Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Best of Cosmos – Remembering Carl Sagan

Today on Cosmic Visions we commemorate the memory of Carl Sagan who died an untimely death thirteen years ago today. Carl Sagan, was an astronomer, astrochemist, author, and highly successful popularizer of astronomy, astrophysics and other natural sciences. He pioneered exobiology and promoted the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). For me personally he will always be remembered and revered as a great teacher who communicated the joys and transcendence of scientific discovery. Carl Sagan’s enduring legacy will always be linked to his ability to convey the wonders of science to the general public and his skill in inspiring the next generation of scientists. Carl Sagan’s name will also be forever linked to the greatest science television series in history – Cosmos.

Sagan made the front cover of Time Magazine (Monday October 20th, 1980) which dubbed him the “Showman of Science.” The cover story, entitled ‘The Cosmic Explainer’ by Frederic Golden contains a very good biographical sketch of Carl and appeared when his landmark documentary Cosmos graced our television screens some thirty years ago.

So in order to commemorate the thirteenth anniversary of his death we are presenting a retrospective of the very best moments and highlights of the highly acclaimed documentary series Cosmos and the A&E Channel’s profile of Carl Sagan which aired shortly after his unfortunate death. It is a very good portrayal of how a kid from Brooklyn made good and became something of a media superstar —“indeed, a supernova of sorts”. So for your perusal “Heeere's Carl, bringing you nothing less than the Cosmos.”

Best of Sagan's Cosmos

Carl Sagan A Biography

Thursday, December 3, 2009

One of Carl Sagan's Most Pertinent Messages for Humanity

"Those worlds in space are as countless as all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the Earth. Each of those worlds is as real as ours. In every one of them, there's a sucsession of incidence, events, occurences which influence its future. Countless worlds, numberless moments, an immensity of space and time. And our small planet, at this moment, here we face a critical branch-point in history. What we do with our world, right now, will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants. It is well within our power to destroy our civilization, and perhaps our species as well. If we capitulate to superstition, or greed, or stupidty we can plunge our world into a darkness deeper than time between the collapse of classical civilization and the Italian Renaissaince. But, we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth, to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet. To enhance enormously our understanding of the Universe, and to carry us to the stars." Carl Sagan explains the immensity of space and time. This clip is from Carl Sagan's Cosmos episode 8, "Journeys in Space and Time."
Carl Edward Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Journey to 10,000 B.C

Today on Discovery Enterprise we journey to the year 10,000 BC and experience the suspense and heart-pounding action of a woolly mammoth hunt. A single kill could feed the tribe for weeks. As the winters grow curiously colder and longer, this vital source of nourishment becomes even more critical. Experience the land where giant ground sloths, great saber-toothed cats, and camels roamed. Witness their extinctions and live through the cataclysms that we are only now beginning to understand.

Journey to 10,000 B.C.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Search for Shangri-La

The dream of an earthly paradise immune to the squalid wickedness of the world and the ravages of time comes to us from the depths of antiquity. One such place was - Shangri-La.

In the novel “Lost Horizon” published in 1933, James Hilton takes us on an odyssey to the earthly paradise Shangri-La hidden in a valley somewhere in the Himalayas between Tibet and India. Of all of James Hilton’s works this was always my most favourite.

But, is the legend of Shangri-La rooted in some, very real, earthly reality? Did such a place really exist? Today on Discovery Enterprise we are going on an epic voyage in search of the real Shangri-La with renowned BBC journalist Michael Wood in his awe inspiring documentary series “In Search of Myths and Heroes.”

We are also going to teleport ourselves to Shangri-La through the power of cinematic magic and the vision of legendary film director Frank Capra in his film masterpiece that brought James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon to life on the silver screen.

So join us dear readers and let us take you on a magical voyage away from the dreary drudgery and cares of your everyday life to the far away and carefree world of Shangri-La. May you like, our hero Conway, find your own very real Shangri-La.

In Search of Myths and Heroes – The Search for Shangri-La

Frank Capara's famous motion picture classic - Lost Horizon (1937)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Pet Dinosaur

What if the Cretaceous-Tertiary impact that ended the reign of the Dinosaurs never occurred? Would these magnificent creatures, which could only be described by superlatives, still be walking the Earth? Would these creatures have gone on to evolve intelligence and perhaps a technological civilization? It is perhaps the greatest question concerning an alternative evolutionary history of life on Earth. Today on Discovery Enterprise we explore this alternative evolutionary history with the BBC Horizon documentary – My Pet Dinosaur.

