Mar 18, 2021

Escapescape

As we hit the one year mark since the first U.S. state (California) issued a stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we put out a call to see if any of you would take us to your secret escape spot and record audio there.

And you astounded us with what you brought in. 

In this soundrich, kaleidoscopic episode, we journey around the planet and then, quite literally, beyond it. Listen only if you want a boatload of fresh air, fields of wildflowers, stars, birds, frogs, and a riveting tale involving Isaac Newton and a calm beyond any calm you knew could exist.

This episode was produced by Matt Kielty and Lulu Miller, with production support from Jonny Moens and Suzie Lechtenberg. 

Special thanks to:

Lynn Levy, who went on to host the space-a-licious series, The Habitat, and edit (among other things) the powerful and beautiful new podcast Resistance.

Merav Opher, an astronomy professor at BU, who now directs the SHIELD DRIVE Science Center which is studying the data collected by the Voyagers at the edge of the heavens, or--err, the “heliosphere” as the scientists call it.

Edward Dolnick, The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World

Ann Druyan, one of the creators of the 1977 Golden Album traveling on the Voyager probe, has recently released a new series on National Geographic,  “Cosmos: Possible Worlds

A.J. Dungo, who submitted a postcard while surfing, is author of the mesmerizing graphic novel, In Waves, a memoir about surfing and grief.

Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.   

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Listener-supported WNYC Studios.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIOLAB INTRO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Wait. Wait. You're listening (laughter)...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You're listening...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...To Radiolab.

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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: From WNYC.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: C?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yup.

LULU MILLER: Do you guys know why I've gathered you here today?

LATIF NASSER: No idea.

JAD ABUMRAD: Well, I know only in the meta sense that you've got another crazy thing that you're thinking about. I don't know what, though.

LULU MILLER: Well, as maybe you know or just can, like, feel in your soul, we're about to hit a year since the first state - California - issued its stay-at-home order.

LATIF NASSER: What day was that?

LULU MILLER: That's March 19, so that's coming up.

LATIF NASSER: Oh, that's - yeah, yeah. It is coming up.

JAD ABUMRAD: Wow.

LULU MILLER: Yeah. And I think most people, you know, like - the claustrophobia I think is just hitting a new high. And so as I was stuck, I just started fantasizing. I just started wondering, like, what escapes people have in their lives, you know?

JAD ABUMRAD: You mean like mental escapes?

LULU MILLER: Mental, but honestly, I was wondering more physical. So I put out a call just to see, like, will you take us - have you found a safe escape? Will you take us there?

JAD ABUMRAD: And did people send you stuff?

LULU MILLER: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hi, Radiolab.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hello, Radiolab.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hi.

LULU MILLER: We were flooded with responses...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Right now I'm in my greenhouse...

LULU MILLER: ...From all over the planet.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...In Costa Rica, watering my plants.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I live in Zimbabwe. I'm looking out into the garden. The sun is setting.

LULU MILLER: People called in from every single continent...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Barcelona, Spain.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Santiago, Chile.

LULU MILLER: ...Except one.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Nairobi, Kenya.

LULU MILLER: We did not get Australia, but, like, we got...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hello.

LULU MILLER: ...Antarctica.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Sitting on our German icebreaker.

LULU MILLER: Someone left us a postcard...

JAD ABUMRAD: Really?

LULU MILLER: ...From the middle of the Weddell Sea.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Seeing some icebergs passing by.

JAD ABUMRAD: Oh, damn.

LATIF NASSER: Wow.

LULU MILLER: And she actually was like, I come here to do climate research, and usually this is the claustrophobic part of my life.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Because it's only a hundred people on board. Now the entire story kind of swapped because now it's everybody back home being isolated while we can spend kind of a normal life at sea. It's just beautiful. It's currently midnight, see still kind of the sun at the horizon.

LULU MILLER: There was a rainbow in Tokyo...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's really pretty.

LULU MILLER: ...And a field of wildflowers in North Carolina...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Like, seven or eight feet high.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There's citrus in the air. I love the smell of citrus.

