Episodes

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20080526

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

1/30. The Sky's the Limit

Since the dawn of modern humans more than 100,000 years ago, people have been looking into the sky in wonder. They have marvelled at the regularity of the sun, the changing phases of the moon, the motions of planets and comets and the mysterious starry backdrop of the cosmos. They have mapped and measured the heavens and slowly come to understand what they represent. The task is by no means complete.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

01The Sky's The Limit20171030 (BBC7)

Astronomer Heather Couper charts the history of our growing understanding of the universe.

02Cathedrals Of The Cosmos20171031 (BBC7)

Astronomer Heather Couper on the importance of the sun to ancient agrarian society.

02Cathedrals Of The Cosmos - Megalithic Calendars And The Solar Year *2008052720130502 (BBC7)

In ancient times, our ancestors' calendar was agricultural.

The rising and setting of the sun dominated people's lives and they were dependent on the seasons for their livelihoods.

The orientation of stone circles such as Stonehenge and underground tombs such as Newgrange in Ireland may have been to mark the midwinter solstice and pray for the Sun's return.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian and John Palmer.

Astronomer Heather Couper reflects on the importance of the sun to ancient agrarian society. With Timothy West.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

2/30. Cathedrals of the Cosmos - Megalithic Calendars and the Solar Year

In ancient times, our ancestors' calendar was agricultural. The rising and setting of the sun dominated people's lives and they were dependent on the seasons for their livelihoods. The orientation of stone circles such as Stonehenge and underground tombs such as Newgrange in Ireland may have been to mark the midwinter solstice and pray for the Sun's return.

03Stories Of The Sky2008060320080528 (BBC7)
20150128 (BBC7)
20150129 (BBC7)

Our ancestors mapped the stories of their mythology onto the constellations in the sky.

Astronomer Heather Couper reflects on how early man mapped the stories of his mythology onto the constellations in the sky.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

7/30. Wheels within Wheels - Later Greeks Measure and Map the Heavens

In 1900, a Greek diver exploring an ancient shipwreck recovered a corroded mechanism now believed to be an astronomical computer, more than 2000 years old, able to calculate the movements of the sun, moon and perhaps even certain planets. It may owe its ingenuity to two of the greatest later Greek astronomers, Archimedes and Hipparchus. Around the year AD 150, Ptolemy collated all the Greek knowledge of the heavens in a 13-volume masterpiece best known today by its later Arabic title, the Almagest. With its definitive list of over a thousand stars and 48 constellations, it became the standard astronomical text for the next 1400 years.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian and John Palmer.

03Stories Of The Sky - Origins Of The Constellations, And Constellation Legends *2008052820130503 (BBC7)

Our ancestors mapped the stories of their mythology onto the constellations in the sky.

The stars' positions overhead told them the best time to hunt or plant and when to expect extreme weather.

Even today, the ancient sky stories make good tales.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian and John Palmer.

Astronomer Heather Couper reflects on how early man mapped the stories of his mythology onto the constellations in the sky.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

3/30. Stories of the Sky - Origins of the Constellations, and Constellation Legends

Our ancestors mapped the stories of their mythology onto the constellations in the sky. The stars' positions overhead told them the best time to hunt or plant and when to expect extreme weather. Even today, the ancient sky stories make good tales.

04Mirror Of The Earth2008060420080529 (BBC7)
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20150130 (BBC7)

The history of astrology began as a way of advising rulers on their military campaigns.

Astronomer Heather Couper looks at the history of astrology, which began as a way of advising rulers on their military campaigns.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

8/30. Mathematics of the Sky - Islamic Science Fuels the Torch of Discovery.

During the dark ages in Europe, knowledge of the heavens and an interest in astronomy were kept alive in Arabic and Persian lands. Omar Khayyam was not only a great poet but also an astronomer, philosopher and mathematician. He measured the length of the year with great precision and devised a calendar that is more accurate than the one we use today.

Centuries before the invention of the telescope, Ulugh Beg's great Samarkand Observatory was making accurate observations of the movements of the sun, planets and stars. Muslim scholars kept the torch of astronomy alight and also fuelled it with new knowledge.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian and John Palmer.

04Mirror Of The Earth - The Chinese Astronomical Bureaucracy *2008052920130506 (BBC7)

In ancient civilisations, from Babylon to China, events in the sky were linked with what would otherwise seem to be good or bad fortune.

Astrology developed not as a means of guiding individuals in their love lives and fortunes, but of advising rulers on their military campaigns.

Astrological monitoring of the skies produced some of the earliest accurate astronomical records.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Astronomer Heather Couper looks at the history of astrology which began as a way of advising rulers on their military campaigns.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

4/30. Mirror of the Earth - The Chinese Astronomical Bureaucracy

In ancient civilisations, from Babylon to China, events in the sky were linked with what would otherwise seem to be good or bad fortune. Astrology developed not as a means of guiding individuals in their love lives and fortunes, but of advising rulers on their military campaigns. Astrological monitoring of the skies produced some of the earliest accurate astronomical records.

05Three Wise Men2008060520080530 (BBC7)
20150130 (BBC7)
20150131 (BBC7)

Astronomer Heather Couper reviews ancient associations of stars and planets with deities.

Astronomer Heather Couper reviews ancient associations of stars and planets with deities, and astrology's link to maths and the 24-hour day.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

9/30. The Earth Moves - How Copernicus Decentralised the Earth.

In the 16th century, Polish canon Nikolaus Copernicus revolutionised astronomy. For centuries, Western scholars had accepted the cosmology of Aristotle, which focused on the Earth being at the centre of the cosmos.

Copernicus pointed out that it would be simpler if they were to take the sun as the centre of the system and put the Earth and other planets in orbit around it. For many years he was reluctant to publish this heretical suggestion and was only persuaded to do so by a young Austrian named Rheticus. He read the final page proofs of his book, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, on the day that he died in 1543.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

05Three Wise Men - Ancient Astronomy And The Star Of Bethlehem *2008053020130507 (BBC7)

A little over 2,000 years ago, three wise men from the East are said to have followed astronomical signs which led them to a stable in Bethlehem.

From ancient Babylonian times, stars and planets had been associated with different deities.

Through Babylonian and Egyptian astrology came the basis of modern mathematics and the division of the sky - and the day - into 24 hours.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Astronomer Heather Couper reviews ancient associations of stars and planets with deities, and astrology's link to maths and the 24-hour day.

Heather Couper presents an omnibus edition of her major new narrative history of astronomy.

1/6. Ancient Visions

Since the dawn of modern humans more than 100,000 years ago, people have been looking into the sky in wonder. They have mapped and measured the heavens and slowly come to understand what they represent.

Much ancient mythology is based on the constellations in the sky, and astrologers have attempted to fit the Earth and themselves into the cosmic scheme of things. The rising and setting of the Sun dominated people's lives and they were dependent on the seasons for their livelihoods. In ancient civilisations, from Babylon to China, events in the sky were linked with what would otherwise seem to be random natural disasters and good or bad fortune. But the monitoring of the skies by astrologers produced some of the earliest accurate astronomical records, recording eclipses, comets and exploding stars thousands of years before our scientific era.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

5/30. Three Wise Men - Ancient Astronomy and the Star of Bethlehem

A little over 2,000 years ago, three wise men from the East are said to have followed astronomical signs which led them to a stable in Bethlehem. From ancient Babylonian times, stars and planets had been associated with different deities. Through Babylonian and Egyptian astrology came the basis of modern mathematics and the division of the sky - and the day - into 24 hours.

06Philosopher Scientists2008060620080602 (BBC7)
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Greek philosopher Thales thought natural forces cause natural disasters, not acts of gods.

Heather Couper considers Greek Philosopher Thales's idea that natural forces, not actions by gods, caused natural disasters.

Greek philosopher Thales thought natural forces caused natural disasters, not acts of gods

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy. About 2,600 years ago, Greek philosopher Thales was the first person to suggest that natural forces rather than the gods might be responsible for dramatic events such as earthquakes and even eclipses. Pythagoras developed an interest in geometry that led him to realise that the Earth was a sphere. This was the start to a series of philosophical schools.

Heather Couper presents an omnibus edition of her major new narrative history of astronomy.

