28-Fire: Does a planet need life for fire to burn?

Think about what types of things burn: wood, grasses, fossil fuels… mostly things that were formed by life. Fire also requires oxygen, which is largely produced by life. Did Earth have fire before life evolved? Could any other planets have fire? If there were an exoplanet with fires burning, would we have any way to detect that? To explore these questions, we talked with astrobiologist Antígona Segura Peralta from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Though there probably has never been fire anywhere else in our solar system, Antígona told us about other hot-and-glowing types of phenomena that could exist on planets. For example, volcanic lightning on early Mars might have provided energy for the origin of Martian life. It’s an exciting time for astrobiology, and scientists like Antígona are able to make increasing progress toward understanding the potential for life on other worlds. In the process, we’re learning what makes Earth special. And it seems like fire might be something we’ll never find outside our home planet.

This episode was produced by Katrina Jackson and mixed by Collin Warren. Illustration by Jace Steiner.


Shane Hanlon:              00:00                Hi Vicky.

Vicky Thompson:           00:01                Hi Shane.

Shane Hanlon:              00:02                If you could ask one famous person… person, frankly, dead are alive, one question, there’s a lot of caveats here, who would that person be and what question would you ask them?

Vicky Thompson:           00:15                I’m really interested to see how this fits into the episode.

Shane Hanlon:              00:18                I mean, frankly it might not, but props are hard and so here we go. So what you got?

Vicky Thompson:           00:25                Okay, so I guess I’ve actually been waiting for someone to ask me this question in a public venue my whole life. Okay.

Shane Hanlon:              00:31                Got it.

Vicky Thompson:           00:33                Macaulay Culkin.

Shane Hanlon:              00:34                Okay.

Vicky Thompson:           00:36                And if he will marry me.

Shane Hanlon:              00:37                Oh my gosh.

Vicky Thompson:           00:38                Yeah.

Shane Hanlon:              00:41                I mean, my first question is why, I feel like that’s too general, but what’s… have you enjoyed Macaulay Culkin since Home Alone era?

Vicky Thompson:           00:50                Since… oh, since my youth.

Shane Hanlon:              00:52                Since your youth.

Vicky Thompson:           00:53                Since my youth. So yeah, Home Alone, just everything he did when he was a kid. I was also a little kid and just super in love with him. I feel like he was my first crush ever and I’ve sort of followed along.

Shane Hanlon:              01:07                This brings me so much joy.

Vicky Thompson:           01:09                Yeah, no. Yeah. So Macaulay Culkin, will you marry me?

Shane Hanlon:              01:13                Oh, this is so great.

Vicky Thompson:           01:16                Wait, so… yeah. Anyway, so that’s really embarrassing.

Shane Hanlon:              01:20                Okay. So my…

Vicky Thompson:           01:22                Yeah, what’s yours?

Shane Hanlon:              01:24                Mine’s nerdy, but we said we were going to go with our first got.

Vicky Thompson:           01:28                Yeah.

Shane Hanlon:              01:29                My question would be, I would ask Kathleen Kennedy, who is the in charge of Lucasfilm, the studio that makes Star Wars, I would ask Kathleen Kennedy why she decided not to go with Colin Trevorrow, who is a director, for the ninth Star Wars movie, like the new ones, and instead went with J.J. Abrams who made possibly the worst Star Wars movie ever made. It hurts my soul. I was so disappointed. I don’t care if this is a hot take. I need to know. I’ve seen the script for this movie, it is so good, but they got scared and they made a movie that was just not very good.

Vicky Thompson:           02:19                Oh.

Shane Hanlon:              02:20                I said it.

Vicky Thompson:           02:23                I know. I love… your hands are like thrown up in the air, “There, I said it.”

Shane Hanlon:              02:27                I laid it down.

Vicky Thompson:           02:28                I really love how we probably could have asked a really important person a really important question that could shape the future of the planet.

Shane Hanlon:              02:36                No, this is what’s important to us. These are our stakes. We should just live with it.

                                    02:45                Science is fascinating, but don’t just take my word for it. Join us as we hear stories from scientists for everyone. I’m Shane Hanlon.

Vicky Thompson:           02:45                And I’m Vicky Thompson.

Shane Hanlon:              02:56                And this is Third Pod From the Sun. So, that got a little out of control, and these are questions that we will likely never find the answers to though I want to know about Macaulay Culkin.

Vicky Thompson:           03:11                Yeah.

