On This Episode
Director of “The Big Short” and the new “Don’t Look Up”
Professor in the Lunar and Planetary Lab at the University of Arizona, Principal Investigator for the NEOWISE mission, and leads the NEO Surveyor project
Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society
Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society
The plot of the great new movie “Don’t Look Up” is driven by a giant comet speeding toward Earth and the scientists who want to divert it. Adam McKay directed this dark comedy. He and real-life planetary defense expert Amy Mainzer talk with Mat Kaplan about the science, the scientists, and much more. Then a group of Planetary Society colleagues share their thoughts about the film. Fans of Dr. Seuss will find something special in this week’s What’s Up with Bruce Betts.
- “Don’t Look Up”
- Defend Earth
- NEO Surveyor
- Planetary Radio: Amy Mainzer and a New Asteroid-Hunting Space Telescope
- An interview with director Adam McKay and “Don’t Look Up” stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence
- The Downlink
- Subscribe to the monthly Planetary Radio newsletter
This Week’s Question:
Galileo discovered the four “Galilean” moons of Jupiter in 1610. When was the next one discovered, and which moon was it?
This Week’s Prize:
A delightful Planetary Society KickAsteroid r-r-r-rubber asteroid.
To submit your answer:
Complete the contest entry form at https://www.planetary.org/radiocontest or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, December 15 at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.
Last week's question:
I’m a mythical creature and I gave my name to a class of small-body objects that orbit between Jupiter and Neptune. What am I?
The winner will be revealed next week.
Question from the Nov. 24, 2021 space trivia contest:
Where in the solar system, excluding on Earth, is there a feature named after Dr. Seuss?
There’s a crater on Mercury that was given the official name “Seuss” by the International Astronomical Union.
Mat Kaplan: The director of Don't Look Up and an old friend, this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome, I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. That human adventure is often best reflected in the arts, including film. It's rare that a movie gets science, scientists and their importance just right, which is just one of the reasons Don't Look Up has already made itself a classic. That's my view anyway, and the view of several of my Planetary Society colleagues, as you'll hear.
Mat Kaplan: First though, we'll welcome the movie's director, Adam McKay. You'll hear Adam give high praise to the science consultant for the film, Amy Mainzer. And I'm happy to say that Amy also joined the conversation. Later, we'll get all Seussical when Bruce Betts reveals the crater in our solar neighborhood that honors that beloved author of so many classic, children's stories. The December 2nd edition of The Planetary Society's free, weekly newsletters starts with one of the prettiest pictures ever taken on the Red Planet.
Mat Kaplan: It combines two panoramas captured by curiosity, which is still rolling across Mount Sharp. The image smoothly transitions from a Martian morning to the evening with a spectrum of beautiful light. You'll find it at planetary.org/downlink. Just below is another stunner. This one comes from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It's a windblown crater with ripples that make it look like a living thing. Simply gorgeous. US Vice President Kamala Harris chaired her first National Space Council meeting last week. The agenda included release of the first, major space policy document by the Biden administration.
Mat Kaplan: The Downlink also has a link to your choices for the best of everything space in 2021, including the best space image. It's one we're pretty proud of. I think you know how we at The Planetary Society feel about planetary defense. I'm sure you also know that several movies have used the threat of a world-shattering impact to drive their plots. Well, you've never seen one like Don't Look Up. First of all, it's a hilarious comedy, albeit a dark and satirical one. Second, it features such first rank stars as Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ariana Grande, Tyler Perry, Kate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, and on and on.
Mat Kaplan: Third, and most important for us, its central characters are possibly the most believable scientists in the history of film, as is nearly all of the science portrayed. As you'll hear, director Adam McKay, who has made films ranging from Anchorman to The Big Short, gives much credit to one of our favorite guests. Amy Mainzer of the University of Arizona, last joined us in July when she provided an update on the NEO Surveyor project she leads. NEO Surveyor is the infrared space telescope that will seek out the thousands of near-Earth objects yet to be discovered. Amy and Adam joined me in an online session a few days ago.
Mat Kaplan: Adam McKay, Amy Mainzer, welcome to Planetary Radio. Adam, I want to congratulate you. I didn't get access to the film until late one night and I couldn't wait. I had to watch it then. And then I got very, little sleep because my mind was on fire. And as I have already told you, I think you have created the greatest, dark, satirical comedy since Dr. Strangelove, except that Don't Look Up has a lot more heart. Your Strangelove is a tech billionaire named Isherwell, who is just played with creepy perfection by Mark Rylance. So thank you for this terrific movie.
Adam McKay: Well, that is very high praise, Mat. Thank you for having me on.
Mat Kaplan: I will add that every one of my colleagues, who was able to make it to one of the early screenings, which sadly I could not, has said the same thing. It has become not just one of their favorite science fiction movies, but one of their favorite movies, period. From the moment I saw that observatory and the laser, that adaptive optics laser shoot up into the sky, I knew I was in for something terrific.
Mat Kaplan: I was frequently laughing out loud, but a lot of the laughter, I have to admit, was painful. A lot of what you showed us in this funhouse mirror held up to 21st century America, cut to the bone, which I guess was also the idea.
