- 1,257 views
- 19 Mar 2021
As we hit the one year mark since the first U.S. state (California) issued a stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we put out a call to see if any of you would take us to your secret escape spot and record audio there.
And you astounded us with what you brought in.
In this soundrich, kaleidoscopic episode, we journey around the planet and then, quite literally, beyond it. Listen only if you want a boatload of fresh air, fields of wildflowers, stars, birds, frogs, and a riveting tale involving Isaac Newton and a calm beyond any calm you knew could exist.
This episode was produced by Matt Kielty and Lulu Miller, with production support from Jonny Moens and Suzie Lechtenberg.
Special thanks to:
Lynn Levy, who went on to host the space-a-licious series, The Habitat, and edit (among other things) the powerful and beautiful new podcast Resistance.
Merav Opher, an astronomy professor at BU, who now directs the SHIELD DRIVE Science Center which is studying the data collected by the Voyagers at the edge of the heavens, or--err, the “heliosphere” as the scientists call it.
Edward Dolnick, The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World
Ann Druyan, one of the creators of the 1977 Golden Album traveling on the Voyager probe, has recently released a new series on National Geographic, “Cosmos: Possible Worlds”
A.J. Dungo, who submitted a postcard while surfing, is author of the mesmerizing graphic novel, In Waves, a memoir about surfing and grief.
Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.
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Listener supported WNYC Studios. Wait, you're OK? You're listening to Radiolab Radio from WNYC. Do you guys know I've gathered you here today? No idea. Well, I know only in the meta meta sense that you've got another crazy thing that you're thinking about.
I don't know what, though. Well, as maybe, you know, or just can, like, feel in your soul, we're bound to hit a year since the first state, California issued its stay at home water.
What what date was that? That's March 19th. So that's that's a yeah. Yeah, it is coming up. Wow. Yeah.
And I think most people, you know, like the claustrophobia I think is just hitting a new high. And so as I was stuck, I just started fantasizing. I just started wondering like what escapes people have in their lives, you know, mental escapes, mental.
But I honestly, I was wondering more physical. So I put out a call just to see, like, will you take us to have you found a safe escape? Will you take us there? And did people send you stuff.
Yeah, I Radiolab. Hello, Radiolab. Hi. We were flooded with responses right now.
I mean my greenhouse from all over the planet and Costa Rica watering my plants. I live in Zimbabwe. I'm looking out into the garden. The sun is setting. People called in from every single continent. Barcelona, Spain, Santiago, Chile, except one Nairobi, Kenya.
We did not get Australia, but we got no Antarctica getting on our German icebreaker. Someone left us really cut from the middle of the wealthy, seeing some icebergs passing by.
And she actually was like, I come here to do climate research.
And usually this is the claustrophobic part of my life because it's only 100 people on board. Now, the entire story kind of spoke because now everybody back home being isolated while we can spend kind of a normal life at sea.
It's just beautiful. It's currently midnight. He's still kind of the sun at the horizon. There was a rainbow in Tokyo. It's really pretty.
And a field of wildflowers in North Carolina, like seven or eight feet high.
There's citrus in the air. I love the smell of citrus and a quiet room in Nigeria. The walls are painted red, blood red. My favorite color, and it's midnight nine within six. Oh, say, can you hear the. I feel, Steve. I feel this space belongs to me. You know, when this tape started rolling in, I just kind of stopped everything I was doing and just fell into it.
Oh, you're escaping your homework, basically. Yeah. I mean, it was just so nice to be transported.
I'm sitting in my backyard under the apricot tree. Yeah. There's so many places.
I'm sitting on the floor of my living room surrounded by my three best friends, my dogs, Benjamin, Bear and Brody.
Isn't that lovely? Yeah, sure, just listen to this for like the next 20 minutes. Oh, my God, yes.
OK, I'm going to have to step in here because you guys are going to have a very, very rare but I think what I'm trying to show well, what really struck out to me was just the range.
Hi, my name is Paris, France, and right now I am sitting on my balcony. It's just amazing out here. The wind is blowing, the cars are making too much noise of like how many different ways people found escape.
It's five o'clock in the morning and I've been unloading grocery trucks.
And strangely, it's been a source of calm and stability throughout the entire pandemic.
I'm in a kind of den that I've made for me and my newborn baby. I am in my chicken coop.
Some people found it by hiking far, far away. There's wood fires in the distance you can kind of smell. And others found it by simply turning their head one inch to the left.
