Our Island Universe

Sunday @ 10:26 a.m. / Monday @ 4:45 p.m. / Tuesday @ 12:25 p.m.

Ronald G. Eaglin Space Science Center (SSC)
Credit Morehead State University

Our Island Universe” is a weekly 4-minute segment looking at new discoveries in our understanding of what lies beyond the horizon and what it means to us here on earth. Parts science, history, physics and pop culture, it’s designed to inform, educate and entertain.

Our Island Universe is a partnership between WMKY and Morehead State University's Space Science Center.

Virani named Star Theater director

Astrophysicist Shanil Virani has been named as the new director of Morehead State's Star Theater and as an instructor of space systems engineering. 

Virani previously worked as director of the John C. Wells Planetarium at James Madison University. He spent more than five years at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics as part of the science team of the Chandra X-ray Observatory. He said he's excited to use the Star Theater to motivate more young people to get interested in science. 

Shanil Virani
Credit Morehead State University

  "MSU's state-of-the-art Star Theater really brings planetarium astrophysics into the 21st Century with its ability to convey sometimes complicated ideas in a beautiful, elegant, immersive way that gives you the perspective as if you were a time traveler or an astronaut visiting alien worlds," Virani said. "My mission as director of the Star Theater is very straightforward: I seek to inspire and excite the next generation of American scientists and engineers." 

Virani has earned several awards and recognitions throughout his career. He received seven group achievement commendations from NASA and The Smithsonian Institution for his contributions to the mission. In 2009 he was awarded the Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Award medal by the American Astronomical Society for exemplary research as a graduate studen at Yale University.

In 2013, he was appointed a Solar System Ambassador by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Virani has authored or co-authored more than 100 publications in scientific journals and his work is cited more than 3,000 times.  

Also, Virani is creator and host of the podcast "Our Island Universe," a weekly series that looks at all things space and how what goes on "up there" affects our lives "down here."  

MSU's Star Theater hosts a variety of educational and entertainment programming for students, faculty, staff and the entire community. Public Shows are held every Saturday. Descriptions, times, and parking information is available from the Star Theater website. School and community group reservations are available.

For more information, visit http://www.moreheadstate.edu/startheater, email star.theater@moreheadstate.edu or call 606-783-9593. 

For information about programs in MSU's Department of Physics, Earth Sciences and Space Systems Engineering, visit http://www.moreheadstate.edu/phes, email phes@moreheadstate.edu or call 606-783-2381.


Reviewing her data collected from the previous night, a young PhD student found a puzzling source. She discovered a repeating signal of pulses that consistenlty arrived 1 and third second apart, just like clockwork! Annoyed that perhaps aliens were trying to contact her, Jocelyn Bell Burnell labeled the source LGM-1: Little Green Man-1. Was it a radio signal from ET? What was the source she had serendipitously discovered?! #WomensHistory


On a dark, moonless night, far away from city lights, you can look up to see thousands of stars glittering against the blackness of space. How did we ever figure out how far away the stars are? Harvard “computer” Henrietta Swan Leavitt solved the riddle of distance in astronomy. Her discovery ushered in the expanding universe and the stunning realization that our Milky Way Galaxy is literally one of trillions in the cosmos!  #WomensHistory


Wood. Oil. Gas. Maybe fire is a fundamental element of nature as the Greeks thought? When did we finally figure out what stars are actually made up of and who made that ground-breaking discovery? Celia Payne’s 1925 doctoral thesis at Harvard provided the key insight that would later be described as “the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy.” #WomensHistory 


Setting foot on the Moon was an enormous engineering & scientific accomplishment. We’d finally dip our toes in the ocean of space that awaits us to explore. How we got there involves many #HiddenFigures who were instrumental to this story. One such person is Katherine Johnson who was born and raised in a small town in West Virginia. #WomensHistory


Who was the first African-American woman in space? Dancer. Chemical engineer. Medical doctor. Dr. Mae Jemison became the 1st African-American woman in space when the space shuttle Endeavour launched on September 12, 1992.


Nichelle Nichols played Lt. Uhura for 6 years on Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. While not a scientist or engineer in real life, she did play one on TV and her impact was no less profound. 


On February 14, 1990, at the suggestion of Dr. Carl Sagan, Voyager 1 turned its camera backwards and snapped a “family portrait”. As Voyager 1 raced outwards to the fringes of the Solar System and then beyond, caught in the center of scattered light rays from the Sun, Earth appears as a tiny point of blue light. On seeing that image, Dr. Sagan wrote about our “pale blue dot”.


