"Monster of the Milky Way"
Do you want to feel small? Insignificant? Slightly smarter? NOVA's episode on black holes, Monster of the Milky Way, will achieve all of the above, plus, you will learn a bit about the universe (and might even be entertained).
For years, scientists have theorized that at the center of our galaxy lies a supermassive black hole. For most science shows, examining this thesis would constitute an entire show alone. NOVA not only points out this fact, but explains the tools used in its exploration (infrared telescopes and adaptive optics), while also covering the formation of black holes, the effects of "galactic cannibalism," as well as the appetite of these behemoths. After the hour, I felt like I had been through an entertaining week of astronomy class.
These black hole tales are told by the experts, the scientists who study them. Unlike some science shows where an actor reads lines written for him to explain theory, the narrator here merely pulls the stories together. The academics prove themselves adept at marrying theory with application in everyday terms. Sometimes, the results are even funny, like when the scientists were discussing death by black hole (and one stated he preferred to go that way).
This episode is filled with animations that instruct but do not overwhelm. Beautifully rendered galaxies colliding, renditions of the interiors of black holes (based on Einstein's equations), and others are wonderful aids that complement the commentary.
In a time where most homes have access to a myriad of television channels, NOVA remains my favorite science program. As a youth, I spent many informative hours during my childhood watching Carl Sagan explain the universe. His series, "Cosmos," had me on an astronomical career path for several of my elementary school years. Though I eventually chose English over astronomy, I continue to watch PBS science programs religiously, especially NOVA. Maybe it's not too late to become an astronomer...