Telescope Decisions, Grape Plasma, Israeli Moon Lander. Feb 22, 2019, Part 1

Feb 22, 09:34 PM

The American Astronomical Society meeting is the largest annual gathering of astronomers and astrophysicists. It’s not known for drama. But this year, the buzz in the room wasn’t too different from the nervous energy during an awards night. That’s because there is a competition underway for what will be NASA’s next big space telescope—the next Hubble or James Webb. There are four nominees, and eventually there will be a winner. Science Friday assistant producer Katie Feather reported on the event from the not-quite red carpet. Learn more about the nominees here.

The painter Georgia O'Keeffe is known for her bold paintings of landscapes and flowers. Recently, scientists took a closer look at those paintings and noticed smaller details that O’Keeffe did not intend to include. They found “art acne”—small pock marks—on many of her paintings caused by age and reactions of the pigments. Marc Walton, co-director of the Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts at Northwestern University and Art Institute of Chicago, talks about the chemistry behind the “art acne,” and how these paintings might be conserved in the future.

From tenured physicists to home experimenters, many researchers have been plagued by a question—why do grapes spark when you microwave them? More than a few microwaves have been destroyed to answer this top physics question. A team of researchers decided to rigorously test this question so you don’t have to. Physicist Aaron Slepkov, an author on that study, tells us how grapes are able to harness the energy of these home kitchen waves and what this can tell us about the field of photonics.

During the last sixty years, only three countries have sent landers to the moon: the U.S., China and the Soviet Union. Israel may become the fourth. On Thursday, SpaceIL—an Israeli company—launched the Beresheet spacecraft. If the spacecraft does reach the moon, it will be the first mission completed by a private company without the financial backing of one of the big space agencies. Jason Davis, digital editor for the Planetary Society, talks about what this mission means for lunar science and its implications for nonprofit and commercial companies sending missions to the moon.

This week, talks between California state and federal government officials concerning rules for car fuel efficiency standards broke down. Under the Clean Air Act of 1970, California had previously been given special permission to set higher standards for mileage and fuel economy—but now the Trump administration says that only the federal government can set those standards. Lauren Sommer, science and environment reporter at KQED, joins Ira to discuss what that decision means, and what might come next in the confrontation.

And finally Ryan Mandelbaum, science writer at Gizmodo, tells Ira about the Japanese mission to shoot a bullet into an asteroid and other top science headlines in this week's News Roundup.