It's a palaeontologist's dream: the chance to live in a world where dinosaurs are not something to be dug out of the ground but are living among us. It may sound far-fetched but dinosaurs were actually rather unlucky. The meteorite impact that doomed them to extinction was an event with a probability of millions to one. What if the meteorite had missed?

Had dinosaurs survived, the world today would be very different. If humans managed to survive alongside them (very unlikely), we wouldn't have the company of most, if not all, of the mammals with which we are familiar today. Giraffes, elephants and other mammals wouldn't have had space to evolve.

Would we be hunting Hadrosaurs instead of elk? Or farming Protoceratops instead of pigs? Would dinosaurs be kept as pets? And could the brighter dinosaurs have evolved into something humanoid?

My Pet Dinosaur

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Einstein and Eddington: The Story of General Relativity

Today on Cosmic Visions we proudly present the BBC docudrama “Einstein and Eddington” This is the story about Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity, his relationship with Arthur Stanley Eddington and the introduction of this theory to the world, against the backdrop of the Great War.

During the 1920s and 30s Eddington gave innumerable lectures, interviews, and radio broadcasts on relativity (in addition to his textbook Mathematical Theory of Relativity), and later, quantum mechanics. Many of these were gathered into books, including The Nature of the Physical World and New Pathways in Science. His skillful use of literary allusions and humor helped make these famously difficult subjects quite accessible.

To obtain various works by (and about) Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, which are very difficult to obtain elsewhere go here.

If for some reason this wonderful movie does not appear below you can watch it directly by clicking on the title below:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The High Road to the Moon

Neil Armstrong’s one small step for [a] man was the culmination of the greatest scientific, technological and cultural advance in human history. It was indeed a giant leap for mankind. It proved, beyond any question of doubt, that humankind had taken the first evolutionary stride in becoming a multi-planetary species. While history will bear witness that July 20th, 1969 marked a technological and political victory for the United States, in its Cold War race to beat the Soviet Union to the moon, in point of fact it was also an international triumph. The tireless effort of numerous scientists, engineers and visionaries from many lands had finally come to fruition. Thirty years before this pivotal event, a group of far-sighted Brits known as the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) set forth the guidelines for such a lunar voyage.

The British Interplanetary Society (BIS) was founded in 1933 by Mr. P.E. Cleator in the city of Liverpool. As noted by writer David H. Szondy it “was blessed with a fortuitous mixture of circumstances. On the one hand it boasted a membership of highly intelligent individuals with active imaginations. And on the other, English law prohibited civilian rocket experiments, which probably saved several bank accounts and quite a few limbs.” In 1937 it was decided to begin a study of a Lunar landing mission, in order to prove that such missions were possible.” The results of that study were subsequently published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society of January and July 1939.

It used as its base line, the most advanced rocket technology known in Britain at the time - powdered rockets. Later in 1947 the Moonship was redesigned when German advances with liquid fuelled rockets, during the Second World War, came to light. Never the less, the original 1939 study pushed the technological envelope of what could possibly be envisaged with solid propellant. There lies the innovative beauty of this study. The rocket they designed was unprecedented in its size. It was the solid fuelled equivalent of the mighty Saturn V. Their design called for a rocket which was 100 feet tall by 20 feet in diameter and weighed more than 1,000 tonnes. Its propulsion system was comprised of six booster stages consisting of 2,490 solid fuelled rockets arranged in cellular honeycombs.

This enormous rocket was to be launched from a floating platform with the rocket itself place inside a partially submerged caisson on a high-altitude lake near the equator. Two locations considered were Lake Titicaca and Lake Victoria. The one tonne spacecraft crowning it consisted of a pressurised cabin reminiscent of the Apollo command module. Its mission was to deliver a crew of three to the lunar surface. The landing gear was very similar to that eventually used in the Apollo Lunar Module thirty years later. And, because the effects of weightlessness were unknown at the time, the BIS lunar ship was to be rotated around its major axis to create artificial gravity.

