Quasar Drenched in Water Vapor. Image credit: NASA/ESA
Quasar Drenched in Water Vapor. Image credit: NASA/ESA

Cosmic Queries: Grab Bag

Quasar Drenched in Water Vapor. Image credit: NASA/ESA

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About This Episode

Join us for a unique Cosmic Queries ‘Grab Bag” where astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and comic co-host Chuck Nice answer your questions that didn’t make it into other episodes. Questions like, “If an astronaut dies in space, what do the other astronauts do with the body?” “What is spring like on Jupiter and Mars?” “What exactly is a Quasar?” “Why do planets revolve around the Sun in the same plane?” “Why do neutron stars have magnetic fields?” “How fast would you have to throw a baseball on the Moon to have it orbit back to yourself?” “Would gravity exist if mass wasn’t in motion?” “Is it a good idea for NASA to plan a manned mission to Mars?” “Can you hear yourself scream in space?” “How can we see light that was created 13 billion years ago after the Big Bang?” Throw in a couple of Doctor Who questions and it’s an eclectic assortment guaranteed to get your brain buzzing.

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

In This Episode

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  • Baran Aslım

    is it me, or is chuck kind of mean in this episode? I don’t remember him making fun of people like this before.

  • Michael Levy

    What would happen to a star that was hit by the energy jet from a nearby quasar?

  • Dave

    2/9 of 18000 is 4000.

  • Rachel

    How long does it take for a recording to end up as a podcast? I ask because I recognize these questions from a video posted on Youtube some time ago.

    • Jeff

      Good catch, Rachel. The Lightning Round is a YouTube video. To answer your question, some podcasts take longer than others to make it on air, and there’s no set schedule. As for the YouTube Videos, those are “Behind the Scenes” and it is definitely the case that some of those get put up much sooner than the full show podcasts do. Also, we have a backlog of Behind the Scenes videos, so some of them may be posted months after the podcasts, too.

  • amazingly fun! thank you!

  • Tilted

    I was happy to finally hear Neil describe seasons in terms of axial tilt. Thanks for this great episode guys!

  • Sabrina Wachter

    First time I’ve listened to “Star Talk”. I will be back; the show is absolutely interesting and fun (this from someone who grew up watching Gemini and Apollo launches on TV in the classroom)

    • Jeff

      Welcome, Sabrina.

  • Tilted

    I also want to quibble with something Neil said re: the decomposition of bodies on Mars, the Moon, or some other airless, lifeless rock in space. Like Chuck said, it’s morbid, but I hope for a considered response.

    If the temperature on the rock is hot enough, wouldn’t some of the anaerobic microorganisms that humans host in their bodies continue to eke out an existence? Wouldn’t these microorganisms decompose the body, to some degree?

    I can get that vacuum might kill many of these organisms, but the various body cavities, which I understand can remain intact within the body even in a vacuum, should be able to maintain some kind of habitable, pressured environment for microbes.

    I would think the body could/would be decayed from the inside out by these microbes, even on an airless, lifeless rock, for as long as the body wasn’t frozen – i.e., if the temperatures were warm enough for liquid water in the corpse’s abdominal/thoracic cavities, and they had not ruptured open to vacuum.

  • Samuel Balevski

    Dear Neil,

    Have you changed your mind on the way you want to be buried in the future ?

    You have said that you wanted to feed the fauna and flora as they have fed you in the past, but you now say you would like to be buried in space.

    What would you think would be more appropriate ? Or would you simply flip a coin on the choice.

  • Blaed Hutchinson

    Wow, i didn’t think you guys knew about Ayreon! great band with awesome sci fi themed music. You should look into Dark Tranquility. It’s heavy metal but this song always reminds me of the Big Bang.


  • Mark Collins

    Actually, even the Sun was destroyed in that episode. An exploding TARDIS provided the same energy as the sun per the episode. The Doctor mentioned that even the Sun was gone, and another character asked “Then what’s that?” and points to what they thought was the sun. “That’s the TARDIS exploding”.

  • Gus Centrone

    Thank you for answering my question in the new podcast, Dr. Tyson!

  • Alex Davidson

    What would happen if a planet was orbiting a star that was inside a nebula(so that the planet was going through the actual gas cloud)? Would it have a very thick atmosphere?

  • Haythem Mohamed


    Secondly, how does the bending of space (and light) affect our observations of the universe? Do we use mathematics to calculate the actual position/shape/nature of the things we observe extremely far out in space? I just want some interesting info about what light does in space!

    Thanks guys!

  • Jonathan Merriman

    What would happen if 2 black holes collided ?

  • David Macht

    When will science finally start pushing corporations and Governments to start investing heavily in furthering space exploration?

  • Tilted

    @ Alex Davidson – If the planet is orbiting the star, then the nebula should be pulled by the star’s gravity also, since the planet is being pulled into its orbit by the star.

    However, all stars also produce a solar wind of radioactive particles and rays, which should push gaseous nebular material away in all directions.

    The combination of these two forces might pull the nebular material into orbit around the star, near its heliopause. It may freeze into a cometary ring, if the material becomes dense enough.

    I’m guessing that the Voyagers are the space probes that are producing the data that will be able to most accurately answer your question at the current time with the current technology – they are passing into/through the heliopause, which is a theoretical barrier where the sun’s solar wind is stopped by the interstellar medium.

