Education

Journey to the Edge of the Universe

Our world,warm, comfortable, familiar… …but when we look up, we wonder: Do we occupya special place in the cosmos? Or are we merely a celestial footnote? Is the universe welcoming or hostile? We could stand here forever,wondering.

Or we could leave home,on the ultimate adventure. To discover wonders. Confront horrors. Beautiful new worlds. Malevolent dark forces. The beginning of time.

The moment of creation. Would we have the courageto see it through? Or would we run for home? There’s only one way to find out. Our journey through time and spacebegins with a single step. At the edge of space,only 6O miles up… …just an hour’s drive from home. Down there, life continues. The traffic is awful,stocks go on trading… …and Star Trek is still showing. When we return home,if we return home… …will it be the same? Will we be the same? We have to leave all this behind. To dip our toesinto the vast dark ocean. On to the Moon. Dozens of astronautshave come this way before us. Twelve walked on the Moon itself. Just a quarter of a million milesfrom home.

Three days by spacecraft. Barren. Desolate. It’s like a deserted battlefield. But oddly familiar. So close, we’ve barely left home. Neil Armstrong’s first footprints. Looks like they were made yesterday. There’s no air to change them. They could survive for millions of years. Maybe longer than us. Our time is limited. We need to take our own giant leap. One million miles,5 million, 2O million miles. We’re far beyondwhere any human has ever ventured. Out of the darkness, a friendly face. The goddess of love, Venus. The morning star. The evening star. She can welcome the new dayin the east… …say good night in the west. A sister to our planet… …she’s about the same size and gravityas Earth.

We should be safe here. But the Venus Express space probeis setting off alarms. It’s telling us, these dazzling clouds,they’re made of deadly sulfuric acid. The atmosphereis choking with carbon dioxide. Never expected this.Venus is one angry goddess. The air is noxious,the pressure unbearable. And it’s hot, approaching 900 degrees. Stick around and we’d be corroded,suffocated, crushed and baked. Nothing can survive here. Not even this Soviet robotic probe. Its heavy armor’s been trashedby the extreme atmosphere. So lovely from Earth,up close, this goddess is hideous.

She’s the sister from hell. Pockmarkedby thousands of volcanoes. All that carbon dioxideis trapping the Sun’s heat. Venus is burning up. It’s global warming gone wild. Before it took hold,maybe Venus was beautiful, calm… …more like her sister planet, Earth. So this could be Earth’s future. Where are the twinkling stars? The beautiful spheresgliding through space? Maybe we shouldn’t be out here,maybe we should turn back. But there’s something about the Sun,something hypnotic, like the Medusa. Too terrible to look at,too powerful to resist. Luring us onwards on,like a moth to a flame. Wait, there’s something else,obscured by the Sun. It must be Mercury. Get too close to the Sun,this is what happens. Temperatures swing wildly here. At night, it’s minus 275 degrees… …come midday, it’s 800 plus. Burnt then frozen. The MESSENGER space probeis telling us something strange. For its size,Mercury has a powerful gravitational pull. It’s a huge ball of iron,covered with a thin veneer of rock.

The core of what was oncea much larger planet. So where’s the rest of it? Maybe a stray planetslammed into Mercury… …blasting away its outer layersin a deadly game of cosmic pinball. Whole worlds on the loosecareening wildly across the cosmos… …destroying anything in their path. And we’re in the middle of it. Vulnerable, exposed, small. Everything is telling us to turn back. But who could defy this? The Sunin all its mesmerizing splendor. Our light, our lives… …everything we dois controlled by the Sun. Depends on it. It’s the Greek god Heliosdriving his chariot across the sky. The Egyptian god Ra reborn every day. The summer solstice sunrising at Stonehenge. For millions of years… …this was as close as it gotto staring into the face of God. It’s so far away… …if it burned out, we wouldn’t knowabout it for eight minutes. It’s so big,you could fit one million Earths inside it. But who needs numbers?We’ve got the real thing. We see it every day,a familiar face in our sky. Now, up close, it’s unrecognizable. A turbulent sea of incandescent gas. The thermometerpushes 10,000 degrees. Can’t imagine how hot the core is,could be tens of millions of degrees. Hot enoughto transform millions of tons of matter… …into energy every second. More than all the energy ever madeby mankind. Dwarfing the powerof all the nuclear weapons on Earth. Back home,we use this energy for light and heat.

But up close,there’s nothing comforting about the Sun. Its electrical and magnetic forces eruptin giant molten gas loops. Some are larger than a dozen Earths. More powerfulthan 10 million volcanoes. And when they burst through,they expose cooler layers below… …making sunspots. A fraction cooler than their surroundings,sunspots look black… …but they’re hotterthan anything on Earth. And massive,up to 2O times the size of Earth. But one day, all this will stop. The Sun’s fuel will be spent. And when it dies, the Earth will follow. This god creates life, destroys it… …and demands we keep our distance. This comet strayed too close. The Sun’s heat is boiling it away… …creating a tailthat stretches for millions of miles. It’s freezing in here. There’s no doubt where this comet’s from,the icy wastes of deep space. But all this steamand geysers and dust… …it’s the Sun again,melting the comet’s frozen heart.

