An age-old question with thrilling new science: Are we alone? “Alien Worlds” on NOVA, July 27 at 9 pm

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Wednesday, July 27, 2022 at 9 pm

For nearly as long as humans have gazed up at the night sky, we’ve wondered whether other lifeforms and intelligences could be thriving on worlds far beyond our own. Answering that question seemed forever fated to remain pure speculation. But over the last few decades, ultra-sensitive telescopes and dogged detective work have transformed alien planet-hunting from science fiction into hard fact.

Space view of Poltergeist and Phobetor – these are zombie planets. Totally inhospitable.
Poltergeist and Phobetor – these are zombie planets. In orbit around a pulsar, they are continually bombarded high powered UV radiation. Totally inhospitable.

NOVA tells the story of how the first breakthrough discoveries of exoplanets—planets orbiting other stars—were made. Expecting to find them similar to our familiar planets, scientists instead discovered a riot of exotic worlds. Vivid animation based on data from the Kepler space telescope brings them into view: puffy planets with the density of Styrofoam, unstable worlds orbiting two suns, and thousand-degree, broiling gas giants with skies whipped into titanic winds.

Then NOVA reveals the most tantalizing discovery of all: the Super-Earths, situated in the “Goldilocks zone,” just the right distance from their sun where life might be supportable, and with one of them signaling life’s essential ingredient, water, in its atmosphere. With over 2,800 exoplanets confirmed by Kepler and discoveries still rolling in, NOVA revisits that age-old question with thrilling new science: Are we alone?