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Featured TV on Blu-ray Review: The Universe: Our Solar System

August 22nd, 2010

The Universe: Our Solar System - Buy from Amazon

I've reviewed a number of home market releases from History, some of which dont' have a whole lot to do with history. The Universe is one such release, as it deals with cosmology and not history. At least it's science and not about ghosts. This is the first time I got to review this show, but it is not the first time it's been released on the home market, as the DVD came out in May. The other important note to get to before the review beings in earnest, is this is not the first time these episodes have been released on Blu-ray. These are just the first 10 episodes of season one, which was released previously as part of a Box Set.

The Show

The ten episodes presented on this 2-disc set start with:

  1. Secrets of the Sun
    We explore the center of our solar system and the science behind how it works. There's special emphasis on the sheer size of our Sun, but also on some of its more unusual aspects. (The temperature of the corona is higher than the surface, for instance.) The history of our understanding of the Sun is given a lot of attention, as is the potential threats the sun poses to life on Earth.
  2. Mars: The Red Planet
    The history of our closest neighbor is explored in this episode. (That's closest in terms of potential history.) The similarities and the differences are looked at, as are the most impressive geological features. The history of our understanding it discussed, with a lot of emphasis to our recent space exploration, including the search for life on Mars.
  3. The End of the Earth
    This subject must be very popular, as practically every TV series that deals with the Earth on a geological scale talks at length about what will kill us all off. On the other hand, I find it to be exploitation science. It's overblown and meaningless. You are far more likely to die as the result of a poor diet than any astrological event, but that message doesn't sell DVDs, I guess.
  4. Jupiter: The Giant Planet
    The largest planet in our solar system is next up. The size of the planet and the number of moons is touched on. Its four largest moons are discussed in more detail, with the possibility of life on Europa being especially interesting.
  5. The Moon
    The only heavenly body man as stepped on. This episode talks about the history of our understanding of the moon, how it was created, how it effects life on Earth, and more. Since the moon dominates the night sky, there's a lot more history discussed here, specifically the evolving theories of how the moon came to be.
  6. Spaceship Earth
    How was the Earth formed? And how did it become such an ideal place for life? This includes the question of how water came to be on Earth, which always struck me as a strange question to ask. Water is nothing more than hydrogen and oxygen, hydrogen being the most common element in the universe and oxygen being the third most common. Wouldn't it be nearly impossible for water to not form on Earth given the composition of the source materials?
  7. The Inner Planets: Mercury & Venus
    I guess Mercury and Venus are not important enough to have an episode dedicated to either one. That said, Venus is an incredibly interesting planet, mostly because of how inhospitable it is. Studying it is useful to understand Earth's atmosphere. Mercury, on the other hand, is dead. We learn why it is dead, but it is still dead.
  8. Saturn: Lord of the Rings
    Everyone knows Saturn for its rings, but it also has the most interesting weather in the solar system, as well as a number of large moons, some of which could hold life.
  9. Alien Galaxies
    We leave our solar system and take a look at different galaxies in our universe. A very interesting episode, but it doesn't fit with the name of the release.
  10. Life & Death of a Star
    The lifespan of a star is discussed from a loose cloud of gas that collects due to gravity, to the start of fusion, to the exhaustion of the fuel, to its final demise.
Okay, before I go any further... Pluto is a planet. It has a moon. A real moon, not a piddling little thing like Phobos or Deimos. Charon is bigger than Miranda, Ariel, and a few of the major moons in our solar system. So what if Pluto shares its orbit with a lot of tiny objects, so does the Earth. If anything, Pluto and Charon should be declared a twin-planet system.

Moving on.

Of the ten episodes on this two-disc Blu-ray, all of them are worth watching. Even The End of the Earth, which has a Shark Week exploitation feel to it at times. If you are a fan of cosmology, astrophysics, etc., then this is worth checking out.

The Extras

Unfortunately, there are no extras on the Blu-ray, nor are there play-all buttons or subtitles, but there are proper chapter placements. In fact, when you select an episode to play, it takes you to the chapter menu.

As for the Blu-ray's technical specs they are mixed. On the one hand, the video is great. High definition TV releases are rarely as good as First Run theatrical releases, and that is the case here. But the colors are strong, the details are sharp, black levels are solid, etc. The audio is clear, but uncomplicated. Very uncomplicated.

It does cost about 25% more than the DVD, which is acceptable, but not a real deal.

The Verdict

Finally a show that can answer the question: "What does the red spectrum tell us about quasars?" If you don't get that reference, buy Red Dwarf now.

On the one hand, The Universe: Our Solar System is a great show and one that is worth picking up. On the other hand, the Box Set is the better deal. It costs just over $80, but it is a 10-disc set. Grab it instead.

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