Space Place Live! with Chris Martin

Our guest is Dr. Chris Martin, a professor at Caltech and leader of the NASA space mission, GALEX! He's taken his love of map-making and exploration and uses it to map the universe and explore the birth of stars! Check it out!

Start of show

CARLOS: Hi! I'm Carlos, and this is Kate, and welcome to Space Place Live!

KATE: Today our guest is Chris Martin, who leads the Galaxy Evolution Explorer project, or GALEX for short.

CARLOS: The GALEX project which will teach us how stars and galaxies are born by looking at the ultraviolet rays, also known as UV rays.

KATE: UV rays are a part of light that human eyes aren't made to see. Only special instruments, like GALEX or other telescopes, can see UV rays.

CARLOS: This chart shows you which part of light we can see, which is a very tiny part. UV is just outside the range of light we can see.

KATE: We'll be asking our guest Chris Martin about UV rays and more after this short break.

This episode of Space Place Live is brought to you by GALEX. To learn more about GALEX, visit "Make a GALEX Galaxy Montage">

CARLOS: Welcome back to the show, with our guest Chris Martin from GALEX.

CHRIS: Hi, Kate and Carlos, it's great to be at Space Place.

KATE: Thanks for coming. We were explaining to our viewers about UV rays and GALEX. Can you tell us why you look at ultraviolet light, instead of other kinds of light?

CHRIS: It turns out that ultraviolet is a very good way to study star formation, because if we see ultraviolet from a galaxy, it means basically that stars have just formed in the last 10 or so million years, so we're actually watching the galaxy under construction.

KATE: 10 million years? That's a long time for construction!

CARLOS: (to Kate) Not for stars. Stars usually live anywhere from 5 to 20 billion years.

CARLOS: (to Chris) I read that when you're looking at light from stars and galaxies, that you're actually looking back in time? Can you explain that for us?

CHRIS: Here's an analogy: when you see lightning and hear thunder, you don't see them together usually. And that's because it takes sound much longer to travel from the storm cloud to you, to your ears, than it does for the light.

CARLOS: Oh, right, 'cause the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second, and the speed of sound is only 700 miles per hour, also known as Mach 1.

CHRIS: So when you hear the thunder, it actually happened seconds ago, depending on how far away it is. So effectively your ears are looking back in time, at what happened a few seconds ago or a minute ago.

KATE: So then when you're looking at starlight, you must be looking WAY back in time!

CHRIS: The universe is so big, that even though light is incredibly fast, it can take billions of years for light to travel from a galaxy that's far away to us on Earth. And we can use that as a trick, when we see that light that's traveled, let's say, 5 billion years, what we're looking at is light that is 5 billion years old, and that means we're looking at a galaxy five billion years ago. And by looking at more and more distant galaxies, we can see farther and farther back in time.

CARLOS: It can't get any cooler than that. Stay tuned, we'll be back with more of Chris after these commercials.

This episode of Space Place Live is brought to you by GAELX. To learn more about GALEX, visit "Going My Way, Friend?"

KATE: Back to the show with our guest Chris Martin. So it seems to me that you're really fascinated with stars and galaxies. Are there any other things you love to do, any hobbies?

CHRIS: The thing I'm most serious about is piano-playing. I love to play the piano. I first played when I was in first grade, and then I played by ear for many years. I love doing it, I could do it . . . many hours a day if I had the time and I never have the time.

CARLOS: Was there anything else you did as a kid, besides music?

CHRIS: I did a lot of reading. Yeah, I guess the other thing would be writing plays, I like to have projects. (laughs) It's all I did, projects. I like to have projects! I like to have a bunch of people together, you know, doing something; putting together a play, making a movie, that kind of stuff was just really fun.

KATE: How about some words of advice for the kids watching right now who have dreams of being scientists?

CHRIS: Words of advice... If you're interested in something, then you should not let anyone or anything get in your way of pursuing that. You might find that you have a boring science class, and you'll say, "Science is boring." But that's not true. Science is not boring, because science is one of those things in which you can actually learn something completely new that no one else in the world knows.

CARLOS: Boy, isn't that the truth. Like, one secret I know is if the Sun stopped burning, it'd take 8 minutes for us to see it on Earth, because of the speed of light.

Kate sighs, pauses for a moment and shakes her head.


KATE: It's not a secret anymore ... you just told everyone who's watching.

Carlos stares at the camera for a moment then growls.

CARLOS: I felt so smart for a second here. (sighs) Well, we've had fun chatting with you, Chris, thanks again for dropping by.

KATE: And thanks to you kids out there watching Space Place Live! Keep watching and keep learning!

End of show