Episode 42: Charlotte Olsen on SPACE

Photo of a spiral galaxy.

Image: “The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has spotted the “UFO Galaxy.” NGC 2683 is a spiral galaxy seen almost edge-on, giving it the shape of a classic science fiction spaceship. This is why the astronomers at the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory, Cocoa, Fla., gave it this attention-grabbing nickname.” (Source: NASA)

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This transcript was auto-generated and has not yet been edited for clarity or accuracy.

Charles 0:22
This is a sign scientist at bachelor’s. I’m Charles and I’m an entomologist.

Tessa 0:26
And I’m Tessa, and I’m an astrobiologist.

Charles 0:29
And today as our guest, we have Charlotte Olson Charlotte is a fourth year PhD student at Rutgers University in physics and astronomy. Her research is in galaxy evolution, specifically how galaxies form their stars. Over time, their recent work has been looking at our close, but not close dwarf galaxy neighbors and comparing the history of their star formation from observations of their total light over a wide wavelength range with histories inferred from their individual stars. Charlotte is also a non traditional student, having spent her youth working low wage jobs and playing in punk bands before starting Community College in her 30s. As she says, It’s been a fun journey, even if it has been more turbulent than a molecular cloud, where stars occasionally struggle to form. Charlotte, welcome to the show.

Charlotte 1:08
Thank you so much, Carlton. Thank you, Tessa.

Charles 1:10
Wonderful. So to begin with, we’d like to ask people how they got started in science. And from your bio, it sounds like yours will not be necessarily the typical answer. No, and

Charlotte 1:21
this is one that I always have to try and figure out how to how to edit appropriately, because it was circuitous to get there. You know, most people I think, always do the whole Oh, you know, I looked up at this, especially with, you know, with astronomy and astrophysics in general, the big pole is, you know, it’s like, it’s one of the gateway sciences, because you can look up and you can see stars, and it’s really pretty, etc.

Charles 1:47
I will say doing this podcast has taught me actually a lot of things genuinely, but among them that space people and bug people have way more in common than I ever knew. And among them is that both bugs and space are sort of the ever present gateway interest for a lot of people where you can just go outside and see them.

Charlotte 2:13
Yes, yeah, it’s perfect. Really, all you need is a sense of curiosity. And I think that translates to I mean, obviously, that translates to a lot of different disciplines. But it particularly translates well for science, and I loved science, and I was a big, like sci fi nerd, when I was a kid, I assumed that I was going to go to college, immediately out of high school, but I had a pretty unstable circum set of circumstances growing up and ended up kind of sleeping in the back of my car, you know, got a job at the record store. And you know, that there was a lot of bitterness around that for me for a really long time. Because that was kind of my passion was I was a, I was a musician doing all of this other stuff. But um, I was an undercover big nerd. And I just, eventually I got back into it. And and that was a really scary thing to try and go for it. And I did it anyway. So it’s fine.

Charles 3:09
Feel like the punk just trans pipeline has high water pressure?

Charlotte 3:16
Yeah. Well, of course, because like, back in the 70s, there wasn’t like there wasn’t a dividing line between punk culture and queer culture in general. That was a place where everyone who was kind of non conforming with society in a very impressive society was welcome.

Charles 3:39
Yesterday, we recorded with our first but hopefully not our final transferee. And I think there is a commonality there where trans people overall really flock to subcultures that are sort of marginal, and are already seen as ridiculous or subversive, subversive, and which have strong looks associated with them. Yeah, trans people love a statement piece. What is it that that led you back towards education in your 30s?

Charlotte 4:20
So I ended up in a really amazing relationship with my partner now and we’re actually coming up on 15 years of marriage. And they were the one that kind of I think one day they were just like, oh my god, stop complaining about it. Like, you know, like, you’re, you’re white, you’re smart. You test well, like college is there for you just go and get it. And I was like, oh, yeah, you’re you’re probably right about that. And I started taking night classes at the community college and it worked out. Yeah, it seems like I just needed to be shamed by the right person.

Charles 4:57
Sometimes love looks like being really mean to somebody Yeah, when they need to hear it,

Charlotte 5:03
it was a little bit of tough love. But it was it was done lovingly.

