all hell, hell breaks loose,

Speaker 3 1:06:41 One of the things that I that I always wanted to do? And I don't kind of have the guts to to organize it, which is I would love to interview people that I disagree with. And just have these conversations, just like why do you believe what you believe in? What is the basis of it? What is the foundation and sort of chase it all back to the to the source, and just try to understand like, not not judge their position, but just understand it? And then obviously, by me asking questions, and going down that journey, I think I'll get a better sense of what the patterns are. Because a lot of it, I think we don't see the underlying thought patterns yet. And I think that, you know, for a lot of us, we're in a very reactionary position, kind of beleaguered, exhausted just trying to do our jobs. And then someone comes in and is calling you a reptilian shill, cuck, shill, and you just kind of want to say, like, I don't really have time for this, but I would, I would actually love to have some quest, some just some interviews and just collect, why do you believe what you believe? Like? What, uh, let me understand it. And then you make, it may not be a very fruitful conversation. But I think it would be it would be interesting.

Speaker 4 1:07:50 Well, I think it'll humanize them first, which I think is important, because we all have a tendency to dehumanize other we all have a tendency to, to be a little bit

S 1:08:01 Syzygy!

Speaker 4 1:08:05 Perigee.

C 1:08:06 Tribal?

Tribal, thank you. Which is like a, unfortunately, kind of an evolutionary thing that that human beings struggle with all the time. Beyond that. One of the things we try to do here on this show is we try to cover anytime there is sort of meta research about why people believe what they believe. So anytime there's a new poll that gives us some insight, or there some kind of psychological research that shows you know, how somebody who's conspiratorial about x comes to those conclusions or what other things they believe, because I do think it's important to understand that.

S 1:08:44 Yeah, we do sometimes we'll talk engage with these people, we're trying to understand it phenomenologically as well as like, what makes them tick, as well as just understand the logic like, why do we believe what we believe? Because, you know, we don't want to take it for granted. Can we really defend it, you know, against motivated attack or opposition?

J 1:09:03 Yeah, I mean, this is so it's so easy for any kind of, I guess, communication in general, but definitely, in science communication. I think it's very easy to get a little like, know-it-all-ey, and Oh, yeah. Yeah, preachy and even, you know, condescending to alternative views and everything because what's your alternative view to science? There isn't one you know, like, if you're a true if you're a true science enthusiast, and you believe in the scientific process, and then when someone comes at you with something that defies that you know, we're human, your hackles go up you get you get frustrated, you get angry, you read emails, you're like, oh my god, you know, I was like, so many different, you know, emotional responses we all have to these things. And you know, Fraser's getting death threats for crying out loud. You know, people are so into what they believe and what they want to be true that they're willing to you know, because I think 99% of all death threats are complete BS. Yeah. It's a lot of work to go kill someone. You know what I mean? have, you know, but but it's easy to type it on the internet, but your, you're doing it because you're pissed because you're trying to get the person on the other end of that weird thing to move in their seat. And I get that. I would never do it. But I mean, I try to I try to take my 20 plus years of science communication, you know, I try to wear it like armor and also wear it like, you know, something that massages the anger out of me, you know, I'm like, Oh my God, you know, I just want them to understand, you know, we do the show to help people, you know, not just to help people. But one of the motivations was to give people a resource. And to help bring a bright spot to a very dark world, you know, is this lack of information that's out there. But it's always going to bother us. We're human. It's always going to be you know, like, you can't pretend that it has no emotional effect on you. Of course it does. It's always frustrating to read a frustrating email. But what we choose to do with those things, Kara was what we we don't do anything we write back, we show an extraordinary level of patience.

Speaker 4 1:11:01 Yeah, and it depends, you know, it's, you're right J like, it's it's person to person. And it's experience to experience because I think that sometimes you'll have somebody who writes and they are making valid philosophical points about epistemology. And that's something that is an important conversation for us to have, right? Like somebody might be saying, This is my view on science from an epistemological perspective. And I've done a lot of real work on this. And this is where I stand. And that's actually a valid conversation, as opposed to somebody who might have mental illness, you know, who might have paranoia or be struggling with other things. And it's like, we can't respond the same way to everybody all the time, because it's unfair. And it's actually really, I think, crass for us to do that. Definitely my approach to sci com has changed immensely since I've thrown myself fully into my psychology studies, they've completely changed my understanding of like constructivism, my understanding of like, staunch logical positivism, I've got a much more philosophical kind of lens when I look at things, and I think it's making me better at my job, and, and better at being human to other people. Whereas maybe back when I was much more firebrand, much more sure of myself and kind of unwilling to accept that anybody else's opinion. If it wasn't just like mine was had any validity to it. I mean, that's also you can't be a good science communicator when you operate that way.

