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TV Programs

January - December 2002

Death Star
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In 1967, a United States satellite network intended to monitor Soviet compliance with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty detected unusual signals coming from outer space. Defying astronomers' expectations, these turned out to be unimaginably violent bursts of gamma-ray radiation located at the far edges of the known universe. The titanic explosions are so far back in time that they conceal clues to the birth of the very first stars and black holes, back when the cosmos had barely begun. "Death Star" is an intimate detective story of the quest by leading astronomers to solve the riddle of the gamma-ray bursts—the most energetic events ever detected and brighter than a billion billion suns.
Original broadcast date: 1/8/2002
Topics: astronomy/space exporation


Neanderthals on Trial
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In 1856, bones of an unrecognizable hominid turned up in Germany's Neander Valley. This early human and others like it—sturdy, large-headed individuals—came to be known as Neanderthals. Despite a century and a half of study and debate, Neanderthals remain an enigma. Were they our ancestors, or an evolutionary dead-end? Were they assimilated into early modern (Cro Magnon) populations, or were they wiped out en masse in a Pleistocene genocide? "Neanderthals on Trial" investigates this long-standing mystery.
Original broadcast date: 1/22/2002
Topics: anthropology/ancient


Fireworks!
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Fireworks are danger held, like a sparkler, at arm's length: close enough to be beautiful, powerful, and alluring, yet far enough away to be safe. This explosive NOVA presents the colorful history of pyrotechnics and reveals the chemical secrets that put the bang in the rocket and the fizz in the Roman candle. The show introduces a gallery of firework creators and pyromaniacs, and reveals how hi-tech firing systems are transforming public displays into a dazzling, split-second science.
Original broadcast date: 1/29/2002
Topics: technology/aeronautics and flight


Secrets, Lies, and Atomic Spies
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NOVA reveals startling new evidence that Soviet spies penetrated America's deepest secrets, including the Manhattan Project, in the 1940's. By cracking the code of Soviet diplomatic cables, the FBI was able to hunt down "atom spies" such as Klaus Fuchs and Julius Rosenberg. But the true "master spy," a physicist named Ted Hall, got away—and his gripping story is presented for the first time by NOVA.
Original broadcast date: 2/5/2002
Topics: biography, mathematics, technology/crime, technology/weapons and warfare


The Missing Link
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According to the theory of evolution, all four-limbed animals - everything from human beings to dinosaurs - are descended from a single creature, the first to crawl from water on to land. Yet finding that vital bridge between fish and four legs has proven elusive. A paleontological tour-de-force and suspenseful scientific detective story, "The Missing Link" follows a trail of clues from Pennsylvania to Greenland, including the crucial rediscovery of a tiny fossil jaw that had lain unnoticed in a dusty museum drawer for decades.
Original broadcast date: 2/26/2002
Topics: dinosaurs/paleontology


Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance
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In 1914, Ernest Shackleton boarded the Endurance with a team of seamen and scientists, determined to be the first to cross the Antarctic continent. But when the pack ice closed in and crushed their frail wooden ship, Shackleton and his men found themselves stranded 1,200 miles from civilization with little hope of rescue. For the next 14 months, they set out on a harrowing journey across the ice, subsisting mainly on penguins and seals. When the ice broke up, Shackleton saved his men by embarking on a heroic 800-mile voyage in a tiny rowboat across the treacherous South Atlantic. Amazingly, all Shackleton's men survived their ordeal. Although many are now familiar with this epic story, NOVA presents a definitive two-hour documentary that includes spectacular footage of Antarctic locations and moving interviews with descendants of the original expedition team.
Original broadcast date: 3/26/2002
Topics: biography


Why the Towers Fell
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For most Americans, the image of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers was not only a scene of unforgettable horror, it was a moment of unimaginable consequence. Who could have guessed that a steel behemoth of such size and strength—a building so massive that it had its own zip code—could actually be reduced to 150 feet of dust and rubble? On "Why the Towers Fell," NOVA follows a blue-ribbon team of forensic engineers and presents their conclusions in the most definitive explanation yet seen by the American public of how and why the towers collapsed.
Original broadcast date: 4/30/2002
Topics: technology/engineering