Charles 5:06
So tell us more about your what you’re working on now. Oh,

Charlotte 5:09
yeah. Okay, so my passion is galaxies. I really, really like kind of looking at the really broad, like big picture of how did we get here, blah, blah, blah like that with by looking at galaxy evolution and seeing how things have kind of gotten to where they’re at not very many galaxies. Well, actually very many, but like, not all galaxies look like our galaxy, the Milky Way, not everything’s going to be these gorgeous, like grand design spirals. You know, they’re also ones that are just kind of these big forbs, where the stars in them are just orbiting in really weird ways. And it’s just like a bunch of bees. And then those ones can be very massive and have very old stars. And then there are little ones, which are the most numerous ones in the universe are actually these tiny dwarf galaxies that are low mass, you know, usually at least 100 to 1000 times less massive than our galaxy, if not more, but our current theories on Galaxy Evolution show that like a lot of these smaller galaxies kind of get cannibalized by larger galaxies. And that’s kind of how we form these these big things. But the way they tried to get at this is through this thing called Star Formation histories. It’s basically it’s the equivalent of D aging, a photograph or something like that, like my cousin referred to it as do you do Galaxy background checks. And I was like, Yes, I do. This exactly what I do, a lot of times, the way that you can figure out how a galaxy has formed all of its stars over time is by so trying to look at it, and you can look at it maybe at different in different color filters, because the different color filters are going to be dominated by different types of stars. So for example, like really small stars that last a really, really, really long time, those ones are going to be redder. And so if you look at it, look at the galaxy and a red or wavelength, you’re seeing mostly the contribution from the older stars. Let’s say if you look at it in a blue or UV, you’re gonna see the really bright shiny ones that those ones always burn through their fuel very, very fast, they’re very massive, and those are the ones that peak in the UV. And so you can kind of do this thing where you you know, if you have different photometric points, you can figure out the different contributing stars,

Charles 7:27
we’ve had a lot of space people on recently, we we’ve talked a lot about planets, but we haven’t actually talked a lot about Star, we’ve talked around stars, we haven’t talked about stars a lot themselves. So I was hoping you could maybe give more of an overview on the processes that lead to star formation. Yeah,

Charlotte 7:48
I mean, I can, I can do my best. I am one of those people where I care about stars, because I put them in the galaxy. So but I do care about them. And essentially, when you’re when you’re looking at the formation of a group of stars, you need to have some some cool gas collapsing. And so that’s going to be hydrogen, there may be some other small trace amounts of things. But let’s pretend that we’re at the beginning of the universe, you have nothing but hydrogen. But as it’s cooling, it’s, you know, it’s it’s, it’s kind of compressing and so now you have this gas cloud, and this guy’s cloud is now kind of falling closer and closer because of gravity. And that can take a really long time, there’s you know, you can calculate some, something called a freefall time as to when this gas cloud is going to reach a point where you’re going to have gravity kind of taking over and starts being born because at some point, things will get compressed enough to where you will have gas becoming super, super compressed and turning into stars. Usually within a population of few stars, you’re not going to get like the really big massive ones and or all the really, really small little ones, it’s going to be kind of like a mixed bag, within this cloud, this cloud is going to give birth to some certain number of stars. And that number of stars is going to be that mass is going to be divided amongst different stars that come out like so you’re going to have some of that that hydrogen mass is going to go into really big stars. Some of it is going to go into the middle stars and some of it is going to go into some of the ones in between you’re gonna have probably more of the little guys then you have the big one. Yeah, stars. They’re cool. Yeah,

Charles 9:25
I actually am curious. Are there are there like edge cases in stars like in the way we’ve we keep bringing this up and by we I mean me, but with Pluto being not a planet anymore because our understanding of sort of celestial bodies expanded and then it was either make a bunch of other things planets or make Pluto not a planet. Are there relatively comparable edge cases of stars that we know about where it’s like it’s almost a star but it’s not really a star? Is that? Is there anything like that in stars?

Charlotte 10:04
Oh, yeah. Yeah, there’s brown dwarf, they’re really cool. There are somewhere in between being a very, very massive Jupiter and a star. And they’re not fully fusing hydrogen in their course, because they’re not quite massive enough, but there is fusion happening. So they’re like, basically they’re they’re big, shiny Jupiter’s. From what I understand and what sounds awesome to me.

Charles 10:30
Definitely sounds better than brown dwarf.

