Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Blue Dot 223: Titan Of American Space Science: A Conversation With Donald Gurnett


Dave talks to retired University of Iowa Physicist Donald Gurnett about his amazing career as a pioneer of the field of space plasma physics. Don was only 17 when legendary space scientist James Van Allen took him under his wing at the university and Gurnett never left spending 60 years as a Hawkeye student, teacher, and researcher.

His work on "whistlers" (strange-sounding radio waves created by lightning interacting with Earth's magnetic field) recorded from space was groundbreaking but that was eclipsed by his work on the epic Voyager missions. Gurnett recounts how he inferred where the heliopause is -- the region in space where the Sun's electromagnetic influence ends and where interstellar space begins -- and how Voyager 1 proved him right in 2012.

Gurnett taught every level of courses at the University of Iowa from introductory astronomy to advising graduate students who would go on to become the next generation of space scientists. He is truly an American treasure.

Toward the end of the program, during Blue Dot's "Teachable Moment," Matt Fidler asks Dave to explain what the bottom line is on the recent government report on UAP's (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena -- previously known as UFO's). Dave then calls in reinforcements with special guest David Grinspoon to give us his take on this mystery being encountered by U.S. military pilots.

Dave Schlom is the longtime host and creator of Blue Dot. From surfing to Voyager in interstellar space, rock guitar to orcas in our imperiled oceans, the topics on Blue Dot are as varied as the host’s interests and connections -- which are pretty limitless! An internationally respected space history journalist, Dave is also deeply fascinated by all aspects of the grand workings of nature’s awesome machinery on scales ranging from galactic to subatomic. And topics take in all aspects of the arts and sciences.
Matt Fidler is a producer and sound designer with over 15 years’ experience producing nationally distributed public radio programs. He has worked for shows such as Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, Studio 360, The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Takeaway. In 2017, Matt launched the language podcast Very Bad Words, hitting the #28 spot in the iTunes podcast charts.