LULU MILLER: ...And a quiet room in Nigeria.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The walls are painted red, blood red - my favorite color. And it's midnight, noise of insects outside. Can you hear them? I feel safe. I feel this space belongs to me.

LULU MILLER: You know, when these tapes started rolling in, I just kind of stopped everything I was doing and just fell into it.

LATIF NASSER: Oh, you're escaping your homework, basically, it sounds like.

LULU MILLER: Yeah. I mean, it was just so nice to be transported...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm sitting in my backyard under the apricot tree.

LATIF NASSER: Yeah.

LULU MILLER: ...To so many places.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm sitting on the floor of my living room surrounded by my three best friends, my dogs Benjamin, Bear and Brody.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS SNORING)

LULU MILLER: Isn't that lovely?

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah.

LULU MILLER: Should we just listen to this for, like, the next 20 minutes?

JAD ABUMRAD: Oh, my God, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS SNORING)

LATIF NASSER: OK, I'm going to have to step in here because you guys are getting too excited about the sound of dogs.

JAD ABUMRAD: OK.

LULU MILLER: Fair, fair, fair. But I think what I'm trying to show or what really struck out to me was just the range...

PARIS FRANCE: Hi. My name is Paris France (ph), and right now I am sitting on my balcony. It feels amazing out here. The wind is blowing. The cars aren't making too much noise.

LULU MILLER: ...Of, like, how many different ways people found escape.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's 5 o'clock in the morning, and I've been unloading grocery trucks. And strangely, it's been a source of calm and stability throughout the entire pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm in a kind of den that I've made for me and my newborn baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICKEN CROWING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I am in my chicken coop.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICKENS GOBBLING)

LULU MILLER: Some people found it by hiking far, far away.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There's wood fires in the distance that you can kind of smell.

LULU MILLER: And others found it by simply turning their head one inch to the left.

RHIANNON: My name is Rhiannon (ph). I'm talking to you from Hampshire in England. I'm sitting in my home office. My desk faces right out the window, but I don't look at it as often as I look to my left, which is where my aquarium sits. I bought my aquarium a few weeks before my dad went into hospital, and unfortunately, he never came out.

It's been quite difficult to sit here every day in front of my laptop and talk to people through a screen and pretend like things are reasonably normal. Being able to turn and look at this aquarium full of plants, bright blue shrimp and see an entire world that is so detached from ours but still such a part of it helps me identify that I also feel detached but apart from the world. And that's OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LULU MILLER: Coming up, a story of escape at an almost unimaginable scale. Stick with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LULU MILLER: It's RADIOLAB. I'm Lulu. I'm claustrophobic, so we are doing a whole episode of escapes today, a landscape of escapes, an escape-scape (ph) if you will. And as we were putting all this together, I started thinking about this old RADIOLAB piece, a real beauty that takes you far, far away.

JAD ABUMRAD: Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

ROBERT KRULWICH: I'm Robert Krulwich.

JAD ABUMRAD: This is RADIOLAB. And today...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We offer you escape.

LULU MILLER: This piece that I'm thinking about is actually a duet of stories. It was inside a whole episode on escapes. And it starts inside the mind of one man and then catapults out of it to the farthest place a human-made thing has ever traveled.

EDWARD DOLNICK: Yes, I hear you moving in.

LULU MILLER: It comes to us from writer Ed Dolnick and actually begins when Isaac Newton was himself hiding out from an infectious disease.

JAD ABUMRAD: Around 1665, Newton is at Cambridge. He's a student.

EDWARD DOLNICK: And Cambridge is hit by the plague. They send everybody home because although nobody understands how the disease works, they know that if people are crowded together, they tend to all get it. So everybody go your separate ways.

ROBERT KRULWICH: This is kind of an enforced summer vacation or something?

EDWARD DOLNICK: (Laughter) Right.

JAD ABUMRAD: And he's, like, 19 or 20 at this point or...

