NASA launches its most ambitious hunt for traces of life on Mars, landing a car-sized rover in a rocky, ancient river delta. The rover will stow samples for possible return to Earth and test technology that may pave the way for human travel to Mars.
In this episode of NOVA scienceNOW, journey back in time to the birth of our solar system to examine whether the key to our planet's existence might have been the explosive shockwave of an ancient supernova. Meet a chemist who has yielded a new kind of "recipe" for natural processes to assemble and create the building blocks of life. And see how the head louse, a creepy critter that's been sucking our blood for millions of years, is offering clues about our evolution. Finally, meet neuroscientist André Fenton, who is looking into erasing painful memories with an injection.
2011 • Science
On July 14, 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft, one of the most advanced ever built, is scheduled to fly by Pluto to take the very first detailed images of the dwarf planet. After nine years and 3 billion miles, we will finally get a close look at this strange, icy world, but only if the craft can survive the final, treacherous leg of its journey, which could take it through a dangerous field of debris.
2015 • Astronomy
Our ancient human ancestors once lived only in Africa, in tiny bands of a few thousand hunter-gatherers. Then we moved out of our African cradle, spreading rapidly to every corner of the planet. How did we acquire the skills, technology and talent to thrive in every environment on earth? How did our prehistoric forebears cross the Sahara on foot, survive frigid ice ages, and sail to remote Pacific islands? “Great Human Odyssey” is a spectacular global journey following their footsteps out of Africa along a trail of fresh scientific clues. With unique glimpses of today’s Kalahari hunters, Siberian reindeer herders, and Polynesian navigators, we discover amazing skills that hint at how our ancestors survived and prospered long ago.
2016 • People
We live in an age when technological innovation seems to be limitlessly soaring. But for all the satisfying speed with which our gadgets have improved, many of them share a frustrating weakness: the batteries. Though they have improved in last century, batteries remain finicky, bulky, expensive, toxic, and maddeningly short-lived. The quest is on for a “super battery,” and the stakes in this hunt are much higher than the phone in your pocket. With climate change looming, electric cars and renewable energy sources like wind and solar power could hold keys to a greener future...if we can engineer the perfect battery. Join host David Pogue as he explores the hidden world of energy storage, from the power—and danger—of the lithium-ion batteries we use today, to the bold innovations that could one day charge our world.
2017 • Environment
The centuries-old tradition of folding two-dimensional paper into three-dimensional shapes is inspiring a scientific revolution. The rules of folding are at the heart of many natural phenomena, from how leaves blossom to how beetles fly. But now, engineers and designers are applying its principles to reshape the world around us—and even within us, designing new drugs, micro-robots, and future space missions. With this burgeoning field of origami-inspired-design, the question is: can the mathematics of origami be boiled down to one elegant algorithm—a fail-proof guidebook to make any object out of a flat surface, just by folding? And if so, what would that mean for the future of design? Explore the high-tech future of this age-old art as NOVA unfolds “The Origami Revolution.”
2017 • Design
Over 100 years ago, Albert Einstein grappled with the implications of his revolutionary special theory of relativity and came to a startling conclusion: mass and energy are one, related by the formula E = mc2. In "Einstein's Big Idea," NOVA dramatizes the remarkable story behind this equation. E = mc2 was just one of several extraordinary breakthroughs that Einstein made in 1905, including the completion of his special theory of relativity, his identification of proof that atoms exist, and his explanation of the nature of light, which would win him the Nobel Prize in Physics. Among Einstein's ideas, E = mc2 is by far the most famous. Yet how many people know what it really means? In a thought-provoking and engrossing docudrama, NOVA illuminates this deceptively simple formula by unraveling the story of how it came to be.
2005 • Physics
In 1991, a small Medieval prayer book was sold at auction. Miraculously, some original writings of Archimedes, the brilliant Greek mathematician, were discovered hidden beneath the religious text. Through scholarly detective work with the help of modern technology, this book now reveals Archimedes' stunningly original concepts, ideas, and theories--revelations that, if known sooner, might have reshaped our world.
2003 • People
NOVA follows a team of volcano sleuths as they embark on a worldwide hunt for an elusive volcanic mega-eruption that plunged the medieval earth into a deep freeze. The mystery begins when archaeologists find a hastily dug mass grave of 4,000 men, women, and children in London. At first they assume it's a plague pit from the Black Death, but when they date the bones, they're a century too early. So what killed off these families? The chronicles of that time describe a run of wild weather that devastated crops and spread famine across Europe. NOVA's expert team looks for the signature of a volcanic eruption big enough to have blasted a huge cloud of ash and sulfuric acid into the atmosphere, which chilled the entire planet. From Greenland to Antarctica, the team finds telltale "fingerprints" in ice and soil layers until, finally, they narrow down the culprit to a smoldering crater on a remote Indonesian island. Nearly 750 years ago, this volcano's colossal explosion shot a million tons of rock and ash into the atmosphere. Across the globe, it turned summer into winter. What would happen if another such cataclysm struck again today?
