Cosmic Queries: Exploration

Credit: NASA

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About This Episode

In our latest Cosmic Queries episode, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and comic co-host Leighann Lord answer your questions about exploration. From the depths of the ocean to the outer reaches of the galaxy and beyond, the two explore practical questions about the most efficient way for humans to get into space on a recurring basis (Space Elevator vs. chemical rocket), the likelihood of NASA using ion propulsion thrusters for travel within our solar system, and the feasibility of an interstellar probe to Alpha Centauri using existing technology. They also tackle theoretical questions, such as whether we’ll ever be capable of generating enough power to explore the higher dimensions, leading to a discussion of the book, Flatland.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Cosmic Queries: Exploration.

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  • Wesley

    Here’s hoping we can get to Alpha Centauri by 2100! Also, props for the Jack Johnson, Jeff!

    • Jeff

      Thanks, Wesley. I’ll pass the props on to the responsible party.

  • Woooooooooooooooo! New episode!

  • I am a Marine Biologist and I fully agree that space is cooler than the ocean.
    Ice Volcanos rule!!

  • Grant

    Hi Neil and Leighann,
    Fact Checking:
    Proxmia is Latin
    Incorrect, not 1950s
    Frank Herbert’s Dune was written in 1965
    And I can not wait to see Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune
    If we are bound by time the 4th dimension, and some how were to escape our corporal forms would we then enter into another dimension, Castaneda-like, similar to a experience with dimethyltryptamine, astral projection, or an OBE, Could any of these unscientifically explored method achieve temporary access to another dimension? Or would we have to be able to experience “our own” past in order escape the grasp of time? And is this in our opinion pseudo sci-fy dreaming?
    Also a question on multiple universes what would the complete opposite of our universe look like?
    And for it to exist must we be in symbiosis balancing of energy?
    Anti-matter universe vs. matter universe?
    I throughly enjoyed this startalk, and can not wait for more.

  • vianel

    Yay! I love this show!

  • Sandra

    I’m a fan of this podcast, but I’m getting a little tired of the self promotion. Every segment (several within each show) begins with NDT and the guest host promoting their respective twitter accounts. Once per episode is okay, but every segment and then to say “we’re out of time” on the Q&A, is annoying.

  • Good show! BUT funding is not tied to popularity. I have a Utahraptor family trapped in quicksand; what is sexier than that! Lots of interest but no funding and the state will match whatever I generate. Hell, I’m a cheap date. Well in Deep Time vs, Deep Space, I surrender.

  • Skip

    Q1. xkcd did an interesting “What if?” article this week on interplanetary cessna Randall came to the conclusion that flight should be possible on Titan. What are your thoughts on this? Wouldn’t it be cool if we made a robot explorer that flew around taking pictures? Perhaps landing in interesting places on the planet/moon? How could we refuel such an explorer?

    Q2. How far away are we from being able to explore Proxima Centauri? When will we have vehicles that move in the .75C+ speeds?

  • Keith Wright

    Discussions concerning ion drives reminds me of a book, Tau Zero by science fiction writer Anderson which describes a method of propulsion where the object is 1G acceleration via a drive that sounds a lot like ion drive, except a hydrogen collector to collect interstellar gas provides the fuel. At first the amount of gas collected wouldn’t be much due to the relative vacuum of space but after accelerating at 1G for a time through fuel that you could carry the volume of gas collected increased to the point of self sustainability. 1G acceleration would eventually bring you to a large percentage of the speed of light but because of the increased mass of the craft the collector would have to consume nebula, then star systems and after a point whole galaxies to maintain 1G. While impractical in practice I’ve always enjoyed the concept.

    • Jeff

      Keith, I (Jeff) have always been a big Poul Anderson fan, mostly his Technic series. I never read Tau Zero, so thanks for an addition to my suggested reading list.

  • Fred

    I was wondering if Neil has seen the movie, The Cube.

    If he has does he have any thoughts on the concept of a multidimensional puzzle being a series of connected cube. Each cube being alternate versions of reality of yourself or other people in your original cube.. you climb from one cube directly into other cubes trying to find the way out of the puzzle, and certain death.. ta daaaa! 🙂

  • Kevin Despot

    love the series and everything I’ve seen on youtube. Neil, you’re my hero! (btw, I expect a discount at the planetarium for that ; ) )

    2 part question: despite the geo-political-economic situation on the ground, what would you like to see as humankinds’ next big step into the stars? What do you see as realistic, and hopefully fortuitous, for our exploration?

  • Lily

    Love this series & Dr. deGrasse Tyson!

  • Just discovered this radio program on March 6. How can I become an insider or e-mail fan.
    Neil is my favorite scientist of them all
    He keeps it real with a little comic relief so as not scare us too much

    • Jeff

      Sherrion, we don’t really have “insiders” we’re open to everyone. But you can subscribe to our newsletter at, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ (links at the top of the page!) and you can subscribe to our YouTube Channel at Welcome to our corner of the universe, Sherrion. Now get out there and tell your friends about us.

  • Anna

    The Marianas trench (actually, the Sirena deep) is off the coast of Guam, not the Philippines!!

  • Drew

    Proxima Centauri is Latin for the Near (the) Centaur

  • msfrost

    Bustard Ramjet.

  • Since finding Star Talk I have been listening to the shows in backward order so forgive the 18-months-too-late-comment. In Flatland the Circles were actually the highest caste in society. They were shapes who had been bestowed so many corners that they had become imperceptibly distinguishable from a circle as we see it. Female shapes (à la Victorian society) are all straight lines who “got no dap”. 🙂

    • startalkradio

      Nothing to forgive. Thanks for the comment!

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