COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY is the 2014 “reboot” to Carl Sagan’s 1980 monument, COSMOS. Producers include Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, and FAMILY GUY Seth McFarlane; narrated by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
3. When Knowledge Conquered Fear.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson looks to the skies and explains very compellingly how comets became superstitious harbingers. He explains their composition, their origins in the Oort Cloud, and the revolutionary work done by Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley on their orbits.
COSMOS 2014 has its shortcomings, but this is the best episode yet, fullest in terms of information, details, and compelling anecdotes.
For the first time in the series, Tyson brings tears to my eyes on his own coin, rather than by rehashing Carl Sagan’s audio. He describes how scientist Halley beats the “prophets” at their own game – prophesy – by predicting exactly when the same comet, sighted by others in antiquity, would return again; his meticulous calculations possible because “Newton’s Laws made it possible for Edmund Halley to see some 50 years into the future.”
Tyson is taking the ball and running with it. Going beyond Sagan. This is what I was waiting for! Tyson: “Halley’s Comet most recently visited our neighborhood back in 1986. And if you’re seeing this in 2061, then you’ll know it’s back. May you feel the wonder of all those who came before you, and none of the fear.”
— SHOEMAKER-LEVY 9: Why was this comet’s dramatic fate omitted in an episode about comets?! In 1994, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smashed into Jupiter in multiple pieces, which Carl Sagan featured in his published “sequel” to COSMOS, Pale Blue Dot.
- Comets, their origins in the Oort Cloud.
- Jan Oort, who theorized the Oort Cloud, first to estimate the distance between the Sun and the Milky Way galaxy’s center, used radio telescope to map Milky Way’s spiral structure.
- Robert Hooke, foremost experimentalist of his age, perfected the air pump, made telescopic amendments to maps of Moon and other astronomical bodies, proposed Hooke’s law of Elasticity; ruined a large part of his formidable reputation by claiming some of Newton’s ideas as his own, but offering no proof.
- Isaac Newton, and Edmund Halley’s instrumental role in publishing Newton’s masterwork Principia Mathematica, the sea-change that allowed astronomy to move forward, and continues to inform modern space-faring endeavors.
- Edmund Halley, who mapped the Earth’s magnetic field, created population statistics, perfected the diving bell, invented the weather map (his symbols for winds are still in use today), and much more.
4. A Sky Full Of Ghosts.
Magnificent! Neil deGrasse Tyson clearly and concisely explains the speed of light and the meaning of “light years,” and how viewing faroff stars and galaxies means seeing them as they were when their light left them. Some of the light we are seeing is from stars already dead. The sky is full of these ghosts.
COSMOS spreads its wings and takes Neil deGrasse Tyson on location to the Italian countryside. The effects department also get a workout as they take him and his spaceship into a black hole. This episode is very well written, concisely explaining how black holes are formed, discovered, their mass, and theorizing what might be beyond their event horizons (boundaries). And with a final anecdote so poignant, if you are a fan of Sagan’s, you will cry like an orphaned baby.
— LEO: They don’t identify the stars they are referring to in the constellation Leo. Kinda annoying. They might have been talking about Regulus (the brightest), but they were actually talking about Algieba (Gamma Leonis).
— OTHER BLACK HOLERS: COSMOS fails to give sugar to Stephen Hawking for theorizing Hawking Radiation – the particles that black holes emit near their event horizons (even though it was thought nothing could escape these death traps); and though they mention John Michell (who theorized “dark stars” with insurmountable gravity), they fail to sugar Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar for his Chandrasekhar Limit, a 1930 theory that was ignored at first because it would require the existence of black holes – and we know there’s no such thing! Chandrasekhar (whose name was, of course, immortalized in 2010: ODYSSEY TWO as Dr. Chandra) would have the last laugh, winning the Nobel Prize in 1983 for equations that established black holes as reality.
- The expanding universe.
- Gravity, featuring Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell.
- The speed of light, and Albert Einstein.
