How Do You Catch A Fireball?

Today, PhD student Patrick Shober joins us to chat about mini moons, space tourism and fireballs. He also spills the details on interning at NASA, and why he wants to be an astronaut.

Patrick is on Twitter @planetarypat

Particle Podcast is about science and the people who just love it. It’s produced and presented by Rose Kerr (@rosie.zkerr). Particle is powered by Scitech, and you can tell us your preferred size of moon at @ParticleWA on Twitter and Instagram.


How Do You Catch A Firebal?

  • Host: Rose Kerr
  • Guest: Patrick Shober

**Cue music (intro theme)

Rose Kerr: Particle would like to acknowledge and pay respects to the Traditional Owners of this land we record on, the Whadjuk people. We also acknowledge the role of Aboriginal people as the first scientists in Australia.

Welcome to the Particle Podcast where we talk about science and the people who just love it. I’m your host, Rose Kerr and this season, we’re talking all things environmental. Today, I am joined by Patrick Shober, space nerd and Planetary Science PhD student. He stopped by to chat about protecting the space environment and many moons. All right, so welcome to the podcast.

Patrick Shober: Thank you for having me.

Rose Kerr: Starting off, what do you actually do?

Patrick Shober: Oh, that is always the question I get from my family. Um, so I am a PhD candidate at the Space Science and Technology Centre at Curtin University. I am a researcher on the team looking at the data we collect with the Desert Fireball Network. I specifically look at the impact data we collect and see where that asteroid or debris comes from in the Solar System. So I do a lot of modeling, and a little bit of rock stuff, but mainly on computers here.

Rose Kerr: Have you gotten to hold any of the meteorites that have come to Earth?

Patrick Shober: Yeah, I’ve looked at a bunch of meteorites – not as many since moving here but my background is actually in meteorites sample analysis. So I did my undergraduate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where I did my senior thesis at NASA Glenn Research Center looking at asteroid or regolith, and I did a lot of meteorite characterisation there, so.

Rose Kerr: Doing study and an internship at NASA – that’s pretty insane.

Patrick Shober: Yeah. It’s, I don’t, I don’t know what to expect before, but most of what I’ve learned there is, how the government works.

Rose Kerr: Oh yes (they laugh).

Patrick Shober: So NASA is great. The people there are studying various things, from propulsion systems to different, like studying airplanes to, obviously astronauts and that kind of lunar samples. But yeah, it’s, it’s definitely a different environment from the university. And so a lot more hoops you have to jump through as well. So it’s great work they do. But you have to, you have to really be in that system.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. Was that always a goal of yours to work there?

Patrick Shober: Yeah, I mean, growing up in the US, yeah, NASA is always like, that’s what you grow up on, like, videos of people landing on the moon. So obviously, that is always in the back of my head, but not necessarily NASA all the time. I always wanted to do kind of space related things, from high school onward, at least. But yeah, I don’t know.

Rose Kerr: Bonus fun fact: did you know that NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration?

Did you want to be an astronaut when you’re a kid?

Patrick Shober: I want to be an astronaut right now (they laugh).

Rose Kerr: How do you get to be an astronaut? Is that something you could actually legitimately aim to do?

Patrick Shober: Um, so someone is my background, yeah. I’m actually, I think I hit the qualification standard for the first time this year, I just didn’t have enough time to submit the paperwork. So I didn’t apply. But next time, I will.

To apply, you need to have like a relevant STEM career. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an engineer, or like study space stuff like me. You could be a physician. So there’s physicians that have been astronauts, that are astronauts. They also take a lot of military and fighter pilots, kind of thing. I mean, all the original astronauts were test pilots. So they were the crazy, crazy guys who would be like, okay, we built this new plane, you test it out, see if it works. So they were very used to working in those dangerous, high intense situations. But today, there’s more variety, about half of them in the last class that was chosen were military. But yeah, I would qualify now.

Rose Kerr: So how many astronauts are they taking?

Patrick Shober: They don’t really have a set period, but for the last couple decades, I think they’ve gone every four years or so. They’ve requested applications, so they had one this past year, so the next one will probably be in like 2024. And usually, they’ll get, I don’t know, thousands, tens of thousands, of applicants and they have, I think eight to 10 people who get accepted into the program. So quite intense, very unlikely, but you know.

