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We are astronomers and chief scientists at the Griffith Observatory in LA and the Franklin Institute in in Philadelphia. And we just got back from a cosmic road trip through the Miniverse! Ask Us Anything!

I am Dr. Laura Danly, an Astronomer and Curator at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. I am an observational astronomer, primarily from space telescopes like Hubble. I worked at NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute for ten years. These days I produce and write planetarium shows, and I host a monthly live astronomy program called All Space Considered (some clips on Griffith Observatory’s YouTube channel).

And I am Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer and Planetarium Director at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. I am a NASA Solar System Ambassador, and host of award-winning astronomy radio programs for Philadelphia’s two public radio stations.

We each caught a ride with Commander Chris Hadfield, former commander of the International Space Station, for a joyride from the Sun to Pluto, in a new show called Miniverse on CuriosityStream. Think Cosmos meets Carpool Karaoke!

Watch a clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVKJs6jLDR4

CuriosityStream is a Netflix-style service for great shows on science, technology, history and nature. Sign up for a free 30 day trial and check out Miniverse plus lots of other great shows on CuriosityStream here.

Ask us anything about space, science, astronomy, or anything else on your mind. And someone please ask what it’s like riding shotgun in a Tesla with a former test pilot during the filming of Miniverse!

Proof: http://imgur.com/a/F1XYs

http://imgur.com/a/ttxWU

Hey everyone, thanks for the great questions! Derrick and I are signing off, but we may check back in a few times later today. In the meantime, if you want to see how a couple of scientists handle the police, here you go:](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQza2xvVTjQ)

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What is it like riding shotgun in a Tesla with a former test pilot during the filming of Miniverse?

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First thought... FUN. First, the Tesla is an amazing car. I also drive an EV and there's nothing like the acceleration of an electric car. So put that power in the hands of a test pilot, and well, you get the picture. We had the joy of driving through the desert .... the lonely, empty desert without a car in sight ... so you can imagine Tesla, test pilot, and open, empty road....

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Hey Derek, what was the top speed Cmdr. Hadfield reached out there on the east coast?

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Hi Laura! We tried to reach light speed but the State Police were really on the prowl that day...

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Can they give tickets retrospectively? :) (Sorry Chris that I outed you!)

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I own a LEAF, and my dad is sn ex-Air Force pilot -- that's about as close as I can get to imagining it! Sounds awesome, for sure! :-D

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I own a VOLT. Isn't it great having an electric car? I have to say the biggest unexpected surprise was the fabulous bonus that I never have to pull into a gas station again! I never knew how much I hated the nuisance of that until I never had to do it again!

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One thing I have to say about the TS is that it is wicked fast on 'takeoff'. And if you hold the accelerator pedal down it just keeps accelerating aggressively! You can really feel the acceleration pushing you into the seat, unlike any other vehicle I've felt.

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Yeah, he was trying to pull as many g's as a shuttle launch ... you can take the boy out of the spaceship but...

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Hey Laura! Thanks for all you do for women in science! I love ASC! Who would be your dream guest on an upcoming ASC ?

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Thank you for your nice words! I'm thinking about a dream guest and I'll think about that more. First thought that popped into my head: Stephen Colbert! Stephen are you listening (reading)?

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So now I've had some time to think. I think I would really like to have some of our most senior astronomers, the ones who were legends when I was coming up through the ranks. I'd love to have both George Field and Jim Peebles, both of whom were very kind to me when I was a grad student and very unsure of myself. I always kept up a friendship with Vera Rubin, and she agreed to join us on All Space Considered until she got sick. I'll always be sad I never got to do a show with her.

Don't know if you're still on but I wanted to give an honest answer. But Stephen Colbert is also an honest answer, I've wanted to meet him for about fifteen years! Derek, I'm jealous that you got to go on Colbert Report! I can still recall you sharing Galileo's telescope with him!

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What are some things to engage small children in astronomy? Thank you for all you do!

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Thank you! I think the best thing to support interest in astronomy is to follow their lead. When they are really young they have no problem telling you what they want :) So if you listen and follow through, their curiosity will lead the way. In the same vein, if they have no interest in the sky, but they can't get enough of rocks (or ants or shadows or building structures of sand or....) then that reveals an inner passion. I couldn't get enough of the sky. My brother took me to the planetarium every month. Those were my favorite outings!

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Hey Derek, just heard. How's that computer repair going? Oh... you can't see this. See you soon. Looking forward to chatting with you!

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All squared away Laura. Great to be working with you today!

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You too. It's been far too long since I saw you. So when are you coming to Los Angeles? And to be a guest on All Space Considered???

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What do you think is going to be the most important observation/discovery we make with JWST?