Adam McKay: Yeah. And by the way, I got to give props to Dr. Mainzer on the telescope, the laser, the math. Boy oh boy, her input, guidance. Also, the culture of the scientist too [crosstalk 00:05:01]-
Mat Kaplan: Oh, yes.
Adam McKay: Instrumental. So it was very important, especially for the beginning of the movie. And I'll also give Amy credit for Carl Sagan's little cameo in the movie. She suggested that and I love it. It's such a nice detail. But yeah, that was the idea with the movie is that we're living through careening, shifting, seismic times. We're clearly in some kind of changing era. There's some shift that's happened. Some of it's so big, we can't fully understand it and it's confusing, it's scary, it's jarring.
Adam McKay: We really all wanted to make something that allowed us to have some distance, and to laugh, and to share our emotions about it because we've been so pummeled by it for the last five, 10 years, 15, 20 years, this slow, gradual slide that we've been in. The idea was like, man, if we can get together in a movie theater, which may not happen as much as we'd hoped with COVID. But even if we can get together with family and friends or even by ourselves, share a laugh, I think there's a real power and value to that distance and perspective on these times.
Mat Kaplan: I sure hope you're right about that. I hope that this film will contribute, move us maybe toward that goal. Amy, I'm not a bit surprised to hear about the influence you had over the film, including about the depiction of the scientists.
Mat Kaplan: Especially in that opening scene when Jennifer Lawrence's character makes the discovery and then is joined by her colleagues, including the astronomer played by Leonardo DiCaprio. It sounds like you got listened to a lot more than the typical science advisor to a feature production.
Amy Mainzer: Well, I got to say, Adam is great. He's a huge, huge science nerd. Sorry, Adam, but you are.
Mat Kaplan: That's a compliment.
Amy Mainzer: Yeah, absolutely.
Adam McKay: 100% a compliment.
Amy Mainzer: It's really great to work with artists and creators, who are really themselves truly interested in science. And as I like to think about it, you want ideally to partner with artists, who are interested in capturing the feelings of the scientists because the things we learn, sometimes they're great news. Other times it's not great news. So to me, the science is telling us about the world.
Amy Mainzer: But the art, the movies, music, the music that goes with the film, all of that is part and visuals are part of capturing how do we feel about this news that we're learning? How do we feel about these facts, and how do we interpret them? How do we live with that information? I think that's one of the things that I really, really enjoyed working with Adam and the rest of the team on the movie about is they really helped to humanize the science and show scientists as human beings, trying to grapple with some really, difficult news.
Mat Kaplan: Something we try to do on this show as well. I also wonder about the choice of a comet to drive this story, this possibly, world-ending, near-Earth object. Adam, why a comet?
Adam McKay: Initially, it was not a comet, it was an asteroid. It was actually a 32 kilometer wide asteroid and then I spoke to Amy. I was introduced to Amy, who started giving me some scientific parameters to what this actually could be. So we discussed the difference between the asteroid and the comet. She informed me that now, if it was 32 kilometers wide, there's nothing we could do about it. And so it was funny.
Adam McKay: We had this fiction versus science haggling back and forth till we came up with a comet roughly the size of the one that killed the dinosaur, the Chicxulub object. And it was great because, once again, I can't stress how important it was that the first five, 10 minutes of this movie be a place of reason, and science, and proportion, because they're going to take the log flume into the ball pit of madness later in the movie. So that was Amy, the reason it's a comet. I'll let her answer that part of the question.
Mat Kaplan: Amy, did a comet present more of a threat and something that could sneak up on us more than an asteroid?
Amy Mainzer: It really fit the needs of this particular story because you have an astronomer who's not really looking for comets. She's using a large, aperture telescope, one of the biggest telescopes in the world, Subaru, and she's looking for something else. It was fairly straightforward to design a comet. It's actually, loosely modeled after Comet NEOWISE, which we discovered last year. And we found that comet with the NEOWISE telescope in about late March, but it made its close approach to the sun and the Earth in early July.
Amy Mainzer: So in other words, these Oort cloud comets can move inward with just absolutely, incredible speeds with respect to the Earth. So in other words, it's not out of the realm of possibility. The good news is space is really big, so even though these things come in with huge velocities, the odds of actually hitting the Earth are really, really, really tiny. But in this case, we see what happens if one is discovered that's headed our way.
Mat Kaplan: Apologies for putting you on the spot. What did you think of the spectacular CGI depictions of the comet? That's just a percentage of the amazing visuals in the film.
Amy Mainzer: Yeah. We had a lot of great conversations with the visual effects team and they are some of the most talented people in the business. I sent them a lot of different pictures of the comets. We looked at the comet 67P that Rosetta took those spectacular images of.
Amy Mainzer: We looked at a lot of different comet pictures. We looked at Comet NEOWISE pictures, and they really, they took it and they ran with it. There's a line in the movie where the comet is both beautiful and horrible.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. One of my favorite lines in the film.
Adam McKay: Yeah, it was great. I've never had this experience. I did a little bit with The Big Short with our financial consultant, Adam Davidson. But Amy really stepped up because Amy was directly talking to Raymond and Dion, our VFX supervisors. And there were several times that Ray and Dion would call me and say, "Well, what do you think of this?" And I would just straight up say, "Call Amy."
Adam McKay: And there's a couple shots in the movie that just straight up came from Amy because we see the Cryo interstellar ship. Wait, I don't want give anything away here, let me think.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, careful.