2/6. Wandering Planets and the Centre of the Universe.

The ancient Greeks were the first true scientists, suggesting that natural processes such as the movements of the sun, moon and planets were the results of forces of nature rather than divine intervention.

Observational astronomy and the mathematics that underlies it were kept alive in Islamic culture through the dark ages of Western Europe.

It was not until the 16th century that Polish canon Nikolaus Copernicus began to question the geocentric model and realise that all the calculations would be much simpler if the Earth and planets all revolved around the Sun. Johannes Kepler completed the revolution by showing that the orbits of planets could be calculated accurately if they were elliptical rather than circular. The foundations of modern astronomy had been laid.

Read by Timothy West, Annette Badland, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

10/30. The Imperfect Cosmos - Kepler and Tycho Turn the Universe on its Side.

In 1572, a Danish nobleman named Tycho Brahe saw what seemed like a new star flaring up in the sky. As it faded over the next few weeks, he realised that the heavens are not perfect and unchanging as some philosophers would have them be.

Some years later, he met up with a young German mathematician named Johannes Kepler, who proposed that the planets were pulled around the sun not by divine forces but by something emanating from the sun. He reasoned that, since the planets appear to be slightly closer to the sun at some times, they should move faster at these times. That would make their orbits not circular but elliptical.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

06Philosopher Scientists - The Innovative Ideas Of The Early Greeks2008060220130508 (BBC7)

2600 years ago, Greek philosopher Thales was the first person to suggest that natural forces rather than the gods might be responsible for dramatic events such as earthquakes and even eclipses.

As one of the first true scientists, he successfully predicted a total eclipse of the sun in 585 BC, bringing an end to a 15-year war.

Pythagoras developed an interest in geometry that led him to realise that the Earth was a sphere.

This was the start to a series of philosophical schools which went on to calculate the relative sizes and distances of Earth, moon and sun and, under Aristarchus, even to suggest that the sun and not the Earth was the centre of the universe.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-tutt and John Palmer

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy. About 2,600 years ago, Greek philosopher Thales was the first person to suggest that natural forces rather than the gods might be responsible for dramatic events such as earthquakes and even eclipses. Pythagoras developed an interest in geometry that led him to realise that the Earth was a sphere. This was the start to a series of philosophical schools.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

6/30. Philosopher Scientists - The Innovative Ideas of the Early Greeks.

2600 years ago, Greek philosopher Thales was the first person to suggest that natural forces rather than the gods might be responsible for dramatic events such as earthquakes and even eclipses. As one of the first true scientists, he successfully predicted a total eclipse of the sun in 585 BC, bringing an end to a 15-year war.

Pythagoras developed an interest in geometry that led him to realise that the Earth was a sphere. This was the start to a series of philosophical schools which went on to calculate the relative sizes and distances of Earth, moon and sun and, under Aristarchus, even to suggest that the sun and not the Earth was the centre of the universe.

07Wheels Within Wheels2008060920080603 (BBC7)
20130509 (BBC7)
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20150204 (BBC7)
20171107 (BBC7)

Ptolomy wrote 13 volumes listing over 1000 stars and 48 constellations around AD 150.

Heather Couper reflects on astronomer Ptolomy, who wrote 13 volumes listing over 1000 stars and 48 constellations around AD150.

Heather Couper reflects on astonomer Ptolomy, who wrote 13 volumes listing over 1000 stars and 48 constellations around AD 150.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

11/30. Galileo - Seeing is Believing

Galileo did not invent the telescope, but was the first to record his observations and to realise that what he saw would change our understanding of the universe. In 1610 he observed that the Milky Way was made up of countless stars and that there were four moons in orbit around Jupiter. If Jupiter could move and carry its moons with it, then so could the Earth. Copernicus was right - the Earth was but another planet in orbit around the Sun.

Galileo was stubborn and outspoken. The church did not like what he said and wrote, and in 1633 he was summoned before the Inquisition and forced to recant his heresy. He got off lightly with house arrest in a beautiful Tuscan villa. Since his death, he has become a scientific celebrity.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

07Wheels Within Wheels - Later Greeks Measure And Map The Heavens2008060320130509 (BBC7)

In 1900, a Greek diver exploring an ancient shipwreck recovered a corroded mechanism now believed to be an astronomical computer, more than 2000 years old, able to calculate the movements of the sun, moon and perhaps even certain planets.

It may owe its ingenuity to two of the greatest later Greek astronomers, Archimedes and Hipparchus.

Around the year AD 150, Ptolemy collated all the Greek knowledge of the heavens in a 13-volume masterpiece best known today by its later Arabic title, the Almagest.

With its definitive list of over a thousand stars and 48 constellations, it became the standard astronomical text for the next 1400 years.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian and John Palmer.

Heather Couper reflects on astonomer Ptolomy, who wrote 13 volumes listing over 1000 stars and 48 constellations around AD 150.

08Mathematics Of The Sky2008061020080604 (BBC7)
20130510 (BBC7)
20150204 (BBC7)
20150205 (BBC7)
20171108 (BBC7)

Heather Couper considers the Islamic scholar, poet and mathematician, Omar Khayyam.

Astronomer Heather Couper considers the contribution of the Islamic scholar, poet and mathematician Omar Khayyam.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

12/30. Newton - A Matter of Some Gravity

Isaac Newton was born in 1642. He studied hard at Trinity College in Cambridge but was forced home to Lincolnshire by the Great Plague in 1666. It is there that he is supposed to have seen an apple falling and been inspired to develop his theory of gravity. An ancient apple tree still stands in his garden at Woolsthorpe and may have given him inspiration, but it was his brilliance as a mathematician that put the basic laws of physics on a firm foundation.

Newton's work on the nature of light and optics drew him to the attention of the newly founded Royal Society and led ultimately to the publication of his great work Principia. He would eventually be elected President of the Royal Society.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

08Mathematics Of The Sky - Islamic Science Fuels The Torch Of Discovery *2008060420130510 (BBC7)

During the dark ages in Europe, knowledge of the heavens and an interest in astronomy were kept alive in Arabic and Persian lands.

Omar Khayyam was not only a great poet but also an astronomer, philosopher and mathematician.

He measured the length of the year with great precision and devised a calendar that is more accurate than the one we use today.

Centuries before the invention of the telescope, Ulugh Beg's great Samarkand Observatory was making accurate observations of the movements of the sun, planets and stars.

Muslim scholars kept the torch of astronomy alight and also fuelled it with new knowledge.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian and John Palmer.

Astronomer Heather Couper considers the contribution of the Islamic scholar, poet and mathematician Omar Khayyam.

09The Earth Moves2008061120080605 (BBC7)
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Copernicus had the crazy idea that the Earth was not at the centre of the universe.

Astronomer Heather Couper considers the impact of Copernicus's idea that the Earth was not at the centre of the universe.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

13/30. Halley - A Comet's Tale

Edmund Halley was a patient and meticulous observer of the night sky. He was the first to make accurate charts of the constellations in the southern hemisphere, which drew him to the attention of Charles II and his government.

But it was his calculations of the orbits of comets that made Halley famous, in particular his recognition that the same comet cropped up three times in historical records. Thus he was the first to predict correctly the return of the comet that bears his name.

In his later years, he turned to the problem of navigation at sea and determining longitude, embarking on a long project to measure the motion of the moon against the background of stars. However, the problem would eventually be solved by the accurate clocks of John Harrison.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

09The Earth Moves - How Copernicus Decentralised The Earth *2008060520130513 (BBC7)

In the 16th century, Polish canon Nikolaus Copernicus revolutionised astronomy.

For centuries, Western scholars had accepted the cosmology of Aristotle, which focused on the Earth being at the centre of the cosmos.

Copernicus pointed out that it would be simpler if they were to take the sun as the centre of the system and put the Earth and other planets in orbit around it.

For many years he was reluctant to publish this heretical suggestion and was only persuaded to do so by a young Austrian named Rheticus.

He read the final page proofs of his book, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, on the day that he died in 1543.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Astronomer Heather Couper considers the impact of Copernicus's idea that the Earth was not at the centre of the universe.

