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

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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.