Adam McKay: I'll say this, I didn't give anything away yet. We see some interstellar space travel at one point in the movie and I had a couple ideas for shots. And then I said, "Well, ask Dr. Mainzer what she wants to see." And straight up, she helped design the shots with them.
Amy Mainzer: And they pulled it off. They're beautiful.
Mat Kaplan: They really are. How did the two of you connect? How did you come onto the film, Amy?
Amy Mainzer: Well, gosh, it's almost lost to the midst of time at this point because this was in the before times, before COVID. So Adam, I think we first spoke, I want to say, geez, it's been two years.
Adam McKay: It's been over two years when we met in the parking lot of a Taco Bell and Amy was coming out. No, we did not. It was my producer, Kevin Messick, I think called JPL or Caltech and your name came up pretty quickly. And then right away, when I talked to Amy, I was like, "Oh yeah, we got our person," because Amy appreciates stories and movies very much. And then obviously, is a great scientist in her own right so it was a perfect combination. And most importantly, right away, she got what we were trying to do with this movie.
Adam McKay: And it's a very, hard job for consultants to find that pocket when you're telling a story of where they fit in the balance between the reality. And then once again, not giving anything away, but there's a point in the movie where we go more towards sci-fi where it's NextGen tech, and Amy understood how to filter that as well, which some scientists aren't always... They'll stick to what's known now. Amy got what we were trying to do. And Amy's cool and funny, she's humble, so she'll downplay her role, but she had long conversations with our actors about culture of scientists.
Adam McKay: What it's like to be a scientist. She talked with Jen Lawrence about what it's like to be a woman astronomer. It was really way above and beyond the normal consultant role.
Mat Kaplan: There's so much going on here. One of the things, I think, the film demonstrates is the importance of scientists, not just being able to do science, but to communicate it, to share the science, but also the passion they feel for it. Amy, I wish they could all take classes from you. You certainly do that well, but we do have some scientists in this film, who have a little difficulty getting the point across.
Amy Mainzer: Yes, absolutely.
Adam McKay: That was a big thing amy clued into right from the jump, that struggle between observing, and doing good science, and communicating it.
Amy Mainzer: It's really hard and especially when the news is not good, how do you convey this news to the public, to stakeholders, to people who have the power to affect change in a way that they're going to listen, even though the news is not what they want to hear? I think this is a movie that very much tackles the concept of science denialism.
Amy Mainzer: It just really addresses the problem of science denialism and just the notion that people will not hear what they don't want to hear. And hopefully it makes people laugh a little bit at just the foibles we all face as human beings trying to hear each other, trying to listen, and trying to live with sometimes the news that is not good.
Adam McKay: We try to show both sides of the denialism in the sense that people tend to think it's this extremism that says no to science, but there's a middle ground as well, which is where people want to be entertained. They don't want to give the truth their focus and that's probably a little closer to people like myself. I certainly like to be entertained. I love watching a good NBA game. I love zoning out and that's a big part of the movie as well.
Adam McKay: When they go on our fictional show, The Daily Rip, that's not a show for extremists who are denying science. That's a show for people that maybe don't want to grapple with truths fully. I think that's a zone too, that we don't talk about as much, certainly when it applies to the climate crisis. I have friends who are on shows that are far from right wing, where they'll tell you they don't cover the climate crisis as much because it doesn't get the ratings.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. And by the way, I'm ready to attend any benefit concert that's headlined by Ariana Grande. I'm not giving too much away there. There is one more thing, a science related thing, and this is a science and space science show. I suspect that you have made the first feature film that openly sings the praises of peer review. I cannot think of another film that even mentions it so kudos, folks.
Adam McKay: It seems to be the key, the linchpin, and it's funny too, talking to my daughters, one of which is in high school. They don't really talk about it in a lot of our core, educational systems or institutions, but as I've talked to Amy and as I've spoken to other scientists, climate scientists through the years, it is the key phrase.
Adam McKay: And it may be the highest burden of proof that exists for mankind, and yet you don't hear it mentioned nearly as much as it should be, and what that process is, and what that process means. Yeah, we took a lot of joy in getting that in there. That was something DiCaprio was pushing as well. Amy was very encouraging with that.
Amy Mainzer: Sometimes we jokingly referred to peer review as the worst best system we have. It's messy.
Mat Kaplan: Like democracy.
Amy Mainzer: Yeah, exactly. It's messy but at the same time, it really subjects our calculations, all of our work to the scrutiny of others and the idea that experiments should be replicable. That other people should be able to take the same information and get the same results, that is how it works. And I think one of the strengths of science is that we do learn. There's a lengthy discussion about what does uncertainty mean in science. That's a pretty, big thing.
Amy Mainzer: To scientists, that has a really, precise mathematical definition, but in the everyday life, in everyday use it doesn't. It means something different. If you say something's uncertain, it means you don't know. That's not what it means to a scientist. To a scientist that just quantifies exactly the confidence in a role that you have on this particular measurement. So in other words, we use words in ways that they are just not necessarily understood by non-scientists and that's on us to explain that.
Mat Kaplan: I'm going to paraphrase another one of my favorite lines in the movie and it comes from Meryl Streep's character, the president of the United States. They're sitting in the Oval Office and the scientists are telling her, I forget what they end up with, I'm paraphrasing, "99.97% chance the comet's going to hit if we don't do something." And she says, "Well, we'll settle on 70%."
