April 12, 2014 12:00 pm

Black Holes, Alien Gummy Bears & Conspiracy Theories – This Sunday on StarTalk!

Alien Bear Courtesy of Wikia, posted by Bas Slinger

Credit: Courtesy of Wikia, posted by Bas Slinger on http://naughtybear.wikia.com/wiki/File:Alien-bear.jpg

As I’ve written before, we get more science questions from our fans than Neil can possibly ever answer. Sure, he’s your personal astrophysicist, and you have every right to ask him anything you want, but there are a lot of you.

So these questions just pile up and pile up until we can answer them in a new episode of Cosmic Queries, like the one we’ll be posting this Sunday night, Cosmic Queries: A Stellar Sampling.

For most Cosmic Queries episodes, we have a theme, like last week’s Cosmic Queries: Venus with guest host Dr. FunkySpoon. But for some, we gather up your questions that didn’t fit into a theme and answer them anyway. Cosmic Queries Grab Bag and Cosmic Queries Powerful Potpourri were both shows like that, and so is this week’s show.

But when you listen to this week’s episode, you may notice there is sort of a theme running through the questions. Conspiracy theories, out of the box ideas, strange hypotheses and the kinds of questions philosophers ask, rather than scientists. As Neil says, just because you can align verbs and nouns to sound like a question, doesn’t mean it’s an actual question, such as “What flavor cheese is the moon made of?” or “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

Take the question, “Is the government secretly using HAARP to manipulate the weather?” Anybody who has ever worked closely with the government will appreciate Neil’s answer to this one.

Or the question, “Is there a speed of dark?” We’ve had fans ask that more than once, from the audience of StarTalk Live!, from the “Questions” tab on our website, and across our social media channels. Not only does Neil answer the question here, but he also provides an experiment you can do to prove it.

As we’ve said before, our producers sort through all the questions to narrow them down to a few dozen, and then our comic co-hosts choose the questions during our recording session. Neil hasn’t heard them at all, but frequently, our co-hosts are reading them for the first time as well. Which is why it’s so much fun when a co-host like Eugene Mirman starts reading a question because it looked interesting, and then it just goes on and on and on. They never seem as long when you read them in your head as when you have to say them out loud in front of a microphone. There’s one of those questions in this episode… you’ll know it when you hear Eugene asking it.

Of course, most of the questions in this episode represent learning opportunities for any of us who don’t know the answer. For instance, “If hot air rises, why is air colder at higher temperatures?” Once you know the answer, it makes sense, but if you don’t, it’s an intriguing question. Or, “How do we know what our galaxy looks like if we’ve never been outside of it?” Or, “What happens to the energy sucked into black holes when they die?” Or, “What’s the best use for plasma rockets and ion drives?” Or, “Could we use quantum teleportation to explore the inside of a black hole?” Or even, “If you took a jar into the vacuum of space, opened it, and then sealed it, would there be a vacuum inside the jar?”

And then there are the questions that seem wacky (especially when Eugene reads them!) but actually give Neil an interesting opportunity to answer rationally. Like, “How would you communicate with a 3-meter tall intelligent alien “gummy bear” that doesn’t speak any human languages?”

I don’t know about you, but for me, the answer to that question alone makes this an episode worth listening to.

After all, how would you feel if, some day soon, you were confronted by a 3-meter tall alien gummy bear and you end up starting an intergalactic war over a misunderstanding because you didn’t listen to StarTalk Radio?

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!

–Jeffrey Simons

Get the most out of StarTalk!

Ad-Free Audio Downloads
Ad-Free Video Episodes
Stickers & Mugs
Live Streams with Neil
Priority Cosmic Queries
Early-Access Videos
Learn the Meaning of Life
...and much more