In order to compensate for the ships rotation they designed an optical instrument for navigational purposes known as the Coelostat. Its function was to provide a stationary view of the heavens from within the ship.

When the mission was completed the spaceship was to re-enter the earth's atmosphere and use a parachute for final descent.

One of the greatest what ifs of history is, weather or not the mission as originally conceived, could have been completed successfully. Could Great Britain have been the first to the moon? British science fiction writers Stephen Baxter and Simon Bradshaw have written such a story entitled “
First to the Moon” and is one of series of stories being conceived about a possible British space program if history had only unfolded differently. The only other story written so far is “Prospero One”.

The remarkable story behind this mission is told in wonderful book entitled “
The High Road to the Moon”. It contains the collected pictures of R.A. Smith with text by Bob Parkinson. Originally published in 1979, it is now available from the British Interplanetary Society on CD.

Yet, Britain never became an active participant in the space race. It wasn't because of a major lack of technical know how but, a major lack of political will as outlined in the book "
A Vertical Empire: The History of the UK Rocket and Space Programme, 1950-1971" by C.N. Hill.


Many of the pictures used in this article are to be credited to Mark Wade, and his very informative website
Encyclopedia Astronautica and the late R.A. Smith of the British Interplanetary Society.

Finally, I would like to dedicate this article to the original BIS Moonship design team led by J Happian Edwards and which included: H Bramhill (draftsman), Arthur C Clarke (astronomer), A V Cleaver (aircraft engineer), M K Hanson (mathematician), Arthur Hanser (chemist), S Klemantski (biologist), HE Ross (electrical engineer), and R A Smith (turbine engineer). Their pioneering work eventually paved the way for the voyages of Apollo.

Author’s Note: My own personal blog site “Cosmic Visions” has lain fallow as of late and I felt it was appropriate to make good use of it by posting some of the articles I wrote in the past for the Discovery Enterprise Blog site. I wrote this article back in July 2007 to commemorate the thirty eighth anniversary of the first manned Moon Landing by the crew of Apollo 11. The picture of the British Interplanetary Moonship on the lunar surface was provided through the kind generosity of space artist David A. Hardy. Be sure to visit the new video page featuring stunning videos of David A. Hardy in action as he paints his cosmic masterpieces.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Double Helix the DNA Years

Today on Cosmic Visions we proudly present the documentary series "Double Helix the DNA Years” which is a fascinating and exciting chronicle of the search for the secret of heredity.

Double Helix the DNA Years

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Darwin's Struggle - The Evolution of the Origin of Species

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

--Charles Darwin, On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. London: John Murray. [1st edition] published November 24, 1859

Today on Cosmic Visions we commemorate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s landmark book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” with the wonderful BBC documentary “Darwin's Struggle - The Evolution of the Origin of Species.”

This stunning documentary tells the little-known story of how Darwin came to write his great masterpiece.

On the Origin of Species, is a book which explains the wonderful variety of life as emerging out of death and the struggle of existence by means of a process he called Natural Selection.

Natural selection is the processes by which heritable traits that make it more likely for an organism to survive and successfully reproduce to become more common in a population over successive generations. It is a key mechanism of evolution.

In the twenty years he took to develop this brilliant idea into a revolutionary book, Darwin went through a personal struggle every bit as turbulent as that of the natural world he observed. Fortunately, he left us an extraordinary record of his brilliant insights, observations of nature, and touching expressions of love and affection for those around him.

Darwin also wrote frank accounts of family tragedies, physical illnesses and moments of self-doubt, as he laboured towards publication of the book that would change the way we see the world. The story is told with the benefit of Darwin's secret notes and correspondence, enhanced by natural history filming, powerful imagery from the time and contributions from leading contemporary biographers and scientists.

Author's Note: The complete works of Charles Darwin, including the first edition of On the Origin of Species, are available online for your reading pleasure.

Darwin's Struggle - The Evolution of the Origin of Species

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Voyage of Charles Darwin Episodes Two and Three

Tuesday November 24th, 2009 marks the hundred fiftieth anniversary of Charles Darwin’s publication of his master work “On the Origin of Species”. Today on Cosmic Visions we continue our commemoration of the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and his life and achievements by joining him on his historic five year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle with the second and third installments of the wonderful television series “The Voyage of Charles Darwin” produced by the BBC in 1978.