Charlotte 10:33
Yeah, yeah, the nomenclature for astronomy, as always, it’s just like, it’s always just bad. Like, yeah, astronomers are not good at naming anything. Like, it’s just, that’s why the acronyms like are so needed. Because it’s like, yeah, well, you know,

Tessa 10:51
yeah, yeah,

Charlotte 10:52
we have this very large telescope. What should we call it? The Very Large Telescope Great. Next, like,

Tessa 10:58
what do we call this? You know, theory kind of close on birth? Or universe? Let’s call it the Big Bang?

Charlotte 11:03
Yeah. How are we stuck with that? That’s what it always is. How are we stuck with this?

Tessa 11:09
I know for the star classification system, which is by letters except it’s in the order of O instead of ABCDE. F it’s your OP a f g, only boring astronomers fine gratification and knowing mnemonics k m. Yes. Supposedly, that’s because originally, it was in the order of ABCDE f g, but then they discovered that that’s not actually the order in terms of temperature. So they’re like, now we got to rearrange everything. So I’m willing to cut them a little bit of slack there.

Charles 11:41
Yeah. Well, this is what a I’m gonna take this all the way to the tax the biological taxonomy nerds and be like, Look, we think we’ve got these these nerds.

Charlotte 11:53
No, it’s bad. It’s bad. Yeah, I think it was originally, the stars were organized by the strength of the hydrogen, either emission or absorption. Like that sounds right. Yeah. Yeah. And which is that seems perfectly reasonable. And this was, this was something that I think they were probably doing at Harvard, and they were letting like, you know, they were doing all all of the classification and the boring stuff was being done by the, you know, by no women astronomers, because Yep. Yeah. And I think they did an excellent job. It just turns out that that’s not there’s not a cool relation that relates like size, lifetime, luminosity, radius, or anything like that to the strength of hydrogen emission lines. So it’s, you know, bad luck, right.

Charles 12:42
So galaxies,

Charlotte 12:44
galaxies are the messiest

Charles 12:47
to begin with, and I guess, why, and this will sound me. But why, why do we care about galaxies?

Charlotte 12:56
Yeah, no, that’s a good question. But I’m going to start with, we live in one. But that’s like low hanging fruit. But galaxy formation. And evolution is an easy way of trying to get at how the universe itself has evolved. And is continuing to evolve. And there are certain ways that you can use like galaxies, you’re observing it, like early times, actually as a probe of cosmology to figure out what our universe is doing, what the ultimate fate of the universe is, and what happened right at the beginning. So they’re important in that sense. And that’s not really my why I’m interested in them. And why I’m interested in them is for reasons that people don’t care about, I just think they’re very cool.

Charles 13:41
I mean, something is very cool is you can’t put that on a grant application. But it’s valid.

Charlotte 13:48
Yeah. You can try though,

Charles 13:51
you could try probably wouldn’t be very far. Although, who knows, maybe the NSF will suddenly become like, really cool. Yeah. Astronomers have to apply to the NSF. Oh, yes.

Charlotte 14:02
I guess Oh, yeah.

Tessa 14:03
Yeah, that’s where most of our funding comes from that or if you can swing at NASA, but NASA’s like, it has to usually for that to apply, you have to actually be sending something in the space.

Charlotte 14:16
Well, you can also, if you’re not surface, if you do have observations you can apply for telescope time and funding, you know, is good, it’s over. It’s oversubscribed, for all of it. So, you know, it’s kind of like playing the lottery.

Charles 14:30
And that always, not always turns out. Great. Yeah. For everybody. Exactly. Okay, so galaxies and galaxy formation.

Charlotte 14:38
So I’ve already kind of thrown away the really cool aspects of you know how this ties into the very, very big picture. By being all like, I just think they’re cool, but looking at how galaxies form their stars over time is really super useful because that is a way of tracing why galaxies are evolving. galaxies are just like, they’re, they’re just, they’re very relatable because they just, there’s a lot going on, you know. And there, there’s just got inflows of gas. And then there’s like maybe like some of their stars are like bloating and blowing the gas back out. Or maybe they’ve got like an APN. And the center that turns on and is like, driving the gas out accreting material. And sometimes there’s these horrible, violent mergers or they cannibalize other galaxies and completely eat them up and steal their gas. And it’s just I don’t know, it’s like, it’s like, watching all of the first flake. five seasons of Game of Thrones,

Charles 15:37
like, once I go once, one second one second. Sorry. My mom’s calling me. Hi. Yes. Okay. Bye. Sorry. But she you know, she birthed me.