Rose Kerr: Aw, you got to be in it to win it! You gotta try. So is that always been in the back of your mind as, like, an end goal? Or are you kind of just like, ‘Oh, I meet it I’ll give it ago’?

Patrick Shober: Yeah, I mean, it’s so – it’s such a hard thing to do. It’s never, it’s always in the back of my head of something to strive for, but it’s never, like, a realistic thing. Like, I think I’m qualified, I could be qualified eventually, to be a serious candidate. But like, yeah, it’s very difficult to do, it depends what they’re looking for. It’s not just qualifications. It’s also, like, the personality of the people, whether they can handle being in space and, like, those kinds of situations, and how they handle being under pressure, how they handle being in a small space for long, and how other people can deal with that person in a small space for long! So it’s very multifaceted. And there’s a lot of things that go into that selection process.

Rose Kerr: When you got to go to NASA, do you remember how it felt on, like, the first day you walked in there?

Patrick Shober: Yeah, it was, um, I guess everywhere I’ve done research – so, undergrad, my undergraduate degree is in geology. So a lot of the people in my department would kind of have an unspoken uniform of – they’re always wearing field pants and hiking shoes and Patagonia, whatever. So they’re all, they’re always ready to go on a hike, to go look at an outcrop. And NASA it’s always, I don’t know, they, they have like, sort of dress up like semi-formal with a short sleeve button up shirt, with their lanyard around their neck.

Rose Kerr: Yes.

Patrick Shober: So I was all about trying to, like, emulate that (they laugh). I was really excited when I first got like, my, my ID, my ID to get onto the, onto the centre every day. And then, like, driving on and just showing the security guard like, ‘I work here’.

Rose Kerr: So cool.

Patrick Shober: So that was, yeah, that was great.

Rose Kerr: Would you ever leave it on after work? Just like have a little brag?

Patrick Shober: (laughs) Yeah, I just put it on a few hours before!

Rose Kerr: Walk around town like, ‘yes, this is me, I work here’.

Patrick Shober: Yeah – it’s a weekend, I have not been at work (they laugh).

Rose Kerr: Just be a fashion accessory.

Patrick Shober: Yeah, definitely.

Rose Kerr: When you get to do something like that in – it was before your PhD – how do you, kind of, pick your next goal? Because you’ve already achieved – like, what could stand up after that?

Patrick Shober: Yeah, I mean, that was, there was an internship. So I mean, I did work – I was there for about a year, full-time for the whole summer. And then the whole year, part-time. But I knew I wanted to go on and continue doing research and do my PhD. So it was more of looking for places and projects and people that I wanted to work with. Because, yeah, NASA does fantastic stuff and I would like to go back there eventually. But there’s also tons of great research going around, everywhere around the world. So that’s kind of how I ended up here as well, because my advisor at NASA, one of my advisors at NASA, is good friends with my advisor here., they are multiple og my advisors here.

Rose Kerr: So how long have you been in Perth?

Patrick Shober: Three years, in one week.

Rose Kerr: That’s exciting.

Patrick Shober: It’s been, yeah, three years now.

Rose Kerr: And have you enjoyed it? How’s it been?

Patrick Shober: It’s been much warmer than where I’m from.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, yep.

Patrick Shober: So I really like that! No, it’s been, it’s been really interesting. Perth is actually the furthest, the furthest city in the world, from my hometown. So I cannot – the only way I can move further away is by going to space. So no matter where I go after this, I will be moving closer. Um … (they laugh)

Rose Kerr: Do you remember when you felt inspired to study what you’ve studied? Do you remember that moment of inspiration?