The Voyage of Charles Darwin - Episode 2

Watch The Voyage of Charles Darwin (Episode 2) in Educational | View More Free Videos Online at

The Voyage of Charles Darwin - Episode 3

Watch The Voyage of Charles Darwin (Episode 3) in Educational | View More Free Videos Online at

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Voyage of Charles Darwin - Episode 1

Tuesday November 24th, 2009 marks the hundred fiftieth anniversary of Charles Darwin’s publication of his master work “On the Origin of Species”. Today on Cosmic Visions we continue our year long celebration of the life and achievements of Charles Darwin by joining him on his historic five year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle in this wonderful television series produced by the BBC in 1978.

Darwin’s five year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle was an odyssey through time as well as space for it led Darwin to discover the principle mechanism that has shaped and sculpted every life form that has graced our world across the eons of life’s existence on our planet.

The Voyage of Charles Darwin - Episode 1

Watch The Voyage of Charles Darwin (Episode 1) in Educational | View More Free Videos Online at

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Real Neanderthal Man

Today on Cosmic visions we will take a journey through time and visit Europe during the last ice age and encounter a remarkable group of people.

Some forty two thousand years ago, the only living humans in Europe made clothes, educated their young, made tools. But they were not us. Now twenty first century science can reveal exactly how they lived, the dangers they faced and the communities they made in the Neander valley of Germany.

In 1856, two workers found sixteen bones in a limestone quarry in the Neander Valley, east of Düsseldorf. It was originally thought the bones belonged to a cave bear, but they were subsequently found to be the remains of an early human quite distinct and different from our own species.

Now more than one hundred and fifty years after their discovery these bones along with recently discovered bone fragments associated with the original fossil finds reveal some remarkable details concerning the life of this individual.

And, with the aid of DNA samples recovered from the original fossils we are beginning to build a genetic library that will shed light on how closely related the Neanderthal species was to our own. This genetic research poses another outstanding possibility. Could we one day resurrect this individual and his contemporaries by cloning them?

These and other recent discoveries paint a totally different and more humane portrait concerning this man and his contemporaries. A portrait that highlights some remarkable facts concerning Neanderthal man’s tool manufacturing technology, his social organization and his spiritual beliefs.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What Darwin Didn't Know

A hundred and fifty years ago Charles Darwin published his master work on the origin of species. His explanation of the why there is so much diversity of life on Earth was so seductive, and so simple that it seems obvious today.

Anyone who is serious about science takes evolution for granted. But it's extraordinary that we do, because Darwin's theory was riddled with holes. It contained, as he freely admitted, much speculation and yet he had no doubt that future generations would complete his work and demonstrate the essential truth of his vision, and for a hundred and fifty years that is what scientist have been doing.

Now as we approach the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s seminal work “On the Origin of Species” on 24th November, 1859, twenty-first century science is providing the evidence to fill the holes in Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The evolution of life on Earth is no longer a matter of speculation but a well supported fact.

What Darwin Didn't Know

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Evolution - What about GOD?

Of all species, we alone attempt to explain who we are and how we came to be. This final show explores the struggle between science and religion. Through the personal stories of students and teachers, it offers the view that they are compatible.

Today join us on Cosmic Visions as we continue our year long celebration of the life and work of Charles Darwin and explore the conflict between Science and Faith with the last installment of the landmark PBS television series “Evolution” – What about God?

Evolution - What about GOD?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Evolution - The Mind’s Big Bang

How and when the human mind emerged is the most profound question facing science today. The appearance of human sentience has transformed the landscape of our planet and has propelled evolution into realms which transcend the very limitations of genetics. What forces contributed to this breakthrough? Where might the power of the human mind and intellect ultimately lead humanity?

The human mind has allowed the human species to transcend its physical limitations and has made humankind pioneers of a whole new form of evolution which is distinctly non-biological. This new realm of evolution is Cultural Evolution. It is this new dominion of evolution that has made us the most dominant life form on this planet and has set us on a trajectory that will one day take us out amongst the stars. What then? How will the human intellect continue to evolve amyst the starry ferment?

Today join us Cosmic Visions as we continue our year long celebration of the life and work of Charles Darwin and explore the origins of the human mind and human consciousness with the sixth installment of the landmark PBS television series “Evolution” – The Mind’s Big Bang.

