Cosmic Queries: Gravity

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About This Episode

The pull of gravity (the fundamental force, not the movie) is irresistible as Neil deGrasse Tyson and comic co-host Leighann Lord grapple with weighty fan questions about matter and the curvature of spacetime. You’ll learn about gravitons (even though we’ve never directly detected them) and find out how we would know if a gravity wave passed over us. Dive into Isaac Newton’s equations. Discover why gravity is essentially irrelevant to particle physics, and why the electromagnetic force, which is 10^40 more powerful than gravity, is much more important to particles like the Higgs boson. Explore how the laws of physics manifest differently at different scales, and the importance of surface tension versus gravity to insects. (You’ll also find out why there are no giant spiders.) All this plus Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, anti-matter, hypothetical elements and gravity guns.

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


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  • Christina Vonthronsohnhaus

    have a another hour of Gravity cosmic Queries.

  • The Astrobiologist

    About to listen to this, but awwww, no Gravity by A Perfect Circle?

  • Kevin Perez

    Listening to the Gravity show, I had an additional question about Gravity. Edwin Hubble is credited with discovering the Doppler shift of the absorption lines in the light of distant cosmic objects. Is Gravity affected by the expansion of the Universe? Do Gravity waves have a doppler shift? Can we design an experiment to detect that?

    • olivia gentol

      Gravity doesn’t work like light and sound which have a source and spread from there. But gravity is more a condition of the space around matter. For example, when people talk about ‘heat’ they are actually talking about how fast particles are moving. So to suggest that something has a lot of gravity (a large star or a black hole) is to actually say, the curvature of space is great. And a small planet has less of a curved surrounding space. Sure, we don’t fall off of the Earth, but even when you have an entire planet pulling down (being attracted) to a fork, you can easily pick it up. If the curve is space were greater, like on Jupiter, moving a fork would prove more difficult.
      So Doppler waves wouldn’t apply while describing gravity. Waves and particles essentially describe how things move (and interact) in space. Gravity describes how those waves and particles are ‘allowed’ to move in space.

      • Kevin Perez

        I agree with what you are saying but .. you knew there would be a “but” .. a pair of neutron stars locked in a tight orbit with each other, according to the above linked Star Talk, do emit “gravity waves”. Because of quantum theory’s dual wave/particle property, there necessarily has to be a graviton. So I was curious if these wave/particles are subject to the Doppler shift that affects all electromagnetic particles traveling through the expanding Universe which take billions of years to arrive at our telescopes.

  • R. S. S.

    I tell that to spiders all the time and they give no cares about gravity…or the fact that they are breaking and entering into my bedroom!

  • Matthew Oliver

    I almost gave up in the first 90 seconds

  • Gustavo Adolfo Cruz Diaz

    Please go to see Interstellar, it is awful!!!!!!, they talk about gravity with no knowledge at all!!!!

  • Andrea V.

    For doctor Tyson: here is what a gravity gun is and does:

  • Veronika Kotyzová

    Hi there, I guess the gravity gun question is coming from Half Life/Portal funs where it is used to move objects without touching them
    So you would be able to use it for many different purposes, not only as a gun to throw the object ‘you hold with gravitation’ but also to reach object you cannot touch. In the larger scale this would have much bigger use, for example you could use it as tractor beam 🙂

  • Terje Monsen

    If you don’t know why you would want a Gravity gun, then you haven’t played Half Life. Here is Corridor Digital’s rendition of the concept:

  • Boid Whittaker

    Gravity is a byproduct .

    • Jim

      Everything is a byproduct

    • Jim

      Holy chips, it is a byproduct, I just got it, wow

    • Jim

      I get it now, it’s a by product of gaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwd

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  • TheoryofRelativity

    Mr. Tyson’s illustration between gravity & insects AND gravity & particles was almost identical to that of Richard Feynman’s analogy, yet he did not give any credit (it was obvious Mr. Tyson learned this illustration from Mr. Feynman).

    • U238Willy

      …’standing on the shoulders of giants.’ I thought we all understood that. We couldn’t possibly further science if we spent all of our time crediting the shoulders upon which we came upon our knowledge.

      • TheoryofRelativity

        Do we not say Newtonian Gravity? Do we not credit all achievements to those who founded them? Mr. Tyson is quite the copier in the Science Media, taking not only from Carl Sagan, but now even the stories Mr. Feynman’s father shared? (note how even Mr. Feynman credited his father where credit was due)

        Quite pathetic IMO to do so and act as if it was you who conjured it.

  • Ryan Huntley
  • Jim

    Noooo! A gravity gun does exactly the opposite! You can lift thing with it or attract it and make it float and manipulate matters, why would you want to add weight anyway

  • Jim

    Well I’m gonna start the church of Gravity -Gravity is what created the Universe, it’s what binds us and everything together. Without Gravity, there is no us, there is no earth, there is nothing, just a big soup of elements with chunks swirling around. Gravity is everything. Gravity is the most powerful force of them all cuz it’s everywhere. What if there was a single point of gravity in our Universe, a non localized point, food for thought, I call it Fooght

    • dntr

      listen to what NDT sais starting from 24:30

  • Jim

    I can’t believe you don’t know what a ZPM Gun is, you of all people… I’m very disapointed today

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  • Rostan Rodrigues

    Thanks for addressing my questions! This talk show is really awesome!!

