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NOVA: Hunting The Edge Of Space

Airs Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 9 p.m. & 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: The Apache Point Observatory near Cloudcroft, New Mexico, is home of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, one of the most ambitious and influential sky surveys in the history of astronomy. From 2001 to 2008, Apache Point’s telescope recorded deep, colorful images covering more than a quarter of the sky and mapped more than 930,000 galaxies.

In a two-hour special, NOVA examines how a simple instrument, the telescope, has fundamentally changed our understanding of our place in the universe. What began as a curiosity — two spectacle lenses held a foot apart — ultimately revolutionized human thought across science, philosophy and religion.

In 1783, working in England, the German-born amateur astronomer William Herschel built a 20-foot-long reflecting telescope. With a metal mirror more than 18 inches in diameter, it was the most powerful telescope of its day.
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Above: In 1783, working in England, the German-born amateur astronomer William Herschel built a 20-foot-long reflecting telescope. With a metal mirror more than 18 inches in diameter, it was the most powerful telescope of its day.

“Hunting the Edge of Space” takes viewers on a global adventure of discovery, dramatizing the innovations in technology and the achievements in science that have marked the rich history of the telescope.

This tale of human ingenuity involves some of the most colorful figures of the scientific world — Galileo, Kepler, Newton, William Herschel, George Hale and Edwin Hubble — leading up to today’s colossal telescopes, housed in space-age cathedrals or orbiting high above the Earth.

Now, at the center of an international space race, a new generation of ever-larger telescopes is poised to reveal answers to longstanding questions about our universe — and, in turn, to raise new questions.

The 40-inch refracting telescope at Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin.
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Above: The 40-inch refracting telescope at Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin.

Part One: "The Mystery Of The Milky Way" airs Wednesday, September 5 at 9 p.m. - Three centuries of engineering have produced telescopes far beyond Galileo’s simple spyglass. Perched on mountaintops, orbiting the Earth and even circling other planets, these telescopes are revealing the solar system in detail Galileo could only dream of.

This episode brings viewers up close with today’s most powerful telescopes and embarks on a stunning journey to the planets and moons now being imaged as never before in history.

This image of barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217 is the first image of a celestial object taken with the newly repaired Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. The barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217 was photographed on June 13 and July 8, 2009.
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Above: This image of barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217 is the first image of a celestial object taken with the newly repaired Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. The barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217 was photographed on June 13 and July 8, 2009.

Part Two: "The Ever Expanding Universe" airs Wednesday, September 5 at 10 p.m. - From the discovery that the Milky Way is just one galaxy among billions to the stunning revelation that these galaxies are speeding away from each other faster every second, this episode investigates the universe’s distant past — and its future.

Now, modern telescopes have added a mysterious new twist to the plot: The vast majority of the stuff of the universe is invisible, tied up in dark matter and dark energy. But what are these mysterious dark forces?

A new generation of telescopes is embarking on a mission impossible to see the unseeable and answer one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the cosmos.

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Video

Hunting The Edge Of Space: The Mystery Of The Milky Way

Your browser does not support this object. Content can be viewed at actual source page: http://video.kpbs.org/video/1456686369

Watch Hunting the Edge of Space: Part 1 on PBS. See more from NOVA.

Video

Hunting The Edge Of Space: The Ever Expanding Universe

Your browser does not support this object. Content can be viewed at actual source page: http://video.kpbs.org/video/1463392610

Watch Hunting the Edge of Space: Part 2 on PBS. See more from NOVA.