Shane Hanlon:              03:12                But to get some answers, hopefully to some questions we do have, I’m going to bring in producer Katrina Jackson. Hi Katrina.

Katrina Jackson:            03:24                Hi Shane. And just to be clear, I don’t have all the answers, just more questions, especially the Macaulay Culkin one. I mean, isn’t he in a long term relationship with Brenda Song?

Shane Hanlon:              03:35                I mean Vicky’s also married, so…

Vicky Thompson:           03:35                I’m married.

Katrina Jackson:            03:39                All right. No problem.

Vicky Thompson:           03:39                So hopefully we never get an answer.

Katrina Jackson:            03:42                But yeah, I have a lot of questions.

Vicky Thompson:           03:45                But I assume you have questions that are more relevant to this episode.

Katrina Jackson:            03:49                I do, yeah. Yeah. So when Shane asked if I had any ideas for an episode with a fire theme, I started trying to think if there was any possible connection to planetary science and astrobiology, just because I tend to do that, but of course, what are types of things that fire usually burns?

Vicky Thompson:           04:07                What doesn’t it burn?

Shane Hanlon:              04:11                I think wood, right?

Vicky Thompson:           04:12                Yeah, burns wood.

Katrina Jackson:            04:14                Right. Yeah. But if you think about it mostly all that burns is living things or things that were once living. So I started wondering, is life required for fire to happen and are there any other planets where fire could happen?

Shane Hanlon:              04:30                So I don’t know.. my face. Yeah, I don’t know the answer to that, though.The framing’s a little interesting, is life required to burn something?

Katrina Jackson:            04:44                Yeah and I wasn’t sure either. And back in college I had taken several planetary science classes, including a few astrobiology courses, but I don’t remember the topic of fire ever even coming up, and the internet wasn’t giving me a whole lot of information. So to try to help illuminate this whole planet’s on fire issue, I talked with an astrobiologist at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, in Mexico City.

Antigona Peralta:          05:15                I am Antigona Segura Peralta and I am an astrobiologist in Mexico.

Katrina Jackson:            05:21                So you all have done a few episodes on fire now, so I assume you know at this point generally how fire works?

Vicky Thompson:           05:29                I’m punting that right to Shane.

Shane Hanlon:              05:32                I don’t know how fire works. You need some sort of fuel, there’s like an ignition, I’m sure something else.

Katrina Jackson:            05:43                Yeah, and so-

Shane Hanlon:              05:44                What’s the other thing?

Katrina Jackson:            05:45                There’s the fire triangle with heat, fuel and oxygen, the three things you need for fire.

Shane Hanlon:              05:53                Okay.

Katrina Jackson:            05:55                And so I started with asking Antigona about what could be some potential sources for these three elements of fire, particularly fuel and oxygen, on other planets.

Antigona Peralta:          06:05                Well yes, that’s where that becomes very interesting because usually we are thinking the fuel, it’s for example, piece of wood or gasoline that is created by people, but there was for example oil that it doesn’t need the presence of persons, but it does need life in order to be created. So in other planets, we may think about these planets where you don’t have any life at all, but you have oxygen and hydrogen enough to start self reaction combustion, a self combustion, process. So basically you don’t need really the intervention of any life to start the combustion, but these scenarios of which kind of planets may have the conditions to have to start combustion by themselves, we don’t know how common they are because for now what we know about the atmospheres of exoplanets, planets around other stars, is very limited.

                                    07:24                So there are some models that shows that for some planets, for example, if the light of the star, the x-ray and UV light from the star, is high enough, then the water in the atmosphere and in the surface… the water in the surface evaporates and goes into the atmosphere and then when it goes into the atmosphere it gets splitted and then you have hydrogen and oxygen that can get high enough. I mean, if you vaporize an entire ocean, it will be a lot of oxygen and hydrogen. We are talking about like 90 times the atmosphere of earth. So that kind of atmosphere can combust by itself like… right?

Katrina Jackson:            08:20                Okay. So that’s one potential source of fire is if you have a whole ocean evaporate and you have a whole bunch of hydrogen and a whole bunch of oxygen in an atmosphere. What would that look like to have that combustion? Would it be the whole atmosphere on fire or just little bits of explosion, do you have any idea?