10The Imperfect Cosmos2008061220080606 (BBC7)
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20171110 (BBC7)

Tycho Brahe realised that the heavens change, and that a planet's orbit could be predicted

Tycho Brahe realised that the heavens change, but that a planet's orbit could be predicted

Astronomer Heather Couper looks at Tycho Brahe's realisation that the heavens change, but that a planet's orbit could be predicted.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

14/30. A Planet Called George - How William Herschel Doubled the Size of the Solar System.

In 1781, using his home-made telescope, Herschel discovered a new planet twice as distant as Saturn and four times larger than the Earth. He wanted to call it George's Star in honour of George III, but was persuaded to follow convention and name it Uranus after the Greek god of the sky.

With the help of his sister Caroline, Herschel went on to make a methodical chart of the cosmos, estimating stellar distances from their brightnesses and constructing a remarkably accurate map of the Milky Way. He also recognised that our sun was just one of a multitude of stars.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

10The Imperfect Cosmos - Kepler And Tycho Turn The Universe On Its Side2008060620130514 (BBC7)

In 1572, a Danish nobleman named Tycho Brahe saw what seemed like a new star flaring up in the sky.

As it faded over the next few weeks, he realised that the heavens are not perfect and unchanging as some philosophers would have them be.

Some years later, he met up with a young German mathematician named Johannes Kepler, who proposed that the planets were pulled around the sun not by divine forces but by something emanating from the sun.

He reasoned that, since the planets appear to be slightly closer to the sun at some times, they should move faster at these times.

That would make their orbits not circular but elliptical.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Astronomer Heather Couper looks at Tycho Brahe's realisation that the heavens change, but that a planet's orbit could be predicted.

11Galileo - Seeing Is Believing2008061320080609 (BBC7)
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20171113 (BBC7)

Heather Couper on Galileo's idea to systematically record his telescope observations.

Astronomer Heather Couper looks at the impact of Galileo's idea to systematically record his telescope observations.

Heather Couper presents an omnibus edition of her major new narrative history of astronomy.

3/6. A Matter of Some Gravity

Galileo's observations of the moons of Jupiter made him realise that not everything orbits the Earth. Once Newton had laid down the principles of gravity which determine the orbits of the planets, Halley was able to extend them to comets and predict the return of the comet that bears his name. The telescope led to a search for new planets and the discovery of the asteroids and outer planets, a quest that is continuing today.

Read by Timothy West, Annette Badland, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

15/30. The Celestial Police - Tracking Down Asteroids and Planets

Following the discovery of Uranus, astronomers were keen to see if the solar system had any other previously unknown members. Johann Bode, director of the Berlin Observatory, set up what he referred to as the Celestial Police to search the skies. In particular, based on a gap in the otherwise even spacing of the planets, he suspected that there must be something between Mars and Jupiter.

In 1801, Guiseppe Piazzi discovered an object he named Ceres after the patron goddess of Sicily, but it was so faint and small that the search continued. Soon, many more of these so-called asteroids were found.

Meanwhile, the search continued in the outer solar system. Using a French prediction, German observers discovered Neptune in 1846. It was not until 1930 that another planet was found, though Pluto has since been demoted from planetary status.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

11Galileo - Seeing Is Believing *2008060920130515 (BBC7)

Galileo did not invent the telescope, but was the first to record his observations and to realise that what he saw would change our understanding of the universe.

In 1610 he observed that the Milky Way was made up of countless stars and that there were four moons in orbit around Jupiter.

If Jupiter could move and carry its moons with it, then so could the Earth.

Copernicus was right - the Earth was but another planet in orbit around the Sun.

Galileo was stubborn and outspoken.

The church did not like what he said and wrote, and in 1633 he was summoned before the Inquisition and forced to recant his heresy.

He got off lightly with house arrest in a beautiful Tuscan villa.

Since his death, he has become a scientific celebrity.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Galileo did not invent the telescope, but was the first to record his observations and to realise their significance. Heather Couper looks at the impact of Galileo's idea.

11Seeing Is Believing20080609 (BBC7)
20130515 (BBC7)

Galileo did not invent the telescope, but was the first to record his observations and to realise their significance. Heather Couper looks at the impact of Galileo's idea.

12A Matter Of Some Gravity2008061620080610 (BBC7)
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Isaac Newton's mathematical brilliance put the basic laws of physics on a firm foundation.

Astronomer Heather Couper looks at how Isaac Newton's mathematical brilliance put the laws of physics on a firm foundation.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

16/30. Plumbing the Depths - The Birth of Astrophysics

The science of astrophysics has emerged over the past 300 years. It began with the first attempts to measure the distances of the stars but took off in late Victorian times with the invention of the spectroscope, a device to split starlight up into its component wavelengths. This led to an understanding of the composition of stars and the discovery of a new element on the Sun.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

12Newton - A Matter Of Some Gravity2008061020130516 (BBC7)
20171114 (BBC7)

Isaac Newton's mathematical brilliance put the laws of physics on a firm foundation.

Isaac Newton was born in 1642.

He studied hard at Trinity College in Cambridge but was forced home to Lincolnshire by the Great Plague in 1666.

It is there that he is supposed to have seen an apple falling and been inspired to develop his theory of gravity.

An ancient apple tree still stands in his garden at Woolsthorpe and may have given him inspiration, but it was his brilliance as a mathematician that put the basic laws of physics on a firm foundation.

Newton's work on the nature of light and optics drew him to the attention of the newly founded Royal Society and led ultimately to the publication of his great work Principia.

He would eventually be elected President of the Royal Society.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-tutt and John Palmer.

Astronomer Heather Couper looks at how Isaac Newton's mathematical brilliance put the laws of physics on a firm foundation.

13A Comet's Tale2008062320080611 (BBC7)
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Astronomer Heather Couper considers how Edmund Halley went about calculating the orbit of a comet.

13Halley - A Comet's Tale2008061120130517 (BBC7)
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Heather Couper considers how Edmund Halley went about calculating the orbit of a comet.

Edmund Halley was a patient and meticulous observer of the night sky.

He was the first to make accurate charts of the constellations in the southern hemisphere, which drew him to the attention of Charles II and his government.

But it was his calculations of the orbits of comets that made Halley famous, in particular his recognition that the same comet cropped up three times in historical records.

Thus he was the first to predict correctly the return of the comet that bears his name.

In his later years, he turned to the problem of navigation at sea and determining longitude, embarking on a long project to measure the motion of the moon against the background of stars.

However, the problem would eventually be solved by the accurate clocks of John Harrison.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Astronomer Heather Couper considers how Edmund Halley went about calculating the orbit of a comet.

14A Planet Called George2008061820080612 (BBC7)
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Astronomer Heather Couper looks at how Herschel doubled the size of the solar system.

William Herschel attempted to chart the cosmos using a homemade telescope.

Astronomer Heather Couper looks at William Herschel's attempts to chart the cosmos using a homemade telescope, and how he doubled the size of the solar system.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

18/30. Deep Space - Nebulae Are Island Universes.

In 1845 the third Earl of Rosse completed the biggest telescope in the world at his castle in the centre of Ireland. In spite of cloudy skies, this leviathan enabled him to see spectacular detail in the sky, including a spiral structure in certain fuzzy patches known as nebulae. Some of these seemed so big that astronomers thought they must be rotating clouds of gas out of which planetary systems are born.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt refuted this, studying variable stars and realising that a certain type of star varied at a rate that was linked to its brightness. These so-called Cepheid variables could be used to estimate the vast distances of space.

In 1919, the young Edwin Hubble used a new telescope in California to search for Leavitt's Cepheids in spiral nebulae. He discovered, to his astonishment, that the nearest, the Andromeda nebula, lay well outside our own galaxy and constituted an island universe in its own right.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

14A Planet Called George - How William Herschel Doubled The Size Of The Solar System2008061220130520 (BBC7)

In 1781, using his home-made telescope, Herschel discovered a new planet twice as distant as Saturn and four times larger than the Earth.

He wanted to call it George's Star in honour of George III, but was persuaded to follow convention and name it Uranus after the Greek god of the sky.

With the help of his sister Caroline, Herschel went on to make a methodical chart of the cosmos, estimating stellar distances from their brightnesses and constructing a remarkably accurate map of the Milky Way.

