Space Place Live! with Dr. Karsten Danzmann


All the way from Germany to chat with us is Dr. Karsten Danzmann, who works with Dr. Kip Thorne on the LISA mission. Find out how it was not school, but TV that inspired Karsten to explore the universe!

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CARLOS: Hi! Welcome to another episode of Space Place Live. Today our guest is Dr. Karsten Danzmann, who drove all the way from Germany to be with us today!

KATE: You know there's an ocean between us and Germany, right?

Carlos is caught off-guard and doesn't know how to respond.

KATE: Anyways, Germany is the birthplace of many famous people, like Wernher von Braun, inventor of the modern day rocket.

CARLOS: And don't forget, Albert Einstein, and optical master Carl Zeiss, whose company makes lenses for some of NASA's space telescopes.

KATE: Karsten works with another guest of ours, Kip Thorne, on the LISA project.

CARLOS: LISA is a space mission that will study gravity in space made by black holes . . .

KATE: . . . which are super-dense objects in space. They contain a lot of mass in a very small space. That means that close to a black hole, the gravity is super powerful.

CARLOS: When a black hole hits something or sucks something in, it causes ripples in space. These space ripples are called gravitational waves. We'll let Karsten explain gravitational waves during the show.

KATE: LISA will have three spacecraft flying in a triangle, millions of miles apart in space. They will act like a giant antenna that will be able to see gravitational waves pass through space. LISA will see exactly where the wave came from and how strong it is, which will teach us more about black holes, and maybe even how the universe began!

CARLOS: We'll meet Karsten right 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.

KATE: And we're back with Karsten Danzmann, here to tell us a little about himself and the LISA project. Thanks for being here Karsten.

Karsten nods and smiles

CARLOS: I'm told you're a teacher, on top of being a scientist?

KARSTEN: (nodding) I'm a professor of physics at the Max Plank Institute.

KATE: It must've been exciting learning about space in Germany, where so many famous scientists come from.

KARSTEN: Well it was not really school that inspired me so much, but it was a TV show interestingly enough. It was Pascual Jordan appearing on TV.

CARLOS: Who's Pascual Jordan?

KARSTEN: He was giving a lecture series, and he even appeared in person in my hometown and I was just totally fascinated by everything I heard. And then a little later it was Sir Herman Bondi who was also giving a series of TV lectures and I was absolutely fascinated. A few years ago I met him and told him that he was responsible for me being in relativity and he said, "Well it's good to hear that my show was at least good for something."

KATE: (laughs) That's so awesome that you met one of your idols.

CARLOS: Aside from watching scientists on TV, what else got you interested in space science?

KARSTEN: I always wanted to know what the world is made of. So even as a young child, I was sitting there staring at the sky, looking at the stars. And I kept pestering my parents I wanted to have a telescope, so I got one, when I was pretty young. Spent many nights outside, looking at whatever I could find there in my telescope.

KATE: After these commercials we'll find out more about Karsten and gravity!

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.

CARLOS: We're back with Karsten as our guest. During the break Karsten was telling us about another cool thing he saw as a kid.

KATE: Man's first walk on the moon!

KARSTEN: I can still remember very well, it was 3 o'clock in the morning in Germany at the time, and I was sitting there in front of the TV, glued to the screen, watching this, and then I knew this is something I wanna do.

CARLOS: I wish MY mom would let me stay up that late.

KATE: So, what made you want to learn about gravity in space? We don't hear about too many gravity scientists.

KARSTEN: I was always most fascinated by exotic things. It couldn't be exotic enough. And when I heard about gravitational waves, first I couldn't really believe all the things I was hearing, and then it seemed exotic enough for me.

CARLOS: What's the coolest thing about working on the LISA project?

KARSTEN: Totally cool about LISA is the idea to learn something about a part of the universe that you have no other chance of ever finding out. And we may even have a chance to look down the throat of the Big Bang. With light we will never have a chance to see the beginning of it all. And if we ever want to see how it all began, then gravitational waves are probably our only chance.

KATE: During our intro we explained that LISA studies gravitational waves in space. Can you explain just what gravitational waves are?

KARSTEN: If you could imagine that the world would be flat. Then you take the Earth, put it there on a rubber mat, for example. Then you have an indentation in the mat. And then if somebody drops an apple, then it'll roll down the hill. Then you can say that's gravity. Now if the Earth hops up and down or moves somehow, then you could easily imagine there would be ripples running along your rubber mat just like waves in a pond if you throw in a stone. Those are called gravitational waves or gravitational radiation.

CARLOS: Wow, that really IS exotic stuff! I'm gonna be scratching my head all day thinking about that!

KATE: I think a shower will take care of the scratching. Well, that concludes today's show, A huge "thank you" to Karsten Danzmann for showing up all the way from Germany!

CARLOS: Be sure to keep an eye out for our next episode of Space Place Live!

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