Amy Mainzer: Yeah.
Adam McKay: That exchange is a key exchange. And that once again, Amy really helped with that because we wanted him to try and communicate that it was going to hit, but then the truth is there's no such thing as 100%. So the second he says that, and Rob Morgan plays Dr. Virgil Thorpe from the Planetary [crosstalk 00:18:50]-
Mat Kaplan: Who's great, by the way.
Adam McKay: He's tremendous. From the actual Planetary Defense Center, am I getting the name right?
Mat Kaplan: Planetary Defense Coordination Office.
Adam McKay: Thank you, sir. Thank you. And he says, "Well, scientists never luck to say 100%." And that was another line I was very happy to get in the movie because we were hoping to shed a light on that. That even gravity, which is settled science, is not 100%. There is still going to be breakthroughs with gravity.
Adam McKay: We still don't understand every part of the dynamic of gravity. I like making movies where I get to learn things as well. That was something I really got to learn with making this movie, as a filmmaker.
Mat Kaplan: Amy, I hope that Lindley Johnson, when he sees this film, the guy who really heads the PDCO, I hope he likes what he sees. I got to share a little piece of trivia, Adam, that I bet you're not aware of. That patch for the PDCO, which shows up twice in the film, was designed by a friend of mine named Michael Okuda. Mike and Rick Sternbach were responsible for the design of several, Star Trek series beginning with Star Trek: The Next Generation, so there.
Adam McKay: You've got to be kidding me. I love that your friend designed that patch because never has a governmental, organization's logo been featured more in a movie than that patch is featured in this movie.
Mat Kaplan: The second time it shows up, well, we won't go into how that happens. I want to go back to that line that Amy mentioned, when Leonard DiCaprio's character looks up at the sky, the comet has just become visible to the naked eye. He says I don't know if it's terrible or I think it was horrific. "It's horrific and it's beautiful at the same time." To me, so much of this film can be described that way.
Adam McKay: It's an interesting thing, because I think some people tend to think of religion and science as mutually exclusive. But one of the things I really appreciate about scientists is that really all you're doing is observing. And if you want to say you're observing God's creation, you could say that. You could just say you are respecting the reality of God's creation, or you could just say you're observing reality.
Adam McKay: You could say that however you want, but there's a humility and a supplication to science that I think really comes through in that moment with Dr. Mindy, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, that to me, sums up the posture of science that is really, strikingly beautiful. Even though you guys work long hours doing meticulous work, there is something very, dare I say, almost religious about it.
Amy Mainzer: Well, at its core, science is really the appreciation of nature, right?
Adam McKay: Yeah. Yeah.
Amy Mainzer: We're part of the universe. And when you discover something, whether it's good or bad, as it relates to humanity, we're part of that. That's a pretty awe-inspiring thing, I think, `sometimes, even if the news is not good. I don't know, my conclusion out of all of this is look, I spend all day looking at airless rocks. Okay. That means that when you look at the Earth, the Earth looks really, really good by comparison.
Mat Kaplan: As my boss, Bill Nye says, "Everybody I know lives here." We're coming to the end of our time. We only got a couple minutes left, then I got one more to throw at you, Adam. But before I do that, Amy, you know that we are all following development of NEO Surveyor, that space telescope, that's going to save us from objects like this. I'm only half serious. I'm only half kidding there, I should say. What's a one sentence, status report on how it's coming together?
Amy Mainzer: So much engineering, holy moly. It's just incredible to watch the team come together. So yeah, decisions left and right, building, building, building. We are very, very busy bees right now, which is wonderful. We're so grateful to get to be able to do it.
Mat Kaplan: And you'll be back on the show, I hope to talk more about this as it progresses. Adam, without giving away the ending of the film. I really meant it when I said that while it is a wonderful satire, it has far, more heart than most of the other big, satirical films out there.
Mat Kaplan: It ends with a lot of the qualities that we all desire. Faith, family, friendship, courage, love, even some justice. It was a lovely, lovely ending in spite of itself.
Adam McKay: Yeah. I think that's a really, good description. That's what we wanted to do with the movie. We wanted to feel a lot of different feelings. We wanted to get some good, hard laughs at ourselves. We wanted to go back to the core elements that make us human beings, community, family, friends, like you said, faith, humility. Then a nice, big, giant laugh right at the end. Then ultimately too, I hope people walk out of the theater or turn off their TV after seeing it.
Adam McKay: And remember, when it comes to the climate crisis, when it comes to the problems we're facing, we can do this. We have science, the technology is out there for renewables, carbon capture, carbon removal. We just have to do it with sincere and incredible intent, which we're not doing right now. But overall, I am hopeful. We have Excalibur, which is science and it can do a lot of very tremendous, tremendous things. So yeah, ultimately some people could say it's a little bit dark, but I really view the movie in its totality, as a very, hopeful movie.
Mat Kaplan: Amy, your last thoughts? You've seen it a few times, I bet.
Amy Mainzer: Couldn't agree more. I think the choice of what happens next is up to us. That's really the message of the movie. So let's go and make things have a better ending, have the best, possible ending. That's up to us. We can do that.
