Aired Wednesday October 19th, 2011 at 8:00 pm on KUED HD Ch. 7.1
Scientists are discovering the raw ingredients for life in the far reaches of the solar system, and finding that life can thrive in environments more extreme than we ever anticipated. Does this mean we are finally on the verge of answering one of humanity’s most enduring questions: Are we alone? NOVA takes viewers on an awe-inspiring journey through our solar system to look for evidence of Finding Life Beyond Earth. The special premieres Wednesday, October 19 at 8:00 p.m. on KUED.
Combining the latest telescope images with dazzling CGI, Finding Life Beyond Earth immerses audiences in the sights and sounds of alien worlds, while top astrobiologists explain how these places are changing how we think about the potential for life in our solar system. We used to think our neighboring planets and moons were fairly boring – mostly cold, dead rocks where life could never take hold. Today, however, the solar system looks wilder than we ever imagined.
“Now is an incredibly exciting time in planetary science, with all of the latest experiments and discoveries allowing us to explore our solar system like never before,” said Howard Swartz, NOVA Executive Producer. “NOVA captures that on film as scientists all over are working feverishly to understand our true place in the universe.”
Powerful telescopes and unmanned space missions have revealed a wide range of dynamic environments – atmospheres thick with organic molecules, active volcanoes, and vast saltwater oceans. This ongoing revolution is forcing scientists to expand their ideas about what kinds of worlds could support life. If we do find primitive life forms elsewhere in the solar system, it may well be that life is common in the universe—the rule, and not the exception.
Space exploration is driving the revolution, using advanced robot explorers as our eyes and ears on the universe. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft sends back images that take us below the orange clouds of Saturn’s largest moon, exposing Titan’s many lakes for the first time in history.
The Stardust Probe meets up with a speeding comet and brings back a breakthrough discovery with the ancient rock’s comet dust: an amino acid that is a fundamental building block of life. A car-sized rover named Curiosity is a geologist and astrobiologist and a science lab rolled into one--sent to Mars in search of organic molecules vital to sustain life. These are just a few of the missions yielding incredible data that pushes the boundaries of our understanding further than ever before.
NOVA’s comprehensive new two-hour documentary features interviews and commentary with pioneering experts in space exploration and those involved in the scientific discoveries. Among them are astrobiologist Chris McKay, who studies some of the most inhospitable places on Earth to understand how life flourishes in harsh environments; Harvard professor and planetary scientist Sarah Stewart; and NASA’s chief planetary scientist Jim Green, who is at the forefront of the global effort to find answers to the question; Is there life beyond earth?
“The pace of discovery, just in the last couple of years, is just mind-boggling,” says NASA’s Jim Green. “I am constantly awestruck by the data that’s coming in from the current fleet of missions.”
Scientists are just beginning to find planets that resemble Earth and are unlocking the secrets of whether those planets may harbor life. As our telescopes see farther and our spacecraft voyage closer to distant worlds, what we know about our solar system—and beyond--continues to grow and change and brings us ever closer to one day answering one of the greatest cosmic mysteries of the ages.
Now in its 39th season, NOVA is the most-watched primetime science series on American television, reaching an average of five million viewers weekly. The series remains committed to producing in-depth science programming in the form of hour-long (and occasionally longer) documentaries, from the latest breakthroughs in technology to the deepest mysteries of the natural world. NOVA airs Wednesdays at 8pm on KUED.
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