The study of Earth and space covers a wide range of topics including stars, moons, the atmosphere, geology, weather systems, and so much more. Even though scientists have been studying these phenomena for thousands of years, there are still new discoveries happening every day. The study of space, or astronomy, can help answer some long standing questions about new planets and black holes. The study of Earth’s tectonic plates and weather patterns can help predict future natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanoes. As technology advances, scientists are able to learn more about the Earth and the solar system than ever before. This audio collection highlights some of these exciting new discoveries and some of the ongoing unsolved mysteries as well.
There is no natural hole to the center of the planet Earth, so seeing what is in the center is difficult. Scientists haven’t ever drilled deeper than 2,000 feet into the Earth’s crust. Seismographs are used to measure earthquakes, which send waves of motion through the earth’s crust. Listen to hear about how scientists have tried to discover what is in the center of our planet.
Understanding and tracking time is key to keeping society -- and our lives -- running smoothly. Early civilizations developed calendars with just 300 days in a year. But by 1582, the time it takes for Earth to rotate around the sun was better understood, and Pope Gregory introduced the 365-day Gregorian calendar -- the one used by most of the world today. Listen to hear a scientist explain the math behind adding and subtracting leap days to keep the calendar aligned with the Earth’s movement, and learn how Christianity played a role in the calendar’s creation.
There is no minimum age for scientific discovery. Young scientists ask questions about topics that have puzzled humans for hundreds of years. This audio story introduces a high school senior who uses math to help astronomers search for undiscovered planets. Listen to hear more about this project and other amazing work done by Ana Humphrey.
Alaska is home to 54 active volcanoes. Scientists, called volcanologists, watch and study these volcanoes to try and predict when they are going to erupt and so they can give warnings to the nearby communities. In 2008, Mount Redoubt, one of Alaska’s most famous volcanoes that is known to be active and dangerous, began to show signs of erupting. Listen as a volcanologist explains how taking a closer look at what goes on deep down below the surface of a volcano like Mount Redoubt can reveal warning signs that indicate a possible eruption.
Landscapes evolve very slowly, over thousands of years, which makes them both fascinating and a little difficult to study. Mathematicians have looked at landscape features, including mountains and big rock formations, and wondered where their interesting shapes come from. To find answers they began experimenting, except they didn’t use rocks - they used candy! The process allowed them to speed up their investigation and find the answers they were looking for. Listen to learn how hard candy helped mathematicians study and understand landscapes.
An American astronaut is returning home to a very different Earth than the one she left seven months ago. Jessica Meir was living on the International Space Station, an orbiting science lab, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In preparing to head home, she considered the many changes she expected to find when she arrived, including restricted access to family and friends. Listen to hear Meir describe daily life on the space station and what she was most excited about doing when returning to Earth.
Update: Since this story aired, Jessica Meir returned safely to Earth and immediately entered a weeklong quarantine at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
After 100 years of searching, scientists in Washington state have detected gravitational waves, vibrations in space caused by the collision of black holes. The historic news was translated into dozens of languages so people around the world could share in the celebration, including Blackfoot, an endangered language spoken by a local indigenous tribe. Listen to learn why scientists decided to announce their discovery in a native language, hear how it sounds, and learn why the gesture held special meaning for the Blackfoot community.
Robots sent into space have discovered water in a sunny spot on the moon. The finding has surprised scientists who, until now, only knew about moon water buried in dark corners, away from the sun. The discovery has raised many questions, including how the water might be used by future visitors to the moon. Listen to learn more about an exciting new space discovery and how it could change future moon missions.
The height of the world’s tallest mountain is changing. The height of Mount Everest, located on the border between China and Nepal, was recorded at 29,029 feet. But over hundreds of years, natural events, such as earthquakes and moving plates in the Earth’s crust, have caused the mountain’s height to shift. In recent years, Chinese and Nepalese scientists have worked together to re-measure the giant peak. Listen to learn about the methods used to measure the mountain and challenges involved, and hear a climber explain why the height of the mountain matters to her.
Note: Since this story aired, the height of Mt. Everest was newly measured at 29,032 feet.
How dark is outer space? Although the night sky looks black, it actually contains light that comes from stars and galaxies. Scientists were curious how space would look without those sources of light, so they turned to photographs taken by a spacecraft hurtling through space four billion miles away. Listen to learn what researchers discovered about light in space and why one scientist called the possibilities “amazing.”
Pollution is everywhere, including outer space. A private company recently launched a satellite called ELSA-d on a demonstration mission for removing space junk. More than 9,000 tons of trash are currently orbiting the planet, which can put the International Space Station and other spacecraft in danger of being hit. Listen to hear what kind of trash is in space and learn how the space junk removal system works.
Students today may know less about the Milky Way than those in the past. That is because this milky band of light in the sky, the partial view of Earth's galaxy that is visible from Earth, can only be seen in very dark areas. Light pollution has made it difficult for people in cities to see the Milky Way. The city of Pittsburgh is trying to solve this problem, so people can once again look up in wonder at the starry night sky. Listen to hear how Pittsburgh is reducing light pollution and how their effort may impact young people.
Black holes are located in the center of nearly all large galaxies, where gravity pulls so strongly that even light can not escape. They are not visible to the naked eye, but astronomers can detect black holes with special telescopes that help them to see how stars close to black holes act differently from other stars. When astronomers recently viewed a galaxy where there was once a black hole, they found that it was missing. Listen to hear what scientists think about the puzzle of the missing black hole.
The number 1.5 degrees Celsius is frequently mentioned by world leaders and activists talking about climate change. This number is important because nations have agreed to take action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. And science shows that if the world gets hotter than that, there could be catastrophic impacts on communities, some of which are already in effect. Listen to hear about the current and future impacts of the Earth warming 1.5 degrees Celsius.
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