Solar Storms: The Threat to Planet Earth

Category: Astronomy

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.

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Encyclopaedia Galactica

Questions are raised about the search for intelligent life beyond the Earth, with UFOs and other close encounters refuted in favor of communications through SETI and radio telescope such as the Arecibo Observatory. The probability of technically advanced civilizations existing elsewhere in the Milky Way is interpreted using the Drake equation and a future hypothetical Encyclopedia Galactica is discussed as a repository of information about other worlds in the galaxy. The Cosmos Update notes that there have been fewer sightings of UFOs and more stories of abductions, while mentioning the META scanning the skies for signals.

12/13Cosmos: A Personal Voyage • 1980 • Astronomy

One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue

Sagan discusses the story of the Heike crab and artificial selection of crabs resembling samurai warriors, as an opening into a larger discussion of evolution through natural selection (and the pitfalls of intelligent design). Among the topics are the development of life on the Cosmic Calendar and the Cambrian explosion; the function of DNA in growth; genetic replication, repairs, and mutation; the common biochemistry of terrestrial organisms; the creation of the molecules of life in the Miller-Urey experiment; and speculation on alien life (such as life in Jupiter's clouds). In the Cosmos Update ten years later, Sagan remarks on RNA also controlling chemical reactions and reproducing itself and the different roles of comets (potentially carrying organic molecules or causing the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event).

2/13Cosmos: A Personal Voyage • 1980 • Astronomy


The Sun created our Solar System and in a fit of cosmic cannibalism will engulf and destroy it. However, our Solar System will see many changes before the light of our star goes out. So, what will be happening with the planets over the next four billion years, before the Sun swallows us and them?

8/8The Planets • 2004 • Astronomy

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Astronaut Mike Massimino reveals the mysterious secrets of Saturn and its rings; using the latest science from the Cassini mission, he explores the planet's giant icy geysers, powerful hurricanes, and moon that may be hiding extraterrestrial life.

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The Lives of the Stars

The simple act of making an apple pie is extrapolated into the atoms and subatomic particles (electrons, protons, and neutrons) necessary. Many of the ingredients necessary are formed of chemical elements formed in the life and deaths of stars (such as our own Sun), resulting in massive red giants and supernovae or collapsing into white dwarfs, neutron stars, pulsars, and even black holes. These produce all sorts of phenomena, such as radioactivity, cosmic rays, and even the curving of spacetime by gravity. Cosmos Update mentions the supernova SN 1987A and neutrino astronomy.

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