NASA's Michelle Thaller explains why the term 'Big Bang' is misleading, and how to best imagine the shape of the universe.
- Where exactly did the Big Bang happen? Well, nowhere—and everywhere. As NASA's Michelle Thaller explains, thinking of the origins of our universe as an explosion with a central hub is misleading.
- "The Big Bang wasn't an explosion of matter, it was an expansion of space itself," she says. We don't know how big the universe is, but the general consensus is that there is no edge to the universe, and no center either.
- To visualize the Big Bang accurately, imagine an inflated balloon and pay attention just to the surface of it — "Pretend that there's no such thing as inside or outside of the balloon, just the two-dimensional surface of the rubber." We are living on the surface of that balloon, only able to shine a light in one direction or the other. All of it is expanding and every part of it is filled with galaxies—no matter where you are in the universe.
Where is God? Michelle Thaller lays out a cosmic view of religion, science, and the human condition.
- Ancient humans believed lightning, seasons, and other unexplainable natural phenomenon were the acts of gods, but what happens when scientific discovery unravels those mysteries?
- NASA astronomer and science communicator Michelle Thaller explains how scientific discovery has changed the search for God, and that religion may be something that happens between people, if they choose, rather than out there in the cosmos.
- It's not a miracle that Earth is the perfect incubator for human life—we were created by the laws of the universe, and in those laws we can find great beauty and belonging.
- How widespread within NASA is the conviction that human activity is responsible for climate change?
- Michelle Thaller knows. She has worked with hundreds of Earth scientists at NASA who study the climate.
- It's important to note that NASA is an apolitical organization devoted to science, not policy solutions.
Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.
- There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
- CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
- Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
- Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.
Dr. Michelle Thaller is an astronomer who studies binary stars and the life cycles of stars. She is Assistant Director of Science Communication at NASA. She went to college at Harvard University, completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Calif. then started working for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) Spitzer Space Telescope. After a hugely successful mission, she moved on to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), in the Washington D.C. area. In her off-hours often puts on about 30lbs of Elizabethan garb and performs intricate Renaissance dances. For more information, visit NASA.