Mystery Guest

Jan 26, 2018

Jackie Faherty is looking for something, and it's up to Ophira and guest musician Julian Velard to guess what that thing is. Can you figure out our Mystery Guest's secret before they do?

Heard on Mary Wiseman: Live Long And BLEEP

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OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

While Mychael and Alissa get ready for the final round, it's time for us to play a game. This is Mystery Guest. A stranger is about to come onstage. Julian and I have no idea who this person is or what makes them special, but our puzzle guru Cecil Baldwin does.

CECIL BALDWIN: That's right, Ophira. You and Julian will work together as a team to figure out our mystery guest's secret by asking yes or no questions. Mystery guest, please introduce yourself.

JACQUELINE FAHERTY: My name is Jackie (ph) Faherty. And I am looking for something.

BALDWIN: Yes.

EISENBERG: You're looking for something.

BALDWIN: Yeah, now your job is to figure out what that thing is. Ophira, you ask the first question.

EISENBERG: OK, so you're looking for something. Is this something a physical object?

FAHERTY: Yes.

EISENBERG: Yes, is this object like something I can hold in my hand?

FAHERTY: No.

EISENBERG: Can I buy this object online?

FAHERTY: No.

EISENBERG: The one thing I can't buy online?

(LAUGHTER)

JULIAN VELARD: Do you, for a living, specialize in a field where you go looking for stuff?

FAHERTY: Yes, yes, I do - I think.

VELARD: As a profession?

FAHERTY: I'm like self-defining right now - so, yeah.

EISENBERG: Would you say your friends describe you as someone on a journey?

(LAUGHTER)

FAHERTY: No but yeah - now that you say it like that...

(LAUGHTER)

FAHERTY: ...I think so. I think yes. Yeah, yeah.

EISENBERG: OK, all right, I've got to really think about this.

VELARD: Do you - are you a geologist.

FAHERTY: No, I'm not a geologist.

VELARD: And it's a real thing? It's not like love...

(LAUGHTER)

VELARD: ...Because that's not real. It's a real thing.

EISENBERG: Yeah, it's not love.

FAHERTY: So I'm going to - I'll throw a wrench in this. Some people don't believe it's real.

VELARD: Oh, well, then...

EISENBERG: OK, OK. All right, all right. Fine, are you looking for a unicorn?

(LAUGHTER)

FAHERTY: No, no.

EISENBERG: OK, OK.

BALDWIN: Can I throw in a hint here.

EISENBERG: Yes, please.

BALDWIN: Think big. Think big.

VELARD: Are you looking for Atlantis?

FAHERTY: No, Atlantis was totally fake - so definitely not.

EISENBERG: Are you looking for God?

FAHERTY: Like in general?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: No, no, no. We need another hint. We need another hint.

BALDWIN: Think big. Think far away.

VELARD: Are you looking for a planet?

FAHERTY: Yes.

EISENBERG: Whoa, OK. Is this planet in our solar system?

FAHERTY: Yeah.

BALDWIN: You got it. Jackie Faherty is an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History...

(APPLAUSE)

BALDWIN: ...Where she helps run the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. It's a crowdsourcing project where people from all over the world can help find planets or brown dwarfs.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: I need to know more about this. Please explain this entire program and who you actually are.

FAHERTY: OK, so I'm an astrophysicist. I have a Ph.D. in physics. And I study objects that are in and outside of our solar system. And so several years ago, I came up with this idea that one of the ways that everybody could get involved with doing science is to create a project where they could help find this mysterious - and some people don't believe it's real - ninth planet in our solar system. And notice I said ninth. So yes, Pluto has been...

EISENBERG: Right downgraded.

FAHERTY: Wah, wah.

EISENBERG: Wah, wah - is that what the astrophysicists say? Wah, wah, Pluto.

(LAUGHTER)

FAHERTY: Only at the bar - we don't say that at a talk because that's not technical.

EISENBERG: Yeah, not to Pluto's face.

VELARD: New phone, who this?

FAHERTY: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

VELARD: Pluto.

EISENBERG: I love it. I love it, OK.

FAHERTY: So we've got this project. It's called Backyard Worlds. And Backyard Worlds invites anybody to flip through images - images that were taken by a NASA satellite called WISE, which takes image of the entire sky in mid-infrared wavelengths. And it lets you flip through and look for something that moves. It's called - very fancy term - the blink method. And secretly while we say it's Backward Worlds - colon - Search For Planet 9, I actually only care about finding brown dwarfs, which are objects that are outside of our solar system. And so what I want to do is map the local solar neighbourhood. There may be an object closer to us then the closest star that you currently may or may not know is.

EISENBERG: Right, you're working on the escape plan. I get it, yeah. So have you found anything yet?

FAHERTY: Yeah, so we launched this project in February of last year - so just about one year ago. And we got thousands and thousands of people to participate. So backyardworld.org - go to the site. Participate. And six days after the project launched, we had a - this is why it's brilliant. A citizen - and this was a teacher - a science teacher in Tasmania, along with four other people within the like next three days, brought to our attention an object that no one had seen before. And we got super excited. I got a telescope in Hawaii to participate. And it was a brown dwarf - win - because that's what I want to find.

(APPLAUSE)

FAHERTY: It's a cold object about 50 times the mass of Jupiter sitting out there about 70 or so light years away, and no one had seen it before. The point is we're mapping the entire solar neighborhood. Like, ladies and gentlemen, we're basically Magellan and all the women that should have been mapping things back then. So...

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

FAHERTY: Yeah.

EISENBERG: That's amazing.

BALDWIN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: All right. You are truly a mystery guest. Give it up for our mystery guest, Jackie Faherty, everybody.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.