Well, it happened: Seth MacFarlane made a show actually worth watching. In the premiere of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Neil deGrasse Tyson walks us through the entire history of the universe.
The debut episode of Fox’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey could be viewed as an hour-long recap of all cosmic goings-on since the dawn of time 14+ billion years ago.1 We also get a quick tutorial of SCIENCE! and how it didn’t always jibe with the religious authorities in Renaissance Italy. Heresy: not so awesome, I guess.
Here are some of the highlights from the series premiere:
There’s a method to this scientific madness. After President Obama reminds us of how important scientific thought is for civilization, we get a rundown of the scientific method from NdGT. His delivery is almost sing-songy: Test ideas by experiment/observation; Build ideas on those that pass; Reject ideas that fail; Follow evidence; Question everything.
The world’s address. NdGT gives a quick tour of our solar system up to the Oort Cloud on his “ship of the imagination.” It’s a little goofy, but the visual effects are incredible.2 The journey continues farther and farther out, all under the premise of creating a geographic reference point for those of us watching. Next time you label an envelope, remember to add Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, Local Group, Virgo Supercluster, Observable Universe +4.
The world revolving around Giordano Bruno. Since this is a MacFarlane joint, there was bound to be some animation. In this week’s episode, we learn the story of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar who first postulated that maybe the earth isn’t the center of the universe, revolving around the sun instead of the other way around. Spoiler: the gospel of infinity was a hard sell in 16th Century Italy. The point of the story (beautifully animated, by the way) was that even though Bruno was operating on an idea with no means to test or prove his theory, it provided the groundwork for others (i.e. Galileo) to test things out once the appropriate tools (in this case, telescopes) became available.
Oops. To illustrate the concept of just how much has happened in the universe up to this point, NdGT walks us through what is known as the Cosmic Calendar. The formative years—the last 14 billion or so—make up the bulk of the calendar. The age of the dinosaurs doesn’t happen until December 31. The meteor that wiped them out happened in the afternoon, but the tiniest nudge could have caused it to miss earth completely. In other words, a strong breeze could have made a significant difference. Our era began at 11:59pm in this metaphor, with recent (as in, the last thousand or so years) is barely a second. Feeling tiny?
That time Neil met Carl Sagan. NdGT closes out the episode with a tribute to the creator of the original Cosmos series, Carl Sagan. Along with highlighting all his scientific achievements, Neil shares an anecdote about that one time he met Sagan at Cornell. Neil gets verklempt, I get verklempt, SCIENCE is awesome, you guys.