Antigona Peralta:          08:43                Well, that’s where we need a lot of imagination because we haven’t… I mean, usually what you do when you are modeling is there was this group in Germany led by Lee Grenfell who did these models, but basically these models are one of the models that means that they consider the whole atmosphere is just one line. So over there you see how much there is of a lot of compounds and then you say based on what you know from experiments, if you reach this threshold to start combustion. But then, I mean, to do a 3D planet model and then having the whole circulation and all the things that you have to consider, that’s more complex. So we don’t really know how a planet like this would look like. It should be very beautiful and I suppose the temperature would be very high, but not sure. I’m going to leave that to the imagination of the people who is hearing us.

Shane Hanlon:              09:57                I just can’t picture this. I can’t imagine an entire atmosphere on fire. That’s just fire everywhere.

Katrina Jackson:            10:06                Yeah. I was pretty stunned at this concept of an atmosphere literally exploding, or self combusting, and I had completely missed this paper when I was preparing for the interview, this study that Antigona was talking about by this group of German scientists. I had been using search terms like fire and astrobiology or fire and exoplanets, but maybe if I had searched for combustion instead of fire, I might have found it. But I did look up the paper after the interview, it’s from 2018 and it’s titled Limitation of Atmospheric Composition by Combustion Explosion in Exoplanetary Atmospheres, and it is fascinating.

Vicky Thompson:           10:43                I can’t believe that an atmosphere on fire would be a real thing.

Katrina Jackson:            10:48                Yeah, well it is theoretical at this point, but they really do have various figures in the paper showing possible scenarios where an atmosphere could combust.

Shane Hanlon:              10:57                That is so cool, or, say it with me now, hot.

Katrina Jackson:            11:03                Hot, right.

Vicky Thompson:           11:05                Ba dam bump.

Katrina Jackson:            11:08                And just a brief side note, another thing that I found out when I was looking at this paper is that one of the co-authors, the second author of the paper, she actually ran for president of Germany earlier this year. Yeah.

Vicky Thompson:           11:21                Really?

Katrina Jackson:            11:22                Like how many…

Shane Hanlon:              11:22                Fascinating.

Katrina Jackson:            11:23                … astronomer politicians do you know?

Shane Hanlon:              11:26                We need more science politicians, especially, I mean, this is very irrelevant because yesterday as we were recording this was elections here in the States.

Katrina Jackson:            11:26                Right.

Shane Hanlon:              11:37                So yeah, I think that’s great, more scientists in politics.

Katrina Jackson:            11:40                Yes. To be honest, I didn’t even know Germany had a president. I was aware of the chancellor, but yeah, I was just learning all sorts of stuff putting together this podcast episode.

Vicky Thompson:           11:52                Wow.

Katrina Jackson:            11:53                So back to fires on planets, I still had a lot more questions for Antigona. So thinking about earth, our planet, back before life started to evolve, do you think it would’ve been possible on earth for there to have been fire before life?

Antigona Peralta:          12:11                That was a very interesting question because I’d never thought about it and for some time there was no life, then there was life, but still nitrogen and CO2, and then life produced the oxygen and then that oxygen was the perfect gas for combustion. But before that we didn’t have the oxygen to start the fire. So I would dare to say that there was no fire in early earth before. I mean, there were volcanoes that had a lot of energy, things like that.

Katrina Jackson:            12:48                We think of the early earth being kind of a hot, molten place, but probably not actually fire. Interesting. And then of course as life evolved, especially once you got plants on land and stuff, wildfire has become such an important part of the ecosystem that there’s kind of a big relationship now between fire and life. Have you ever thought about whether that relationship between fire and life might be intrinsic in some way? Do you think it would be possible for life to continue to evolve without fire? Do you think about this at all, about the relationship between fire and life?

Antigona Peralta:          13:33                No, I never thought about fire actually, unless you are in the lab and you have to be careful of it. But yeah, it was very interesting when I received the question because I think well, that’s a really interesting question and I would like to think about it. So I’ve been thinking about it. I mean, the problem with life when we [inaudible 00:13:53] thinks about life is that life on earth is just an example and it’s the result of all these little things that happen during the earth’s history. So it’s hard to know how in all the planet could develop. It’s something that we cannot… but maybe, I mean, maybe fire something that happens in other planets that have carbon based life. I can think that that may happen.

Katrina Jackson:            14:23                Okay. Yeah. I get what you’re saying. It’s hard to extrapolate to life on other planets because we only have our one example. So we don’t know of any other planets or planetary bodies in our solar system that could have fire, correct?

