Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

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Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (2014) is a science-themed, 13 episode television series which is a sequel to the 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. It was written by Ann Druyan and Steven Soter, who also both helped Carl Sagan write the original 1980 Cosmos. It was presented by the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

(Please click on the "Discussion" tab above and read the first entry before adding any quotes to this page).

The Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) - In the Cosmos: ASO title sequence the letters "COSMOS" emerge from the image of a human eye superimposed on this planetary nebula.

First Episode: Standing Up in the Milky Way[edit]

The Crab Nebula was created by a supernova - "You, me, everyone: we are made of star stuff." (Episode 1).

Standing Up in the Milky Way is the series introductory episode. It discusses the Earth's "cosmic address," Giordano Bruno, the "Cosmic Calendar", and it has an epilogue describing Tyson's experience when he first met Carl Sagan.

  • Every person you've ever heard of lived somewhere in there [pointing]. All those kings and battles, migrations and inventions, wars and loves, everything in the history books happened here in the last seconds of the Cosmic Calendar.
  • Science is a cooperative enterprise spanning the generations. It's the passing of a torch from teacher to student to teacher; a community of minds reaching back to antiquity, and forward to the stars.

Second Episode: Some of the Things That Molecules Do[edit]

A DNA molecule - "[O]ur genetic code [is] written in a language that all life can read." (Episode 2).

Some of the Things That Molecules Do is about biology, primarily evolution. It describes the use of artificial selection to create dogs from wolves, the natural selection of polar bears from brown bears, the tree of life, the evolution of eyes, the "Halls of Extinction", tardigrades, the possibility of life on Titan, and the earliest life on Earth.

  • This is a story about you . . . and me . . . and your dog.
  • If life has a sanctuary, it's here in the nucleus, which contains our DNA - the ancient scripture of our genetic code. And it's written in a language that all life can read.

Third Episode: When Knowledge Conquered Fear[edit]

Babe Ruth in 1916 - "Like Babe Ruth predicting where his next home run would land in the stands, Halley stated flatly [where and when] the comet would return." (Episode 3).

When Knowledge Conquered Fear is about the importance of mathematics in science. It discusses the development of early astronomy from the human propensity for pattern recognition, comets as omens, Edmond Halley, Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton, gravity, Newton's seminal book, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, and Halley's Comet.

  • Does the fact that most of us know the names of mass murderers but never heard of Jan Oort say anything about us?

Fourth Episode: A Sky Full of Ghosts[edit]

A Telescope - "By the time the light from some stars gets here, they are already dead." (Episode 4).

A Sky Full of Ghosts discusses two kinds of astronomical "ghosts:" first, very distant stars that have already died or transformed but whose light is still visible from Earth (used to illustrate "telescopes as time machines" and discussions between William Herschel and John Herschel) and second, black holes (used to illustrate concepts from the theory of relativity).

  • When [the light we see today] left the Pleiades, about 400 years ago, Galileo was taking his first look through a telescope.
  • Nature commands, "Thou shalt not add my speed to the speed of light." . . . For reality to be logically consistent, there must be a cosmic speed limit.
  • Black holes may very well be tunnels through the universe. [If you could somehow survive the ride on] this intergalactic subway system, you could travel to the farthest reaches of spacetime, or you might arrive in someplace even more amazing. We might find ourselves in an altogether different universe.

Fifth Episode: Hiding in the Light[edit]

A Rainbow - "The age and size of the cosmos are written in light." (Episode 5).

Hiding in the Light is about electromagnetic radiation, primarily visible light. It discusses the Warring States era Chinese philosopher Mo-Tze, the Islamic Golden Age Arabic scientist Ibn Al-Hazen, the electromagnetic spectrum, Joseph von Fraunhofer, and spectroscopy.

Sixth Episode: Deeper, Deeper, Deeper Still[edit]

A chloroplast - "The chloroplast . . . is what drives all the forests, and the fields, and the plankton of the seas, and the animals, including us." (Episode 6).

Deeper, Deeper, Deeper Still scrutinizes the miniscule "universes" around us on the microscopic, molecular, atomic and subatomic scales. The episode explores the microscopic life contained in a dewdrop (including a discussion of photosynthesis), the neurochemistry of aromas, Thales, the atomism of Democritus, basic ideas from nuclear physics, neutrinos, Wolfgang Pauli, and the early universe.

  • The nucleus is very small compared to the rest of the atom. If an atom were the size of this cathedral, its nucleus would be the size of that mote of dust.
  • [The Super-Kamioka Neutrino Detector] is a trap designed to catch neutrinos only. Other particles, such as cosmic rays . . . cannot get through all that rock above us. But matter poses no obstacle to a neutrino. A neutrino could pass through a hundred light years of steel without even slowing down.