  • Kelly

    Regarding mass of object dropped not affecting the
    acceleration. I get the math that says that, but am confused if that holds true
    at extreme mass differences. If I drop a
    golf ball on the moon it falls at 1.62 m/s/s.
    If I then drop the earth on the moon it sounds like it would fall at the
    same rate, but if I do the same experiment, but standing on Earth, dropping the
    moon would fall at 9.8 m/s/s. Can
    someone explain this?

    • msfrost

      You can only drop the moon onto the Earth, according to the Earth’s greater mass.

      • Sean

        What’s dropping is relative to where you are

  • Jim

    Maaan I don’t need facts man I got a religion going on here, hey my God is the center of the Galaxy, you couldn’t be in his presence quite literally, nothing is stronger than a blackhole, thus, gravity. Also I’m gonna need some donations

    • Jose Amaya

      My God, electromagnetism, whoops your Gods ass.

  • sepiae

    looking forward to this – but right now:


    Confirmed: Landing has taken place!

    “We see the lander sitting on the rock.” – Andrea Accomazzo, ESA.

    This is SO cool !!!
    Was too young when the 1st step on the moon was made. This is kinda like it… 🙂

  • MathMath

    Great show, but please bring back Eugene Mirman!

    • startalkradio

      Your wish is granted, MM! Eugene is the co-host for this week’s episode, “StarTalk Live! at SF Sketchfest”

      • MathMath

        Awesome! I miss his crazy awkward puns!

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  • Arlen Kundert

    In theory, would a graviton (if they exist) experience latency the same way that light does passing through a glass?

  • msfrost

    How about, The Four Fundamentals, or The Fundamental Four. Though, the latter sounds more like a superhero group.

  • K-Ace

    Leighann’s book should be titled “The Space Bar”

  • Ganton516

    As we start bringing material in from mined asteroids etc..etc..How will that affect our orbit around the sun etc..etc…My thought being that if we add a significant enough amount of mass to the earth by mining from elsewhere…We will have that affect….

  • I listened to the excerpt from the Star Talk broadcast at , “”, and your comments on ideas/concepts that do not have words to adequately express them in the current vernacular.

    I disagree with your statement that finding these ideas takes a great amount of creativity. Boredom, hard word and effort, & a strong reluctance to give up; may be a much better predictor of new concepts/ideas, than creativity or “genius”.

    I will use as a case in point the “discovery” of a set of ideas I used to create a parody or “Crackpot” Theory of Everything in 1977.

    The set of ideas at that time had no words to describe the concepts/ideas, and thirty seven years later we are coming a lot closer than we were in 1977. I used pictures and some text to attempt to describe the ideas. These are spelled out in the following:

    long version of ‘Your Basic Crackpot Theory of Everything”, Pictures and text “”
    Short version, mainly Pictures “”
    A description of the boredom, hard word and effort, & a strong reluctance to give up that enabled me to discover this set of ideas “”

  • David Roy Tolstrup

    Two things about gravity I don’t quite understand. 1, as Einstein prove, mass distorts space then gravity is a consequence of space time distortion, not a fundamental force. Or where am I wrong? 2. Is gravity instantaneous? That is if two masses are in gravitational equilibrium and one of them is moved some distance through space is the gravity between them instantly changed -as far as I know is no time coefficient in the equations for gravity. So if it is instantaneous isn’t this impossible as Einstein stated, or is this somehow related to Bell’s Theorem.

  • ManvsKing

    I would be much happier to listen to a noob cohost who has curiosity to learn than a comedian who has responsibility to be funny Most of the time ending the conversation with useless puns where there should be follow up questions…May be the answer is why don’t i read book?.mmmm .Thank you for,your time Dr.N-G.Tyson.

    • Gabriel de Brito

      I don’t think Leighann Lord’s jokes are nowhere near useless. Comedic relief in this case, but really any sort of relief from rational thinking is very important so that the brain can learn to quickly adapt between different sorts of situations you find yourself in the outside world, you wouldn’t like to take everything seriously or everything as a joke, right? Enjoyment and science should walk hand on hand. Also, Leighann, at least to me, seems very interested in what Neil says, and really, I’ve come to understand that everyone loves science, those who say they don’t just don’t know themselves as well as they think, or they don’t know what science really is in it’s essence.

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  • Phil Howard

    Gravity is … the same thing as time dilation. Think of an EM wave propogating by a very large mass. The part of the wave front nearer the mass is involved in a deeper (slower) time dilation and so it moves slower than the more distant parts. This “drags” the part of the wave front nearer the mass. This will affect prticles as well for two reasons. Particles are the same as waves as we all know. Particles have a width so part of each particle is in a deeper time dilation and is “dragged” nearer the mass. The wave gets spread out so we see a lens effect and magnification. A new question, then, is will this affect a singularity passing by. I suspect it will not.

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  • Nick Cochran

    Is it correct to say that the reason we cannot observe a particle responsible for gravity is that it’s size is proportional to its own force at the quantum level? For example: since it is the weakest of the 4 forces, a gravity particle might be proportional in size to a neutron as gravity’s force is proportional to a strong nuclear force at its relative size?

  • Damien Azzopardi

    OMG, gravity- by Superjesus needed to be in this episodes playlist.

    So bummed it got missed 🙁

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