EDWARD DOLNICK: He's 21, 22.

JAD ABUMRAD: OK.

EDWARD DOLNICK: Newton goes home to his mother's farm.

JAD ABUMRAD: Mom is like, cool, now you can help me on the farm. But...

EDWARD DOLNICK: He says no.

JAD ABUMRAD: 'Cause he has a plan. He'd brought some books home.

EDWARD DOLNICK: A bunch of textbooks.

JAD ABUMRAD: And he locks himself in his room.

EDWARD DOLNICK: And sets himself not only to having mastered all the science that had ever been done, but to plunging on ahead of everyone else on his own, motivated by this religious faith that everything in the universe was set up by a God who wanted someone to crack the code. Newton believes he's the one to...

JAD ABUMRAD: But, I mean, what was he doing in his room? I mean, was he...

EDWARD DOLNICK: That's...

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Sitting there in - like, with a thousand giant textbooks?

EDWARD DOLNICK: All that's known is that he did this.

JAD ABUMRAD: He just went into his room and came out with what we're about to talk about.

EDWARD DOLNICK: He came out with how gravity works, how light works, how rainbows work, how the tides work. And then having done...

JAD ABUMRAD: In a [expletive] summer he did all this?

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARD DOLNICK: Yes.

ROBERT KRULWICH: What did you do on your summer vacation, Jad? I know, like, my summer, I learned how to fold sheets like Marines do, which I thought was pretty good, too.

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARD DOLNICK: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT KRULWICH: So after having one flash of insight after another, Newton now sets his mind to one of the great problems of all time, which for our purposes, we will call the problem of the moon.

JAD ABUMRAD: And just to set this up...

EDWARD DOLNICK: What everybody before Newton and Galileo thought is there are a bunch of ordinary things here on Earth like rocks, and they behave in the ordinary way that we know.

JAD ABUMRAD: You know, pick up a rock, let go...

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

ROBERT KRULWICH: It falls.

EDWARD DOLNICK: And there are a bunch of much more different, mysterious, elegant, perfect things in the sky.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Like the moon, which doesn't fall. It just floats there.

JAD ABUMRAD: So one could conclude that the moon has its own separate set of laws.

EDWARD DOLNICK: There are one set of laws that work here on Earth and another set that work in the heavens. And there's no reason it should be the same set of laws any more than New York's laws should be the same as Paris' laws.

JAD ABUMRAD: Kind of make sense, actually. Heavenly things float, earthly things fall.

ROBERT KRULWICH: But then, here's where the problem begins. Newton and a bunch of people at that time had gotten hold of this newfangled thing called a telescope.

JAD ABUMRAD: And one of the things they saw...

EDWARD DOLNICK: ...Was that the moon wasn't this mysterious heavenly body that they assumed. It was a big rock, a regular, lumpy, potato-ish rock.

JAD ABUMRAD: Uh-oh. People were like, huh.

ROBERT KRULWICH: But Newton being, of course, Newton thought, now, wait a second.

EDWARD DOLNICK: If the job of a rock is to fall and if the moon is just another rock...

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...Why doesn't it fall down?

EDWARD DOLNICK: Exactly so. What's it doing sitting up there night after night?

JAD ABUMRAD: Good question. And it's at this point that Newton, sitting in his room or wherever he was we can imagine, makes a crazy mental leap. He thought back to a little thought experiment that Galileo had come up with, which initially might not make much sense - the connection...

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...But it pays off.

EDWARD DOLNICK: And here's the setup.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EDWARD DOLNICK: You've got someone standing in a big field with a gun that he's about to shoot. And next to that person with his gun is a person holding in his hand a bullet.

JAD ABUMRAD: So you've got a person holding a gun and a person holding just the bullet side by side.

EDWARD DOLNICK: And the bullet in the hand and the bullet in the gun are exactly the same height above the ground. And now, somebody says, ready, aim, fire. And at the instant he says fire, the man with the gun shoots that bullet horizontally. And at that same instant, the man next to him holding the bullet in his hand opens his hand, and the bullet drops.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So there's one bullet zipping along and then falling. And then the other one just falls.

