Vacation Trip

Our Solar System is really beautiful in its diversity. One day we’ll be able to travel freely wherever we want. This is what I asked our panelists: If you could go wherever you wanted in our Solar System what destination would you pick and why? Who would you take with you? Warm welcome to Brian Koberlein, our new panelist.

Nancy Atkinson (Senior Editor for Universe Today, Host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast & a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador)

In the future, I’d love to take a “Cassini Historical Cruise Tour,” and travel the route and see the sights that the Cassini spacecraft has taken. It would start with the amazing views of the full Saturn system of rings and moons as you approached, then your touring spacecraft would push up through the gap in Saturn’s rings on its way into orbit around the planet. The moon tour would include close-up views of the spongy-looking Hyperion, death-star Mimas, two-toned Iapetus, and then fly through the plumes of Enceledus. The tour would continue with parachuting down to Titan’s surface through the thick atmosphere – just like the Huygens probe—and then you’d take a tranquil cruise of the northern hydrocarbon lakes region on Titan. I’d be reporting on the sights, of course, so I’d be taking along all the readers of Universe Today – at least virtually. Ahhh! Sounds relaxing!

Brian Koberlein (astrophysicist and physics professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, author, podcaster, publisher)

Although Mars is surely a popular destination, I’d probably choose to go to Saturn, mainly because of the rich diversity of the Saturnian system. It has a complex ring system that we could pass through. We could sail on the lakes of Titan, and hike its hilly terrain. We could go to Enceladus and check out its subsurface ocean, and possibly even find life there.  Herschel crater on Mimas would be a must go, just for the geek cred of having visited the “Death Star” moon.
I’d likely want to take my wife, since Saturn is her favorite planet.

Robert Novella (co-founder and vice-president of New England Skeptical Society, co-host of Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe)

I have two places in the solar system that I’d love to vacation on:

Mars: My go-to locations on Mars would be Olympus Mons (3 times the height of everest at 27 miles) and Valles Marineris (2,500 miles long and 6+ miles deep…makes the Grand Canyon look like a skid mark) I would also love to wave at one of the mars rovers and freak everyone out on earth.

Titan: Saturn’s biggest moon is the most earth-like spot in the solar system and the view of Saturn is quite lovely this time of year. Plus its gravity and atmospheric density make it the best place for human-powered flight (just put on some wings and flap).

I’d bring my dad, brothers and daughter. We all love astronomy and I’d appreciate that trip with them more than anyone else.

Andrew Rader (SpaceX engineer, MIT PhD, author)

Ice skating on Europa. Great views of Jupiter and you can jump really high. Bring ice skates, a space suit, and radiation shielding. Who would I bring with me? At least a 100-person crew on a vast interplanetary spaceship.



Fraser Cain (publisher at, co-host of Astronomy Cast)

There are so many places I’d like to go. I’d love to see the enormous ridge on Saturn’s moon Iapetus, I’d love to stand on the edge of Valles Marinaris on Mars. I’d love to float in the cloudtops of Venus, and hike across the frozen landscape of Europa. It would be especially cool to strap on a pair on wings and fly on Titan.



Nicole Gugliucci (“Noisy astronomer”, blogger, educator, post-doc)

Oh man…. what an imaginative question. Assuming all this was possible, I’d head to Valles Marinaris on Mars for some hiking. It’s a LOT bigger than the Grand Canyon which is one of my favorite spots on Earth. A hiking trip with my partner, Tim, and my dog, Macey, sounds like a fine vacation!

Favourite one

There are some books, movies, etc. that we like the most. I gathered our panelists favourites in 5 categories: favourite book, favourite work of fiction, favourite documentary, best source of astronomy/space news and initiative worth supporting. Warm welcome to our new panelist: Andrew Rader, a SpaceX engineer.

Nancy Atkinson (Senior Editor for Universe Today, Host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast & a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador)

Favorite book: “The Overview Effect” by Frank White. It was one of the first books about space that I ever read and the concept really resonated with me, of how seeing our planet from the unique vantage point of space could affect how we treat our world and each other. I’ve read it at least five times, and recommend it to anyone who needs a dose of hope for humanity!
Favorite work of fiction: Has to be “Star Trek” and I love every series, spinoff, and all the movies (well, except for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier… that was just a bad film/concept).  I’m sure I use a quote from Star Trek every day — it’s just become a part of my life!
Favorite documentary: Hubble 3D in IMAX. One of the few documentary films that I went out an purchased, and I went to see it three times right after it came out and ended up in tears each time. It portrays the immensity and gloriousness of our universe, and that we are currently, serendipitously, living during an amazing era of discovery, one that humanity has never known before. Some of these discoveries we are only able to make because of this marvelous telescope and the people who laid their lives on the line to fix it and make it better.