Strange. A kind of vast, dirty snowball,covered in grimy tar. Tiny grainsof what looks like organic material… …preserved on ice,since who knows when… …maybe even the beginningof the solar system. Say a comet like this crashedinto the young Earth billions of years ago. Maybe it delivered organic materialand water… …the raw ingredients of life. It may even have sown the seeds of lifeon Earth… …that evolved into you and me. But say it crashed into the Earth now. Think of the dinosaurs,wiped out by a comet or asteroid strike. It’s only a question of time. Eventually, one day,we’ll go the way of the dinosaurs. If life on Earth was wiped out,we’d be stuck out here… …homeless, adrift in a hostile universe.

We’d need to find another home. Among the millions,billions of planets… …there must be one that’s not too hot,not too cold, with air, sunlight, water… …where, like Goldilocks,we could comfortably live. The red planet. Unmistakably Mars. For centuries,we’ve looked to Mars for company… …for signs of life. Could there be extraterrestrial lifehere? Are we ready to rewrite the history books,to tear up the science books… …to turn our world upside down? What happens nextcould change everything.

Mars is the planetthat most captures our imagination. Think of B-movies, sci-fi comics,what follows? Martians? It’s all just fiction, right? But what ifthere really is something here? Hard to imagine, though.Up close, this is a dead planet. The activity that makes the Earth livableshut down millions of years ago here. Red and dead. Mars is a giant fossil. Wait. Something is alive. A dust devil, a big one. Bigger than the biggest twistersback home.

There’s wind here. And where there’s wind, there’s air. Could that air sustainextraterrestrial life? It’s too thin for us to breathe. And there’s no ozone layer. Nothing to protect usagainst the Sun’s ultraviolet rays. There is water… …but frigid temperatureskeep it in a constant deep freeze. It’s hard to believeanything could live here. Back on Earth, there are creaturesthat survive in extreme cold, heat… …even in the deepest ocean trenches. It’s as though life is a virus.

 It adapts, spreads. Maybe that’s what we’re doingright now… …carrying the virus of lifeacross the universe. Even in the most extreme conditions,life usually finds a way. But on a dead planet? With no way to replenish its soil,no heat to melt its frozen water? All this dust,it’s hard to see where we’re going. Olympus Mons,named after the home of the Greek gods. A vast ancient volcano. Three times higher than Everest. There’s no sign of activity. Since its discovery in the 1970s,it’s been declared extinct. Hang on. These look like lava flows. But any sign of lava should be long gone,obliterated by meteorite craters. Unless,this monster isn’t dead, just sleeping. There could be magmaflowing beneath the crust right now… …building up, waiting to be unleashed. Volcanic activitycould be melting frozen water in the soil… …pumping gases into the atmosphere,recycling minerals and nutrients.

Creating all the conditions neededfor life. This makes the Grand Canyonlook like a crack in the sidewalk. Endless desolation… …so vast it would stretch all the wayacross North America. But here, signs of activity, erosion,and what looks like dried up river beds. Maybe volcanic activitymelted ice in the soil… …sending water gushingthrough this canyon. Underground volcanoescould still be melting ice, creating water. And where there’s water,there could be life. The hunt for life is spearheadedby this humble fellow… …the NASA rover, Opportunity. It’s finding evidencethat these barren plains… …were once ancient lakes or oceansthat could have harbored life. Look at those gullies. Probes orbiting Marskeep spotting new ones. More proof that Mars is aliveand kicking… …that wateris flowing beneath its surface right now. Water that could be sustainingMartian life. Now, all we have to do is find it. Maybe we’ve already foundwhat we’re looking for on Earth. Some think that life started hereand then migrated to Earth. An asteroid impactcould’ve blasted fragments of Mars… …complete with tiny microbesout into space… …and onto the young Earthwhere they sowed the seeds of life.

No wonder we find Mars fascinating,this could be our ancestral home. It could be we are all Martians. The Mars we thought we knewis gone… …replaced by this new,active, changing planet. And if we don’t know Mars,our next door neighbor… …how can we even imaginewhat surprises lie ahead? Our compass pointsacross the cosmos… …back in time 14 billion years… …to the moment of creation. This is getting scary. It’s like being inside a giant video game. But these are all too real. Asteroids,some of them hundreds of miles wide. This one must be about 2O miles long. And there, perched on it,a space probe. Can’t have been easy… …parking on an asteroidtraveling at 50,000 miles an hour. It’s a lot of effortjust to investigate some rubble. Rubble that regularly collides… …breaks up and rains down on Earthas meteorites. Our ancestors saw shooting starsas magical omens. And they were right. Rubble like this came togetherto make the planets… …including our own. Pretty magical.