EDWARD DOLNICK: Right. We shoot the bullet out of the horizontal gun, and we drop the bullet from right next to the gun.

JAD ABUMRAD: At the same time.

EDWARD DOLNICK: Yes. Both bullets will hit the ground eventually, but when they do, they'll be far apart. And Galileo's riddle was, which of those bullets hits the ground first?

JAD ABUMRAD: Well, I mean, that's...

ROBERT KRULWICH: Everybody would know that the one that would hit the ground first is the one that you just drop because the other one has to go all that distance.

EDWARD DOLNICK: So this is a hard riddle. And the answer is...

JAD ABUMRAD: Well, wait. Why is it such a hard riddle? Because I would think that the bullet you drop is just going to hit first. The gun's got to go all the way.

EDWARD DOLNICK: No. Those two bullets both hit the ground at the exact same instant.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Really?

EDWARD DOLNICK: That's an experimental fact.

ROBERT KRULWICH: The bullet from the gun and the bullet from the hand lands at the same time?

EDWARD DOLNICK: Yes. This bullet that's shot horizontally, it doesn't go like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff. It doesn't go straight, straight, straight, and then fall. It's curving as it goes.

JAD ABUMRAD: And the thing that causes it to curve as it goes, of course, is gravity. It's the same gravity that is pulling the bullet that you drop. Same gravity, same pull, same speed. So counterintuitively, when you drop a bullet and it falls for this long...

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE AND SPLAT)

JAD ABUMRAD: ...When you fired the gun, it'll also fall for that long...

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT AND SPLAT)

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Even though it ends up a mile away.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE, SPLAT, GUNSHOT, SPLAT, REPEATED)

JAD ABUMRAD: See? That was Galileo's riddle.

EDWARD DOLNICK: And that's as far as Galileo took it.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah.

EDWARD DOLNICK: Newton looked at that and he said something smart.

JAD ABUMRAD: First thing he said is, OK, this field? Let's not pretend that this is some...

EDWARD DOLNICK: ...Perfectly flat field that goes on forever.

JAD ABUMRAD: No. We're on the Earth, and the Earth is round.

EDWARD DOLNICK: And what roundness means is that the ground curves away below horizontal.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So really what's happening is that as the bullet is shooting across the field and falling to the earth. The earth at the same time is very gradually curving away from it.

JAD ABUMRAD: Now, of course, most guns, you know, they don't shoot the bullet very far. And at that short distance, the field is still pretty much flat.

ROBERT KRULWICH: But here's what Newton thought. What if you could find...

EDWARD DOLNICK: ...Just the right gun...

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...That could shoot that bullet not just across a field, but across, like, thousands of miles? And...

JAD ABUMRAD: ...What if...

EDWARD DOLNICK: ...As it falls...

JAD ABUMRAD: ...That bullet curves down towards the earth...

EDWARD DOLNICK: ...In just the same way as the earth is curving...

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Away from it?

ROBERT KRULWICH: In this scenario...

EDWARD DOLNICK: ...The bullet that we've shot will keep falling and falling and falling, but the earth keeps falling and falling and falling away from the bullet. So the bullet falls forever. The earth curves forever. The picture never changes.

JAD ABUMRAD: So the bullet then does what?

EDWARD DOLNICK: The bullet is in orbit.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

EDWARD DOLNICK: Hundreds of years before Sputnik and other satellite, Newton has invented the satellite.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHOOSHING)

EDWARD DOLNICK: And on top of that, he said, when we see rocks like the moon that are not falling, the reason we think they're not falling is because we misunderstand. Really, just as the gun launched a bullet on Earth and it goes and never falls, God - who was presumably a terrifically strong pitcher - launched the moon...

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN)

EDWARD DOLNICK: ...Around the Earth at just such a rate that that would continue in its circle around us forever. This is a perpetual dance. The partners are bound together, but they never come close, and they never break up either. It's this endless round...