Evolution - The Mind’s Big Bang

Friday, May 29, 2009

Evolution - The Sexual Revolution

The sexual revolution did not begin in the 1960s with flower power or with the slogan “make love and not war”. The vanguard of the sexual revolution weren’t the hippies who “wore flowers in their hair” that Scott McKenzie immortalized in his generational anthem, "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)". Rather sex can trace its humble beginnings to the true pioneers of the Sexual Revolution - the cyanobacteria and other eukaryotes at the dawn of evolutionary history.

The advent of sex may not have begun with the first micro orgasm but, it was no less earth moving.

With advent of sexual reproduction, some one and half billion years ago, life on Earth took a major evolutionary leap. Until then evolution was agonizingly slow. Before life stumbled on sex as a reproductive strategy new varieties of organisms could only arise from the accumulation of random mutations - the selection of a few typographical errors, letter by letter, in life’s genetic code. With the invention of sex, two organisms could now exchange whole paragraphs, pages and books of their DNA code, and thus evolution could proceed at a faster pace.

In evolutionary terms, sex is more important than life itself. Sex fuels evolutionary change by adding variation to the gene pool. The powerful urge to pass our genes on to the next generation has likely changed the face of human culture in ways we are only now beginning to fully understand.

Today on Cosmic Visions we continue our year long celebration of the life and work of the naturalist Charles Darwin and the epic story of life on Earth with the fifth installment of the landmark PBS television series “Evolution” – Why Sex.

Evolution – Why Sex

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Evolution - red in tooth and claw

Today on Cosmic Visions we continue our year long celebration of the life and work of the naturalist Charles Darwin with the fourth episode of the landmark PBS television series “Evolution” - Evolutionary Arms Race.

When we consider the evolutionary history of life on Earth, the following famous adage comes to mind:

“Nature, red in tooth and claw”

I always wondered if it was indeed Charles Darwin himself who penned this famous phrase. A little research through the pages of Wikipedia and The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 3rd edition provided the answer.

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law --
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieked against his creed.
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson

These words were penned by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his poem “In Memoriam A.H.H.” and this quote comes from a group of cantos entitled, "In Memorium A.H.H." (1850). This quote comes from canto LVI, and the entire work written over a period of 17 years and completed in 1849. It is a requiem for the poet's Cambridge friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage in Vienna in 1833, but it is also much more. It can be seen as reflective of Victorian society at the time, and the poem discusses many of the issues that were beginning to be questioned. It is the work in which Tennyson reaches his highest musical peaks and his poetic experience comes full circle. It is regarded as one of the greatest poems of the 19th century.

The original title of the poem was "The Way of the Soul", and this might give an idea of how the poem is an account of all Tennyson's thoughts and feelings as he copes with his grief over such a long period - including wrestling with the big scientific-philosophical questions of his day. It is perhaps because of this that the poem is still popular with and of interest to modern readers. Owing to its length and its arguable breadth of focus, the poem might not be thought an elegy or a dirge in the strictest formal sense.

In writing the poem, Tennyson was influenced by the ideas of evolution presented in Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation which had been published in 1844, and had caused a storm of controversy about the theological implications of impersonal nature functioning without direct divine intervention. The fundamentalist idea of unquestioning belief in revealed truth taken from a literal interpretation of the Bible was already in conflict with the findings of science, and Tennyson expressed the difficulties evolution raised for faith in "the truths that never can be proved".

Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life;
That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,
I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world's altar-stairs
That slope thro' darkness up to God,
I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.

This poem was published before Charles Darwin made his theory public in 1859. However, the phrase "Nature, red in tooth and claw" in canto 56 quickly was adopted by others as a phrase that evokes the process of natural selection. It was and is used by both those opposed to and in favour of the theory of evolution.

“Nature, red in tooth and claw”

This famous quote has come to symbolise the very essence of the evolutionary struggle as outlined by Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of Natural Selection. But, is that all evolution is? Is it just an unending struggle for survival? How about cooperation? Does this play a role in evolution? Has the entire biosphere of our planet evolved into a super-organism as James Edward Lovelock outlined in his GAIA hypothesis?

