A year and a half ago, a group of space enthusiasts — including University of Toronto students and alumni — sat in the Second Cup on College Street, mulling over the plausibility of starting an astronomy and space exploration-themed podcast. Since then, the podcast, now called The Star Spot, has lifted off at light speed. With a fan base across 46 countries, The Star Spot is nearing 30,000 downloads, and the team behind it has already incorporated as a Canadian non-profit organization.
The topic of astronomy can be as overwhelming as it is fascinating. The Star Spot’s goal is to reach out to both dreamer-nerds and casual listeners by providing clarity on subjects that can quickly become very technical and abstract.
“We think people are often intimidated by the ideas of space and astronomy,” says Natalie Morcos, The Star Spot board member and director of marketing. “We aim for young adults. We try to keep our podcast academic but still accessible to anyone, not just people who are in astronomy and science. Confirmation that it is working is that we have a huge high school fan base.”
The Star Spot explores a wide spectrum of topics — such as the nature of time, the birth and afterlife of stars, and the future of humans as a space-faring species. A new episode is aired every other Sunday at 7 pm, and is hosted by Justin Trottier, U of T alumnus and founder of the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society, a U of T organization. Usually an hour long, each episode opens with a news segment covering the latest events in space and astronomy. The news is followed by an interview with an expert to discuss a specific space-related topic in depth. Notable guests include Lawrence Krauss, author of the best-selling book A Universe from Nothing, and Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist named as one of the top 25 most influential people in space by TIME in 2012. The podcast also makes an effort to have 50 per cent Canadian content. During the 50th anniversary of the launch of Canada’s first satellite, Alouette 1, The Star Spot did a video interview with Bob McDonald, host of Canada’s longest running science show, Quirks and Quarks. Recently, The Star Spot recorded an interview with Jill Tarter, director of the Center for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Research. Tarter was also named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME in 2004.
The Star Spot’s vision is to further promote interest in astronomy and space by interviewing more “big-ticket” guests and by collaborating with local groups.
The Star Spot is currently affiliated with the Canadian Space Society, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society. It also works closely with the Canadian Space Commerce Association.
Recently, it has made plans to take on more kid-focused activities with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in Toronto. The Star Spot team is also looking to accelerate the growth of its funding and sponsorship teams in order to travel to conferences outside of Toronto.
Despite its fast progress over the past year and a half, The Star Spot continues to be a very low-cost operation. Most interviews are recorded over Skype, and all people involved, from The Star Spot team members to the show’s guests, are volunteers. “We find that generally people are responsive, especially people who are passionate in what they’re doing,” says Morcos. “Everyone that’s into science is also really into science outreach and science literacy, which are values we espouse.”
To listen, volunteer, or donate, visit The Star Spot’s website at starspotpodcast.com, or follow The Star Spot on Twitter (@TheStarSpot) or Facebook (The Star Spot).
Note: Natalie Morcos is employed by The Varsity as a web developer.