Hello everyone!

I am Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society, joined by our embedded reporter Jason Davis. We're test-launching a solar sailing spacecraft next week, and are happy to answer your questions about that (or really anything at all).

Victoria's assisting us with getting started - Ask Us Anything!

A little bit about LightSail: it's a citizen-funded solar sailing spacecraft brought to you by The Planetary Society. We're hitching a ride aboard an Atlas V rocket to test LightSail on May 20th, followed by a full-fledged solar sailing demonstration in 2016.

PROOF: https://twitter.com/exploreplanets/status/598173022613155840

I’m signing off now. Thanks everyone for your great questions. Space exploration brings out the best in us. Together we can know the cosmos and our place in space. We can know more about our own Earth. We can change the world.

Comments: 2918 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

Venomousvillainy2649 karma

Hi mate. Whenever that tv/vcr stand on wheels entered the room I knew it was Bill Nye time. What's the coolest experiment I can do at home with my kids?

sundialbill2339 karma

It depends how old they are. Use mirrors to redirect the infrared beam from a one of your remote controls. Beam on!

AirCougar1562 karma

Do you have any advice on what we should tell our family/friends if they continue to deny climate change as well as other scientific issues like evolution?

sundialbill3219 karma

Ask them if they would trust people who denied a connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Climate change and humans causing it is scientifically a little better established than cigarettes and cancer.

aDoodleBot1352 karma

What is your opinion on the supposed EM warp drive that NASA accidentally created?

sundialbill2048 karma

Very, very skeptical. BTW, our LightSail™ spacecraft will launch on the same rocket with Air Force's X37-b formerly secret spaceship. Coincidence?

Pixel_Me_That1078 karma

Hi Bill!

As you probably know, Chipotle recently removed all Genetically Modified Ingredients from their food.

Is this a setback when it comes to educating the public on the potential benefits of GMOs?

Or is Chipotle's decision valid, in that we should still be wary of GMOs?

sundialbill2017 karma

Removing GMOs seems like a marketing idea. Let's see if it works. If they can provide the quality that customers want at the price customers want, well, that's the free market at work. Consumers may find that they prefer vegetables that have more flavor and more nutritional value from modified crops, in which case Chipotle may have to change back or get outcompeted. Also, if other companies are able to raise more food on less land, they may do an end-run around Chipotle's marketing by showing that their crops actually have a lower environmental impact. Let's all stay tuned.

fohshizman1056 karma

What do you think of Tesla's powerwall?

temporaryescape2114 karma

It deserves a new single from Oasis.

sundialbill2058 karma

It's a good idea. Energy storage is the key to humankind's future. Tesla has repurposed their car batteries for home energy storage. I have 4 kilowatts of solar panels. With these batteries, I could keep my food cold for a few days off the grid. It's a good start on a world changing idea.

NeverFarted873 karma

Hi, Bill! So glad I have another shot at this.

I saw your segment recently on “The Nightly Show” with Larry Wilmore. On it, you said that from a scientific standpoint, there’s no such thing as race, and what does in fact exist is better classified as tribalism. So my question is, would it behoove the human race to look at moral issues from a scientific perspective? Also, are there certain matters of moral relevance science shouldn't attempt to wrangle?

Thanks for doing this!

sundialbill1823 karma

O wouldn't it be great, if everyone on Earth understood that we are, in fact, all one species. It feels like that would be a great step toward all of us getting along with each other. We are one species. It's provable. It's science.

cosmovern71833 karma

Hi, Bill. Provided that the test is successful, what can we hope for in terms of long-term application of solar sails for space flight, and how would this work for flight outside of our solar system, should we reach that point?

sundialbill1475 karma

In the Great Big Hugely Gigantic Picture, we could someday beam a laser from, say, the far side of the Moon and push a solar sail to Proxima Centuri. It's an idea so crazy, it just might work. See you at the launch in a few hundred years.

MrsRandCo659 karma

Hola, Mr. Science Guy,

I am a fourth grade teacher to 26 planetary buffs! We want to know - what advice do you have for budding astrophysicists/ future planetary society members? - MrsRandCo

sundialbill1565 karma

Learn that method: Observe, Hypothesize, Test, Compare what you expected to happen with what did happen. Then, I'm not kidding, start to have letters represent numbers. Science is based on measurements. Algebra is a key to your future. Science Rules!!

skrutskie573 karma

Hi Bill! I'm graduating from Cornell in a little under two weeks. What should I make it a priority to do before I leave Ithaca?

sundialbill1127 karma

Swim in the gorge one more time.

the_singular_anyone562 karma

I'm a simple man with a simple question:

How possible would it be to solar power a bow tie?

sundialbill1424 karma

Yes, I do it all the time. We don't see things; we see light bouncing off of things. So whenever a bowtie is out in sunlight, its image is powered by the Sun. If you want to put small solar panels on a bowtie and spin a propellor on your head, well, knock yourself out.

tHarvey303550 karma

Whats the best way to explain what you are doing to people? I have tried to explain the solar sail to a few friends/family and they all think I am making it up as they remember learning that light has no mass in school. How can we educate people about your project? Thanks for doing this AMA.

sundialbill1002 karma

Photons (particles of light) have no momentum, but they are pure energy, and they have momentum. So, in the vacuum of space, we can design a very low mass spacecraft with a very large reflective area, and it will get a continuous push. Try this: E = mc**2. Divided both sides by c. You end up with an expression for momentum: "mc". It's not magic; it's science.