2017 • Environment
All over the world, scientists are discovering traces of ancient floods on a scale that dwarfs even the most severe flood disasters of recent times. What triggered these cataclysmic floods, and could they strike again? In the Channeled Scablands of Washington State, the level prairie gives way to bizarre, gargantuan rock formations: house-sized boulders seemingly dropped from the sky, a cliff carved by a waterfall twice the height of Niagara, and potholes large enough to swallow cars. Like forensic detectives at a crime scene, geologists study these strange features and reconstruct catastrophic Ice Age floods more powerful than all the world’s top ten rivers combined. NOVA follows their efforts to uncover the geologic fingerprints of other colossal megafloods in Iceland and, improbably, on the seabed of the English Channel. There, another deluge smashed through a land bridge connecting Britain and France hundreds of thousands of years ago and turned Britain into an island for the first time. These great disasters ripped through terrain and transformed continents in a matter of hours—and similar forces reawakened by climate change are posing an active threat to mountain communities throughout the world today.
2017 • Environment
NOVA and National Geographic present exclusive access to a unique discovery of ancient remains. Located in an almost inaccessible chamber deep in a South African cave, the site required recruiting a special team of experts slender enough to wriggle down a vertical, pitch-dark, seven-inch-wide passage. Most fossil discoveries of human relatives consist of just a handful of bones. But down in this hidden chamber, the team uncovered an unprecedented trove—so far, over 1,500 bones—with the potential to rewrite the story of our origins. They may help fill in a crucial gap in the fossil record and tell us how Homo, the first member of the human family, emerged from ape-like ancestors like the famous Lucy. But how did hundreds of bones end up in the remote chamber? The experts are considering every mind-boggling possibility. Join NOVA on the treacherous descent into this cave of spectacular and enigmatic finds, and discover their startling implications for the saga of what made us human.
2013 • History
66 million years ago a seven-mile-wide asteroid collided with Earth, triggering a chain of events suspected of ending the dinosaurs' reign. But experts have long debated exactly what happened when the asteroid struck and how the giant beasts met their end. Now, scientists have uncovered compelling new clues about the catastrophe - from New Jersey to the wilds of Patagonia, and an international expedition of scientists has drilled into the impact crater off the coast of Mexico, recovering crucial direct evidence of the searing energy and giant tsunami unleashed by the asteroid. Join NOVA as scientists piece together a chillingly precise unfolding of the Earth's biggest cataclysm, moment by moment. And discover how our early mammalian ancestors managed to survive and repopulate the Earth.
2017 • History
In March 2015, Solar Impulse II launched the greatest aviation undertaking of our time: to be the first solar-powered airplane to fly around the world. It was a feat 12 years in the making, and was anything but a sure bet. NOVA follows intrepid pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg - two men bent on pushing the boundaries of human flight and proving renewable energy's potential. Along with a team of brilliant engineers, the two designed and built Solar Impulse from scratch - though top airplane manufacturers told them would be too big, too light, and impossible to control. NOVA follows the team as it overcomes seemingly insurmountable challenges to build and fly the first solar plane around the world.
2018 • Technology
Predictions underlie nearly every aspect of our lives, from sports, politics, and medical decisions to the morning commute. With the explosion of digital technology, the internet, and “big data,” the science of forecasting is flourishing. But why do some predictions succeed spectacularly while others fail abysmally? And how can we find meaningful patterns amidst chaos and uncertainty? From the glitz of casinos and TV game shows to the life-and-death stakes of storm forecasts and the flaws of opinion polls that can swing an election, “Prediction by the Numbers” explores stories of statistics in action. Yet advances in machine learning and big data models that increasingly rule our lives are also posing big, disturbing questions. How much should we trust predictions made by algorithms when we don’t understand how they arrive at them? And how far ahead can we really forecast?
2018 • Math
Disastrous hurricanes. Widespread droughts and wildfires. Withering heat. Extreme rainfall. It is hard not to conclude that something’s up with the weather and many scientists agree. It’s the result of the weather machine itself—our climate—changing, becoming hotter and more erratic. In this two-hour documentary, NOVA will cut through the confusion around climate change. Why do scientists overwhelmingly agree that our climate is changing, and that human activity is causing it? How and when will it affect us through the weather we experience? And what will it take to bend the trajectory of planetary warming toward more benign outcomes? Join scientists around the world on a quest to better understand the workings of the weather and climate machine we call Earth, and discover how we can be resilient—even thrive—in the face of enormous change.
