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Bonus: Still Curious?

Season 1Mar 29, 2022

At NASA, we are driven by curiosity, and we know you are too! Join us as we hear from our previous episode experts about what they’re interested in and answer some questions from listeners like you. What are you still curious about?

NASA's Curious Universe

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NASA’s Curious Universe

Bonus: Still Curious?

Introducing NASA’s Curious Universe

Our universe is a wild and wonderful place. Join NASA astronauts, scientists and engineers on a new adventure each week — all you need is your curiosity. Fly over the Antarctic tundra, explore faraway styrofoam planets, and journey deep into our solar system. First-time space explorers welcome.

Episode Description: At NASA, we are driven by curiosity and we know you are too! Join us as we hear from our previous episode experts about what they’re interested in, and answer some questions from listeners like you. What are you still curious about?


Producer Christina Dana: Awesome, well our last question is the question we ask everyone we talk to… what else are you still curious about?

[Song: Little Treasures Instrumental by Dorier]

Abdiel Santos Galindo: Oh wow that’s a really good question because there’s a lot of things I’m curious about.

Denna Lambert: Oh my goodness, um…

Kimberly Arcand: I think I’m curious about everything. That might be why I’ve been in this job for so long and one of the reasons why I love working for a NASA mission so much.

Jim Garvin: I’m innately curiosity driven, I think we all are in different ways. It could be about what music we like, how we want to look, how we want to play sports, how we want to do art. How do we understand to build the things that let us live better, safer, thrive longer…

Rudi Albat: The way you work in the US and the fire you have in your spirits and the passion you have for space is exactly the same we have here. We are really driven by the same fuel on both sides of the Atlantic. The fuel is named curiosity.

[Theme Song: Curiosity by SYSTEM Sounds]

HOST PADI BOYD: This is NASA’s Curious Universe. Our universe is a wild and wonderful place. I’m your host Padi Boyd and in this podcast, NASA is your tour guide.

HOST PADI BOYD: Curiosity is all around us, and it can show up in a lot of different ways!

HOST PADI BOYD: We here at NASA love curiosity so much, it’s in the name of this show! And it’s at the heart of all the different projects that scientists and engineers take on as we explore our home planet and beyond. Science is driven by curiosity, and the search for answers.

HOST PADI BOYD: We’re working on season four of Curious Universe now, but in the meantime…we wanted to release a bonus episode to hear about some of our experts’ curiosities, answer listener questions, and share a few updates on missions we’ve covered in the past.

HOST PADI BOYD: At the end of each episode of this show, we like to ask our listeners, what are you still curious about? And when we record the interviews to makethese episodes, we ask our experts the same thing.

[Song: Humble Beginnings Instrumental by Allaway Lardner]

HOST PADI BOYD: So let’s revisit some of the voices you heard in season three and our James Webb Space Telescope mini-series…to learn what NASA experts are still curious about.

Music Transition

HOST PADI BOYD: Kimberly Arcand, from our data sonification episode in season three, found that a deep-seated sense of curiosity drives her work with the Chandra X-ray observatory.

Kim Arcand: I’m learning something new quite literally every day. Everytime you think you know the answer to one thing you end up getting 10 new questions to ask and I love the not knowing, I’m comfortable not knowing. So it’s hard for me to predict like where I will go from here or what else I will learn after this because I’ll be completely surprised with something new tomorrow.

HOST PADI BOYD: In Curious Universe, we like to take listeners on adventures to far-off worlds, and we also investigate incredible discoveries here on our home planet.

HOST PADI BOYD: In season three, we touched down on Venus, with the teams who are sending probes to explore our sibling planet in 2029. Here’s Giada Arney, who is working on the DAVINCI mission.

Giada Arney: I think there’s an innate human desire to always learn more, and we’re just such a curious species. So this curiosity has taken us across continents and oceans in the past. And it’s also driven us to amazing discoveries across science and also driven us to create amazing pieces of art and literature, you know, all the things that humans do are amazing.

Giada Arney: I’m really curious about how planets evolve through time and how habitability evolves through time. I’m also really curious about planets beyond our solar system. I’d love to know what other solar systems are like. I’d love to know if there are planets beyond our solar system that look more like Earth and maybe even host habitability and life themselves.

HOST PADI BOYD: One of the questions we’re most curious about is what else is out there in the universe and if we’ll ever find life outside of Earth. In fall of 2021, we released a mini-series about the James Webb Space Telescope, one of the most ambitious missions ever sent to space.

[Song: Perceptible Signal Instrumental by Lamay]

HOST PADI BOYD: This incredible telescope might help us answer some of the biggest questions our experts are curious about.

HOST PADI BOYD: In our mini-series, we heard from Antonella Nota, the Webb project scientist for the European Space Agency, or ESA.