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...From which there is no escape.

EDWARD DOLNICK: What this does, what Newton did, is take the moon out of the domain of poets and musicians, the golden orb and this kind of thing and lasso it to the same rules that we use here on Earth.

JAD ABUMRAD: In other words, what he showed is, in a very real way, there's no separation between us and the heavens.

EDWARD DOLNICK: The same set of laws does govern everything. It's one universe, and I've explained it all.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ANN DRUYAN: I mean, once you figure out the laws of gravitation, then you can send spacecraft to...

JAD ABUMRAD: Mars...

ANN DRUYAN: Jupiter...

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Saturn - anywhere.

ANN DRUYAN: ...Out there.

JAD ABUMRAD: If you're a RADIOLAB listener from way back, you might recognize that voice. That's Ann Druyan.

ANN DRUYAN: Hi.

JAD ABUMRAD: One of the first stories we did, actually, I interviewed her about working on the famous Golden Record. You remember this?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Sure.

JAD ABUMRAD: So the idea at the time was to put this record on the Voyager capsule, send it into space, and on the record would be all of these sounds it represented, you know, us.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ANN DRUYAN: A kiss...

(SOUNDBITE OF KISS)

ANN DRUYAN: ...A mother's first words to her newborn baby...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, come on now.

ANN DRUYAN: ...Mozart.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DER HOLLE RACHE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in German).

JAD ABUMRAD: In any case, Ann was the one who was in charge of choosing all the sounds to put onto that record. She and Carl Sagan worked together on that project. And here's the thing. We stopped our story as the rockets took off. But obviously, that was just the beginning of the story. And the Voyager capsules, right now, are about to make a kind of escape that Newton could have only dreamed of.

LYNN LEVY: OK.

JAD ABUMRAD: ...The record thing.

And our producer Lynn Levy has been...

LYNN LEVY: Oh - sorry. I just turned my headphones up way too loud.

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Has been following this story.

LYNN LEVY: Ah, ow.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah, just turn it down.

LYNN LEVY: Yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: OK. So pick it up where we left it.

LYNN LEVY: OK. So, like, in - the point of the mission wasn't really to deliver this record. It was to go out and look at all the planets in the outer solar system. So starting in 1977, these two little spaceships...

ANN DRUYAN: Two spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2...

LYNN LEVY: ...Went racing away from Earth, snapping pictures.

ANN DRUYAN: And so every time Voyager would reach another planet, you know, all of the Voyager people would get together, go into the imaging room and see the pictures come from the outer solar system.

LYNN LEVY: Do you remember seeing them?

MERAV OPHER: I remember as a child seeing Life magazine. You know, I was 7 when the Voyager was launched. So...

LYNN LEVY: This is Merav.

MERAV OPHER: I'm Merav Opher, professor at Boston University.

LYNN LEVY: As a grown-up, she became part of the Voyager team.

MERAV OPHER: All the pictures that, you know, as a kid, you look at the books and just see what - how Neptune looked, how Jupiter looked...

ANN DRUYAN: ...You know, just a complete revelation...

MERAV OPHER: Saturn...

ANN DRUYAN: The image of Saturn...

MERAV OPHER: Technicolor...

ANN DRUYAN: Like, pink and...

MERAV OPHER: Like, reddish...

ANN DRUYAN: ...Turquoise colors.

MERAV OPHER: Yellow and...

ANN DRUYAN: And those rings - just spectacular.

LYNN LEVY: They could see active volcanoes on one of the moons of Jupiter.

ANN DRUYAN: Finally, that vision of Neptune, this, like, blue jewel.

LYNN LEVY: Really blue.

MERAV OPHER: It all came from Voyager. We had no idea how they looked like before Voyager.

LYNN LEVY: Neptune was the last big cool planet, and it was the last thing they were supposed to photograph. After that...

MERAV OPHER: The cameras were going to be shut off to save energy. But Carl Sagan convinced them to turn Voyager back to Earth and take a final picture.

