Is Pluto A Planet?
I’m not a big fan of science but when it comes to the planets and space, I can’t get enough. As Brian Cox talks us through the outer reaches of our solar system and the mysteries still to be solved there, you can’t help but feel constantly blown away by the sheer magnitude and scale of space. The fifth and final episode sees us take to the outer planets and a deeper look at some of the strangest worlds known to mankind.
We begin with Uranus, a pale blue marble in the depths of space. We’ve only visited these outer planets once, thanks in part to Voyager 2 which was specifically designed to visit these back in 1977. It took 9 years to reach Uranus but when it got there, it discovered the upper atmosphere was made up almost entirely of hydrogen and helium gas. Hidden beneath is a toxic cocktail of methane and other gases.
Unlike the other planets though, Uranus is almost completely featureless. It’s also the coldest planet in the solar system too and the first of the ice giants, kept in a permanent state of deep freeze. It also has rings just like Saturn. However, they’re kept in place thanks to “Shepherd Moons” that keep it in place. It’s also constantly kept on its side and spins on its axis in a clockwise direction.
We then see a mind-blowing recreation of the scale of our Solar System, using a harbour in Iceland for reference. Iconic for its large spotlight shining in the sky, he travels in his car miles and miles away from the light, helping to really take in and appreciate the distances between worlds. It also works well to help us appreciate the sheer breadth of distance Voyager 2 traveled in its lifespan.
We finally see Neptune soon after. 2000 km/h winds whip round the planet and until recently, it was graced by an Earth-sized great, dark spot. This happens to be the the biggest storm system recorded to date. However, the planet has been experiencing plenty more storms as of late and surprisingly, the average temperature is warmer than Uranus despite being so much further away. Some of this is thanks to the storm systems and with nothing to break up the speed like mountains and hills, these only continue to whiz round at breakneck speed.
After a brief glimpse of Triton, the vast ice moon of Neptune where geysers erupts 8km high into the atmosphere, we cut to see New Horizons being launched. This 2006 spaceship was designed specifically to travel to the far edges of our solar system. Once there, it discovered a myriad of other possible planets circulating the solar system but before we can jump to wild conclusions, we look at the definition of what constitutes a planet.
Ultimately though, Brian Cox thinks we should explore Pluto and in July 2015, humankind did just that. We see photos of its surface, revealing a network of hexagon and pentagon shapes across its surface on the region referred to as “Pluto’s heart”. Its still active and potentially this is caused by radioactive materials beneath the surface. There could also be liquid water on Pluto too.
After one final closing speech, we cut to see the launch of New Horizons in the Inside The Planets segment. They talk about how they managed to launch the mission and excitedly share that in January 2019, the spaceship discovered Ultima Thule; a 31 km rock and possibly the most primitive object in the universe ever. We then close out the episode on one final thought provoking note and plenty to chew over for the past few weeks.
Whether you like Brian Cox or not, there’s no denying that space exploration is crucial, if not key, to our survival as a species. Seeing how much more we have to learn about our solar system and what’s beyond that, space is certainly humbling and helps you appreciate how insignificant we all are in the grand scene of things
In the meantime though, The Planets bows out on a triumphant high, showing off some beautifully rendered images along with the usual enthusiastic narration of Brian Cox himself. The solar system is massive and given the incredibly journeys we’ve had the pleasure of watching this year, you really do get a feel of alienation from these worlds and what may lie beyond them.
The Planets has been highly educational, enjoyable and a real eye-opening look at our solar system, with this episode no exception. Bowing out on a high, The Planets is a beautifully written documentary series, one that stylishly examines our planets in the best possible way to deliver one of 2019’s best documentaries.