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.