February 2nd is Groundhog day. It derives from an old European superstition that if a groundhog emerges from its burrow and see its shadow, winter will last another 6 weeks. Groundhog Day is really an important astronomical holiday, and whether a groundhog day sees its shadow or not, we *know* that spring is just around the corner.


2019 was the second-hottest year on record. In fact, every decade since the 1960s has been warmer than the one before. Is there any “debate” within the scientific community about #climatechange? What’s the evidence that our planet’s climate is changing and that our dependence on fossil fuels is the reason? #OurIslandUniverse

Climate Change image caption: Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record. https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2535/satellite-data-confirm-annual-carbon-dioxide-minimum-above-400-ppm/


Betelgeuse, the bright orange/red star in the armpit of Orion the Hunter, is going to explode any time now. Betelgeuse this winter is only half as bright as it was last winter. Has it already exploded? What does that mean for us here on Earth? #OurIslandUniverse


Galileo, using a brand new, technological invention, made a series of startling discoveries in January 1610 that ushered in a scientific revolution that reverberates to this day. His reward? Sentenced to house arrest by the Pope. #OurIslandUniverse


Traveling at some 70,000 mph, spaceship Earth will make its closest approach to our star on January 4th. We will be nearly 3 and a half million miles closer to the Sun then we will be on July 4. Still think distance is the reason for the seasons?! #OurIslandUniverse


On December 25, a long time ago, a young boy was born that made an enormous contribution to our understanding of the world around us. His discoveries revolutionized how we view the heavens above and also here on Earth. #OurIslandUniverse


December 21 is the date of the winter’s solstice. For those of us located north of the equator, its the longest night of the year. Virtually every culture had celebrations at this time of the year as they celebrated the lighter days to come and dealt with the season of dormancy, darkness, and cold.  #OurIslandUniverse

bbc.com / NASA

Adorned atop many a Christmas tree this year will be a star. What was the Star of Bethlehem that led wise men to a newborn baby in a manger? How do we even begin to figure it out?! #OurIslandUniverse

The Natural History Museum, London

Many Americans will conclude their festive Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday with a slice of homemade pie. Maybe its a recipe that has been passed down the generations. But, if you really wanted to make a pie from scratch, you must first invent the Universe. #OurIslandUniverse

Lane Report

What’s Kentucky’s BIGGEST export? Maybe you think its horses or bourbon? Maybe coal or tobacco? Nope. It’s aerospace. And at $14 Billion per year and growing, there is only 1 other state in the US that does more than we do. #OurIslandUniverse


Science is not a collection of facts & formulae you memorize. It is a human endeavor driven by our innate curiosity to understand why the world is the way it is and not some other way. One of science's greatest ambassadors, and one of my scientific heroes, was Dr. Carl Sagan born on November 9, 1934. #OurIslandUniverse


How big is the Solar System? You can figure out the absolute size and scale using simple high school geometry. On the morning of Monday, November 11, 2019, tiny planet Mercury will cross the solar disk. Our predecessors figured out that by using the timing of the "transit of Mercury" you can deduce the Earth-Sun distance, and in turn, just how big our Solar System is. #OurIslandUniverse


October 31 is known as Halloween in much of the western world. Its roots, however, lie in astronomy. What is the connection between Halloween and the stars? #OurIslandUniverse


A year is how long it takes the Earth to orbit the Sun. A day is how long it takes the Earth to spin once on its axis. Why are there 7 days in a week?! #OurIslandUniverse


Imagine waking up tomorrow and finding out that the calendar date is now 10 days later then when you went to bed! Sound likes a movie right? Truth is stranger than fiction. On this episode of #OurIslandUniverse, we go back to 1582, when the month of October had only 21 days.


October 4, 1957, we overcame gravity. Sputnik-1 was launched by the former Soviet Union demonstrating that humans are now capable of beating gravity and that we are no longer confined to the surface of our planet. However, in doing, the space race was launched.


September 23, 2019 -- For this episode of Our Island Universe...why we can thank our lucky stars for those iconic red barns.


September 16, 2019 -- For this episode of Our Island Universe, we look at the concept of "island universes". And in so doing, explain the name of this new series.

Mother Nature Network

September 10, 2019 -- On this episode of Our Island Universe: Find out where we got the phrase 'The Dog Days of Summer'.