Patrick Shober: I guess, whenever growing up, I wasn’t from when I was a little kid I wanted to be an astronaut or something like that. It’s – things have evolved along the way. But probably the first time was whenever I’d be watching, like ‘Cosmos’ series by like Carl Sagan, or different things on, like, the Science Channel back home, when I was in high school. And then I really wanted to get into, like, astrophysics after that. So that was, that was probably like the first, the first time that I got really interested in space. But what I always tell – I do volunteer at the local Primary School, teach science classes, and one of the asked me about how like, I got to the point where I am now – I always tell them I changed my decision along the way. It was never, ‘Oh, this instant, this is exactly what I want to do, I know I want to study the orbital evolution of meteorites that hit or impact the earth every day!’. No, like no, when I was your age, I wanted to be a neurologist or something. Yeah, so things change, and that’s fine. But yeah, definitely when I was in high school is the first time I was really interested in space.

Rose Kerr: Can you explain for us what the Desert Fireball Network does?

Patrick Shober: Yeah, of course. So the Desert Fireball Network is a system of cameras spread across Australia and throughout the outback. And each, each camera or each observatory has a fisheye lens that records the whole night sky, all night. So at every Observatory, you’re getting a full view of that, of the night sky at that location, throughout the night, every day of the year.

Rose Kerr: Wow.

Patrick Shober: With that information, whenever – what we’re really looking for is whenever asteroid debris hits the atmosphere – we usually call these shooting stars. Whenever these are really bright, we call them fireballs, hence, the Desert Fireball Network. So whenever one of these fireball – or whenever this big chunk of rock – hits the atmosphere, it starts burning up, we can see that on multiple cameras. And using those observations, you can triangulate the path, it would took through the atmosphere as it was burning out.

If it’s large enough, then it will slow down to a point and then there will still be a rock left behind, but it won’t be glowing anymore. It will then land on the ground as a meteorite. So that’s kind of how it ties into my undergrad where I did a lot of meteorite research, as opposed to now where I do a lot of orbit research. Using the Desert Fireball Network, we can use our observations and model that trajectory we saw forward in time to predict where the meteorite landed on the ground. And then we can also model it backwards in time, to see where the rock came from in the Solar System.

One of the biggest problems in planetary science and looking at meteorites is we have tons of meteorites in the world’s collections – over 60,000 meteorites. But most of the time, when you find those meteorites, they’re already on the ground, you look, you pick up the rock, you say, ‘Okay, this isn’t from Earth’. And, but you – and you can do the typical analysis a geologists would conduct on any terrestrial rock. But in this case, we don’t know exactly where it came from.

Rose Kerr: Yeah.

Patrick Shober: Whereas if I go out in the field and pick up a piece of sandstone, or in a, off a cliff side, I could say, ‘oh, there’s this piece of sandstone, it’s below this layer of mud stone, it’s above this layer of gravel’ or whatever else. And I can put it into that geologic context. Whereas we have tons of samples from space in the form of meteorites, but we don’t know where they come from exactly. Most of them do come from the main asteroid belt but exactly WHERE is the question?

So one of the ways to get at answering that gap of knowledge is to send missions to space, or send missions to these asteroids, and actually go and pluck a rock off the surface and bring it back. And that’s what the Hayabusa mission did with asteroid Itokawa. There’s currently two other missions going on right now, one Japanese mission, one US mission, to two different asteroids. But to do this – it’s really expensive. And it takes a lot of time, and you usually don’t get that much sample back, you don’t return much sample to Earth. Whereas we’re already getting tons of material hitting the Earth all the time. So with a firewall network, you can basically get at answering the same question, except we’re just waiting for the rock to come to us.

Rose Kerr: Delivery!

Patrick Shober: And then, and then you use that those observations to figure out where it came from after?

Rose Kerr: How would you describe for the average person, not necessarily someone who is a scientist, how would you explain to them why that research is important?

Patrick Shober: I guess there are a few reasons. Um, first off, just understanding that, can we can better understand the origin and evolution of our Solar System on a more applied side, which I’m definitely interested in, personally. But one of the main reasons that we should understand the origin and evolution of our Solar System, beyond pure blue sky science, is that a lot of this debris is, it’s hitting the Earth. That’s what we’re studying. We’re studying the impact debris, and understanding that population might separate us from what happened to the dinosaurs.

Rose Kerr: True!

