June 15, 2013 3:53 pm

Preview this Sunday’s Show – Cosmic Queries: Answers at the Speed of Light

Photo of multiple lighting strikes as might ocurr on a lightning farm

One of the most enjoyable parts of watching the recording of an episode of Cosmic Queries on StarTalk Radio is watching astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson answer questions on the fly.

He really hasn’t ever seen the question before the comic co-host asks it. The comic co-host is scanning through page after page of questions that have been provided by you, our fans, to find ones he or she thinks Neil will like, or might not be able to answer, or might be fun. (Yes, it’s true, our co-hosts have been guilty of playing “Try and Stump the Astrophysicist” on occasion.)

In this Sunday’s episode, Leighann Lord asked Neil, “Is there a way to harness lightning energy to make an efficient lightning farm?”

To which Neil replied, “That’s the first I’ve heard of this, and I think it’s amazing, and I can even explain how it works, even though I only just learned of it.”

I don’t want to talk about the answer, which you can hear for yourself tomorrow night.

What I want to talk about is physics.

The other day, my daughter asked me what physics was, and I answered, “It’s the science of the way things work.” And then she asked me, “So then what is astrophysics?” And I said, “The way the universe works.” Now I know that was a bit of a throwaway answer, and that a real answer would be much more in-depth. But I’m practicing giving my eight-year-old daughter an answer she can use, and not boring her to death with an exhaustive treatise. (Or, to paraphrase my wife, when my daughter asks, “Where do babies come from” I shouldn’t launch into a discussion of DNA, ovums and spermatozoa.)

“The way things work.” I never appreciated science in school. I took all the required science courses, but physics wasn’t required, so I never took it. And I really think I missed out on something. Somehow, I never got the memo that if I studied physics, I’d understand how the world works around me. And even if I hadn’t ever encountered the problem before, I’d have the right tools to figure out an answer, or at least to come up with a pretty good hypothesis.

So it’s fun for me to watch Neil, my personal astrophysicist (don’t get jealous, he’s yours too!) figure something out on the fly. My all time favorite moment from a Cosmic Queries recording session came when someone asked Neil how much time would pass on Earth if one flew at the speed of light to the nearest black hole, stayed there for a year, and came home, or something to that effect. And Neil didn’t reach for his ever-present laptop to figure out the answer. He grabbed a yellow pad and a pen and started doing equations.

“The way things work.” It’s a heck of a concept. Imagine what life could be like if everyone in the world actually knew how the world around them worked?

By the way, you can watch the Cosmic Queries video below. It picks up after the break, after Neil finished his calculations, which he then explains, and which you can see on the yellow pad around 1:14 into the video. As for this week’s episode of StarTalk Radio: Cosmic Queries: Answers at the Speed of Light, that will be available on iTunes, Stitcher, and our website this Sunday night at 7:00 PM ET.


That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Jeffrey Simons

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