Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Culture

NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse / Universe

Black hole with accretion disk.
Courtesy of WGBH
Black hole with accretion disk.

Airs Wednesday, July 3, 2019 from 9-11 p.m. & Sunday, July 7 from 2-4 p.m. on KPBS TV + July 7 from 9-11 p.m. on KPBS 2

Discover how scientists are revealing new clues to the strangest and most extreme objects in the universe

They are the most enigmatic, mysterious, and exotic objects in the universe: black holes.

They’re also the most powerful; their gravity is so strong it can actually capture light.

And they’re the most destructive, swallowing particles, dust, gas, planets, even giant stars. Anything that falls into them vanishes… gone forever.

But now, astrophysicists are coming to realize that black holes just might be integral to the structure of the universe — and our very existence.

In this 2-hour special, astrophysicist and novelist Janna Levin will take viewers on a journey to the frontiers of black hole science.

We will meet with the leading astronomers and physicists to discover the most cutting edge research that is helping to shed light on these shadowy monsters, and we will explore the provocative questions:

  • Where do they come from?
  • What’s inside them?
  • What happens if you fall into one?
  • And what can they tell us about the nature of space, time, and gravity?

Through dynamic CGI animation, Janna illustrates the principles of gravity, and even takes a trip to the edge of the black hole at the center of our galaxy. What will happen if she gets too close?

Also in the special, Janna shows how bigger and ever more more powerful instruments are leading to extraordinary breakthroughs in black hole research, such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Experiment.

On Sept. 14, 2015, after four decades of development, LIGO’s enormous twin interferometers finally detected the existence of elusive, long-sought gravity waves, produced by the collision of two black holes some 1.3 billion years ago.

One arm of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) detector at Hanford, Wash.
Courtesy of WGBH
One arm of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) detector at Hanford, Wash.

This stunning result finally confirmed a prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 General Theory of Relativity, even though Einstein himself doubted whether such extreme phenomena as gravity waves, created by the warping of space and time, could actually exist.

Two black holes merge. Gravitational waves are created.
Courtesy of WGBH
Two black holes merge. Gravitational waves are created.

“Black holes have been a subject of deep fascination for decades,” said NOVA senior executive producer, Paula S. Apsell. “This special is a thrilling look at what they can tell us about our understanding of space, time, and gravity—perhaps even the origins our galaxies.”

NOVA meets other prominent scientists in the field, contributing to the acceleration of black hole research, including UCLA’s Andrea Ghez, one of the key discoverers of a supermassive black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy, and Yale’s Priya Natarajan, a leading expert on the mystery of black holes and early cosmic evolution.

A long trail of evidence, including observations by NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope, has pointed to the probable existence of supermassives — giant black holes millions or even billions of times as massive as the sun — in nearly every galaxy.

Chandra X-ray Observatory
Courtesy of WGBH
Chandra X-ray Observatory

NOVA follows Ghez and Natarajan as they explore questions about the role of supermassives in the early universe, and search for answers about how they got so big — answers that could provide an understanding of how all galaxies emerged, including our own Milky Way, from their origin in the Big Bang.

A visually spectacular and accessible guide to many mysteries of black holes, the special offers a provocative look at how their extreme properties make them a crucial “lab” for testing our most important theories about how our universe works and the story of how it evolved.

Animation: Black Hole Cygnus X-1 pulls matter of star.
Courtesy of WGBH
Animation: Black Hole Cygnus X-1 pulls matter of star.

WATCH ON YOUR SCHEDULE:

This full episode is currently available to stream on demand.

Episodes are available for viewing on demand for a limited time after each broadcast. Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members ($60 yearly) using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

NOVA'S BLACK HOLES APP

In this iPad app, navigate fields of cosmic objects in your quest to become a black hole.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION:

NOVA is on Facebook, and you can follow @novapbs on Twitter. #NOVAnext

CREDITS:

A NOVA production for WGBH Boston. Written, produced and directed by Rushmore DeNooyer. Executive Producer is Julia Cort. Senior Producer for NOVA is Chris Schmidt. Senior Executive Producer for NOVA is Paula S. Apsell.

Explore all national, state and local returns now.