Patrick Shober: So, understanding that population will help guide our observations of – our telescopic observations – of where to look for the next one that’s going to hit. And also it will help us understand the material properties of those asteroids. So looking at meteorites we can understand what are the physical characteristics of these bodies? And what, if there’s one coming towards the Earth, what should we do? Should you send a giant nuclear warhead out to space, blow it up and create a bunch of pieces? Or should you slowly push it using light, so like a laser or some, yeah, some impact device. People are thinking about this now.

Another reason is because of a topic I’m very interested in – and of course, people in science love their acronyms – is ‘in situ resource utilization’.

Rose Kerr: That is quite a mouthful!

Patrick Shober: Yeah, usually you just say ISRU.

Rose Kerr: Okay (laughs).

Patrick Shober: So, but in situ resource utilization, and essentially all that is is using – if you’re doing interplanetary travel, getting things to space is really expensive. And at the moment, we’re not really great at it. We strap a bunch of explosives to a stick, and we put all of the stuff that we don’t want to explode at the tip of that stick. Yeah, and that goes to space. So it’s not not really the greatest way you could probably do it, but it’s the way we can do it at the moment. And that, but that’s really expensive. So you can’t bring everything with you, so in situ resource utilization is essentially the concept that you have to use the resources from where you’re going, whether that be on Mars, and using hydrated minerals to extract water to make drinkable water or rocket fuel, or whether using that on asteroids to do similar things, or extract metals or things to create, I don’t know, radiation shielding or something like that. So understanding the material makeup using fireball data and using telescopic observations is really important for ISRU and things like asteroid mining.

Rose Kerr: Is ISRU something that we do currently? Or is that something that’s like, you know, decades off in the future?

Patrick Shober: Um, we there has been a bit of research into ISRU techniques recently, especially now that the Artemis missions are planning to go to the Moon and try to set up a permanent presence at the Moon. And in order to do that, you can’t – you need those resources, you need to use the resources on the Moon, and in that environment, to sustain that presence. So yeah, people are starting to think about it. There’s been not a lot of research into the topic, even though if you watch any of the Artemis mission videos, they’ll say, ‘we’re doing ISRU’, like it’s in the video, but I’ll let you know, it’s not! I don’t, I couldn’t find any postdoc grants for it or anything. It’s very, yeah, it’s, it’s up and coming, I guess. It should be happening soon.

Rose Kerr: Is there an element of considering the environmental impact on those places?

Patrick Shober: Um, I guess, not really. Space is pretty big. Maybe on the Moon it might, generating dust and things like that. But yeah, right now, we’re still just figuring out how to do it, let alone the, like, the ramifications of doing it. It’ll be a lot more environmentally friendly compared to mining things on Earth. That’s definitely for sure.

Rose Kerr: What makes you say that?

Patrick Shober: Well, if you’re mining things here, you’re extracting the minerals and the ores that you want, and then you’re leaving behind this, the residue of this, of the mining process, and damaging drinking water and the local environments and changing the local geomorphology and stuff like that. And that’s definitely a lot more burdensome on our planet, which has life and ecosystem and things, other things to consider. Whereas on the Moon, yeah, the only thing off the top of my head is generating yeah, too much dust for base to handle or something. But otherwise … yeah, there’s not as much of a risk.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, I suppose. Because if it doesn’t have life there, then what is the, like, ecosystem to protect?

Patrick Shober: Yeah, some people would argue they want to protect, protect, like the pristine nature and to study it better. But otherwise, as far as the risks go, compared to mining on the Earth, you could imagine in the future, we get a lot of our resources from asteroids or from other planetary bodies, and then we kind of leave the earth as that garden. Not the, ‘we shouldn’t touch it, because that’s where we live’.

Rose Kerr: Mmm that’s true. How do you feel that in terms of – I mean, this is just your opinion – in terms of scientifically, do you think it’s more value, say, for example, Mars, is there more scientific value in trying really hard not to leave a footprint and seeing exactly how it is, or to try to get people there and get things from it to maybe the detriment of the planet?

