Viewing Alert: Hunting The Edge of Space

The PBS series “Nova” has produced a two-part special in honor of two remarkable anniversaries: the 20th anniversary of the launch of the most famous telescope in history, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the 400th anniversary of the publication of Galileo’s “Starry Messenger,” a book that started a revolution in our understanding of our place in the cosmos. Part 1 aired April 6, 2010 and if you’re like me and you missed it, you’ll be happy to know it is now available to watch online. Part 2 will air on April 13, 2010 and likely will be available online a few days later. You can watch a preview to whet your whistle above.

I’ve watched Part 1, and I highly recommend it. PBS also has companion material online, and you can also watch archived shows related to space and astronomy.

“Hunting the Edge of Space” tells the story of one profound discovery after another, as telescopes improved and peered deeper and deeper into space. What began as a simple curiosity — two spectacle lenses held a foot apart — has ultimately reshaped human thought across science, philosophy and religion. As Dr. Michael Turner, University of Chicago, states in the film, “The telescope may be the most interesting scientific instrument that we’ve ever made.”

Here’s a preview of part 2, which begins at the dawn of the 20th century, when astronomers still thought the Milky Way was the entire universe. That was before George Ellery Hale, who built the greatest telescopes on Earth, and Edwin Hubble, who used Hale’s 100-inch telescope on Mt.
Wilson, California, to prove that the universe is populated by untold numbers of galaxies that lie far beyond the confines of our Milky Way. His research is again echoed today, as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey captures the light from hundreds of galaxies at once, creating a catalogue of galaxies that is an indispensable tool for astronomical research around the globe. Hubble’s next discovery with the Mt. Wilson telescope was as profound a paradigm shift as Galileo, 300 years earlier. When he found that the galaxies are all racing away from each other — that space itself is expanding, he set the stage for the
discovery of the Big Bang.

9 Replies to “Viewing Alert: Hunting The Edge of Space”

  1. Definitely a ‘must see’ show for anyone interested in astronomy… can’t wait to see the rest!

    But remember one thing, the ‘Big Bang’ is a THEORY based on an accumulation of assumptions… and at one time, the world was flat, based upon other accumulated assumptions! Think – ‘House of cards’.

  2. I think Nova did a superb job on this show. Very good STEM outreach to show the general public what an interesting time we live in for Astronomy.
    I expect to be dazzled on a semi daily basis by the data collected by the latest generation of earth and space based instruments currently deployed.

  3. Have just found out what PBS stands for Public Broadcasting Service.!

    Just for those living on the other side of the Pond.

    BBC Stands for British Broadcasting Corporation.

  4. I saw the first of these this week. 400 years of the telescope! It will be interesting if the telescope can be extended to neutrinos and gravitational radiation before long.


  5. Heresy anyone?

    No, just an uninformed idea how science works. (For example, the house of cards analogy falls down exactly because basic science never has.) But I suspect you know that.

  6. Granted, science has come a long way, but there’s an infinite ways to go! Oui? Just thought I’d stir the pot….

  7. Stir the pot, yes, I surmised that. But “ways to go” doesn’t bear on what has been walked (except that it implies that it is indeed a done deal).

    On that matter: yes and no.

    Yes, one can in principle have an infinite number of algorithms, which maps to physics, Gödel tells us so. (By choosing consistency one has incompleteness in sufficiently complex axiomatic systems – so both can and has to add axioms ad infinitum.)

    No, the observable universe is finite since entropy death will eventually close of future physics, and the putative multiverse influence on it as well.

    Finally, yes, in practice it is of course large enough to occupy a short lived species.

  8. Well, the extra materials won’t be available online for those outside the US, because television distribution models are still yet to emerge from the primordial stew. And I strongly suspect that the television producers for free to air TV in Australia will be too busy finding every last bong in the country to smoke to bother with putting an actual documentary on TV, so I’m going to go and download it, ad-free and awesome, right now.

    Put that in your pipe and smoke it TV execs!

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