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Series: Cosmos 2014

 

Hiding in the Light

   2014    Science
This episode explores the wave theory of light as studied by mankind, noting that light has played an important role in scientific progress, with such early experiments from over 2000 years ago involving the camera obscura by the Chinese philosopher Mozi. Tyson describes the work of the 11th century Arabic scientist Ibn al-Haytham, considered to be one of the first to postulate on the nature of light and optics leading to the concept of the telescope, as well as one of the first researchers to use the scientific method. Tyson proceeds to discuss the nature of light as discovered by mankind. Work by Isaac Newton using diffraction through prisms demonstrated that light was composed of the visible spectrum, while findings of William Herschel in the 19th century showed that light also consisted of infrared rays. Joseph von Fraunhofer would later come to discover that by magnifying the spectrum of visible light, gaps in the spectrum would be observed. These Fraunhofer lines would later be determined to be caused by the absorption of light by electrons in moving between atomic orbitals when it passed through atoms, with each atom having a characteristic signature due to the quantum nature of these orbitals. This since has led to the core of astronomical spectroscopy, allowing astronomers to make observations about the composition of stars, planets, and other stellar features through the spectral lines, as well as observing the motion and expansion of the universe, and the existence of dark matter.

The World Set Free

   2014    Nature
This episode explores the nature of the greenhouse effect (discovered by Joseph Fourier and Svante Arrhenius), and the evidence demonstrating the existence of global warming from humanity's influence. Tyson begins by describing the long-term history of the planet Venus; based on readings from the Venera series of probes to the planet, the planet had once had an ocean and an atmosphere, but due to the release of carbon dioxide from volcanic eruptions, the runaway greenhouse effect on Venus caused the surface temperatures to increase and boiled away the oceans. Tyson then notes the delicate nature of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can influence Earth's climate due to the greenhouse effect, and that levels of carbon dioxide have been increasing since the start of the 20th century. Evidence has shown this to be from mankind's consumption of oil, coal, and gas instead of from volcanic eruptions due to the isotopic signature of the carbon dioxide. The increase in carbon dioxide has led to an increase in temperatures, in turn leading to positive feedback loops of the melting polar ice caps and dethawing of the permafrost to increase carbon dioxide levels. Tyson then notes that humans have discovered means of harvesting solar power, such as Augustin Mouchot's solar-driven motor in the 19th century, and Frank Shuman's solar-based steam generator in the 1910's. Tyson points out that in both cases, the economics and ease of using cheap coal and oil caused these inventions to be overlooked at the time. Today, solar and wind-power systems would be able to collect enough solar energy from the sun easily. Tyson then compares the motivation for switching to these cleaner forms of energy to the efforts of the Space race and emphasizes that it is not too late for humanity to correct its course.

When Knowledge Conquered Fear

   2014    Science
The episode begins with Tyson describing how pattern recognition manifested in early civilization as using astronomy and astrology to predict the passing of the seasons, including how the passage of a comet was often taken as an omen. Tyson continues to explain that the origin of comets only became known in the 20th century due to the work of Jan Oort and his hypothesis of the Oort cloud. Tyson then continues to relate the collaboration between Edmond Halley and Isaac Newton in the last part of the 17th century in Cambridge. The collaboration would result in the publication of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, the first major work to describe the laws of physics in mathematical terms, despite objections and claims of plagiarism from Robert Hooke and financial difficulties of the Royal Society of London. Tyson explains how this work challenged the prevailing notion that God had planned out the heavens, but would end up influencing many factors of modern life, including space flight. Tyson further describes Halley's contributions including determining Earth's distance to the sun, the motion of stars and predicting the orbit of then-unnamed Halley's Comet using Newton's laws. Tyson contrasts these scientific approaches to understanding the galaxy compared to what earlier civilizations had done, and considers this advancement as mankind's first steps into exploring the universe. The episode ends with an animation of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies' merging based on the principles of Newton's laws.

Some of the Things That Molecules Do

   2014    Science    HD
The story begins with Tyson sitting at a campfire, and telling how the wolf changed through artificial selection, and selective breeding into the dog breeds around today. He then enters the Ship of Imagination, and explains natural selection with the process that helped to create the polar bears. Along the way he talks about DNA, genes and mutation. Next he goes to a forest and describes the Tree of life, this leads him to discussing the evolution of the eye. He then discusses extinction, by going to a monument called the Halls of Extinction, dedicated to the broken branches of the tree of life. Explaining the five great Extinction events. He then tells how some life has survived, and then focuses on the tardigrade. From there he talks about what other kinds of life might have been created on other worlds. He then goes to Saturn's moon Titan. From there he speculates about life and how it first began. He then returns to Earth and tells about abiogenesis and how life changed and evolved. The show ends with an animated sequence from the original series of life's evolution from one cell to humans.

The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth

   2014    Science
This episode explores the palaeogeography of Earth over millions of years, and its impact on the development of life on the planet. Tyson starts by explaining that the lignin-rich trees evolved in the Carboniferous era about 300 million ago, then explains on the nature of plate tectonics that would shape the landmasses of the world and the asteroid impact that initiated the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, leaving small mammals as the dominate species on earth. Earth's landmasses are expected to change in the future and postulates what may be the next great extinction event.
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