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.
The shape, contents and future of the universe are all intricately related. We know that it's mostly flat; we know that it's made up of baryonic matter (like stars and planets), but mostly dark matter and dark energy; and we know that it's expanding constantly, so that all stars will eventually burn out into a cold nothingness. Renée Hlozek expands on the beauty of this dark ending.
In order to understand how we study the universe, we need to talk a little bit about light. Light is a form of energy. Its wavelength tells us its energy and color. Spectroscopy allows us to analyze those colors and determine an object’s temperature, density, spin, motion, and chemical composition.
Quantum theory, the best explanation of how atoms and anything smaller behave, is so weird even scientists who have mastered it find it baffling. But bit by bit scientists are finding maybe it's not so weird as comparable behavior is discovered in our every day world. It's just that no one noticed before.
The first episode of this series focuses on a subject that has fascinated scientists for hundreds of years - stars. Right now in the Universe's giant furnaces stars are being born. See how their creation changed the cosmos forever, leading to planets and life itself.