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NOVA brings you stories from the frontlines of science and engineering, answering the big questions of today and tomorrow, from how our ancestors lived, to whether parallel universes exist, to how technology will transform our lives.
The New Horizons spacecraft attempts to fly by a mysterious object known as Ultima Thule, believed to be a primordial building block of the solar system. Three years after taking the first spectacular photos of Pluto in 2015, New Horizons is four billion miles from Earth, trying to achieve the most distant flyby in NASA's history. If successful, it will shed light on one of the least understood regions of our solar system: the Kuiper Belt. NOVA is embedded with the New Horizons mission team, following the action in real time as they uncover the secrets of what lies beyond Pluto.
Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance," but today quantum entanglement is poised to revolutionize technology from computers to cryptography. Physicists have gradually become convinced that the phenomenon—two subatomic particles that mirror changes in each other instantaneously over any distance—is real. But a few doubts remain. NOVA follows a ground-breaking experiment in the Canary Islands to use quasars at opposite ends of the universe to once and for all settle remaining questions.
In May 2018, Kīlauea volcano erupted, obliterating neighborhoods with devastating force and uprooting thousands of local residents. It is Hawaiʻi's most destructive volcanic eruption in generations. How can one of the most beautiful places on Earth suddenly transform into a roaring inferno, sputtering molten lava and bombs of volcanic rock the size of refrigerators? On the ground in the early days of the eruption, NOVA joins scientists and residents alike on a breathtaking journey to investigate Kīlauea's recent spike in activity. Along the way, some of Hawaiʻi's biggest secrets are revealed: Why did these geologically distinctive volcanoes form in the middle of the Pacific? How did life establish itself on the remote islands? What does this tell us about the future of Hawaiʻi? And what dangers yet lurk for the inhabitants of the island paradise?
The 6 million-ton Great Pyramid of Giza is the last surviving wonder of the ancient world. How did the Egyptians engineer the mighty pharaoh Khufu's tomb so precisely, with none of today's surveying and power tools? And who were the thousands of laborers who raised the stones? Were they slaves or volunteers, and how were they housed, fed, and organized? "Decoding the Great Pyramid" presents the latest evidence from groundbreaking archaeological research that has transformed our understanding of the ancient world's most ambitious engineering project, revealing a "lost city" and intimate details of the lives of the laborers and officials who toiled on the vast construction. Amazingly, French archaeologists recently found the logbook of a labor team that delivered limestone blocks to build the Great Pyramid, yielding crucial insights into the planning and logistics behind the operation. Beyond these construction secrets, "Decoding the Great Pyramid" traces how mobilizing the colossal labor and resources invested in the monument transformed ancient Egypt, uniting a nation behind the common goal of ensuring eternity for the pharaoh and continuing prosperity for everyone in this life and the next.
Rockets are becoming cheaper and more powerful than ever before thanks to stunning new technologies. As companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic make space more accessible, and NASA returns to crewed spaceflight, a new era of space exploration seems to be on the horizon. But will this seeming rocket Renaissance become more than just hype? NOVA explores the latest rocket technologies and the growing role private citizens may have in space.
In the shadow of Italy's Vesuvius, a lesser-known volcano rumbles: Campi Flegrei. An eruption could endanger the millions of residents of the city of Naples. Scientists gain new insights into what happened in nearby Pompeii, and dig into the unique geology of Campi Flegrei. How will they know if the ever-shifting ground is reaching a breaking point? And can an innovative eruption warning system prevent Naples becoming the next Pompeii?
The Dead Sea is dying: Since 1976, its level has dropped more than 100 feet, leaving its coastline pockmarked with thousands of sinkholes. But after more than a decade of research and debate, scientists, engineers, and political leaders have come up with a daring plan: connect the Red Sea to the Dead Sea by way of a massive desalination plant. If it's successful, the project could not only revive the sea, but also help ease political tensions and water shortages in the region. NOVA follows this unprecedented endeavor—perhaps the world's largest water chemistry experiment—as scientists race to save the Dead Sea and bring water to one of the driest regions on Earth.