My name's Rhiannon. I'm talking to you from Hampton, England. I'm sitting in my home office. My desk faces right out the window, but I don't look at it as often as I look to my left, which is where my aquarium says I bought my aquarium a few weeks before my dad went into hospital, and unfortunately, he never came out.
It's been quite difficult to sit here every day in front of my laptop and talk to people through a screen, pretend like things are reasonably normal, being able to turn and look at this aquarium full of plants, bright blue shrimp, and see an entire world that is so detached from walls, but still such a part of it helps me identify that. I also feel detached, but apart from the world. And that's okay. Coming up with a story of escape and an almost unimaginable scale.
Stick with us live from Euless, Texas. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.
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Hi, this is me, Ahuva, calling from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Radiolab is supported by Simon Schuster, publishers of The Codebreaker, the new book from Walter Isaacson, the author of Leonardo Da Vinci and Steve Jobs returns with an exploration of Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna and modern sciences efforts to cure disease combat viruses such as covid-19 and raise healthier children. The Codebreaker by Walter Isaacson is available wherever books are sold.
When you fall for opera, you fall hard. It's not really because of the plots or the sets or the spectacle of it all. It's because of these little perfect moments. The Arias I'm Rhiannon Giddens and Aria Code is a podcast that reveals the magic of opera. One song at a time. You may not understand the words, but I guarantee you'll feel the ARIA code from WQXR and the Metropolitan Opera. Listen for free on Apple podcasts.
Radiolab. I'm Lulu, I'm claustrophobic, so we are doing a whole episode of Escape's today, a landscape of escapes, an escape escape, if you will. And as we were putting all this together, I started thinking about this old Radiolab piece, a real beauty that takes you far, far away.
Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad. I'm Robert Krulwich. This is Radio Lab.
And today we offer you this piece that I'm thinking about is actually a duet of stories. It was inside a whole episode on Escape's and it starts inside the mind of one man and then catapults out of it to the farthest place a human made thing has ever traveled.
Yes, I hear you moving. It comes to us from writer Ed Dolnik and actually begins when Isaac Newton was himself hiding out from an infectious disease around 60 65.
Newton is at Cambridge.
He's a student in Cambridge, is hit by the plague. They send everybody home because although nobody understands how the disease works, they know that if people are crowded together, they tend to to all get it. So so everybody go our separate ways.
This is a kind of an enforced summer vacation.
Right. And he's like 19 or 20 at this point, 21, 22. OK, Newton goes home to his mother's farm moms like, cool, now you can help me on the farm. But he says no because he has a plan.
He'd brought some books home, a bunch of text books, and he likes himself in his room and sets himself not only to having mastered all the science that had ever been done, but to plunging on ahead of everyone else on his own, motivated by this religious faith that everything in the universe was set up by a God who wanted someone to crack the code. Newton believes he's the one to give me this. What was he doing in his room?
I mean, was he sitting there in like with a thousand giant textbooks?
All that's known is that he did this. He just went into his room and came out with what we're about.
He came out with how gravity works, how light works, how rainbows work, how the tides work, and then having it all summer. He did all this.
Yes. What did you do on your summer vacation yet? I know, like my summer, I. I learned how to fold sheets like Marines, which I thought was pretty good, too.
So after having one flash of insight after another, Newton now sets his mind to one of the great problems of all time, which for our purposes, we will call the problem of the moon.
And just to set this up, what everybody before Newton and Galileo thought is there are a bunch of ordinary things here on Earth like rocks, and they behave in the ordinary way that we know, you know, pick up a rock, let go.
It falls. And there are a bunch of much more different, mysterious, elegant, perfect things in the sky, like the moon, which doesn't fall.
It just floats there. So one could conclude that the moon has its own separate set of laws. There are one set of laws that work here on Earth and another set that work in the heavens. And there's no reason it should be the same set of laws any more than New York's laws should be the same as Paris laws kind of make sense, actually. Heavenly things float, earthly things fall.
But then here's where the problem begins. Newton and a bunch of people at that time had gotten hold of this newfangled thing called a telescope.
And one of the things they saw was that the moon wasn't this mysterious heavenly bodies that they seemed. It was a big rock, a regular lumpy potato ish rock.
People were like, hmm. But Newton being, of course, Newton thought, now wait a second, if the job of Iraq is to fall and if the moon is just another rock, why doesn't it fall down?
Exactly. So what's it doing sitting up there night after night? Good question.
And it's at this point that Newton sitting in his room or wherever he was, we can imagine, makes a crazy mental leap. He thought back to a little thought experiment that Galileo had come up with, which initially might not make much sense the connection, but it pays off.