- The speed of Earth’s rotation (+1,600 kph), orbit (+100,000 kph), the Sun’s orbit of the Milky Way galaxy (500,000 mph), and the Milky Way’s movement through the universe (1.5 million mph) “There is no fixed place in the Cosmos. All of nature is in motion.” As Sagan put it: “We have always been space travelers.”
- Physics laws and the speed of light, the cosmic speed limit.
- John Michell, theorizing black holes, and their discovery.
- John Herschel’s contribution to photography.
- Theorizing the warping of spacetime inside a black hole: universes within black holes within universes within black holes…
- Stepping inside a memory, Tyson relates the night he met Carl Sagan, Dec 20, 1975, “the moment that brought me here to you”…”reminds me of those ghost stars in the sky; you know, those ones who still shine their light upon us, long after they’re gone…”
5. Hiding In The Light.
The beautiful thing about this reworking of COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY is that Neil deGrasse Tyson imbues it with a personal touch. Ann Druyan is credited as “writer,” so we are unsure whether Tyson has written his own anecdotes or whether Ann just knew the man well enough to write in his voice. Ultimately, this COSMOS has become for Neil – like Carl – A PERSONAL JOURNEY.
In this episode all about light – wavelengths, heat, speed, atomic energy, spectrum, spectral lines – Neil excitedly shows us the man who discovered the spectral lines in the light spectrum, which heralded the birth “of my own field of astronomy – astrophysics.”
Again, Neil reminds us of the great man who went before him, when he explains how Arabic astronomy gave us the concept of zero, “…comes in handy when you need to write [pause] billions and billions.” Another reference to Carl, another tear in my eye…
It is refreshing how this episode focuses not only on Europe – seemingly adrench in scientific momentum in the 17th and 18th centuries – but also on the golden age of Islamic science in the Middle East (hideously kinky, I know), and the achievements of Ibn al-Haytham.
A wonderfully adroit explanation of how a prism splits light: “When light travels through space, all the colors travel at the same speed, but when it hits glass at an angle the light slows down and changes direction. Inside the prism, each color moves at a different speed. These changes in speed pry the colors apart sending the waves off in slightly different directions.”
- Camera Obscura – the first “movies” in ancient China.
- Emperor Chin, and China’s origins.
- The first telescopes, to modern telescopes.
- Isaac Newton’s experiments with light, naming the spectrum (the splitting of light through a prism).
- William Herschel, discovering different colored light has different heat, inadvertently discovering infrared light.
- Joseph von Fraunhofer, early life in glassmaking sweatshop, pulled from obscurity by future king of Bavaria, Maximilian (!), discovering spectral lines in the light spectrum, which Newton missed.
- Spectral lines explained, how they tell us that the visual Cosmos is made of the same elements everywhere – stars, galaxies, planets, “…we ourselves and all of life, the same starstuff.” We have come full circle again.
- Atoms and their electrons; how the electron orbits move higher or lower depending on the energy they gain or lose.
- Sound waves analogized to light waves: “Just as the wavelength of sound determines the pitch that we hear, the wavelength of light determines the colors we see.”
6. Deeper, Deeper, Deeper Still.
“There are more atoms in your eye than there are stars in all the galaxies in the known universe.”
COSMOS goes atomic! Exploring the world of atoms… The beautiful thing about this series is the way Tyson unflinchingly crosses scientific disciplines with his easy-to-grasp narration, blending them into cogent explanations of how all the disciplines fit together. Here, not only does he reveal amazing facts about various atoms’ structures, but also their integral roles in suns, liquids, air, and even how they contribute to our olfactory memories (smell). Astronomy, meteorology and metaphysics intertwining in a scintillating braindance called COSMOS.
CGI is noticeably excellent now, as Tyson explores the universe within a dewdrop, and shows us “the ultimate green power,” photosynthesis, taking us into the chlorophyll molecule that converts sunlight into energy.
This is the most profound episode so far, as explanation of the carbon atom – the essential element for life on Earth – leads to Tyson explaining that each breath you take is circulated through the air, available for others to breathe; “atomic reincarnation” – the air you breathe right now having once passed through the lungs of everyone who ever lived before us. To make his point – Neil breathes on us.