Mat Kaplan: Thank you, both. Amy Mainzer, science advisor on Don't Look Up, a film I cannot wait to see you again on a big screen, and I cannot recommend it more highly to all of you out there, who listen to this show. I think you're likely to love it. Amy, of course, also professor of Planetary Science at the University of Arizona, leading development of NEO Surveyor, and still the principal investigator for NEOWISE.
Mat Kaplan: Adam McKay, writer, director of Don't Look Up, he has also made a whole bunch of my other favorite movies in the last few years. Thank you both, folks. I hope it is as great a success as you hope. I will give one, last piece of advice to the audience. Stay through the credits.
Adam McKay: Mat, thank you for having us on.
Amy Mainzer: Likewise, thanks a lot, Mat.
Mat Kaplan: Don't Look Up will be in limited, release theaters on December 10th and we'll be available on Netflix, December 24th. I missed the opportunity to see a preview screening of the movie with some of my Planetary Society colleagues. We gathered online for a group review just a day before this episode of our show was published. You'll hear that spirited conversation right after this message from our CEO.
Bill Nye: Hi, everybody, it's Bill. 2021 has brought so many thrilling advances in space exploration. Because of you, The Planetary Society has had a big impact on key missions, like the perseverance landing on Mars, including the microphone we've championed for years. Our extended LightSail two mission is helping NASA prepare three, solar sail projects of its own. Now it's time to make 2022 even more successful. We've captured the world's attention, but there's so much more work to be done.
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Mat Kaplan: Sarah Al-Ahmed is our digital community manager at The Planetary Society, but she's also an astrophysicist. Sarah, you come up first. What really struck you about this movie? You were a big fan, weren't you?
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Oh, yeah. I was looking forward to this movie before we ever knew we were going to get to go to a screening. This subject matter is something I'm always looking forward to and judging, whether or not a science movie is accurate enough to pass my science test. It's always interesting to me, but the movie won me almost immediately with that first scene.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I've spent a lot of nights observing in telescope domes, and there's a few things you need for it to be accurate. First off, you need your Carl Sagan like picture or toy toy nearby, so nailed it. And second, you need some good music. So immediately, I felt like I knew the characters and that just set the stage. It was great.
Mat Kaplan: It got me from that first scene as well. Merc Boyan, you are our visual storyteller so you're probably best qualified among us to judge this as a film, but what did you think? You loved it too, right?
Merc Boyan: I absolutely loved this movie. It quickly became my new favorite, space themed film. I thought it was excellent. Like Sarah said, the characters were just perfect. I spend a lot of time interviewing people like this and they really just hit it out of the park. It's just what they're like. I'm sure that a lot of those people are listening right now saying, "No, no, that's not what I'm like," but you are.
Mat Kaplan: Danielle Gunn, Chief Communications Officer for The Planetary Society. Were you at that screening with some of these other folks, who you got to see some of the stars as well?
Danielle Gunn: I was there, Sarah and Merc were with me, our colleague, Andrew, Leo was there, our new BFF wheel, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Adam McKay. It was really awesome to be there in that room, and to be with other people watching this film. I love Adam McKay films and what I love about this film is using humor. It is a really, effective device to get people to pay attention to urgent issues. Doom and gloom works, but eventually people start to tune out because it's too painful.
Danielle Gunn: Humor is a really, effective device for getting people to pay attention to urgent issues like saving Earth from an asteroid or climate change, which is what he was trying to do here. And on our communications team here at The Planetary Society, we've talked about ways to inject humor into what we do, especially with planetary defense, just to get people to pay attention, and to feel welcome into a conversation about a serious issue that we can do something about, but not to get too downtrodden about it either.
Danielle Gunn: So by using humor, you're able to get everybody in the room to pay attention and hear the message that the people are trying to tell you.
Mat Kaplan: Sure worked for me. Rae Paoletta is the last of my colleagues that we're going to hear from today. You were a little bit different because you got to see it in New York, but still on a big screen. I'm envious of all of you since I watched it on the home TV, but Rae, were you as impressed as these folks?
Rae Paoletta: Yes. First of all, I know it's great to be back at the movies. I recently saw Dune in IMAX and so very, different experience cinematically, but I do appreciate being able to be back in the theater. It's funny. Hearing Danielle speak, I almost liked the movie for the complete, opposite reason, which is that it felt like one of the most anxiety, inducing experiences of my life in a movie theater.
Rae Paoletta: I don't think I've been that deeply anxious since I saw Melancholia in 2021, in which a planet literally collides with Earth and there's nothing anyone can do about it. So yeah, that one really hit home for me, no pun intended. I just thought it was really interesting the way that art can make you feel uncomfortable to prove or serve a greater purpose. I think that's what Adam McKay did us so brilliantly in this movie.
Mat Kaplan: There's a wide spectrum of reactions to this film. It certainly had more laughs than Dune, I'll give it that, almost infinitely more. Let's open it up. What are some of your other thoughts? Anybody can jump in here.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I thought the accuracy of what it's like to work in this field was really on point. And in fact, we were all nudging each other because the Carl Sagan references like, "Oh, we do that all the time," of course, being The Planetary Society.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: There was even an image that they used at the very beginning that we've all also used for one of our campaigns. We thought they had the same taste as us. So they were really well informed with what it's like to be in this industry.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. That was something that you haven't heard my conversation with Adam McKay and Amy Mainzer yet, but it was something that we focused on. Amy apparently, had a big influence on that.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Not surprised. Yeah.