And here's the setup. You've got someone standing in a big field with a gun that he's about to shoot it next to. That person with his gun is a person holding in his hand a bullet. So you've got a person holding a gun and a person holding just the bullet side by side and the bullet in the hand and the bullet in the gun are exactly the same height above the ground.
And now somebody says, ready, aim, fire. And at the instant he says, fire. The man with the gun shoots that bullet horizontally. And at that same instant, the man next to him holding the bullet in his hand opens his hand and the bullet drops. So there's one bullet zipping along and then falling.
And then the other one just falls. Right? We shoot the bullet out of the horizontal gun and we drop the bullet from right next to the gun. At the same time, both bullets will hit the ground eventually. But when they do, they'll be far apart. And Galileo's riddle was, which of those bullets hits the ground first?
Well, I mean, everybody would know that the one that would hit the ground first is the one that you just drop because the other one has to go all. So this is this is a hard drill. And the answer is why? What why is it such a hard riddle? Because I would think that the bullet you drop is just going to hit first. The gun is going to go all the way. No, those two bullets both hit the ground at the exact same instant.
Really, that's that's an experimental fact.
The bullet from the gun in the bullet from these lands at the same time. Yes. This bullet that shot horizontally, it doesn't go like Wiley Coyote running off a cliff. It doesn't go straight, straight, straight, and then fall. It's curving as it goes.
And the thing that causes it to curve as it goes, of course, is gravity. It's the same gravity that is pulling the bullet that you drop, same gravity, same pull, same speed.
So counterintuitively, when you drop a bullet and it falls for this long, when you fired the gun, it'll also fall for that long, even though it ends up a mile away.
See, that was Galileo's riddle, and that's as far as Galileo took it. Yeah, Newton looked at that and he said something smart.
First thing he said is, OK, this field, let's not pretend that this is some perfectly flat field that goes on forever. No where on the earth the earth is round.
And what round this means is that the ground curves are way below horizontal.
So really what's happening is that as the bullet is shooting across the field and falling to the earth, the earth at the same time is very gradually curving away from it.
Now, of course, most guns, you know, they don't shoot the bullet very far. And at that short distance, the field is still pretty much flat. But here's what Newton thought.
What if you could find just the right gun that could shoot that bullet not just across a field, but across like thousands of miles?
And what if, as it falls, that bullet curves down towards the earth in just the same way as the earth is curving away from it?
In this scenario, the bullet that we've shot will keep falling and falling and falling, but the earth keeps falling and falling and falling away from the bullet. So the bullet falls forever.
The earth curves forever. The picture never changes.
So the bullet then does what? The book is in orbit. Hundreds of years before Sputnik and other satellite, Newton has invented the satellite. And on top of that, he said, when we see rocks like the moon that are not falling. The reason we think they're not falling is because we misunderstand really. Just as the gun launched a bullet on earth and it goes in, never falls.
God, who was presumably terrifically strong pitcher, launched the moon around the earth at just such a rate that that would continue in its circle around us forever.
This is a perpetual dance.
The partners are bound together, but they never come close and they never break up either. It's this endless round, round, round from which there is no escape.
What this does, what Newton did is take the moon out of the domain of of of poets and musicians, the golden orb in this kind of thing, and lasso it to the same rules that we use here on Earth. In other words, what he showed is in a very real way. There's no separation between us and the heavens. The same set of laws does govern everything. It's one universe. And I've explained it all. We once you figure out the laws of gravitation, then you can send spacecraft to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, anywhere out there.
If you're a radio lab listener from way back, you might recognize that voice, that's Andrew Yanai, one of the first stories we did, actually, I interviewed her about working on the famous Golden Record. You remember this? Sure. So the idea at the time was to put this record on the Voyager capsule, send it into space, and on the record would be all of these sounds that represented, you know, us kiss a mother's first words to her newborn baby.
Oh, come on now, Motsepe. But in a case and was the one who was in charge of choosing all the sounds to put onto that record, she and Carl Sagan worked together on that project. And here's the thing. We stopped our story as the rockets took off. But obviously that was just the beginning of the story.
And the Voyager capsules right now are about to make a kind of escape that Newton could have only dreamed of.
OK, the record thing and our producer, Lynn Levy has been sorry, I just turned my headphones off way, too, has been following the story.
Oh, yeah. Just turn it down. Yeah. So pick it up where we left.
OK, so like in the point of the mission wasn't really to deliver this record. It was to go out and look at all the planets in the outer solar system.
So starting in 1977, these two little spaceships, two spacecraft, Voyager one and two, went racing away from Earth, snapping pictures.
