TV tonight: Nova on PBS explores payday asteroids and the comet ISON

Comet of the century ISON is a rare opportunity for scientists Photo: ISON / NASA

WASHINGTONNov 20, 2013 —There has been a lot of news coverage about ISON, but why it is such a rare opportunity for scientists is explained tonight on NOVA. Starting at 8 p.m. tonight, PBS will air three hours of space related shows just in time to provide us with a better understanding of what lurks in outer space.

At 8 p.m. “The Edge of Space” explores the earth-space boundary zone with a high-flying weather observation plane in a search for sprites, which are fleeting flashes that flicker upwards from thunderstorms for a split-second. Among the footage will be images shot from the International Space Station.

At 9 p.m. Nova will investigate the dichotomy that surrounds asteroids. We have all seen enough movies to assume that a large asteroid could end life on our planet, but is there a way to profit from them? Asteroids are known to contain elements like iron, nickel and platinum, providing a potential huge payday for intrepid entrepreneurs.

It is hard to imagine a technology that would first render an asteroid harmless and then collect it for its valuable content. But when the possibility for huge profits exists, never underestimate the power of greed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find a way to extract important elements from space rather than continuing to gut our own planet for them?

At 10 p.m. Nova will explore the comet ISON and speculate on its fate as it passes by the sun. Many experts believe it originated in the Oort cloud, a vast collection of debris from the formation of the solar system some 4.6 billion years ago. ISON is the first comet on record to come from so far away and pass so close to the sun on its first pass. 

Scientists predict one of three things will happen as ISON passes above the surface of the sun on November 28. It will emerge brighter than ever and shoot out into interstellar space, totally evaporate, or break into a series of small comets known as a “string of pearls.”

Regardless of the fate of ISON, learning more about space and the origins of our universe is a unique opportunity, and a good reason to tune into PBS tonight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Lisa King

I was born and educated in Southwest Virginia, traveled with my job all over America in my twenties and early thirties then came back to the mountains to raise my daughter.

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