We take viewers into the tangle of magnetic fields and super-hot plasma that vent the Sun’s rage in dramatic flares, violent solar tornadoes, and the largest eruptions in the solar system: Coronal Mass Ejections. What’s driving these strange phenomena? How do they affect planet Earth?
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).
The Known Universe takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang. Every star, planet, and quasar seen in the film is possible because of the world's most complete four-dimensional map of the universe, the Digital Universe Atlas that is maintained and updated by astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History.
As we continue to discover the diversity of life on Earth, we are forced to stop and marvel at how tenacious and inventive life is. So, as we forge onward in our robotic explorations of other worlds, we shouldn't be too surprised to find other places where conditions seem to be right for life.
We reveal the planetary enigmas on our doorstep and embark on the New Horizons voyage to photograph Pluto. Will our encounter with this tiny ball of ice and rock and the trillions of icy objects beyond it paint a clearer picture of how the planets came to be?