— QUARKS. I remember a cartoon from a high school textbook, one scientist excitedly telling another, “At last, we know what atoms are made of – quarks!” And the other scientist replying, “So what are quarks made of?” COSMOS opts not to go deeper than the proton level when describing atoms, even though protons themselves are made up of smaller stranger particles called quarks.
— COSMIC MICROWAVE BACKGROUND RADIATION (CMB) At one point, Tyson shows us that the sky is aglow with radiation from the literal beginning of time, what he calls the Wall of Forever. It’s the CMB, but I don’t know why COSMOS is so averse to citing it. This is the second time they’ve neglected it. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not claiming professor Tyson is ignorant. There are many omissions in this series due to time and space (ha!); all I’m saying is: if you bring it up, clarify it – or at least name it.
- How does smell trigger a movie of memories in your head? Every odor is a cloud of molecules that stimulate receptor cells in your nose, sending signals to the olfactory nerve, which is close to the hippocampus that helps form memories.
- Democritus of Athens: philosophies about the spaces between atoms, allowing everything its movement.
- An atom is mostly empty space; most plentiful atom is hydrogen; atoms never actually touch. When they do – stars.
- Stars – nuclear fusion reactors, their gravity squeezing atoms together, fusing hydrogen into helium, producing nuclear energy as photons (light).
- Wolfgang Pauley theorized neutrinos.
- Stalking the wild neutrino: A neutrino can pass through 100 light years of steel before slowing down (!) and they arrive on Earth BEFORE the light from their supernova explosion hits us (even though nothing should be able to travel faster than light!).
- The Law of Conservation of Energy – Tyson does Richard Feynman’s trick of letting a cannonball swing away from his face, knowing its energy (if not pushed) won’t allow it to come back and smash his pretty mug.
7. The Clean Room.
Science as mystery thriller. How the man who discovered the age of the Earth also uncovered the willful poisoning of humanity by corporations “dealing in lead.” (If we thought that was just a gunslinger’s credo, the corps who laced everything with lead – from gasoline to food products – were a million times deadlier.)
The most left-wing episode of COSMOS so far, as Neil deGrasse Tyson tears down everything Republicans hold dear through their unbounded ignorance: the age of the Earth, and the interests of corporations.
Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) added up the “begats” in the bible and “mathematically” figured the Earth began October 22, 4004 B.C. On a Saturday. Around tea time. And Republicans breathed a sigh of relief. Now they could get on with disrespecting women and denying aid to the poor.
The real answer: 4.5 billion years. Tyson narrates the incredible journey to arrive at that answer, that involves discovering uranium’s rate of decay to thorium, protactinium, and eventually to the stable lead atom, “and lead it will remain for eternity.” Due to atoms decaying at a constant rate, and to meteorites containing them that hit the Earth in its infancy, we can date the Earth. But for geochemist Clair Patterson (1922-1995), he would have to invent an “ultra clean room” to study the trace amounts of lead in rocks. Then began his two-decade crusade against lead in gasoline, lead in the air, polluting the seas, food and people. Which he won!
Science as villain. Robert Kehoe, a scientist hired by General Motors to subvert the truth about lead’s deadliness. “…one of the first times the authority of science was used to cloak a threat to public health and the environment.” Senator Edmund Muskie (Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution) presided over testimony from Kehoe and Patterson. Kehoe: “If there was proof of harm, we would have found it.” Patterson: “Not if your purpose is to sell lead.” Humans working against their better interests. So it was then, so it is now, so shall it always be.
Tyson’s audio looping is sounding as fake as ever in this episode. While he stands on the lip of Arizona Crater, there is no background ambient audio, just his velvet vocal, making his presence seem green-screened. But he’s really there! Did no sound technician grab some ambient while he was on site? Ironically, it sounds like Neil’s voice was dubbed in a clean room.
— TITLE CARDS: to identify personalities (at least to see the correct spelling of names, for looking them up); also identifying places and things that are sometimes unclear – even though COSMOS is ironically going for super clarity with that weird overdubbed Neil voice.