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Oh gosh, another tough one. A toss-up between (1) earliest galaxies, (2) extrasolar planet atmospheres, and (3) have no clue at this moment - as in, the universe has more surprises for us. Any of those could provide a paradigm-smashing discovery.

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Where (on which city / planet) was the driving the scariest?

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Wow, that's a toss up between 120 mph on a lonely desert road and heavy traffic on the 10 in Los Angeles. Actually, the LA traffic is over-dissed. Seen much worse in DC and even Denver. But I guess part of living here is to complain about traffic and use phrases like "the 10" as much as possible.

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Anything you wish you didn't do during the trip?

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First thought was go camping under the stars. One of the great things about the vast empty space between Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto is that there is a lot less light pollution than in the crowded inner solar system. The stars in the desert southwest are among the best in the country. But the Miniverse filming was a daytime gig. We also did NOT stop in at an In-and_out burger which any Angelino will tell you is a crime.

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Oh misread. I thought you asked if there's anything we didn't do!

No, the only challenge was that the day we were in the desert was OVER 110 degrees and we couldn't have the air conditioning on because of the sound. So that was, um, fun. So I suppose I wish I hadn't been in the desert on that particular day.

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On the bright side, though, is that we filmed that segment last August when you could see ALL FIVE naked eye planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter AND Saturn - lined up in the evening sky right after sunset. So I and several of the crew got to witness that incredibly beautiful sight. A desert sunset, spectacular moonrise (it was full that night), and all the visible planets all in one spectacular view. So I guess it was worth the trade.

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Hah. We stopped at one of the I-95 rest stops for lunch. We had a filming schedule to adhere to so we had to get moving once the team picked me up here in Philly that morning. If we'd had the time, I would've suggested we eat at one the many fine eateries here in Philly - and I don't mean cheesesteaks either! Other than that, Chris and the entire team were great to work with. Oh, maybe having to do so many takes of a particular scene in D.C. where we drove across a bridge viewing Jupiter (I think it was) a zillion times...Doing this kind of work may look easy on the screen but it takes a lot of time and effort to get it all right and seamless, right Laura?

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hey giving away the secrets! Yes, it would be nice to think that the cameras were just picking up our actual cross-country trip, as it unfolded naturally, unscripted. But in fact there were specific shots that the director wanted and so the days were scheduled around getting to the spots where we wanted to get the shots. Now, the dialogue was unscripted, though we knew what topics the director wanted to cover so there were general questions like, how far is it to Neptune or tell about Triton, that sort of thing.

And yes, Chris and the entire team was great to work with. We had a lot of fun, but both days were roughly 16 hour days and we were exhausted by the end. It is actually a lot of work but we try not to let that show.

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Do you have any favorite books?

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I'm really going to have to think about this one. This is not what you were expecting, but my Mom wrote some books in her 80s and I'd have to say that because, you know, she's my Mom. Sadly, it's been a long time since I read a book for pleasure. I'm going to have to really think about this. Derek?

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What is the very best cheese?

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Easy. Velveeta. Oh wait, you don't know me well enough to know I'm kidding. I love Morbier - a go-to pick when I'm headed o someone's house or entertaining. I used to have a wonderful cheese shop near my home when I lived in Los Feliz (Say Cheese, or maybe it was C'est Cheese), and I usually had them pick for me. It was always fantastic, but I rarely knew the names.

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Mmmmm.. St. Andre! A delicious French Triple Cream...

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Love St. Andre. The other go-to and easy to get without battling the Trader Joe's parking lot next to C'est Cheese!

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Is it safe to assume that your favorite Sports team is the Los Angeles Galaxy?

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Chicago CUBS! Do you know how many years I've suffered, how many tears I've shed (in my beer and dog)? Sorry LA sports teams. Gotta love the Dodgers but it was Cubs from the day I was born and will be Cubs til the day I catch up with Harry Carey.

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Do either you write articles for magazines?

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You know, I really don't. I'm so busy at Griffith Observatory that I have very little spare time so I try to use that time for real play and not more work :) I do have a creative outlet, though, in producing planetarium shows. Directing, writing, producing, and my favorite - sound design are all creative ways to express my perceptions about the Universe.

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What is the Best space related video game of all time?

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I'm afraid I don't have an answer to this. Back when I worked for NASA in the early 90s I was asked to develop a video game with an artist friend of mine who had just finished another project with the game publisher. Myst had just come out and Hubble had just launched and we were excited about what we could create through self-guided exploration. Something contemplative, beautiful, magnificent. The publisher wanted to chase a princess all around the galaxy (I think that was done in 1977) and explosions, lots of explosions. We abandoned the project! Maybe we could free baby pandas in Andromeda or crush some candy in M101.

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Are planetariums competitive with each other about stuff? If so, in which ways are they?

