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The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System 3D(TV) (2010)
All five episodes from the BBC documentary science series presented by Professor Brian Cox. Whether it's Saturn's rings, the solar flares of the Sun or the deserts of Mars, Professor Cox demonstrates how the forces that shaped our world are also responsible for creating some of the most breathtaking sights in our solar system.
For more about The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System 3D and The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System 3D Blu-ray release, see The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System 3D Blu-ray Review
The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System 3D Blu-ray Review
If all of this is here, imagine what else there is past the solar system and in the Milky Way.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, December 12, 2010
In the beginning, there was darkness. And then, 'bang.'
Two thousand years ago, three wise men traveled the countryside in search of a newborn baby boy, using the heavens as their guide. Their journey began and ended with wonders greater and far larger than man, though just how awesomely complex those heavens above really were was something they probably never considered along their journey. Sure, they may have wondered what they were -- they had to be something more than pinpricks in a black covering -- but never could they have imagined the true wonders that not only must exist around each of those stars, but the otherworldly phenomena that call this very solar system home. A&E's The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System, now with the benefit of 2,000 years worth of knowledge and technology at its beck and call, reveals some of the great places and occurrences that, celestially speaking, are but a stone's throw from Earth itself. From the surface of the sun to the rings of Saturn and beyond, this enlightening and entertaining 3D short film explores several of the most interesting things within the Earth's own solar system, and truth be told, probably represent but a fraction of the awe-inspiring places and events yet to be discovered both here and beyond. Still, The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System is on the cutting edge of both scientific thought and technological advancement, the film not only packed with the latest in heavenly observations but made possible both in the stars and on televisions with some of the most impressive hardware to date. The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System is scientific in nature but approachable by design, the film and its narrators speaking intelligently but in layman's terms, inviting in viewers to be dazzled as much by the knowledge as by the computer animations and real-life astronomical footage. As the countdown of the most wonderful places and phenomena traverses downward from seven to one, viewers will be left highly satisfied and even quite a bit enlightened about the otherworldly events from the beyond, wishing only that there was more for this film to explore in the deeper reaches of space.
This tiny moon that elliptically orbits around Saturn yields a big and unusual natural phenomenon. In November of 2009, the unmanned Cassini spacecraft detected geysers of water and ice escaping from the moon's surface with great strength and at a mind-boggling speed of 1400 miles per hour. This phenomenon, known as "Cryovulcanism," is an event which might be compared to something right here on Earth: the work of a snow machine. Scientists still aren't sure what, exactly, casuses this phenomenon, but there are two schools of thought. Do radioactive elements heat and decay the moon's interior, or is the moon's elliptical orbit the culprit? Either way, Enceladus' geysers are one of the great of the many natural phenomena happening everyday right here in this very solar system, and best of all, scientists theorize that conditions under the surface -- hypothesized by the study of the moon's geysers -- just might be capable of sustaining life.
6. Rings of Saturn
The Voyager spacecraft first sent back images of Saturn and her rings decades ago, but with the advanced technology of the Cassini spacecraft, scientists have been provided with not just a closer look but a series of images so detailed that man's understanding of one of the solar system's most fascinating planets has been redefined. Not only has it been discovered that the rings of Saturn contain enough water to fill 26 million planets the size of Earth, but scientists have also learned that the rings are not as flat as they appear to be when gazing upon them from Earth. Instead, small moons inhabit the rings, causing ripples that generate mountainous ranges where the rings reach unbelievable heights that, in some cases, are taller than Europe's Alps. Just as fascinating, and still as of yet unanswered, is the question as to how the rings came to be. Are they space debris that wasn't quite able to shape itself into a moon, or are they made of the remnants of a once-great moon or passing comet that succumbed to the forces of Saturn's mass when venturing too close? No matter the answer, Saturn's rings -- and all the new discoveries that make them even more unique -- will continue to fascinate young backyard astronomers and professionals alike.
5. Jupiter's Great Red Spot
Jupiter's famed red spot is more than just some spilled paint on the planet's surface. Known as "the mother of all storms," the red spot is a centuries-old high pressure anti-cyclonic storm that's three times the size of Earth. Bosting winds of 400 miles per hour and only now showing signs of, maybe, dissipating as it changes shape and size, Jupiter's great storm has both baffled and fascinated scientists since it was first spotted in the 1650s. With the power of the Hubble space telescope, scientists have been able to learn more about Jupiter's trademark feature by studying other weather formations on the planet. Only recently, three small "white spots" have merged into a single giant spot that's about the size of the Earth and has begun turning into a second, but smaller, red spot, providing scientists with an idea of how the storms are formed and, with the sudden alterations to the big red spot, just how long they might last. Scientists also theorize that the spots' unique red color may be sulfur pulled from deep within the planet's surface and caught in the ferocious winds of Jupiter's hallmark attraction. How about that forecast? Cloudy with a chance of sulfur for centuries!
