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Hey, guys, it's Mike Rowe, and this is the way I heard it, the only podcast for The Curious Mind. Who am I kidding? This is not the only podcast for The Curious Mind, where I read the other day.


There are over a million podcasts that are out there now. And, well, I'm just deeply flattered that you're listening to this one. It's the way I heard it. Episode number 104, and I call it off by roughly two trillion, again, off by roughly two trillion. Again, fans of this podcast know that last month I did an episode called off by roughly two trillion. It's Episode 181. And if you haven't heard it, you should probably listen to it before listening to this.


But if you're the kind of person who doesn't do what they're told and studies show this audience is filled with such people, allow me to sum it up for you before I introduce my very special guest in off by roughly two trillion, I tell the story of what happened back in twenty sixteen when I narrated a very popular episode of How the Universe Works for the Science Channel. I'm narrating this series for the last nine years and I love it. It's a welcome change from the normal, high octane stuff I do for shows like Deadliest Catch and Bering Sea Gold, where I have to talk like this, driving the story forward with all the urgency and drama I can muster.


How the universe works is not about urgency and and drama. It's about credibility and certainty.


You see, when you're the voice of the universe, it's important to sound like you know exactly what you're talking about as you reveal the secrets of the cosmos. Anyway, that's what I do. And on this particular episode of How the Universe Works, recorded back in twenty sixteen, I explained to millions of loyal viewers that the Milky Way is just one of 200 billion other galaxies in our observable universe. Obviously, that is an astonishing claim, 200 billion galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars inside.


And God only knows how many planets rotating around them. It's mind boggling.


The entire episode, in fact, was dedicated to describing the process whereby the best minds in science came to this mind boggling number. And then we all ruminated on the likelihood that life must surely exist on one of the many trillions of exoplanets in this incomprehensibly vast universe. Planets that we now know are rotating around countless stars, trillions of stars in roughly 200 billion separate galaxies.


It's just mind boggling, right?


Well, things were about to get even more mind boggling on October 13th, 2016, literally just two weeks after I narrated the episode in question, a new team of brilliant physicists analyzed the sky surveys taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and determined that there had been a miscalculation.


Turns out the universe does not, in fact, contain 200 billion galaxies, but rather two trillion. Two trillion. The next day, the headlines were everywhere, The New York Times wrote two trillion galaxies, at the very least, Forbes led with quote, This is how we know there are two trillion galaxies in the universe. If you Google two trillion galaxies right now, you'll find two trillion articles repeating NASA's claim. The certainty was everywhere.


So in other words, two weeks after I announced the existence of 200 billion galaxies, the best minds in physics concluded that I was off by one trillion, 800 billion. So some point as as a narrator, I'm always getting called back to the booth to rerecord things when new information comes to light, especially with these science based shows, it's not unusual at all, but I have never been off by roughly two trillion before. It's very humbling.


And ever since then, I've used this simple little story to remind people that I sound no different at all when I'm correct, as I do when I'm off by roughly two trillion. And guess what? Neither does anybody else.


Politicians, journalists, even scientists and doctors write Anthony Fauci sounded no less certain when he told us not to wear a mask, as he did a few weeks later when he told us that wearing a mask was our best defense against catching covid. The point is sounding certain and being right have nothing to do with each other at all. And I've been using the existence of two trillion galaxies to make that point since twenty sixteen, most recently on Episode 181 of this podcast.


But and here's the big point. Last week, in January of 2021, the best minds in science and physics got together again and took a look at some new photos, photos taken by the New Horizons telescope, which is currently taking pictures of deep space from outside our solar system. And now the experts have arrived at a new and exciting number. As it turns out, there are not two trillion galaxies in the universe after all. Nope. According to the latest data, the total number of galaxies is more likely a few hundred billion.


So you can guess what's going to happen next.


I'm going to get a call from the producers of How the Universe Works and the Science Channel. And I'm going to be asked to rerecord the same episode I already rerecorded back in twenty sixteen and I'll do it. I'll do it with all the credibility and certainty I can muster, even as I try not to focus on the undeniable fact that I, along with the best minds in science, were off by roughly two trillion again.


So having said all that, my guest today is an American astronomer and a research scientist named Michelle Fola.


She's incredible. Dr. Theiler is the assistant director for Science Communications at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. From 1998 to 2009, she was a staff scientist at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center and later manager of the Education and Public Outreach Program for the Spitzer Space Telescope at the California Institute of Technology. She's a frequent on camera contributor to programming on the History Channel and the Science Channel, including her many appearances on, you guessed it, How the Universe Works with me.


Mike Rowe. I invited her on this podcast just to shed a little light on the difference between being certain and being correct, along with the possibility of life on other planets in the actual number of galaxies in the observable universe and all kinds of other cool stuff. You're going to love her. She's amazing.


And our conversation begins right now. And by right now, I mean right after I thank my friends at Lifestream for saving my listeners all kinds of money with a credit card consolidation loan. Look, the average interest rate on credit cards today is north of 18 percent, April 18 percent. That's scandalous in my opinion.


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That's a fact.


This is on the other hand, this is off by roughly two trillion. Hi, Michelle. Hi, Mike. Nice to be here. Thank you for doing this. I really appreciate it. It's so nice to see you on a screen that isn't the typical monitor that I normally see you on as I'm narrating this terrific show where we met. But you've been there from the from the jump, haven't you?


I think so. I mean, it's what is it, 10 years now or is a little more. I've lost count, but what I never seen at all.


It's 10 years in Planck time.


OK, what would that mean, by the way? What what is playing time again? Well, it's a play.


Time is is it's it's basically the the smallest unit of time where we have anything useful at all to say about the universe. And so it's extremely it's a time I'm going to get right off the top of my head about I should look this up.


It's something like ten to the minus 40 seconds, which means you have a decimal point and then dropped forty 42 zeros and one that much time. I mean I mean almost, you know, it's basically the shortest time that may even exist. But before that time, the universe was in a state of physics that we have no way to even predict. We just throw up our hands and go. We have no idea what went on before then. And I think it's pretty incredible that we think we have any inkling at all what happened, you know, a millionth of a second, a billionth of a second after the start of the universe.


And we may be completely wrong about that, but it's our best theories that we have now, our best ideas about gravity and about how atoms work and the inside of atoms run them all backwards. And they can sort of make sense until you get to the Planck time and then look them.


Is it plonk or Planck? Well, I mean, so Germans would have said more plonk. I mean I mean, that's that's the this person was German and, you know, so I think he would pronounce his name plonk. But, you know, because, you know, Americans would might pronounce it Planck. It's like it's like Einstein would have said it's not his name, Einstein. He wouldn't have said Einstein, it's Michelle.


You can see the problem if we can't even figure out how to pronounce the guy's name, how are we ever going to get our heads around the concept of a billionth of a billionth of a second? Yeah. So people should know this is what happens to me when I narrate the show. I sit there and my little climate controlled booth and I try to read in a in a fairly rudimentary way, a fairly simplified way. I, I, I read whatever the experts tell me to say as credibly and as certainly as I can.