Patrick Shober: I think at first, we should definitely protect Mars from any biological or human kind of damage to it. I mean, they do a lot of work. Whenever they send things to, whenever they send rovers to Mars, they make sure that there’s nothing, no biological contaminants that could kill or damage any living organisms that exist on Mars. So they try to do a good job at that. For the moment yeah, it’s better to, to kind of leave it and make sure that we don’t kill the only, maybe, other form of life.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, it’s risky.

Patrick Shober: Yeah, so it’s, yeah, at the moment, it’s better to keep it safe.

Rose Kerr: We’re gonna jump across to some other questions that, I guess they’re a little bit silly, but we’ll see how you go. If you’re a part of the Desert Fireball Network, do you like to drink Fireball?

Patrick Shober: (laughs) Only occasionally.

Rose Kerr: We’ll take it.

Patrick Shober: Definitely, definitely not normal. Yeah, no, I mean, just regular whiskey. The fireball is – no (they laugh).

Rose Kerr: How do you feel about the fact that NASA merch has become such a fashion statement? How do you feel when you see other people wearing it?

Patrick Shober: I mean, that’s great. I mean, it’s, I mean, that’s just great publicity and to show like, oh, this is to awareness to like space stuff. Like, no, that’s, that’s an awesome thing.

Rose Kerr: Do you have some good merch?

Patrick Shober: Ah, I’m fan of stickers, like trying to collect stickers for my laptop. I have a NASA jacket from when I worked there.

Rose Kerr: That’s cool.

Patrick Shober: Yeah, but I don’t yeah, I don’t know what else but yeah, definitely the stickers for me is – that’s like how, you know, if you go to a conference and you see a scientist with a bunch of mission stickers, like they’re legit.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, I like that a lot. It’s like badges, like scouts, badges. But on a laptop.

Patrick Shober: Yeah, exactly.

Rose Kerr: Have you even dropped NASA as like, a way to impress someone?

Patrick Shober: Eerrr, not – I try to avoid that. Yeah, maybe sometime if, like, if it’s just like, random people may like – not usually. But definitely if like I’m on my CV, or I’m applying for something, yeah, obviously, I’m going to say, ‘yeah I interned at NASA for a year’. Yeah. But yeah, I don’t want to be too pompous about it. I guess.

It’s, it’s become a running joke in our office because there have been four or five people in our – within my office of like six people, within our PhD office, like four of us have worked at NASA before, interned at NASA. So for a while it was like a running joke like, ‘Oh, you interned at NASA, wow, you’re so cool’. (laughter) And you’d be like, ‘okay, nevermind’.

Rose Kerr: (laughs) Nothing makes me feel less special than everyone else being special.

Patrick Shober: Yeah, no, it’s fine. They worked at different places.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. What do you think about space tourism?

Patrick Shober: Space tourism? Hmm. I don’t, I don’t have too much of an opinion of whether – I mean, at the moment, I think it’s a positive thing, any way that you can get more money into the, into that market, if you can generate a private industry that interest, has interests in space, than I think that’s more of a good thing. I guess it depends, as far as satellites go and stuff. But as far as space tourism goes, yeah, I think it’s a good thing, because it provides that influx of money to an industry that needs it.

Rose Kerr: That’s true. If you couldn’t get into being an astronaut for a space mission, but you’re super rich, would you pay to go on like a space tourism trip?

Patrick Shober: Yes.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, cool.

Patrick Shober: I don’t think I’m getting rich anytime soon though!

Rose Kerr: I like that the opportunity to be an astronaut is somehow rated more likely than a rich and office space tourism!

Patrick Shober: Yeah, that’s interesting. Yeah. (they laugh).

Rose Kerr: It’s kind of cool. Could you see a time where parts of space need to be protected? Like, kind of like how we have national parks?

Patrick Shober: Mm, yeah, I mean, eventually I think if – in far future, I could imagine being, like, on – going to the Moon or to Mars and all the different places where like the first Moon landing are and stuff like that, I think would be protected. And you could go and see like, ‘Oh, this is where Neil Armstrong landed on the moon’. And, like, go to Curiosity Rover, like, opportunity or yeah, things like that I think will be protected. Yeah, I don’t know.

Rose Kerr: That’s such a good point. There’ll be like, maybe there’ll be tourist spots one day like photo opportunities.