SpigotBlister522 karma

Hi, Bill! We loved you in New York. Two questions.

1: In your book, "Undeniable", you expressed a great suspicion of GMOs, particularly in agriculture. To quote the chapter: "If you're asking me, we should stop introducing genes from one species into another, while at the same time taking full advantage of our ability to understand the genome of any organism..."

In an interview you just gave to the Huffington Post after a visit with Monsanto, you claimed this - "My take on it now is genetically modified food is actually, in general, -- genetically modified plants, in general, -- are not only not harmful, they're actually a great benefit. However, you can't just go planting enormous monocultures and killing everything and expect the ecosystems to take it"

I'm glad that you're taking an open-mind approach to this, but could you explain what exactly brought on the change in opinion? I've heard that you plan on revising your book, is that true?

2: What are the odds of me taking an internship at The Planetary Society this summer? I'd love to see my brick in the lobby. :)

sundialbill678 karma

I looked into it further. The key for me is the very, very rigorous programs to ensure ecosystem safety, specifically The Coordinated Framework with the Dept. of Agriculture. We can assay a genome 10 million 10EE*07 times faster than we used to. Wild.

CptMortos413 karma

So when you did that debate last year with that creationist in KY, you said you pulled over to the side of the road and picked up a fossil.

...did you seriously just pull over in a random place and find that? If that's true I'm sincerely jealous of your fossil finding abilities.

sundialbill837 karma

If you're on route 65 or 71 watch for a cut, a place where crews have blasted a path through the limestone. Stop the car. Walk to the side of the road, and look around. Pick up a brick sized piece of rock. You'll find the barnacle sized "small shellies."

Jirizo127 karma

As the CEO of the Planetary Society, I'm curious to know you future hopes for the organization? Future space club in 2142?

sundialbill208 karma

I believe the Society with its members and community can convince citizens of Earth to make sure we fund missions to look for signs of life on other worlds, especially Mars and Europa. Such a discovery would utterly change this world. Our LightSail™ launch next week is part of that big idea effort. Planetary Science Rules!

wicro65 karma

Hey Bill! What do you think of Google's driverless car? Do you think it's a good step forward, or should we be focusing our efforts on other things?

sundialbill160 karma

I can imagine a future with cities having nothing but electric driverless cars. You'd call for an automated taxi from your wrist-held device. There would very few car wrecks, and cities would be quieter and cleaner. Those of us, who really want to drive, can party on out there on the open roads. Driverlessness will be more common than airplane autopilots.

ShellLillian44 karma

Hi Bill!

I'm only familiar with the basics of the technology behind LightSail, so forgive me if this is a silly question, but what do you think are the long term applications of this sort of technology? Do you see it moving beyond powering CubeSats and moving on to even bigger uses?

sundialbill83 karma

LightSail™will demonstrate that we can greatly reduce the cost of missons to other worlds in our Solar System, e.g. the Moon and Mars. It will be another step in democratizing space. It will enable more of us to learn more about what's up up there.

mardoqueo40 karma

Hello Bill, how much does solar activity affects the performance of the sail? Is it a problem or is it just fine however the sun is behaving? Thanks.

sundialbill74 karma

A noisome problem may arise, if solar activity renders the Earth's atmosphere a little bigger. Sometimes the solar wind makes our atmosphere swell. If this happens next month, we may get dragged down sooner than we hope. Right now, the Sun seems just fine. All is cool, in this case literally.

rdevadas25 karma

Hi Bill,

Big fan! How do you normally decompress after a stressful day?

sundialbill108 karma

What else? I do an AMA...

adamdee125 karma

Hello Bill. I love your work.

Given that NASA had their "Sunjammer" project back in 2010 - 2013 and they ultimately abandoned it, why will this LightSail project be superior?

It's exciting science, it just never seems to (literally) get off the ground.


sundialbill133 karma

We believe we have solved the sail deployment problem. NASA's Nanosail-D drag spacecraft deployed its sail, but only after about six weeks of mystery. It was probably hung up somehow mechanically, but after hundreds of orbits, heating and cooling shook it loose. NASA's Sunjammer never gained the backing and funding it would have needed. Then, Sunjammer also is a Pokemon character, but I'm pretty sure that's a separate problem.