William Sanford "Bill" Nye, popularly known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, is an American science educator, comedian, television host, actor, writer, and scientist who began his career as a mechanical engineer at Boeing. He is best known as the host of the Disney/PBS children's science show Bill Nye the Science Guy and for his many subsequent appearances in popular media as a science educator.
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[Edit]: Oh how we wish we could stay and answer all of your questions. We had a lot of fun, but we all need to head off to talk about Europa later this afternoon on Capitol Hill (no livestream, unfortunately, but The Planetary Society will post a video).
And go Europa!
Hey there, Reddit. We’re here to answer anything about Europa—the moon of Jupiter that probably has more liquid water than all the Earth’s oceans combined.
Europa also seems likely to have heat energy and nutrients. Combine those all together and you’re looking at a place that could be habitable for life at this very moment. It’s like having our own little goldilocks-zone exoplanet in our cosmic backyard.
Why are we doing this? Fundamentally we all love Europa and the mysteries associated with it. What, if anything, can be found in the great oceans of Europa? How could NASA look for life? What would it mean to discover life or even to discover that there is no life there? These are compelling questions, and we’re talking about them today in a special event in D.C. We had such a strong response, we decided to talk about it on Reddit, too.
Some good Europa resources:
How big is Europa? Here is a comparison of surface areas of bodies in the solar system from Randall Monroe at xkcd
Will we go to another planet in my lifetime? (I'm 24)
Please say yes.
YES!! We have a plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030's- and with work- we can make it happen. --Ellen
And of course, robotic spacecraft are going there now! :-) -Robert P.
Mr. Nye, did you ever see the Epic Rap Battle of History that portrayed you? Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yis7GzlXNM
Love it. That's Weird Al himself Newtonising... and they're imitating me. I mean that's as immitationally flattering as it gets. I admit though, I'm not sure why I would be battling Isaac Newton rather than sitting down to share an apple and some peanut butter.
I recently read a National Geographic article talking about the Drake equation, and the plausibility of finding habitable planets. How close do you think we are to doing this? Will it happen in our lifetime?
With the James Webb Space Telescope, we will look at the atmospheres of planets around other stars- taking a big leap towards finding habitable planets! JWST launches in 2018- so stay tuned! -- Ellen
Who would win in a fist fight between you and Neil Degrasse Tyson?
Neil would crush me. But based on our day of bike riding, I'm pretty sure I can outrun him. Phew...
Mr. Nye, Dr. Stofan, and Dr. Pappalardo
Thank you all so much! I'm Matt Heer, a high school science teacher of 11 years and you've all done so much for me in my career. I truly appreciate and am grateful for all you have done in your career Mr. Nye; Exciting young people about science and your current battle fighting publicly for scientific truth. (I'd love to get a picture with you if you are ever in Wisconsin for my classroom!)
Dr. Stofan and Dr. Pappalardo, I have been involved in the (NASA HUNCH)[
My question for you all is this: If you could address high school students (teachers or parents too for that matter!) of America right now, what words of wisdom / advice / or challenges do you have for them?
Thank you all again for your time and keep on rocking!
PS Would any of you be interested in skyping with my school & community some time in the future?
Great to read from you! The key to teaching anything (I think) is to let your passion show. Let em' see you love them and that you care how well they do along with the joy of science.
For a pic, check out my new site (your home page) billnye.com
My brief advice is to follow your dreams and desires. Along the way, I was told that there are very few jobs studying the planets at NASA. But if you are dedicated and persistent, one of those could be yours. Who would have thought I would be leading the effort to study the science for a mission to Europa? -Robert P.
Hi Bill. What unanswered question are you desperate to get an answer for?
BN: Was there, or better yet, is there life on other worlds? That's why I took this job as CEO of the Planetary Society. Mars may still harbor something alive today, and who knows what's in the sea of Europa!
What can I personally do to support the space program?
A big one is calling up your congressional representatives and telling them that you support NASA and its projects. They need to know that their constituents support this stuff. Beyond that, staying informed about issues in space policy helps you communicate important issues to your friends. I do a lot of that for The Planetary Society at http://planetary.org/get-involved/be-a-space-advocate
Are you going to start up a new science show any time soon?
Oh, we are working hard on that. Sorting several offers. Meanwhile, my book Undeniable, The Science of Creation comes out in November. Buy a carton or two ;-)
Thank you all so much for doing this AMA! Bill, I'm a huge fan! I always used to watch your show when I was younger and you inspired me to go into a STEM field (Materials Engineering). These questions are for all of you or whomever wants to answer:
How likely is it that we will be able to travel to Europa? How far in the future can we expect this to happen?
What do you think is the most interesting thing about science/what never fails to blow your mind?
And lastly, If you could change one thing about how the sciences are taught to American children, what would it be?
Thanks again for coming to answer all these questions :)
The most astonishing thing about science is that it is a process that lets us humble humans know so much (or what seems like so much) about the universe. We are part of the cosmos, yet we can understand it. Amazing.
For science education: I say we need to emphasize and fund in elementary schools. That's not where we should cut back. People get their lifelong passion of science before they're ten years old. And, that lead to discovery and innovation.
We're in an interesting position in our civilization where, technologically, there is nothing stopping us from exploring most of the solar system robotically. The big limiting factor is funding.
