The host of the show since 1992, McDonald is also the go to science guy for CBC News Network and The National.
He’s won awards and has an asteroid named after him. And now he has a new book.
We got the busy broadcaster to answer a few questions before he takes to the VWF stage.
Q: You subtitle is “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Black Holes, Dwarf Planets, Aliens and More.” What’s the more part?
A: There are 31 chapters in the book, each devoted to a different topic, ranging from becoming an astronaut, to junk in space and how telescopes work, so there is much more to explore than the title suggests.
Q: Who is this book for?
A: This book is aimed at 8-12 year olds, although all ages should find it an interesting source of trivia to throw around at parties.
Q: You have experiments we can try at home in the book. They are all very safe. Now, as a young boy did you do any home experiments? Any, maybe, not work out so great?
A: The first experiment I did at home when I was young, involved filling two jars with water, sealing one with a lid, leaving the other open and letting them sit on a shelf for a week. I was amazed that the open one lost water all by itself and discovered the principle of evaporation. I also experimented with balsa wood airplanes, but no explosions ever rocked the house.
Q: To some of us, just contemplating the vastness of space is exhausting. What can you say to get me excited about the topic? What is a good entry point into this topic?
A : You live on a ball that is spinning and tumbling through an unimaginably huge space at speeds faster than a rocket. There are stars beneath your feet right now, and the chair you are sitting in is speeding around the sun at 100,000 km/hr. That’s 30 kilometres every second. Seven other planets, hundreds of moons, millions of comets and asteroids are all travelling around our star with you as the sun journeys around the Milky Way Galaxy, which is only one of hundreds of billions of other galaxies in the expanding universe. Are you exhausted yet?
Q: What was your personal entry point to wanting to learn all you could about space?
A: When I was eight years old, my mother gave me a book simply called Planets. It was a Golden Book of knowledge with realistic drawing of all the planets in the solar system. This was when the space age had just started. That book transported me to other worlds that are just as real as the Earth, but very, very different. As the space race to the moon unfolded, I figured that one day soon I would be visiting those planets. That hasn’t happened yet, but I still have the book.
Q: Did you pretend to be an astronaut as a kid?
A: Of course. What kid in the 1960s didn’t want to become an astronaut?
Q: Speaking of astronauts do you think the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 got people interested in space again?
A: The 50th anniversary of the moon landing not only got people interested in space, it reminded us of how remarkable those early missions were, how daring, and what a monumental effort it was to reach the moon in less than a decade. It also showed how we haven’t left the Earth since then, but that is now changing.
Q: Do you like going to see fictional movies about space? Or is it an exercise in frustration for you?
A: Fictional movies are a lot of fun. I love the escapism, the imagination, but they often turn into comedies for me as I pick out all the scientific mistakes, or when they break the laws of physics for the sake of the plot.
Q: Have you seen Ad Astra? If so what were those beams that Tommy Lee Jones’ character was threatening earth with?
A: I have no idea how beams in space work, whether they are death rays, tractor beams or phasers, they always have far more power than actual beams on Earth. Also, beams in space would be invisible because there is nothing for them to reflect off. You can only see beams in space when they are aimed right at you, which means you are about to die.
Q: Are there things in space we should be really worried about?
A: We should worry about small and medium sized asteroids, the ones that are the size of a house or a football field that could hit the Earth. They are much smaller than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, but they could still take out a city if they hit the right spot. The larger asteroids have been spotted with telescopes, but the small ones don’t show up until they are very close and we can’t do anything about them.
Q: What science (excluding the internet) do you have now that you would have loved to have when starting with Quirks & Quarks in 1992?
A: So much has happened in science within my career. We have been to every planet in the solar system with robots, discovered thousands of planets going around other stars, found out that 95 per cent of the universe is made of dark matter and dark energy, and we have no clue what they are. Then there are all the new discoveries in genetics, geology and climate science … pick a topic. We are living in remarkable times.
Q: What do people tend to ask you?
A: Believe it or not, people still ask if the moon landings were faked. Not only have I met several of the people who have been to the moon, why would 400,000 people, including Canadians, be employed to build technology that could reach the moon and then not go there? And why would the moon missions be faked nine times?
I’m stunned that people still think it was all done in a studio.
Q: What do you hope people take away from this new book?
A: I hope people will gain a perspective on our place in the universe, and through the demos, see that studying space doesn’t need to be complicated, you can do it right in your own kitchen.
Q: Star Wars or Star Trek?
A: Star Trek. They are not super heroes, just people caught in extraordinary situations using clever thinking and the technology available to them to explore new worlds. It is a more scientific approach to space exploration rather than going to war.
Q: Does your voice give you away in the grocery store lineup?
A: People recognize me from my voice and my face. I’m always honoured when it happens, but sometimes a little dismayed when they don’t know my name and say, “You’re that guy …” I need a more memorable name like Suzuki or something.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019