And sometimes it just freaks me out so bad I have to stop and ask Stephen or who's ever on the line to say, is this even possible. Am I reading this right? Are we sure? And you know, all of the talking heads on this show are terrific. But I but I really like you because you seem to be eager to say at every turn, we simply don't know, which ultimately confirms my long standing belief that how the universe works should maybe be called.


We don't know how the universe works.


Yes. Yes. Well, well, you're in your climate controlled sound, booth. I mean, I by and large, am I'm on top of some skyscraper in Brooklyn. It's one hundred degrees. This is true. They had me standing in a bucket of ice so they didn't just keel over from heat stroke.


And they're telling to me, explain the microwave background in twenty five seconds.


So, I mean, you know, he, I have very different experiences of the show, but but but what we have in common I bet is that we're both seeking the truth and we are both in very different ways. Well it's important that we sound certain. It's important that we be credible right in your world.


It's critical that that the facts line up. My world is much more superficial. Right.


I get paid to talk like this, but but we each do what we have to do to make the TV show we're making. Sometimes you're on a skyscraper standing in ice, which I'm not sure I understand why, but if the producer told you to do it, you do it so hot that I was getting kind of dizzy so that they said, take off your shoes and socks.


We're going to give you a little bucket of ice to stand in and they'll kill your blood.


Don't have no idea. OK, has it been has it been fun for you to to work on a show like this?


And and what do your colleagues at NASA think about the program itself?


Well, that itself is a kind of an increasingly complex question. So, I mean, it's a huge honor for me to be on the show.


And I love talking about science because studio time and camera people's time is expensive. We film all, you know, eight to 12 episodes depending on how many have been ordered. We filmed them all in either two or three days. And I'm usually interviewed about an hour's worth of time each episode for every little bit of five minutes that I'm on each show. So when you said that I seem to be the one saying we don't really know, we're not really sure, they've already edited out like ninety percent of me saying that.


So it's grueling.


I usually do. Feel a bit sick afterwards, and it's exhausting, but but it's and as far as what my colleagues at NASA think, I think that, you know, they think it's a service to get the public involved, to get people interested in what we're doing. But but then I also can catch a lot of flack for not being a real scientist. Although I am I have a doctorate in astrophysics. I have published first author papers in the most prestigious journals, but I went into more of a science communication job and simplifying things into 25 seconds or less.


Of course, you're going to leave out some of the details, some of the uncertainties, some of the complexities that the story has. There's no way you can't.


And so a lot of my colleagues, I think, would think of me as a bit of a lightweight. Why is she talking about that? You know, I'm not I'm not the world expert on every single subject in how the universe works. I studied binary stars for my research, but you'll you'll hear me talking about Pluto and Mars. And, of course, I've gone to read the papers and stuff. But, you know, people often get on my case for talking about something that I am not an official acknowledged expert, but this is what's so interesting.


I feel like we are we are trending away from the age of the expert and the age of the authority figure and into a much more skeptical age where authenticity and honesty is in demand like ever before. And the point of the episode that I want to talk to you about was to simply say that it seems like all of our institutions are now being looked at with heightened levels of skepticism. And what does it do? What does it do to science? What does it do to medicine?


What does it do to all of us when a show like this can be off by roughly two trillion?


I mean, I literally sat there with all the credibility and certainty I could muster to explain that. No, no, it's not 200 billion after all. It's two trillion galaxies, the implications of which obviously are mind boggling.


And then this week, five years after the fact, to suddenly learned that now it's not two trillion, looks more like it's a couple hundred billion. I just wanted to hear from somebody who might have the intellectual courage and curiosity to say, we don't know.


We don't know. Thank you. What do we know?


Yeah, and that's where stories like this become wonderfully rich and also very, I think, humanizing, you know, and using the word humility.


What's happening here really seems to be one of these kind of balance points about how you communicate science when you're a scientist, because whenever we try to add all the uncertainties, all the details, you know, every little thing, that's what a scientific paper is in a scientific paper that's accepted by your colleagues and published. So people may not know that. I mean, you can't just say anything you like as a scientist and have it go into one of these scientific journals.


It's reviewed by your peers.


It's reviewed often by your competitors, by people that are there trying to fight for the same grant money as you are or trying to get the same time on the Hubble Space Telescope that you are. And they look through all of your work and and they they try to see if they can find errors in it, to point out that they will then ask you to fix before you can publish it. Or they may say the study has no validity at all, or they may say, well, I can't really find an error.


I don't know if this is true or not, but let's at least add this to our body of knowledge. You know, so a paper doesn't necessarily claim that this is the final and all truth to the topic. It means, well, hey, I made this measurement and you look at my measurement details, it seems to be legitimate. And then another person says, oh, hey, I made this measurement and this seems legitimate. They don't agree.


And I know it seems a lot to disagree by a factor of of nearly two trillion.


But, yeah, if you want to unpack this, you want me to talk about what happened. Yeah, I do. And you also said something that I would love for people to better understand. The the time on the Hubble is a very valuable thing.


And back in the 90s, I forget the guy's name, but, you know, to affirmatively take the amount of time they took to point this miracle at nothing, right at a dark patch in the sky just to see what might come back. I mean, that was a big move. And that did that gave us the deep field. Right. And the ultra deep field. Well, that's right.


That was actually the director of the Hubble Space Science Institute. And, you know, he had this idea put forward that, you know, let's use this powerful telescope that's up above the atmosphere of the earth, which normally obscures everything. It makes all our images a little wobbly. And let's point it at an area of the sky where we don't see anything. It appears to be kind of an empty area of the sky between the stars. No big galaxies there.


And I mean, to give you an idea, I think total in my career, you know, I mean, the stuff. That I double time that I actually won once a year, people right into the Hubble Space Telescope Institute and say I'd like to use the Hubble Space Telescope to observe this, my favorite thing. And the Hubble Space Telescope Institute then assembles a panel of international scientists every year to review all of these aspects and prioritize them as to which ones they think are better.


I think in my entire career as an astronomer, I've had on the order of about two hours of Hubble time and for the Hubble deep field, they wanted to look at this one tiny little patch of the sky and equivalent at that point to if you have a quarter like a coin, that's a quarter holds at arm's length from you.


And look at the eye of George Washington. Tiny little point on the sky. Yeah, they want to stare at that for ten days, 10 days. It was actually, you know, because the Hubble Space Telescope orbits the Earth. And that means sometimes you can see something and sometimes it's on the other side of the earth that actually added to about 100 hours of observing time at something where you didn't see anything. It was empty. And some people said, why are you doing this?


Astronomers, astronomers will do anything for Hubble time. I mean, we'd mud wrestle for it if that's how you decided it.


So that's an episode I'd watch.


So it's extremely valuable. Why spend that much time? But the image that came out, it's one of the things that just took my breath away. I'm not kidding. They found thousands of galaxies in that tiny little pinprick. You know, they looked small because they were so far away. And some of the galaxies they were seeing, the light had taken more than 10 billion years to get to us. They were that far away. And so they then said, OK, we need to do this again.


And they did a slightly larger area, one thirty four millionth of the sky. And then finally, they did this whole other Hubble extreme where where they actually used it was actually about a it was over a month of of time on Hubble. So that that came to you hundreds of hours of observing time and. Ah, yeah, that's right. I think it was 50 days that they actually did and they tossed out over 5000 galaxies. I think it's like five thousand five hundred in one thirty four millionth of the sky.