But NASA is exploring some really exciting concepts right now, including a mission called the Clipper that would orbit Jupiter and fly by the moon something like 45 times to perform initial reconnaissance. Most mission concepts could get there by the early to mid-2020s.
If you're talking about humans, a la Europa Report that's a lot different. The big factor there is radiation protection for astronauts, which is a problem pretty much any time you leave low-Earth orbit. --Casey
What are your thoughts on the movie Europa Report?
It was fun! It stretched the science a bit, but that's okay for the movies. It raised awareness of Europa, its science, and the drive to explore it! -Robert P.
Thank you very much for doing this AMA.
Have you ever seen the movie 2010 (the squeal to 2001 a space odyssey)? At the end a stern message is given to attempt no landing on Europa.
ALL THESE WORLDS
ARE YOURS EXCEPT
USE THEM TOGETHER
USE THEM IN PEACE
Back in 1995 there was a scientific conference on the possibility of an ocean beneath Europa's ice shell. Arthur C. Clark tied in via a video connection from his home in Sri Lanka, which was a big feat for the day. He gave us express verbal permission to send a lander to Europa! :-) -Robert P.
What do you imagine to be the most exciting implication of finding another habitable world in our own solar system?
It would tell us that life could be very common throughout the Universe. And we would be able to examine another life chemistry: would it be the same or different from that on Earth? These would be huge advances scientifically and to humanity as a whole! -Robert P.
What do you think would be the public reaction if life was found on Europa?
We are searching for life on Mars and hopefully soon on Europa- we are following the liquid water, which scientists think is critical for life. I think the public would be in awe over the ability to answer the question- are we alone, how similar is life on other worlds to life here on Earth, and how can we use that information to better understand ourselves! --- Ellen
What caused Europa to form with so much water? Was it brought upon by another body or are these questions yet to be answered?
There was lots of water vapor in the solar system as it was forming. In the outer solar system, it was cold enough that lots of ice condensed (while in the inner solar system, it was too warm for that too happen). Thus, the moons of the outer planets were built from rock, metal, and ice, so they still contain much ice today. At Europa, tidal heating can melt some of this H2O to form a global subsurface ocean. -Robert P.
Has there been any advancements on protecting humans from radiation damage outside earth's protection?
At NASA, we are working hard on this issue- because it is critical to our ability to get astronauts to Mars in the 2030's. The Mars Curiosity Rover has an instrument that characterized the radiation environment between Earth and Mars and on the surface, giving us specific numbers to work with. -- Ellen
Reading the title, I'm just curious; is the water on Europa fresh or salty, like our oceans?
We don't know -- it could be anywhere in between! There must be some salt, based on magnetometry results from the Galileo spacecraft. But how salty that ocean is can be tested with a follow up mission. -Robert P.
Do you fear at all for the future of space agencies? When I look at the comparison between funding of the military and NASA, it's worrying.
I am actually really optimistic! We have a lot of support- like from everyone here today :)), and we use lots of paths- increasing our use of technology to bring up capabilities and decrease costs, more partnering with the commercial sector and our international partners-- so we are getting more creative and leveraging every opportunity. And when you look at all the compelling science there dis to do- how can you not be optimistic! --Ellen
What is a book recommendation from your field(s) that an average person can grasp?
David Grinspoon's book: Lonely Planets. -Robert P.
This is beautiful. This is exactly what I'd love to do! Planetary research is becoming more and more desirable, I suppose!
Do you have any specific tips?
Tip: Pay attention in your science and math classes! :-) -RP
In what ways could the ice on Europa be penetrated if astronauts were to visit, and would there be any potential dangers posed by the ice?
One idea suggested is a melting probe that could go down through the ice. It would likely have to be heated by a nuclear power source. But such exploration is difficult and a long way off. Fortunately Europa appears to bring its innards up to the surface, so we can explore what is below by examining the surface, and perhaps plumes (if they are confirmed). -Robert P.
When does NASA plan to explore Europa?
We are studying a new mission to Europa-- in fact- a NASA announcement of opportunity to work on instruments for the next Europa mission came out today! --Ellen
How do yall feel about privatization of Space flight, namely SpaceX?
It's important to remember that SpaceX has previously and continues to receive a significant amount of funding from NASA to develop its vehicles. The biggest difference is in the contracting types: fixed cost vs. cost-plus, in which the government is responsible for delays and cost overruns. NASA essentially buys a delivery service from SpaceX, though they provided many hundreds of millions of dollars to help them develop the tech.
This isn't to diminish the success of SpaceX: they've created a vertically integrated rocket company that does business in a very different way than classical contractors like Boeing and Lockheed-Martin.
But increased privatization is probably one of the most exciting and positive developments in space in recent years. If a real market can form, you open up a wide variety of possibilities that don't really fall into the realm of government-funded exploration, like tourism and asteroid mining.
I'm curious to why we haven't sent any probes to Europa? Sure mars is cool but a habitable moon is cooler.
NASA's Voyager and Galileo spacecrafts have studied the Jupiter system, and Europa was a big focus of the Galileo mission. We have been studying a Europa mission, but it is a challenge due to the high radiation environment. But we are close- and just today released a NASA announcement of opportunity to start work on instruments for the next Europa mission. We are also working with the European Space AGency on their next mission to the Jupiter system, called JuICE! --Ellen