The first act will explore humanity’s pre-telescopic observations of the skies, and the philosophies they inspired, from ancient times, until Hans Lipperhey's invention of the lens spyglass, and Galileo's inauguration of telescopic astronomy. The program's account of different cultural views of the universe will culminate with Galileo's 1632 work “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems,” which he based on his telescopic observations, and how that book led to his confrontation with the Church about the true nature of the cosmos.
The second act will open with the story of Sir Isaac Newton’s invention of the reflecting telescope, of his studies of light, and of the paradigm shift in astronomy that this work initiated. The program will feature two parallel thematic threads: the continued improvement of telescopes and the changes in western philosophies that arose from these technological advances. The program will close with Edwin Hubble’s discovery that our solar system resides within just one of the billions of galaxies that populate an expanding universe.
The final act will look through the present to the future, to see how our ability to send instruments beyond the obscuring veil of atmosphere has opened our eyes to a previously unglimpsed cosmos. Emerging advances in space-borne and ground-based instruments should reveal new phenomena, as well as Earth-like planets orbiting other stars, the likeliest sites for future explorers to detect signs of life beyond the solar system. The series will conclude with astronomers and philosophers contemplating the impacts on our civilizations if and when we determine we are not alone in the universe—and how our journey of discovery began with two small polished pieces of glass.
400 Years of the Telescope
400 Years of the Telescope: A two-hour HD documentary
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