  • Johnny Matias

    What is the probability that we could reach FTL speeds in ships (in space) of legitimate size in our lifetime?

  • Gertjan Eisink

    How can we see light from (close to) the beginning of the universe, when all came from a single point. Did the universe expand already faster than lightspeed at the age of 280.000 years?

    Also, when we see galaxies spinning away faster than lightspeed away from us, does that mean that the lightwaves will get ripped? Or what happens to the light?

  • Erick Villalpando

    If the possibility of dark matter universes exists then is it possible for earthlike dark matter planets or dark matter intelligent life? What about dark matter weapons…..maybe that could be an incentive for the government to fund NASA hahaha Imagine the Russians getting a hold of a weapon like that. Would we be able to see dark matter with our eyes?

  • Michael Christensen

    If Thors hammer was made of the material of a dying star and had the mass of ‘a herd of 300 billion elephants’, which would be about 2,1×10^15 kilograms, which implications would that have for Thor and his surroundings on the surface of earth? And would the hammer sink through the earths crust if Thor ever puts it down?

  • Matt Vena

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but he said 2/9 of 18000 is 2000, but that is 4000. Did I just correct Neil Degrasse Tyson’s math?

    • Jeff

      Yes, Matt, you did.

  • Matt Vena

    Just something I wanted to add to the if all stars were gone happened. Well if the sun was the only star that ever existed, then that means that a lot of heavy chemicals would never of happened because the sun can only make a few chemicals. So technically life would be a lot different as their would be a high lack of metals that are used to build various things.

  • danilo

    hello i am from argentina.
    i have a question that i can’t find the answer.
    what happens when two black hole collide?

    • CouchPotato

      they eventually collapse into each other and form a bigger black hole.

    • CouchPotato

      they eventually collapse into each other and form a bigger black hole.

  • Jeremy

    I’m sooo much happier when it’s co-hosted by Chuck or someone other than Eugene Mirman.

    • DeadInHell

      For me its the opposite. I love Eugene, but Chuck Nice is just so boring and unfunny. He adds nothing to the show.

  • Tilted

    @ Alex Davidson

    If a planet is orbiting through this nebular material, the planet’s gravity should capture the nebular material and clear its orbit over time.

    Incidentally, that’s how gas giants in our own solar system formed – some of the nebular material that gave birth to our solar system was still hanging around far from the Sun, and planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune were formed from it, which is why those planets are made primarily of gas.

  • bogdan

    Why are some people seriously talking about the possibility of terraforming Mars? Isn’t the lack of a magnetic field a deal breaker?

  • Kat

    I can’t download the mp3, I click and it takes me to another window,

    • Jeff

      Hi Kat. When you click on “Download MP3 now” it takes you to another screen which plays the show. If you control-click the button, it gives you the option to download the file. (At least, on a Mac. Don’t know about on a PC.) You can also click on the RSS button at the top right of the page, or click here to download the file: http://www.startalkradio.net/feed/shows/

  • tyler

    Thank you for everything you’re doing NDT. We need to change this world quickly, I only fear it won’t happen fast enough..

  • Rhonda Strahler

    Wouldn’t 2/9 of 18,000 be 4000?

  • MsP

    Chrome said Chuck Nice’s website is infected with malware. Love your shows NDT! Can’t wait for the new TV too.

  • Chemical Serenity

    If anyone’s interested, the general formula for a circular orbit is one where the force of gravity ( Fg = G m m’ / r² ) and centripetal force (Fc = m 4 π² r / t²). Simplified, it comes out to

    r³ / t² = G m / 4 π², where:

    r is the radius of the orbit (in meters)
    t is the orbital period (in seconds)
    G is the gravitational constant (6.67384×10⁻¹¹ m³ kg⁻¹ s⁻²)
    m is the mass of the body you’re orbiting (in kg)
    π is pi. (3.14159265… etc…)

    The formula can be re-arrange to find for t (the orbital period) as:

    t² = 4 π² r³ / G m

    From there, you want the velocity, which is the circumference divided by the orbital period: v = 2 π r / t. Squaring so we can substitute for t², we get:

    4 π² r² / v² = 4 π² r³ / G m

    Whereupon we can cancel out most of the terms:

    v² = G m / r

    v = √(Gm/r)

    Which is the general fomula for orbital speed of a body at distance “r” around a mass “m”. In the case of the moon, its radius (r) is 1.7374×10⁶ m and its mass (m) is 7.34767×10²² kg, so:

    v = √(6.67384×10⁻¹¹)(7.34767×10²²)/1.7374×10⁶

    v = 1680m/s = 1.68km/s

    In imperial units, that’s about 1.044 miles/sec, which is 3758 miles/hour.

    As a comparison, the muzzle velocity of a 5.56mm rifle cartridge is around the 1km/s range, and the fastest cartridge currently in production (the .204 ruger) only reaches a velocity of 1.27km/s. Not quite enough to get all the way around, although it’d take a good long time to hit lunar ground, presuming no obstruction.

    In short – the person asking the question would literally have to throw that baseball faster (although only a bit faster) than a speeding bullet.

    • Jeff

      Wow. Thanks, Chem.

  • eric k

    i think dan was thinking about the higgs field which is postulated to give matter its mass, which inturn would regulate how much force would be exerted from gravity

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