Ultimate Mars Challenge One Of NOVA’s Best Episodes Of 2013

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

A hundred years ago, man looked up at the sky and dreamed of one day going into space. Fifty years ago, man saw the flight of the first ever re-usable spacecraft in the X-15. Now in 2013, man has already sent no fewer than seven rovers to Mars to study the red planet. The first of the rovers was a Chinese rover named Mars-2. It was sent to Mars in 1971. Since then, only two rovers remain in definitive operation. They are the American made rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity. The latter of the two is the one on which PBS’ NOVA focuses in its special, Ultimate Mars Challenge.

Ultimate Mars Challenge was released in February 2013. The actual episode originally aired in 2012. It is an interesting episode for anyone that has ever had any fascination with space science or even with engineering. It takes viewers behind the scenes of the creation of the Curiosity rover from its earliest inception to watching it touch down on August 6th, 2012.  Whether watching on DVD or on Blu-ray audiences will be amazed at just how much work went into bringing Curiosity to life.  Even more incredible is just how large the rover actually ended up being.  One can’t help but feel for certain team members as Curiosity is put through rigorous tests to make sure that it could survive on the Martian landscape.

Watching Curiosity come to life is an interesting journey for anyone that has ever had any interest in space and space exploration.  It’s amazing to consider how far man has come since the dawn of the space race so many decades ago.  It’s only one part of what makes this episode of NOVA so enjoyable.  Just as enjoyable to watch is the computer graphics incorporated into this episode.  Audiences get to see a pretty close representation of what the Martian landscape looks like without actually being there.  And the associated discussion on the existence of ice underneath the initial level of soil makes for an excellent starting point for an even bigger discussion.  For those that have watched other documentaries on Mars, one can’t help but wonder had another object allegedly slammed into Mars, what might it have looked like today?  It even raises the ultimate question for which the Curiosity rover was built.  That question is whether or not life ever existed on our neighbor or if it could have existed there for that matter.  With any luck, as long as Curiosity is working and sending information back to NASA, maybe one day that question will be answered.  This episode of NOVA is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.  It can be ordered online direct from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=16824446&cp=&sr=1&kw=ultimate+mars+challenge&origkw=Ultimate+Mars+Challenge&parentPage=search.  More information on this and other NOVA releases is available online at http://www.facebook.com/NOVAOnline.

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The Fabric Of The Cosmos A Wild Ride Through Space, Time, More

Courtesy: PBS

“The Fabric of the Cosmos” is one of the most mind blowing and brain twisting episodes of PBS’ NOVA to be broadcast in recent memory.  This four-part special takes viewers into the world of what was thought to be only science fiction for ages.  It proves that maybe, just maybe the science fiction that people have seen on television for decades may not entirely fiction after all.  On the other hand, viewers may also be surprised to discover that some of that science fiction may actually still be just that today.  And thanks to author and host Brian Greene, even the most causal science fan will catch on to at least some of the concepts throughout the four-hour course of this program.

“The Fabric of the Cosmos” opens with the segment, “Quantum Leap.”  This segment is a perfect start for any college level physics class.  It takes audiences through a history of quantum mechanics.  Along the way, many of the theories and standards of quantum mechanics are explained to viewers.  It eventually leads up to a discussion on the possibility of human teleportation.  Now anyone who has seen Star Trek knows of the concept of human teleportation.  But according to quantum mechanics, while it is theoretically possible, it isn’t realistically possible.  That’s because in the process of teleportation, the original person being teleported would actually be destroyed in order to make a copy of that person in another location.  Now imagine doing that multiple times over.  It gets very deep.  This is one of those cases in which audiences might be at least a little surprised to discover that some science fiction is still just that.

Courtesy: PBS

The second hour of “The Fabric of the Cosmos” takes viewers into the equally oft discussed concept of whether or nor our universe is the only one.  In trying to figure out if our universe is the only one, “Universe or Multiverse?” scientists interviewed for the program enter into discussions on string theory and dark energy.  The discussions of these two concepts—and one other—point to the very strong possibility that we may not be alone.  There may, in fact, be other universes out there.  This is all theoretical, of course.  But there seems to be enough evidence to point to the possibility of the multiverse being real.

In the third hour of “The Fabric of the Cosmos”, Greene asks, “What is space?”  This is another segment that students studying physics will really enjoy.  This segment delves greatly into the theories of Albert Einstein.  Greene explains that gravity is space time itself.  He explains it with a demonstration.  He asks how it is that Earth’s moon stays in a constant orbit as if it were held by some invisible rope.  So he uses the demonstration of pool balls on a pool table.  He then proceeds to place a bowling ball on the table.  The theory created here is that something of greater mass causes a “dip” in the fabric of whatever it is sitting on or in.  The theory is that earth actually “bends” space, thus pulling the moon into that dip, and causing it to rotate—or orbit–around the edge of that “bend.”  Pretty wild stuff, right?