Patrick Shober: Yeah. You could take a picture with the arm on Curiosity, or something,

Rose Kerr: Thinking about space, kind of, as an environment, could you explain what space junk is?

Patrick Shober: Yeah um – it’s not exactly what I, what I studied completely, so I’m not fully knowledgeable, but the space junk is – so obviously we send we use satellites all the time in our daily life, whether it being our phone, TV, GPS in your car. And all those satellites have a lifetime. And eventually, they run out of fuel, or they become out of date, and they are either sent into parking orbits, or sometimes they get damaged, and they break up and you have all this old, all these old satellites, still orbiting the Earth –

Rose Kerr: Just looping around like rubbish?

Patrick Shober: Yeah, exactly.

Rose Kerr: Wow.

Patrick Shober: So most of the stuff that’s concern is in low Earth orbit. A lot of the smaller satellites have limited lifetimes so they’ll design them to break up in the atmosphere over time –

Rose Kerr: To how big pieces?

Patrick Shober: They usually – so CubeSats are kind of these modular, small satellites that are built from pieces – like 10 centimeters, I think 10 centimeters cubed is one ‘U’ I think – I don’t know, Google it! (laughs)

Rose Kerr: Yeah.

Patrick Shober: But yeah, so like a team at Curtin is actually working, are going to launch a CubeSat and it will be sent to the ISS next year.

Rose Kerr: That’s exciting!

Patrick Shober: So, but things like that, they’re designed to burn, to burn up – as not to create junk that’s orbiting around, which can cause, which could be very dangerous to satellites within similar orbits or in similar space, and also the ISS, which is also in low Earth orbit. The biggest concern about that is, like, if you have multiple collide, if you get too much debris in, in those orbits, and all of a sudden you have a cascading effect where you have one collide into the other, which generates a bunch of debris that collides into another, and all of a sudden, you just have a cloud of debris in low Earth orbit, that you have to somehow clean up in the future.

Rose Kerr: Do we know how to clean it up yet?

Patrick Shober: Ooh, let’s just hope that doesn’t happen.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, are there people kind of who look at that problem and set rules like, ‘no, you can’t launch’?

Patrick Shober: Yeah, I think there’s – I don’t know how well standards are set internationally. And it’s kind of hard to control when someone just from a country launches a satellite, it’s kind of hard to control that process. I know last year, I think India was conducting a test with either satellite defense or capturing one, they and they blew up a satellite. So there was a bunch of debris all of a sudden, the number of like, debris in low Earth orbit, number of pieces of debris in low Earth orbit, increased by thousands in, like, one instance. So it’s, yeah, that’s incredibly frowned upon within the international community, but it’s kind of hard to control.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. Hopefully a solution comes about sometime soon?

Patrick Shober: Yeah, I mean, some people do work on using nets and, like, other satellites, shooting nets, satellites to deorbit them and stuff like that. You can find videos online on that going up. Yeah, so that is the thing, like some people already thinking of how to solve the problem that hasn’t really become a problem yet, but hopefully, it doesn’t come to that.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. I mean, it seems like a better idea, doesn’t it to try to solve it before it becomes a bigger problem? What is an unexpected skill that you’ve learned on your research journey?

Patrick Shober: Hmm, unexpected? Well, as far as skills go, I mean, I think if you told me three or four years ago that you’d be doing what many would consider ‘astronomy’, that I’d be definitely like, I don’t know, there’s no way. I’m, like, as I studied meteorites before, so a lot of geologists don’t do tons of work as far as programming goes. So there’s definitely exceptions to that rule, but one of – I’ve definitely, from my PhD, I’ve learned a lot more about how computers work, essentially.

Rose Kerr: Yeah.

Patrick Shober: I’ve definitely learned a lot about planetary science! But I think it’s equally matched by how much I’ve learned about how computing works. And I’ve done a lot of work at the Pausey Supercomputing Centre, so a lot of my simulations are run there. So yeah, I definitely had to really learn a lot about just how computers work and programming. And, yeah, I don’t know.

Rose Kerr: It feels like a pretty useful skill, at least.