Both survival of the fittest and cooperation are essential interactions between and within species and are both amongst the most powerful evolutionary forces on Earth, and understanding them may be a key to our own survival. Which aspect of our own human innate nature, raw competition or cooperation, prevails may determine our planet’s and our own long term future.

Evolution - Evolutionary Arms Race

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Evolution - Extinction

Today on Cosmic Visions we continue our year long celebration of the life and work of the naturalist Charles Darwin with the third episode of the landmark PBS television series “Evolution” - Extinction.

Far more life forms have existed on Earth than grace the skies, oceans and land masses of our beautiful blue and green planet in our current epoch. Ninety-nine percent of all the creatures that have ever existed have gone extinct. What does fate have in store for the human species? What are our own evolutionary prospects?

As Carl Sagan wrote in his monumental book "Cosmos":

"The fossil record speaks to us unambiguously of creatures that once were present in enormous numbers and that have now vanished utterly.* Far more species have become extinct in the history of the Earth than exist today; they are the terminated experiments of evolution".

Natural selection has shaped and sculpted an incredible life form that appears to be able to adapt to life in every conceivable ecological niche. A life form that is on the verge in directing the course of its own evolutionary future and that of the other life forms that share this planet with us. And, that life form is us – Homo sapiens.

We are the pioneers of a whole new form of evolution which is distinctly non-biological. This new realm of evolution is Cultural Evolution. It is this new dominion of evolution that has made us the most dominant life form on this planet and has set us on a trajectory that will one day take us out amongst the stars or lead to our own demise.

Five mass extinctions have occurred since life began on Earth. Are humans causing the next mass extinction? And what does evolutionary theory predict for the world we will leave to our descendants?

We will explore these and further questions in future editions of Discovery-Enterprise.

Evolution - Extinction

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Arthur C Clarke:The Man Who Saw The Future

It was one year ago today that Arthur C. Clarke went on his final odyssey into the infinite. Today on Cosmic Visions we would like to pay homage to the Man who inspired three generations of men and women to pursue careers in science and space with his visionary writings.

Sir Arthur was and will always remain the…….

The Man Who Saw the Future

Referred to as a genius, this one man think tank is considered the ultimate futurist by his devoted fans. How is it that Clarke's views of the future, as described in his many novels, have often become very present realities, such as videophones, laptop computers, E-mail, the space shuttle and cloning? One thing is for sure, Arthur C. Clarke is one of the most celebrated science fiction authors of our time. His novels 2001: A Space Odyssey and most recently 3001: The Final Odyssey, as well as more than 60 other titles have inspired generations of people, propelling us into the future, setting our minds free to explore.

You can purchase this wonderful documentary from AMAZON.COM
And, for your viewing pleasure and in order to honour Clarke’s contributions to the genre of science fiction we have:
The Martians and Us -From Apes to Aliens Episode 1.

A series about the history of British science fiction. This edition looks at our relationship with aliens, from Wells' invading Martians to the Daleks, via 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Midwich Cuckoos, and the Mekon. It also explores the genre's preoccupation with the big questions of evolution, and includes interviews with Arthur C Clarke, Brian Aldiss, Doris Lessing and Steve Jones.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Evolution - Great Transformations

Today on Cosmic Visions we continue our year long celebration of the life and work of the naturalist Charles Darwin with the second episode of the landmark PBS television series “Evolution” - Great Transformations.

What underlies the incredible diversity of life on Earth? How have complex life forms evolved? The journey from water to land, the return of land mammals to the sea and the emergence of humans all suggest that creatures past and present are members of a single tree of life.

Evolution - Great Transformations

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Charles Darwin and his Dangerous Idea

Today marks the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth. In order to mark the occasion of Darwin’s birth on 12th February, 1809 and the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s publication of “On the Origin of Species” on 24th November, 1859 today we are going to take a closer look at Darwin's idea on the origin of species. Some have even labelled Darwin's Theory of evolution by Natural Selection a "Dangerous Idea”.

Today’s video offering takes a closer look at this ''dangerous idea'' and explores why it matters more today than ever. Does it explain the past history and predict the future of life on Earth? Can it explain how life may have arisen on Earth and perhaps elsewhere in the
Cosmos? This documentary interweaves the drama of Darwin's life with current documentary sequences, introducing the key concepts behind Darwin’s Theory of evolution.

