New technologies are making rockets cheaper and more powerful than ever before. As companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic make space more accessible, and NASA returns to crewed spaceflight, a new era of space exploration may be on the horizon.
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
On November 25th, 1915, Einstein published his greatest work: general relativity. The theory transformed our understanding of nature’s laws and the entire history of the cosmos, reaching back to the origin of time itself. Now, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s achievement, NOVA tells the inside story of Einstein’s masterpiece. The story begins with the intuitive thought experiments that set Einstein off on his quest and traces the revolution in cosmology that is still playing out in today’s labs and observatories. Discover the simple but powerful ideas at the heart of relativity, illuminating the theory—and Einstein’s brilliance—as never before. From the first spark of an idea to the discovery of the expanding universe, the Big Bang, black holes, and dark energy, NOVA uncovers the inspired insights and brilliant breakthroughs of “the perfect theory.”
2015 • Physics
Four and a half billion years ago, the young Earth was a hellish place—a seething chaos of meteorite impacts, volcanoes belching noxious gases, and lightning flashing through a thin, torrid atmosphere. Then, in a process that has puzzled scientists for decades, life emerged. But how? NOVA joins mineralogist Robert Hazen as he journeys around the globe. From an ancient Moroccan market to the Australian Outback, he advances a startling and counterintuitive idea—that the rocks beneath our feet were not only essential to jump-starting life, but that microbial life helped give birth to hundreds of minerals we know and depend on today. It's a theory of the co-evolution of Earth and life that is reshaping the grand-narrative of our planet’s story.
2016 • Environment
Memory is the glue that binds our mental lives. Without it, we’d be prisoners of the present, unable to use the lessons of the past to change our future. From our first kiss to where we put our keys, memory represents who we are and how we learn and navigate the world. But how does it work? Neuroscientists using cutting-edge techniques are exploring the precise molecular mechanisms of memory. By studying a range of individuals ranging—from an 11-year-old whiz-kid who remembers every detail of his life to a woman who had memories implanted—scientists have uncovered a provocative idea. For much of human history, memory has been seen as a tape recorder that faithfully registers information and replays intact. But now, researchers are discovering that memory is far more malleable, always being written and rewritten, not just by us but by others. We are discovering the precise mechanisms that can explain and even control our memories. The question is—are we ready?
2016 • Brain
On a summer’s night, there’s nothing more magic than watching the soft glow of fireflies switching on and off. Few other life forms on land can light up the night, but in the dark depths of the oceans, it’s a different story: nearly 90% of all species shine from within. Whether it’s to scare off predators, fish for prey, or lure a mate, the language of light is everywhere in the ocean depths, and scientists are finally starting to decode it. NOVA and National Geographic take a dazzling dive to this hidden undersea world where most creatures flash, sparkle, shimmer, or simply glow. Join deep sea scientists who investigate these stunning displays and discover surprising ways to harness nature’s light—from tracking cancer cells to detecting pollution, lighting up cities, and even illuminating the inner workings of our brains.
2016 • Nature
With the rapid emergence of digital devices, an unstoppable, invisible force is changing human lives in ways from the microscopic to the gargantuan: Big Data, a word that was barely used a few years ago but now governs the day for almost all of us. This award-winning film explores how the real time visualization of data streaming in from satellites, billions of sensors and GPS enabled cameras and smart phones is beginning to enable us, as individuals and collectively as a society, to sense, measure and understand aspects of our existence in ways never possible before. Together these devices are helping create a new kind of planetary nervous system. This massive gathering and analyzing of data in real time is also allowing us to address to some of humanity biggest challenges, including pollution, world hunger, and illness. But as Edward Snowden and the release of the NSA documents have shown, the accessibility of all this data comes at a steep price.
2016 • Technology
Alzheimer’s disease strikes at the core of what makes us human: our capacity to think, to love, and to remember. The disease ravages the minds of over 40 million victims worldwide, and it is one of the greatest medical mysteries of our time. Join investigators as they gather clues and attempt to reconstruct the molecular chain of events that ultimately leads to dementia, and follow key researchers in the field who have helped to develop the leading theories of the disease. Along the way, meet individuals from all walks of life who will reveal what it’s like to struggle with Alzheimer’s. Among them, members of a unique Colombian family who have learned that their genetic predisposition all but guarantees early onset Alzheimer’s. Yet there may be hope. Join these courageous patients participating in clinical trials, and then go behind the scenes of the major drug trials to see how researchers target and test therapies that may slow and even prevent Alzheimer’s.
2016 • Brain
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
Almost everything we know today about the beautiful giant ringed planet comes from Cassini, the NASA mission that launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. Since then, the space probe has been beaming home miraculous images and scientific data, revealing countless wonders about the planet, its rings and 62 moons - including some that could harbor life. As the mission approaches its final days in 2017, it attempts one last set of daring maneuvers - diving between the innermost ring and the top of Saturn's atmosphere. Aiming to skim less than 2000 miles above the cloud tops, no spacecraft has ever gone so close to Saturn, and hopes are high for incredible observations that could solve major mysteries about the planet's core. But such a daring maneuver comes with many risks and is no slam dunk. In fact, slamming into rocks in the rings is a real possibility. Join NASA engineers for the tense and triumphant moments as they find out if their bold re-programming has worked, and discover the wonders that Cassini has revealed over the years.