Patrick Shober: Definitely. I mean, especially if – I always tell, especially kids I work with, like, if you’re not sure, learn how to program, honestly. Like, you can use it for multiple fields, you don’t really have to be good at math or anything like that. It’s more of learning the logic of how programming works.

Rose Kerr: How do people react when you say, go to a party, or to the pub, or to I don’t know, to coffee with people you don’t know very well, how do they react when you say, ‘Hey, I work with like, meteorites and space stuff’?

Patrick Shober: I guess it depends. It depends on the people. But yeah, they all they always ask about NASA, because I feel like most people just associate like, oh, the only people who do a lot of space research is NASA. So they always ask that. And then that’s usually how I end up being like, ‘Oh, yeah, I actually did intern there’. But I never bring it up. It’s usually I say, ‘I work in space’. Every so often, I get into a situation where I have to defend the Moon landing.

Rose Kerr: (laugh)

Patrick Shober: It happens way more often than you’d hope. (laughs) But I tend to handle those situations fairly well. Yeah so it’s fine. But yeah, it’s on that spectrum – it’s actually usually yeah, one end or the other. Yeah, never like, ‘Oh, I’m not interested’, it’s usually, ‘that’s so cool!’ or ‘Oh’, but yeah because the one time I brought up I worked at NASA and they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, so Moon landing – fake, right?’. And I’m like, ‘okay, I need to get into a different Uber’. (they both laugh).

Rose Kerr: How – thinking along those lines then – how would you describe your actual PhD project to some people who have had a few too many beers at a party?

Patrick Shober: Um, okay.

Rose Kerr: Would you bother?

Patrick Shober: Well, ah, usually how I explain it is if, in that case: I used to study rocks from space. Now I study how rocks from space, move.

Rose Kerr: Oh, yeah. That’s pretty good!

Patrick Shober: That’s about it. Yeah. ‘I look at their orbits’ – so how they go around the sun. That’s all.

Rose Kerr: Yes.

Patrick Shober: That’s all.

Rose Kerr: That’s actually a pretty good – it’s good for children too.

Patrick Shober: Or family members.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. Are your family members, are they scientists?

Patrick Shober: Um, no, everyone in my family is in a medical field. So everyone, actually in my immediate family is a physician. I have, both of my parents are physicians. And both of my sisters are physicians.

Rose Kerr: Oh, you’re like hte black sheep!

Patrick Shober: Yeah, I’m the rebel, I study space! No, they’ll, they’ll the dinner – around the dinner table if we’re all their, they’ll talk about ‘oh, what’s going on at the hospital?’ Or what’s, what the, what kind of patients or whatever they had to deal with that day. And then every so often, like, they all turn silent and turn to me and be like, ‘So how’s the, how’s the space rocks?’

Rose Kerr: (laughs) Did you ever feel like he needed to study that as well?

Patrick Shober: Um, no, maybe, maybe when I was little, because everyone, especially in that, I mean, at that point, my sisters were like, not physicians, but with both my parents being doctors, the – everyone definitely was always like, ‘Oh, what doctor you going to be?’ Like, was always expected of me. So maybe that was one of the reasons why, when I was really when I was in, like, elementary school, middle school kind of thing, I wanted to be, like, a neurologist. Because like, ‘Oh –

Rose Kerr: “- that’s the type of doctor!”

Patrick Shober: Yeah, ‘that’s a type of doctor’. exactly. So yeah, kind of had to deal with that. But it’s fine.

Rose Kerr: I excited to be a Doctor of space rocks.

Patrick Shober: Yeah, of course. Yeah. But people will be like, ‘Oh, oh, now introduce Dr. Schober’. And be like, ‘no, that’s my parents. And actually my sister. Just call me Patrick’. (laughs)

Rose Kerr: That’s really fun.

Patrick Shober: No, it’d be – yeah, it’s gonna be interesting, I guess. Especially, as far as PhDs go and PhD students and my advisors like, imposter syndrome is very real. Like, I know it will be definitely weird when I finish and be like, oh, Dr. Shober, Dr. Patrick Shober, or whatever.

Rose Kerr: How DO you balance doing a PhD? Because it’s so much research and it takes up so much of your time? How do you still not just, just die of stress?