F 1:12:25 Yeah, I mean, my hope is that that is a lesson that has been learned, really, by the whole skeptic community is just to take a lighter touch, but to be firm in what you believe, but to not go after the cheap shots.

J 1:12:41 Well, that's true. And you know, there's a massively bigger fish to fry. I mean, we have, you know, we have people not getting vaccinated, we have people not believing in global warming. And I would even say, though, the flat earth thing, as the phenomenon of more and more people believing in it unfolds in front of us. You know, I would rather talk about that than Bigfoot right now. Because people are really, we need to get good information out there to kind of squelch that down as much as much as we can.

C 1:13:07 And also, we're lucky the Bigfoot believers are the fringe now, like, we know that and it doesn't mean that it's not still there. And it doesn't mean we don't still have work to do, but it's made its way to the fringe. You still see a couple of mainstream television shows, but there's a fringe vibe to them and component to them.

S 1:13:23 That's true. But at the same time, pseudoscience has worked its way into the mainstream of political discourse. In a way that wasn't real.

C 1:13:31 different topics like different constructs in

F 1:13:34 But pseudo everything has worked its way.

J 1:13:37 They relaunched In Search Of with Zachary Quinto. Yeah, that's in its second season now. And it's as bad as the first one ever was,

S 1:13:45 These things never go away.

B 1:13:47 Bad as it ever was.

S 1:13:48 But now on top of that, there's yeah, there's like hardcore pseudoscience that we have to deal with inside an island. War on expertise. And, yeah, yes, pseudo philosophy is like, they're just challenges to the underpinnings of side stuff like we're refighting philosophical wars, that we thought we won 200 years ago.

F 1:14:08 Yeah, but and my version of that is I get 18 year olds or 16 year olds who are sure they're going to die because Nibiru is gonna, and they live in terror. And you just, and you're just like, hi. Oh,

J 1:14:23 Fraser I gotta I got a question for you. Because you just reminded me of something. And I'm, I've been wanting to ask someone with your skill set. So when Phil Plate came out with death from death row Death from above the sky. It was you know, I've read the book when it came out. So it's quite a while but man, that book freaked me the hell out. Anything in that book that scares you?

F 1:14:49 No,

J 1:14:51 Like, every once in a while, Bob will be like, we could just get a gamma ray burst and zap the whole frickin solar system. You know?

F 1:15:00 Yeah, the one that should scare you the most is the very thin level event is no, the ones that you can be the most is the is the vacuum decay of the universe. Yeah. Right. The what's the one at some point somewhere in some corner of the universe, the universe drops into its final best energy state and a bubble expands at the speed of light that essentially converts this universe into the new universe. And poorly and, and everything is gone.

C 1:15:33 But why is that scary? That's like the best way to die.

F 1:15:36 Yeah, I guess so. Yeah.

C 1:15:37 Like, you don't even know it's happening.

B 1:15:40 get hit by a train. No, that's the entirety of the rules. This entire known universe heading. Oblivion is heading towards us at the speed of light. But the thing is, but the thing is, a Carrington level event from the sun to me is scarier, because sure vacuum decay, that could happen. Maybe it's like a week away. But the chances of that happening seem pretty remote. Whereas a Carrington level event where we've got a coronal mass ejection from the sun, that fries all modern technology, that's something that it's going to happen. I mean, that we had, we had 2014, a few years ago, we had a near miss, that that could happen. And the chances are actually very good that it's going to happen within the next 20 years. We got to prepare for that. Yeah, we're gonna take a hit.

C 1:16:23 Yeah. And it's almost worse, like something that doesn't kill you, but just makes your life horrible.

B 1:16:27 1700, standard 1700s. Overnight, you wake up and you're in the 1700s. Like, oh, boy, yeah,

S 1:16:33 Actually, Mission getting your opinion on this phrase, because I wrote about that recently on my blog. And there was serious discussion in the comments where people were claiming, it's going to be nothing. If we got hit it actually the the concerns are completely overblown, then all of the our infrastructure is already fine, because the it's not, the transformers are designed to go offline for a surge and all that. So that was very different than what I had previously read. So I looked into it further. Okay. What I basically discovered is that we have no idea what's going on, right?

