Critiquing Cosmos - Episode 5

Sunday nights just got a lot busier.  While the premiere of Game of Thrones season four undoubtedly sapped Cosmos' audience, those who stuck around were treated to another very solid episode.  "Hiding in the Light" explored the incredible electromagnetic spectrum that surrounds us.  Let's see how it did.

I loved...

The Arab world leading science: Today science is dominated by the Western world, but during the Middle Ages, virtually all scientific progress came from the East.  For nearly a millennium Chinese and Muslim scholars made incredible astronomical and mathematical breakthroughs.  Sadly, before the invention of movable type, many of these discoveries never propagated to the later scientific centers of Europe.

Seeing sound: This was pretty trippy, I have to admit.  It was one thing to see sound waves emanating from an organ, but quite another to have Tyson staring at the camera, spewing waves.  It sure made me think about the hidden world of waves that surrounds us at all times.

The NYC skyline as seen outside the visible: Just like with the sound waves, it was really cool to see how our world looks through wavelengths of light otherwise invisible to us.  It'd be pretty neat to be able to see the Milky Way even during the day!

I liked...

Herschel's temperature of light experiment: On my notes sheet from this episode I have the word WOW scribbled next to Herschel's experiment.  Talk about a simple experiment making a fundamental discovery about nature.  Ask any five-year-old how to measure the temperature of something and she'll say "use a thermometer (stupid!)," but who would've thought of doing that for light?  And what a thrill it must have been to realize that one's control experiment wasn't so controlled after all.  I have to admit feeling envious of those that lived in an era in which the basics of nature lay in wait for such a simple experiment.  Of course, I'm sure they'd be more than a bit envious of my running water...

Isaac Newton making mistakes: Like the rest of physics, Newton towers over optics and the study of light.  His 1704 treatise, Opticks, is one of the great works of science and laid out many of the laws of optics that remain in use today.  I'll admit that my own encounters with the works of Newton have at times left me frustrated, depressed, and in despair, so it was nice to be reminded that even the greatest of scientists could overlook things.

I didn't like...

Electrons in orbit: For a show that seems so bent on dispelling the little falsehoods we hear over and over again, I was surprised to see electrons orbiting the nuclei of atoms in such a stereotypical way.  Sure, the orbits weren't perfectly circular or flat, but that's hardly a strong disclaimer.  In fact, it's the very quantum nature of the electrons inside an atom that lead to the spectral lines the show was attempting to explain.

 

Faced with explaining a topic nearly as challenging as that discussed in last week's episode, I thought Cosmos tonight fared far better.  Its historical vignettes continued to highlight a range of players often not recognized for their work and the episode made excellent use of special effects to make visible that which we cannot see.  I look forward to next week's show, entitled "Deeper, Deeper, Deeper Still."

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