— ARIZONA CRATER: Neil never does name it (aka Meteor Crater, aka Barringer Crater, aka Canyon Diablo Crater).
— ROBERT KEHOE: COSMOS treats this corporate shill with kid gloves, when they should be eviscerating him for his willful sowing of doubt over a poison being willfully sold to humans by corps.
- Saturn, the Roman god of lead; the Romans’ use of lead in everything from baths, to bowls and their aqueducts that carried the city’s water.
- Saturnalia festival: “When early church fathers looked for a way to attract more pagans, they decide to turn Saturnalia into Christmas, making it the last in a long line of winter solstice holidays to be repurposed.”
- The origins of “unleaded” gasoline.
- Tyson: “Today, scientists sound the alarm on other environmental dangers. Vested interests still hire their own scientists to confuse the issue. But in the end nature will not be fooled.” Reminiscent of Richard Feynman’s injunction to congress on the Challenger disaster (1986): “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”
8. Sisters Of The Sun.
Camped out near Devil’s Tower, Wyoming (the flat-topped mountain made infamous by CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND), Tyson relates tall tales of constellation origin myths, focusing on the Pleiades star cluster (the seven sisters).
Contributions by female astronomers. We wonder why astronomer Edward Pickering in 1901, breached Harvard protocol to hire all female assistants. The sobriety of COSMOS hinders Tyson from speculating on sexism, but an unruly cucumber can say anything non-pc: was Pickering partial to the female gender because they were in fact the best qualified to examine spectral signatures, or was he just fascinated with black holes? Three of his “harem” proved invaluable: deaf Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941), who catalogued half a million stars into seven classes based on their temperatures (O, B, A, F, G, K, M); Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868-1921), who created a method to determine distances to stars still used today; Cecilia Payne (1900-1979) deciphered the meaning behind the classifications – hottest (O type) to coolest (Y type, a class added later). (As portrayed in the COSMOS cartoon, she herself was definitely O type.)
Tyson visits the Australian outback, Uluru, where the Milky Way “arches across the heavens like the backbone of night.” (Thank you Carl!)
A profound treatise on the trail of energy: from hydrogen atoms to helium in the Sun, to visible light, stored in plants as chemical energy: “sunshine into moonshine.” Tyson sips wine: “I can feel my brain turning the chemical energy of the wine into the electrical energy of my thoughts and directing my vocals cords to produce the acoustic energy of my voice. Such transformations of energy are happening everywhere all the time…”
— SEXISM: “Oh Be A Fine Girl Kiss Me.” (O B A F G K M). Presuming COSMOS did not want to touch sexism, they left this tidbit out; ironically, it was Annie Cannon who devised this mnemonic for star classes! Now that’s ingrained sexism!
— EXPLOSIONS IN SPACE: The fact that every exploding star is the result of atomic reactions and gravitational collapses means their explosions should sound like anything but combustion explosions in an atmosphere. Yet every dying star represented in COSMOS – even if it’s light years away – explodes with the foley of a stuntcar in a Michael Bay movie. And we hear the explosion instantaneously – even if the star is light years away! Neil’s dialogue is factually impeccable and the visualization of the science is astounding, but the dramatic license COSMOS takes with sound in space and over light-year distances is irksome.
- The Sun’s eventual death after burning through its helium, devouring Mercury, Venus and Earth.
- Nova, supernova, and hypernova: Eta Carinae, 10 times more massive than the Sun, 5 million times more light, pushing the upper limit of star size, in the Carina Nebula, 50 light years across.
- Neutron stars, pulsars and black holes.
- Inspiring last shot of a galaxy-rise, from the surface of a planet outside the Milky Way.
9. The Lost Worlds Of Planet Earth.
Another COSMOS episode that will blow your mind. Such a simple concept, yet so profound: There were other Earths! No, not Bizarro worlds, or planets “hiding” on the other side of the Sun – this very planet, in its different epochs. “The past is another planet – so is the future.”