Antigona Peralta:          14:40                That’s right. We don’t know about anyone.

Katrina Jackson:            14:43                Which has been part of the struggle of finding someone from planetary science and astrobiology who could talk on this because yeah, it’s just not something that we’re observing, but it’s interesting to think about.

Antigona Peralta:          14:57                I was brave enough to accept that.

Katrina Jackson:            15:00                And so yeah, this is all a little bit of extrapolation, but if there were an exoplanet that did have fire on it, do you think there would be any observable chemical signatures in its atmosphere that you’d be able to tell that something was burning?

Antigona Peralta:          15:19                Well, sadly, combustion produces water. So that’s that. Now maybe you can see water on a hot planet and you could say, “Is this planet combusting because I do detect high amounts of oxygen and hydrogen?” Something like that. Hydrogen is very hard to detect in explanatory atmospheres. It would be very, very hard to say something like that.

Katrina Jackson:            15:46                What about large wildfires on the ground? If it was an earth-like planet that had biology and life and it frequently had fires, would we be able to detect that at all?

Antigona Peralta:          16:01                Well, I was thinking maybe ashes could be… I mean, the atmosphere could start to… it could be dark because of ashes for example. But when planetary atmospheres are dark, what we see is basically nothing. So if you have something like ashes, what is going to have is that in instead of the wiggles you usually have from the planet, you get a flat line and basically you can say, “Well, there is a lot of hydro currents,” or something else, it’s producing hazes or clouds that are blocking our view from the planet, but we don’t know what it is because I mean a cloud, hazes, ashes, they will produce a flat spectrum. So I think there would be no way to know that this planet is on fires.

Vicky Thompson:           17:06                So even if a planet out there around another star did have fire, we probably wouldn’t know about it.

Katrina Jackson:            17:12                Yeah, that might be the case according to Antigona.

Shane Hanlon:              17:14                And also none of the other places in our solar system have fire, like none of the other planets or I guess other celestial objects, whatever, either now or points in the past.

Katrina Jackson:            17:31                Yeah, that’s as far as we know.

Vicky Thompson:           17:33                And even on earth, there were large portions of history when fire probably couldn’t have existed.

Shane Hanlon:              17:39                Yeah, I imagine so, because either there wasn’t enough atmospheric oxygen, which we learned is oxygen is one of the things you need for fire, at least the way we understand it, which actually didn’t exist in our quantities until life started creating oxygen or because there wasn’t much fuel, which is what you need until life evolved as well.

Katrina Jackson:            18:02                Yeah, and I think that’s so interesting to think about because fire is so much a part of our lives as humans. It’s how we cook our food, it’s how we have heat, it’s what keeps the ecosystem of our forests and our grasslands in balance, but it sounds like we might never be able to observe fire burning anywhere outside of earth unless it’s somewhere that humans have brought oxygen and fuel.

Vicky Thompson:           18:27                That makes earth feel kind of special in that way, but also maybe that also feels sad and kind of lonely somehow. I don’t know.

Shane Hanlon:              18:35                We’re exceptional, Vicky.

Vicky Thompson:           18:36                Yeah, we’re exceptional.

Shane Hanlon:              18:37                Yeah. Yeah. And too not, but there might not be fire on other planets that we can see or study, but there’s still some pretty interesting hot and glowy sort of phenomenon throughout the solar system, right?

Katrina Jackson:            18:54                Oh yeah, for sure. Volcanoes, lightning, volcanic lightning.

Vicky Thompson:           19:00                There’s volcanic lightning on other planets?

Katrina Jackson:            19:03                Yeah. Apparently early Mars could have had volcanic lightning, and that’s actually what Antigona studied for her PhD dissertation was the possibility of volcanic lightning being an energy source for the origin of life on Mars.

Shane Hanlon:              19:19                Oh, I’ve got to hear more about this.

Antigona Peralta:          19:21                Well, basically we are looking for any source of energy that could produce, could start the first chemical reactions to initiate the process of life. So first you start from nitrogen and methane and hydrogen carbon dioxide, and from that with sources of energy, you split these molecules and create new molecules that are larger, and then those molecules are again reacting and then create larger molecules and then suddenly you have a cell, a living being. It’s not as easy as I just said it, but what I studied in my PhD in the lab with Rafael Navarro-Gonzalez here in the National University of Mexico is basically to reproduce what we thought was volcanic gases and some ashes, and then we use a laser and with this laser we curated a plasma, which is this very hot gas, which is produced too when you have lightning.