Evolution - Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Secrets of the Star Disk

This is the extraordinary story of how a small metal disc is rewriting the epic saga of how civilisation first came to Europe, 3600 years ago.

When grave robbers ransacked a Bronze Age tomb in Germany, they had no idea that they had unearthed the find of a lifetime. But they knew that it was worth selling. It was a small bronze disc of exquisite design. So they contacted the archaeologist Harald Meller, offering to sell it to him for £300,000.

Meller went deep into the criminal underworld and, after a police sting, he got his disc. It depicted the sun, the moon and the stars. This suggested an understanding of the heavens greater than that of the first great civilisations, like Egypt.
Could it possibly be real?

After exhaustive tests, the disc was declared genuine. Then a team of crack scientists pieced together what it meant. What emerged is a true marvel.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Life in Darwin’s Universe

In order to kick off a year of celebration to commemorate the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth on 12th February, 1809 and the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s publication of “On the Origin of Species” on 24th November, 1859 today on Cosmic Visions we are going to explore the possibility of life elsewhere in the Cosmos.

Whatever form life takes on elsewhere in the cosmos we can be reasonably certain that the same inexorable laws of evolution through natural selection that shaped life on Earth will shape it elsewhere. Natural selection has given rise to an incredible diversity of life on this planet. Over the past four billion years, this has resulted in a plethora of living organisms each adapted and specialize to occupy a particular ecological niche and eventually the emergence of new species. If life exists elsewhere we can very well expect it to reflect and perhaps surpass the almost inconceivable variety of life on our world.

Yet when studying the wonderful history of life on our planet we are faced with a spectacular conundrum. Natural selection has shaped and sculpted an incredible life form that appears to be able to adapt to life in every conceivable ecological niche. A life form that is on the verge in directing the course of its own evolutionary future and also of creating life forms that will transcend biology in silico. And, that life form is us – Homo sapiens. We are the pioneers of a whole new form of evolution which is distinctly non-biological. This new realm of evolution is Cultural Evolution. It is this new dominion of evolution that has made us the most dominant life form on this planet and has set us on a trajectory that will one day take us out amongst the stars. Will we one day encounter other such life forms or their living machines out amongst the starry ferment?

It is indeed very conceivable that the first intelligent life forms that we will encounter will be living machines capable of self replication and also transcending Darwinian evolution. These living machines may very well continue to evolve in the most non-Darwinian of ways via Lamarckian evolution.

"...Self-reproducing probes or robots, free from such restraints [Darwinian evolution], could advance by Lamarckian evolution. That is, they could pass on directly any acquired abilities and desired improvements to the next generation, and evolve rapidly capabilities beyond the reach of biological beings."
- Edward Ashpole, The Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence

Then the future struggle for existence may indeed be between the biological and non-biological entities played out on a galactic scale. We will explore these questions in a later series of articles. In the meantime enjoy today’s video offering as we explore the possibility of life in Darwin’s Universe.

The Universe - Alien Faces

They roam the planetary surface, fly underwater and soar through the heavens. But this is no wildlife safari on planet Earth; this is an expedition of astronomical proportions. When the human race discovers it is not alone, what will our cosmic brothers and sisters look like? To answer this question leading astronomers and Astrobiologists have applied the principals of evolution and physics to five types of alien worlds likely to be found in the cosmos. These are the creatures that could be out there. Prepare to take an intergalactic safari and peer directly into the eyes of alien faces.

Exploring Space - The Quest for Life

This film takes a great comprehensive look at space travel, life on other planets, and the origins of life on Earth. It does a great job of exploring such topics as Pasteur's experiments with wine barrels, the origins of life on earth, recent discoveries of life in expected places on earth, dust from comets, Jupiter's moon Europa, human's endurance in space, terraforming prospects on Mars, the requirements of a mission to Mars. It's strength is the effective way it illustrates very complicated concepts using great interviews, interesting comparisons, and good visual effects. Unlike other documentaries of this type, this one goes into greater depth with various concepts and ideas.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Let There be Light….

In the Beginning, in a burst of pure radiant energy, light came into being and in that brief instant of creation the Universe came into existence some fourteen billion years ago. Within the first three minutes of the big bang pure energy condensed into matter. From this matter stars and galaxies came forth and through the process of nuclear fusion, heavy elements were forged in the hearts of distant and massive suns. It is the existence of these elements that make the existence of living things a possibility. We owe are very existence to that very instance when the laws of physics through accident or design (depending on your philosophical and religious proclivities dear reader) declared, eons ago –“Let there be Light”.