F 1:17:13 Yes, that was the answer I was gonna give. I mean, I saw, I mean, in many cases, the electrical grid is run at capacity already. And the big problem with this, with the solar storms, when they hit is that they jam electrons through the wires, and they break things. And then, and we don't know where they'll break, and we don't know how badly they'll they'll break. And when they do break, then you need to replace that part. You need to swap out your router, you need to fix that, that transformer. And we saw we actually had that in Canada, in Quebec back in 1989, we had a pretty bad power outage that was caused by a solar storm. And it was that big chunk of Quebec, which is no picnic in the wintertime. Had no power. And a lot of people had a rough time of it.

E 1:18:01 Was that 1989?

F 1:18:01 I think so. Yeah, yeah. And so then, so what's the solution? Right, the solution is that you disaggregate the power system, because you're like, if the entire grid is one big circuit, and it breaks in any one spot, then the whole thing goes down. But if everybody's got their solar panels on the roof, and everybody's got their power wall, and everybody's got their electric car, then maybe my roof goes, but yours is fine. And and so you don't get that these cascading failures. So that's the solution. The solution is everybody has their own, you know, much smaller grids where power is shared. Yes, these authority. Yeah, your hydro thorium reactor.

C 1:18:41 Isn't it funny how civilization really does evolve in these weird like waves where we go from basically being off the grid to having these massive municipal kind of shared social grids. And then now we want to be back to being off the grid again.

F 1:18:56 Yes, well, we don't want to be off the grid. But we want to have our own grid.

S 1:18:59 You want to have micro grids.

C 1:19:01 That's what we often mean now when we say off the grid, right, is that it's like our own ver.. We don't want to be like no electricity, but we want to be able to provide our own power.

B 1:19:10 I want I want a fusion reactor buried 50 feet under my house that will supply electricity to my house for a century.

That's like my house. My thoughts on my backyard thorium reactors, and I'll be

F 1:19:20 I mean, it is kind of interesting to see like when you see what's happening with Starlink I mean, Musk link last week or Gwynne Shotwell said that they should be operational by mid 2020. So you should be able to buy your Starlink service by mid 2020. And that's high speed internet anywhere on anywhere in the US and Canada for now. But eventually, within a couple of years, anywhere on planet Earth, on your boat, on your car, in your cabin, wherever you want to go. And then you've got solar panels for your electricity like it's a preppers dream.

S 1:19:51 Yeah, what do you what do you think about the 30,000 satellites?

F 1:19:55 All right. Yeah, so So here's like, I think that we have to agree that letting helping people access the internet is important. And that, that it's at this point, we're at a point now where not having access to the internet is, is going to stop people from being able to essentially join the modern society. Yeah. So they're going to want to do it. And so then the question is, how are they going to want to do it right now, there are 5 million cell towers around the world. There are underwater cables, submarine cables that are ground through sensitive marine environments. And then there are fiber optic cables that are dug through deserts and forests, and cities and all kinds of places. So so the spread of internet to every corner of this earth already is a massive undertaking, and causes just an enormous impact on the environment. The in theory, you get yourself 30,000, or 42,000 satellites is the is the final number. They have almost no impact on the terrestrial environment, they do cause make the night sky worse. But what do they do, they then provide internet to the other 5 billion people who currently don't have internet. And so like, I'm an astro photographer, I depend on taking pictures of the night sky that don't have a million satellite trails running through them, it is going to be a huge pain. And that's just for me to make pretty pictures of space. And the scientists are going to be doing this are going to have an even harder time when you think about things like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope that's taking pictures of the night sky, they're gonna have multiple satellites in every picture that they take. So it's, they're gonna have to do processing, it's gonna be a lot of sky pollution.

C 1:21:41 Right? Gosh, like, yeah, mapped. It's not like they can't just remove them from like,

F 1:21:46 ever been there? Where they are is everywhere. So no matter where you look, you're gonna see a ton of them flying through your field of view.

C 1:21:53 Yeah, but what I'm saying is it sure they'll block things and their light will will obstruct things, but it's not like they can't. They're aware of their positions. The same way any researcher who's studying something where something's in the way,

F 1:22:07 yeah, so it makes your job measurably worse. So So in other words, like when I take pictures and an airplane passes through, I have to throw out that frame. And so if I took 20 frames, one of them is useless. And I only took 19 frames, and so I only get 19 frames of data. So So from an astronomer point of view, it's going to be bad. No question. But I look at and we're not gonna be able to really see them, especially the ones on the higher orbit, like you can't see the star links right now. You can see them when they first launched. But But once they settled into their final orbit, most people most of the time can't see them at all.