LYNN LEVY: So on Valentine's Day 1990, one of the ships slowly rotated so it was facing back to Earth. And it snapped a picture.

ANN DRUYAN: One last picture.

JAD ABUMRAD: Describe it.

LYNN LEVY: So it's mostly empty.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYNN LEVY: It's pretty dark. You can see sort of streaks of light coming from the sun. And then you honestly wouldn't notice it if it wasn't pointed out to you. But down in one corner...

ANN DRUYAN: Kind of suspended in a sunbeam...

MERAV OPHER: There is a very small dot, blue.

ANN DRUYAN: ...A pale blue dot. That was us.

LYNN LEVY: In Carl Sagan's words...

ANN DRUYAN: Everyone you ever knew, everyone you ever loved, every superstar, every corrupt politician - just everyone in all of history, everything, the sum total. Think of the rivers of blood that have run so that one indistinguishable group could have momentary domination over a fraction of that pixel.

LYNN LEVY: It was one of those really rare images.

ANN DRUYAN: Every single day I hear from people who take that pale blue dot so deeply to heart.

LYNN LEVY: It was a complete reframing.

ANN DRUYAN: After that, the cameras were turned off.

LYNN LEVY: But here's the thing. The ships kept going - going, going, going - drifting through the darkness - going, going, going. Even though they weren't taking pictures anymore, they were using, like, their other senses, little instruments that detect, like, how many particles are around, what the temperature is. So they were hurdling through this empty space really fast, measuring, sending that data back. And scientists like Merav were there listening and waiting.

JAD ABUMRAD: For what?

MERAV OPHER: It was not clear.

LYNN LEVY: But they knew at some point these capsules would get to the edge.

JAD ABUMRAD: The edge of what?

LYNN LEVY: The solar system.

JAD ABUMRAD: The solar system has an edge? I thought it was just a big spiral.

LYNN LEVY: It has an edge. It's a - it's like a bubble.

MERAV OPHER: See, the sun has a wind.

(SOUNDBITE OF WIND BLOWING)

MERAV OPHER: Every star has a wind, but the sun has its own wind.

LYNN LEVY: ...That blows out through the solar system.

MERAV OPHER: It's very fast. It can be between 400 to 800 kilometers per second.

LYNN LEVY: Anyway, it blows out from the sun past all the planets, and it keeps everything else out.

JAD ABUMRAD: Oh, so it's like blowing up a balloon?

LYNN LEVY: Yeah, exactly.

JAD ABUMRAD: The wind gives it a shape.

LYNN LEVY: Right. So these little things are cruising out towards this edge, wherever it is. Scientists don't quite know where it is or what it is. The guys in the control room are, like, pinging the ships, like, hey, what's up? What do you see? And the ships are like, nothing. Well, how about now? Not much. Now? Nothing.

JAD ABUMRAD: And how long before they actually see something?

LYNN LEVY: Fourteen years.

JAD ABUMRAD: Oh, man. That's like driving through Kansas, but, like, a million times worse.

LYNN LEVY: But there comes a day...

MERAV OPHER: ...End of 2004...

LYNN LEVY: ...Where they've stopped listening for a little while because the antenna - NASA only has so many antennas, and they have to use them to listen to everything. So for a little while, the Voyager team's like, OK, you guys over there can use the antennas. We're going to lunch.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah. I mean, it's not like anything's happening.

LYNN LEVY: Nothing's happening anyway. It's been 14 goddamn years.

JAD ABUMRAD: Knock yourself out.

LYNN LEVY: You guys, it's cool. And they come back a few hours later, start listening again and...

MERAV OPHER: It's happened very sudden.

LYNN LEVY: ...Everything is totally changed.

JAD ABUMRAD: Really?

LYNN LEVY: All of a sudden...

MERAV OPHER: Boom. The speed of the wind dropped from around 380 kilometers per second...

(SOUNDBITE OF HIGH WIND)

MERAV OPHER: ...To 100.