                                    20:29                So basically we reproduced all the chemistry that happens during lighting in the presence of this volcanic ashes and the volcanic gasses. And what we found is that we could produce a hydrogen cyanide, HCN, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen, all together, it’s one molecule, and this molecule is the start, the point of a start, from a lot of molecules that are relevant for the starting of life on earth. So we don’t know if that would be in other planets, but at least we found that this molecule could be produced in volcanic eruptions on Mars, every Mars, when there was water on Mars… I mean, there is water on Mars now, but it’s just frozen, when there was liquid water on the surface of Mars and there was a lot of volcanoes, now all of that is gone, the liquid water. The volcanoes are there, but they just stop. They are just there. So it’s a possibility.

Katrina Jackson:            21:38                Yeah. And so I’m not sure if everyone even realizes that lighting, volcanic lighting, is a thing on earth. Can you describe a little bit just what that is and what that looks like?

Antigona Peralta:          21:51                Oh yes. It looks beautiful. Search the videos in YouTube. Basically what happens is that you need something that is called an explosive eruption. So when that happens, a lot of ashes are produced, but very quickly. So these ashes are electrically charged and then they produce the lightning. So you have this huge… so let’s imagine just you have this volcano in the middle of the sea or in an island, and this volcano creates all these ashes and so you have this huge cloud of ashes, very dark ashes. And then in there you’ll see all the lightning. And I mean it’s not just one, it’s just starts happening. It’s just beautiful. It’s beautiful to see. Well, I think it’s beautiful. So you should look for the images, they are beautiful.

Katrina Jackson:            22:56                So you think the same thing, the same phenomenon could have been happening on early Mars back when the volcanoes were active, having a bunch of lightning in the ashes from the volcanic explosion. Do you think this sort of volcanic lightning could happen on, for example, Io’s is the most volcanically active body in our solar system, but I don’t know, are those volcanoes explosive? Would that produce the ash that you’d need for this lightning?

Antigona Peralta:          23:26                No, because there is no water.

Katrina Jackson:            23:29                Right, okay.

Antigona Peralta:          23:30                Yeah. The surface is right now covered with sulfur compounds. I mean, if that happened in Io, we could see it. So I am saying that it’s not happening because we haven’t seen it.

Shane Hanlon:              23:49                Vicky, have you ever seen volcanic lighting? I mean, not in real… well maybe in real life, but pictures or videos or anything like that?

Vicky Thompson:           23:58                Yeah, I’ve seen it, I mean, obviously on the internet. It’s amazing. It’s really intense.

Shane Hanlon:              24:02                Yeah, AGU, to say good things about AGU, actually put out a press release with some amazing videos and images a few years back, I believe, that got a lot of coverage and uptick in pop culture. It’s pretty wild. Though I can’t imagine kind of transposing that onto the surface of Mars, like take volcanic lightning but on Mars.

Vicky Thompson:           24:26                So what was the part about Io? That’s one of the moons of Jupiter, right?

Katrina Jackson:            24:30                Yeah, IO is one of the four big moons of Jupiter and it’s one of the coolest looking places in our solar system because it’s incredibly volcanically active, there’s constantly lava flowing on its surface, but as Antigona has said, Io’s volcanoes don’t have water so they don’t have that explosive type of eruptions needed to make giant ash clouds where you would have lightning.

Shane Hanlon:              24:51                I mean, it still sounds like an awesome place.

Vicky Thompson:           24:54                The whole field of astrobiology sounds really awesome and fascinating and I’d be interested to hear Antigona’s thoughts on what she finds most exciting about astrobiology.

Antigona Peralta:          25:04                Well, I am very excited that we are in this moment in the human history when we have the tools to answer some of these questions. For the first time we have telescopes that can detect exoplanets, that’s the first thing, and then the second thing is that we will have these instruments that are going to be able to observe the atmospheres of exoplanets. And in some of those atmospheres, we may have enough information to know if a planet is habitable or if the planet has life, which is, I mean, those are two different things because I mean it’s like a house. The house can have all the services and everything, water, electricity and everything, nobody could live there. So just habitable to have atmosphere water or maybe some features that tell us that the planet actually has some kind of life changing the atmosphere. So this is the first time that we can do it. So I am very excited because we can answer the question, are we alone?

