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NOVA: Australia’s First 4 Billion Years

Airs Wednesdays, July 16 - August 6, 2014 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Pyramid in the Pilbara, Australia.

Credit: Courtesy of Richard Smith

Above: Pyramid in the Pilbara, Australia.

Of all the continents on Earth, none preserves a more spectacular story of its origins than Australia. NOVA’s four-part miniseries takes viewers on a rollicking adventure from the birth of the Earth to the emergence of the world we know today. With high-energy host and geologist Richard Smith, meet titanic dinosaurs and giant kangaroos, sea monsters and prehistoric crustaceans, disappearing mountains and deadly asteroids. Epic in scope, intimate in nature, this is the untold story of the Land Down Under, the island continent that has it all.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Dr. Richard Smith

Host and geologist, Dr. Richard Smith at Uluru.

Evolution Down Under

How did Australia come to be marsupial heaven? Read the article by Peter Tyson.

Australia's Vanished Beasts

A 25-foot lizard. A carnivorous kangaroo. See these and other extinct animals in this interactive feature from NOVA.

The Extinction Enigma

Who or what killed off Australia's biggest creatures 45,000 years ago? In this interview, Gifford Miller, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, describes what role human-started fires might have played, what he'd ideally like to find to help solve the mystery, and what lessons the mass extinction has for us today.


Become a citizen-scientist and actively participate in real world scientific investigations with NOVA Labs! From predicting solar storms and designing renewable energy systems to tracking cloud movements and learning cybersecurity strategies, NOVA Labs participants can take part in real-world investigations by visualizing, analyzing, and sharing the same data that scientists use.

Episode One: "Awakening" airs Wednesday, July 16 at 9 p.m. - Hidden in the red hills of Australia are clues to the mysteries of Earth’s birth, how life arose and how it transformed the planet into the world we now live in. Experts unveil the earliest forms of life: an odd assortment of bacterial slime. Life like this would flood the atmosphere with oxygen and spark the biological revolution that conquered the planet. Travel with NOVA and host Dr. Richard Smith to meet the cast in the first scenes of the great drama of life on earth.

Episode Two: "Life Explodes" airs Wednesday, July 23 at 9 p.m. - How did life storm the beaches and dominate planet Earth? Ancient Australian fossils offer clues. While the oceans were teeming, the world above the waves remained an almost lifeless wasteland — until the Silurian period, when the conquest of the land began. Host Richard Smith introduces Earth’s forgotten pioneers: the scuttling arthropod armies that invaded the shores and the waves of green revolutionaries whose battle for the light pushed plant life across the face of a barren continent. Join NOVA’s prehistoric adventure as four-legged animals walk onto dry land, with the planet poised for disaster.

Episode Three: "Monsters" airs Wednesday, July 30 at 9 p.m. - Host Richard Smith comes face-to-face with the previously unknown reptilian rulers of prehistoric Australia. NOVA resurrects the giants that stalked the land and discovers that some of them were among the largest ever to have walked the Earth. Others were some of the most dangerous. In the dry desert heart, scientists unearth an ancient inland ocean, full of sea monsters. But reptiles didn’t have the world all to themselves. Mammals like the enigmatic platypus lived alongside them, ready for their day in the sun. And 65 million years ago, that day arrived.

Episode Four: "Strange Creatures" airs Wednesday, August 6 at 9 p.m.. - After the asteroid impact 65 million years ago — believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs — Australia was set adrift on a lonely voyage in southern seas. With host Richard Smith at the wheel, NOVA travels this walkabout continent to uncover how it became the strange island it is today. Australia’s many unusual creatures, like the kangaroo and the cassowary, tell a tale of isolation, change and resilience. Australia’s long history has seen mountains rise and fall, seas come and go, and whole kingdoms of life triumph and disappear. In this final episode, NOVA races down the last 65 million years to the present day.

This series originally aired in 2013.

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Preview: NOVA: Australia's First 4 Billion Years: Awakening

Australia’s ancient landscape holds clues to Earth's early history and the beginning of life.

Preview: NOVA: Australia's First 4 Billion Years: Life Explodes

Fossils reveal how life’s explosion in the ocean was recreated on dry land.

Preview: NOVA: Australia's First 4 Billion Years: Monsters

Some 250 million years ago, some of the largest, most dangerous reptiles ruled this land.

Preview: NOVA: Australia's First 4 Billion Years: Strange Creatures

After a massive extinction, diverse marsupials came to dominate this isolated continent.

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