Tyson shows us how the Earth changed over the eons, and what caused those changes: the deaths of trees with no bacteria to digest their lignin, creating an abundance in oxygen, allowing giant insects during the Carboniferous period; the supercontinent Pangaea (and how it was deduced); how tectonic forces closed off and created oceans and how those currents affected global climate; he shows us forests once deserts, mountainous plains once undersea kingdoms, ice caps progressing and receding, our ancestors making new lives in trees, then having to descend from the trees due to climate change and continental drift, deltas, which led to cultivation of plants… a mind-blowing concatenation of events that led to evolution of humankind.
“We are a species of amnesiacs trying to find out who we were and what happened before we awakened.”
A poignant metaphor: “Many geologists think the countries of the Earth will be united again,” showing a graphic of Pangaea reforming in a future configuration. “What happens here is being written by us right now.”
The inevitable “message” is delivered by Tyson (“we can’t seem to stop burning those fossil fuels, dumping levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere not seen since the time of mass extinctions”) and I can see the Republican denial machine already turning up the knobs on its deGrasse Derangement Syndrome.
“The dinosaurs never saw that asteroid coming. What’s OUR excuse?”
- Permian Extinction, the first Global Warming: “Death has never come so close to reigning supreme on this world…”
- Guadalupe mountain chain, Texas and New Mexico, the world’s largest fossil reef, once a thriving inland sea.
- Cartographer Abraham Ortelius creates the first modern world atlas; first to note the jigsaw coastlines of the countries.
- German astronomer and geophysicist Alfred Wegener theorizes “continental drift” and the primal continent Pangaea (Greek “entire Mother Earth”).
- The Atlantic Mid-Ocean Ridge on the ocean floor that wraps around the globe.
- Marianas Trench, deepest part of the ocean, and its bioluminescent, undersea creatures: “More people have walked on the moon than have been down here.”
- Chemosynthesis – in the pitch black, with no photosynthesis, animals must subsist on the bacteria in hydrogen sulphide pouring out of vents in the earth.
10. The Electric Boy.
Between the lifetimes of Newton and Einstein, there lived another genius, equal in stature.
COSMOS, through its vaunted cartoons, explores British Michael Faraday’s life (1791-1867), his experiments and discoveries; his life as Humphrey Davy’s assistant (where he became more famous than his sponsor), when he utilized magnetism to create the first electric motor and generator, converting electrical current into continuous mechanical motion; his work on magnetic fields, and how his failed time as a glassmaker supplied him with the glass prism to manipulate light with magnetism.
Faraday was the first to identify that the iron filings we’ve all seen coalescing around magnets was only a manifestation of the forces that surrounded the magnet totally, not just around the filings. Amazing that someone had to be the first to identify that phenomenon! He also realized that compass needles were not pointing to a faraway “north pole” – they were reacting to the Earth’s ubiquitous magnetic field, a field which migrating birds and other animals can sense (which is how they “fly south” for the winter – along the Earth’s magnetic lines).
Light, gravity and magnetism, which Faraday – through his lack of education – could not do the math on, but only explain in layman’s terms. Young James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879) would be his theoretical amanuensis, formulating equations for electricity, magnetism and optics (bringing together the work of many scientists, not just Faraday), into a discipline known as electromagnetic field theory. The technology that these equations would spawn literally transformed human civilization from pockets of cities, communicating via sailing ships and pony express, to light-speed social media sharing.
- How the Earth’s magnetic field works.
- The Van Allen Belt – the doughnut-shaped zones of charged particles surrounding the Earth, corralled by its magnetic shield, capturing cosmic rays, which are detrimental to DNA.
- The Aurorae – charged particles from the sun channeled to Earth’s poles via its magnetic field, reacting with the oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere and glowing, in other words, functioning as the biggest light bulbs in the world.
- James Clerk Maxwell – who would be immortalized in his thought experiment on thermodynamics with “Maxwell’s Demon” and further in the character of Maxwell Demon in the film VELVET GOLDMINE.