C 1:22:39 Yeah, that's what I was going to ask like, how much more polluting not for astronomers, but for regular people? Are they than like light pollution?

F 1:22:48 So not at all. So for the vast majority of humanity, they're not gonna be able to see them all. If you're in dark skies, and they're and some of them are close to the horizon. They might be bright. But even that still is a question. So. So I think that, that we have to assume my perspective on this is that we have to assume that the rest of humanity wants internet. And then the question is, how are they going to get there Internet, and the the environmental impact of getting that next three and a half billion people onto the internet is going to be dramatically more than the 5 million cell towers that have already been put in all the undersea cables that are already run, it's going to be a lot worse, it's going to be an order of magnitude worse, because you need to stretch your internet out to the four corners of the planet. So a satellite system like this makes a ton of sense. And the price we pay is maybe a worst night sky. For the people who live in really nice, dark skies, they're going to see satellites. But if you've ever been in dark skies, you see satellites all the time already. So it's going to be that but worse. And for astronomers, it's going to suck, like really suck. And hopefully more space telescopes will come online, but the ground based observatories are going to be made worse. And then the question is, is that a price that humanity should be willing to pay? Are we willing to pay for a for worse astronomical science in exchange for the rest of humanity getting access to the internet? Now if and I actually, if you go back, I've got a tweet to and from Elon Musk, where he promises I said, you know, essentially that that if it brings if he's able to let the other half of humanity affordably access the internet, then it's a price I'm willing to pay. And if it's just used to help trading, you know, rich banks trade faster, then it's not a price I'm willing to pay. I want to have my astrophotos not have satellite trails run through them. So it really just depends if this changes humanity and allows more people to access the internet. I think that it's in the end, it's worth doing. And if not, then Elon Musk can stick his satellites where the sun don't shine. It's up to him.

S 1:24:58 Hey, guys know what time it is? Yep, it's time for science or fiction.

F 1:25:02 Oh, hey.

Science or Fiction (1:25:03)[edit]

Answer Item
Fiction 54% female, 46% male
Science 700,000 active casts
% monthly listeners
Host Result
Rogue Guess

Voiceover: It's time for Science or Fiction.

Theme: Podcast Stats
Item #1: There are currently 700,000 active podcasts.[1]
Item #2: 32% of Americans are monthly podcast listeners.[2]
Item #3: 54% of US podcast consumers are female, while 46% are male.[3]

S 1:25:16 Each week I come up with three science news items or facts two real and one fake and then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. I have a theme this week. What do you think the theme is?

F 1:25:32 Biology modern space, right?

S 1:25:34 No, you're all incorrect. No, it's not space or astronomy or anything to do with any of your areas of expertise. Fraser, except perhaps this. I thought it leveled the playing field for everybody. The theme is podcasting.

E 1:25:50 Okay. Okay.

S 1:25:52 Since you've all done that. So had a few statistics about podcasting. One of them is incorrect. Are you ready? So be quick. All right, item number one. There are currently 700,000 active podcasts. Item number 2, 32% of Americans, are monthly podcast listeners. Its monthly or greater. And item number 3, 54% of US podcast consumers are female. While 46% are male. Fraser, you as our guest, you get the honor of going first.

Fraser Response[edit]

F 1:26:29 Alright, so the the distribution of genders that seems about right to me, everybody has a phone. Everybody likes to listen to podcasts. The second one that 32% of Americans are monthly. That seems right. I mean, I think a lot of people are, are still getting into it. It's growing, but it's still not entirely there. So 32% seems like it's taking off but it's not 100% yet, like television, whatever. So now I'm gonna say that first one and only because I think that number is low. You say 700,000. That feels like a fraction of what it really is. Everybody makes a podcast. People have multiple podcasts.

S 1:27:05 That's what I hear. Alright, so you think that that one's the fiction.

F 1:27:08 I think number one is a fake.

S 1:27:09 Okay, Evan.

Evan Response[edit]

E 1:27:10 Well, I'm on two podcasts that are active. So count count two right there. I'm leaning towards Fraser being correct on this. I think we're an order of magnitude off here. We're maybe in the 7 million mark for active podcasts rather than 700,000. So I will go with Fraser.

