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Bringing it all back home
on October 15, 2011
In the aptly named Wonders of the Universe, Brian Cox presents the whole cosmological saga from the Big Bang to the unimaginably distant future when the final sparks will die out, with a special focus on some of the crucial events that created the world as we know it. Each of the four hour-long episodes is organized around a fundamental concept of physics. The first is about time, and explains how the arrow of time is related to entropy through the Second Law of thermodynamics. The second explains the chemical elements and how most of them were created by crucial events in the life cycles of stars. The third is about gravity and its effect on the fabric of spacetime. The last is about light as the messenger from the distant past which allows us to see where we've come from.
Brian Cox presents it all as a voyage of discovery, showing us at every suprising step that the story of the universe is our own story, directly related to common earthly experience despite the mind-boggling vastness of the cosmos. Above all, he communicates the sense of wonder, both at the grandeur of this vision and at the marriage of imagination and experiment which enables us to become aware of it - for as he says, we are the universe's way of becoming conscious of itself. Cox doesn't have time here for much detail on how the important discoveries in physics were made, or on current controversies in physics, but his personal sense of wonder comes across vividly. At one point while using a picture from Carl Sagan's book Cosmos to explain a concept, he tells us how that book inspired him to become a physicist. Surely young people somewhere will be equally inspired by this series, not only by the clarity of its explanations but also by the sense of wonder it conveys, which is (or should be) universally human.
Like the earlier BBC/Discovery co-production Wonders of the Solar System, this one combines spectacular location footage with equally spectacular CGI sequences (some used several times), all in 1080i. The main difference from the previous series, aside from the lack of extras on the disc this time, is that the content goes much deeper into the essential nature of the physical universe, and Brian Cox's presentation shows (to me at least) a marked improvement in clarity and depth as well. Even if you are already acquainted with most of the main ideas, you'll find them given new life here. And if you want to catch a glimpse of the wonders of the universe in a mere four hours, i don't think you can do better than this.