2017 • Astronomy
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
Our lives are going digital. We shop, bank, and even date online. Computers hold our treasured photographs, private emails, and all of our personal information. This data is precious—and cybercriminals want it. Now, NOVA goes behind the scenes of the fast-paced world of cryptography to meet the scientists battling to keep our data safe. They are experts in extreme physics, math, and a new field called "ultra-paranoid computing," all working to forge unbreakable codes and build ultra-fast computers. From the sleuths who decoded the world's most advanced cyber weapon to scientists who believe they can store a password in your unconscious brain, NOVA investigates how a new global geek squad is harnessing cutting-edge science—all to stay one step ahead of the hackers.
2014 • Technology
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
As France fell to the German armies in May 1940, 300,000 Allied troops were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. Their annihilation seemed certain - a disaster that could have led to Britain's surrender. But then, in a last-minute rescue dramatized in Christopher Nolan's recent film, Royal Navy ships and a flotilla of tiny civilian boats evacuated hundreds of thousands of soldiers to safety across the Channel - the legendary "miracle of Dunkirk." Now, NOVA follows a team of archaeologists, historians, and divers as they recover the remains of ships, planes, and personal effects lost during the epic operation. With access to previously classified files recently released by the UK government, they also uncover the truth behind the myths of Dunkirk - notably, a claim that the Royal Air Force failed to protect the stranded men from the Luftwaffe's constant bombing of the beaches. Featuring an exclusive excavation of a newly-found Spitfire wreck, NOVA debunks the myth and highlights the essential role that the RAF's iconic fighter played in reversing the desperate stakes that played out in the air above the beleaguered men.
2018 • History
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 operating room to witness organ transplant teams transferring organs from donors to recipients. Meet families navigating both sides of a transplant, and researchers working to end the organ shortage. Their efforts to understand organ rejection, discover ways to keep organs alive outside the body, and even grow artificial organs with stem cells, could save countless lives.
2018 • Health
Hear firsthand from individuals struggling with addiction and follow the cutting-edge work of doctors and scientists as they investigate why addiction is not a moral failing, but a chronic, treatable medical condition. Easy access to drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and even prescription medications like OxyContin has fueled an epidemic of addiction - the deadliest in US history. Now, science is revealing how addiction affects the brain, and top experts are gathering evidence about how we should address our drug problem, from embracing evidence-based treatments, to rethinking public policies.
2018 • Health
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
See the world through the eyes of nature’s fastest animal: the peregrine falcon. Though once perilously endangered in the U.S., this spectacular predator is now thriving again in American cities and on every continent but Antarctica. What is the secret to its predatory prowess? Join expert falconer Lloyd Buck as he trains a captive peregrine and puts its hunting skills to the test.
2018 • Nature
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 May 2018, Kilauea volcano erupted, obliterating neighborhoods with devastating force and uprooting thousands of local residents. It is Hawaii's most destructive volcanic eruption in generations. How can one of the most beautiful places on Earth suddenly transform into a roaring inferno, sputtering molten lava and bombs of volcanic rock the size of refrigerators? On the ground in the early days of the eruption, NOVA joins scientists and residents alike on a breathtaking journey to investigate Kilauea's recent spike in activity. Along the way, some of Hawaii's biggest secrets are revealed: Why did these geologically distinctive volcanoes form in the middle of the Pacific? How did life establish itself on the remote islands? What does this tell us about the future of Hawaii? And what dangers yet lurk for the inhabitants of the island paradise?
2019 • Environment
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
Since 1976, the Dead Sea's level has dropped more than 100 feet, leaving its coastline pockmarked with thousands of sinkholes. NOVA follows the unprecedented endeavor to connect the Red Sea to the Dead Sea by way of a massive desalination plant - perhaps the world's largest water chemistry experiment - as scientists race to save the Dead Sea and bring water to one of the driest regions on Earth.
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
Forty years ago, hundreds of skeletons were unearthed in a mass grave in an English village. Bioarchaeologist Cat Jarman believes these bones are the last remains of the “Great Heathen Army,” a legendary Viking fighting force that invaded England in the ninth century and has long been lost to history. Armed with the latest scientific methods, Cat’s team uncovers extraordinary human stories from the front line, including evidence of women fighters and a lost warrior reunited with his son in death
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
The US efforts to colonize the Moon will follow the Lunar Exploration Roadmap, laid out with events taking place over decades. Other countries have plans as well. How will robots be deployed to work on the Moon? At what stage will people inhabit the environment? What minerals will be harvested?
Black holes are one of the most destructive forces in the universe, capable of tearing a planet apart and swallowing an entire star. Yet scientists now believe they could hold the key to answering the ultimate question: what was there before the big bang?
There is a new kind of weather to worry about, and it comes from our nearest star. Scientists are expecting a fit of violent activity on the sun which will propel billions of tonnes of superheated gas and pulses of energy towards our planet. They have the power to close down our modern technological civilisation - e.g. in 1989, a solar storm cut off the power to the Canadian city of Quebec. Horizon meets the space weathermen who are trying to predict what is coming our way, and organistions like the National Grid, who are preparing for the impending solar storms.
NASA is on a mission to send humans to Mars within just 15 years, but to reach this next frontier of space exploration, experts must discover new technology and cutting-edge science that protects astronauts from the Red Planet's deadliest killers.
We don't yet know where the edge of the universe is or what happens there; but thanks to cutting-edge technology and new discoveries, experts might finally reveal the secrets of the phenomena that can be found in deepest reaches of the cosmos.