(SOUNDBITE OF SILENCED WIND)

LYNN LEVY: Instantly. Like, just all at once.

MERAV OPHER: Instantly.

LYNN LEVY: And then everything out there started to get messy.

MERAV OPHER: Very turbulent.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISSONANCE)

MERAV OPHER: Much more turbulent than before. Particles are also behaving a very different way.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISSONANCE)

MERAV OPHER: And the fields are very weird.

JAD ABUMRAD: The fields?

MERAV OPHER: The magnetic field.

LYNN LEVY: So just like the sun has a wind...

MERAV OPHER: ...The sun has a magnetic field as well.

LYNN LEVY: The field starts at the sun and then curves out in this kind of graceful arc through the solar system.

MERAV OPHER: And how the sun rotates, it create what people call ballerina skirt.

LYNN LEVY: You know how, like, a skirt will flare if you spin around real fast?

JAD ABUMRAD: Uh huh.

LYNN LEVY: That's apparently kind of what this field looks like. But way out there, it seemed like this skirt had started to fray, maybe tear a little. Threads had broken off and seemed to be floating around on their own, not connected to anything.

JAD ABUMRAD: So what does this all mean? I mean, if the fields are breaking down and the wind is dying down - you said the wind is what actually creates the space of the solar system. Does this mean we're out?

LYNN LEVY: No. I kind of thought that was what was happening, but no. It's not out, and it's not quite in. It's in the edge of the bubble.

JAD ABUMRAD: It's in the edge?

LYNN LEVY: Yeah. But it's not, like, a little thin edge. It's a thick edge.

JAD ABUMRAD: So the edge isn't just a little line that you cross. It's a place.

LYNN LEVY: Yeah. And while we listened, the two Voyager ships moved through this edge for several years.

MERAV OPHER: Then something very interesting happened - that the wind on Voyager 1 stopped.

JAD ABUMRAD: Like completely stopped?

LYNN LEVY: Yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: So now we're out?

LYNN LEVY: No.

MERAV OPHER: No.

LYNN LEVY: I mean...

MERAV OPHER: This is what people thought, but the other measurements...

LYNN LEVY: ...Like temperature, the number of particles, the magnetic field...

MERAV OPHER: ...Doesn't tell us that we are out of the bubble. Nature surprised us again.

LYNN LEVY: So now we think there's a place at the edge of our solar system...

MERAV OPHER: ...Right at the edge...

LYNN LEVY: ...The edge of the edge that's utterly still - no wind at all - a pause.

MERAV OPHER: People are calling it a stagnation layer. And there is a big discussion why this layer exists and how thick it is.

LYNN LEVY: And by how thick it is, she means when will it end? Because once we get past this...

So has anything ever cross this boundary before?

MERAV OPHER: No. This will be the first manmade object to leave any star. And Voyager is, like, right there smelling, touching that boundary.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You know, you only do those things first once.

LYNN LEVY: Like your first kiss, your first taste of alcohol, your first time driving a car, the first time you see the ocean. These things open up a whole new world. First time out of the solar system.

JAD ABUMRAD: So when is it going to freaking happen?

LYNN LEVY: It might have happened while we were talking.

JAD ABUMRAD: Ah.

MERAV OPHER: We're thinking from now, any moment now, next couple of months or three years from now, four years from now. It's close.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYNN LEVY: Every day, I open my Google alert for Voyager, and I look and see, did it happen today?

JAD ABUMRAD: Do you really?

LYNN LEVY: Because if it happens before the show goes out, I'm going to be pissed. Yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: Every day?

LYNN LEVY: Yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: It's the first thing you do in the morning?

LYNN LEVY: No.

JAD ABUMRAD: All right, good.

LYNN LEVY: Like the third thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LULU MILLER: This is Lulu now. So it's been nine years since that piece first aired. And, Merav, did it cross over? Did it...

MERAV OPHER: It did. It did. It was 25 of August 2012 that Voyager 1 crossed.

LULU MILLER: Wow. So it was just a few months...