The mind bending only continues from here.  From the discussion asking, “What is Space?” viewers are taken even deeper with a discussion on time itself.  Greene ties in the discussion of space into how time works.  Things get really wild here.  He notes through Einstein once more for his explanations of what time is, and its relativity to people and places.  This leads up to another very well known concept.  It leads to the concept of time travel itself.  Viewers learn that while Einstein’s theories prove time travel is theoretically possible, right now, there is no actual way to physically travel backward or forward in time.  It all ties in to the interconnectivity of time and space.  Again, this is some pretty deep material.  But it’s quite interesting to consider, even for the most casual of science lovers. 

Thanks to his efforts, Greene has made “The Fabric of the Cosmos” at least somewhat into layman’s terms.  He has taken the concepts about which he has written in his book and given visual examples of his topics so that even those who don’t have formal training in physics can grasp it at least at a fundamental level.  It’s one more example of what makes PBS’ NOVA the enjoyable program that it is.  So whether being used for a semester long college physics class or for the most casual viewer, “The Fabric of the Cosmos” is one more jewel for any science fiction fan or scientist out there.

“The Fabric of the Cosmos” is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org.

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PBS’ NOVA Looks For Life In The Universe In A Different Way

Courtesy: PBS

Are we alone in the universe?  This question has plagued mankind for centuries, if not longer.  Countless books, movies, and television shows have been released in as many years on the topic.  Some have been scientific.  Others have ranged more in the outlandish.  Now, another program has been released on the topic in the form of NOVA’s two part episode, “Finding Life Beyond Earth.”

“Finding Life Beyond Earth” is one of the more scientific examinations at the possibility of extraterrestrial life.  Rather than presenting outrageous theories, the program examines the elements needed for life to exist.  That is, life as we humans know it.  Those elements are an energy source, liquid, and the chemical building blocks needed to kick start life.  The first hour of this special compares conditions and the elements of life on Earth to those of the other planets in the Milky Way galaxy.  The discussion starts with a look at discoveries made by Cassini’s probe made on Saturn’s moon, Titan.  The revelations made by those discoveries are the basis for so many discussions both inside and outside the classroom.

Courtesy: PBS

The second half hour of the program takes viewers to some of the planets’ moons.  It examines Jupiter’s moons, Io and Europa, along with Saturn’s moon, Titan and one other.  Comparisons between those moons and conditions on Earth raise just as many discussions as the discoveries made about the planets.  Ultimately, the conclusion on whether or not life exists elsewhere in the universe is inconclusive.  The purely scientific research is enough to justifiably wonder if this piece of science fiction will one day become science fact.  “Finding Life Beyond Earth” is available on blu-ray and DVD now.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org.

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Secrets of the Sun is one “hot” episode of NOVA

Courtesy: PBS

Earth dodged a bullet last year when a rather large solar flare passed by the planet.  That solar flare could have done some major damage to the planet’s telecommunications systems, electrical grids and potentially even more.  Thankfully that didn’t happen. The problem that Earth has is that there’s no way to tell when the next big solar flare or solar storm could impact the Earth.  Now, in one of its latest episodes, PBS’ hit science program, NOVA, examines the science behind trying to determine when the next big solar event will occur.

Courtesy: PBS

“Secrets of the Sun” starts off explaining just how important it is to try and predict when the next big solar weather event will happen.  The scientists interviewed use the example of the event that hitQuebec,Canadain 1989.  The region was hit by not one but two Coronal Mass Ejections.  It’s explained that the double dose did massive damage to the region’s communications and electrical systems.  Roughly six million people were left without power as a result of the event.  So since then, scientists have struggled to figure out a way to predict how solar flares and storms happen or how they affect Earth. 

The first key discovery noted in the search for a way to predict solar activity is that the sun actually generates sound waves.  Those sound waves, according to the scientists interviewed, can be used to tell what’s going on inside the sun.  It postulates that much like moving fault lines inside the earth create sound waves so does the sun’s core.  Those movements create disturbances on the sun’s surface, which lead to the possibility of increased activity.  This is what is known as the science of “Helioseismology.”

Theories centered on the sun’s magnetic field, and sunspots are also explained in the near one hour run time.  Those theories are both worthy of discussion.  But they might not have been even considered if not for the launch of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in 2010.  This observatory has shown the sun in ways never before imagined after reaching it.  The SDO has also been beneficial in helping scientists determine that the sun is allegedly going to be nearing “solar max” again in 2013.  Because of this, they are working on each theory and ways to help protect the Earth should another CME come Earth’s way. 

Ultimately, the conclusion on determining whether one theory or another can ultimately determine the next wave of CME’s is inconclusive.  But thanks to the theories and the SDO, science is that much closer to getting an answer.  Everything discussed in this episode makes for an excellent addition to any Physics class.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org

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