Saturday, September 12, 2009

TV Review: The Universe (2007 - ??)

Are you curious about our universe? Do you want to know what’s out there? Ever thought about time travel or the possibility of multiple universes or what it would take to live in space? Then have I got the show for you. It’s called The Universe, and it’s on Tuesday nights on the History Channel.

The Universe is in its fourth, nerd-glorious season, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Although a show about science, The Universe is easily accessible for all audience. The show is well written to be both entertaining and informative. The scientists they interview are well spoken, entertaining, and easy to understand -- without sounding condescending. Many of them have distinguished careers as speaker or television hosts. The graphics used are impressive, informative and eye catching. And the show is careful to constantly use visual examples to make it easy for us non-scientists to understand the phenomena about which they are speaking.

The Universe has run for four seasons, with each one having a slightly different theme:
• The first season focused primarily on the planets within our solar system. Did you know that Jupiter has 63 moons, 23 of which were not discovered until 2003? Its largest is Ganymede, which is bigger than either Mercury or Pluto. Did you know that the largest volcano in our solar system is Olympus Mons, on Mars? It’s three times taller than Mount Everest and is as big as the state of New Mexico. Did you know that without the moon we wouldn’t be alive today?

• The second season branched out beyond the solar system and uncovered the secrets of our galaxy. How do they find other planets? What is a black hole or a super black hole? Do white holes create matter? Where is the Milky Way? Sex in space? Not as simple as it sounds (see the pornographic image to the right). And long term space travel is impossible because of bone mass loss. You’ve heard about the Big Bang right? Did you know that 95% of the matter that should be in the universe is missing?

• The third season shifted gears and talked more about theoretical physics. Is time travel possible? And can you come back to this world or would you come back to a parallel world? Do we live in one universe or are we part of a multiverse? Is gravity really a force pulling on objects, or do heavy objects simply bend space around them -- causing us to fall toward them, like a bowling ball on a bed will roll toward you?
The real key to the show, as I noted above, are the presenters. These people are absolutely top notch. Michio Kaku (left) is a theoretical physicist who specializes in string theory. He’s also a noted lecturer, radio and television personality, and he has an amazing ability to make the incredibly complex seem really simple.

Another presenter of note is Neil deGrasse Tyson (below), another television personality and the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.

The other presenters are a mix of JPL scientists and other noted professors, every of them top notch, and every one of them is capable of making the vast and complex universe something you and I can understand, and doing so without losing the wonder and amazement we should have for just what’s out there. Their joy at what they are presenting also comes through clearly, and gives the show a high re-watchability.

Moreover, unlike shows like Naked Science, which touches upon some of these same topics but crams them into stand-alone episodes, The Universe is able to take its time and break up the topics it covers over entire seasons rather than cramming them into single episodes. This allows for more information to be provided, for that information to be explained better, and keeps you from suffering from information overload.

The Universe is well worth watching if you have even the slightest interest in what makes the universe tick. You will learn something interesting every time you watch the show. It is entertaining, it is visually compelling, and it’s informative. In fact, The Universe is the kind of show that delivers upon the promise of television. Whenever people talk about using television to educate people, this is the kind of show they are talking about.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.

17 comments:

LawHawkSF said...

The show is top-notch. I just finished watching an episode. Excellent presentation and content, and they organize the topics beautifully. 2007 - ?? LOL

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I had to put the question marks because at some point The Universe will end, we just don't know when yet. . . ;-P

LawHawkSF said...

It will? Now you tell me! Of course here it ended at 4:00 PM, so I guess you're right.

ScottDS said...

This show is definitely on the to-watch list. My dad is a middle school science teacher and I think he purchased the season 1 boxset to show in class (knowing his students, they'll probably fall asleep or misbehave and get kicked out).

"Sex in space? Not as simple as it sounds." I wonder if the NASA study I'm trying to get into will cover this? :-)

"Do we live in one universe or are we part of a multiverse?" I've always found this idea fascinating. Star Trek has touched on this many times, most notably in the Mirror Universe episodes and the TNG episode "Parallels."

Data has a line that really hits home: "For any event there is an infinite number of possible outcomes. Our choices determine which outcome will follow. According to a theory, everything that can happen does happen in some other quantum reality."

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk -- 2012. Apophis v. Earth. Don't be there.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, every one of those issues is addressed in the show with the latest scientific thinking.

The show on time travel was fascinating. They think now that you can go back (given the right set up) up to a point (the point where you first created and turned on the time machine (see movie Primer), but that you couldn't come back to this world. The rest of us would move on without you, and you would instead end up in a new parallel world.

They talk about the infinite number of possibilities as well. I have a problem with that theory, but then my brain is not up to the task of these guys, so I must trust them.

The sex in space thing was really interesting. Not only are there questions about whether or not we could actually develop and be born in space (and then probably could not come to a gravity environment), but there are interesting problems with just doing the act -- every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so how do you keep from knocking each other all over the room? NASA is testing this. . .

If you haven't seen the show, check it out, it's really cool.

CrisD said...

My scientist husband makes me watch this show even though I tell him that God takes care of all this!!!! :^) Thank Goodness for the marriage of science and art!!!

PS Great Show!!

AndrewPrice said...

CrisD, LOL! It doesn't matter who makes it, the fact is that it's there and it's there for us to discover. . . no reason for conflict. :-)

Mike Kriskey said...

I don't get cable channels, Andrew, so I appreciate your telling us about these shows. Just queued 'em.

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, You're welcome. I hope you enjoy them. If you're at all into astronomy and physics and just kind of thinking about the universe, this is a great show.

You don't have to watch them in order either, so if you see something you like in a later season, you can watch that without feeling like you missed something by skipping earlier episodes.

Writer X said...

Cool. Will definitely add this to my viewing list, especially since there's nothing to watch on the other channels except vampires and spoiled teenagers. Time travel? I am so there!

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, The one on time travel is really interesting, so is the multiverse episode. The guy who is leading the pack on time travel research has a fascinating story of why he started researching it.

And when they explain how these things might be possible, it's really eye opening to see that this is not all just fantasy.

In fact, the whole show is really interesting just to see how far our understanding of the universe has come in the last 20 years -- 20 years ago, science was sure there weren't even other planets out there. People claimed there were other planets were ridiculed by the scientific community. Now we're talking about other dimensions and universes and.... it's all very exciting.

Writer X said...

I look forward to watching it. Thanks, Andrew!

Mike Kriskey said...

"If you're at all into astronomy and physics and just kind of thinking about the universe, this is a great show."

You've hurt me deeply, Andrew. It's apparent that you haven't read either of my highly-acclaimed weird sh-- posts.

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, I meant "you" as in "one", not "you" as in "Mike" -- I've read your musing about the universe. :-)

Mike Kriskey said...

Very well, Andrew.

I am appeased.

MegaTroll said...

Cool show. I wish they'd showed things like this when I went to school. I swear I learned more from watching this show than I did all of high school science.

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