Growing up, there was always a fascination within me for space and what it could hold, and the history of the space age that fired peoples’ imaginations across the globe and led to innumerable scientific developments that then spinballed into other areas of global society. Whenever there would be an article about space in the newspaper, I would read it. In high school, I began to assemble a science notebook, in which I pasted newspaper articles focused on scientific developments, particularly anything to do with space. Authors like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov were among those who fired my imagination and it is as much because of them as anything else that I am a science fiction fan these days.
One of the things I love about Star Trek, in all its myriad forms, is that it is about exploration, about adventure, about going into the unknown and seeing what makes the universe tick. That is one of the most fundamental reasons that I am a fan of that setting. And in the Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey documentary series that recently launched, I see that same zest for knowledge, though in this case it is much more immediate and shows how the fanciful can very well be reality. I just saw the first episode and I am enthralled by what it did.
One of the executive producers behind this show is Brannon Braga, a name that Trekkies will no doubt recognise instantly. Over the years, he has been one of the most high-profile people behind the modern Star Trek franchises and he has served as an executive producer on them as well. When this new series started with this premier episode, and on and on as it continued, I felt very much in the Star Trek mindset, particularly with respect to The Next Generation and Enterprise. There was a zest for the discovery of the knowledge in this episode that I associate with those shows, pioneering shows in their own right. And it felt good. It drew me in, and didn’t let go.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the most high-profile and socially communicative astrophysicists of our time, is the host for the show. The original version of the show, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, was hosted by Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson essentially takes over for that noted astrophysicist and science communicator for this follow-up series to that hit show. Neil’s hosting leaves something to be desired, but man, his voice is one of the reasons why I stuck with the episode all through the end. He explores a ton of fascinating concepts, such as the birth of the universe, the creation of life, the formation of stars and planets, the solar system, the evolution of humanity, the scientific horizons set in motion in the 16th century, and more. And he does it all with a flair that I didn’t expect going in.
You see, the best part of this episode was seeing visual evidence of astrophysics. It is one thing to know and read that the big bang happened and that stars and galaxies coalesced just so. It is quite another to see a visual representation of that. To see stellar nurseries. To see rogue planets.
And most of all, Neil explores the concept of the history of the universe by condensing into all into a cosmic calendar one year long. Right from the big bang and the creation of everything in the entire universe (or even the multiverse!), all the way to the present time. On that cosmic calendar, recorded history occupies little more than a few brief minutes of the last and final day. That is our significance and our insignificance in the universe. We are indeed nothing more than a blimp, an infinitesimal spot on the surface of the tapestry of the universe.
And through it all, we are presented with one visual after another that speaks to the romantic and adventurer at heart. As Neil says, we are small in the overall scale of things, but we dream big.
Over the course of the show, we also get a bit of a dose of history as Neil explores the role of Giordano Bruno, a sixteenth century priest and astronomer who first put forward the idea of there being countless stars and planets in creation, although he lacked any proof. The show does itself a disservice by not exploring more of the history of Copernicus and Galileo, two of the giants of astronomy from that era, but at the same time, I can appreciate the reduced focus, even if it doesn’t sit well with me.
Overall though, I loved this episode. It plays to the fascination of the mind with the secrets of the universe, and it does all of that in a very approachable manner, so that even a layman can understand what is being said. And the score, composed by Alan Silvestri, is just amazing too. Hauntingly beautiful is what I’d call it.
So, to close, I would certainly recommend that you check out this show, and give it a chance. Perhaps it will fire your imagination too!