S 1:27:27 Okay, Bob.

Bob Response[edit]

B 1:27:27 Two and three seem seem pretty good. 32% One in three are monthly podcast listeners. I think that might be that sounds a little high. I think there's a lot of a lot of people especially you know, 60 and above that probably don't even know what podcasts are. That seems a little high, but not not egregiously so, and the third one the ratio of the gender ratio seems right but I mean, I guess I could be surprised maybe that maybe it's a little higher more you know, even more female than male. But the but the first one to 700,000 active I think it's higher as well. So I'll say that's fiction.

S 1:28:01 Okay, Cara.

Cara Response[edit]

C 1:28:02 I'm breaking from you guys hardcore on this. I think absolutely. The last one, 54% of consumers are female is wrong. And I've been doing my podcast for like six years, over six years, I've been selling podcast ads, and podcasts skew male. I remember once, and I have a very high listenership of men. And I Yeah, and it bugs me because I have a gender I actually have more women guests than male guests. And it's a woman run podcast. And I still struggle with having like 75% of my listeners are male. I, part of that is because my podcast is a science podcast, but I always was under the impression that part of that was because fundamentally podcast skew male. And so a female skewing podcast actually, often still is not hitting the 50% mark. So I think that that's the one that I'm going to say is the fiction.

F 1:28:52 So my YouTube audience, my YouTube audience is 91.7% male and 8.3% female. Yikes. Yeah, yeah. Science. Yeah.

S 1:29:03 Wow. All right, Jay. Jay, it's all to you,

Jay Response[edit]

J 1:29:06 Steve. Of course, you picked me last because you know, if there's anything that I can spew statistics about it says because that's all like

S 1:29:15 Thanksgiving, Apollo and podcasting.

J 1:29:18 Well, no, I mean, no, I do. I'm doing marketing. I'm doing marketing. I'm good. Definitely. Yeah, teeth. When hair product marketing statistics that I use in South America, Steve, I mean, I can actually speak very intelligently about all this. You want me to go do it. Okay. All right, last, the first one about 700,000 active podcasts, the key word is active. There are definitely millions upon millions of podcasts that have existed, but the active number is actually a lot smaller than you would think because people there's a high abandon rate. People People don't podcast for like they'll go six months and then they'll quit and that's why whenever I give people advice, I was just actually giving someone advice two days ago about how to start a podcast and I said, you have to stick with it from one to two years in order to know if you're gonna if you're going to actually go anywhere you can't do like the isn't the flash in the pan thing. It just isn't likely thing to have happen. So bottom line is absolutely. I would even dare say the number could even be lower than that. On the second one there 32% of Americans are podcast listeners. Yeah, I mean, I would I my gut is telling me that that number is higher. But I could see that you could have found that statistic. My gut is going to say something maybe more in a high 30s. Maybe low 40s.

C 1:30:40 You're saying at least once per month by month. Okay. Yeah,

J 1:30:44 yeah. And then the last one is extraordinarily wrong. This one. The the male podcasting audience is much larger than the female podcasting audience. I mean, the statistics here get a little crazy, because we can start talking about things like the over habitual listeners or people that are listening to seven or more podcasts a week, and then how much that even more skews towards men. But there's definitely sub pockets to this data. But yeah, in general, there's more men listening to podcasts than women hands down. That one is absolutely the fiction.

C 1:31:17 Hey, Jay, I hope you're right.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S 1:31:19 All right. So you guys all agree on the middle one. 30% of Americans are monthly podcast listeners, you think that figure is about right. And that one is? Science? Yep. 32% and 22% 22% are weekly, 22% weekly. 70% 70% are familiar with podcasting. Finally, which means that 30% aren't familiar with podcasting, which is amazing.

J 1:31:49 So Steve, as funny as this might sound I my last read on that was about 40%. So I'm not sure if your number's correct.

S 1:31:56 Really, because 40% monthly, annually. It these are 2019 statistics. I don't know what to say about that.

J 1:32:04 I mean, my the statistics I'm using are literally real time. You know what I mean? Like,

S 1:32:08 so this is I'm using a, a infographic, it's podcasting statistics. 2019 It's the latest ones I could find. Okay.

