Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on January 19th, 2011
“In the beginning there was darkness. And then bang, giving birth to an endless expanding existence of time, space, and matter. Now, see further than we’ve ever imagined. Beyond the limits of our existence. In a place we call The Universe.”
Up until now these History releases have been season sets of the documentary series. This release is the first which appears to be a planned series of specific subject titles. It does create a bit of confusion when you see a series called The Universe and all of the episodes on the set deal with our own back yard, a place we call the Sol System, or Solar System, for those of you unfamiliar with the name of the star that happens to brighten your afternoons, particularly for us here in Florida on an August day. But while it’s true that the series itself has explored most of the known, and quite a few of the unknown, corners of creation itself, this set once again focuses on those objects that orbit the star Sol. The Sun is at the center of our system, and the same can be said for this season of The Universe. Our local star is featured on several of the episodes on this collection. If there’s a theme here, Sol would be the theme.
There is a new feature added to the show this season. Many episodes feature an Ask The Universe segment where the experts answer questions submitted by viewers through e-mails.
The episodes appear on 2 discs.
7 Wonders Of The Solar System:
I’m not sure how official these things are. Likely the list was made up for the show. This episode explores the 7 greatest wonders in our own Solar System.
7: Enceledus: This small Saturn moon contains geysers like those found here on Earth. They spout water and ice from under the surface. Of course, it all freezes instantly. It does indicate there is a body of liquid water somewhere under the surface of the moon. It also indicates that the moon is geologically active, a rarity among the moons in our system.
6: The Rings Of Saturn: When I was young it was thought there was only one ring. Probes have now identified several bands that are named by letters in the alphabet in the order of their discovery. The rings have been one of the most marveled at planetary features in our system for centuries.
5: The Great Red Spot Of Jupiter: We know the spot has been there since at least the 17th Century. It’s really a storm that has been raging for as long as we’ve been observing the planet. Winds in the storm reach 400 mph.
4: The Asteroid Belt: This collection of space rocks is leftover debris from the forming of our system. Though some are the size of a small city, the entire mass of all of these asteroids wouldn’t even form an object the size of our moon. The belt even includes a dwarf planet named Ceres. It’s the largest known asteroid and is spherical like a planet or moon. Some of the asteroids even have moons of their own.
3: Olympus Mons: It’s the largest known volcano in our system and it’s found on Mars. The base is 370 miles, and the volcano stands 13 miles high. So far, it is believed to be long inactive.
2: Surface Of The Sun: I really have to question this one. Every solar system has one, and ours is quite unremarkable as stars go. There is some incredible footage of flares and other solar surface features.
1: Earth: Of course, we have to include our own planet here. As far as we know it is the only place in our solar system that contains the perfect balances of temperature, atmosphere and water to sustain life. There are likely others out in the universe beyond, but life, at least to this degree, doesn’t exist anywhere else in this solar system.
Mars: The New Evidence:
In another review I talked about an older episode on Mars. The series has decided to do a new episode that includes the evidence gathered by the more recent probes. The discovery of water on Mars was huge and deserved special attention. There are also updates on other findings and more information on the meteorite of Martian rock that appears to contain fossils. The episode gives us a look at these recent probes and their data. There is also some welcome information on probes that are scheduled for launch over the next four years. There are new signs of potential life, at least in the Martian past. Stay tuned to this story, because it will only get more interesting. Of course, the real answers will not come until we send humans there to roam the surface independent of pre-programmed agendas.
Each season of The Universe features those episodes which talk about doom and gloom. I guess they believe the only way to keep their audience is to have some overdramatic entries that predict potential global catastrophes. This is one of those episodes. We’ve actually heard about these storms before on the series. There are computer-generated demonstrations of how bad things might get. Some experts predict that a solar magnetic storm could wipe out a third of the world’s population and return us to the days of no electricity for up to a decade. This is a scenario that would make Roland Emerich proud.