Best source of astronomy/space news: Well, obviously, I’m biased when I say “Universe Today!” But other than UT, I’d have to say Twitter. All the people and organizations I follow really are the best source for news, images and space oddities.

Initiative worth supporting: Cosmoquest for space education and citizen science and the B612 Foundation for actually doing something to protect our world.

Andrew Rader (SpaceX engineer, MIT PhD, author)

Favourite book: “Peter the Great” by Robert K. Massie. About how one person can change a whole society through sheer willpower.Favourite work of fiction: Work of fiction as a whole “Star Trek”. A positive vision of humans in space.Favourite documentary: Tie between “From the Earth to the Moon” and “Planet Earth”. Where we’re from and where we’re going.Best source of astronomy/space news: Best astronomy news: Kepler mission and the search for exoplanets.

Nicole Gugliucci (“Noisy astronomer”, blogger, educator, post-doc)

Book and Work of fiction: “Contact”! That movie was very inspirational for me when I was still in school and made me realize that I could become an astronomer. I even went into radio astronomy later on!Documentary: Not sure I have a favorite at the moment. I like to watch a lot of animal documentaries rather than astronomy ones! “Planet Earth” is my favorite.Source of space news: I get most of my space news right from the press release list managed by the American Astronomical Society. But my favorite reporting comes from Universe Today.Initiative: Not sure I have one. I’m really looking forward to see what SpaceX is doing, though.

Robert Novella (co-founder and vice-president of New England Skeptical Society, co-host of Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe)

Favourite book: “Coming of Age in the Milky Way” by Timothy Ferris is among my favorite astronomy books. Ferris’ well written history of the people who made the earliest advances in astronomy was like reading an adventure novel that just captivated my attention. It made me appreciate not just cutting edge astronomy but the path we took to get there.Favourite work of fiction: “Star Trek” is the obvious choice for this one. It’s so iconic. That fact that it’s still on the cultural radar after almost half a century is a testament to the chord it strikes in every generation.Favourite documentary: The series “Cosmos” certainly belongs in this list, both the original and the reboot. The former though was among the earliest and most powerful influences on my interest in astronomy and science in general. Sagan is, to this day, the gold standard all science popularizers should strive for.Best source of space/astronomy news: Bad Astronomy and Universe Today are my go-to astronomy/space news sites. Don’t make me choose between those two.Initiative worth supporting: One initiative I’d love to see serious progress on is nuclear rocket propulsion. It seems like a no-brainer that this is the next phase of rocket technology. Nuclear energy densities exceed those of chemical energy by many orders of magnitude. Manned missions would be far less expensive and take less than half the time.I hope I live long enough to see this one day.

“Peter the Great” by Robert K. Massie
“The Overview Effect” by Frank White
Hubble 3D
“Coming of Age in the Milky Way” by Timothy Ferris
“From the Earth to the Moon”
“Planet Earth”
“Star Trek”
“Cosmos” (original / reboot)
Universe Today
B612 Foundation
Bad Astronomy

Astronomy Events

Sometimes doing astronomy related stuff from the warm interior of our home isn’t enough. What to do if we want to meet someone with the same interest in space and astronomy? I asked our panel what events/gatherings they would recommend attending? What’s the best place to meet another like-minded people?

Robert Novella (co-founder and vice-president of New England Skeptical Society, co-host of Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe)

I unfortunately haven’t attended any formal conventions or similar gatherings related to Astronomy. I do, however, recommend finding some trustworthy science news sites (Universe Today,, NASA etc) to read up on the latest astronomy news. Many of the science cable channels offer far too many credulous shows but interspersed among them are wonderfully animated documentaries on the latest astronomical thinking hosted by respected astronomers. Also, find a local planetarium and visit often to watch their splendid shows. I frequently go to the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This is an experience you simply can’t get elsewhere.

Be sure to listen to the Astronomy Cast podcast. Pamela Gay and Fraser Cain make a great team, asking the right questions and offering knowledgeable and detailed answers on many astronomy-related topics. I also recommend Phil Plait’s “Bad Astronomy” blog for accessible and amusing astronomy news and a great community of commenters who are astronomy enthusiasts.

Fraser Cain (publisher at, co-host of Astronomy Cast)

If you’re interested in astronomy, you should meet up with people in your local area. The best thing to do is seek out your local astronomical society using Google. There’s one in almost every metropolitan area in the world. Find their website, get their schedule of events and show up at their monthly meet ups. You’ll find nothing but welcoming people, glad to share your love of space and astronomy. You can also attend larger regional star parties and meet even more people to hang out with.

You shouldn’t do astronomy alone.