4. The Asteroid Belt
Called a "cosmic junkyard of debris," the asteroid belt that separates Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars from Jupiter and the other planets in this solar system is not the remnants of a once-great planet reduced to rubble, but instead leftover material from the formation of the solar system. The asteroids range in size from several feet in diameter to the size of a city, but condense them all into a huddle of mass and the result would be a celestial body not even as large as Earth's own moon. In fact, one-quarter of all the belt's mass is located in one spherical body called Ceres, a small planetoid labeled as a "dwarf planet," the same classification recently assigned to Pluto. Man's understanding of the belt has been shaped by disinformation and dramatic Hollywood movies, many showcasing rock after rock hurtling towards spaceships in a field so dense that only the best of the hottest space jocks could possibly maneuver. The truth is that the belt is not at all dense, with rocks separated by as much as one million miles, though they're still deadly: one such NEO, or Near-Earth Object, wiped out the dinosaurs, and another wayward asteroid could very well one day erase all traces of man from Earth, too.
3. Olympus Mons
Oh, it's just the largest volcano in the entire solar system! Yeah, that's pretty impressive. Mars' Olympus Mons spans some 350 miles in length across its base but stretches to a height of only 13 miles, making its slope incredibly slight and easy to climb, should anyone have the time to ever do so. Climbing to the top would also reward the crusading hiker with a glimpse of the Martian atmosphere. Scientists theorize Olympus Mons has grown to its massive size due to the absence of tectonic plates on Mars, a feature that keeps the beasties here on Earth in check. The massive volcano hasn't erupted in over two million years, but scientists believe that there may still be a chance for future activity nevertheless. After all, two million years is but a sand in the hourglass in the cosmic timetable. It's mind-boggling stuff, and Olympus Mons is a deserving third on the list.
2. Surface of the Sun
It's chaotic, it's hot, it's orange. The boiling and bubbling surface of the sun does far more than light the sky and offer Earth's citizens warmth. Scientists have decided that the sun's surface is worth a closer look, and what better way to study the sun than in 3D? It's now possible thanks to the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, a two-year mission that positions two space vehicles just so to capture a three-dimensional glimpse of the sun and all its wonders. With this new technology and the revelations it brings before the very eyes of the scientific community, a greater understanding of the sun's photosphere and the powers, pluses, and minuses of the sun's effects on Earth may now be better understood. In particular, scientists are eager to further the study of the phenomenon known as Coronal Mass Ejections, or CMEs, that eject into space countless amounts of energy and, for good measure, create the Northern Lights effect that's dazzled earthlings for millennia. CME's aren't all fun and games, though; the dangerous amounts of radiation play havoc with fragile satellites and could even harm astronauts in space who dare venture outside of the safety of their starships, and it's believed that in 2013 the sun will reach a peak of CME activity. Adios cell phones?
Home sweet home. Terra. The big blue ball. It's fitting that Earth should land at number one; after all, if there was nobody around to care about the other six wonders of the solar system, then they would just be sitting there, attention starved and oh-so-badly wanting to strut their stuff and shout, "anything you can do I can do better!" With its diverse environments -- ice, molten lava, oceans, and land masses -- Earth is uniquely capable of supporting life and, indeed, is the only planet known to man to house such a diverse range of species -- and intelligent ones at that -- anywhere in the universe. Somewhere, Klingons are sharpening their Bat'leths. What an insult! Scientists have long since been at work studying the origins of life on Earth, and thanks to modern technology and the smart people making good use of it, it's been hypothesized that life formed on this planet some 4.6 billion years ago, or roughly the length of time it takes to make it through the line at the DMV. But just how did life form? Water is one of the most important building blocks of life, and it's believed that, maybe, asteroids containing water were part of the heavenly masses that merged to create the planet, or perhaps early volcanos spat steam into the sky, ultimately causing rain and filling much of the earth with life-critical fluids. No matter its origins, it was through these waters that the most basic forms of life emerged, these life forms ultimately engaging in the process of photosynthesis which created an atmosphere and allowed life to extend beyond the cozy confines of water. It is assumed that man has only existed for 200,000 years, and in that infinitesimal period of space-time, he's altered the geography of the planet and turned just another cosmic ball into a wonder capable of appreciating all of the other splendid bodies and phenomena in this little corner of the universe and, perhaps someday, well beyond.