Antonella Nota: We all ask the same question, astronomers and public alike, we’re all interested to know where we come from, what are our origin. Are we alone in the universe? Is there life anywhere? And James Webb is designed to look for those signs, possibly, of life on other planets outside our solar system. So we are really exciting to see what Webb will bring us.

HOST PADI BOYD: Alex Lockwood is a Project Scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. We first heard from her in our Science episode of the mini-series.

Alex Lockwood: One of the most exciting things about Webb is the fact that we have an idea of what we’re going to learn. But we have no idea how much more we’re going to learn.

Alex Lockwood: We can’t even anticipate how big discoveries are going to be made. And we’re probably looking at, you know, new pieces of fundamental physics that will be discovered by this telescope.

Alex Lockwood: Every once in a while, and I mean, every once in a while, probably about once a month, I speak with a few of my colleagues and we are simultaneously overwhelmed and completely humbled and honored to be the ones who are really bringing this telescope to the public, to life. It is a dream come true.

HOST PADI BOYD: John Mather is a Nobel Prize winner and Senior Project Scientist for Webb. While speaking with him for the miniseries, he introduced us to a new kind of chicken-or-egg problem!

John Mather: I’m hoping that we find out, which came first, the black holes or the galaxies.

[Song: Pulsing Mallets Instrumental by Dury]

John Mather: So somehow, a galaxy as big as ours, the Milky Way, has several millions worth of stars all collapsed into one gigantic black hole in the middle. And some galaxies are even bigger, they have billions of stars all squeezed into one tiny black hole. It might be that the Big Bang made the black holes directly. It might be that the first generations of stars led directly to black holes, and that they just disappeared. But nobody knows how that ever got started. So we’d like to know about that.

HOST PADI BOYD: When we wrapped up our miniseries, Webb was preparing for launch in Kourou, French Guiana.

[Song: Cards on the Table Instrumental by Price]

HOST PADI BOYD: Since then, the Ariane 5 rocket carrying Webb successfully lifted off on December 25, 2021.

Launch audio: (French)

Dix, neuf, huit, sept, six, cinq, quatre, trois, deux…

Three two one, go go go!

And we have engines start…


(Fade out)

HOST PADI BOYD: One of the hosts of the live launch broadcasts was Knicole Colon, who we heard in our “Planet Hunting” episode on exoplanets.

Producer Liz Landau: We have just wrapped the whole broadcast, Webb is power positive! First, Knicole, how are you feeling?

Knicole Colon: Uh…I’m feeling much less nervous than I did before! I’m feeling very good.

HOST PADI BOYD: Knicole is going to use Webb to study the weather of a fascinating exoplanet system.

Knicole Colon: So I’m part of a couple of programs to study exoplanets. One of them is a really interesting system, HD 80606 B. It’s actually one we’ve known about for a long time, since the late 90s, early 2000s. And it’s one that has a very eccentric orbit. So it’s almost like a comet. So it travels really distant from its star and then comes in really close. And it just so happens when it comes in close we can see it not only transit or pass in front of it’s star, but we can also see it when it passes behind it’s star. We’re going to look for the formation and dissipation of clouds in the atmosphere as it gets like heated up rapidly and cools down. Like literally trying to see weather on this planet, which is really hard to do, but that’s why Webb comes into play because it’s, Webb’s gonna have this sensitivity for this.

HOST PADI BOYD: Over a nail-biting month of space travel, Webb unfolded all of its intricate pieces before arriving at its destination 1 million miles away. John, Antonella, Alex, Knicole, and countless others have continued to support Webb’s journey through space and are now awaiting the first cosmic images…coming this summer, 2022.

HOST PADI BOYD: With so much discovery right around the corner, there’s a lot to be curious about.

Sharon Cobb: I think something that, that really makes me wonder is…what’s out there?

[Song: Lost in Translation 1 Instrumental by Goodman Ortiz Gimeno]

HOST PADI BOYD: That’s Sharon Cobb, from our episode on the Space launch system, or SLS, rocket. The SLS is slated to have its very first flight in 2022 with the Artemis I mission. There’s a lot to discover as we head back to the moon and eventually Mars, with the Artemis program.

Sharon Cobb: What are we gonna find when we go to Mars, what are we going to find when we go beyond Mars? What are the things that we just can’t even imagine, are beyond our reach right now? And then how can we take what we learn from that and make life better here on Earth? So I just, the idea that there is so much to be learned. And I think as a child, I was so curious about how things worked, and I would cut open a flower to see what was inside. And I just think the idea that if we look under things, and we open things, and we see what they are, we’ll learn so much and think about what we can do with that.