Patrick Shober: And go insane? Yeah. No, it is very difficult. Um, yeah, like I said, for me, the – especially being here a Curtin and doing a Australian kind of style PhD, where it’s a lot more independent and on your own, that helps me a lot. It might not help everyone who need, like people who need set guidelines and schedules and advisors who say, ‘Okay, we’re going to meet every other day and discuss what you did, and you need to get this done by this time’. Those people won’t do as well. But as far as PhD, in general, it’s very, very important to have other things to do beyond your research. It’s good to, like, take time off and be productive when you, when you can. It’s not any help for you or your research to go in at 7am and you’re really exhausted and all you’re going to do is sit there and do nothing for a few hours, maybe go through YouTube videos and watch news, maybe if you’re really productive. I’ve made a point, so like, if, if I don’t feel like it, I’m not going to work. I’m not. So I’ll go through a couple hours where I’m more productive than I have been in the last couple days. And that’s fine. For me. I mean, I’ve gotten three papers published in the last year. So –

Rose Kerr: Amazing!

Patrick Shober: My three first author papers published in the past year, so then, think I’ve been doing pretty good at the moment. It’s also never, it’s never gonna always be like that, like I’ve done – I’ve been really productive in the last year but to get my first paper out, which I love the first paper but it took, it took a good year and a half, two years to get, just get that one done. And then I, I was kind of like over it. I’m so – actually sorry, I was SO over it by that point. And then I’ve, like, moved on and tried to get things done really quickly. But yeah, if you don’t have a paper published, it’s fine. It’s uh, it takes different amounts of time, especially for the first one. Yeah, it’s really common to have like other, other people I work with and be like, I haven’t had anything done yet have already been here for a year or two or something and be like, that’s, that’s perfectly normal. Yeah. So basically, you need to learn how to relax.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. I was wondering what was your, what’s your favorite fun fact that you’ve learned about space?

Patrick Shober: Oh, my favorite fun fact … I guess, not really a fact, but like, now going back to my first paper, I just really, I really liked the topic – if any of the people I work with hear this they’re gonna, really, give me crap about it. (they both laugh). But that’s fine. Um, the first paper I wrote was on ‘mini-moons’.

Rose Kerr: Aw – like little moons?

Patrick Shober: Little moons, yeah.

Rose Kerr: How little are mini-moons?

Patrick Shober: Smaller than the Moon, I guess. But a mini-moon is, all it is, is – I guess, I didn’t, I wasn’t aware of them,so o I guess it’s a fun fact – um, every so often, when an object gets close to the Earth, and it’s going really slowly, it’s get, it gets temporarily captured by the Earth and the Moon. So it orbits the Earth and the Moon, and then usually escapes after a year, or maybe longer. It depends. But they’re usually, they’re temporarily captured. And on average, a model a few years ago predicted at any given time, you’ll have one object, a meter across,

Rose Kerr: Where are they going after they get out of orbit?

Patrick Shober: Usually, like, back on orbit similar to the Earth. Um, usually you need one that that’s on an orbit similar to the Earth. So usually they’re kind of ejected back on so a similar-ish orbit. But yeah, the first paper I wrote was on an object, a fireball we observed in with the DFN that likely originated from a mini-moon hitting the Earth.

Rose Kerr: Wow.

Patrick Shober: So it was, it was orbiting the Earth and then all of a sudden it accidentally got too close. So that one did not escape. It’s permanently here.

Rose Kerr: That’s really cool. And good for you guys, to be honest.

Patrick Shober: Yeah, it was, it was really unexpected on that, on, for that paper, because it was my first one. But the news ate it up because it was like ‘Mini-moon burns up in atmosphere above Australia!’. So it was like, what, what’s going on?

Rose Kerr: That’s so awesome! Well, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast.

Patrick Shober: Oh, thank you for having me.

Rose Kerr: Thank you for listening to the Particle Podcast. You can find more of our content on all of the socials as well as Particle is powered by Scitech and everything we make is made in the wonderful science hub of Western Australia on Whadjuk country.

Rose Kerr
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