J 1:32:17 I mean, I would I would say just in general, though, I mean, okay, that's fine. And you can there's lots of ways to measure the numbers, and we don't even need to get into that. But

S 1:32:25 yeah, real time numbers may be higher. But this, you know, this may be six months old. I don't know. But it's 2019. It's close enough. Close enough. Let's move on.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S 1:32:25 All right. Let's go back to number one. There are currently 700,000 active podcasts. Some of you think there are more than that. Some of you think there might be fewer than that. Is active the key word is J suggests. Yes. Cara and J. You think this one is science? They're hoping this one is.. Science! Yeah. Cara and J Yeah. Yep. 700,000 active podcast. It was 550,000 a year ago. So that's it's still increasing. But yeah, that's active. So

C 1:33:11 Jays advice is paying off?

J 1:33:13 We've had a massive many more or abandoned? Yeah. The amount of YouTube channels and, you know, active podcasts are the numbers explode, explode, but then you got to look at the attrition rate. Because the attrition rate is so interesting, when you watch like the false starts and all that, you know, the people want to jump in and they don't stick with it. I bet you that there, I would love to know, there's no way to find out. But I bet you that a decent percentage of new shows if they stuck with it would find a footing. Yeah, you know, it's because what happens is you get you get this, you get this fatigue that sets in and you know, anybody that's made it in podcasting knows exactly what I'm talking about there is this fatigue that you have to allow to become a part of your reality because it is fatiguing to do this. It's like very you know, I would say repetitive but there is a very repetitive nature about it.

S 1:34:05 Right? However Think of it like your job. How do you do this, but it's for fourteen years seven, this episode is 750.

F 1:34:14 750 Yeah. Five, we just record 545 for Astronomy Cast.

Yeah, it's adorable.

C 1:34:22 And I'm at like two eighty something

F 1:34:24 Well, and we, we take the summer off. So because we don't have the endurance that you do.

C 1:34:31 And the thing is, too, that I think a lot of people don't realize is that as much as you have to treat it like it's a job, you can't have the expectations that it'll pay you like a job. Right? What happens is that people think within three months they're going to be making a salary doing this, and that just isn't the case the market is flooded. There are too many highly produced podcasts now. Like you have to really love podcasting and you have to love the content because you're probably not I pay my mortgage with my podcast my second Podcast, which actually was my first podcast before I joined you guys, that's a very successful podcast that I can pay my mortgage using it. But I still couldn't survive off of my podcast income. Yeah.

F 1:35:12 I haven't taken a salary from Astronomy Cast yet. So

C 1:35:15 there you go. Yeah. I mean, that's very common. You do it because you love it. And, you know, a lot of people don't expect that. They think they're going to be rich because they see what you know, This American Life is pulling in or what Joe Rogan's pulling in,

J 1:35:27 I was just joking about how YouTube if humanity were to collapse, and, you know, we need to preserve YouTube, because the amount of important data that people put into it, you know, how to freaking fix, you know, your oil heater in your basement how to how to unclog it, I had to actually look up advice on how to unclog a super clogged toilet. Almost always go to YouTube first for instruction.. Yeah, yeah. So but anything, but podcasts have, oh, my god, the cultural integrity in the sense of podcasts, the historical references that podcasting does is profound.

S 1:36:06 29 million episodes have been published.

C 1:36:08 Holy crap. I actually have a colleague who just defended his thesis in clinical psychology. And he used podcasting as his data analysis tool. He was looking at, like high performing athletes. And so he combed through a bunch of interviews with these people in podcasts and was able to do a bunch of data analysis on the way that they answered their questions.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S 1:36:29 So what what so that's right, so 54% of US podcast consumers are female, while 46% are male. That's, that is fiction to what is the number? What do you guys think?

C 1:36:38 I would like to say that you just flipped them. But my concern is that maybe it's even worse, 90 ten. No, it's not that bad. It's not that high. It's probably more like 60 40.

S 1:36:52 That's Yes, Jay, what's your guess?

J 1:36:54 I mean, my, my guess is probably a little bit higher than Cara's, like I would I would go I would go above 60. Probably. And I also, you know, we could talk we were gonna get into any of the real details. But it does depend on the podcast, this is the average. Yeah. But if you see like a graph of the content types, and the male female spread, I mean, it's, it's pretty interesting and predictable, to be honest.

C 1:37:20 Well, yeah, like true crime or narrative storytelling, those, those might skew a little more female. But almost all of science skews like brutally male.