And so every time Voyager would reach another planet, you know, all of the Voyager people would get together, go into the imaging room and see the pictures come from the outer solar system.
Do you remember seeing them? I remember as a child seeing Life magazine, you know, I was seven when the Voyager was launched. So this is a mirror image of of professor at Boston University as a Grown-Up. She became part of the Voyager team. All the pictures that, you know, as a kid, you look at the books and just see what how Neptune look how Jupiter looked. You know, just a complete revelation, Saturn, the image of Saturn, Technicolor, like pink and like reddish turquoise color yellow, and those rings just spectacular.
They could see active volcanoes on one of the moons of Jupiter. Finally, that vision of Neptune, this like blue tulle, really blue. It's all came from Voyager. We have no idea how they look like before Voyager. Neptune was the last big cool planet and it was the last thing they were supposed to photograph.
After that, the cameras were going to be shut off to save energy. But Carl Sagan convinced them to turn Voyager back to Earth and take a final picture.
So on Valentine's Day nineteen ninety, one of the ships slowly rotated.
So it was facing back to Earth and. It snapped a picture, one last picture, describe it so it's mostly empty. Um, it's it's pretty dark, you can see sort of streaks of light coming from the sun and then you honestly wouldn't notice it if it wasn't pointed out to you. But down in one corner, kind of suspended in a sunbeam, there is a very small dot blue, a pale blue dot that was us in Carl Sagan's words, everyone you ever knew, everyone you ever loved, every superstar, every corrupt politician, just everyone in all of history.
Everything the sum total. Think of the rivers of blood that have run so that one indistinguishable group could have momentary domination over a fraction of that pixel. It was one of those really rare images. Every single day I hear from people who take that pale blue dot so deeply to heart. It was it was a complete reframing. After that, the cameras were turned off. But here's the thing. The ships kept going, going, going, going, drifting through the darkness, going, going, going, even though they weren't taking pictures anymore.
They were using, like their other senses, little instruments that detect, like how many particles are around what the temperature is. So they were hurdling through this empty space really fast, measuring, sending that data back. And scientists like Burov were there listening and waiting for what was not clear. But they knew at some point these capsules would get to the edge. The edge of what? The solar system, the solar system has an edge. I thought it was just a big spiral, has an edge.
It's a it's like a bubble. See, the sun has a wind. Every star has a ring, but this one has its own wind that blows out through the solar system. It's very fast. It can be between 400 to 800 kilometers per second anyway. It blows out from the sun past all the planets and it keeps everything else out. So it's like blowing up a balloon. Yeah, exactly. The wind gives it a shape. Right.
So these little things are cruising out towards this edge, wherever it is. Scientists don't quite know where it is or what it is. The guys in the control room were like pinging the ships, like, hey, what's what's up? What do you see? The ships are like, nothing. How about now? Not much. No, nothing. And how long before they actually see something? Fourteen years. Oh, man. That's like driving through Kansas, but like a million times worse.
But. There comes a day end of 2004 where they've stopped listening for a little while because the antenna, NASA only has so many antennas and they have to use them to listen to everything.
So for a little while, the Voyager teams like, OK, you guys over there can use the antennas.
We're going to lunch. I mean, it's not like anything's happened.
Nothing's happening anyway. It's been 14 goddamn years. Knock yourself out.
It's cool. And they come back a few hours later, start listening again and.
It's happened very suddenly, everything is totally changed. Really, all of a sudden, boom, the speed of the wind dropped from around 380 kilometers per second. To 100 instantly, just all instantly, and then everything out there started to get messy, very turbulent, much more turbulent than before, particles are also behaving a very different way. In the fields are very weird. The fields, the magnetic field, so just like the sun has a wind, the sun has a magnetic field as well.
The field starts at the sun and then curves out in this kind of graceful arc through the solar system. And the sun rotates, creates what people call in skirt. You know, how like a skirt will flare if you spin around real fast. That's apparently kind of what this field looks like. But way out there, it seemed like the skirt started to fray, maybe tear a little threads had broken off and seem to be floating around on their own, not connected to anything.
So what does this all mean? I mean, if the fields are breaking down and the wind is dying down, you said the wind is what actually creates the space of the solar system. Does this mean we're out? No, I kind of thought that was what was happening. But no, it's not out and it's not quite in. It's in the edge of the bubble, it's in the air. Yeah, but it's not like not like a little thin edge.
It's a it's a thick, thick edge.
So the edge isn't just a little line that you cross. It's a place. Yeah. And while we listened, the two Voyager ships moved through this edge for several years. Then something very interesting happen that the wind on Voyager one stopped, like completely stopped.
