How the Universe Works Series 2
The universe is made up of wondrous statistics that detail the incredible range between large and small, near and far, and light and dark – but what any of these inexact terms really describe is still open to debate. We are surrounded by laws that govern everything – determining the colour of the stars, the gravity controlling our solar system and the beginning and end of the universe itself.
Part 1: Volcanoes – The Furnaces of Life
Today’s technology lets us study the cosmos as never before. The universe is full of billions of stars, planets and moons. In all this vastness, could we really be alone? What makes Earth so different? Part of the answer is this: volcanoes. If there weren’t volcanoes here we would not be here either. On Earth, volcanoes are part of the planet-wide energy machine that makes life possible. Now, space probes and powerful telescopes are discovering volcanoes on worlds we once thought dead. From our nearest planetary neighbor to tiny moons billions of miles away, today we are discovering volcanoes on alien worlds. Are these worlds where, tomorrow, we might find life?
Part 2: Megastorms – The Winds of Creation
Tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms, lightning and floods – for us these destructive forces are symptoms of Earth’s creative energy. The weather on Earth is one of the drivers for life and even the most violent and destructive storms create new opportunities for life to flourish. In our quest to discover if we are alone in the universe, we have recently hit upon a surprising new approach — we shouldn’t just look for worlds, we should look for weather. What is true of Earth could also be true of other planets throughout the whole universe. Across the immense distances of space, find chaotic weather — find that megastorm — and maybe we will find alien life.
Part 3: Planets from Hell
We once thought that our solar system was unique: The only place you could find planets in the entire Universe. Now we know better. For the last twenty years we have been discovering planets at an amazing rate, but they are nothing like we expected. These are truly wild worlds, a collection of monsters. From deep-frozen, toxic snowballs, to scorched and boiling nightmares: Every one is worlds apart from the habitable paradise we know and love here on Earth. Having so far only discovered this zoo of planetary oddballs we must face the question: Is every planet out there a planet from hell?
Part 4: Megaflares – Cosmic Firestorms
The Universe is a magnetic minefield, with cosmic bombs detonating everywhere. Our own Sun regularly spits out lethal and spectacular flares, capable of battering our power and communications systems here on Earth, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Far out in space, spinning star systems crackle and explode, magnetic monsters rip worlds apart, star-quakes shoot out beams of devastating energy, and galactic flamethrowers fire gamma-rays half way across the Universe. Scientists are only now beginning to comprehend the true variety of the Universe’s arsenal. As we uncover the most dangerous megaflares in the cosmos, the question is, will we find Earth in the firing line?
Part 5: Extreme Orbits – Clockwork and Creation
Orbits are the dynamics that drive the universe. From the smallest asteroid to the largest super-cluster, everything in the universe is in orbit. We owe our very existence to the stability of earth’s orbit — it gave us life and keeps us safe. But we are the freaks. Everywhere else we look we find orbits are chaotic, unstable, and violent. Beyond our solar system we find planets that are blow-torched, stars that eat each other, and black holes that destroy everything in their path. Yet on the very largest scale, orbits are also a creative force. clashing galaxies give birth to new stars and new worlds. on the galactic scale orbits even construct the fabric of the universe itself.
Part 6: Comets – Frozen Wanderers
We think of comets as beautiful glowing balls of light streaking across our skies with their long sweeping tails, yet comets are so much more than just a cosmic firework display. Comets have a uniquely important place in modern science. As time machines from the early universe, they could hold the key to unlock the secrets of the cosmos. Comets could even be the origin of life itself. We follow the incredible odyssey of a comet as it sails through the solar system, watching it’s every move as it evolves from a dormant chunk of ice and rock into a tumbling, violently active nucleus engulfed in a gaseous haze. What we learn is a revelation; comets are even more mysterious and fascinating than we had ever imagined.
Part 7: Asteroids – Worlds that Never Were
Asteroids have a bad reputation as deadly rocks from space. They wiped out the dinosaurs and will be back for us. But that’s only half the story. Ancient asteroids built the Earth. And they may have brought life to its barren surface. Asteroids will shape our future as much as our past. They are the perfect location for deep space colonies and could be the stepping stones that eventually send humans out into the cosmos. From icy worlds with more fresh water than Earth to flying mountains of pure metal, a hundred miles wide, scientists are striving to unlock their secrets. Could these enigmatic space rocks hold the key to how life in the Universe arises and is extinguished?
Part 8: Birth of the Earth
The Earth is an amazing place. It provides everything needed to sustain billions of creatures, plants and human civilization. We owe our very existence today to the planet’s turbulent past. Our world was formed by a series of cataclysms, from the most powerful blast in the Universe to a planetary collision that could have destroyed it. Yet without these events, the Earth would not exist. Nor we. Could the same extraordinary chain of events have created other earth-like planets elsewhere in the Universe? Inhabited by creatures like us? The odds seem slim. But the incredible story of the birth of our world reveals that earths must be abundant. The question is no longer “are we alone” but “how far away are our neighbors?”