In 2010, the BBC released a documentary on channel 2 called Wonders of the Solar System. It is a fantastic 5 hour series on the planets sharing a place around the Sun with the Earth. The narrator is Brian Cox, a physics professor from the University of Manchester, also working in the ATLAS collaboration. Somehow, it makes me happy to share this one thing with him.
During Wonders of the Solar system, Brian travels around the world to find places on Earth most reminiscent of strange and alien places in the endlessly revolving collection of mysterious worlds around the Sun. I have to say, I am tremendously jealous! Of course, I am still just a graduate student who already gets to commute between Vancouver and Geneva regularly, with the occasional stop in another European or North American city for a conference. But still, Brian gets to see the magnificence of places barely touched by humankind, and shoot a tremendous documentary at the same time. I think it’s the best job in the world!
You have to see this documentary. In high definition. With the best stereo speakers you can find. This is the stuff that is usually said about Hollywood movies, but trust me, you must do it for this series. The visuals are stunning, the soundtrack is captivating, and the content is entertaining and enthralling. The title of the series is very well chosen. This documentary does evoke a profound sense of wonder.
The BBC and Brian Cox did not stop there, to my utmost delight. Last March, the BBC started airing a second series realized by the same incredibly talented team called Wonders of the Universe. No wonder why I think the BBC is the best television media on Earth. They create amazing science documentaries (remember The Blue Planet, Life, and everything else narrated by David Attenborough), they have amazing international news, they produce Doctor Who… They even renew these fantastic, expensive science documentaries when Fox even cancels excellent shows like Firefly…
The new Wonders of the Universe series is even more worth watching in HD. I really do love its soundtrack. Brian Cox is doing for space what David Attenborough has done for life. Actually, the Wonders series is a little bit like a reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. And it really doesn’t disappoint. Phil Plait has commented favourably on the accuracy of the CGI presented in the series, which is no small feat for a documentary featuring so much astronomy.
If you want to know what recent science has to say about what a supernova, a pulsar, a brown dwarf, a stellar nursery, the birth of a star, the birth of a black hole, or a black hole slowly swallowing a star really looks like, watch the documentary. To give you a brief idea of what it is like, please have a look at this 15 minutes video showcasing the CGI of Wonders of the Universe.
It may look like a bad (or really, really good) acid trip, but that stuff is actually real. Of course, most of it is shown accelerated in time (except for the pulsar and the supernova explosion), and the gas clouds aren’t usually that bright. But given that we would take the time to film these things, we would have plenty of exposure time to make them look exactly like how they appear in Wonders of the Universe. I also love the use of camera motion effects, lens flares and the great music which adds drama into the mix. I am so impressed. I want to be the next Brian Cox!