Now here’s an interesting episode. Any science fiction fan dreams of the ability to travel through time. It’s one of the most reliable staples of the genre. This episode looks at the theories that predict that time travel is indeed possible, at least on a theoretical basis. The episode examines the paradox difficulties and looks at the theory that nature will always find a way to keep the integrity of time intact. Of course, there’s plenty of time spent on faster-than-light travel and the implications of such a flight. There’s even a computer-generated proposal of a bullet train to the stars. Various other theories get some time, including multiverses and wormholes. Next stop: Alpha Centauri.
Secrets Of The Space Probes:
Probes have been a fundamental method of exploring space since we first started. The episode offers an historical perspective of the early probes like Ranger and Mariner. Some probes do their work from Earth orbit like the telescopes that explore the deepest origins of the universe. Cassini found the first traces of water outside of the Earth. Of course, there is plenty of time devoted to the Mars probes over the years. The best part of the episode is the great collection of images from these probes that you get a chance to see in high definition.
Here’s another apocalyptic episode. Again, we’ve seen the stuff before even on this series. This time we look at the devastating results of an asteroid strike on the Earth. Of course, there’s plenty of powerful computer-generated demonstrations of all of this doom and gloom. Ever hear of Apophis? No, not the bad guy from Stargate. This is an asteroid that has a 1 in 250,000 chance of hitting the planet in 2036. The episode demonstrates over and over and over again that this would be rather bad for us. We shouldn’t complain, though. When the asteroid was first discovered, the chances of a direct hit were only 1 in 36. Place your bets, anyone?
Apparently the concept of a total eclipse is unique on planet Earth. There is nowhere else in the solar system where it is possible to see one. It has to do with the fact that size and distance have matched so precisely that our sun and moon appear identical in size from the surface of the Earth. The sun is 40 times larger than the moon and is exactly 40 times closer to the Earth. On other planets, only partial eclipses are possible because none of the moons can completely cover the sun. Not only does ours cover the sun, but it does so exactly, which reveals the corona just perfectly during the period of totality. Now probes have been sent into space with discs mounted over cameras to reproduce a total eclipse on demand. The procedure allows the probe to photograph and study the sun’s corona.
Dark Future Of The Sun:
Once again the show delivers another doomsday scenario. Of course, this one won’t happen for a couple of billion years at the soonest. The show has done other episodes on the final days of the sun. I’m not sure there is anything new added here. Needless to say, any humans on the planet at that time are in pretty big trouble.
Each episode is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The 1080p image is brought to you through anAVC/MPEG-4 codec. The bit rate can climb as high as 40 mbps. It’s this brilliant picture quality that will drive you to want to own this collection. You would expect the CG stuff to be rather clean and high in detail. Even the vintage footage looks about as clean as I’ve ever seen it. Colors are bright and dazzling. Black levels are solid and provide incredible levels of shadow definition.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is strictly narration.
It was incredibly infuriating and more than a little frustrating to see the clips of Obama talking to the employees at NASA last year. He talks about what we can do in reference to sending men to Mars, and then he gutted the entire program. All of the Bush initiatives to revisit the Moon and then Mars have been scrapped. There will be no replacement vehicle for the shuttle. After 2011 Americans will be relying on Russian craft to get us to and from the International Space Station that was built with more of our money than any other country.
When Apollo 11 sent the first humans to the surface of the moon in July of 1969, I had recently turned 8 years old. You can imagine what a thrill it was for this young boy that we were actually walking on the moon. I began to dream about how far I would get to witness humans travel. At 8 years old, reaching 50 seemed ancient and so I fantasized where we would be when I was 50 years old. In June I will turn 50, and we haven’t gone anywhere else in over 40 years. The director of NASA recently announced that his prime mission was now to find ways to make Muslims all over the world feel good about their contributions to science. A noble cause, certainly. It’s just not what I envisioned NASA to be doing 40 years ago. I will now not likely live to see men walk on another planet, let alone reach the interesting moons beyond Mars. This season of The Universe makes me question whether or not “the Universe ultimately makes sense”.