Hunting the Edge of the Universe

In April, NOVA will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope with a two-hour special that examines how a simple instrument, the telescope, has fundamentally changed our understanding of our place in the universe. NOVA sent me an advance copy of this two part series to review and share with you.

The episodes will air on April 6 and 13. I recommend you watch them or set your DVR accordingly.

I especially appreciated they way the series presents the material chronologically, which shows how each successive generation built on the discoveries of the telescopes of the previous generation. The production quality is excellent, and the narration and interviews were put together in a logical, seamless fashion. I particularly like when they say 'novae' and 'supernovae' instead of the dumbed down incorrect 'novas' and 'supernovas' that some documentaries resort to these days.

In a word it is first rate. It is mostly scientifically accurate and well presented. My only minor distraction was when they occasionally used planetary nebulae pictures to represent stellar explosions like supernovae. At least the narrator says nebulae, not nebulas, which isn't even a word.

The synopsis from NOVA adequately describes the two episodes without my intervention, so here they are.

Hunting the Edge of Space: The Mystery of the Milky Way – April 6
Three centuries of engineering have produced telescopes far beyond Galileo’s simple spyglass. Perched on mountaintops, orbiting the Earth, and even circling other planets, these telescopes are revealing the solar system in detail Galileo could only dream of. The Milky Way brings viewers up close with today’s most powerful telescopes and embarks on a stunning journey to the planets and moons now being imaged as never before.

Hunting the Edge of Space: The Ever Expanding Universe – April 13
From the discovery that the Milky Way is just one galaxy among billions, to the stunning revelation that these galaxies are speeding away from each other faster every second, The Ever Expanding Universe investigates the universe’s distant past—and its future. Now, modern telescopes have added a mysterious new twist to the plot: The vast majority of the stuff of the universe is invisible, tied up in dark matter and dark energy. But what are these mysterious dark forces? A new generation of telescopes is embarking on a mission impossible to see the unseeable, and answer one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the cosmos.

I give it two thumbs up, even if my wife says I spoiled it all because I knew what was coming next and said it out loud before it happened. She doesn't go to planetarium shows with me any more for the same reason. Don't worry; I won't be in your living room. Watch'll be glad you did.

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