He also recognised that our sun was just one of a multitude of stars.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Astronomer Heather Couper looks at William Herschel's attempts to chart the cosmos using a homemade telescope, and how he doubled the size of the Solar System.

15The Celestial Police2008061920080613 (BBC7)
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Heather Couper looks at the work of the planet hunter Johann Bode, tracking down asteroids

Heather Couper looks at planet hunter Johann Bode, who patrolled the dark cosmic alleyways

Astronomer Heather Couper looks at the work of the planet hunter Johann Bode, who patrolled the dark cosmic alleyways.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

19/30. Einstein's Biggest Blunder and the Expanding, Accelerating Universe

In 1915, Albert Einstein found that he had to introduce a new factor into his equations of gravity to prevent the stars from falling in on one another. He called it the cosmological constant. But then, astronomers discovered that the light from galaxies was stretched in a way that could only be explained if the galaxies were flying apart from each other and the universe was expanding.

A recent twist to this tale came in the year 2000, when estimates of the rate of the expansion revealed that the most distant galaxies are accelerating. The only way to explain this was by a force called dark energy - in effect, a cosmological constant.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

15The Celestial Police - Tracking Down Asteroids And Planets2008061320130521 (BBC7)

Following the discovery of Uranus, astronomers were keen to see if the solar system had any other previously unknown members.

Johann Bode, director of the Berlin Observatory, set up what he referred to as the Celestial Police to search the skies.

In particular, based on a gap in the otherwise even spacing of the planets, he suspected that there must be something between Mars and Jupiter.

In 1801, Guiseppe Piazzi discovered an object he named Ceres after the patron goddess of Sicily, but it was so faint and small that the search continued.

Soon, many more of these so-called asteroids were found.

Meanwhile, the search continued in the outer solar system.

Using a French prediction, German observers discovered Neptune in 1846.

It was not until 1930 that another planet was found, though Pluto has since been demoted from planetary status.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-tutt and John Palmer.

Astronomer Heather Couper looks at the work of the planet hunter Johann Bode, who patrolled the dark cosmic alleyways.

16Plumbing The Depths2008062020080616 (BBC7)
20130522 (BBC7)
20150216 (BBC7)
20150217 (BBC7)
20171120 (BBC7)

The science of astrophysics began 300 years ago but rocketed in Victorian times.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

The science of astrophysics has emerged over the past 300 years. It began with the first attempts to measure the distances of the stars but took off in late Victorian times with the invention of the spectroscope, a device to split starlight up into its component wavelengths. This led to an understanding of the composition of stars and the discovery of a new element on the Sun.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

The science of astrophysics has emerged over the past 300 years. It began with the first attempts to measure the distances of the stars but took off in late Victorian times with the invention of the spectroscope, a device to split starlight up into its component wavelengths. This led to an understanding of the composition of stars and the discovery of a new element on the Sun.

Heather Couper presents an omnibus edition of her major new narrative history of astronomy.

4/6. The Galaxy and Beyond

Early ideas about the nature of the Milky Way and fuzzy patches or nebulae were transformed by precise astronomical measurements. It took several centuries for astronomers to accept that the Milky Way is a giant body of stars of which our solar system is but one outlying member. As techniques to estimate the distances of stars improved, the nebulae were revealed to be galaxies in their own right, island universes that were flying apart in a great expansion from the big bang of creation.

Read by Timothy West, Annette Badland, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

20/30. How the Universe Began - Steady State, Big Bang and the Glow of Creation.

The discovery that the universe is expanding led cosmologists to suggest that its origin lay in a compact, dense, hot fireball. Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle thought this so ridiculous that he disparagingly called it the big bang. The name stuck and there followed intense arguments between supporters of the big bang theory and Fred Hoyle and his colleagues, who favoured a steady state universe.

A decisive blow to the latter theory came from a radio telescope in New Jersey in the early 1960s that detected a gentle background glow at microwave radio frequencies that theorists had predicted as the dying embers of the big bang itself.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

16Plumbing The Depths - The Birth Of Astrophysics2008061620130522 (BBC7)

The science of astrophysics has emerged over the past 300 years.

It began with the first attempts to measure the distances of the stars but took off in late Victorian times with the invention of the spectroscope, a device to split starlight up into its component wavelengths.

This led to an understanding of the composition of stars and the discovery of a new element on the Sun.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

The science of astrophysics has emerged over the past 300 years. It began with the first attempts to measure the distances of the stars but took off in late Victorian times with the invention of the spectroscope, a device to split starlight up into its component wavelengths. This led to an understanding of the composition of stars and the discovery of a new element on the Sun.

17The Milky Way2008062320080617 (BBC7)
20130523 (BBC7)
20150217 (BBC7)
20150218 (BBC7)
20171121 (BBC7)

Heather considers the struggle to build our knowledge of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Galileo realised that the Milky Way was a glowing band of stars across the sky and philosopher Immanuel Kant recognised that our Sun was just one member of a vast star system. But for centuries, few recognised the true nature of our galaxy. In the late 19th century, William Herschel realised that the Milky Way was a giant body of stars, but still his discovery was ignored. It was not until early in the 20th century that Harlow Shapley began to estimate the distances of the stars and hence map out the Milky Way in three-dimensional detail. Radio astronomy finally yielded the ability to penetrate the dark clouds towards the galactic centre and see the true distribution of matter in the skies.

Heather considers the struggle to develop knowledge about our own galaxy.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Galileo realised that the Milky Way was a glowing band of stars across the sky and philosopher Immanuel Kant recognised that our Sun was just one member of a vast star system. But for centuries, few recognised the true nature of our galaxy. In the late 19th century, William Herschel realised that the Milky Way was a giant body of stars, but still his discovery was ignored. It was not until early in the 20th century that Harlow Shapley began to estimate the distances of the stars and hence map out the Milky Way in three-dimensional detail. Radio astronomy finally yielded the ability to penetrate the dark clouds towards the galactic centre and see the true distribution of matter in the skies.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy. 21/30. Broadcasts from the Cosmos. War radar research led to the discovery of radio broadcasts and later the pulsar.

17Who Discovered The Galaxy? - The Nature Of The Milky Way20080617

Galileo realised that the Milky Way was a glowing band of stars across the sky and philosopher Immanuel Kant recognised that our Sun was just one member of a vast star system.

But for centuries, few recognised the true nature of our galaxy.

In the late 19th century, William Herschel realised that the Milky Way was a giant body of stars, but still his discovery was ignored.

It was not until early in the 20th century that Harlow Shapley began to estimate the distances of the stars and hence map out the Milky Way in three-dimensional detail.

Radio astronomy finally yielded the ability to penetrate the dark clouds towards the galactic centre and see the true distribution of matter in the skies.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

17/30. Who discovered the Galaxy? - The Nature of the Milky Way

Galileo realised that the Milky Way was a glowing band of stars across the sky and philosopher Immanuel Kant recognised that our Sun was just one member of a vast star system. But for centuries, few recognised the true nature of our galaxy. In the late 19th century, William Herschel realised that the Milky Way was a giant body of stars, but still his discovery was ignored.

It was not until early in the 20th century that Harlow Shapley began to estimate the distances of the stars and hence map out the Milky Way in three-dimensional detail. Radio astronomy finally yielded the ability to penetrate the dark clouds towards the galactic centre and see the true distribution of matter in the skies.

17Who Discovered The Galaxy? - The Nature Of The Milky Way2008062320080617 (BBC7)
20130523 (BBC7)

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Galileo realised that the Milky Way was a glowing band of stars across the sky and philosopher Immanuel Kant recognised that our Sun was just one member of a vast star system. But for centuries, few recognised the true nature of our galaxy. In the late 19th century, William Herschel realised that the Milky Way was a giant body of stars, but still his discovery was ignored. It was not until early in the 20th century that Harlow Shapley began to estimate the distances of the stars and hence map out the Milky Way in three-dimensional detail. Radio astronomy finally yielded the ability to penetrate the dark clouds towards the galactic centre and see the true distribution of matter in the skies.