11. The Immortals.
“Must we die?” Tyson has many times intimated that we are more than flesh and blood – we are cells and molecules and atoms, recycled on this island Earth. Was John Lennon so far ahead of his time? “I am he, as you are he, as you are me, and we are all together” (I am The Walrus).
The Ark metaphor – which itself is a metaphor for immortality – abounds in this episode: from the act of writing (“now death could not silence us”); to the Epic of Gilgamesh’s ark (1,000 years before Noah); to rocks blasted into space in Earth’s formative epochs carrying microbes, only to return to Earth as meteors after it had become habitable again, bringing back with them that same life!; to our genetic code, passed from generation to generation; to dandelion seeds carrying future life on the wind…
By describing SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) and radio broadcast waves spreading outwards from Earth since the 1940s, Tyson makes us aware of being prisoners in our space and time. What is the lifespan of an “intelligent civilization”? Have other intelligent civilizations birthed and died before us? Are they using technology which we cannot comprehend, therefore cannot detect? Will we die out before we have the chance to communicate with another civilization that has not discovered radio communication yet?
Like Sagan before him, Tyson is optimistic about Mankind’s future among the stars. I, on the other hand, believe that unless there is a massive overhaul of how power and political influence is apportioned, Mankind is headed for a fall greater than that of Lucifer from heaven. Ironically, it will be the people who believe Lucifer is a real entity that will be responsible for the fall.
— THE DRAKE EQUATION: Tyson never says the name but those speculations of intergalactic civilizations can be formulated in that fanciful equation. (He actually mentions it by name in an interview on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, May 2014.)
- The Nakhla meteorite – from Mars.
- Viking Spacecraft landing on mars. Sagan voices the discoveries.
- In their early epochs, Venus, Earth and Mars were all exchanging rocks during asteroid impacts; the seeding of worlds.
- So many ways for a civilization to die: radiation from supernovas, massive volcanoes asteroid impacts, climate change, willfully politically destroying the environment for profit. “We know we are destabilizing the planet yet seem to be in paralysis – there is a disconnect between what we know and what we do.”
- The Cosmic Calendar of the next 14 billion years.
12. The World Set Free.
Tyson visits Venus and shows us the runaway Greenhouse Effect making the planet inhabitable for life as we know it. Or at least for Republicans. Based loosely on the Sagan COSMOS episode Heaven and Hell (referring to Earth and Venus respectively), modern statistics reveal a darker reality than Sagan envisioned.
Climate Change Deniers Unite! COSMOS reaches its tipping point – it’s been espousing science and knowledge all this time, and touching on climate as an organic part of other scientific disciplines, but now it’s gone too far! Now its telling us Climate Change is based on science observations as well! Which braindead Republican congressman do I contact to complain?
COSMOS tries its best to keep Tyson’s voice level and assuring as he explains slowly and clearly: “Incoming light from the sun hits the surface of the Earth; the Earth absorbs much of that energy, which heats the planet up. But the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere absorbs most of that outgoing heat radiation, sending much of it right back to the surface. This makes the planet even warmer. That’s all there is to the Greenhouse Effect; it’s basic physics, just bookkeeping of the energy flow. There’s nothing controversial about it.” (Oh, you think so, Neil? Spoken to a Republican lately?) “A little Greenhouse Effect is a good thing – but a big one can destabilize the planet and destroy our way of life.”
Our civilization is exhaling carbon dioxide much faster than Earth can absorb it, so CO2 is building up in the atmosphere.
–Neil deGrasse Tyson, COSMOS 2014.
The most wanton unethical, ignorant aspect about climate change deniers is not that they deny Mankind’s contribution to the Greenhouse Effect (which we would be able to understand if they are bought off by the corps that are pumping those very poisons into the air. At least that’s a logical reason, selfishness, greed, venality), but that they deny climate change OUTRIGHT, against all the evidence of codified graphs and study that prove otherwise. It’s as if they are artificially selecting themselves for extinction. Trouble is, if they’re responsible for energy policy, they’re artificially selecting the rest of us as well. And that’s why they have to die. Tyson and others in prominent positions have to be more “diplomatic” and “subtle” about these morons – but I don’t. If killing a few thousand morons with genes that favor selfishness have to die to enable the rest of the herd of 7 billion to live, well, that’s how Evolution has been doing it since time began. Trust me, I’m a cucumber.