Seventh Episode: The Clean Room[edit]

Lead warning on a 1927 gas pump - "Patterson fought the industry for [more than] 20 years before lead was finally banned in US [gasoline and other] consumer products." (Episode 7).

The Clean Room tells how the geochemist Clair Patterson built an (essentially) lead-free cleanroom in order to ultimately determine the age of the Earth, and then how he used knowledge from this research in his subsequent campaign against the use of consumer products containing lead.

About the quote: The above phrase, "nature will not be fooled," could be a nod by the creators of Cosmos: ASO toward Richard Feynman. Following the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 Feynman wrote, "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

Eighth Episode: Sisters of the Sun[edit]

The Sun, a star in the main sequence portion of its life - Currently "our Sun is poised in a stable equilibrium between gravity and nuclear fire." (Episode 8).

Sisters of the Sun is about stars, including the Sun. It considers the ancient development of primitive astronomy, the constellations, Cecilia Payne and the Harvard Observatory Computers, variations among the different kinds of stars, the Sun, and stellar evolution.

Ninth Episode: The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth[edit]

Fossil distributions show the southern continents were once joined in a supercontinent - "The past is another planet." (Episode 9).

The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth is about the Earth's palaeogeography. It analyzes Earth's geologic time scale, the End-Permian extinction event, plate tectonics (including the interior structure of the Earth and continental drift), the End-Cretaceous extinction event, and the evolutionary history of life.

Tenth Episode: The Electric Boy[edit]

A smartphone harnesses electricity to enable telecommunications - "This is the story of how we learned to make electrons do our bidding." (Episode 10).

The Electric Boy uses episodes from the life of Michael Faraday to illustrate concepts related to electromagnetism, primarily electricity. It shows how Faraday's discoveries came between those of Newton and Einstein, how he began his scientific career working as an assistant for the chemist Humphry Davy, his invention of the electric motor and the generator, his discovery that electricity, magnetism and light are related, his perceptions related to magnetic fields as "lines of force" (followed by a discussion of Earth's magnetic field), and the use of Faraday's experimental results by James Clerk Maxwell in formulating Maxwell's Equations (which in turn make modern telecommunications possible).

Eleventh Episode: The Immortals[edit]

The Immortals explores how continuous perpetuation of the "message of life" (the genetic information encoded in DNA) gives a kind of immortality to living beings and their descendants. It describes the invention of writing, the possibility that life arose independently on Earth or that it may have been transported here (perhaps from Mars), the search for life outside of Earth's biosphere, attempts to detect messages from intelligent non-Earth beings, the collapse of ancient civilizations and the need to ensure the continued viability of our own current global civilization.

Twelfth Episode: The World Set Free[edit]

A worker installing solar panels in the US state of Ohio - "If we could harness a tiny fraction of the available solar and wind power, we could supply all our energy needs forever, and without adding any carbon to the atmosphere." (Episode 12).

The World Set Free is about global warming caused by humans. It examines the current greenhouse effect on Venus, storage of most carbon on Earth as a mineral, how human burning of fossil fuels is increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide and is thus heating up the Earth's biosphere, and renewable energy as a solution to ameliorate the effects of global warming.

  • It's a pretty tight case. Our fingerprints are all over this one.
  • More solar energy falls on Earth in one hour than all the energy our civilization consumes in an entire year. If we could harness a tiny fraction of the available solar and wind power, we could supply all our energy needs forever, and without adding any carbon to the atmosphere.
  • We looked back on our way to the Moon and saw "one world, indivisible, and kind of small. . . . This . . . was the unexpected gift of Apollo."

Thirteenth Episode: Unafraid of the Dark[edit]

A personal computer - All of the information held in the Ancient Library of Alexandria "is but a tiny fraction of the information that you have at your fingertips at this very moment [in] our own electronic Library of Alexandria." (Episode 13).

Unafraid of the Dark is the series recapitulation. It discusses the Voyager probes, dark matter, dark energy, and the use of science and reason to illuminate the path away from ignorance.

  • There seems to be a mysterious force in the universe, one that overwhelms gravity on the grandest scale to push the cosmos apart. . . . We call it "dark energy," but that name, like "dark matter," is merely a code word for our ignorance. It's okay not to know all the answers. It's better to admit our ignorance than to believe answers that might be wrong. Pretending to know everything closes the door to finding out what's really there.
  • The difference between seeing nothing but a pebble and reading the history of the cosmos inscribed inside it is science. (Discussing a slow-growing manganese nodule from the ocean floor which shows that a star near the Earth went supernova within the last two million years or so.)
  • There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the Pale Blue Dot, the only home we've ever known. (Recording of Carl Sagan's voice over a re-imagining of the "Pale Blue Dot" image of Earth taken by Voyager 1.)

Quotes about Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey[edit]

External links[edit]

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