Danielle Gunn: I can tell that Amy Mainzer must have had a big influence on this movie because they didn't go with the classic asteroid coming for Earth that you'd see and say Armageddon. They went for the really, terrifying thing, a comet coming from the Oort cloud. Those things are on orbital periods that are so long, we really wouldn't know to anticipate it.
Danielle Gunn: They're coming from so far away, that they're a lot more difficult to detect. So you can really tell that they talked to the scientists before crafting the story, because that's what scares me at night when I'm thinking about planetary defense asteroids. I think we've got a good chance, but comets, they're a little more scary to me.
Merc Boyan: Danielle made a really great point. It was hilarious. It's a really, funny movie. That's a really important thing to do with such a doomy, gloomy topic. It really is, and like Rae said, it's anxiety the whole time and you're wondering, "What are they going to do? How are they going to do this? What is going to happen?" It really was a mystery too at the same time. And so to like have Jonah Hill be able to do his absolutely, beautifully timed insults throughout the ongoing, I don't want to spoil anything, but the ongoing joke about the candy machine thing.
Merc Boyan: It's really, really well done. I was really pleased with the editing because I'm an editor first. The editing in it is just superb. It has those fast cuts like the other Adam McKay movies have had in the past. The Big Short, it had that a vibe to it, especially in the beginning. It's coming really fast paced, and they're just jutting through the story. Then what happens is when you get into those fast pace, when they take a moment to slow down and show these space shots. Earth is frantic and there's all these things, and people are trying to figure out what's happening, and what to believe.
Merc Boyan: Then it just cuts to this beautiful comet floating around, that's coming to kill everything. You are almost rooting for the comet because it's this beautiful, peaceful, serene thing and everything on Earth is chaotic. We don't do that in real life here at The Planetary Society, you might not want to include that part. But just in the movie, it makes you feel like more connected to space than trivial, meaningless stuff here on Earth.
Mat Kaplan: I don't know. I was impressed by the beauty of the comet, but I don't think I was rooting for it.
Merc Boyan: So maybe that wasn't the right word.
Mat Kaplan: Anybody else want to jump in?
Rae Paoletta: I personally loved the timing of this movie with the DART mission that just went off recently. I especially loved to make a cinematic tie, and that was hinted at before by my brilliant colleague, Sarah, Armageddon.
Rae Paoletta: So in the same, cinematic tradition, obviously the tie-ins with the DART mission are so obvious. But apparently, Bill Nelson invited Bruce Willis to the DART mission and he didn't go. That's just some real, deep Hollywood gossip that I need to... I need another podcast for that alone, never on this.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I actually got to go to watch the DART mission. It was a really, interesting experience after watching that movie because I was in the car driving toward Vandenberg Space Force Base. I had the livestream from NASA going on. Adam McKay was actually on the livestream talking about the movie and talking about asteroids. And it being the of first mission to go redirect an asteroid is really cool.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: But in that moment, it was this really interesting juxtaposition of art and reality. It just struck me like, what if this was the moment that we were trying to really redirect an asteroid that was coming toward Earth? That would be terrifying and I'm so glad that we have enough time to really plan for that contingency.
Mat Kaplan: Let's hope.
Merc Boyan: Think about before this pandemic, how many movies we saw about a virus spreading globally? It was like, "Oh, yeah. That's this weird, sci-fi future that'll never really happen," and then it did, and now we're in it. and now, we're starting to see movies like this. And someday, hopefully not soon, it's going to happen and we're going to go, "Okay. Now, we have a problem to deal with."
Merc Boyan: And all these sci-fi, future movies are becoming real. And so I was thinking about that while watching it, because it is a metaphor for climate change. The movie is also a metaphor for COVID stuff, but it's also going to be a very, accurate truth about something that happens one day. Yeah, are we going to be ready? Are we going to be prepared? This is stuff that we all think about every day here at our job and hopefully we are.
Danielle Gunn: Yeah. Science communication with the public is a huge theme in this movie. So like Merc is saying, you could replace any disaster that scientists know about and need to warn the public about with this film. I thought it was interesting. It doesn't really give anything away, but they do reference the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. When I saw that, when we saw that it was like, "Oh yeah, of course, yay." But then it says, a little asterisk, yes, this is a real office.
Danielle Gunn: This really exists, realizing most people, if you were to interview them on the street, wouldn't know that actually is a thing. And so something that I love that we do at The Planetary Society, as part of our mission, is educate people about these topics. I expect that we will get a lot of people Googling planetary defense, the coordination office, all kinds of topics. I'm glad that our website and our resources are available for people to read and learn more about this in depth.
Mat Kaplan: We should wrap it up, but I do have one, more question for you. I complimented Adam McKay and Amy Mainzer on the end of the film. So without spoiling it, I just said that it took us back to so many of the things that we admire and aspire to in humanity, family love, friendship, even a touch of justice. I just wonder what you thought of the ending. Be careful.
Merc Boyan: I was surprised by a lot of different moments of the endings throughout because the movie really, it takes several turns throughout. It did definitely surprise me. I can't say I expected any of it to happen the way it did, which I loved about it and that is rare. You can figure out movies.