Charlotte 15:53
Can I request that you keep that in? Sure. Oh, yeah. Anyway, so yeah, it’s a violent, horrible time, is what I was saying. But the thing that’s frustrating about this whole thing is like, you’ve got too many processes happening all at the same time. So it’s really hard to get out. What is causing a galaxy to go from like, maybe a little like, kind of amorphous little amoeba like thing with a few stars all the way up to, you know, something that looks like the Milky Way. Right. Well, I

Charles 16:27
think we talked about this previously with a different cast. But are there the same way that there are different kinds of planets in different kinds of stars? There are different kinds of galaxies, right? Yeah, yeah. So what are the sort of what are the variables between different galaxies,

Charlotte 16:44
some of the main ones are the stellar mass. So how many stars the galaxy has the total, fewer to take it and you are going to weigh it only by its star content, how massive is it, and that’s a huge, huge range. Also, the mass of their dark matter halos, which the dark matter, Halo, or dark matter, halo around a galaxy extends much, much, much further than where the visible stars are. So that’s confusing, and that’s difficult to get your head around to because it’s hard to see them. But we can actually determine that from kind of some cool physics and kinematics as to where that is. So those are two primary things. They’re also, you know, different shapes, and different colors. And things that tend to be bluer, tend to be forming more stars. And things that tend to be redder are, tend to be forming less stars. And this is, you know, if you had them at the same distance from you, and you were looking at their true colors at that same distance.

Charles 17:51
So speaking of colors, we’ve talked to a lot of people recently who use spectral graphs and rely on spectroscopy, and that kind of stuff to know things about other stuff in the universe. And so it sounds like maybe something similar is in your sort of methodological wheelhouse. Yes. Can you talk more about that?

Charlotte 18:15
I totally can. So I don’t actually, I don’t, I’m not lucky enough to have spectra of these galaxies, because it’s hard to get those observations for a bunch of bunch of bunch accounts. But spectra is just basically it’s the smeared out light. And I think regular listeners are going to know that it’s the smeared out light from the galaxy. But one thing that you can do is you can do photometric measurements, which just means that you’re, you’re using the filters onboard your telescope, that select for a particular light, light, particular band, band passes in the rainbow, and you take a picture of the galaxy and those different ones, and then you just kind of connect the dots, through those different where those different filters lie as far as their intensities in order to fit a spectrum to it. Does that make sense? I think

Charles 19:07
it sounds like overall, a lot of the work in space science is less taking, like a telescope camera and pointing it at something. And the technological advances are that instead of having like Grimy 70s resolution, we have like crisp, clean 2020s 4k resolution. And it’s not that yeah, pretty much well, so. Okay, so we have done that.

Tessa 19:34
Yeah, well, that has been part of it. Yeah. And this is especially true in other wavelengths. I don’t remember like, in the 70s or 80s. When they first came up with infrared detectors, like originally, they only had one pixel, and all he could do was measure the brightness of a star. You could not measure anything about anything you know about its shape or anything like that, because you only had one pixel when of course, eventually they had a 16 by 16 pixel grid. And then you You know, to six to 56 by 256. And eventually you get super high resolution detectors, but you know,

Charles 20:06
so part of it is we literally just have higher resolution like, images, part of it is, but

Charlotte 20:13
at a certain point you’re, you know, no matter how high rez your your instrument is, if you are looking far enough back in time and space back galaxy is going to be a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny dot, you’re not going to get much more than, you know, a pixel or two with worth of information. So, in that case, you also still have, you have to find workarounds. And that’s where if you have enough different wavelength observations of that same little tiny spot, you can piece together through some cool statistics, what is actually happening in that galaxy, which is why I that stuff is really exciting to me. But I also use like, for my recent work, it’s been looking at really nearby stuff where you don’t necessarily have to use that technique.