18Deep Space2008063020080618 (BBC7)
20130524 (BBC7)
20150218 (BBC7)
20150219 (BBC7)
20171122 (BBC7)

Heather Couper traces our understanding of nebulae, island universes outside our galaxy.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

In 1845 the third Earl of Rosse completed the biggest telescope in the world at his castle in the centre of Ireland. In spite of cloudy skies, this leviathan enabled him to see spectacular detail in the sky, including a spiral structure in certain fuzzy patches known as nebulae. Some of these seemed so big that astronomers thought they must be rotating clouds of gas out of which planetary systems are born.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt refuted this, studying variable stars and realising that a certain type of star varied at a rate that was linked to its brightness. These so-called Cepheid variables could be used to estimate the vast distances of space.

In 1919, the young Edwin Hubble used a new telescope in California to search for Leavitt's Cepheids in spiral nebulae. He discovered, to his astonishment, that the nearest, the Andromeda nebula, lay well outside our own galaxy and constituted an island universe in its own right.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

In 1845 the third Earl of Rosse completed the biggest telescope in the world at his castle in the centre of Ireland. In spite of cloudy skies, this leviathan enabled him to see spectacular detail in the sky, including a spiral structure in certain fuzzy patches known as nebulae. Some of these seemed so big that astronomers thought they must be rotating clouds of gas out of which planetary systems are born.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt refuted this, studying variable stars and realising that a certain type of star varied at a rate that was linked to its brightness. These so-called Cepheid variables could be used to estimate the vast distances of space.

In 1919, the young Edwin Hubble used a new telescope in California to search for Leavitt's Cepheids in spiral nebulae. He discovered, to his astonishment, that the nearest, the Andromeda nebula, lay well outside our own galaxy and constituted an island universe in its own right.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

26/30. A Star is Born

Infrared radiation was discovered by William Herschel two centuries ago, but only recently has infrared astronomy come of age. Infrared is able to peer inside dark clouds that mask regions of the galaxy such as the Orion Nebula from optical telescopes. Within these clouds we can now see the processes through which the gas clouds contract, heat up and ignite to give birth to a new generation of stars.

18Deep Space - Nebulae Are Island Universes2008061820130524 (BBC7)

In 1845 the third Earl of Rosse completed the biggest telescope in the world at his castle in the centre of Ireland.

In spite of cloudy skies, this leviathan enabled him to see spectacular detail in the sky, including a spiral structure in certain fuzzy patches known as nebulae.

Some of these seemed so big that astronomers thought they must be rotating clouds of gas out of which planetary systems are born.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt refuted this, studying variable stars and realising that a certain type of star varied at a rate that was linked to its brightness.

These so-called Cepheid variables could be used to estimate the vast distances of space.

In 1919, the young Edwin Hubble used a new telescope in California to search for Leavitt's Cepheids in spiral nebulae.

He discovered, to his astonishment, that the nearest, the Andromeda nebula, lay well outside our own galaxy and constituted an island universe in its own right.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper traces our understanding of nebulae, island universes outside our galaxy.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

In 1845 the third Earl of Rosse completed the biggest telescope in the world at his castle in the centre of Ireland. In spite of cloudy skies, this leviathan enabled him to see spectacular detail in the sky, including a spiral structure in certain fuzzy patches known as nebulae. Some of these seemed so big that astronomers thought they must be rotating clouds of gas out of which planetary systems are born.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt refuted this, studying variable stars and realising that a certain type of star varied at a rate that was linked to its brightness. These so-called Cepheid variables could be used to estimate the vast distances of space.

In 1919, the young Edwin Hubble used a new telescope in California to search for Leavitt's Cepheids in spiral nebulae. He discovered, to his astonishment, that the nearest, the Andromeda nebula, lay well outside our own galaxy and constituted an island universe in its own right.

18Deep Space - Nebulae Are Island Universes.20080618

In 1845 the third Earl of Rosse completed the biggest telescope in the world at his castle in the centre of Ireland.

In spite of cloudy skies, this leviathan enabled him to see spectacular detail in the sky, including a spiral structure in certain fuzzy patches known as nebulae.

Some of these seemed so big that astronomers thought they must be rotating clouds of gas out of which planetary systems are born.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt refuted this, studying variable stars and realising that a certain type of star varied at a rate that was linked to its brightness.

These so-called Cepheid variables could be used to estimate the vast distances of space.

In 1919, the young Edwin Hubble used a new telescope in California to search for Leavitt's Cepheids in spiral nebulae.

He discovered, to his astonishment, that the nearest, the Andromeda nebula, lay well outside our own galaxy and constituted an island universe in its own right.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

19Einstein's Biggest Blunder2008062520080619 (BBC7)
20130527 (BBC7)
20150219 (BBC7)
20150220 (BBC7)
20171123 (BBC7)

How did the discovery that the universe is expanding impact upon Einstein's theories?

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

In 1915, Albert Einstein found that he had to introduce a new factor into his equations of gravity to prevent the stars from falling in on one another. He called it the cosmological constant. But then, astronomers discovered that the light from galaxies was stretched in a way that could only be explained if the galaxies were flying apart from each other and the universe was expanding.

A recent twist to this tale came in the year 2000, when estimates of the rate of the expansion revealed that the most distant galaxies are accelerating. The only way to explain this was by a force called dark energy - in effect, a cosmological constant.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

In 1915, Albert Einstein found that he had to introduce a new factor into his equations of gravity to prevent the stars from falling in on one another. He called it the cosmological constant. But then, astronomers discovered that the light from galaxies was stretched in a way that could only be explained if the galaxies were flying apart from each other and the universe was expanding.

A recent twist to this tale came in the year 2000, when estimates of the rate of the expansion revealed that the most distant galaxies are accelerating. The only way to explain this was by a force called dark energy - in effect, a cosmological constant.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

23/30. Violent Universe

Only in the last 50 years have telescopes been powerful enough to study distant galaxies beyond our Milky Way in much detail. Cygnus A first came to astronomers' attention as a radio source, the second strongest in the sky. Optical astronomers later realised that it was a pair of galaxies colliding with one another. It is a colossal 700 million light years away, making its radio output a million times more powerful than that of our Milky Way. Energetic reactions were taking place in its core, shooting out great jets of high energy particles emitting radio waves.

The next breakthrough came from an even more distant object over 2 billion light years away. At its heart was something 40 times more luminous than a normal galaxy yet no bigger than the solar system. These mysterious powerhouses were named quasi-stellar radio sources, now abbreviated to quasars. The consensus now is that they are massive black holes, millions or even billions of times the mass of our Sun, gobbling stars and gas in the centres of galaxies.

19Einstein's Biggest Blunder And The Expanding, Accelerating Universe2008061920130527 (BBC7)

In 1915, Albert Einstein found that he had to introduce a new factor into his equations of gravity to prevent the stars from falling in on one another.

He called it the cosmological constant.

But then, astronomers discovered that the light from galaxies was stretched in a way that could only be explained if the galaxies were flying apart from each other and the universe was expanding.

A recent twist to this tale came in the year 2000, when estimates of the rate of the expansion revealed that the most distant galaxies are accelerating.

The only way to explain this was by a force called dark energy - in effect, a cosmological constant.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

In 1915, Albert Einstein found that he had to introduce a new factor into his equations of gravity to prevent the stars from falling in on one another. He called it the cosmological constant. But then, astronomers discovered that the light from galaxies was stretched in a way that could only be explained if the galaxies were flying apart from each other and the universe was expanding.

A recent twist to this tale came in the year 2000, when estimates of the rate of the expansion revealed that the most distant galaxies are accelerating. The only way to explain this was by a force called dark energy - in effect, a cosmological constant.

20How The Universe Began2008062620080620 (BBC7)
20130528 (BBC7)
20150220 (BBC7)
20150221 (BBC7)
20171124 (BBC7)

The Big Bang theory of how the universe began and what its opponents think.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

The discovery that the universe is expanding led cosmologists to suggest that its origin lay in a compact, dense, hot fireball. Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle thought this so ridiculous that he disparagingly called it the big bang. The name stuck and there followed intense arguments between supporters of the big bang theory and Fred Hoyle and his colleagues, who favoured a steady state universe.