MERAV OPHER: So it was just after...

LULU MILLER: ...After that.

MERAV OPHER: It was really, really close.

LULU MILLER: And what did it find?

MERAV OPHER: So it’s still.

LULU MILLER: It's still.

MERAV OPHER: Yeah. All the particles that come from the sun disappeared. It's really like an edge. And then you're entering to the realm of interstellar medium that is, you know, the stuff that come from other stars. If you could put it in sound, you would see a lot of turbulence, and then when you cross the edge, it's much quieter.

LULU MILLER: Oh, so it did find an even deeper quiet.

MERAV OPHER: Right, right. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LULU MILLER: I do really like to just think about and imagine that little spacecraft out there, floating in the stillness and that silence, while we here on the pale blue dot all try to carve out our own little escapes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

CATHERINE: Hi. My name is Catherine (ph), and I'm from the wet and rainy Seattle, Wash. And my place to escape is running.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm surrounded by a blanket of snow that is so glittery and bright.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Some winter ice swimming.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Andrea (ph), what are we doing?

ANDREA: Lazy river-ing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, there's kayakers coming.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm standing in a stream. If I get really close, I can hear the water bubbling under the ice.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I am at the car wash.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I always like the sound of the water.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I have actually found it to be very relaxing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Soothing white noise. I'm in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm sitting on a rock in Toronto. And this is where I come with my 1-year-old daughter to look for streetcars. Anything coming, Frankie (ph)?

FRANKIE: (Unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There's two.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROOSTER CROWING)

FRANKIE: (Unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I am out here with the chickens to escape the chaos inside my house.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I do feel at peace at home.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm in a kind of den that I've made for me and my newborn baby.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's almost very safe to just be in the confines of your home.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: She's asleep next to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG SNORING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm sitting on the floor of my living room, surrounded by my three best friends - my dogs Benjamin (ph), Bear (ph) and Brodie (ph). My old boy Benjamin snores on the floor beside me.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm sitting in my home office, which is where my aquarium is...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'll just watch my little betta fish...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...Full of plants, bright blue shrimp.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...And listen to the hum of his water filter.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's kind of like a void noise, almost. I'm not sure if that makes sense. But it's kind of just, like, this buzzing. You know, the car's going back and forth.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: As you can hear...

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...There's some birds.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Looking out into the garden.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The smell of the Earth.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The sun is setting.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The smell of trees.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There's actually a rainbow out. I can see.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm escaping...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm currently walking...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Doom-scrolling.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...Up and down the street.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...My family.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I have escape here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm escaping...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We're escaping.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...Life.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm escaping the fact that I am currently ghosting my own therapist.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What am I trying to escape?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm escaping my mind.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Like, I'm in my own little bubble.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I don't have to think about anything.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Take a deep breath. Look around.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It helps you realize you don't have to be a part of everything that is going on around you.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER BUBBLING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right. Hands are getting cold.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LULU MILLER: That'll do it, friends. Thank you to all the people who took time to take us to their place of escape. Even if your peace didn't make it in, I promise you, we listened, we salivated, we felt gratitude. This episode was produced by Matthew Kielty with production support from Jonny Moens and Suzie Lechtenberg. Big shoutout to Lynn Levy - we miss you, Lynn - for production and reporting on the Voyager piece. Special thanks to A.J. Dungo, Quieta F. Johnson (ph), Ravenna Koenig, Diana Sugg and Alan Gavinsky (ph). Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPENCER: Hi. This is Spencer (ph) calling from beautiful Barre, Vt. RADIOLAB was created by Jad Abumrad and is edited by Soren Wheeler. Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser are our co-hosts. Suzie Lechtenberg is our executive producer. Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Jeremy Bloom, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, David Gebel, Matt Kielty, Annie McEwen, Sarah Qari, Arianna Wack, Pat Walters and Molly Webster, with help from Shima Oliaee, Sarah Sandbach and Carin Leong. Our fact-checkers are Diane Kelly and Emily Krieger.

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