StarTalk Live! at the Beacon: Searching for Life in the Universe (Part 1)

StarTalk Live! in the Green Room at the Beacon. (L to R:) Sean Ono Lennon, Carolyn Porco, Vanessa Bayer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Eugene Mirman, Michael Ian Black. Credit: Elliot Severn.

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About This Episode

Is there life in the universe? That’s the question that brought Neil deGrasse Tyson and Eugene Mirman back to the Beacon Theatre in NYC last September with their guests, musician Sean Ono Lennon and comedians Vanessa Bayer and Michael Ian Black. And who better to guide our search for life in the universe than Carolyn Porco, aka Madame Saturn, the leader of the Cassini Imaging Team, who also worked with Carl Sagan on Voyager 1? Join Neil and company as we review that groundbreaking mission and how its first glimpses of Saturn inspired a return trip with Cassini. Explore the fascinating hexagon on Saturn’s north pole and find out why its rings can be thin but stretch 280,000 kilometers. Investigate the tantalizing possibilities of life on Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus. Find out how life could exist outside of Goldilocks zones. When first time StarTalk Live! guest Vanessa wonders if we could just throw some bugs into Enceladus’ ocean and see what happens in a few years, Neil and Carolyn explain the concern about forwards and backwards contamination. StarTalk Live! veteran Michael Ian Black volunteers his own hypothesis for how the moon was formed, while “Bad-ass Science Groupie” Sean doesn’t seem to mind becoming enslaved by a smarter alien race. The discussion on stage turns towards the current debate about whether we should broadcast ourselves to the universe, and Neil asks Carolyn if she warned Carl Sagan about including our cosmic address on Voyager 1. (Eugene wonders if sending a recipe for paella might not have been smarter.) Part One wraps up with Neil asking the audience for Cosmic Queries about the future of the human race on Earth and in space. Stay tuned for Part Two next Friday.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: StarTalk Live! at the Beacon: Searching for Life in Universe (Part 1)

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  • Joanie Piquette

    You should invite Kate McKinnon (SNL, Ghostbusters) as a guest, she’s a science nerd

    • rpachecomcevoy

      I feel like this could easily become my favorite StarTalk episode ever.

  • Daniel Meldrim

    Did Carolyn Porco just say “But on Saturn, there’s no friction” ? Please elaborate.

    • Randy

      Gasses moving in a single direction experience the most friction at the outside of the cloud where they interact with stationary objects such as the surface of the earth or other gasses not sharing their trajectory. On Saturn, the planets jet streams are very stable and therefore the majority of the planet is essentially on the inside of the gas cloud not strongly trading momentum with other particles and thus, not creating much friction.

      There is, of course, some friction produced on Saturn. What Carolyn meant was that there is negligible friction with the surface of the planet which is a big factor in disturbing the natural hydrodynamic atmospheric patterns here on earth and thus, why we don’t have hexagons at our poles.

      • Carolyn Porco

        Thanks, Randy. To elaborate just a bit further, our jet stream *would* be a hexagon — it too is an ‘m=6’ wave — but for the friction that Randy describes above.

  • Dallin Sprogis

    Consider this. If the periodic table of elements is consistent throughout the universe in which life on earth is derived from. Then RNA/DNA should likely be consistent throughout the universe in the same way, as it is here on earth. I theorize that we could possibly find planets with life a billion years younger in evolution or a billion years older in evolution and so fourth in and around our stage in evolution on our planet. And of course I question this because we have not found another combination of RNA/DNA structure other than our own based tree of evolution. I quote Neil degrasse Tyson “We are made of star stuff”

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