Cumberland Times-News

March 8, 2014

New ‘Cosmos’ debuts on television tonight

Bob Doyle, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— Now that our clocks are on daylight saving time, today’s sunrise and sunset are coming about an hour later than yesterday. Yesterday’s sunrise was about 6:38 a.m.; today’s sunrise is about 7:36 a.m.

Early risers will find it easier to see the morning planets, especially the brilliant planet Venus in the east.

Yesterday’s sunset was about 6:15 p.m.; today’s sunset will be about 7:16 p.m. You will have to wait an additional hour to see the evening stars. The bright planet Jupiter can be seen high in the south by 8 p.m.

Below Jupiter is the brightest night star Sirius. You will notice Jupiter’s steady light in contrast to the twinkling of Sirius. The thickness of Jupiter’s light beam is about .01 degrees, allowing small telescope’s users to see its disk and cloud belts.

For stars such as Sirius, their light beam is about .00028 degrees wide (1 arc second) or about 40 times as narrow. A thinner light beam makes the night stars fluctuate more in their light as small pockets of air bend and twist the star’s narrow thread of light.

Above the Earth’s atmosphere, stars shine steadily, allowing views that are limited only by the optics of the telescope. The Hubble Space Telescope views objects to a resolution of 0.1 arc seconds. One tenth of an arc second resolution allows Hubble to resolve humans from its orbital height of 360 miles.

Some larger mirror telescopes on Earth can equal Hubble’s resolution using adaptive optics where mirror segments are manipulated to offset atmospheric currents. Plans are underway to build an Earth based telescope with a compound mirror that is 12 times wider than Hubble’s mirror.

 In 1980, Carl Sagan and public television station KCET in Los Angeles presented “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” over public television stations across the United States. “Cosmos” was shown in 13 one hour episodes, a new episode each week. There was an accompanying book; eventually “Cosmos” was released on videotape and later on DVD format.

 The new Cosmos was conceived and written by Ann Druyan (Sagan’s widow) and astronomer Steven Soter. The narrator is astrophysicist Neil De Grasse Tyson, Director of New York City’s Planetarium in Central Park.

The production costs are higher than the original Cosmos. About three years ago, Peter Rice, head of Fox Broadcasting agreed to finance the new Cosmos production. So this evening at 9 p.m., the first episode of “Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey” will premiere on Fox.

This episode and a documentary on the making of Episode 1,”Standing Up in the Milky Way” will be shown the following evening on the National Geographic Channel. This new Cosmos will be shown in 174 countries and in 47 languages.

 Here are the remaining episodes: II — “The Rivers of Life” on March 16/17, III — “When Knowledge Conquered Fear” on March 23/24, IV — “Hiding in the Night” on March 30/31, V — “A Sky Full of Ghosts” on April 6/7, VI — “Deeper, Deeper, Deeper Still” on April 13/14, VII — “The Clean Room” on April 20/21, VIII — “Sisters of the Sun” on April 27/28, IX — “The Electric Boy” on May 4/5, X — “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth” on May 11/12, XI — “The Immortals” on May 18/19, XII — “The World Set Free” on May 25/26 and XIII — “Unafraid of the Dark” on June 1/2.

This new Cosmos will cover some features of the Universe not covered in the 1980 cosmos. These include dark matter, dark energy, and the existence of nearly 2,000 exoplanets orbiting other stars.

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: The moon has just passed first quarter, appearing a little more than half full in the southern evening sky tonight. (The moon’s craters will be well seen through binoculars or telescopes tonight and tomorrow.)

Tomorrow evening, the moon will appear near the bright planet Jupiter. On March 16, the evening moon will be full, rising at sunset and hanging in the sky all night long.

Early risers (6:30 a.m. DST) this week can see brilliant Venus in the east, the planet Mercury much lower in the same part of the sky, the planet Saturn low in the south, and bright Mars low in the southwest near the bright star Spica.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.