HOST PADI BOYD: No matter what roles we take on here at NASA, many of us work at the agency because we’re curious, and have a lifelong love of discovery and exploration.

HOST PADI BOYD: And still today, there is so much in the universe we don’t yet know about, even when it comes to the planets closest to home!

[Song: Hyperion Instrumental by Dury]

HOST PADI BOYD: In his everyday life, David Zahn focuses on the future of flight and aeronautics. But he’s curious about what his NASA colleagues are going to find on the upcoming missions to Venus.

David Zahn: Oh my gosh, uh Venus. [laughs] I was so happy to hear the administrator saying that they’re putting two probes back into Venus. I think that would be a really cool planet to explore. And it’s so beautiful. I don’t do anythingwith space. But as far as being a fan, I would say that’s probably my most intriguing or captivating idea of, of getting high res images from Venus.

Jim Garvin: My curiosity is driven about the physical, natural world and what it’s doing. It just grips me and I think as people, we all do care about that in different ways as we go through our lives.

HOST PADI BOYD: We first heard from Jim Garvin, Principal Investigator of the DAVINCI mission, in our episode “Journey To Venus”. Jim has been with NASA for over 30 years but he’s still brimming with curiosity…about, well, just about everything!

Jim Garvin: I think my curiosity is the local natural world that I get to see every day. I take walks in the woods with my dog, and I love to see the blooming of interesting fungi. You know, every so often, a giant puffball comes up and you wonder how does that thing the size of a soccer ball contain 100 trillion spores, hoping to make a couple more fungi. That’s a curiosity. The rocks we see that, you know I like to tell my kids, have never lied to me. You can read a rock like a book. And that’s why geology is so much fun.

[Song: Sun Age Underscore by Kronental Pike]

Jim Garvin: And I guess my final curiosity is: I’m passionate about primitive trees. It might sound really strange. I love them. I see a conifer and I cringe in excitement. I don’t know what it is. And I’m saddened by the fact that they’re literally going extinct around us.

HOST PADI BOYD: Curious Universe spends a lot of time in space, but there’s so much here on our complex and beautiful home planet still to discover. Brooke Medley took us on a tour of Antarctica in our episode about sea level rise here on planet Earth. She studies ice and its effects on ocean levels both on the ground and with data from satellites.

Brooke Medley: My biggest curiosity is what’s happening at the surface. So I really am curious about snowfall and, and how that changes and what that means from a sea level perspective. I’ve had a lot of interest in trying to understand historically, how has that change in snowfall impacted sea level rise, and in fact, we have shown that increased snowfall over the 20th century did actually help remove some water from the ocean. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to keep pace with the ice losses that are seen.

Brooke Medley: There’s always a story to tell with the data. It’s never just been done. I think that’s kind of the fun part about being a scientist is, you can just keep thinking and wondering, can I use that for this? And how can I do that and maybe if I combine it with that. You just get to be curious. And that’s, that’s really fun.

HOST PADI BOYD: Scientists know Earth’s climate is changing, and NASA is working to map how it could continue to change in the future. This is one of our most pressing questions about our home planet. It takes a lot of people, working together, to investigate these problems and figure out solutions.

[Song: Chimes Underscore by Oliver]

HOST PADI BOYD: Shivanjli Sharma is an aerospace engineer from our episode on the future of flight. Her work, like so many people at NASA, has to be careful and precise, but that doesn’t mean we have to be perfect.

Shivanjli Sharma: Perfection is not a key attribute to becoming a NASA engineer. Being curious, being able to learn from your mistakes, and being able to always be willing to learn. I think that is a key aspect of a NASA engineer. I might go into work tomorrow and be faced with a novel aircraft configuration that I’ve never seen before in my life. And I have to learn about how that vehicle operates and how there might be aspects of the vehicle that I have to actually continuously learn and evolve in understanding. That desire to learn is, I think, much more important than any perfection. I really don’t think anyone is perfect. So that’s my maybe biased opinion.

HOST PADI BOYD: We are so grateful to our incredible experts who shared not only their work but also their excitements and curiosity with us. But we know you are curious too! So let’s answer some questions from listeners like you!

[Song: Charming Smile Instrumental by Jones Kent]

HOST PADI BOYD: Remember, you can send us questions in audio or written format, and we’ll try to find the answers. Our producers Christina Dana and Katie Atkinson are going to read out some of the questions we were sent at!

Producer Christina Dana: Thanks Padi! After our season three episode on Plasma, Dante asked, “Is it possible to study plasma from its magnetic aspect or magnetic interaction?”

