Explore the Solar System
– but Bring Your Adventure Gear
Some years ago my friend and colleague Paul Hodge, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at the University of Washington, wrote a book called Higher Than Everest: An Adventurer’s Guide to the Solar System, that took the reader out to some of the most dangerous, gorgeous, and adventurous places in the solar system. I gobbled that book up because I could sit there and read it and dream about what it would be like to visit those worlds. To be sure, it would be the most extreme touristic adventure you could imagine: traversing the baking hot plains of Mercury, finding a way to dip into the Venus atmosphere and study that incredible surface; exploring Mars; braving the extreme hazards of the Jovian and Saturnian systems; warming up to Uranus and Neptune; and making one’s way to Pluto and the hinted-at treasury of other worlds that exist beyond Neptune. It would be the trip of a lifetime, if only one could fit all of that into one lifetime!
Well, fast-forward more than a decade, and National Geographic TV has created a series called “A Traveler’s Guide to the Planets” that extends the adventure of planetary exploration into the video realm and really makes you feel like you’re there on those other worlds.
It’s a three-night series that begins on February 14th. The folks at Nat Geo were kind enough to send me copies of two of the programs (about Jupiter and Saturn, respectively, which air on the 14th) for preview. The presentations cover the exploration of the planets in a pretty exciting and visually stimulating way. For example, there are some really nice CG sequences set on Jupiter’s moon Io that look for all the world as if you’re standing right there, witnessing those volcanic eruptions against the backdrop of Jupiter rising over the not-too-distant horizon.
The presentations also include interesting interviews and commentary from planetary scientists like Torrance Johnson and Bob Pappalardo — both of who have worked extensively exploring the planets using remote probes such as the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft. Each hour takes you TO the planets, exploring via CG and animation just what it would be like to visit those worlds. That’s one of the coolest parts of the series — and I hope that “you are there” feeling will inspire people to learn more about the worlds of the solar system.
I’ve often wondered what our next generation of planetary explorers will find when they finally get themselves (or their spacecraft) “out there” again – with the newest instruments to help them gather data. I’m sure they’ll find wonderful things — as this series illustrates. I hope that at least some of the audience members who see these shows will be inspired enough to join those missions of the future! There’s much to learn from the past, as these programs demonstrate — and more to find in the years to come!