S 1:37:28 Yeah, I think you guys may be a little biased because we're in the science podcasting. The statistics, again, according to this resource. So they have 52% male 48% female.

C 1:37:38 That's good to know that that gap. That's pretty cool.

S 1:37:40 I did find, I flipped it to make it enough, fictiony enough, but yeah, it was pretty close to 52 to 48.

J 1:37:47 Yeah, I guess what I'm looking at Steve is the number that sticks in my head is the SGU audience.

S 1:37:54 It's a science podcast it definitely skews more male.

B 1:37:57 It's a pretty minor flip you did there, Steve.

J 1:37:59 But Bob, it isn't it isn't a minor flip. I know that the numbers look deceptively close, but they're not. And you have to undergo this. I had love saying this. You it's an 8% shift. You're not understanding the statistics there, Bob, it's not you know, like, it's a big difference.

B 1:38:15 I'm just going I'm just going by historically the kind of shifts that Steve does. And this is not typical.

S 1:38:21 It depends on it depends on how the numbers are being. It's not applicable to every way to look at numbers, the order of magnitude, you know, I mean, like in percentages, you can't do an order of magnitude with percentages.

C 1:38:32 Yeah that's true. But you don't think I mean,

S 1:38:34 It just has to be enough. I hear what you're saying Bob. I thought very carefully that how much do I have to make this to make it enough of an infection so that I did it as much as at the minimum I thought I needed to such, especially since I was flipping this the sign? You know, there was you had to believe that there were more female? Yeah podcast listeners. Yeah. And that's what I'm in Cara. Cara picked up on that. That was the thing that made it the fiction,

F 1:39:00 Although I wonder how much it's how quickly it is changing? Because yeah, I'm sure if you went back 10 years, it would be it would be 80% male, 20% female right? And then so it's, it's caught up quickly. And will it hit parity, or will it actually accelerate beyond? Is it I think it might accelerate? Yeah, it's podcasting will it find that it's more or listen to women, then then by that so

S 1:39:24 here, here are the top five podcasting genres. I'll just tell you here at the front science is not in them. Top five. Society and culture, business, comedy, news and politics and health. Yeah, you know, those are all I think, pretty even male female kind of topics.

E 1:39:42 you know, almost like sections of your newspaper, how it used to work.

S 1:39:46 Health is actually probably skews more female, business maybe a little bit more male, the other ones probably all equal.

J 1:39:51 I would like to say that I loved the show. It was so much fun listening to all the you know, first off I completely trust the source, so hearing Fraser talk to us, you know, knowing that I could just let it sink in to the inner you know, inner molecules of my brain, which is the inner Jay. It's fun. It was great to have the the on the spot answers and all that data. Wow, man, you have a catalogue of data in your head about space.

F 1:40:19 It's it's true. The, you know what the things you publish are valuable for

S 1:40:24 You should publish a journal or something. that yeah,

F 1:40:26 I should do. I should do a YouTube video. The thing that's been most valuable to me is doing things live. So I do a ton of live question shows, things like that. And every time I get something wrong, I get my wrist slapped and and then I don't get it wrong next time. And yeah. And so after a while, all this data just gets into my head, and it's kind of terrifying. Now I need it out. It's beaten into you. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, but I do I highly recommend putting yourself in this environment where you have to tackle this stuff live because it just sharpens the sharpens the mind. I feel like I'm a much better science communicator today than I was years ago.

S 1:41:07 Yeah. All right, Evan, give us a quote.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:41:09)[edit]

The deflation of some of our more common conceits is one of the practical applications of astronomy.
Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

Signoff/Announcements (1:41:17)[edit]

S 1:41:17 Yeah, that sounds like that's Sagan-esque.

E 1:41:19 Oh, it's so Sagan-esque. Humility, folks.

S 1:41:24 Yeah, thanks, Evan. Yes, so Fraser. This was awesome. Thank you for joining us.

F 1:41:29 And don't Don't be such strangers anytime.

S 1:41:31 Yeah, we won't be 10 more years. Right? We will. We won't require some fan to pretend to be your agent to trick me to having.. so brilliant. Yeah, we're doing well. All right. Thank you guys for joining me for this.

S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at Send your questions to And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.

Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[4]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description


  1. Music Oomph: Podcast Statistics (2019) – Infographic
  2. [url_from_SoF_show_notes publication: title]
  3. [url_from_SoF_show_notes publication: title]
  4. [url_for_TIL publication: title]


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