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Science Odyssey, A: Mysteries of the Universe

Program Overview

In 1900, like today, the everyday world seemed to follow Newton's laws of physics. But from the opening days of the century, discoveries about the hidden workings of that everyday world suggest all is not as it seems. Quantum theory, relativity, nuclear power, and clues about the birth and death of the universe have rocked our deepest beliefs. "Mysteries of the Universe" brings us close to the men and women—with their ambitions, intuitions, talents, and faults—whose work forever altered astronomy and physics.

Hour 1
Halley's Comet

The lure of the heavens

New View of the Universe
New technology offers new evidence

  • George Hale builds world's largest telescopes
  • Mt. Wilson Observatory
  • Henrietta Leavitt's "yardstick to the universe"
  • Edwin Hubble redefines the universe
    ANIMATION: Red shift shows universal expansion

The New Physics
Redefining space, time, and gravity

  • Albert Einstein questions Newtonian physics
  • Special Relativity
  • General Relativity
    ANIMATION: Time and space are curved

The Nature of Matter
New evidence requires new theories

  • Portrait of Niels Bohr
    ANIMATIONS: Changing model of the atom
  • Implications of the nucleus
  • Bohr adds quantum theory to the model
  • The electron and the uncertainty principle
    DEMONSTRATION: Single-slit experiment
  • Resistance to quantum mechanics

Effects of War
World events shape the course of physics

  • Is the nucleus the ultimate piece of matter?
  • Europe's scientists flee fascism
  • Splitting the atom
  • Manhattan Project

Hour 2
Lifting the veil from the face of the universe

Beyond the Visible Universe
New stars and physics

  • Strange radio signals from space
    ANIMATION: Death of a star
  • Black holes—theory and imagination ANIMATION: Evidence of a black hole
  • Current theory

Did the universe have a beginning?

  • The big bang theory
  • How to prove the big bang
  • An accidental find
    ANIMATION: Evolution of the universe

The Heart of Matter
Search for simplicity makes things complicated

  • "Elementary" particles proliferate
  • Quest for quarks
  • Is there a fundamental force?
  • The superconducting supercollider
  • Strings—physics turns to math
    ANIMATION: How strings might look

New Frontiers
Views of what's out of sight

  • Calculating the mass of the cosmos
  • The universe's fate
  • Dark matter—the "real" universe?

Experiencing the mysterious

Teacher's Guide
Science Odyssey, A: Mysteries of the Universe