Astrophysics: The Worst Job in the Universe? w/ Paul Sutter

Purpose: We explore the many challenges and roadblocks of astrophysics with the famous Paul Sutter. What’s it like being an astronomer when the universe doesn’t care about our struggles?

Paul Sutter: Popular astronomer and communicator for astro-science, Paul Sutter hosts his own podcast, travels the world with AstroTours events, speaks at crowded events, and has his own book. He’s got everything to do with astronomy and society.

This Episode You’ll Learn:

  • What it’s like to be a professional astronomer
  • Advice for students getting started in astronomy
  • What events Paul is a part of for science outreach
  • Some challenges currently facing astronomers

Notable Quotes:

“Most jobs look at a physics degree favorably whether it’s related to the job or not.” - Paul Sutter

“Focus on where you are now as a student and do the best you can, rather than trying to plan for years down the road.” - Paul Sutter

“If you can make access to space cheaper, then everything becomes cheaper.” - Tony Darnell

Main Topics:

1:33 -Times Square Announcement

OPT and several other big names in the industry will be setting up telescopes in Times Square, the most light-polluted city in the world, to prove that it's still possible to do astrophotography in these conditions. You'll find the OPTeam there on April 6th, and we hope all of you can join us.

6:18 -All Aboard the AstroTour

AstroTours makes science and astronomy accessible and exciting for enthusiasts and the unaware alike. Paul talks about this project where he and others travel the globe visiting beautiful locations with dark skies, all while telling science-themed stories to attendees. They explore jungles, volcanoes, and more during the day and explore the skies at night. Anybody is welcome to join--as long as tickets last--and everybody is encouraged to come along. Recently they’d visited Costa Rica to great success, and next up is the Southwest in North America. The All-Stars Party is happening in Joshua Tree National Park soon and is hosted by OPT, socheck it out if you want to go!

12:25 - Starting the Worst Job in the Universe

What does it take to get involved with a career full of uncertainty and challenging hurdles? Paul gives us a look into his experience getting started in astrophysics. He went through a physics degree in college and eventually got his doctorate as well. The scholastic training required for a physicist enables to start nearly any career they desire, with the unemployment rate being basically zero. For those of you curious or concerned whether you’re wasting your time with physics or not (you aren’t), you can at least rest easy knowing a job won’t be hard to find.

23:08 -Being an Astronomer Today

“Most astronomy nowadays is done with giant observatories that are mostly automated… and done remotely.” What many people might think astronomy entails (someone looking through an eyepiece and observing) is not the reality of how it’s done. A lot of what must be done is gathering data that’s been automatically collected, and then analyzing that data to see what it can tell us about that celestial object and the universe we reside in. Most of an astronomer’s time is spent figuring out what their data means and collaborating with fellow scientists on research papers and making new conclusions. Paul gives us insight into the varying types of astronomers, the necessities of each type, and how exactly each contributes to the greater picture.

35:03 -To All Aspiring Scientists Out There

Paul’s greatest advice he can give is to be a good student. This will help you get into a better college, and when you’re there, continue being an excellent student. Get an internship when you can and just learn as much as possible. Doing so may lead you to a career in academic research, which is the deepest rabbit hole you could find, but for some this is perfect. Facing this challenge of research and scouring what we can to find out what the universe holds for us is the ultimate challenge in astronomy. Above all, be the best student you know you can be and never give up on the universe

40:58 -Putting Paul on the Spot

Is there life besides us in the universe? Or, rather, is lifecommon in the universe? Paul believes that yes, probably, there is life other than us in the universe. Whether life is common or not, he says no. Looking at the statistics of our galaxy alone, life is unlikely to be common in any galaxy. Tony and Paul debate on the arguments for life in the universe in this segment. With Paul Sutter the Spaceman here, Dustin asks the hardest question we’ve heard on this podcast so far.

49:20 - Space Telescopes and Society

These are huge. Easily accessible telescopes in space will bring about massive changes for research and the social perception of space science. Making these cheaper makes everything else cheaper including payloads to space stations. Giving everyone access to space removes all barriers of entry and lets everyone explore the mysteries of the universe in their own way.

51:29 -Universal Expansion: Measuring the Infinite

We’re still finding difficulties in measuring the expansion of the universe, and part of it comes from the fact that multiple methods are using different strategies. While they do not contradict, we’re having separate bodies of data come up with similar conclusions, but the conclusions themselves are incomplete and require more data. There are certain beacons used to measure the universe, but we need more of those as well and probably won’t have more for another decade or so. Then, we always have the possibility of unknowns in the universe that completely throw our assumptions out of the cosmic window.

56:19 -Outreach Efforts and Wrap-up

Are you interested in the realm of astrophysics? What do YOU think would be the worst job in the universe? Let us know in the comments below!

Next Podcast - Astrophotography Adventures w/ Galactic Hunter:

The breakout husband/wife duo Galactic Hunter tell of their travels and show us all just how easily anyone can get into astrophotography. If you're new to the hobby, you won't want to miss this great advice to get you started.

Previous Podcast - The Universe is Trying to Kill you w/ Phil Plait:

The Bad Astronomer joins our hosts to talk doom and despair in the universe. We’ve almost been taken out by our own Sun and you probably didn’t even know! Find out what else could wipe us out from the perilous mind of Phil Plait.

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