Katrina Jackson:            26:21                Yeah, lots of instruments have come online and bunch more missions are in the pipeline. So yeah, that’s pretty exciting time to be in this field. So how did you get into astrobiology?

Antigona Peralta:          26:34                Well basically I was in love of astronomy. I love stars and I was very amazed by life. It was like… I mean, the fact that they were insects, that they could move and they could organize themselves. And then the fact that I knew that I was a living being, it was… I mean, it was such a mystery for me that was very exciting. So I wanted to be a biologist or an astronomer, but then I didn’t have a way to choose. And then there was Cosmos by Carl Sagan that it was aired here in Mexico in Channel Five, and then my father bought me the book and I was just amazed about something called exobiology that brought together biology and astronomy. And then I learned geology too to understand if there was life out there and whole life form, and I mean… So I said, “I want to be an exobiologist,” and after that it was just looking for my path into astrobiology.

Katrina Jackson:            27:48                So you’ve wanted to get into this field ever since you were a kid and seeing Carl Sagan Cosmos. That’s pretty cool. What have been some challenging things in your career?

Antigona Peralta:          27:58                Well, to look for a job in science is hard, any science. It’s just like any science and I would say any country, you have to think that you should go anywhere in the world, but it’s not really anywhere. Basically you have Europe and US where there are more jobs, but then you may or not stay there and I wanted to go back to my country, and I was very lucky actually to have a job in my country and in this university where this is the largest university in Latin America, the National University of Mexico. But yes, I mean one of the things was to find a job. And of course there are some things that, I mean, when we think about the challenges, we usually think the academic environment and things like that, but that there is all these things that happen in your life that affect your academic life.

                                    29:00                You live in this world, it’s not like… usually we think scientists is this persons that have almost no feelings. So basically being a woman in my country and in other places, it is like you have to think about so many things, it’s just exhausting. And it takes a lot of energy and time to fight the people who is… there are so many aggressions of… the levels of aggression could be very low or very high. So all these things are things that, I mean, they become huge challenges because you cannot do your work if your mind is not at peace. So those kind of things are very hard. And so eventually some people… I did it. I overcome some of those challenges. But many others not. So it’s a real problem.

Katrina Jackson:            30:08                Yeah. And that’s such a shame because it’s… I mean, listening to you, you’ve been so excited about the science and it’s just such an exciting thing to study, but so in incredibly difficult in many ways as a woman in Mexico, and all these different just things that you have to overcome, and it’d be great if science were a more welcoming place.

Antigona Peralta:          30:39                Yes. And that there is English. I know I haven’t been invited some places because my English is not very good, and that’s something… I mean ,the people in Mexico who has a very good English is people who studied in private schools that have very good teachers in English, and I was in public school all my life. So basically the English I have is because my mother decided that I should go to a private school to learn a little bit of English. But it has been a problem, for example, for me in science because I first, I get nervous because I know I don’t have a perfect pronunciation. And then as I say, there have been opportunities for me that I mean, that I lost just because of my English and I don’t have time to improve it because I have so full of things to do, I have students.

Vicky Thompson:           31:38                I know she said she was nervous about it, but I think Antigona’s English sounds great.

Katrina Jackson:            31:42                Yeah. And I wish I could speak Spanish better. I mean I took four years of Spanish, and four years of German, and I can’t speak either language. It’s awful.

Vicky Thompson:           31:50                That’s the same for me.

Shane Hanlon:              31:51                Vicki, you can’t… Yeah, I can’t speak any other language. I’ve been taking… I’ve been doing Duo Lingo for the better part of a year and I took a trip to South America earlier this year just so I could… and I can get around, but basically I’ve just been cheating on Duo Lingo cause I just keep repeating the same lessons every day so that I keep my streak up, so my-

Katrina Jackson:            32:12                Right, just to satisfy the notifications.

Shane Hanlon:              32:15                Yeah. My stats look a lot better than they actually are. But I think it’s always so impressive when people are both super smart and knowledgeable, and able to communicate in another language.

Katrina Jackson:            32:26                Yeah. And I know that I very much appreciate that so much of science is communicated in English because that’s super convenient for me, but of course that can be a huge barrier for a lot of other people.

Vicky Thompson:           32:38                Yeah, language, nationality, and sexism, so many other obstacles can make science and geophysics a really difficult place.

Katrina Jackson:            32:45                And that’s just scratching the surface of some of the challenges, and no one should have to persevere through so many obstacles. It should not be like that. But Antigona has, and she’s been able to do something that she really loves.