The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System 3D Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System is a success as not only a film but as a 3D release. It's far from the best currently on the market, but this A&E disc is priced right and more often than not looks quite good for what it is and all it has to work with. The film is made primarily from computer animated graphics. A small digital spaceship takes viewers around for a jaunt through the solar system, heading on out towards Saturn and making a U-turn back towards Jupiter, Mars, and the sun before heading back home to Earth. The graphics look quite nice, though it's clear the bulk of the money went into the heavenly bodies, leaving the spacecraft to fend for itself in graphics that might have looked good in a video game from a few years back. Still, the general detailing of it all is quite good; the image is extraordinarily crisp throughout, and colors, whether the bright blue waters of mother Earth or the fiery orange shades of the sun's photosphere, are all exceptionally bright and satisfying, particularly when offset against the perfectly black backgrounds. Back on Earth, the film's primary live action attraction comes in the form of several scientists offering their thoughts on the various places and events highlighted throughout the film. The image takes on a satisfying if not visually routine HD video sheen, revealing seamless detailing and fine colors. Unfortunately, slight banding, occasional shimmering, moderate blocking, and a few jagged edges bring down the score by half a point or so, but none are necessarily causes for alarm; they're never obtrusive and likely only to be noticed by the most eagle-eyed and demanding of audiences.
The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System's 3D elements are generally strong, but don't fare quite as well as the best Blu-ray 3D discs. The disc is packed with some amazing 3D images, though viewers may be disappointed by the rather extreme amount of "ghosting" that may be as visibly distracting on their sets as it was on the Panasonic 3D plasma hardware used to help craft this review. Still, The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System delivers some jaw-dropping 3D assets that put the format through its paces and ultimately prove its worth as a viable and entertaining option. Various celestial bodies -- the sun in particular -- appear perfectly spherical in Blu-ray 3D, seeming to poke out of the screen and hover against the black backdrop of space, perfectly revealing the shape and size of every one. Depth is fantastic in most every scene, with various planets and asteroids and rings and moons and stars and all sorts of heavenly material floating not only in but, it would seem in 3D, behind and in front of the screen, too. In one early scene, asteroids seem to hurtle towards the audience; as the rocks appear to propel out of the television, viewers may find themselves shifting around the sofa in an effort to avoid being smacked by one. A scene in chapter five takes viewers to a movie theater as the film analyzes the role of the Asteroid Belt in Science Fiction cinema. With the camera positioned in the back of the theater, viewers will find themselves in awe at how the rows of seats seem to stretch on far past the limits of the television and on through the wall and down an imaginary isle towards the screen. Back in space, debris is so thick in one scene -- with every one of the objects seeming to occupy its own little three-dimensional space within the television -- that viewers will feel like they could almost swim through it. The film's live-action 3D segments fare well, too; the outdoor shots reveal a lifelike image that sees the scientists offset against their backgrounds, with the Berkeley professor standing out form the rest as foreground grasses absolutely appear closer to the camera than he, with the background behind him seeming to extend on as far as nature and the human eye allows. This is a quality 3D transfer that might not enjoy perfect consistency and the absolute seamlessness of others -- thanks in large part to the heavy reliance on midlevel CG graphics -- but 3D fans will get a kick out of all there is to experience in this excellent Blu-ray 3D release.
The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System 3D Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System's DTS HD-MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack is effective and satisfying. This is a big, almost hulking presentation that offers spacious music and bass-heavy narration, both of which are delivered crisply and effectively. Music booms out of the front half of the soundstage and is accompanied by a perceptible but not overwhelming rear channel presence. The surrounds also carry various sound effects, notably the roaring engines of the digital spacecraft that oftentimes seems to hurtle through the listening area, beginning in the back and, as it traverses the solar system to its next destination, straight on through the living room and winding up in the front portion of the soundstage. It's a decidedly Sci-fi-ish sound effect, but it fits in perfectly with the film's smart but accesible and almost playful tone. There's not much else to this track; it's quite good, but not necessarily great, and is ultimately a fine companion to the 3D visuals and the quality and tone of the film it accompanies.
The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System 3D Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, no supplements are included.
The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System 3D Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System is an exceptionally entertaining and solidly educational film that briefly examines what the filmmakers consider to be the seven most wondrous places and events currently shaping the destiny of this solar system. The film has no real faults outside of its midbudget graphics and far too short runtime, but neither interferes with the dazzling display of otherworldly phenomena and galactic history that's come to define over the course of billions of years the shape of things as they are and will be in this little insignificant speck of the universe. Presented in 3D to boot, The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System is a fantastic little title that's sure to please the youngest of budding astronomers and seasoned stargazers alike. A&E's Blu-ray 3D release of The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System features a good-but-not-quite-great 1080p 3D transfer, a solid lossless soundtrack, but no extra content. Still, the absence of extras shouldn't dissuade buyers, and what better compliment to that out-of-this-world 3D TV than a 3D Blu-ray disc explores the furthest reaches of the solar system? Recommended.
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