A decisive blow to the latter theory came from a radio telescope in New Jersey in the early 1960s that detected a gentle background glow at microwave radio frequencies that theorists had predicted as the dying embers of the big bang itself.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

The discovery that the universe is expanding led cosmologists to suggest that its origin lay in a compact, dense, hot fireball. Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle thought this so ridiculous that he disparagingly called it the big bang. The name stuck and there followed intense arguments between supporters of the big bang theory and Fred Hoyle and his colleagues, who favoured a steady state universe.

A decisive blow to the latter theory came from a radio telescope in New Jersey in the early 1960s that detected a gentle background glow at microwave radio frequencies that theorists had predicted as the dying embers of the big bang itself.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper presents a history of astronomy. 24/30: The Dark Side of the Cosmos. Fritz Zwicky and Vera Rubin realised that dark matter exists, although nobody knows what it is.

20How The Universe Began - Steady State, Big Bang And The Glow Of Creation2008062020130528 (BBC7)

The discovery that the universe is expanding led cosmologists to suggest that its origin lay in a compact, dense, hot fireball.

Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle thought this so ridiculous that he disparagingly called it the big bang.

The name stuck and there followed intense arguments between supporters of the big bang theory and Fred Hoyle and his colleagues, who favoured a steady state universe.

A decisive blow to the latter theory came from a radio telescope in New Jersey in the early 1960s that detected a gentle background glow at microwave radio frequencies that theorists had predicted as the dying embers of the big bang itself.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

The discovery that the universe is expanding led cosmologists to suggest that its origin lay in a compact, dense, hot fireball. Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle thought this so ridiculous that he disparagingly called it the big bang. The name stuck and there followed intense arguments between supporters of the big bang theory and Fred Hoyle and his colleagues, who favoured a steady state universe.

20How The Universe Began - Steady State, Big Bang And The Glow Of Creation.20080620

The discovery that the universe is expanding led cosmologists to suggest that its origin lay in a compact, dense, hot fireball.

Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle thought this so ridiculous that he disparagingly called it the big bang.

The name stuck and there followed intense arguments between supporters of the big bang theory and Fred Hoyle and his colleagues, who favoured a steady state universe.

A decisive blow to the latter theory came from a radio telescope in New Jersey in the early 1960s that detected a gentle background glow at microwave radio frequencies that theorists had predicted as the dying embers of the big bang itself.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-tutt and John Palmer.

21Broadcasts From The Cosmos2008062320130529 (BBC7)
20150223 (BBC7)
20150224 (BBC7)
20171127 (BBC7)

How finding radio waves in space led to the discovery of the pulsar.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Second World War radar research led to the discovery of radio broadcasts from the skies. A new science was born and radio astronomers started to build giant dishes to listen in to the cosmos, including the great radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, brainchild of Bernard Lovell.

In 1967, a field near Cambridge saw a strange new sort of telescope, consisting of 1,000 wooden posts and 120 miles of wire. It was with this that Jocelyn Bell discovered a regular cosmic heartbeat, a regular radio pulse. Researchers initially surmised that it might be a signal from an alien civilisation, but it was later found to emanate from an extremely dense spinning neutron star, the collapsed core of an exploded star or supernova. Soon dozens of these pulsars were known, taking physics to a new level.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

The discovery of radio waves in space, and how it led to the discovery of the pulsar.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Second World War radar research led to the discovery of radio broadcasts from the skies. A new science was born and radio astronomers started to build giant dishes to listen in to the cosmos, including the great radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, brainchild of Bernard Lovell.

In 1967, a field near Cambridge saw a strange new sort of telescope, consisting of 1,000 wooden posts and 120 miles of wire. It was with this that Jocelyn Bell discovered a regular cosmic heartbeat, a regular radio pulse. Researchers initially surmised that it might be a signal from an alien civilisation, but it was later found to emanate from an extremely dense spinning neutron star, the collapsed core of an exploded star or supernova. Soon dozens of these pulsars were known, taking physics to a new level.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

War radar research led to the discovery of radio broadcasts and later the pulsar.

21Broadcasts From The Cosmos *20080623

War radar research led to the discovery of radio broadcasts and later the pulsar.

22Squashed Stars And Black Holes2008062420171128 (BBC7)
20130531 (BBC7)
20150224 (BBC7)
20150225 (BBC7)

Heather Couper considers how the concept of black holes gained credence in astronomy.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

As long ago as 1783, the rector of a small Yorkshire church suggested that the gravity of a very massive star might be strong enough to pull its light back and prevent it from shining. It was not until the 1930s, however, that Subramanyan Chandrasekhar suggested a mechanism through which such a star might form, and even then he was ridiculed by his peers. But the concept slowly gained ground, and in the late 1960s the first x-ray telescope in space pinpointed the first black hole to be discovered in orbit around a normal star.

A black hole seems to defy notions of common sense and even of normal physics. Light, information and travellers would have no escape from its gravity. At its heart, matter and even space and time would be squashed out of existence. Yet there is a small theoretical chance that someone entering a spinning black hole might survive to emerge in another universe.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper considers how the concept of black holes gained credence in astronomy.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

As long ago as 1783, the rector of a small Yorkshire church suggested that the gravity of a very massive star might be strong enough to pull its light back and prevent it from shining. It was not until the 1930s, however, that Subramanyan Chandrasekhar suggested a mechanism through which such a star might form, and even then he was ridiculed by his peers. But the concept slowly gained ground, and in the late 1960s the first x-ray telescope in space pinpointed the first black hole to be discovered in orbit around a normal star.

A black hole seems to defy notions of common sense and even of normal physics. Light, information and travellers would have no escape from its gravity. At its heart, matter and even space and time would be squashed out of existence. Yet there is a small theoretical chance that someone entering a spinning black hole might survive to emerge in another universe.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

As long ago as 1783, the rector of a small Yorkshire church suggested that the gravity of a very massive star might be strong enough to pull its light back and prevent it from shining.

It was not until the 1930s, however, that Subramanyan Chandrasekhar suggested a mechanism through which such a star might form, and even then he was ridiculed by his peers.

But the concept slowly gained ground, and in the late 1960s the first x-ray telescope in space pinpointed the first black hole to be discovered in orbit around a normal star.

A black hole seems to defy notions of common sense and even of normal physics.

Light, information and travellers would have no escape from its gravity.

At its heart, matter and even space and time would be squashed out of existence.

Yet there is a small theoretical chance that someone entering a spinning black hole might survive to emerge in another universe.

22/30. Squashed Stars and Black Holes

22Squashed Stars And Black Holes *20080624

As long ago as 1783, the rector of a small Yorkshire church suggested that the gravity of a very massive star might be strong enough to pull its light back and prevent it from shining.

It was not until the 1930s, however, that Subramanyan Chandrasekhar suggested a mechanism through which such a star might form, and even then he was ridiculed by his peers.

But the concept slowly gained ground, and in the late 1960s the first x-ray telescope in space pinpointed the first black hole to be discovered in orbit around a normal star.

A black hole seems to defy notions of common sense and even of normal physics.

Light, information and travellers would have no escape from its gravity.

At its heart, matter and even space and time would be squashed out of existence.

Yet there is a small theoretical chance that someone entering a spinning black hole might survive to emerge in another universe.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-tutt and John Palmer.

23A Violent Universe2008070120171129 (BBC7)
20080625 (BBC7)
20130603 (BBC7)
20150225 (BBC7)
20150226 (BBC7)

Heather Couper looks at the discovery of quasars - huge black holes a long way from Earth.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Only in the last 50 years have telescopes been powerful enough to study distant galaxies beyond our Milky Way in much detail. Cygnus A first came to astronomers' attention as a radio source, the second strongest in the sky. Optical astronomers later realised that it was a pair of galaxies colliding with one another. It is a colossal 700 million light years away, making its radio output a million times more powerful than that of our Milky Way. Energetic reactions were taking place in its core, shooting out great jets of high energy particles emitting radio waves.