Yeah. So now we're out.
No, no. I mean, this is what people thought, but the other measurements like temperature, a number of particles, the magnetic field doesn't tell us that we are out of the bubble. Nature surprised us again.
So now we think there's a place at the edge of our solar system, right at the edge edge of the edge.
That's utterly still no wind at all. A pause. People are calling it a stagnation layer. And there is a big discussion why this layer exist and how thick it is and by how thick it is, she means when will it end? Because once we get past this, so does anything ever cross this boundary before?
No. This will be the first manmade object to leave any star. And Voyager is like right there smiling, touching that boundary. You know, you only do those things first.
Once, like your first kiss, your first taste of alcohol, your first time driving a car, the first time you see the ocean, these things open up a whole new world. First time out of the solar system. So when is it going to freakin happen? It might have happened while we were talking. We're thinking from now, any moment now, next couple of months or three years from now, four years from now, it's close. Every day I open my Google alert for Voyager and I look and see.
Did it happen today? Do you if it happens before the show goes out of pissed.
Yeah, every day. Yeah. It's the first thing you do in the morning. Oh, all right.
Like the third thing. This is Lulu now, so it's been nine years since that piece first aired and Merav did it cross over?
Did it? Did it did.
It was 25th of August 2012. The Voyager one crossed. Wow.
So it was just a few months after after that, I was really, really close.
And what did it find? It's still. It's still. Yeah. All the particles that come from the sun disappeared. It's really like an edge. And you're entering to the realm of interstellar medium that is, you know, the stuff that come from other stars. If you could put it in sound, you will see a lot of turbulence. And then when you cross the edge, it's much quieter. Oh, so it did find an even deeper quiet.
Right, right. Yeah. I do really like to just think about and imagine that little spacecraft out there floating in the stillness and that silence. While we here on the pale blue dot, I'll try to carve out our own little escape's.
Hi, my name is Catherine, and I'm from the wet and rainy Seattle, Washington, and my place to escape is running. Inserted by a blanket of snow that is so glittery and bright, some winter ice swimming.
Andrea, what are we doing? Oh, there's kayak or something.
I'm standing in a stream. If I get really close, I can hear the water bubbling under the ice. I am at the car wash. I always like the sound of the water. I have actually found it to be very relaxing, soothing white noise. I'm in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. I'm sitting on a rock in Toronto. And this is where I come with my one year old daughter to look for streetcars. Anything coming, Frankie?
There's two. I am out here with the chickens to escape the chaos inside my house. I do feel at peace at home.
I'm in a kind of den that I've made for me and my newborn baby.
It's very safe to just be the confines of your home. She's asleep next to me. Sitting on the floor of my living room, surrounded by my three best friends, my dogs, Benjamin Baer and Brody, my old boy Benjamin snores on the floor beside me. I'm sitting in my home office, which is where my aquariums just watch my little bit of palms, bright blue shrimp, and listen to the hum of his water filter, kind of like a lot of white noise.
I was not sure if that makes sense, but it's kind of like this buzzing. You know, the car going back and forth.
As you can hear, there's some birds looking out into the garden and the smell of the earth and the sun is setting the smell of trees. There's actually a rainbow out. And I can see I'm escaping. I'm currently walking to school and down the street.
My family escape here and escaping.
We're escaping life, escaping the fact that I'm currently ghosting my own therapist, my Chinaski, escaping my mind. I'm in my own little bubble. I don't have to think about anything. Take a deep breath, look around to help you realize that you don't have to be a part of everything that is going on around me.
All right. Hands are getting cold. That'll do it, friends. Thank you to all the people who took time to take us to their place of escape, even if your peace didn't make it in. I promise you, we listened. We celebrated, we felt gratitude. This episode was produced by Matthew Kielty with production support from Johnny Mones and Susie Leuchtenburg.
Big shout out to Lynn Leovy Missoulian for production and reporting on the Voyager piece. Special thanks to A.J. Dango, Kira F. Johnson, Ravenna Koenig, Diana Serg and Alan Griffin ski by.
Hi, this is Spencer calling from Beautiful Barre, Vermont, Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and edited by Sean Wheeler. Miller and Latissimus are our co-hosts. Susie Lichtenberg is our executive producer. Dylan QIf is our director of Sound Design. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Jeremy Bloom, Becca Bressler, Rachel Cusack, David Gabled, Matt Kielty, Andy McEwen, Sara Ari and Wack Pack Walters and Molly Webster with help from Cima Olie, Sarah Sandack and Karen Lee on our fact checkers, or Diane Kelly and Emily Kreger.