So then you ask the question, well, how many galaxies are there then? And so take five thousand five hundred, multiply by thirty four million, you know, every little point on the sky and you get roughly 200 million to roughly two hundred billion galaxies.


That's right. Yeah. I mean, my God, look, it's it's this is why people drink, Michelle, you know, I mean, just the notion that you can look back in time over 13 billion years. Oh yeah. And get an accurate understanding of what one thirty four millionth of our sky looked like, then it just I mean, if that doesn't get you at least interested in watching the Big Bang, I don't know what will.


So and what we're talking about here is an actual observation. OK, we're going to we're going to we're going to sort of move away from that when we talk about the rest of the story. So let's be clear here.


This was a real image. We can put that image. You know, it could be a blow it up used computer screens and we could count how many galaxies there were. This this wasn't anything other than an actual picture. And we took similar pictures in different parts of the sky and we got similar results, about the same number of galaxies. And there will be a mission coming up actually called the the the Nancy Roman telescope, which will be able to make Hubble deep field images of most of the sky.


So, I mean, we'll have almost all of it covered. So so this is what we can actually see and actually observe through our telescopes. This is not dependent on any type of computer modeling or sort of educated guesses. This is is a real picture.


So a photo came back, a real image of one thirty fourth of a millionth, the millionth of our sky that showed us what that little slice of the universe looked like over 13 billion years ago.


That photo was that enlarged. And then people with big brains leaned over it and physically counted the galaxies, some of which are probably bigger than the Milky Way. Right. Some spiral, some all kinds of different ellipses in there and then took that number and just multiplied it. And logically and mathematically made a deduction and wrote about it, and that's why I was called back to the booth two weeks later to rerecord the episode where 200 billion was suddenly no longer accurate.


I mean, how do we get from two hundred billion to to two trillion?


OK, this is the part where we need to step away from the idea of it just being a picture. Instead, it becomes I wish there was some sort of a better way of saying this. I mean, a theory, an educated guess, a hypothesis that we need to test.


And so what happened was there were, again, very legitimate astronomers and they used things like the Hubble deep field and also one of the some of the big ground based telescopes on Earth via the biggest telescopes on Earth right now have mirrors that collect light.


And the biggest ones are, say, about 30 feet across. Is that the one in Chile?


Yeah, well, I mean, they're all kind of about the same. There's there's still some in Chile there. There's some in Hawaii. And, you know, those are the biggest ones right now. And they they used these very, very deep images of the sky. So they they made very long time exposures, just kept looking at that same part of the sky for a long time. And they started to actually look at how many galaxies were present at each different time in the universe.


They tried to make kind of a three dimensional map. But as you move out, how many more galaxies do you see?


And it's interesting to think that the farther away we look, we actually see more and more galaxies that might surprise you that the universe began with more galaxies that it has today.


But that's because these little galaxies started to combine under the force of gravity and probably directed by this underlying structure called dark matter to actually start forming bigger and bigger galaxies. You know, there's there are two little satellite galaxies of the Milky Way that you can see from Chile called the Magellanic Clouds. And they really do look to the clouds in the sky. They're wonderful. But then we have evidence of the Milky Way. Galaxy has swallowed up and eaten many smaller galaxies over its history.


Some of them, they're still kind of a remnant of that kind of dead galaxy, the core still moving around inside the Milky Way.


Now, it's true that there's a there's a black hole essentially at the center of every galaxy, sometimes maybe more than one. And that is why we think perhaps they've merged.


Well, so our galaxy has one big black hole in the middle. That's about four million times the mass of the sun. And of course, you know, the way a black hole gains mass is when stuff falls down, it it takes that mass and it actually starts growing out a little bit that that point of no return, that event horizon moves a little bit further and further out. And so our black hole is a nice, nice big black hole, but it's by no means the biggest black hole we see.


In fact, other galaxies, when we look out in space, have black holes that are that are many billions of times the mass of the sun.


And, you know, the incredible thing is that once so far away that we're looking at them, as they were, say, 12 billion years ago, they already have these big billion mass black holes in them. So, you know, I mean, you could have had these big black holes formed by lots of galaxies colliding and they had little black holes. They all merge together. But the fact that we see these big black holes when the universe was basically just about a billion years old, we don't think they would have enough time for that to happen.


So they all did.


They how do we get so many black holes so quickly? I mean, right, we don't know, we have no idea. Oh, my God. And by the way, it's just it's worth saying, again, that billion. I mean, it just gets thrown around. It's just a billion. It doesn't sound like anything more, but maybe because we have twenty five trillion dollars in debt on the books at the moment, people just hear the number all the time.


But it's truly just a mind boggling number no matter what you're talking about, it seems, except for the vastness of the cosmos, I never managed it.


I mean, I don't think that astronomers have some magic brains that I mean I mean, I can barely visualize what a hundred is versus a thousand, you know, and, you know, a billion is a million with the thousand millions. Right. So, I mean, that's incredible. You take a million things. Just how huge. Now multiply that by a thousand.


I think the only the only thing that I can do a little bit better is get a sense of sort of more physical scales like, you know, the the sun is is absolutely huge. You could actually fit about a million earths inside the sun, a little more than a million earths. You could stuff inside the sun. And and yet the sun is you know, the sun is tiny compared to the Milky Way galaxy.


I mean, here, I'll I'll show you the size. So if I make a little dot. On a piece of paper about the size of the dot of an eye, right, if the sun were that scale, if you could fit a million Earths inside that little dot, the Milky Way galaxy would be bigger than the Earth. So, you know, I think about like flying, you know, the flight between New York and L.A., you know, we're kind of going back and forth.


Somebody down below there has got a paperback book in the reading and there's a dot of an eye. And, you know, if the earth can be thought of as the size of our galaxy, that that tiny dot of an eye is our sun and that's just our galaxy.


And today we're talking about whether there are billions or trillions of galaxies.


Well, somebody tried to put it in context for me once in terms of if you look at thirteen point seven billion years, basically the the length of all of it, and you reduce it to 10 meters, just a 10 meter line. And then you look at the amount of time humans have been on the earth. It's something like three microns. I mean, it's invisible, right? It's not even a speck.


So it does help, you know, when you're trying to get your head around the totality of of evolution, for instance, you know, if you're not predisposed to that theory, you might shrug and say, well, you know, I mean, it's it's it's just not enough time for the miracle of evolution to have happened. But it's so much more time than you can contemplate. I had a teacher once who spent a week having us count to a million just so we understood how long it took to count to a million.


You know, how cool is that?


How long each day did she have you count? It was pretty annoying. It was just, you know, it was an hour class. And so you just counted as really as quickly as you could for an hour, you know? And it makes the point I mean, that's what a million is. Never mind a billion. A trillion. Are you kidding?


Yeah, I know. It's interesting you talk about evolution because a lot of people don't realize that, you know, the knowledge that we have that today we take for granted isn't all that old.