The next breakthrough came from an even more distant object over 2 billion light years away. At its heart was something 40 times more luminous than a normal galaxy yet no bigger than the solar system. These mysterious powerhouses were named quasi-stellar radio sources, now abbreviated to quasars. The consensus now is that they are massive black holes, millions or even billions of times the mass of our Sun, gobbling stars and gas in the centres of galaxies.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper looks at the discovery of quasars, huge black holes a long way from Earth.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Only in the last 50 years have telescopes been powerful enough to study distant galaxies beyond our Milky Way in much detail. Cygnus A first came to astronomers' attention as a radio source, the second strongest in the sky. Optical astronomers later realised that it was a pair of galaxies colliding with one another. It is a colossal 700 million light years away, making its radio output a million times more powerful than that of our Milky Way. Energetic reactions were taking place in its core, shooting out great jets of high energy particles emitting radio waves.

The next breakthrough came from an even more distant object over 2 billion light years away. At its heart was something 40 times more luminous than a normal galaxy yet no bigger than the solar system. These mysterious powerhouses were named quasi-stellar radio sources, now abbreviated to quasars. The consensus now is that they are massive black holes, millions or even billions of times the mass of our Sun, gobbling stars and gas in the centres of galaxies.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

27/30. The Life and Death of Stars

Until the modern era of astrophysics, nobody knew what made stars shine. The answer arose from the nuclear age. The sun and stars are like giant hydrogen bombs, controlled nuclear explosions.

In the 1950s, Fred Hoyle and his colleagues showed how new elements are created in stars as they burn hydrogen and helium. In the case of relatively small stars such as our sun, the fuel eventually runs out, the bloated outer layers are lost into space and a slowly cooling white dwarf remains. But massive stars begin to collapse in on themselves when fuel runs out at the core, creating a huge explosion known as a supernova.

23Violent Universe2008062520130603 (BBC7)

Only in the last 50 years have telescopes been powerful enough to study distant galaxies beyond our Milky Way in much detail.

Cygnus A first came to astronomers' attention as a radio source, the second strongest in the sky.

Optical astronomers later realised that it was a pair of galaxies colliding with one another.

It is a colossal 700 million light years away, making its radio output a million times more powerful than that of our Milky Way.

Energetic reactions were taking place in its core, shooting out great jets of high energy particles emitting radio waves.

The next breakthrough came from an even more distant object over 2 billion light years away.

At its heart was something 40 times more luminous than a normal galaxy yet no bigger than the solar system.

These mysterious powerhouses were named quasi-stellar radio sources, now abbreviated to quasars.

The consensus now is that they are massive black holes, millions or even billions of times the mass of our Sun, gobbling stars and gas in the centres of galaxies.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Only in the last 50 years have telescopes been powerful enough to study distant galaxies beyond our Milky Way in much detail. Cygnus A first came to astronomers' attention as a radio source, the second strongest in the sky. Optical astronomers later realised that it was a pair of galaxies colliding with one another. It is a colossal 700 million light years away, making its radio output a million times more powerful than that of our Milky Way. Energetic reactions were taking place in its core, shooting out great jets of high energy particles emitting radio waves.

The next breakthrough came from an even more distant object over 2 billion light years away. At its heart was something 40 times more luminous than a normal galaxy yet no bigger than the solar system. These mysterious powerhouses were named quasi-stellar radio sources, now abbreviated to quasars. The consensus now is that they are massive black holes, millions or even billions of times the mass of our Sun, gobbling stars and gas in the centres of galaxies.

24The Dark Side Of The Cosmos2008062620171130 (BBC7)
20130604 (BBC7)
20150226 (BBC7)
20150227 (BBC7)

Heather Couper looks at the search for dark matter. What we see is only a fraction of it.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

In 1933, Fritz Zwicky realised that a huge cluster of galaxies is being held together by something more powerful than the gravitational pull of the visible matter. In the 1960s, Vera Rubin was coming to the same conclusion from studying the rotation of stars within individual galaxies. The conclusion was inescapable; all the visible stars and gas comprise a mere fraction of the total matter in the universe. Dark matter exists, although nobody knows what it is.

The question remains unanswered, though now there are many theories. It is hoped that elaborate experiments in particle accelerators may cast some light on the subject.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

What we can see is only a fraction of matter in the cosmos. Heather looks at dark matter.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

In 1933, Fritz Zwicky realised that a huge cluster of galaxies is being held together by something more powerful than the gravitational pull of the visible matter. In the 1960s, Vera Rubin was coming to the same conclusion from studying the rotation of stars within individual galaxies. The conclusion was inescapable; all the visible stars and gas comprise a mere fraction of the total matter in the universe. Dark matter exists, although nobody knows what it is.

The question remains unanswered, though now there are many theories. It is hoped that elaborate experiments in particle accelerators may cast some light on the subject.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Fritz Zwicky and Vera Rubin realised that dark matter exists, although nobody knows what it is.

24The Dark Side Of The Cosmos *20080626

Fritz Zwicky and Vera Rubin realised that dark matter exists, although nobody knows what it is.

25Design Or Accident2008070320080627 (BBC7)
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Heather Couper looks at arguments over the laws of physics and the universe's creation.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Given all that we now know about the formation of stars and planets and the evolution of life on Earth, it might seem as if the mystery is being taken out of the universe. However, every solution seems to throw up a deeper mystery. Within our understanding of physics, there are no known fundamental reasons for much of the astronomical phenomena that we observe. Of course, we can only observe a universe that supports life. This is known as the anthropic principle and has far-reaching implications. Some argue that it makes the universe very special, as if we were meant to be, while others suggest that we inhabit one of the few bio-friendly corners in an almost infinite multiverse of possibilities.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

29/30. Worlds Beyond

In the 16th century, Giordano Bruno speculated that there must be other planets similar to our own in the universe. He was burned at the stake for this and other heresies.

Even today, with the best telescopes in the world, it remains impossible to see planets around distant stars. But in the last decade, astronomers have gathered indirect evidence for many other planetary systems.

The easiest to detect and hence the first to be found were the most amazing - planets bigger than Jupiter orbiting so close to their star that they are almost touching. But evidence is now emerging that solar systems more like our own exist, some with multiple planets and some with planets that may be like Earth.

25Design Or Accident - Why Me?20171201 (BBC7)

Heather Couper looks at arguments over the laws of physics and the universe's creation.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Given all that we now know about the formation of stars and planets and the evolution of life on Earth, it might seem as if the mystery is being taken out of the universe. However, every solution seems to throw up a deeper mystery. Within our understanding of physics, there are no known fundamental reasons for much of the astronomical phenomena that we observe. Of course, we can only observe a universe that supports life. This is known as the anthropic principle and has far-reaching implications. Some argue that it makes the universe very special, as if we were meant to be, while others suggest that we inhabit one of the few bio-friendly corners in an almost infinite multiverse of possibilities.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

25Design Or Accident: Why Me?2008062720130605 (BBC7)

Every answer to an astronomical question seems to throw up a deeper mystery.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Given all that we now know about the formation of stars and planets and the evolution of life on Earth, it might seem as if the mystery is being taken out of the universe. However, every solution seems to throw up a deeper mystery. Within our understanding of physics, there are no known fundamental reasons for much of the astronomical phenomena that we observe. Of course, we can only observe a universe that supports life. This is known as the anthropic principle and has far-reaching implications. Some argue that it makes the universe very special, as if we were meant to be, while others suggest that we inhabit one of the few bio-friendly corners in an almost infinite multiverse of possibilities.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper presents an omnibus edition of her major new history of astronomy. 5/6: Chance and Purpose in a Violent Universe. Every discovery seems to throw up further mysteries.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy. 25/30: Design or Accident: Why Me? Every answer to an astronomical question seems to throw up a deeper mystery.

25Design Or Accident: Why Me? *20080627

Every answer to an astronomical question seems to throw up a deeper mystery.

26A Star Is Born2008063020171204 (BBC7)
20130606 (BBC7)
20150302 (BBC7)
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Heather Couper looks at William Herschel's discovery of infrared radiation in 1800.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Infrared radiation was discovered by William Herschel two centuries ago, but only recently has infrared astronomy come of age. Infrared is able to peer inside dark clouds that mask regions of the galaxy such as the Orion Nebula from optical telescopes. Within these clouds we can now see the processes through which the gas clouds contract, heat up and ignite to give birth to a new generation of stars.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper looks at William Herschel's discovery of infrared radiation 200 years ago.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Infrared radiation was discovered by William Herschel two centuries ago, but only recently has infrared astronomy come of age. Infrared is able to peer inside dark clouds that mask regions of the galaxy such as the Orion Nebula from optical telescopes. Within these clouds we can now see the processes through which the gas clouds contract, heat up and ignite to give birth to a new generation of stars.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Infrared radiation was discovered by William Herschel two centuries ago, but only recently has infrared astronomy come of age.