The study of the fundamental nature of light has been a central theme throughout the Intellectual History of humanity. Answering the question – “what is light?” has been a major preoccupation of all major areas of human endeavour be it Religion, Philosophy or Art. The quest to understand and decipher the mystery of radiance gave rise to modern science. In fact, the twin pillars of modern science – Relativity and Quantum Mechanics owe their development to solving the mystery of the true nature of light. And, it is through the analysis of starlight that humanity has begun to understand its place in the Cosmos. So my dear readers, in the earnest hope that this New Year and the years to follow, will always be radiant with the promise of hope and good fortune for each and everyone of you I would like to offer you the following documentary for your viewing pleasure: Simon Schaffer's fantastic four part documentary "Light Fantastic" that was produced for BBC 4. In the episodes that follow science historian Simon Schaffer takes on a voyage of discovery through time to follow humankind’s quest for enlightenment to discover the true nature of light.

1. Let There be Light

Greek and Arab scholars and later Europeans such as Descartes and Newton all tried to understand light to gain a better understanding of God. Episode one shows how much of modern science's origins came from the desire to penetrate the divine nature of light.

2. The Light of Reason

The second programme explores the link between the development of practical tools that manipulate light and the emergence of new ideas. For example, Galileo's observation that the sun did not go around the earth, was made with a telescope that had been invented for Venetian soldiers and traders.

3. The Stuff of Light

Episode three charts the discovery of the true nature of light and its impact on the modern world. All of today's technologies - electricity, mobile communications and our ability to illuminate the world 24 hours a day - stem from unravelling the mystery of light.

4. Light, The Universe and Everything

In the final programme Simon Schaffer finds that as more people were able to manipulate light, the more puzzling and tricky it became. This led to investigations into the strange relationship between light, the eye and the mind, and the development of new technology such as photography and cinema.

The Year Ahead

The New Year ahead of us promises to be an exciting one for those of us on Discovery Enterprise and the associated blog sites Cosmic Visions and Far Future Calling. This New Year of 2009 AD promises to be one of many New Beginnings in the exciting world of Discovery, Exploration and Science.

Many of our devoted readers know that we at Discovery Enterprise are closely associated with the Atlantica Expeditions - First Undersea Colony Project. At this very moment the Atlantica Expeditions Team is assembling the New Worlds Explorer (NWE) and it will be nearing completion this weekend. The New Worlds Explorer, designed by Dennis Chamberland, is designed as a companion habitat and engineering model to the Leviathan Habitat, scheduled for construction soon. Both habitats will be used to support underwater crews on the longest manned underwater mission in history in 2010. The New Worlds Explorer is scheduled for deployment in 2009. As for other news – it looks like the submarine Dan Scott Taylor II will be delivered in January! It looks like it is going to be a busy and eventful year as the Atlantica Expedition crew embarks on its quest to commence humankind's exploration and settlement of the last great frontier on Earth - the Undersea World of Aquatica.

The year 2009 also marks the celebration of four major anniversaries connected to the History of Science and Exploration. 2009 marks the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth on 12th February, 1809 and the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s publication of “On the Origin of Species” on 24th November, 1859. The year 2009 will also mark the 400th anniversary of the use of the telescope to view the heavens by Galileo Galilei and the publication of Johannes Kepler's Astronomia Nova in which he presented his three laws of planetary motion. In connection with these events the year 2009 has been declared the International Year of Astronomy.

Moreover, it will also commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1st landing by human beings on the moon's surface on July 20th, 1969. This year will also see the launching of the Kepler Mission on March 6th, 2009 an astronomical satellite currently being developed by NASA to search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. It will observe the brightness of over 100,000 stars over 3.5 years to detect periodical transits of a star by its planets.

And on July 11th, 2009 will see the test launch of the Ares I-X which will be a suborbital test flight in of the Ares I spacecraft. This will be the first major step, in NASA’s ambitious plans to return to the Moon, with the eventual goal of establishing a permanent human presence there. So stay with us dear readers and join us on new voyages of exploration and discovery during the exciting year ahead.