Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review: Third Episode of “When Knowledge Conquered Fear”

The saga that is Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey continued on Sunday as host Neil deGrasse-Tyson explored a time “When Knowledge Conquered Fear,” which reveals the means by which the discovery of cosmic mechanics (Newton's laws of motion) were discovered, all starting with a childhood question asked by a young Edmond Halley: where do comets come from?

For thousands of years, humans were fearful of comets. Ever since the dawn of history, it was a recognized fact that humans were looking at and studying the sky, which was found to have familiar, regular patterns to its movements that the early humans undoubtedly found comforting in an ever-changing, dangerous world. In time, the study of the sky would lead to the calendar, which made the agricultural revolution possible.

Then came the comets.

Suddenly appearing as if out of nowhere, comets, with their unusual appearance, caused alarm among people because they were a cosmic wild card that didn't fit the familiar pattern. In time, comets became associated with the deaths of kings, plagues, war, and other, unpleasant happenings. By the 1600s and the life of Edmond Halley, these superstitions were starting to fade from thought, but a question still remained: where did comets come from?

By the time Halley was a young man, calculating orbits of celestial bodies was possible, as was describing how they move. As for the 'why,' that was still unknown. The rest of the episode details how Halley and a reclusive, shy Issac Newton became lifelong friends and collaborators and how Halley inspired Newton to publish his groundbreaking Principia, which was the final word in physics for about 250 years and which also answered the question asked by a young Halley: where do comets come from?


The third episode is the best yet. Here, the new series really hits its stride, fully equaling the old. One thing that made the original series so special was its intertwining of science, history, and the human experience. In this episode, the story of Halley, Newton, their science, and feud with Robert Hooke all come together to make a whirlwind of a ride that is both informative and entertaining and that seems to fly by far faster than the official 60 minute time slot.

After watching episode 3, I can't wait for the remaining 10 episodes! Well done, Cosmos crew!

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