Infrared is able to peer inside dark clouds that mask regions of the galaxy such as the Orion Nebula from optical telescopes.

Within these clouds we can now see the processes through which the gas clouds contract, heat up and ignite to give birth to a new generation of stars.

26A Star Is Born *20080630

Infrared radiation was discovered by William Herschel two centuries ago, but only recently has infrared astronomy come of age.

Infrared is able to peer inside dark clouds that mask regions of the galaxy such as the Orion Nebula from optical telescopes.

Within these clouds we can now see the processes through which the gas clouds contract, heat up and ignite to give birth to a new generation of stars.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

27The Life And Death Of Stars2008070120171205 (BBC7)
20130607 (BBC7)
20150303 (BBC7)
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Heather Couper looks at research that shows stars are like controlled nuclear explosions.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Until the modern era of astrophysics, nobody knew what made stars shine. The answer arose from the nuclear age. The sun and stars are like giant hydrogen bombs, controlled nuclear explosions.

In the 1950s, Fred Hoyle and his colleagues showed how new elements are created in stars as they burn hydrogen and helium. In the case of relatively small stars such as our sun, the fuel eventually runs out, the bloated outer layers are lost into space and a slowly cooling white dwarf remains. But massive stars begin to collapse in on themselves when fuel runs out at the core, creating a huge explosion known as a supernova.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper looks at research that shows stars are like controlled nuclear explosions.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

Until the modern era of astrophysics, nobody knew what made stars shine. The answer arose from the nuclear age. The sun and stars are like giant hydrogen bombs, controlled nuclear explosions.

In the 1950s, Fred Hoyle and his colleagues showed how new elements are created in stars as they burn hydrogen and helium. In the case of relatively small stars such as our sun, the fuel eventually runs out, the bloated outer layers are lost into space and a slowly cooling white dwarf remains. But massive stars begin to collapse in on themselves when fuel runs out at the core, creating a huge explosion known as a supernova.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Until the modern era of astrophysics, nobody knew what made stars shine.

The answer arose from the nuclear age.

The sun and stars are like giant hydrogen bombs, controlled nuclear explosions.

In the 1950s, Fred Hoyle and his colleagues showed how new elements are created in stars as they burn hydrogen and helium.

In the case of relatively small stars such as our sun, the fuel eventually runs out, the bloated outer layers are lost into space and a slowly cooling white dwarf remains.

But massive stars begin to collapse in on themselves when fuel runs out at the core, creating a huge explosion known as a supernova.

27The Life And Death Of Stars *20080701

Until the modern era of astrophysics, nobody knew what made stars shine.

The answer arose from the nuclear age.

The sun and stars are like giant hydrogen bombs, controlled nuclear explosions.

In the 1950s, Fred Hoyle and his colleagues showed how new elements are created in stars as they burn hydrogen and helium.

In the case of relatively small stars such as our sun, the fuel eventually runs out, the bloated outer layers are lost into space and a slowly cooling white dwarf remains.

But massive stars begin to collapse in on themselves when fuel runs out at the core, creating a huge explosion known as a supernova.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-tutt and John Palmer.

28A Plethora Of Planets2008070220130610 (BBC7)
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20150305 (BBC7)

How the use of infrared telescopes increased our understanding of distant planets.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

For centuries, people have been speculating on the origin of the Earth and other planets. As long ago as 1755 the philosopher Imanuel Kant suggested that our solar system may have been born from a rotating cloud or nebula of gas and dust. But it was not until an infrared telescope was sent into space in 1983 that astronomers began to gather images of such dusty discs around other young stars.

In 1955 Eugene Shoemaker showed that a crater in Arizona was blasted out by the impact of a large rock from space. He went on to show that most of the craters on the moon resulted from similar impacts, early in the history of the solar system. The dawn of the space age is enabling us to begin to explore the rocks in our cosmic backyard and speculate about worlds beyond.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

For centuries, people have been speculating on the origin of the Earth and other planets.

As long ago as 1755 the philosopher Imanuel Kant suggested that our solar system may have been born from a rotating cloud or nebula of gas and dust.

But it was not until an infrared telescope was sent into space in 1983 that astronomers began to gather images of such dusty discs around other young stars.

In 1955 Eugene Shoemaker showed that a crater in Arizona was blasted out by the impact of a large rock from space.

He went on to show that most of the craters on the moon resulted from similar impacts, early in the history of the solar system.

The dawn of the space age is enabling us to begin to explore the rocks in our cosmic backyard and speculate about worlds beyond.

28/30. A Plethora of Planets

28A Plethora Of Planets *20080702

For centuries, people have been speculating on the origin of the Earth and other planets.

As long ago as 1755 the philosopher Imanuel Kant suggested that our solar system may have been born from a rotating cloud or nebula of gas and dust.

But it was not until an infrared telescope was sent into space in 1983 that astronomers began to gather images of such dusty discs around other young stars.

In 1955 Eugene Shoemaker showed that a crater in Arizona was blasted out by the impact of a large rock from space.

He went on to show that most of the craters on the moon resulted from similar impacts, early in the history of the solar system.

The dawn of the space age is enabling us to begin to explore the rocks in our cosmic backyard and speculate about worlds beyond.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-tutt and John Palmer.

29Worlds Beyond2008070320130611 (BBC7)
20150305 (BBC7)
20150306 (BBC7)

Astronomers in the past decade have tried to find other planets like Earth in the universe

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

In the 16th century, Giordano Bruno speculated that there must be other planets similar to our own in the universe. He was burned at the stake for this and other heresies.

Even today, with the best telescopes in the world, it remains impossible to see planets around distant stars. But in the last decade, astronomers have gathered indirect evidence for many other planetary systems. The easiest to detect and hence the first to be found were the most amazing - planets bigger than Jupiter orbiting so close to their star that they are almost touching. But evidence is now emerging that solar systems more like our own exist, some with multiple planets and some with planets that may be like Earth.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

In the 16th century, Giordano Bruno speculated that there must be other planets similar to our own in the universe.

He was burned at the stake for this and other heresies.

Even today, with the best telescopes in the world, it remains impossible to see planets around distant stars.

But in the last decade, astronomers have gathered indirect evidence for many other planetary systems.

The easiest to detect and hence the first to be found were the most amazing - planets bigger than Jupiter orbiting so close to their star that they are almost touching.

But evidence is now emerging that solar systems more like our own exist, some with multiple planets and some with planets that may be like Earth.

30Are We Alone?2008071020080704 (BBC7)
20150306 (BBC7)
20150307 (BBC7)

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

She looks at the prospects for life elsewhere in our own solar system. Could evidence of life have even been discovered already on Mars? She tells the story of the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence as scientists scan the skies for messages from the stars.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper considers the prospects of life being found elsewhere in the solar system.

30 LASTAre We Alone?2008070420130612 (BBC7)

Heather looks at the prospects for life elsewhere in our own solar system.

Could evidence of life have even been discovered already on Mars? She tells the story of the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence as scientists scan the skies for messages from the stars.

Readers are Timothy West, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-tutt and John Palmer.

Heather Couper presents a narrative history of astronomy.

She looks at the prospects for life elsewhere in our own solar system. Could evidence of life have even been discovered already on Mars? She tells the story of the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence as scientists scan the skies for messages from the stars.

30/30. Are We Alone?

Heather looks at the prospects for life elsewhere in our own solar system. Could evidence of life have even been discovered already on Mars? She tells the story of the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence as scientists scan the skies for messages from the stars.

Heather Couper concludes the omnibus edition of her major new narrative history of astronomy.

6/6. An exploration of the birth, life and death of stars, the formation of planets and the search for earth-like worlds beyond our own. The series ends by asking if there could be other lifeforms, even intelligence, out there in the vastness of space.

Read by Timothy West, Annette Badland, Robin Sebastian, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Palmer.