And, you know, back about one hundred and fifty years ago, actually less than that, we really didn't understand why the sun was glowing. But what was the mechanism? Why was all this energy coming off the sun? We hadn't even discovered really yet the atoms of atoms. What are atoms made of? What are nuclei? How can you fuse them together? So their first assumption was that the sun was probably very much like the earth. It was a big rock, but it was just such a big rock that had so much gravity that gravity was pulling it all together.


And when you press something together, you know, like if you have like a really like a hydraulic drill or something and you're pressing something together, the temperature goes up.


And so what they were saying is that, you know, there's just such a such a big rock that all that gravity pushing it together makes it very hot. And that's why it glows and warms us up and gives us sunlight. And it was it was actually a woman, Cecelia Payne, who actually found out back in the about the 1920s that the sun was not made out of rock, but actually of hydrogen gas. She was a graduate student and that was her PhD dissertation.


And at first it was it was kind of pooh poohed by people, but not for long, because her heard her date at her arguments were so good, nobody could argue with it. And sure enough, that turns out to be true. We just didn't even understand atoms yet nuclei that you could have a fusion reaction. So, I mean, think about that. Just a hundred years ago and Charles Darwin thought that, you know, OK, that big that big rock is going to cool off eventually.


And the calculations people were making is it'll cool off in a couple of million years. Hey, that means the Earth is older than than 6000 years. The sun is older.


But Darwin said, I don't think evolution goes that fast. You know, I don't think it's going to take just six million years to carve the Grand Canyon. So even that estimate, the best scientists of the day trying to do very honest guesses based on their data. They were way off.


But see, Michel, that's the thing that somehow the curiosity and the enthusiasm that I that I hear in your voice in so many ways has been replaced with the kind of certainty and and I don't want to say hubris, but but I don't I don't hear the humility where I want to hear it. And I'm not just talking about science. I just mean where I expect to hear humility. I often hear certainty instead. I mentioned earlier, and I don't mean this as a personal criticism of the guy, but, you know, when Anthony Falchi told me not to worry about masks, he sounded just as certain as he did two weeks later when he told me I'd better wear one.


And and it did remind me of me how certain I sounded when I told millions of people there were two hundred billion galaxies when in fact I was off by roughly two trillion.


Where where did the humility go? The best minds in science drained all the blood out of. George Washington, the best minds and in medicine, were performing prefrontal lobotomies based on things that made really good sense at all. How can we not be just profoundly humbled by everything you just said? What it seems to me we're just awash in more certainty today than we've ever been. Well, it's interesting because, I mean, each of those stories you just told, you know, the one about Dr.


Fauci, you know, the one about George Washington, you know, they're more complicated than that, right? You know, I mean, it wasn't just simply that George Washington died because they drained all the blood out of him, that that's not what happened.


You know, the doctors at the time thought that bleeding was a way to reduce fever.


And the thing is that by and large, does help sometimes. I mean, we don't really even understand that mechanism and we don't you know, we understand that today. But it also doesn't help plenty of people. You know, there's there's so many things. You know, the question is frontal lobotomies. What percentage of people in the medical in the medical profession really did think they were a good idea versus not? I mean, maybe they were very relatively few doctors and hopefully none any more that think it was a good idea.


And this is the the thing when when people come to our show and they say explain these things, that in 25 seconds and then literally that's about what they want, maybe a minute tops. You know, you get into these statements that sound very authoritative, sound like, you know, and, you know, we so we'll have to look back to the to the about how they actually got the two trillion estimate and then what changed it so. Well, I'll put that aside for a little bit.


It's great. I love it. It's you're describing the curse of the sound bite. Yes. And it exists in nonfiction television. It exists in journalism. Right. Right. It's everywhere and it's killing us sometimes.


We've rebelled against it. I remember I was doing a show and this would have been, I think, almost 20 years ago, and they wanted me to do this throwaway line. And this wasn't even the point of what I was saying. But they said, well, start with how, you know, when, when, when, when Christopher Columbus proved the earth was round and then go on from there.


And I was like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Christopher Columbus did not prove that the earth was round.


People had excellent, excellent, undeniable proof the earth was round all the way back to the ancient Greeks. I mean I mean, we have globes that are older than Columbus this time. I mean, people knew the earth is round.


It's it's actually fairly easy to prove. And so, I mean, this is one of my things. What I would teach astronomy, I would say, you know, throw out everything, you know, how would you prove the earth is round and then you can do it without any instruments. The Greeks did it without any telescopes, without any sophisticated timing, everything.


Well, how did you do that as a teacher?


Sorry, I have so many questions for you, though. And also as a sixth grader, I asked my teacher if the world is round like a basketball and you can stand on the top of that ball, how can you stand on the bottom of the ball and not be upside down? Now, I realize that's an idiotic question was an excellent question.


I still I still don't get it.


I think you do, really. OK, so so so this is an example of how a young person starts to process information. Children at first draw the Earth as a ball because we tell them it's that and then they put themselves on top because it makes sense because, you know, they're they're being held down. So they must be on top of the ball. And of course, gravity pulls in every direction. That's why stars are sphere's. Gravity pulls everything in in that in one direction.


That's why planets or spheres.


And so, you know, I mean, I spent a lot of my time in Australia and in Australia, most things you're looking at different stars in the southern hemisphere. Many you can't see from the north. And that's kind of cool and OK. But then I would see Orion, but Orion would be upside down.


Orion on his head, you know, with the with the the sort of Orion pointing up and all that, that makes your stomach a little queasy, you know, because, yeah, you really are upside down.


And then your teacher could show you a globe of the world in North America isn't at the top, you know, it's off to the side. We're not all falling down that way.


So it's it's a great way to start to teach children how them ask questions. Are you asking why isn't everybody on top? And why don't we fall off if we're not? Is far from a stupid question. It's how you start to learn. That's what being a scientist is. Ask something you don't know.


OK, here's a question for you. When. When does a skeptic officially become a denier? When they won't look at new information and I think that this is where the example of Dr. Fauci comes in, so when this this covid, this is this novel coronavirus, 2019, started moving around China and started to be spreading in other places.


We really didn't know very much about how it was transmitted.


And, you know, I remember for the longest time, you know, I had this bottle of hand sanitizer in my car, which I still have. But the first thing they were saying was that you'll be very, very careful about what you touch, swipe your groceries, possibly. I mean, and so that's all kind of gone away when they realize that the transmission was much more easy through the air and through people's breath and through your aerosols in the air, little bits of fluid.


So Dr. Foushee was working from new information. And if you are able to ingest new information, honestly, I mean, to me, that's the difference between being a skeptic and being a denier.


When I came to the Goddard Space Flight Center as the assistant director of science for communication in 2009, I had really just studied astrophysics. I didn't know much about Earth science. And I was hearing more and more about, for example, climate change.


And I remember going to the scum of the Earth scientist that I was just meeting for the first time and saying, what really is the data? Can you really show that this is driven by something that humans are doing? Because it seems amazing that just what we're doing could influence something as big as the Earth and as large as our atmosphere. And they sat me down. They showed me what they were measuring and I was like, wow, you know, that that is very, very clear.


So, you know, there is there's always start as a skeptic and ask, how do we know this? But, you know, if you can if you can, you can manage. And it's it's human to want to hold on to the truths that we're born with the truth that our parents thought they knew. If you can let the goal of those and actually look at the information, that that's really all I ask.


