I’ve always enjoyed looking at the stars and wondering what’s out there. (My favorite observations on the subject, courtesy of Douglas Adams: “Space… is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is…” and “In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.”) With billions and billions of stars, as Carl Sagan used to say, there must be all sorts of wonders to explore. It’s an idea I’ve tried to impart to my kids.
Maybe their generation will achieve something amazing, such as making verifiable contact with a species from another planet, which happens to be the topic of the first episode of “Cosmos: A Beginner’s Guide.” Subsequent episodes cover the Large Hadron Collider, which is trying to unlock the mysteries of the Big Bang; attempts to see further into the universe, which will let us see deeper in time; early planning for manned missions to the moon and Mars; the violence found across the universe, including suns that become supernovas in blinding flashes of light; and the search for planets beyond our solar system, particularly ones that mimic Earth’s conditions.
Don’t take the phrase “A Beginner’s Guide” to mean that this series is aimed solely at kids; while it might be simplistic to those with doctoral degrees, such as host Adam Hart-Davis, it’s perfect for us laymen who don’t understand the minutiae of advanced physics. Hart-Davis does a good job of picking up where people like Sagan left off; he’s an affable guy who comes across as if he’s your uncle chatting with you during a holiday gathering.
While this series originally aired in 2007, an included booklet updates what’s happened since then, including the controversy that almost kept the Large Hadron Collider from opening for business in 2008 (“you’re reading this with the universe still intact,” the text quips) and the September 2010 discovery of Gliese 581g, a planet 20 light years away that could be comparable to Earth. The booklet also contains more information about the search for extraterrestrial life and a pictorial of stars’ life cycles.
The only bonus feature on the DVDs is a photo gallery of the Apollo astronauts, but that’s okay: this is a nice introduction to astronomy for anyone who wants a broad overview of the subject. Hopefully we’ll see updated versions of “Cosmos” as new discoveries are made.