Kate: Hello, fans of Space Place Live! And hello, Merav Opher. We are glad you could visit us today.
Merav: I’m excited to be here. I’m a great fan of your show.
Kyo: You are?! Wow, that’s great!
Kate: Hey, don’t sound so surprised, Kyo. OK, let’s find out all about you. You’re a scientist, right?
Merav: Right! I am a physicist at Boston University, in Massachusetts. I work in the astronomy department.
Kyo: What does a physicist do?
Merav: Physicists do lots of different things. In my case, I teach students about astronomy and also about my favorite research subjects in physics, which are the Sun, space weather, and the solar wind.
Kyo: Uh . . . solar wind? The Sun has wind? And space has weather?
Merav: Yes! Take a look at this video.
Merav: The Sun is always blasting out particles of itself. Called the solar wind, these speedy particles are charged with electricity. The solar wind blows throughout the solar system, out to way, way beyond the planets.
Kyo: Wow, it’s nice to know the Sun’s always having a blast.
Kate: Get serious, Kyo.
Merav: Well, I don’t know if it’s having a blast, but it’s certainly making a blast!
Kyo: Then what is space weather?
Merav: Sometimes the Sun gets even more active than usual and burps out a much bigger and faster-moving blast of charged particles. If Earth happens to be in their path, these speedy particles can damage our satellites, our electrical grids, and maybe even hurt our astronauts. That’s called bad space weather.
Kate: But how can the solar wind keep blowing and blowing way out past the planets? Doesn’t it ever get tired and slow down?
Merav: It slows down only when it meets up with something that pushes against it. The solar wind blows kind of a bubble in space. This bubble is called the heliosphere. Our solar system is all within this bubble. Outside the bubble are the winds that blow between the stars. This wind is called the interstellar wind. Just inside the wall of the bubble is where the solar wind slows down and then finally stops.
Kyo: And this is where we slow down and stop for a commercial. We’ll be right back.
Kate: We’re back. Merav was just telling us about the edge of our solar system. But, Merav, how can you study that? Isn’t that awfully far away?
Merav: It sure is! And the only way we can learn about it is from two robotic spacecraft, called Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. They left Earth way back in 1977. They will soon be the first human-made objects to leave our solar system.
Kyo: No way! You mean it’s taken them, uh, let’s see . . . uh, 34? Uh, yeah . . . 34 years just to get out of our solar system?
Kate: Sounds like you’ve been paying attention in math class for a change, Kyo.
Merav: Right, Kyo. They have finally reached what we call the termination shock, the place where the wind from our Sun meets the wind between the stars. The Voyagers are helping us understand the shape and size of our own star system’s bubble in space.
Kyo: Wow! Something made by humans will be traveling in interstellar space. That’s so awesome!
Kate: I agree! We’ll have to find out more about the Voyagers later. But right now, we also want to find out more about you, Merav.
Kyo: Yeah! Like, where are you from?
Merav: Ah, you want to know about my accent.
Merav: I was born in Israel. Then, when I was 8, my family moved to Brazil. In Israel, I spoke Hebrew. In Brazil I spoke Portuguese. Now I speak English with a Hebrew-Portuguese accent.
Kate: So how did you decide to become a scientist?
Merav: Well, that decision took a while. Until I was half-way through college, I wanted to be a film director.
Kyo: Really? That’s a lot different from being a physicist!
Merav: Maybe, but I also love the arts. I love music, especially opera. I love writing too.
Kate: What happened to change your mind?
Merav: Well, my father thought physics would be good for my mind. So I was taking physics classes, but not doing very well. Then in my third year of college, I had a wonderful physics teacher. I fell in love with physics! And after that, I knew it was what I wanted to do. My twin sister also became a physicist.
Kyo: It’s great that you love your job. Do you have time for anything else?
Merav: The arts are still a big part of my life. I go to the opera every chance I get. I write stories too, when I find the time.
Kate: I’m so glad to hear you say that! I love science and art too. I’d have a hard time choosing.
Merav: Yes, for me, life is all about both art and science!
Kyo: Well, our time is up. Thanks for visiting, Merav. And goodbye for now to all you other fans of Space Place Live!