Well, I think that's all any reasonable person would ask. But a reasonable person today gets their information from a lot of different platforms. Shows like ours aspire to be a paragon of credibility and science. And modesty aside, I think we do a pretty good job.


But you might be a viewer who who looks at Discovery or the Science Channel askance in the same way that some people are not going to believe anything they hear on CNN, not because the source that's making a claim isn't credible, but because they're on a place that they've already dismissed as credible.


Likewise, FOX, MSNBC.


So it just it just feels to me like all of our institutions are back on their heels. There's a giant credibility problem that's impacting the country. And I don't I don't think reasonable people can be blamed for for becoming more skeptical than ever before. I'm just curious as to your thoughts, as what what can science do to help reclaim some of that broken trust? And and is it science that really is our salvation?


And when people say follow the science, what does that really mean?


If most good scientists will say, hey, look, we're we're work in progress, be careful how closely you follow us, but don't dismiss us either.


I just don't I just don't know where the happy medium is.


Well, let's let's take a little look back and think about what science really is, because one of the things that you kind of you know, it really kind of hits me when we were starting is, you know, you were talking about how your impression of scientists, this idea of of being certain and like even hubris, which is even being new to you a little bit. A little bit to certain and the gods will get you for it.


Science in its very nature has to be antiauthoritarian.


We have to be looking for the new observation, you know, the next idea. And we have to be open to it. And sometimes they ask you to give up things that were wonderful and precious and maybe maybe you actually dedicated, you know, decades of your life to researching.


But that particular idea turns out to be wrong. And we're human, too. And sometimes that turns out to be really, really difficult to to let those things go.


But, you know, I mean, I remember when we know we have the data now, but we'll see if this is true or not, that the universe is actually not only expanding, but it seems to be getting faster over time, even accelerating. And when that data first came out, when those discoveries came out, they were actually my friends. I mean, literally two friends of mine from graduate school where the people that got the Nobel Prize for that and and one of the person that I don't know from Berkeley, but any rate, you know, it I just I remember saying to one of them, this has to be wrong, right?


This makes no sense.


I mean, it's a tiny little observation, a tiny little thing that we're just trying to measure. And the first measurement is nothing like we expect. I mean, how much do you dump out everything you've already known just for that one tiny little measurement, but you have to let things build over time. And like I said, I mean, just like, you know, scientists only 100 years ago had no idea how the sun glowed. You know, you have to be ready to turn on a dime when when something new comes up.


You really have to be ready to go that way. And science does this over and over again. You know, I mean, I think one of the things that made Albert Einstein so amazing was he was able to let go in some ways, I mean, almost more than he discovered he was able to let go of stuff that just didn't make sense anymore, like time, you know.


I mean, he was able to let go of the idea. The time was just a continuous flow, that maybe time was different to different observers. And I mean, the physics was right on that cusp. Everything would just work out. Other people had done all of this wonderful work that led right up to that. But they couldn't make that last jump and say, oh, maybe time doesn't really exist the way we think it does. And Einstein did.


And all of a sudden the universe fell into place more. So all of a sudden things made more sense based on his theories, because one guy asked the question that really hadn't been posed before.


One guy allowed himself to let go of his his preconceived idea of what time was.


And I'm not kidding. I mean, Einstein didn't do any of this in a vacuum. There were many scientists that did a lot of the work and all of that was kind of prepared. Everything was coming together, but nobody was willing to say yet. The time isn't really real the way we experience it. And an Einstein was, you know, he when he threw out time and let time vary for different observers, everything just clicked. All these different things just clicked together.


So for him, it was almost less about discovering something, as in giving something up, by the way, apropos of nothing but what moves faster, light or gravity, they move at the same speed.


Gravity moves at the speed of light. How is that possible? Well, so I mean, gravity as a ripple in space time, I mean, so now we actually have experimental proof of this. We have gravity detectors all around the world and we've got some got one in Oregon, got one Louisiana, got one in Italy. We've got some other ones that are coming online. And when we when we actually observe one of these gravitational waves, it hits them in succession at the speed of light.


So we have experimental proof of that.


But according to Einstein's mathematics, Einstein predicted that before we had any measured proof of it, and that came out of his theories as to how gravity should work.


Yeah, because gravitational waves. They don't go around things like like like does little bend, but a gravitational wave will just go through mass.


Well, yes, yes it will. And I mean, I wonder if there's some way, you know, theoretically that you could possibly focus or diffract a gravitational wave. You might. But that that's that's way science fiction. But, yeah, I mean, gravity waves are going through us all the time that they're tiny, tiny little ripples in space and time itself.


So, I mean, it's a weird thing to think that as we're sitting here, you know, there are all these little compressions in space and time coming through us. Our bodies are actually widening a little bit. Our time is slowing down a little bit. And I mean all of that. But the scale of them, I mean, that's why they were so hard to detect. So in the case of the the Lego observatories here in the United States, the gravitational wave observatories, they have lasers and the lasers are actually a couple of miles long, beautiful.


Got the big arms on them right there like arms.


It's right there at the corner. The laser comes out. That's hard to do, like from the elbow goes in each direction. And those two lasers are supposed to be exactly the same length. That's a huge amount of trouble to make sure that's true. And then when a gravitational wave comes through and space itself is compressed, one laser will compress differently than the other. You'll get this readout. Oh, I'd love to take you to Lego sometime. I'd love to see it.


I mean, as I understand it, it's it's like two different locations. Right? Isn't there like one in Louisiana? One on one.


That's right. Right. In Oregon, one in Louisiana. And now there are other countries all around the world that are building similar things. And NASA has a plan to build one in space. So that'll be really, really fun.


But at any rate, so over over a couple miles, this is how much space compressed. This blows my mind over a couple of miles. This laser, it's like more than two miles long, a compressed one one thousandth of the diameter of a single proton in an atom. And we measured that and you measured it.


We measured that there's a whole science of something called Meterology Meter means to measure. What can you actually measure.


And this this detection of that tiny little wave, I have to say, was completely scientifically rigorous. There was no way to doubt it. Wow. Wow.


Well, earlier you said. Totally science fiction, and it made me laugh because, you know, that sounds like science fiction, doesn't it does sound like science fiction.


And, you know, watching watching Star Trek as a kid felt like total science fiction. But how many gadgets and devices did you see in that show there? I mean, we're using them right now, it seems.


I've seen the cartoon. It's like Spock and Kirk are looking at somebody's iPhone or smartphone and saying how commercial doesn't do all that. But, you know, the reason that detection was so clear.


So if you're talking about variations that are a thousand times smaller than a proton, you're detectors are all over the place.


I mean I mean a truck drives by 50 miles away. Somebody sneezes. I mean, they're doing this. Yeah. But those detectors that have a lot of variation and they're responding to a lot of noise, we would say one of them went woop, woop, woop, woop a very clearly. And then the speed of light time different. The other one went, what. But what was it exactly the same way at the speed of light difference between the two.


And it was exactly the kind of waves you would get if two objects spiraled in together like two black holes to two really big objects. There was no way to deny it all over the world at the speed of light, they make the same vibrations exactly at the same time at the light speed travel time. And, you know, you detected a gravity wave this that this can't be chance.