Merc Boyan: Now, there's a formula that hits and this got way off formula in a really, beautiful way. So I was definitely pleased with the ending. And just watch for Meryl Streep. Even if you don't like space, or asteroids, or anything, she is so freaking good in this movie. It's just enjoyable to watch her really fall into this character.
Mat Kaplan: They're all great. I think it's just a terrific cast. Anybody else?
Rae Paoletta: Yes. Mat, as somebody who has written about seven movie reviews on Letterboxd, I've been waiting for you to ask what my opinion, my professional opinion on this movie is. I would give the ending personally 10 out of 10, no notes. I thought it really delivered. I thought it made... I'm not going to say the word that I was just going to say.
Mat Kaplan: Can I guess?
Rae Paoletta: Yeah, you can guess after, we can talk later, but it definitely, oh my God, I can't use that word either. It's really hard, Mat, to not think of words that are puny or spoilery. I will say that the ending definitely will stick with me for a while.
Mat Kaplan: Danielle.
Danielle Gunn: Rae referenced Melancholia earlier, and that film, the ending of that film, if you want to be transformed to that moment of when something really, really bad is about to happen like this thing that we're trying to make sure it doesn't happen, it is one of those scenes where you could revisit it and get that scared feeling all over again.
Danielle Gunn: This movie, trying not to give it either, but there's a couple, different endings that you can call the ending. It does something similar, where you can revisit it and it just feels very real. And then there're other endings that don't feel as real, but are very entertaining.
Mat Kaplan: Very entertaining, indeed. Sarah, did you want to jump in?
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I was very pleased with the ending, because I really wanted to know that by the end of this movie, the science behind what they were trying to say was vindicated and elevated. I felt like by the end of it, if I was someone who had never heard anything about planetary defense and I had seen this movie, I would suddenly want to start paying attention.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Because we really do want to save the world and all those people in that movie that we're really making those efforts, they come off as superheroes. That really resonates with me. I keep thinking about the ending of that movie over and over again. I'm looking forward to watching it again when it comes out on Netflix.
Mat Kaplan: If you've just seen the movie, or if now having heard all of this, you want to go see the movie, just keep one thing in mind afterward. When you want to learn more, as Sarah was just saying, planetary.org, because we take this as seriously but I think with a touch of humor, as this movie does, Don't Look Up.
Mat Kaplan: Thank you, everybody, friends and colleagues for helping us close out this discussion of a terrific movie that I hope becomes a big hit. It's time for What's Up? on Planetary Radio. Here's the chief scientist of The Planetary Society, Bruce Betts. I have a question for you from Ben Owens on Australia. When are you going to interview Bruce's dog? I guess it's actually a question for me.
Bruce Betts: Yeah, and it's two dogs technically. Not technically, there are two dogs.
Mat Kaplan: Literally.
Bruce Betts: Yeah. You can interview them anytime. Max, the 200 pound Cane Corso is very talkative, and Gracie, the pit bull aims to please.
Mat Kaplan: We'll put that on the calendar. Stay tuned, Ben. We're ready to hear about the night sky now, including the dog star.
Bruce Betts: To see Sirius, the dog star, you're going to have to be awake in the pre-dawn in the east, south. Sorry, that one was off the cuff, but it's up there. Also, up there in the pre-dawn but really tough, low down is reddish Mars, but it'll start rising in a few weeks. Right now, of course, the two things to look at is the lineup of planets in the early evening west, with the lowest and furthest west being super, bright Venus. Then yellowish Saturn, and then very, very bright Jupiter all lined up and they're hanging out together.
Bruce Betts: Soon they'll start descending so we've got the rest of December to play with them easily. So make sure you check them out. Also, on the 13th and 14th, the Geminids meteor shower peaks. They're usually the best shower of the year with 100 plus meteor per hour, but only from a dark site, not where we live. This year, gibbous moon Gibbous, will wash out the dimmer meteors. Still, it's the best shower of the year. All right, on to this week in space history. It was 1962 and there are two that became the first spacecraft to fly by another planet or at least fly by and take data, and that was Venus.
Bruce Betts: And then 10 years later, the last humans were walking on the moon and then leaving the moon, this week in 1972, Apollo 17. On the moon and leaving the moon. We move on to random space.
Mat Kaplan: Lovely.
Bruce Betts: For reference, it's a little, quick background. Density of ice, water, ice, normal pressures is around one, around the same gram per cubic centimeter, just like water. Again, we're planetary scientists for the moment so we're just getting close, nothing precise. And rock is around three in those units.
Bruce Betts: There are only three moons in the solar system that have an average density over three, indicating they're quite rocky, which is IO the moon, and Europa. Besides those three, there's only one other that's above two even, and that's barely above two. That's Triton, the moon of Neptune. Everything else is below that, and indicating the icy nature of those moons, at least generally or porous.
Mat Kaplan: A bunch of lightweights in our solar system.
Bruce Betts: There are. Well, not a lot of Rocky's, just a lot of Bullwinkle's.
Mat Kaplan: All right. We got a big contest here.
Bruce Betts: Oh yeah, we got to get there. Okay, sorry. I asked you where in the solar system, other than Earth, is there a feature named after Dr. Seuss? I note probably not a real doctor, but a heck of a guy. How'd we do? Great, it sounds like.