From the front line of the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history, NOVA tells the stories of residents who had to flee for their lives during the 2018 fire season. Scientists racing to understand what's behind the rise of record-breaking megafires across the American West take to the forest, and even a fire lab, in search of answers. They investigate how forestry practices, climate change, and the physics of fire itself play a role in the dramatic increase in wildfires in recent decades.
The advent of horse riding was a momentous step in human history. But when and how did our ancestors first learn to master these animals? In a spectacular adventure, NOVA unlocks the mystery on the vast, grassy plains of Kazakhstan, where wild horses still roam free, and nomadic herders follow their traditional way of life. Investigating clues from archaeology and genetics, researchers reveal vivid evidence of the very first horsemen. They also discover warriors who swept across Europe and turn out to be the ancestors of millions today.
Forty years ago, hundreds of skeletons were unearthed in a mass grave in an English village. Bioarchaeologist Cat Jarman believes these bones are the last remains of the "Great Heathen Army," a legendary Viking fighting force that invaded England in the ninth century and has long been lost to history. Armed with the latest scientific methods, Cat's team uncovers extraordinary human stories from the front line, including evidence of women fighters and a lost warrior reunited with his son in death.
On the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing, NOVA looks ahead to the hoped-for dawn of a new age in lunar exploration. This time, governments and private industry are working together to reach our nearest celestial neighbor. But why go back? The Moon can serve as a platform for basic astronomical research; as an abundant source of rare metals and hydrogen fuel; and ultimately as a stepping stone for human missions to Mars and beyond. Join the next generation of engineers that aim to take us to the Moon, and discover how our legacy of lunar exploration won't be confined to the history books for long.
The four planets closest to the sun, called the rocky planets, were born from the same material in the same era. But they couldn't be more different: Tiny Mercury is the runt of the litter, almost like a moon. Venus is devilishly hot, and Mars is a frozen desert world. Only on Earth do we find the unique conditions for life as we know it. But why only here? Were Earth's neighbors always so extreme? And is there somewhere else in the solar system life might flourish?
The Red Planet was once a vibrant blue water-world, home to raging rivers, active volcanoes, and even an ocean. But as the young planet's core cooled, its magnetic field and protective atmosphere faded, eventually exposing it to the wrath of the sun. With its volcanoes extinguished and its water lost to space, Mars became the frozen desert planet we know today. But if it once had many of the ingredients necessary to form life, how far along might that process have gotten?
Jupiter is not just the oldest planet orbiting the sun—it's also the largest. So when the young gas giant went on a rampage through the early inner solar system, it shaped the fate of everything in its path. Speeding towards the Sun, Jupiter's massive gravitational force hurled debris into interstellar space, stunting the growth of would-be planets. Earth might have been doomed had Saturn not pulled Jupiter back. But it also shaped life on Earth, delivering comets laden with water - and perhaps even the fateful asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Today, Jupiter resides in the outer solar system, where its gravity bends the paths of asteroids and stokes volcanic activity on its moon Io. But it could one day wreak havoc again.
Over the past 40 years, a handful of space probes has given us glimpses of Saturn. But NASA's Cassini, which explored the gas giant's realm for 13 years looping through its icy rings and flying by its moons, delivered the most breathtaking new insights. The probe captured stunning ring-moon interactions. NOVA takes you inside Cassini's epic journey as it makes astonishing discoveries: Saturn's rings are younger than the dinosaurs and may be remnants of an ice moon. And geysers erupting ice and gas on the moon Enceladus show that it could have all the ingredients for life. But to protect it, the Cassini mission team makes a bittersweet decision.
Over a billion miles from the sun, beyond the rocky inner planets and the gas giants, lie the ice words—Uranus and Neptune. NOVA takes you inside the missions that rewrote the story of the outer solar system: NASA's Voyager 1 & 2 capture Neptune's supersonic winds, rings around a tipped-over Uranus, and dozens of moons. And when New Horizons flew by Pluto in 2015, it reveals jagged ice mountains and an underground ocean before venturing deep into the Kuiper Belt.
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