Invisible forces

We’re journeying into the mysterious world of invisible forces that shape our lives in ways we often overlook for our next series! Join us as we, explore nuclear energy, feel the pull of magnetic fields, and more. We’ll also uncover the hidden social and personal elements of science, delving into the subtle currents of bias, perception, and unseen dynamics that drive scientific discovery. Prepare to be amazed by the invisible, as we shine a light on the forces that quietly shape our world.

This episode was produced by Shane M Hanlon, and mixed by Collin Warren. Artwork by Karen Romano Young. Interviews conducted by Jason Rodriguez.


Shane Hanlon:              00:00                Hi, Vicky.

Vicky Thompson:           00:01                Hi, Shane.

Shane Hanlon:              00:02                What’s something you use in your everyday life that you know just works and you have no idea how?

Vicky Thompson:           00:11                Oh, well, not every every day, obviously. Well, an airplane, I understand the concepts.

Shane Hanlon:              00:18                How does flying happen?

Vicky Thompson:           00:19                But I don’t understand.

Shane Hanlon:              00:21                I will say, that’s a really good one. I’ve been dragged in all of those aeronautical terms because I’ve been to a bunch of museums that have airplanes and all of that jazz, and I’ve been to Kitty Hawk where the Wright brothers and stuff.

Vicky Thompson:           00:36                Yeah, me too. Or I drove by.

Shane Hanlon:              00:36                Sure. I’ve read the things and I said science-y words, but I’m with you. I have no idea. It’s just magic, and I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about that.

Vicky Thompson:           00:46                It doesn’t.

Shane Hanlon:              00:46                Thank you for that.

Vicky Thompson:           00:49                You’re welcome. And when you first said lift, I thought you meant like Uber.

Shane Hanlon:              00:53                Oh my goodness.

Vicky Thompson:           00:54                Even though we were already talking about planes, so there you go.

Shane Hanlon:              00:59                Yeah. I was thinking about this, and obvious things, and we were even chatting before this. Obvious things come to mind like your computer or a phone or something. One that I don’t know exactly how it works. It’s one of the things I appreciate most in my house, and this is going to sound silly, our dehumidifier.

Vicky Thompson:           01:15                It’s not silly.

Shane Hanlon:              01:16                How does something take… And again, I’m a scientist, I could probably figure this out in some capacity, but on the face of it, how does something take water vapor that’s in the air, condense it down, turn it into water that I then up having to empty every, I don’t know, couple days and I get to water my plants with it, and then it just starts all over again?

Vicky Thompson:           01:37                I have something about condensation.

Shane Hanlon:              01:40                Oh, I love this. Let’s go there.

Vicky Thompson:           01:42                Does it make it into condensation? How does condensation work?

Shane Hanlon:              01:45                It literally makes it in the condensation, yeah, because it turns into liquid water from air water?

Vicky Thompson:           01:52                Air water.

Shane Hanlon:              01:53                That’s a better name. Ooh, this is… Okay. We need this stop here because this is going to be just embarrassing if we go any further. Science is fascinating, but don’t just take my word for it. Join us as we hear stories from scientists or everyone. I’m Shane Hanlin.

Vicky Thompson:           02:14                And I’m Vicki Thompson.

Shane Hanlon:              02:16                And this is Third Pod from the Sun. I think this is a really great illustration that not all scientists or people, frankly, should be expected to know all things because I obviously have no idea how some of this stuff works.

Vicky Thompson:           02:32                Me either.

Shane Hanlon:              02:34                But beyond bringing others joy at my own expense, at our expense, let’s say, we’re here today to introduce our next series. And so, based on my prompts, and maybe if you didn’t read ahead or pretend you didn’t read ahead, can you guess what it is?

Vicky Thompson:           02:51                I didn’t read ahead. Mysteries, our world’s an amazing mystery and we should appreciate every little bit.

Shane Hanlon:              03:00                Oh, that’s good, but no, we are talking about invisible forces. So exploring science we can’t see and issues we don’t talk about.

Vicky Thompson:           03:16                Oh, that’s a good tagline. Did you come up with that by yourself? I bet you did.