Mat Kaplan: We actually did. I bet you expected a few more rhymes or poems than we normally get. And we got them, and we also had more entries than we usually get because who doesn't love Dr. Seuss? If he's a winner, it's the first time in three and a half years. He is a past winner, but it's been that long.
Mat Kaplan: It's Elijah Marshall from Australia. He said, "Seuss is a crater on the surface of Mercury named in honor of Theodor Geisel. Since Dr. Seuss was his pen name, that was named by the IAU in 2012." He says, "Thanks for the rabbit hole, Dr. Betts. It was great fun."
Bruce Betts: That's what I tried for. A crater on Mercury, where they name craters after artists, and authors, and the like.
Mat Kaplan: Elijah, congratulations. We're going to tell MIT, the Space Exploration Initiative, to send you a copy of Into the Anthropocosmos, that terrific book by Ariel Ekblaw. And thank you to everybody, who competed on how much you enjoyed that interview with Ariel a couple of weeks ago. I did too. Into the Anthropocosmos, a whole space catalog from the MIT Space Exploration Initiative from the MIT Press, not surprisingly. I do have a bunch more stuff here. I think you're going to enjoy it. First of all, we do have an image, a picture of the crater.
Mat Kaplan: It was provided, the link to it, by Keith Landa in Connecticut. Thank you, Keith. We'll post that link on this week's show page, planetary.org/radio. It's a Messenger image. Edwin King in the UK said that no astronomical feature has yet been named after the physicist, Hans Suess, or Suess apparently, but it's spelled S-U-E-S-S. Though there are craters on the moon and Mars named after his grandfather, Eduard, and an asteroid after his father, Franz Eduard. Let's go into the rhymes.
Mat Kaplan: This first one, Robin Stewart in Washington sent a long one, which we don't have time to read all of, but it was a very nice tribute to Theodor Geisel, Dr. Seuss. He finished it with this though, "It's all thanks to Dr. Bruce, that I found the crater known as Seuss."
Bruce Betts: The best rhyme ever.
Mat Kaplan: Thought you might like that. From Bo Garner in Virginia, "I eagerly await the sequel to Green Eggs and Ham in which Sam-I-am tries eating freeze-dried ice cream in this crater and says that nothing's greater, not even a tater." For those of you who don't recognize that nickname for a potato. Well, Jean Lewin in Washington, "Crater's out on Mercury are named for artists from history. The man creating Cindy-Lou Who, his name selected by the IAU. There you'll find one named for Seuss, answering this query from Dr. Bruce."
Bruce Betts: It's a theme.
Mat Kaplan: Kent Murley in Washington. Don't have time for all of it, but here's the last answer, once again. "A last minute crater found on Mercury should be named of the best of humanity. A doctor, an artist, a rhymer, all three, drawing curved huts got Seuss a trophy." It's true.
Mat Kaplan: It's a little obscure the hut part, but yes, indeed. If you read enough of the books, you'll know what they're talking about here. From Chris Mills in Virginia. "A rock hit the planet with such a great whack that it threw out eject in both golden and black. But sightseeing tours there would not be easy, since days are quite hot and the nights are so freezy."
Bruce Betts: That's the technical term. They're freezing.
Mat Kaplan: One more in the style that Dr. Shoes might have used. It's from our poet Laureate De Fairchild in Kansas. "Would you like a feature Seuss? The IAU is asking use. I would not like it in the stars. I would not like it out on Mars. I would not like it here or there. I would not like it anywhere. Okay. I guess I could agree, a crater out on Mercury."
Bruce Betts: Wow.
Mat Kaplan: I hope you have some Green Eggs and Ham fans.
Bruce Betts: Some very, talented listeners.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, aren't they? Thank you to all of you. Whether I was able to read it or not, we appreciate all the wonderful efforts. And hopefully, you'll appreciate this next contest from Bruce.
Bruce Betts: I'm racking my brain to put it into Seussical verse, but it's just too hard, so I'm giving you this straight. So Galileo, famous dude, discovered the four, later named Galilean satellites, the big moons of Jupiter in 1610-ish. They later got named the Galilean moons or Galilean satellites. When was the next moon of Jupiter discovered and what moon was it? Go to planetary.org/radio contest.
Mat Kaplan: Cool. You have until the 15th, that would be December 15 at 8:00 AM Pacific Time to get us the answer for this one, and possibly win yourself a Planetary Society kick asteroid, rubber asteroid, because we got a million of them. Well, actually we don't. We're going to run out at some point, but for now, you still have a shot.
Bruce Betts: I'm going to go, I'm not wearing a hat. I have seen a doe, and I'm saying goodbye to Mat. Everybody go out there, looking up the night sky, and think about making up Seuss rhymes on the spot, and how bad that can go. Thank you, and goodnight. Badly, badly.
Mat Kaplan: I just want to say that it's probably a good thing that your science books for kids are not rhyming. He's Bruce Betts, the chief scientist for The Planetary Society. He writes great books for kids and he joins us every week here for What's Up? Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by its members, who are always looking up.
Mat Kaplan: Planetary.org/join is the place to become one of us. Mark Hilverda and Jason Davis are our associate producers. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. Ad astra.