Charles 21:00
Well, I was I was gonna say, this feels like another component of two arms, vigorously shaking hands, meme, one half astronomy one half systematics where systematics is also looking back in time, and we do have a couple of pieces of data that are just like objective, like we have a fossil record. But the fossil record is not good, especially for soft stuff. And small stuff, like insects, because they don’t have bones definitionally. So we do have a couple of like anchor pieces of data, where we know we can look at a wreck of a fossil of a roach Droid and date it backwards in time and have that like anchor point of we know that this existed at this time. But then in other forms of reconstructing evolutionary relationships, we have to kind of work around what we know with like, morphological similarity, and with genetic sequences and the molecular clock, and, you know, statistical probabilities. And it sounds like a lot of work in space is kind of, you have some cases where you literally have a picture of something and then other cases where you have to have, for instance, a spectrograph, and then you have to interpret the information that you can get from what you can actually record. Yeah, if that makes

Charlotte 22:28
sense. Well, I think that’s I think that’s exactly it. You know, and I think that I think that no matter how good your observation is, and how well resolved it is, you’re you still have systematics, but they’re their observation, observational systematics, or whether there’s systematics that are introduced within your interpretation. And so it doesn’t matter how big you know how good or bad it is, we’re all doing the same thing where we’re trying to reconstruct models in order to figure out what’s going on. And I think that’s just kind of part of science is that you have to know what you don’t know, going in and account for it. Right.

Charles 23:07
Yeah. And I to get a little bit up on my hobbyhorse, I think this is one thing that is often lacking in science communication. I talked about yesterday, my favorite museum, which is the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, North Carolina if and in part of what I enjoy about that museum is that it presents information on the scientific context of how people got that information. And then I think a lot of how science is presented to people it is as sort of resolved fact when in fact, you know, a lot of things we ourselves barely know. And they’re always subject to change. And I you know, not to get too far up my own butt about it. But this is this is one of the problems that’s come up in the last year, where we have had an unfurling situation of increasing knowledge accumulation. But the problem is that a lot of that was so poorly represented to people that it felt like flakiness rather than just we thought we knew something, and we didn’t. And now we know something else.

Charlotte 24:12
Yeah. Well, you know, I think it’s been an interesting time to kind of just like, really watch what, you know, the world’s relationship with science is, I think, this last year has been a really interesting illustration of that. And most people don’t understand that it is definitely there’s a reason why they call it the scientific process. You don’t know anything going in, you tried to get more information, you tried to know what you’ve, like, not accounted for. And that’s all you can do, especially when it’s something that’s brand new.

Charles 24:44
So where were we Galaxy Galaxy methodology? Yeah.

Charlotte 24:50
Well, actually, it’s funny that you brought up systematics because a lot of my work has had is has had to do with like systematics and calibrating between two different methods of formation histories and trying to figure out what one doesn’t know versus what one what the other one doesn’t know and where they agree.

Tessa 25:07
I mean, it’s something you have to deal with is like, say you have two elliptical galaxies. For the non astronomy people, elliptical galaxies are a type of galaxies that look like, you know, round balls. Well, more ovular balls. But anyways, do you run to the problem where like, they might look identical now, but look going back in time, they had very, very different histories, is that something you have to deal with?

Charlotte 25:29
Oh, yeah, big time. And understanding why they would have had different histories is very difficult to because some of it could be based on environment, are they really near a bunch of other galaxies, because if they’re near a bunch of other galaxies, maybe the pressure of the gases around them has actually been pushed away from their own proximity, or maybe they’re all by themselves. And those can have completely different histories. But that even happens with with galaxies that are really close to us, all of the galaxies that I’ve been studying for the last few years, they’re about maybe 13 million light years away, which sounds really far, but it’s actually pretty close, it’s close enough to where we have really nice observations of them using Hubble Space telegraf. With those, we have resolved stars. So it’s not using the previous method that I was talking about, where you’re taking a picture in different colors, and then kind of stringing those together this year, looking at the individual stars, and figuring out kind of based on their color, because the color is basically the colors attached to their age, and how bright they are, because how bright they are is attached to their, you know what type of star they are. And all of those, all of that information is tied together sadly, not hydrogen emission or absorption. But since with that, you can you can figure out by looking at the stars kind of how old they are. That’s a different way of reconstructing a star formation history is by just staring at the stars, and then putting them in Bend. So if you were born, this time you were born this time in you other guys were born this time. So that should be the gold standard, because you can see individual stars, but the two methods have totally different different information. So calibrating them, pretty nearby galaxies, like gives you a whole lot of stuff. And these galaxies, they’re all different, doing very different things. Some of them are hanging out with a bunch of friends by other nearby galaxies, some of them are off on their own, like just kind of loners doing doing their own stuff

Tessa 27:35
to separate the extroverts and introverts.

