In summer 2013, the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way was getting ready to feast. A gas cloud three times the size of our planet strayed within the gravitational reach of our nearest supermassive black hole. Across the globe, telescopes were being trained on the heart of our galaxy, some 27,000 light years from Earth, in the expectation of observing this unique cosmic spectacle. For cosmic detectives across the Earth, it was a unique opportunity. For the first time in the history of science, they hoped to observe in action the awesome spectacle of a feeding supermassive black hole.
Today we’re talking about our galactic neighborhood: The Milky Way. It’s a disk galaxy, a collection of dust, gas, and hundreds of billions of stars, with the Sun located about halfway out from the center. The disk has grand spiral patterns in it, formed by the traffic jams of stars and nebulae, where stars are born. The central region is shaped like a bar, and is mostly old, red stars. There’s also a halo surrounding us of old stars.
This is the story of pioneering missions to neighboring planets and our first glimpses of their awe-inspiring terrains. From the giant lava plains of Venus to the volcanoes on Mars that dwarf Mount Everest, we journey around the rocky planets and then to the icy moons of Jupiter, Saturn and beyond.
Earth has a companion in space so large that it rules our nights, our months, our ocean tides. Why Earth should have such a moon is one of the deepest mysteries of the Solar System. We tell the story of how the Earth’s satellite became the unlikely object of desire of the two Cold War superpowers.
Discoveries of new planets have revealed countless worlds much stranger than Earth. Some of these strange worlds don't have stars; others are made out of diamonds. Will we ever find a planet like Earth, or are these distant worlds stranger than fiction?