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Origins: Back to the Beginning

Program Overview


Origins: Earth is Born Program Overview
Origins: How Life Began Program Overview
Origins: Where are the Aliens? Program Overview

galaxies NOVA chronicles the discoveries that led to scientists' current understanding of how the universe was formed.

The program:

  • describes the serendipitous discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation, a faint energy signal believed to be left over from the big bang.

  • notes that initial studies of the CMB revealed a smooth, uniform glow that gave no indication of any regions of density that may have provided the basis for today's cosmic structures.

  • explains that researchers sought a higher-resolution image of the CMB to discover what happened during the big bang that made it possible for the universe to evolve into its current form.

  • relates findings by the 1991 Cosmic Background Explorer satellite that first revealed hints of variations in the CMB.

  • follows the scientific teams working on the Cosmic Background Imager (CBI) and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) as they compete to provide a higher-resolution picture of the CMB.

  • explains how elements are formed in a star—hydrogen and helium fuse into increasingly heavy elements until a star collapses and explodes, thereby providing enough energy for the remaining iron to undergo reactions that create all known remaining elements.

  • speculates that a critical abundance of heavy elements is necessary for life to form and that already enriched star nurseries like the Eagle Nebula might be prime locations for the development of solar systems with habitable planets.

  • details scientists' discovery of thousands of galaxies rich in heavy elements, leading some scientists to believe that life could emerge almost anywhere in the universe.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Origins: Back to the Beginning

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