- White Cliffs of Dover and the trillions of one-celled algae that created them.
- Charles David Keeling, charting CO2 in the atmosphere over the decades.
- Prominent articles through the ages (including Sagan’s) that charted/predicted CO2 levels.
- Scenes of Sagan’s COSMOS warning of Greenhouse Effect.
- 1878 Universal Exhibition, and the solar power concentrator of Augustin Mouchot.
- Frank Shuman and his solar power converters in Egypt 1913.
- Apollo Missions (thankfully, Tyson narrates how these missions were originally conceived as power displays, not scientific odysseys).
13. Unafraid Of The Dark.
The COSMOS 2014 series comes to an inspiring close with Carl Sagan’s majestic monologue from Pale Blue Dot.
Yes, there are problems with the series (admitted by its own creators: Neil deGrasse Tyson: “No idea is true just because someone says so, including me. Think for yourself.”), however, it is uplifting that someone anywhere would go to these lengths to create media that is not actively making people dumber (as 95% of media seems intent on doing).
The Great Library of Alexandria was annihilated by The Mob, the Commoners, in 4 BC. But there are two sides to every story: back then, Knowledge belonged to the elite, and the mob destroyed the library because they were pissed that elites wouldn’t share that knowledge. Has anything changed? The elite still withhold information from the rest of us, placating us with a tool that allows us to think we know everything, the internet. But we know nothing on how world civilization is actually conducted.
Tyson shows us beliefs through the ages: each era thinking they know the most there is to know about physics, the Earth, astronomy… Looking back at them, would we take any of them seriously, knowing what we know now? A millennium from now, looking back at this venal society structured around selfishness, keeping the masses ignorant, greed, and duplicity of leaders, what would WE (Humanity) think of ourselves?
It still bugs me that the majority of people, for a myriad of reasons, will either not understand or will actively deny the wonders of COSMOS and the knowledge it is trying to convey. As Tyson himself says, “The universe is mostly dark, dotted with points of light…”
— TERMINATION SHOCK and BOW SHOCK: both Voyager spacecraft have passed the heliosphere boundary, where the sun’s outward push meets the inward push of the interstellar medium. The boundary itself is called the Termination Shock. Further out is the Bow Shock (now thought to be more of a Bow Wave). It’s not important that Tyson mention these boundaries – I just love those words.
- The Great Library at Alexandria with its millions of scrolls – lost to ignorance.
- Victor Hess (1883-1964) discovers high-energy particles – cosmic rays – in 1911.
- Fritz Zwicky (1898-1974) identifies supernovas, light distortion around large galaxies.
- Vera Rubin (b. 1928) discovers outer stars in galaxies travel at same speed as inner stars.
- Supernovas as “standard candles”
- Edwin Hubble in 1929 discovering universe expanding.
- Tyson: “Dark matter and dark energy are code words for our ignorance – it’s okay not to know all the answers; better to admit ignorance than to believe answers that might be wrong.”
The journey of Voyager 1 past the heliopause, and the story of how Carl Sagan made the Voyager team turn the camera back towards Earth from beyond the orbit of Neptune, to take an impromptu picture of a pale blue dot from 6 billion kilometers away. Accompanying a magnificent CGI pullback from Earth until it resembles the picture from his book Pale Blue Dot (1994), Sagan’s poetic, mythic monologue echoes across the generations for all Mankind.
No one is going to top that monologue – not while Mankind is still Earthbound. It’s a damning indictment on the provincialism of our species as well as a testament to the fragility and uniqueness of planet Earth. It is like the choral segment of the Ninth Symphony; I cannot help but edge tears every time I hear it. What better way to end a series about the interconnectedness of all things on Earth than by the most humbling, inspirational monologue ever composed on Earth’s place in the vastness of the Cosmos?