October 21, 2015 7:58 pm

Ready to be inspired? Listen to Friday’s Extended Classic: Madame Saturn: A Conversation with Carolyn Porco (Part 2)

Along with Carl Sagan, Carolyn Porco was responsible for Voyager 1 taking this image of Earth, known as "The Pale Blue Dot." Credit: NASA/JPL.

The Pale Blue Dot, 1990. As Carl Sagan said, “Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.” Credit: NASA/JPL.

We’ve had some great episodes of StarTalk with some stellar guests, but only two of our podcasts have ever been called “inspiring” by our fans more often than this Friday’s conclusion to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s interview with his friend, planetary scientist Carolyn Porco. (If you’re curious about the others, they both feature Nichelle Nichols: A Conversation with Nichelle Nichols and NASA and Nichelle Nichols.)

If don’t know who Carolyn Porco is, or you’ve never heard this episode before, what can you expect?

Dr. Porco leads the Cassini Imaging Team, the folks responsible for bringing us all the jaw-dropping photos of Saturn, Enceladus, Titan, Jupiter and more.

But that’s just one of her many accomplishments.

You’ll hear Carolyn tell Neil how the JPL hierarchy dismissed her radical idea to modify Voyager 1 to take a photo of the Earth from out in space, the same way she discovered they’d done to Carl Sagan two years earlier. So she and Carl joined forces… and the rest is history, or at least, a photograph that has gone down in history as one of the most paradigm-shifting photographs ever taken: The Pale Blue Dot.

She talks about her efforts as Cassini Imaging Team leader, to not only take a picture of Earth from Saturn, but also to tell people in advance so they could participate. “…how better to let them know how far humans have come in the exploration of the solar system: it becomes something personal to them.” It wasn’t easy, but the result was The Day the Earth Smiled, a picture that made page 1 of the NY Times.

But it is her influence on pop culture, or at least, Hollywood, that may be even more surprising. She tells Neil about how she met JJ Abrams, and her influence on his reboot of the Star Trek franchise (and how she could have helped them avoid a pretty ridiculous scientific faux pas if only they’d asked her). And she talks about working with Carl, Ann Druyan, and the producer and director of the movie Contact to flesh out the character of Ellie Arroway, played by Jodi Foster in the movie.

The funniest part of the episode is when she discusses the 1999 The New York Times interview where they asked Carolyn why she never married, but I’ll let you hear that from Dr. Porco herself.

If you’ve never heard this classic episode before, I can’t recommend it more highly.

And if you have, you should listen anyway, because we’ve extended this episode with more than 12 minutes of new Cosmic Queries, featuring Neil, co-host Chuck Nice and guest Bill Nye.

Join us Friday, October 23 at 7:00pm EDT on our website, or on iTunesPodcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher and TuneIn.

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


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