2018 • Environment
In just one devastating month, Houston, Florida, and the Caribbean were changed forever. In summer 2017, three monster hurricanes swept in from the Atlantic one after another, shattering storm records and killing hundreds of people. First, Harvey brought catastrophic rain and flooding to Houston, causing $125 billion in damage. Less than two weeks later, Irma lashed the Caribbean with 185 mile per hour winds - and left the island of Barbuda uninhabitable. Hot on Irma's heels, Maria intensified from a Category 1 to a Category 5 hurricane in just 15 hours, then ravaged Puerto Rico and left millions of people without power. As the planet warms, are these superstorms the new normal? How well can we predict them? And with hurricane season just around the corner, does the U.S. need to prepare for the reality of climate refugees? NOVA takes you inside the 2017 superstorms and the cutting-edge research that will determine how well equipped we are to deal with hurricanes in the future.
2018 • Environment
NOVA takes you inside the historic international race to develop the first supersonic airliner, the Concorde. Hear stories from those inside the choreographed effort to design and build Concorde in two countries at once—and the crew members who flew her. Then, follow Concorde’s legacy to a new generation of innovators reviving the dream of supersonic passenger travel today.
2018 • Technology
Join scientists as they grab light from across the universe to prove quantum entanglement is real. Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance", but today quantum entanglement is poised to revolutionize technology from computers to cryptography. Physicists have gradually become convinced that the phenomenon two subatomic particles that mirror changes in each other instantaneously over any distance is real. But a few doubts remain. NOVA follows a ground-breaking experiment in the Canary Islands to use quasars at opposite ends of the universe to once and for all settle remaining questions.
2019 • Physics
In the shadow of Italy?s Vesuvius, a lesser-known volcano rumbles: Campi Flegrei. An eruption could endanger the millions of residents of the city of Naples. Scientists gain new insights into what happened in nearby Pompeii, and dig into the unique geology of Campi Flegrei. How will they know if the ever-shifting ground is reaching a breaking point? And can an innovative eruption warning system prevent Naples becoming the next Pompeii?
2019 • Environment
In a spectacular adventure, NOVA unlocks the mystery on the vast, grassy plains of Kazakhstan, where horses still roam free, and nomadic herders follow their traditional way of life. Investigating clues from archaeology and genetics, researchers reveal vivid evidence of the very first horsemen. They also discover warriors who swept across Europe and turn out to be the ancestors of millions today.
2019 • History
After years of anticipation, autonomous vehicles are now being tested on public roads around the world. As ambitious innovators race to develop what they see as the next high-tech pot of gold, some experts warn there are still daunting challenges ahead, including how to train artificial intelligence to be better than humans at making life-and-death decisions. How do self-driving cars work? How close are we to large-scale deployment of them? And will we ever be able to trust AI with our lives?
2019 • Technology
Can new engineering techniques help prevent deadly bridge collapses? In 2018, Italy’s Morandi Bridge collapsed, tragically killing 43 people. For 50 years, the iconic bridge had withstood the elements—and stress from ever-increasing traffic. What went wrong that fateful day? And how can new engineering technology protect bridge infrastructure to prevent such tragic failures in the future? Through eyewitness testimony, expert interviews, and dramatic archival footage, NOVA investigates the Morandi disaster and other deadly bridge collapses.
2019 • Technology
Why do we sleep? And what does sleep have to do with memory, trauma, and our emotions? From fruit flies to whales, virtually every animal sleeps. But why? Why do we need to spend nearly a third of our lives in such a defenseless state? Scientists are peering more deeply into the sleeping brain than ever before, discovering just how powerful sleep can be, playing a role in everything from memory retention and emotional regulation to removing waste from our brains. So why are we getting so little of it?
2020 • Lifehack
When the U.S. trade embargo left Cuba isolated from medical resources, Cuban scientists were forced to get creative. Now they've developed lung cancer vaccines that show so much promise, some Americans are defying the embargo and traveling to Cuba for treatment. In an unprecedented move, Cuban researchers are working with U.S. partners to make the medicines more widely available.
2020 • Health
The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has upended life as we know it in a matter of months. But at the same time, an unprecedented global effort to understand and contain the virus—and find a treatment for the disease it causes—is underway. Join doctors on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 as they strategize to stop the spread, and meet the researchers racing to develop treatments and vaccines.