Shane Hanlon:              03:19                Oh, you know what? I actually did come up with this one. That’s not always the case. I think I’m witty and sometimes I am and sometimes I’m not, but I got to credit our colleague, Margaret, for the actual theme idea. But beyond a catchy title and tagline, we do have some amazing episodes ahead in the coming weeks. So without further ado, check out a preview of some of the stories to come. Our interviewer was Jason Rodriguez.

Priya Ghosh:                 03:45                My name is Priya, I am a postdoctoral researcher at NASA Guarded Space Flight Center, and my position is a astrophysicist and a nuclear engineer. I build and develop radiation detectors to detect neutrons and gamma rays. And also, I study and analyze cosmic ray data to understand better the chemical composition of the galaxy.

Jason Rodriguez:           04:15                Yeah, I was reading something that you said, and I have a quote here. You say, “I’m trying to build a good pair of eyeglasses so the galaxy becomes less blurry.” So what’s so important about understanding these cosmic rays and what you’re studying?

Priya Ghosh:                 04:28                So if we look at say 1930s when the golden age of physics was happening, there were a lot of new discoveries like new particles, new laws, Einstein’s greatest laws and stuff. And those are the biggest discoveries that gave us a picture of what could be out there, but we still didn’t know. People predicted there could be things like a black hole and all, but now, cosmic rays, these are just charged particles. So you have the periodic table, all the elements on the periodic table.

                                    05:02                So they’re strewn all over the galaxy. And so, when an event happens, like say, a super nova or a death of a star, they emit these highly charged particles from all over the periodic table. And so we collect these data. Some of them we collect on earth, some of them we collect from the ISS. And so these detectors collect this cosmic radiation, and so when we study how much of a certain element is there, suppose iron 56, we try to see how much of iron there is, how much of, say zinc there is, and that can give us an idea of how these elements were distributed across the galaxy. And then we can tell, okay, so this much of iron exists or this much of zinc exists.

Ashley Greeley:             05:55                My name is Ashley Greeley. I work for Goddard Space Flight Center with NASA, and I am a research scientist.

                                    06:06                So I’m in the heliophysics division, and that spans a whole range of topics, all the way from the sun to the earth, because the sun does interact with the earth. It’s magnetic fields, it’s atmosphere. So what I study in particular tends towards the magnetic fields surrounding the earth called the radiation belts. I study particles, what they do, how they change, how those populations can affect us. I did just get some funding. It’s my first proposal, actually, which is really exciting.

Jason Rodriguez:           06:39                Wow, congratulations.

Ashley Greeley:             06:39                Thank you. It was an internal funding to develop a space weather instrument. So my COI and I will be, that’s co investigator, be looking into finding the optimal design for a new space weather particle instrument where… Electronics and computers have improved so much in the past decades, that we’re able to do some really cool, interesting science in some really compact packages and really small instruments. So we’re seeing how high of an energy we can get to, basically, while still keeping the instrument fairly small so that it costs us money, there’s a little less development into it, we could hopefully get it off the ground figuratively and literally quicker.

Jason Rodriguez:           07:21                No, that’s amazing. If you can share with us what is the mission or the goal of this project?

Ashley Greeley:             07:27                Yeah, this is a little farther out in space and my usual instruments, which are in the radiation belts. So we’ll go out into space, it is still looking at solar, wind products. We’re hoping to… Solar energetic particles, SCPs and GCRs, galactic cosmic rays. Some of those have pretty high energies, much higher than I’m used to dealing with. And so we want to be able to measure the spectra, the higher range of ions and protons because there’s a couple missions that are reaching their end of life, and so we’re going to have a gap there in the future where we’re not taking those measurements. And that’s really important to do, not just to have the observational capabilities to do that for pure science research, but one of NASA’s goals is to study space hazards and radiation in the lunar region for the future Artemis missions. So we really need to fully understand those higher energy ions and how they’re acting so that we can protect our astronauts and our instruments that are going to be out near the moon.

Kirk Knobelspiesse:       08:36                My name is Kirk Knobelspiesse, I work at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the Ocean Ecology lab. I’m actually an atmospheric scientist. I’m not an oceanographer, but the act of studying the oceans and the atmosphere is inherently multidisciplinary. And so that’s why I am where I am specifically.

