Earth in Human Hands

“What if life isn’t something that happens *on* a planet, but is something that happens *to* a planet? What if the planet itself is alive?” Thus begins one of the many intriguing thought exercises in astrobiologist David Grinspoon’s new book, Earth in Human Hands (available Dec. 6, 2016). David has long been a friend of the show, in large part because he possesses a unique ability to bring the geologic imagination to life. His approach to the Anthropocene draws extensively from deep time and close observations of other planets to see what we might learn about our uncomfortable situation here on Earth. If the Anthropocene is part of the geologic time table (it is), and if the geologic time table is largely defined by life (it is), then does our current situation mean something much broader in terms of planetary evolution? David chats with GenAnthro producer Miles Traer about the new book, mind-bending perspectives on time, and why the Anthropocene hopefully marks the start, and not the end, of something quite spectacular.

THIS EPISODE WAS PRODUCED BY LESLIE CHANG, MIKE OSBORNE, AND MILES TRAER.

Are we alone in the universe?

How did life begin on Earth? Curiously, scientists often search for the answer on other planets or moons in our solar system. After all, if we want to see whether our theories are right, we need to find another example of life somewhere. The search has taken us to some strange places seemingly frozen in time that give us hints to what Earth looked like billions of years ago when life first appeared in the geologic record: places like Mars that show evidence of fossil oceans, and places like Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, that show evidence of liquid water oceans containing organic molecules hidden under an icy crust. NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay has been a member of missions that sent spacecraft to these and other places in search of that elusive other example of life in the universe. He recently sat down with producer Miles Traer to discuss the best current theories for the origin of life on Earth, why Antarctica is a lot like one of Saturn’s moons, the challenges of collecting data from other planets, and the reasons we’re captivated by the question, “Are we alone in the universe?”

THIS EPISODE WAS PRODUCED BY LESLIE CHANG, MIKE OSBORNE, AND MILES TRAER.

The Dino Crater

One of the best tales of all time from geologic history is the story of the meteor impact that killed the dinosaurs. As it turns out, though, there are still many unanswered questions about what exactly happened the moment the meteor connected with our planet. In fact, until recently, scientists had yet to collect sediment cores from the center of the impact crater. On today’s show, producer Michael Osborne talks with Sean Gulick, co-chief scientist of an expedition that recently drilled the Chicxulub crater off the coast of Mexico. Sean revisits the moment when the asteroid hit, and he discusses what the scientists hope to find from their drilled samples. Also, we have a short segment featuring a conversation with Science Magazine reporter Paul Voosen about a news update from the Anthropocene Working Group.

Kim Stanley Robinson

Think of the Anthropocene as a science fiction thought experiment. We imagine future geologists looking back into the rock record, and trying to pinpoint when humans became the dominant geologic force. In many ways, science fiction is the perfect genre for exploring environmental issues – running out scenarios and “what ifs” to their extremes, and imagining how that world would look and feel. Award-winning science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson does exactly that in many of his works. In this thought-provoking conversation, producer Mike Osborne sits down with Robinson to talk about his creative process and environmental thinking, what makes for good science fiction, and the genre’s capacity to imagine future societies shaped by climate change.

THIS EPISODE WAS PRODUCED BY LESLIE CHANG, MIKE OSBORNE, AND MILES TRAER.