Space Place Live! with Dr. Kip Thorne


Our guest is Dr. Kip Thorne, astronomer and author of the popular book "Black Holes & Time Warps." We will find out what he's doing now, how he became a scientist, and what he likes to do for fun.

Start of show

KATE: Hi! I'm Kate.

CARLOS: And I'm Carlos.

KATE & CARLOS: And welcome to Space Place Live!

CARLOS: Today, we're going to interview one of the most popular scientists around, Professor Kip Thorne.

KATE: That's right. Kip's part of a space science project called LISA, which will study gravity in space, black holes, and how the Universe may have begun.

CARLOS: For those of you who don't know, black holes are super dense objects. If a black hole had the same mass as the Earth, it would only be the size of a quarter!

KATE: In space, there are black holes of all sizes. And they can have masses that are many millions of times the mass of our Sun.

CARLOS: Some black holes start out to be stars. But not all stars become black holes.

KATE: Our Sun won't.

CARLOS: You're right. When a star's fuel runs out, there isn't anything to hold it up anymore. So it starts to collapse under its own weight. The star gets much smaller, but its mass is the same.

KATE: Because of its shrinking, the force of gravity at the surface gets stronger. If the star shrinks enough, the gravity becomes so strong that not even light can escape! That's why we call them black holes.

CARLOS: The LISA project uses three spacecraft that work together to detect black holes. So we'll be able to learn all sorts of cool things about them.

KATE: Well, enough science lessons. Stay tuned. We'll be back with Kip Thorne after these messages.

This episode of Space Place Live is brought to you by NASA's LISA mission. To learn more about LISA, play the LISA Crossword Puzzle.

: Welcome back to the show. And here joining us now is one of the most famous scientists, Dr. Kip Thorne!

: So, Kip, what are you doing these days?

KIP THORNE: I'm professor of theoretical physics at Caltech.

CARLOS: Awesome. What made you want to be a scientist?

KIP THORNE: My interest in science was enhanced by the fact that my father was a scientist, and I much admired him. He was a soil chemist. I had a wonderful geometry teacher in high school who had a big impact on me.

KATE: How come?

KIP THORNE: He swore at the children when they didn't behave, he would lose his temper terribly. But he in fact explained things so clearly, he understood things so clearly he was able to explain them that I think we all adored him even though he had this terrible temper. Mr. Thomas was his name.

CARLOS: Wow, that sounds kinda cool and scary at the same time!

KATE: So, then why did you want to become a scientist?

KIP THORNE: When I was 8 years old, my mother took me to a lecture about the solar system. This was in a small town in northern Utah. The lecture was at the local church, and the man who gave the lecture told all about the sun, the planets, and how the planets go around the sun, how big the solar system was. I became enchanted. Until then, my heart's desire was to be a snowplow driver, and that lecture turned me around. I decided I wanted to be an astronomer.

CARLOS: Hehe, there's a big difference between snowplow driver and astronomer!

KATE: So you're also teaching science. What do you like about teaching?

KIP THORNE: I think the most rewarding aspect of my work in science is seeing students that I work with grow from very inexperienced people struggling to understand science to become highly creative scientists who are totally at the forefront of having a huge impact, while they're still students.

CARLOS: That's cool how they becomes scientists while they're still in school!

KATE: Definitely. We've got a lot more questions for Kip, after this commercial.

This episode of Space Place Live is brought to you by NASA's LISA mission. As gravitational waves pass through space, the LISA antenna bounces around and records every tiny jiggle. LISA will look at stars and black holes.

KATE: And we're back, with Kip Thorne as our guest today. Can you tell the kids watching what they should do if they want to be a scientist?

KIP THORNE: The most important thing is to be motivated by your own intellectual curiosity. Make sure you just love this so much that you really want to do this the rest of your life, and not that you're being driven by parents, teachers or some other motivation. That is essential if you're really going to have a happy life doing science.

CARLOS: And speaking of life, what's your life like outside of science? What do you do for fun?

KIP THORNE: I ski a little bit, I scuba dive occasionally, when I'm in exotic parts of the world. My other activities are enjoying music. I used to play the saxophone and clarinet in a rock band in the 1950s, but I haven't played in a long time.

KATE: Cool, a rock and roll scientist! What groups do you listen to?

KIP THORNE: You know, I don't follow rock and roll or music that much in this era, so I go way back to the 1950s. Benny Goodman, calypso music, Harry Belafonte, things like that. But I so love the challenge of understanding the mysteries of the universe, that's where the greatest joy and fun in my life comes from, and the fun from scuba diving and skiing, well that's nice too, but the joys there in fact are nowhere near as great as the joys from my work in science.

CARLOS: Well, I can see you're a very dedicated scientist, Kip. Thank you so much for coming to our clubhouse.

KATE: And thanks to all you kids watching Space Place Live! For more information on LISA, visit lisa.nasa.gov. See you all next time!

End of show