HOST PADI BOYD: Great question Dante! We checked in with our friends on the Heliophysics team and it turns out magnetic interaction is one of the best ways to study plasma. Plasma is an electrically charged gas, which means it is sensitive and reacts to electromagnetic forces differently than other states of matter. By looking at the ways plasmas interact with both magnetic and electric fields, we can learn how plasma affects the universe around us, including space weather events and satellite communication!

Producer Katie Atkinson: Next, from our season two episode on the physics of black holes, Rimsha asked, “Is there a possibility that we can send satellites into a black hole to see what’s inside them? I understand that us humans won’t survive, how will a satellite survive?”

HOST PADI BOYD: Another great question! The first problem is that the closest black hole to Earth is thousands of light years away. We haven’t yet sent a probe that far and don’t currently have the technology, not only to send a satellite there but also receive information back.

HOST PADI BOYD: The second problem is that once something goes into a black hole, it’s really hard to get any information back from it. It’s hard to even get near it. The satellite would be stretched like a spaghetti noodle by the black hole’s massive gravity and none of the methods we currently use to transport information, like radio waves, would be able to escape.

Producer Katie Atkinson: Thanks Padi! And we have an audio question about gas giant planets!

[Song: Seven Wonders Instrumental by Blythe Joustra]

Derrick (Listener): Hi, this is Derrick. I am an engineer and longtime space enthusiast. My question is: why do the photographs of the gas giant planets show them with what appears to be a hard horizon? If they’re gas giants, you would think that the horizon would be very soft as the density of the air got less and less and less. I wondered this for many years and hopefully you can answer my question. Thanks!

HOST PADI BOYD: Hi Derrick, thanks so much for your question! It really got us thinking! From pictures of gas planets, they do look solid, like you could almost step on them. But you can’t! So we checked in with one of our planetary experts on why these planets look so solid. This is Heidi Hammel, who we first heard from in the our Webb mini-series.

Heidi Hammel: It’s an interesting question Derrick. The super short answer is that the atmospheres of the giant planets are soft, they are made of clouds. But from a distance, they look hard.

Heidi Hammel: To think about this, imagine if you’ve ever been in an airplane that is flying up through the clouds and is then above the clouds. When you look down, you see what looks like a “surface” but actually that Earth cloud landscape is all just misty water vapor. You know, the plane just flew right through it.

Heidi Hammel: The same thing is true for the “surface”, and I say that in quotes, of a giant planet, it is just clouds. And in case you’re wondering why the cloud and gases don’t just float away in space, it’s the gravity of these planets that holds them there, holds them tight.

Heidi Hammel: And the largest planets like Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune they have a really strong gravitational force. So strong that they hold tight to their atmospheres, even though these large planets are spinning much faster than the Earth.

Producer Christina Dana: Finally, Padi, as an ever-curious scientist yourself, besides the work you do on astrophysics and exoplanets, what are you curious about?

HOST PADI BOYD: In addition to exoplanets, I’m really fascinated by black holes at all size scales. And when we look at the universe around us today, every galaxy we see, which is composed of hundreds of billions of stars like the sun, each of those has a supermassive black hole at the core.

HOST PADI BOYD: Its mass is a million and sometimes even up to a billion times the mass of our sun, but what we don’t know is how these supermassive black holes got there. That’s a mystery we’re waiting for the James Webb Space Telescope to help us unravel, and I’m so curious to find out what the answer really is.

[Song: Innocent Activities Instrumental by Parsons]

HOST PADI BOYD: Curiosity is a beautiful part of the human experience. And there is so much out there still to discover.

HOST PADI BOYD: We’ve had a great time in this episode revisiting some of the experts we’ve featured on the show. And we are so grateful to you for coming on the journey with us, and sending your questions along the way. Thank you for listening. We’re excited to continue sharing NASA’s discoveries with you!

HOST PADI BOYD: This season, you’ll hear about supersonic flight, the science of spacesuits, the mysteries of the moon, and more.

HOST PADI BOYD: In the meantime, if you’d like to be featured in a future Q&A episode, check out for more information about how to submit a question. If you’re still curious about what work we’re up to here at NASA, you can visit for even more information.

[Song: Curiosity Outro by SYSTEM Sounds]

HOST PADI BOYD: This is NASA’s Curious Universe. This episode was written and produced Christina Dana. Our executive producer is Katie Atkinson. The Curious Universe team includes Maddie Arnold and Micheala Sosby.

HOST PADI BOYD: Our theme song was composed by Matt Russo and Andrew Santaguida of SYSTEM Sounds.

HOST PADI BOYD: Special thanks to Liz Landau and Jace Steiner.

HOST PADI BOYD: If you liked this episode, please let us know by leaving us a review, tweeting about the show @NASA, and sharing with a friend.

Producer Christina Dana:Alright… I’m gonna do it again. Page 9… Hoo.. this is stressful. [laughs]