2020 • Health
Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs in a fiery global catastrophe. But we know little about how their successors, the mammals, recovered and took over the world. Now, hidden inside ordinary-looking rocks, an astonishing trove of fossils reveals a dramatic new picture of how rat-sized creatures ballooned in size and began to evolve into the vast array of species.
2019 • Nature
In the fall of 2020, a NASA spacecraft called OSIRIS-REx attempts to reach out and grab a piece of an asteroid named Bennu and bring it back to Earth. The OSIRIS-REx team has just three chances to extend its spacecraft's specialized arm, touch down for five seconds, and collect material from the surface of Bennu. Can they pull it off? NOVA takes you inside the mission as the team plans its approach: They must map the asteroid's surface, choose possible collection sites, and rehearse the risky maneuver. If the collection is successful, scientists could gain great insight into Earth's own origins—and even learn to defend against rogue asteroids that may one day threaten our planet.
2020 • Astronomy
A bold experiment to bring fierce African wild dogs back to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique reveals how predators—and the fear they trigger—play a surprising and crucial role in keeping wild ecosystems healthy. Until recently, the impact of predators on ecosystems was thought to be simple: predators eat prey, keeping their populations in check. But more and more, ecologists are realizing that it’s not all about consumption. In fact, just the presence of predators can cause significant changes in behavior. Scientists call this the “Landscape of Fear,” and in Gorongosa, they are hoping to harness its effects to help bring an ecosystem back from the brink.
2020 • Nature
A two-hour special from the producers of "Making Stuff" Where do nature's building blocks, called the elements, come from? They're the hidden ingredients of everything in our world, from the carbon in our bodies to the metals in our smartphones. To unlock their secrets, David Pogue, technology columnist and lively host of Nova’s popular "Making Stuff" series, spins viewers through the world of weird, extreme chemistry: the strongest acids, the deadliest poisons, the universe's most abundant elements, and the rarest of the rare—substances cooked up in atom smashers that flicker into existence for only fractions of a second.
2012 • Science
Against all odds, African-American chemist Percy Julian became one of the great scientists of the 20th century. The grandson of Alabama slaves, Percy Julian met with every possible barrier in a deeply segregated America. He was a man of genius, devotion, and determination. As a black man he was also an outsider, fighting to make a place for himself in a profession and country divided by bigotry—a man who would eventually find freedom in the laboratory. By the time of his death, Julian had risen to the highest levels of scientific and personal achievement, overcoming countless obstacles to become a world-class scientist, a self-made millionaire, and a civil-rights pioneer.
2007 • People
Coral reefs are not just beautiful, they are also home to over a quarter of all marine life and are crucial to human societies around the globe. But as the climate changes and oceanic heat waves become commonplace, corals are bleaching and reefs are dying off. Now, marine biologists from across the world are teaming up to counteract this catastrophe with a technique called assisted evolution. Follow scientists as they attempt to crossbreed heat-resistant corals, and even transplant corals’ algae, in a race to save the coral reefs from extinction
2021 • Environment
In the United States, some 10% of people who wish to have children struggle with infertility. It’s especially common in the African American community, and fertility preservation can be difficult for transgender individuals as well. But why is this? And what can be done about it? NOVA explores barriers to fertility, from the social to the biological, and the state of assisted reproductive technologies. Follow the journeys of people navigating challenges from structural inequalities and racism to falling sperm counts.
2021 • Science
Watch as birds solve puzzles and challenge our basic notions of intelligence. Call somebody a “bird brain,” and you’re not delivering them a compliment. But as NOVA shows, birds turn out to have advanced problem-solving skills that we usually assume are unique to humans. Watch astonishing tests of avian aptitude: parrots that can plan for the future, jackdaws that can “read” human faces, and crows that can solve multi-step puzzles with tools like pebbles, sticks, and hooks. Could these just be clever tricks based on instinct or triggered by subtle cues from their human handlers? To rule out any doubts, NOVA puts feathered Einsteins through their paces and reveals skills that even three- or four-year-old children have a hard time mastering—such as putting off one reward now to get a bigger one later. From this revolution in thinking about our feathered friends, the conclusion seems irresistible that bird brains see the world in ways that aren’t so different from our own.
2021 • Nature
Explore the buried clay warriors, chariots, and bronze weapons of China's first emperor. In central China, a vast underground mausoleum conceals a life-size terracotta army of cavalry, infantry, horses, chariots, weapons, administrators, acrobats, and musicians, all built to serve China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di, in the afterlife. Emperor's Ghost Army" explores how the Emperor directed the manufacture of the tens of thousands of bronze weapons carried by the clay soldiers. NOVA tests the power of these weapons with high-action experiments and reports on revolutionary 3D computer modeling techniques that are providing new insights into how the clay figures were made, revealing in the process the secrets of one of archaeology's greatest discoveries.
