Like most nerdy types I have been glued to the internet looking at all the wonderful images of Pluto from New Horizon’s fly-by. As with the Mars probes and other past astronomical news, this makes for a time when everyone seems interested in science and astronomy again and the networks are filled with news and programs about it.
Factoid: New Horizons was the fastest thing ever launched from earth – 36,000 miles per hour. It could go from LA to New York in five minutes. It was past the moon’s orbit in nine hours. After gaining speed by skirting Jupiter’s gravity it is now going approximately 50,000 miles per hour.
The images and data will help us find out more about the origins of our solar system and the layout of the outer and unknown part of our cosmic neighborhood.
Factoid: Pluto has four more moons!
I have always been fascinated by our ninth planet (yes I said planet, dammit!) every since I was a kid first getting into astronomy. How could I not be? Every text – every one them – said only that we don’t know much about that mysterious body floating out past Neptune…
Factoid: From 1979 to 1999 Neptune was further from the sun than Pluto because of Pluto’s elliptical orbit, …
Of course as an HP Lovecraft fan I have another obvious reason for loving Pluto! In his story “The Whisperer in Darkness” we learn of the planet Yuggoth (“… a strange dark orb at the very rim of our solar system …”). As he wrote the story, but before it was published, Pluto was discovered in 1930. He hinted that may have been the Yuggoth he was writing about. Was he, in fact, writing or channeling the thoughts of the alien mi-go?
Factoid: He was writing of course, don’t be silly. But it is fun to imagine, isn’t it?
One benefit from all this was unexpected: better television. Not good television, but certainly better. The so-called science channels are filled with semi-documentaries and news reports of New Horizons’ mission. I have been Tivoing and watching as many of them as I can!
The trouble is, over the past decade or so, most channels purporting to be scientific or educational has wallowed in infotainment and scripted narcissism just like their other commercial brethren.
I don’t know if TV producers are capable of making GOOD documentary programs anymore.
A good example is a program about New Horizons and Pluto I saw on the Science Channel (it used to be called Discovery Science) called “Direct from Pluto: the First Encounter”.
Throughout the show it had a reporter at mission central interviewing scientists and anyone who wanted to be on camera as if he was in the locker room after the Super Bowl (which I believe is some sort of sports event).
And the interviews with the scientists were not that much better. Supposedly educated scientists talking in sound bites or, to paraphrase Lilith from the TV show Frazier, doling out worthless little bits of astrophysics from their scientific Pez dispensers. “If Pluto were a person, he would have an inferiority complex.” And you claim to work at Harvard…
Add the unnecessary theatricality and it almost turned this show into a spoof. The graphic of New Horizon approaching Pluto was accompanied by a dramatic soundtrack, as if it were the opening scene from the first Lord of the Rings movie. We’re excited enough, we don’t need goading.
Compare that to, say, the quiet majesty of the original Cosmos. I know, comparing a TV science documentary to the original Cosmos is like comparing an American Idol contestant to Mozart, but shame on them for not at least trying to aspire…
Cosmos had music, true – award-winning music by Vangelis. I used to play the soundtrack in my radio days when I hosted “A New Age” on a local NPR station.
And that music affected us emotionally as well. But with a difference – the music accompanied us, it didn’t lead us. It reflected the beauty and majesty of the visuals and the spoken word. There was no need to generate drama and tension.
We’ll watch the show, don’t worry about it.
I want to know about New Horizon’s mission; I want to know about Pluto. But I don’t want it in nibbly sound bites. I don’t want to read your cute quip (always said with a smirk) on the bull’s-eye page of Entertainment Weekly.
Treat us like adults; we’ll start acting like adults.
I watched PBS’ Nova special “Chasing Pluto”. I always have high hopes when something is on good old boring PBS… It didn’t disappoint. Lots of set up and history of the New Horizons and observing Pluto over the past ten years. It had background music, true, but it was not intrusive. It discussed the discovery of Pluto’s atmosphere. The interviews with scientists were only a little longer than “Direct from Pluto” but it was hardly the Short Attention Span Theater of the latter. Better; it’s no “Neptune’s Cold Fury”, but it wasn’t bad…
But within a week this Pluto stuff will all be forgotten and we’ll be back to programs such as “Looking for Leprechauns” and “My Large Areola”. Although I must admit for having a weakness for Stitchen-esque shows about aliens who came to earth thousands of years ago. But even then after two or three shows like that you get the point and want to move on…
And they wonder why people are leaving cable in droves, including me. I’m seriously looking at online streaming networks such as Curiosity Stream. Anyone have it? Is it any good? It is run by the former owner of the Discovery Channel, from which belched “Direct from Pluto: the First Encounter”. I hope the word “former” is significant.
One thing that has NOT resulted from all this is the resurgence in interest of the beautiful Moody Blues song “New Horizons”. But … baby steps … television first, eh?
And just so you don’t think I’m getting too serious here…
Original Material Copyright 2015 Michael Curry
Photographs Copyright their respective holders and used here under the Fair Use Act