Charlotte 27:37
Yeah. Alright, well, I can talk a little bit more about my combination introvert, extra verta galaxies, and talk about how, like, how that’s cool and important. I, like, did some work with some of these nearby galaxies, where you can test both of these methods on them. And since some of them are really like, isolated, and some of them are in different environments, and they’re all like, kind of spread out from one another, because of where, like, from where we’re looking at them, you know, they’re spread out over the sky, like a good amount. So they’re far away enough away from each other that, like, you shouldn’t, they shouldn’t necessarily all be influencing one another, right. But like the ones that are in little groups, they probably are able to influence one another’s, like star formation history, like, they should kind of like, grow up together a little bit, because especially if they’re around a big massive galaxy, that big, massive galaxy is just going to completely boss them around and tell them exactly what to be doing is something that’s been seen before, probably be seen. And again, it’s whatever that interaction is that happens, like, they’ll all kind of feel like, the other ones should be doing something entirely different. Right? So this is a really cool way of being able to look at, you know, there’s not very many, but like a few different galaxies and different situations. And then like, because we got two different methods, seeing like, really like closely like, okay, so what are they doing? What are they up to? And how is like, where they’re at? Like, how is that gonna change how they grow up? Right?

Charles 29:20
Well, how does it?

Charlotte 29:23
Well, it’s actually really weird. And this is so how we expect it to happen, is that kind of like, you know, what I said, like the ones that are close together, those ones should be evolving together in some sort of way, somewhat, or if we did see them evolving together, at least, we wouldn’t be super shocked about it. We’d be like, oh, yeah, you know, well, they’re hanging out. The ones that are really far away. They should be doing their own thing, right. But like, um, We actually found something that was totally unexpected, which is when we looked at the overall shape of their star formation histories, which star formation history is basically it’s a, you can you can plot it as time on the bottom axis, and then star formation rate, like how many stars are being made at that very moment on the Y axis? We did that with all of the galaxies. And we’re like, yes, they all look quite different. And then did that again, where basically like, the idea was like, what, what does the whole group of galaxies? What does that star formation like history? Look, you know, what does the average one look like the average one, since they were all very different, it should have looked kind of like a flatline, right? Because anywhere it was, where it was, like dipping in one, it should balance out with the other. And it didn’t do that. And it actually looked as though, we actually found that for all of these galaxies that are kind of nearby, they all kind of slowed down really quickly on how many stars they were forming about 6 billion years ago, and then started forming stars again, like really started increasing about 3 billion years ago, for no reason whatsoever. They all kind of did this.

Tessa 31:16
Yeah. It was about to say, Do we know why they kind of had this pause and star formation? Or is that still an open question?

Charlotte 31:21
It’s big time an open question. And I have no real explanation for it. But it’s kind of it’s all of a sudden, it’s a really big mystery. At first, it was really scary for me, because I was like, oh, no, did I? Did I break science? And maybe I did? I don’t know. I’m not sure. There’s not really, it does defy what we would expect to see. And so it’s a cool result that hopefully other people can can try and help figure out because I’m now even more curious about it.

Tessa 31:53
If nothing else, I mean, if you ever, for some reason, feel a strong desire to make an appearance on the History Channel, you could always blame it on aliens, and I’m sure they have you. Exactly.

Charles 32:04
I would like to invite us all to take a little imaginative journey. What reasons would aliens have for solar engineering go?

Tessa 32:16
It depends on what their goals are. But like if they wanted to optimize the longevity of their stars, they’d actually probably try to cool them off, or at least somehow promote the formation of red dwarf stars, since they last for like hundreds of billions, potentially trillions of years. They’re very cool, but they’re very slow burning. The only thing I can imagine is that they want to optimize one for power output, you do the opposite and really crank up the temperature, but then it also wouldn’t last as long and potentially explode in the supernova when it reaches the end of its life, which could be problematic.

Charlotte 32:49
I think, I think, um, I would probably go with timeshares. You know, I think that aliens if they had the power to engineer stars or change, you know, a star through engineering, he probably would do so so that they created really nice, like habitable like zones for people to go vacationing in, you know, and then you could sell timeshares. You know, people be like, oh, like, like, I’ve got a really great timeshare over on pega side, be like you know, you want to go check it out. Like you know, all you have to do like you don’t have to necessarily even sign up for it. But they do have free coffee at this thing. So if you want to sit through it,

Tessa 33:30
that’s how they get you get you free food yet. I am i right at this myself.