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Only a little bit. We all know that we share the same mission and the same love for astronomy and we all want dearly to share that love with the public. So by and large it's a pretty cooperative, friendly community. There is some competition, literally, as in market competition, in producing and selling planetarium shows. Griffith Observatory does not sell its shows, so thankfully we are out of that marketing game. But I suppose all of us who produce shows like to think that ours are best!

Even in town, we a good friends with the California Science Center and Natural History Museum, so even though we "compete" for visitors, we don't really compete. Pretty much anyone who goes to one of them will go to all of them and we all want to give a memorable experience to our visitors, so we're all in the same game.

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Alcohol. Just kidding... sort of. Here in Philly we've found that adults are very interested in fun and engaging evening programs that have good, informative content presented in an informal environment. Our monthly "Science After Hours" series has been a smash hit for two years running serving the 21 - 34 demographic. It's themed evenings with lots of entertaining hands-on science activities and demos meant surprise or spark curiosity. We often have live music in the planetarium. Cash bar doesn't hurt, believe me.This type of programming gives a new feel to the place where adults came to as a kid. It's turned into a kind of 'science date night' and our monthly public observatory viewing nights have gone the same way with the same kind of success.

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Even though we don't have cocktails, All Space Considered has also become a bit of a date night. And a family night. And just sort of a wholesome free night out, so we're standing room only now, which is great. It's been so fun to see the 18-34 demographic grow in what used to be sort of a stodgy kind of program. We have a lot of fun!

So Derek, come to LA and be a guest on All Space Considered. We can go for a glass of wine after! :)

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How do you get adults interesting in coming to your facilities? Do you have creative ways like cocktail nights? Single and mingle nights? Raffles? Star bingo?

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We don't do any of that at Griffith Observatory. I'm going to say something kind of terrible, but we don't do much to promote the Observatory because it is almost always packed. It is renowned for the heavy traffic up the hill and parking can sometimes be up to a mile away. (That's all JUST changed though with the addition of a public bus for 50 cents that connects to the metro, so we hope this will help things. It's only been about three weeks that the bus has been in service.)

We are free, so there is no money to be gained with a higher gate. And we have the benefit of being in a lot of movies and TV shows (you'd be amazed how many people wanted to dance in the planetarium after Lalaland!), and then finally, you can see the Observatory from pretty much anywhere in LA because it sits on a mountain 1000 feet above most of LA, so we're pretty well known out here.

Also alchohol is prohibited in Griffith Park. Griffith Observatory is owned and operated by the Dept. of Recreation and Parks, City of Los Angeles, so we don't have cocktail nights!

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How do your work places get It's funding to operate every year?

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Griffith Observatory is a public institution and part of the gift agreement between the estate of Col. Griffith (who wasn't a colonel, but he called himself that!) was that he would give the park and the Observatory if the City maintained its operation. Col. Griffith had had such a revelatory experience looking through a telescope on Mt. Wilson that he wanted to share that experience with the public. He was quoted as saying "if everyone could look through a telescope it would change the world!" We agree! So our agreement is to provide telescope free of charge to the public. Most of our basic operation to fulfill the mission and the terms of the gift agreement is funded by public dollars.

Now, we do a lot more, and most of our discretionary spending is supported by a "Friends" organization, Friends Of The Observatory. Become a member! http://www.friendsoftheobservatory.com/

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Pi.

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oh good one. Can't top it (except maybe with ice cream)

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Great to be on with you today Laura. The next time I'm in LA I'll let you know ahead of time and hopefully we can visit! I did just refer someone to you but cant recall who it was. Likewise let me know if you're coming to Philly. Cheers! Hey say Hi to Tony Cook and Ed Krupp for me please. Bye!

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By Derek and everyone who joined us. It was a lot of fun. Now I'm off to do my taxes....

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By Derek and everyone who joined us. It was a lot of fun. Now I'm off to do my taxes....

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what's the best food/takeout near griffith observatory?

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My regulars are Puran's for a nice meal, Mustard Seed to grab something quick and tasty.

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I just had a shower thought about this the other day.

In tv shows and movies aliens are always depicted usually green lizards looking things. I know atmosphere and everything else would play a factor. But if we did find another life form what do you think they would look like? more like us or the movies?

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Glad you think about think about these things at all times of the day. Almost certainly, if life exists beyond Earth the majority of it would be microbial. Life on Earth is dominated by microbes and in some sense, it's "easier" to create microbial life than it is for that life to evolve into the macroscopic creatures that we see here on Earth. Still, it happened here and if it happened elsewhere, you might imagine they would have mechanisms to sense the world around them, to ingest food into a favorable metabolizing environment and kick out waste, to move around in its environment (swim, slither, fly, etc.), to circulate nutrients, to control the signal flow among the parts ... in short all the things that help the organism survive and even thrive in feeding off its environment. From there, imagination wins!