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Not as good as 'Wonders of the Solar System', but still worth getting
on August 27, 2011
This review is based on the series as aired in the UK, March 2011. This is a follow-up to `Wonders of the Solar System'; it has the same format with Brian Cox travelling the world. As usual some science background will help you to appreciate this series, my degree is in physics. I found it a bit slow, it is also dumbed down in places, and it is only four episodes, hence only 4 stars. The account of the nucleosynthesis of the heavy elements in stars and supernovae was fascinating, we are all made of star dust (Ep 2).
Episodes (adapted from BBC iPlayer and youtube)
Professor Brian Cox explores the laws of the universe. In this episode, Brian seeks to understand the nature of time and its role in creating both the universe and ourselves.
It looks at the furthest star that we know, which blew up 13.0bn years ago. It looks at the arrow of time which is always moving forward, which he relates to the second law of thermodynamics, entropy always increases, i.e. the tendency to go from order to disorder. He looks at the stelliferous era. The red dwarfs will be the longest lived stars in the universe, because they burn their fuel so slowly. The death of stars will be in a 100 trillion years time, leading to the heat death of the universe when all matter will disappear leaving only photons. However the good news is that the arrow of time gives a point in time (i.e. now) when intelligent life is possible in the universe. He ends with the single pixel picture of earth taken by Voyager.
What are we and where do we come from? Professor Brian Cox finds out. The account of the nucleosynthesis of the heavy elements in stars and supernovae was fascinating. As my degree is in physics, I have already bought a text book on cosmology and am thinking of buying one on nucleosynthesis, so be careful this stuff can become addictive.
This episode deals with the lives of stars, or stellar evolution. Especially element formation in stars through nucleosynthesis and heavy elements in supernova. All the 92 elements we find on earth are made from stars, so we are actually stardust. Our sun is only converting hydrogen into helium through nuclear fusion which creates the energy that we get from the sun. The creation of elements heavier than helium only occur at the end of a stars life, when it has run out of hydrogen and a star becomes a red giant. Then helium is fused to produce carbon and oxygen. For massive stars the process continues and carbon fuses to become magnesium, sodium, neon and aluminium, this continues until only iron is formed. There are over 60 elements heavier than iron in the universe and they can only be created by stars nine times the mass of the sun. Once iron fusion has been reached, no further fusion is possible and the star collapses under its own gravity and rebounds forming a supernova in which the heavy elements are formed. So we are all made out of stardust from the death of a star billions of years ago. He ends up discussing the Orion nebula in which new stars are being formed from the remains of dead ones, a similar nebula from which our sun and solar system emerged. If we look at the spectrum of a nebula we find complex hydrocarbon chemicals which are the building blocks of life. And we find evidence of this in meteorites, including amino acids. If one looks at this episode, it shows how the death of a star produces new life, including our own.
Ep. 3. Falling
This is about gravity, and so far is the best in the series.
Cox experiences weightlessness in an aircraft, falling at the speed of gravity? The moon always faces the earth due to tidal interaction, and there is a 7 m tidal bulge in the rock on the moon. Gravity locks many solar systems into our Milky Way. The Andromeda galaxy and the Milky Way are hurtling towards each other at 0.5 million km/hr and will collide in 3 billion years and Cox shows us a computer simulation. We are a part of the Virgo cluster of 2,000 galaxies. Cox then takes a ride in a centrifuge, at just over 1g he is on Neptune, at 2.5g he is on Jupiter, at 4g and 5g he is on an exo-planet (our Sun has 28g). When a massive star runs out of fuel it implodes under the weight of its own gravity and then rebounds to form a supernova, leaving a tiny neutron star at the centre, rotating at 30/s (a consequence of the conservation of angular momentum). He then goes on to consider the perihelion precession of Mercury which can only be explained by Einstein's general theory of relativity (1915), Newtonian gravity just did not do it (c 1680's).
Ep. 4. Messengers.
Professor Brian Cox explores the laws of the universe. He shows how light holds the key to our understanding of the whole universe, including our own deepest origins.
Light is a messenger that takes us into the past, which has travelled over 13 billion years to reach us, for example, the 2004 Hubble ultra deep field pictures of distant galaxies. He also takes a look at the cosmological microwave background radiation (CMB), discovered in 1965, which showed that the CMB had a temperature of 2.7 degrees Kelvin. It also convinced most of the scientific commununity that the hot Big Bang model of cosmology was correct.