What goes through your mind as a as an astronomer, physicist, a scientist? When you when when when that kind of irrevocable proof is presented? I mean.


Oh, champagne dancing, right? I mean, I joy gobsmacked.


You know, it's funny, I was trying to get a very a very reticent, kind of withdrawn scientist that I think is brilliant but is very, very uncomfortable in social situations. I was trying to get a more comfortable talking about some of his scientific results, and I was giving him some some coaching on this. And I took a I found a picture on the Internet. He was one of the gravitational wave team and it showed the room of scientists where they actually were announcing this discovery and the look of joy on his face.


I was asking him to remember that. And, you know, I remember the night that Mars Mars Curiosity landed in jail nearly ten years ago now.


And, you know, that was so risky. I mean, landing on Mars, it's something you can't practice on Earth because Mars is gravity is different. So you don't design retro rockets that work in Earth's gravity. You don't even design instruments that work in Earth's air pressure because Mars has air pressure is so much less than ours.


You can't rehearse these things. I mean, obviously, we have labs where we try but end to end.


You can't rehearse it.


And when that thing was down and safe, I actually don't remember what happened next.


But I remember saying I remember being aware that I was screaming from Joy and jumping up and down, and I remember saying, OK, maybe I better settle down and I don't go back, doctor.


I don't remember starting screaming and that and that was why there is such a thing as the NASA Hi5.


Right, because people on camera caught us all going, oh, you they're also excited. We were missing each other. You were missing each other's and we were missing each other's hands. And so I have to say, I'll let you talk up. NASA solves problems. They actually brought in a consultant to teach us how high five. There's a technique to it that that always works.


I kid you not you wouldn't think this works, but if you're trying to high five, somebody don't look at their hand. Don't look at their face while you're moving, look at their elbow. And there's something about looking at their elbow that you get every damn time it works.


Do me a favor. I don't know if you do this or not or if you care, but there's an episode on this podcast that describes the invention of the high five. Do you know anything about it? Please tell me about it. Oh, it was it was a completely serendipitous moment between Dusty Baker, who was playing for the Dodgers at the time outfielder.


He had just become the fourth Dodger to hit thirty home runs on the season. And he was rounding third base when a teammate of his ran out named Glenn Burke. Glenn Burke was still in his rookie year and Glenn happened to be the first gay man to play in the major leagues who was open about it. This is just an interesting sidebar to the story. But regarding the high five, that moment happened when Glenn Burke, as excited as you are right now, jumping up and down, waving his hands because so happy for his teammate Dusty Baker rounds third and sees Glenn coming at him with his hands in the air.


And he doesn't know what to do. He's in his way. So he basically raises his hand and they slap palms.


And in that moment, the high five was was created. My story goes in a slightly different direction because I get to talk about being black in Major League Baseball and being gay and the incredible difficulties back in 1978 that that came with all that. But it's just so funny to hear you just explaining to me the proper way to anticipate a high five, because all you and your geeky scientist friends at NASA aren't able to do it.


And here I am writing a story about two of the men who created it. And now if people are wondering if sometimes the universe is trying to send a message, I think perhaps this this conversation sums it up nicely.




I mean, that I have to say, I'm a little bit of a more somber note. That's something that I really miss. You know, we're going to be trying to land a new big Mars rover in February. And I was I was actually one of the people that was hosting the sample we took from an asteroid this October. And it was amazing. And when we got that sample on the first try 200 million miles away, we wanted to hug each other.


We wanted to high five each other.


And we we all had our masks on and we were all socially distant and we were all kind of waving at each other, supporting each other. You hear the band? Yeah. I mean, but. But no hugs.


No, no high fives.


Isn't it amazing how much we've come to rely on kinetic, tactile, touching?


You know, I mean, it's so many people I think, are so wounded right now because they're just starved for for this the kind of connection you're talking about, just not being able to celebrate small things or big things like taking a sample.


The asteroid is no small thing, I think. Would you go to Mars now?


Oh, hell no. I think I think that I might with a lot of counseling and maybe some drugs go to the space station.


But I mean I mean a trip to the moon.


I can imagine nothing more profound than actually standing somewhere that isn't the Earth and seeing the earth as the small thing is. Right.


I mean, but I'm I'm a I'm a chicken. I am I have plenty of friends who are astronauts and I dated an astronaut, all these things. And there's so many questions.


Oh, my God, you date an astronaut. They have some kind of gene. They process fear differently than I do. I like I said, the going up and down to the space station is something that we have pretty safe. I mean, it's always a risk whenever you go into space. But I mean, I get nervous flying.


I mean, I fly all over the world because I decided not to let that fear limit what I do in life. But, you know, if I have trouble flying, I might go wrong.


Line of work, dear.


I'm an astronomer, astronomer, not an astronaut. I stay on the ground.


I get the dough. Do you know Scott Tingle by any chance? No, I don't.


Scott spent the better part of a year on the space station and a couple of years ago, this is maybe one of the greatest bits of flattery in my life. But they they give you a couple of phone calls each month. You go to your family and then and then to anybody that you might want to talk to. I mean, you're up in space. Your bones are turning to putty. You're floating around doing God's work, whatever. And you just want to talk to somebody back on the planet.


Well, this guy, Scott Tingle, says, I want to talk to Mike Rowe. I like what he's doing with his foundation.


And NASA sent me this encrypted iPad and some special login thing. I was in New Orleans filming something at the time, but I took an hour break from it and went back to my hotel and Scott Tingle and I. Had an incredible conversation, he was in space, literally floating around, talking to me and and I asked him, I said, would you go to Mars?


And I don't even know that I finished saying the sound at the end of Mars before he said, Hell, yeah, you better believe it. That's why I'm here. And I said, seriously, you would go right now? He said, I would leave everything. And that's not because I'm not madly in love with a long list of things, but I'm here to do that. We oh, please, I'd sing you would when you say we're wired differently, yeah, it's just like that crazy rock climber and free solo Alex puddled.


Right, it just doesn't have the same chip that you and I have to go. No, I'm not going to Mars.


No, it's a hard task. Is absolutely beautiful. It's it's an absolutely beautiful part of humanity that, you know, I don't think we were ever meant to function so much as individuals as sort of a super organism. I mean, I'm a little kid from, you know, sort of rural suburban Wisconsin, both parents terribly afraid of math.


And I basically my mom said as soon as I could walk, I was trying to get outside to look at the stars.


And, you know, all my life, I have never wanted seriously to be anything else other than an astrophysicist. And I was told, you know, you're not good enough at math.


You're you know, you don't have the right personality. You're not logical. You're more sort of artsy. You'd be a great writer. Maybe you could be a lawyer.


Some of us really come with a calling. And, you know, the astronauts have that that calling to physically explore. And that is a beautiful thing to appreciate. You know, I mean, we spend a lot of time sometimes, you know, making fun of each other's differences.


But, you know, I I never wanted children. I love children. Our species is entirely dependent on people who want to have children and raise them. Well, I never you know, I've never worked on a farm. You know, I've never provided food for everybody on the planet. I've never built a house. I mean I mean, all of us have to have something to contribute to the larger good. And strangely enough, apparently, there was also a need.