Antigona Peralta:          33:01                I enjoy when I understand something. When we discover, for example, what was going on with the atmospheres in planets around low mass stars, so the stars got different masses and the planet size study is planets that are around very low mass stars and dwarfs, or red dwarfs because they look red. So we didn’t understand why there was so much methane on those planets. So I was trying to think about it and I was working back then with James Kasting in that time. So we were thinking together and suddenly it’s like, okay, you have more OH here than here, and then that’s why methane is not being destroyed in the planets around. And that like, “Oh God, yes, this is a solution,” it was like something like… and nobody thought about it before, and so that was a very happy moment for me.

Katrina Jackson:            34:07                Yeah, being able to figure out something that’s a whole atmosphere on another planet, that sounds pretty cool to be able to pick out those types of problems. So we have just a few minutes left. Is there anything else you’d like to share or any of the questions that you’d like to go back to?

Antigona Peralta:          34:28                Maybe the only thing I would say is that we haven’t found a planet that is habitable for humans, and we are not looking for it. So that’s very important to know. We are not searching for a planet just to throw this away and then go to another place. That’s not going to happen. So this is the only habitable planet for humans and it’s getting hot because the human activity. So we humans are changing our planet in a way that is becoming a place that is not habitable for us because it’s going to be habitable for other kinds of living beings. Don’t worry about that. Life on Earth is going to continue without us, even if we heat the planet or we contaminate with metals or with whatever we put into the water. I mean, there will be living beings that are going to be very happy with that. But for us, it’s a problem. So just a reminder of that this is not to search a planet to go away when this one is not habitable for humans anymore.

Katrina Jackson:            35:53                Yes, I hear you. Earth is by far the most habitable place for humans and we need to keep it that way.

Antigona Peralta:          36:01                Yes, sometimes people ask me, “Where do you like to go?” I’m like, “Nowhere.” I like earth, so I’ll stay here. Thank you.

Shane Hanlon:              36:24                A now tired trope that I fed into for a long time is that I don’t like space. I’ve mostly changed my tune on that one. I think space is super neat, frankly, but I’m with Antigona, we can live here. I am cool staying here on earth, good for me.

Vicky Thompson:           36:44                Yeah, and earth is extra special since it’s apparently the only place around where we can have fire. So who knew that?

Shane Hanlon:              36:51                Yeah, honestly, before Katrina pitched this, I had never, literally never, thought about fire on other planets. And I got to thank you, Katrina, for constantly forcing me to think about space in a positive way.

Katrina Jackson:            37:06                Well, I’m sure I can also make you think about space in a negative way, just have me around long enough.

Shane Hanlon:              37:14                You don’t need to take that as a challenge. We can keep the positive side of things. All right, well with that, that is all from Third Pod from the Sun.

Vicky Thompson:           37:23                Thanks so much to Katrina for bringing us this story and to Antigona for sharing her work with us.

Shane Hanlon:              37:28                This episode was produced by Katrina with audio engineering from Colin Warren, artwork by Jace Steiner.

Vicky Thompson:           37:35                We’d love to hear your thoughts on the podcast. Please rate and review us and you can find new episodes on your favorite podcasting app or at thirdpodfromthesun.com.

Shane Hanlon:              37:43                Thanks all and we’ll see you next week.

                                    37:50                Heat, fuel, oxygen. Yeah, I guess that makes sense. I guess I think of…

Vicky Thompson:           37:55                So heat would be the… I was like…

Shane Hanlon:              37:57                Heat’s kind of the ignition.

Vicky Thompson:           37:58                … this is my spark.

Shane Hanlon:              38:00                I think in my mind I thought of oxygen and fuel as being the same thing, but I guess not.

Vicky Thompson:           38:07                But the fuel would be like something to burn.

Shane Hanlon:              38:07                Yeah, it’s like wood or paper.

Vicky Thompson:           38:07                Like wood or whatever.

Shane Hanlon:              38:07                Whatever.

Vicky Thompson:           38:12                Yeah. But I guess you don’t need a spark or ignition, it could just be heat that builds up, right?

Katrina Jackson:            38:19                Well, the spark is often from friction or it could be from lightning or something.

Shane Hanlon:              38:25                What about the magnifying glass fire?

Vicky Thompson:           38:26                Yeah, that’s what I was thinking of, just this directed heat.

Shane Hanlon:              38:26                This is not what this is about.


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