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Review: Wonders of the Solar System on BBC2

March 29th, 2010

Seeing the ice geysers of Enceladus are one of those moments where you look around and realize this program has you smiling and wanting more.

For shame… for shame HBO and THC and Discovery.  BBC2 is currently airing a brilliant series of hour-long documentaries starring Brian Cox called Wonders of the Solar System.  Although produced jointly by the BBC and Discovery Communications’ Science Channel, it is currently airing only in Britain… presumably to air later on Science.

Fortunately, there’s this little thing called the interwebs which makes surreptitious viewing of cross continental programming possible.  I’m not going to tell you where you can obtain parts one, two and three… but hyperlinking isn’t necessarily telling, now is it?

I complain, because this really is, at times, magical science.  Brian Cox — who’s known as the Rock Star Physicist both for his past history as a rocker and his playful magnetism and genuine wonder when presented with that which is cool — sums it up best when describing how amazing it is that he’d been able to calculate the wattage output of the Sun using household items:

[The sun is radiating out] 400 million million million million watts. That is a million times the power consumption of the United States every year radiated in one second. And we worked that out by using some water, thermometer, tin and umbrella. And that’s why I love physics.

Wonders of the Solar System, “Empire of the Sun.”  It’s really just brilliant and inspiring stuff and filmed and scored with a real passion for the joys of scientific discovery.

Click through to read more.

The five episode series, of which I’ve viewed the first three, is a short concise overview of five core elements of solar system science:

  1. “Empire of the Sun” — examining the central feature and object of the solar system;
  2. “Order out of Chaos” — examining the importance of conservation of angular momentum and how it shaped everything from the climatological storm to the rings of Saturn and the solar system itself;
  3. “The Thin Blue Line” — examining in the importance and impact of gravity, magnetospheres and the atmosphere, itself;
  4. “Dead or Alive” — examining the planetary size and geological activity; and
  5. “Aliens” — examining extremophile life and how examining the most alien life on our own planet can help search for alien life afar.

Our intrepid host sometimes seems to need to be reminded that he's there to guide us through the mystery of discovery... rather than experience it himself -- such as when he bore witness to India's 2009 total eclipse.

While the subject matter may seem somewhat particular, the format of the show is organic and permits the examination of the occasional tangent; for example, there is the enthusiastic examination of tidal energy’s impact on the Saturn moon Enceladus.  Cox’s discussion of Enceladus and the majestic geysers which exist where scientists never imagined them is really magical.  The geysers are believed to be possible because tidal forces imposed by Saturn on its moon create sufficient friction to superheat Enceladus’ ice sheets sufficiently to create massive, icy geysers.

Perhaps I love Wonders of the Solar System particularly because I am a kindred spirit to Cox, amazed and fascinated by that which cannot be explained and engrossed by the theories we believe explain the functioning of the previously inexplicable.  But its also party just loving something that is cool or simply so staggering it is amazing.  Examples from “Empire of the Sun” include the review of the elliptical orbits of Venus and Saturn.  Two facts that made me smile were that Venutian days are longer than Venutian years (because Venus’ orbit is completed more quickly than the planetary rotation — which is not quite tidally locked) and that Neptune was discovered less than one Neptune year ago (each Neptune year is 164.79 Earth years… and it was discovered 163.5 years ago).

Each episode so far has managed to both make me smile and teach me something new.  Cox is a brilliant host.  Maybe not as cool as Neil deGrasse Tyson… but pretty darn good.  I know I’ll have my download queue clear for when I get the links to episodes 4 and 5.

Trailer for WOTSS

The Wonders by the Numbers

Cox’s Favourite Wonder: Titan

Understanding Saturn’s Rings – From “Order Out of Chaos”

Solar Exclipse – From “Empire of the Sun”

  1. admin
    April 7th, 2010 at 13:23 | #1

    Download link for Episode 4 –> http://www.megaupload.com/?d=SXM1C26A

    Download link for Episode 5 –> http://www.megaupload.com/?d=PQEUQ0UB

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