Not many of us, I think, is only, you know, probably less than 10000 practicing astronomers in the world, you know, but some of us love studying the sky.


And I mean, humans have been doing this. I mean, think about Stonehenge.


Think about the Anasazi people in the southwest. You know, all all kinds of people learned how to build calendars and how to predict the rising of the stars. And some of us just cannot get it out of our head.


You know, I could not turn away from the sky. And underneath a beautiful night sky is still one of the only places in the world that I don't feel lonely.


Isn't that funny? Because I've talked to people who say underneath the beautiful night sky is the place where I feel the loneliest and isn't that interesting.


And we're all meant to work here together. I think, you know, I mean that you actually just summed up really the reason I wanted to to talk to you this this weird mix of humility and certainty and skepticism, but also this idea that we have to find the thing that we're good at or the thing that somehow lets us feel like we've found the thing. It doesn't matter if we're right or not. Right. I mean, it's perception is ninety nine percent of all of this.


And so for me, you know, I I've been fortunate. I've been able to do a lot of different things, try a lot of different things. But Narrating is actually something I'm good at. And it's just so relentlessly humbling to be good at a thing and yet be so wrong so often and in some weird way that's part of it.


I mean, look, that's the that's the parallel I'm looking for. The smartest people in the world are wrong a lot and and there's no shame in it. And it doesn't mean anything other than we're all just awfully human, really.


There's there's a lot of I think, interestingly enough, damage done to young people when they're told that they're they're gifted. You're gifted and talented because you get this idea that things are supposed to come easily to you.


Right. And it often surprises people to know just how many bad grades I picked up in in physics and in math. I did not learn it quickly and I did not learn it easily. But I knew I wanted that end goal of being able to study the stars.


And so it just it just it took me more time. I mean, I picked up some some days in college, which honestly were polite d you know, because, you know, I'm not sure I got a single question right in the whole class.


It without partial credit. No. For Michelle.


So, you know, they don't get a grade on a curve. I mean it might work. Well yeah.


They don't. Of course they do. Because when you're, when you're trying to learn, say serious like quantum mechanics as an undergraduate, some of the kids have had it before and they get it better. There are some people that are brilliant that get it right away. And then there's the rest of us that have like say like thirty or forty percent average. And that usually gets let's call that like a B minus. So they're often not not just grading on a curve, they're grading on two curves.


It's like these people kind of get it and these people need another whole year to even start.


I mean, they wouldn't think about I mean that it's a whole other. But the idea that everybody gets a trophy and the idea that we're going to grade on a curve and the idea that our standards are going to be constantly in flux, that just seems like one more thing that makes people skeptical about all kinds of other things. Oh, absolutely.


You know, I mean, I and I don't have a glib answer for that, you know. I mean, I grew up before I got a lot of positive reinforcement for doing what I liked.


I was basically ignored by my science teachers. I mean, I wasn't I wasn't abused by them.


I didn't have people say, you know, you're a girl, so you can't do this. I mean, it was it was the 1980s that that was already a little bit, you know, past a lot of that.


But I was not a stand out. And, you know, so when people say, like, did you have a teacher that really inspired you? I certainly did, but they tended not to be my science teachers.


That's funny. Me too. Mine was a music teacher. Right.


It's funny, too, when you say gifted and talented. You know, the problem with that expression isn't just the pressure it puts on the recipient. It's the implicit label that goes on everybody else. Right. Oh, let me introduce you to the ungifted, untalented group. Right. It's like a celebration of essential work is something I've been involved in for decades. But now in covid, we realized that when you celebrate essential workers, you might you just called 40 million people non-essential.


Well, that's going to have some bad consequences to the unintended consequences of language is the other way to sum this whole thing up.


And I do want to sum it up because I could talk to you for hours. I want to be respectful of your time.


But but any final thoughts on the unintended consequences of being incorrect in a world where skepticism is at an all time high, even as certainty seems to have infected everyone? How do we get out of this? Well, like you said, we seem to have gone into camps based on, ah, the information we're consuming.


And there's also this idea of simplifying everything. I mean, the conversation that we got started on that I've never actually had a chance to tell you the story of how we got from, you know, 200 billion to two trillion back to two hundred billion. Let's do that another time. I can tell you all about each measurement. I was reading those papers for you this morning, Mike, but I want to hear about that.


OK, we got time. I mean, I'm just I'm waiting for the moment where you become marginally less interesting than you were the moment before, but it's not happening. So. So I want to hear it.


Well, so what we were saying so that that first estimate was based on an actual picture and then a series of pictures from the space telescope.


The second estimate was based on what we call a model.


And this is a hard word to use because people think about, well, I mean, you know, for example, my I have I have all of these wonderful model model airplanes, you know, that my husband loved to make. He was a really, really great person for modeling or people think of model like walking the catwalk and all that. So in this case, we're talking about a computer model where you make so many assumptions. And so the assumption was looking at the data they had about how many galaxies were different distances from us, what if we keep that trend going?


You know, so there's more galaxies at every place we look. There's a limit to how far telescopes can see right now. I mean, that shouldn't surprise you. You are telescopes, unfortunately, are not good enough to look all the way back in time and take a picture of every galaxy that existed, because then we would have an answer.


You just as much as the Hubble deep field is a real answer, a real picture.


And their model suggested that there would be lots and lots of these smaller little galaxies. And we still think that this is probably true that came together to form these bigger and bigger galaxies over time.


And their particular mathematics predicted, you know, this is not observed, but said based on the trends we see, there could be as many as two trillion galaxies that we haven't been able to see yet with bigger telescopes and better instruments in the future, maybe will be able to see some of these. So it was based on I mean, it's not so much a guess, but based on this particular computer mathematical simulation of what the universe was like and they never claimed otherwise.


By the way, the paper says, you know, we made these assumptions. This was the mathematical model we used. So the press release, however, so that I went back and I read the press release about that.


And I have to say, I agree with you.


I love our science writers here at NASA. They are brilliant, brilliant people. But the words they used were, you know, there must be two trillion galaxies where it now seems that, you know, they I would have used more language couching it as this is one possible idea based on one of our models. But when you write that way, the public seems to lose interest. They say, well, you don't know anything, do you? So why am I even reading this?


So they ask us to sound certain. Yes.


Instead of saying that this is based on a computer model and so that the next thing that happened was the New Horizons spacecraft has flown all the way out past Pluto and into this place called the Kuiper Belt, where there's all this these other big rocky things, including Eric Roth, which you took a picture of.


Pluto is so far away from itself, by the way, is that.


Yeah, it looks like dumbell kind of a dumbell. Right? Right. Super, super odd. Red colored.


I mean. Oh, my Lord. And I remember how dark things are out there. I mean, it's amazing to see there these dark things lurking in space out there. But anyway, Pluto is so far away now.


It's so far away from the sun. There's far less light pollution.


I mean, just like when you're near a big city, the sky is bright and you can't see as much. You go out into the country, all stars come out Pluto. This spacecraft is farther away right now than we've ever been able to make a really good observation of the sky. It's got much better cameras on it. And so their observation basically looked at the background glow of the sky, not stars, not galaxies, but how much light was coming when you get away from the the actual light pollution of the sun.