Fire Wars
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Every year uncontrollable wildfires ravage the American West, and every year armies of firefighters mobilize to save threatened wilderness and communities. On Fire Wars, NOVA accompanies the men and women of the Arrowhead Hotshots during the summer of 2000, one of the most destructive wildfire seasons ever, in which more than six million acres burned. After a century of preventing forest fires at all costs, it may be time to rethink Smokey bear's dictum.
Original broadcast date: 5/7/2002
Topics: environment/ecology, plants/agriculture


Killer Disease on Campus
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Every year in the U.S., 3,000 people are struck down by a potentially lethal bacterial infection that predominantly attacks children under five and teenagers. Known as meningococcal disease, it's an illness that may be on the rise on college campuses. The disease strikes quickly and unexpectedly; from feeling slightly unwell, a victim can have multi-system failure within hours. NOVA's special looks at the warning signs that can signal the disease and how doctors worldwide are trying to combat what has become, in some countries, a scourge of epidemic proportions.
Original broadcast date: 9/3/2002


Mysterious Life of Caves
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While exploring world-famous Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, geologists Carol Hill and Dave Jagnow stumbled across a startling find—giant blocks of a mineral that conventional theories said shouldn't be there. This discovery set them on the trail of a radically new explanation of how certain caves form, involving extremophile microbes that live off toxic hydrogen sulfide gas and literally eat away the rock (since one of their byproducts is sulfuric acid). At the time of Hill and Jagnow's first investigations, the idea that microbes could flourish in total darkness and help etch out huge underground caverns was revolutionary.
Original broadcast date: 10/1/2002


Lost Roman Treasure
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At the height of the Roman Empire an opulent city stood at the eastern frontier on the most important crossing of the Euphrates River. Called Zeugma ("junction") after the bridge that linked its opposite banks, the city disappeared into history after the empire fell. Now its remains are about to disappear beneath a mammoth reservoir. NOVA records the frantic scramble to recover the glory that was Zeugma. Buried by centuries of silt and dirt, Zeugma was long neglected by archaeologists, until the rising edifice of a nearby hydroelectric dam forced them to act quickly before the site was flooded. What they found were treasures beyond their wildest dreams.
Original broadcast date: 10/8/2002


Galileo's Battle for the Heavens
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In a two-hour special, NOVA vividly reconstructs an epic historical confrontation: the bitter clash between a fiery scientific genius, Galileo Galilei, and the church authorities who tried to suppress his astonishing discoveries. The brilliant British actor Simon Callow (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love) plays Galileo in dramatic reenactments of key moments from his life: his pioneering telescopic observations of the Moon and planets, his revolutionary experiments with falling objects, and his fateful trial before the Inquisition for heresy.
Original broadcast date: 10/29/2002


Volcano's Deadly Warning
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In January 1993, six scientists, confident that no eruption was imminent, descended into the smoking mouth of Colombia's Galeras volcano and perished when it suddenly exploded. Eight years earlier, the eruption of another Colombian volcano, Nevada del Ruiz unleashed mudflows that buried 23,000 people in the town of Armero. In both cases, a revolutionary new theory for predicting eruptions based on a mysterious seismic signal might have saved lives—in Armero's case tens of thousands of lives. "Volcano's Deadly Warning" focuses on the controversial new prediction technique, developed by Bernard Chouet of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Original broadcast date: 11/12/2002


Sinking City of Venice
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Today's tourists often need wading boots to explore the architectural wonders of Venice. Will they one day need diving suits? NOVA covers the battle to keep the world's most unusual city from drowning beneath the rising tides of the Adriatic Sea. For centuries Venetians have been fighting the forces of nature that threaten to alter their city's precarious relationship with the encircling lagoon that has long served as protection from invading armies. Now they have to decide how to keep that water out. NOVA looks at the choices that they have to make—under water gates and dams, choices which will eventually effect all coastal cities, even New York City, Miami and New Orleans.
Original broadcast date: 11/19/2002


The Orchid Hunter
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For nine months in 2000, Tom Hart Dyke was a captive of guerrillas who seized him while he was collecting wild orchids in the Colombian rain forest. Now Hart Dyke is at it again in the most orchid-rich and politically unstable part of Papua New Guinea. NOVA investigates an all-consuming passion that for some people is more precious than life itself. Ranging from the scientific to the sociological, Orchid Hunter covers research at the forefront of plant biology. Long of interest to scientists because of their remarkable evolutionary history, orchids are equally exciting to collectors, who have made them a multibillion-dollar industry.
Original broadcast date: 11/26/2002

 

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