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Airdate: May 13, 2008
Scientist: Lucy Ziurys

Science Diary: Chemistry - Waves

Science Diary: Chemistry - Waves
Ocean waves and chemical compounds that exist in outer space: what's the connection?

Transcript:

Science Diary: Chemistry of Space Waves

music; ambience: radio waves

Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Lucy Ziurys is an astrochemist at the University of Arizona. She is trying to learn more about what chemical compounds exist in space. But how does she know from down here what’s up there? Well, with waves. Radio waves.

[radio waves ambience]

“And so if you think about the electromagnetic spectrum, you have visible where we see, and then we go to longer wavelengths and you feel heat, that's in the infrared, and we're at even longer wavelengths than that. We're sort of looking at wavelengths where you tune your radio, where you run your microwave oven.”

Using a radio telescope to look at the wavelength of a particular object, Lucy and her team learn more about what the object is made of.

[radio waves ambience and ocean waves]

“Frequency relates to wavelength just think of waves on an ocean. They seem to have a characteristic pattern. And so, frequency, or wavelength they're kind of the same thing a wavelength would correspond to the distance from the crest of one wave to the crest of the other wave. And if you actually look at the ocean, they pretty much come at regular patterns, so distance from one crest to another to another is pretty much the same thing. That's what a wavelength is. Except, we're not looking at waves per se, we're looking at radiation coming from space. And that's a little bit hard to describe, but you can go back to tuning your radio. You've got an antenna, right? You tune your radio to a certain frequency and you're picking up that radio station that's broadcasting at that frequency. They’re sending waves, radiation to your antenna at that characteristic wavelength that you're tuning to. We use a radio telescope; we just don't pick up your radio station or your TV station, we pick up signals coming from outer space.”

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