Charles 33:42
And my answer is pettiness. There was a 3 billion year long beef between two neighboring alien groups, and one of them prevented the other one from getting any new stars in their Galaxy. I like that. So three, slam dunk answers. Put that in a journal. Oh, yeah. Okay, so imaginative time over backed science, which, as we all know, is dry and joyless. totally boring.

Tessa 34:13
So, what, like out of your research, you know, aside from this big open question, what would be something that you would be most excited to discover?

Charlotte 34:22
Oh, I’d be really curious to see what dark energy really is. If that’s like if lambda CDM which is the name for our our current model for cosmology, which is dark energy and cold dark matter. It would be really neat if we actually got a better understanding of that or if it would also be really neat if we totally disproved it. There are other like, you know, theories out there as to what what could be driving the acceleration of the expansion of our universe. And, though I think some of them maybe considered sort of fringe like they’re not necessarily ruled out until we’re able to get more observations. Right.

Charles 35:09
Yeah. And then I would ask, are there any, like, misconceptions about your field that you would like to clear up?

Charlotte 35:17
Yeah, I mean, so I think a lot of people think that I know where the constellations are, yes, astronomers curse, but also, the, the daily grind is a lot more using kind of clever algorithms and neat statistics, then doing the much more kind of romantic thing of like, looking at it. Gorgeous photo of a galaxy and going oh,

Charles 35:43
that’s, that’s how they get, you know, show you the lovely pictures, and then they hit you with math?

Tessa 35:49
Yeah. Yep. Yep. Yep. That’s pretty much how it works.

Charles 35:53
That’s just the the eternal story of science. Really? Yes, you all end up you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself doing a lot of statistics.

Charlotte 36:06
Yeah, yeah. Oh, well, here’s another misconception, which I think is just a general misconception for science in general, but I will talk about how it affects me, just people think that I am, you know, that people don’t understand that I’m a specialist. I don’t know very much about a lot of other I know very broadly about other fields. And like, that’s about it. I like to joke with people when they ask me things about like, really cool science that maybe have to do with like, bugs, or like even Astro bio, like, I will be like, I don’t know anything about life. Because I don’t very I don’t know very much about I don’t I don’t deal with life, life is messy. It’s beyond me. You know, there may be life in these galaxies. That’d be cool. Don’t want to know about it. There are people who study that, and it’s a lot more exciting than what I do. But it’s too complicated. For me. Life is complicated.

Charles 37:03
To be fair, space is also complicated.

Charlotte 37:06
It is but like, you know, you got to pick one, right?

Charles 37:09
I guess.

Charlotte 37:11
Actually, no, that’s not true. Right, Tessa, you can pick space. And

Tessa 37:15
that’s true. But no, that’s exactly what I did. I was literally as an undergrad. I was like, I don’t really like biology, but I also really like astronomy. Can I do both? And then one day, I googled it and discovered that NASA actually does a single astrobiology I’m like, I can

Charlotte 37:30
so awesome. Astro bio is probably one of my favorite subfields. It’s something that I cannot do, but I love hearing about it.

Charles 37:45
So our final thing that we do with all of our episodes is ask our guests to weigh in on one or several of our recurring questions.

Charlotte 37:53
I think the one that I I can’t pass up is the is it gay in space? Classic? Yeah. I mean, well, it’s just so it’s so it’s this is it’s just such a good, like, there’s a lot of good sci fi that supports my stance of yes, that it is gay and space. Right. I mean, if you look at like, and this is, this is just from, from the sense of Blake connecting, like, queer and trans and punk ideologies together, like there will always be a pushback against being unfairly labeled as subversive. And that will always be the case, even in the future, that’s just, you know, in the future in space, you know, in some other, you know, world, there’s always going to be, like, queer identity, for that reason. And it’s, it’s going to be an um, I don’t want to frame this as being something like, oh, it’s sad that people are always going to have to rebel in order to be their true, true selves. But like, I think that there’s actually something that’s incredibly freeing about that to be absolutely, unapologetically, especially yourself. And I think space is a great spot for that.