And they said, this is amazing. There's actually twice as much light coming that we can't even tell where it's coming. It's just a diffuse glow in the sky then all of the galaxies and stars we see. So in fact, their measurement was that the darkness of space was even much brighter than we had thought when they got out there. But they said based on that guess of two trillion galaxies, that background of light, probably two trillion galaxies, would create a brighter background than that.


So it's probably less than that gas of two trillion.


So so you have you have two observations on either side and then you have this this educated, excellent guess in the middle. And they don't agree yet because we don't know. Right. But we also don't know what the brightness would be a. These distant galaxies, yet we don't know how bright the stars might have been that long ago, that far back in the universe, we don't know how much dust there might be between us and those galaxies. There are many, many factors we don't understand.


And so we don't know yet what the right number is. Some people are estimating kind of high, some people estimating kind of low. We're trying to base this on as many observations as we can get.


But why does it matter? Why is it important to to to know if there are 200 billion galaxies versus two trillion? Because what it does is it gives you an idea of how our universe evolved, the number of galaxies at different times can tell you a lot about how the universe changed over the time from the Big Bang.


When did the first stars form? When did they turn on? When did the first galaxies form? How do you get black holes? A billion times the mass of the sun when there hasn't even been enough time for a generation of stars to live and die and form a big black hole like that.


I'll tell you why it's important to some people. I read recently that 60 percent of the people on the planet believe in extraterrestrial life, alien life. The majority of the people in this country believe it.


And even though we don't have actual evidence, the guts of the argument seems to be the hugeness of the cosmos. Almost requires it and to have 200 billion galaxies filled with hundreds of billions of stars individually means many, many trillions of stars collectively, which means God knows how many exoplanets rotating around the right. So so with a truly incalculable number of potential homes, the math seems like surely it must be there. That's the argument. So that basic argument just went from an argument around two hundred billion galaxies with all of its attendant stars and planets to two trillion.


So people who are predisposed to believe that there's life on other planets got a giant indicator that they were not only right, but they were right times 10. So, I mean, to me that that's part of why people are fascinated by this whole thing that I love, because, you know, I mean, think about all the way back to the Hubble deep field.


I mean, this is now over, you know, 20 years ago, even if even if we just stop there. Right. Even if we had, you know, that that little one thirty four millionth of the sky and you can say, let's say 5000 galaxies in that tiny little dot, 5000 galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. I mean, in that one little dot on the sky. And this this is the real picture. This isn't conjecture or using a computer model.


I mean, if there were a one in a billion chance, right, for a planet to have life in that tiny little dot in the sky, there would be thousands or millions of of planets with life on them.


You know, if it's if it's a one a billion chance, if it's a one a trillion chance, oh, maybe only 50 or whatever. But but on every little tiny dot, 134 millionth of the sky. So so I mean, I think I mean, of course. I mean, at NASA, we are actively looking for real scientific evidence of life on other worlds.


And I am really hoping it happens. I am not kidding. I have a bottle of champagne chilling in the refrigerator. I've had it for a while now.


I swear. One of our rovers, one of our missions to Saturn. You know what? We're going to find it in my lifetime and I'm opening that bottle of champagne. I think there is. But I'm I need the proof. And that's what we're waiting for.


Look, I'm not a scientist, Michel, but might I suggest that we open the champagne regardless and simply enjoy the life we know we have on this planet?


You know, what you just said is it reminded me of something I also heard a long time ago where where the argument was, look, you you can't make the case that in an infinite universe, there must be life on another planet because the universe is infinite. You have to make the case that in an infinite universe, there must be infinite life on infinite planets.


And if you really understand the notion of infinity. Right, which begs the question, are we in an infinite universe or does this thing actually have sides on it?


And isn't that incredible to think that we have no idea, you know, because our our our telescopes are not powerful enough to see that there is something we call the observable universe, which is as far as we can see in every direction. And we know you mean so I mean, that's basically a sphere centered on us.


Our telescopes will look so far out any direction, but then look at a galaxy in the sky that is, say, 100 million light years away. They have their own sphere around them, assuming they don't have much better telescopes.


Right. I mean, every every observer has the limits to how much you can observe. And of course, we go farther and farther out and they get better and better and better.


But but that that background glow that the New Horizon spacecraft saw that guarantees we don't know everything yet. There's this light coming from so far away and so long ago perhaps, that we're not able to resolve it into individual galaxies.


And so we're guessing our best educated guesses and it will get a lot better with the next generation of telescopes that will be coming online soon, is that the microwave glow is out, that, you know, this is actually the visible light globe.


So we were you know, we were talking about are there a hundred billion? Are there two trillion galaxies that's based actually on a background glow, invisible light and to some degree on infrared light.


But then there's this other wonderful background glow in microwave light and that we should leave for another time.


We will, along with string theory and multiverses. Sure. Magnetar is pulsars.


Quasars had some questions I wanted to run by you.


I can do that dark matter. The amount of dark matter in the universe is just so much more than anybody ever imagined. Yep, the whole black hole thing is still really chapping my ass. It's just there's just so much. There's so much real quick big bang theory. Good or bad for your world. I'm told that I was thinking about the theory. Do you agree with the Big Bang Theory? Oh, so I guess, again, you know, you're getting the honesty of being a science scientist and it gets complicated.


So, I mean, I I was a postdoctoral research fellow at astrophysics at Caltech.


So that means that the character of Sheldon Cooper is you. That's what I was. Right. Yeah. And, you know, I am nowhere near as smart as those people who are reacting this.


They're good at everything. I mean I mean, Sheldon used recombining as goldfish as DNA to make it glow in the dark and stuff and discovers new things in astrophysics and also does biochemistry. Well, we're not that good. I mean, we don't know all of that stuff. And also, you know. Sure. You know, maybe some of us are a little bit more introverted, a little bit more withdrawn. We're all geeks mean. I do remember that.


But all of us had Star Trek uniforms. We had to be careful not to wear the same ones to a party together and things like that. I mean, there's one episode where they all show up as the flash. That can be a problem.


Awkward. Sure. Sure. But overall, I'm not that different.


No, absolutely. Get the idea that I'm something brilliant.


You know, learning astrophysics is something I wanted to do, just like somebody might want to learn how to play the violin or how to how to really had a really excellent plumber or speakers.


No know. Yeah. You never know what's going to attract someone to your chosen field. It could be it could be Star Trek. Could be Star Wars, could be the Big Bang Theory on TV or it could be how the universe works. You know, you and I do a very deliberate show and we take a very, very deliberate, measured look at this topic. But if I've learned anything in this ridiculous industry that it's all connected and there are a lot of different ways to get from point A to point B, and you have proven that beyond a shadow of a doubt with this amazingly captivating, witty, unscripted exchange.


Thank you. Thank you very much. It's been wonderful to talk to you when you come back. If I invite you nicely, please.


And hopefully, you know, one of these days we can maybe even do it in the same studio. Will you bring the champagne? Yeah. Or something else.


Maybe a bottle of bourbon, maybe a good bottle of bourbon. Now you're singing my song. Even if there's not life on other planets. We'll drink the bourbon anyway.


Thanks, Michel. Hey, thanks, Mike.