2015 • History
Bats have been implicated in deadly epidemics such as COVID-19 and Ebola, yet scientists are discovering evidence that they may hold a key to a longer and healthier life. From caves in Thailand and Texas to labs around the globe, NOVA meets the scientists who are decoding the superpowers of the bat.
2021 • Nature
Outnumbering atoms a billion to one, neutrinos are the universe's most common yet most elusive and baffling particle. NOVA joins an international team of neutrino hunters whose discoveries may change our understanding of how the universe works.
2021 • Physics
Join scientists on the most ambitious Arctic research expedition of all time. Experts from over twenty different nations join the voyage of the massive Polarstern icebreaker as it’s gripped by the polar ice and drifts for nearly an entire year. From this unique research station, they can make long-term observations and perform experiments in unprecedented detail. Facing hungry polar bears, perilous sea ice cracks, and brutal cold, the team strives to understand the forces that are changing the region—and the world—forever
2021 • Science
From crunchy crickets to nutty fly grubs, NOVA takes a tasty look at insect foods and how they could benefit our health and our warming planet. From Thailand to Texas, insect farmers are showing how the tiny critters stack up as an environmentally friendly alternative to beef protein and can, pound for pound, deliver better nutritional value than the finest steak. But will Americans overcome the “ick” factor and share the appetite of many cultures around the world for insect feasts?
2021 • Environment
The hidden scientific secrets of butterflies reveal them to be more inventive and resilient than we ever imagined. Follow their extraordinary life cycle and migrations to tropical rainforests, windswept prairies, and even inside a chrysalis as it’s being spun.
2022 • Nature
Sir David Attenborough investigates a unique site in southern England where amateur fossil hunters uncovered giant mammoth bones and evidence of Neanderthals. A team of paleontologists and archaeologists soon discover that the site preserves rare evidence of the extinct beasts and early human inhabitants of Britain dating to over 200,000 years ago. What skills did the early humans have to help them survive during the Ice Age? How did they hunt and protect themselves against formidable creatures such as mammoths? With hands-on experiments with replicas of Neanderthal-era spears and stone tools, the world of prehistoric Britain comes to life.
2022 • Nature
Follow the dramatic personal journey of Hugh Herr, a biophysicist working to create brain-controlled robotic limbs. At age 17, Herr’s legs were amputated after a climbing accident. Frustrated by the crude prosthetic limbs he was given, Herr set out to remedy their design, leading him to a career as an inventor of innovative prosthetic devices.
2022 • Brain
Follow Three women at risk of developing Alzheimer’s join a groundbreaking study to try to prevent the disease, while sharing their ups and downs, anxiously watching for symptoms, and hoping they can make a difference. Barb, Sigrid, and Karen all had mothers with Alzheimer’s and witnessed first hand the devastation wrought by the disease, not only on the mind and body, but on patients’ families.
2022 • Brain
Sagan reflects on the future of humanity and the question of "who speaks for Earth?" when meeting extraterrestrials. He discusses the very different meetings of the Tlingit people and explorer Jean-Francois de La Perouse with the destruction of the Aztecs by Spanish conquistadors, the looming threat of nuclear warfare, and the threats shown by destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the murder of Hypatia. The episode ends with an overview of the beginning of the universe, the evolution of life, and the accomplishments of humanity and makes a plea to mankind to cherish life and continue its journey in the cosmos. The Cosmos Update notes the preliminary reconnaissance of planets with spacecraft, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of apartheid in South Africa, and measures towards the reduction of nuclear weapons.
Neutron stars are one of the most extreme and violent things in the universe. Giant atomic nuclei, only a few kilometers in diameter but as massive as stars. And they owe their existence to the death of something majestic.
Brilliantly narrated by film and television legend Sir Patrick Stewart, Journey To Space gives a sweeping overview of humanity’s accomplishments in space, as well as our ongoing activities and future plans. Journey To Space puts into historical context the magnificent contributions made by the Space Shuttle program and its intrepid space pioneers. It uses the most spectacular space footage – including unique views of Earth and operations in space – such as deploying and repairing the Hubble Space Telescope. It then goes on to show how the shuttle launched and assembled the International Space Station (ISS). Together, these programs have taught us how to live, build and conduct scientific experiments in space. The ISS will continue operating in space until 2024, and the film shows how it is building a foundation for the next giant leaps into space, concluding with a fascinating, realistic scenario of how astronauts will actually get to Mars, live there for long durations, and then return home after a two-and-a-half-year mission.
2015 • Astronomy