Charles 39:11
I mean, there’s a lot of stuff going on out there. Yeah. All right. Guess what? Well, there’s actually a new wrinkle that occurs to me, I don’t usually think about space in terms of generation ships. Mostly because I may be nihilistic Lee, I tend to be the like, every, you know, everything comes to an end, if humans are going to go extinct. You know, let’s go extinct. Because here’s my thing. I think generation ships taking a bunch of people who are still alive and like aware and conscious. Makes sense to me, because those people don’t want to die. They’re going into the future, whatever. But the like interstellar style generation ships where you’re trying to like, take a small subset, and then seed humans out elsewhere, that doesn’t appeal to me as much. And so I tend to not think about generation ships. But now that I am thinking about them in this context, one thing, there is a book that I have really enjoyed called On The Edge of Gone, that is a book that takes place there is like an apocalypse, like something is coming, there’s like going to be an asteroid collision with earth that will cause catastrophic damage and kill most people probably. And so there are these generation ships that are going to go up into orbit for like generations to save as many people as possible. But of course, a lot of people are getting left behind on Earth. And then it’s like, well, what’s going to happen to them, etc, etc. And part of the book is that the protagonist, accidentally gets taken onto a generation ship like they aren’t supposed to be. But then they miss something, something happens, read the book, it’s really good. And she has a sister, who is trans, and the protagonist assists and so she actually, they aren’t able to get up off of Earth before the asteroid hits. So they then are able to go out after it happens. And like try to find people and bring them to relative safety. And she finds her sister, spoiler alert, I guess, all this very roundabout way of saying that she is like, well, they need young people on the ship, you know, they want to have as many young people as possible on the ship, and her sister has to say to her, I love you so much. But why do you think they want the young people? And then she’s like, Oh, because her sister is not representing like, youthful fertility? Yeah. And so I just felt, I don’t really have a point here read on the Edge of Gone. It’s a really good book. And then also, I think, that gets like even in this like, progressed Earth where we like have generation ships and whatever, there is still there are going to be situations where people being outside, I guess, here’s the question. Here’s the question. Here’s I’m going to pretend that this was my point all along. Okay, are we just inevitably, because of the biological reality of human bodies is queer and transness as something relatively outside the mainstream, something that is likely to maintain itself over time, the like, there is some kernel of an underlying biological reality to those things that will always set it a little bit apart.

Charlotte 42:36
I want to say no, I just don’t I don’t. I just I think that that is more of a societal kind of problem that we’re hopefully going to be able to get past and I want to be an idealist. I read a lot. And watch a lot of dystopian sci fi that does not back me up here. But at the same time, I like to think that, you know, there’s going to be some point in in the future where people are just themselves.

Tessa 43:05
Yeah. And I do think there’s probably like precedent for that. I mean, something that I know, that’s been brought up a couple times, especially in the context of the whole unfortunate debacle about trans youth, his left handed people, you know, there used to be serious societal pressure to not be left handed for various superstitious reasons, up until like, the 1930s and 40s. You know, kids were encouraged at school not to be left handed. And now, no one really ever thinks about it. Except, you know, in terms of, you know, I don’t know, I’m not left handed, but I would assume you know, which desk I’m sitting at, if it’s right on exam.

Charles 43:43
Yeah, only a certain number of desks, like in those stadium seating rooms ever have, like left handed one. So you got to set those aside for those students.

Charlotte 43:52
There’s no right now, I am left handed. And also for some reason, scissors are the worst. Like they don’t cut. If you take a normal pair of scissors and you try to cut with them with your left hand doesn’t work. That’s a different episode. I think. If you ever want to have me back on to complain about left handed issues, I will happily do that.

Charles 44:13
Charlotte, you’ve been a fantastic guest.

Charlotte 44:16
Thank you so much.

Charles 44:17
Thank you so much for coming on. If people want to find out more about you or your work, where should they look?

Charlotte 44:23
So I’m on Twitter sporadically. My all of my anything to do with my work is usually on Twitter and it’s at Charlotte to Eureka. And other than that I have a paper coming out. But I don’t know exactly when but it’s going to be an Astrophysical Journal. Ooh, two.

Tessa 44:42
Very exciting. Yeah,

Charles 44:44
I am on Twitter at cockroach orals.

Tessa 44:46
I am on Twitter at Space roommate SP AC er ma se

Charles 44:50
the show is on Twitter at a s a b pod or at our website ASAP podcast where we post show notes and transcripts for every episode and until

Tessa 44:58
next time, keep on signing. Anson

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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