                                    08:56                The part about being in fuel campaigns is you get to travel to places that you would not go otherwise. So I did a fuel campaign once. This was a multi-year campaign. The first year, we went to Namibia in Southern Africa, and the second year we went to a small country called Sao Tome in Principe. The main island is called Sao Tome, south of Nigeria off the coast of Africa. What we are interested in was the relationship between aerosols and clouds, and there’s some interesting things that happen in the Southeast Atlantic Ocean. For one, there’s persistent clouds, so there’s something called the Marine stratocumulus cloud deck. That’s a very particular type of cloud that is created with cold water. This happens off the coast of California, happens off the western coast of South America, and also the southwest coast of Africa. What’s interesting about Africa is that there’s a lot of biomass burning.

                                    09:49                So creation of dark smoke aerosols over the South African continent that is carried out over those clouds. So a lot of smoke also in North America, but usually the smoke blows east. In this case, the smoke blows west. So those aerosols get above clouds. And so what the aerosols do is, if the cloud is real bright and the aerosol is dark, absorbs some energy. If the aerosols sink into the clouds, they can change the properties of the clouds. They can also change the meteorological conditions. If you have an absorbing amount of aerosols, they’ll change the temperature profile in the atmosphere. And the temperature profile is what drives formation of clouds. So all these complicated things happen, and it’s a phenomena that happens out over the oceans.

                                    10:27                So what we did in our research was not much on the location itself. We were flying, and I can claim to fame that I was within 200 meters of the zero zero point, so 200 meters from the equator and the prime meridian.

Jason Rodriguez:           10:41                Oh, wow.

Kirk Knobelspiesse:       10:42                So latitude, longitude, zero, zero. I was very happy, a little [inaudible 00:10:46] of where exactly we were, I was like, “Can we turn a little bit left so we can go exactly over?” Of course, it messes up everyone’s data processing because you have a latitude and longitude associated with things, and often if that goes wrong…

Shane Hanlon:              11:12                Well, Vicky, does hearing all of this, all these excerpts from these really inspirational and quite smart scientists make you want to understand how planes work, how lift works?

Vicky Thompson:           11:24                In the example of planes, probably not. I feel like I’m probably pretty good being on a plane not knowing what’s going on. That’s probably a safer scenario for me.

Shane Hanlon:              11:33                Yeah. In the same way, I don’t like watching, well, I don’t know how much I care, but I don’t necessarily like watching things about, there’s a show right now called Hijack that’s actually supposed to be silly, but also very entertaining. I don’t know if I want to watch that because I fly once in a while.

Vicky Thompson:           11:51                How they might not work.

Shane Hanlon:              11:53                [inaudible 00:11:53] but maybe something like me figuring out how my dehumidifier works, maybe that’s a little bit safer because I feel like if I understand that, I won’t be threading in the middle of night about, well, what if it doesn’t? My basement’s a little wetter, that’s fine.

Vicky Thompson:           12:05                Yeah, it’ll be fine. Yeah. It’s good to be curious though.

Shane Hanlon:              12:08                Yes, and we’ll be curious over the next six weeks with more episodes about Invisible Forces. And so with that, that is all from Third Pod from The Sun.

Vicky Thompson:           12:20                Thanks so much to you, Shane, for producing the episode. And thanks to Jason Rodriguez for conducting the interviews for this upcoming series.

Shane Hanlon:              12:27                And thanks as well to Colin Warren for audio engineering and to Karen Romano Young for the artwork for this episode.

Vicky Thompson:           12:33                We’d love to hear your thoughts on the podcast, so please rate and review us, and you can find new episodes on your favorite podcasting app or at

Shane Hanlon:              12:41                Thanks all, and we’ll see you next week.

                                    12:50                And thanks as well to Colin Warren for audio engineering and to, oh my goodness, Vicky.

Vicky Thompson:           12:56                Oh my God, Shane.

Shane Hanlon:              12:58                Look, hear my muddle mouth.

Vicky Thompson:           13:03                Look at your muddle mouth. It is so muddled.

Shane Hanlon:              13:07                It is so muddled. All right. And thanks as well to Colin Warren for audio engineering and to Karen.

Vicky Thompson:           13:17                Wow.

Shane Hanlon:              13:22                And thanks as well to Colin Warren for audio engineering and to Karen Romano Young for the artwork for this episode.

Vicky Thompson:           13:29                We’d love to hear your thoughts on the podcast, so please rate and review us and you can find your new… It’s not fair.

Shane Hanlon:              13:38                It’s contagious. This brings me joy.


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