By dating the meteoritesfound on Earth… …we can tell the planets were born4.6 billion years ago. These are the birth certificatesof our solar system. For some reason,these rocks didn’t form into a planet. Something must have stopped them. Something powerful. Jupiter. What a monster. At least a thousand times biggerthan Earth… …so vastyou could fit all the other planets inside it. Something this massivedominates its neighbors. Its gravity is pulling the asteroids apart. And it’s breathtaking. But this beauty is a beast. It’s almost all gas. Land here and we’d sink straightthrough its layers into oblivion. And Jupiter’s good looks? The product of ferocious violence. It’s spinning at an incredible rate… …whipping up windsto hundreds of miles an hour… …contorting the clouds into stripes,eddies, Whirlpools… …and this,the legendary Great Red Spot. The biggest, most violent stormin the solar system. At least three times the size of Earth,it’s been raging for over 300 years. All these churning cloudsmust have sparked an electrical storm. Just one bolt is 10,000 times more intensethan any at home. Looks like the safest place to see Jupiteris from a distance. Up there at the poles… …those dancing lights,they’re like the auroras back home. But the Geiger counter is going wild.

Even these are deadly,generated by lethal radiation. Out here, nothing is what it seems. The universe is full of terrors, traps. Maybe this is a safe haven,the multi-colored moon, lo. Wrong. Very wrong. Those brilliant colors are molten rock,volcanoes spewing lava. Our journey across the universeis turning into a struggle for survival. We’ve got to hopethat if we outlast the dangers… …we’ll be rewarded by wondersbeyond imagination. Four hundred million milesfrom Earth… …flying a commercial airliner herewould take nearly a century. What a weird looking place… …and yet, strangely familiar. A bit like the Arctic, with all that ice,all those ridges and cracks.

It’s Jupiter’s moon, Europa. And maybe, like the Arctic,this ice is floating on water, liquid water. But we’re half a billion milesfrom the Sun. Surely, Europa is frozen solid. Unless, Jupiter’s gravityis creating friction deep inside… …heating the ice into water,allowing life to develop in the waters… …beneath its frozen crust. We might be feet away from aliens. From a whole ecosystem of microbes,crustaceans, maybe even squid. The only thing between usand the possibility of alien life… …this layer of ice. But until we send a spacecraftto drill here… …Europa’s secretswill remain beyond reach. It’s captivated our imaginations,haunted our dreams. And here it is, spinning before our eyes.

Saturn. Named for the Roman god… …who reigned over a golden age of peaceand harmony. This planet’s a giant ball of gas,so light it would float on water. Its spectacular rings would stretchalmost from Earth to the Moon. There’s the Cassini orbiter. It’s picking up ghostly radio emissions. Probably generated by aurorasaround Saturn’s poles. This is the real music of the spheres. [HISSING PLAYING OVER RADIO] Cassini’s telling uswhere these rings came from. They’re the remnants of a moonshattered by Saturn’s gravitational pull. Incomparable beautyfrom total destruction. Billions of shards of ice. Some as small as ice cubes,others the size of houses. They collide, break apart, reassemble. It’s like a snapshotof our early solar system… …as dust and gasorbited the newly born Sun… …and gravity worked its magic,pulling the lumps together… …until from space trash like this,our home emerged. We could stay here forever. But there’s so much further to go,so much more to see.

Like this moon wrapped in thick clouds,Titan. There’s an atmosphere down here. There’s wind, rain, even seasons. Rivers, lakes and oceans. It looks so familiar, so similar to Earth. [THUNDER RUMBLING] But that’s not water,it’s liquid natural gas. Hundreds of times more natural gasthan all the Earth’s oil and gas reserves. Maybe, one day,we’ll use this energy to fuel a colony. Assuming there isn’t life here already. The Huygens space probeis here to find out. It’s telling usthere’s organic material in the soil. But it’s so cold, minus 300 degrees. There’s no way life could develop. Unless Titan warms up. The Sun is supposed to get hotter. When it does,maybe life will spring up here… …just like it did on Earth. And as the Earth gets too hot for us,maybe we’ll move to Titan.

One day,we might call this distant land home. Home. We’re at least 700 million miles awaynow. After this,we lose visual contact with Earth. We’re standing on a cliff. Looking out over a great chasmthat stretches to the beginning of time. Do we have the courage to jump? We’re in the solar system’souter reaches. Unseen from Earth,unknown for most of history. It’s like divinginto the depths of the ocean. Those rings make it look like Uranushas been tilted off its axis… …toppled over by a stray planet. It’s eerie out here. Already beginning to feel small, lonely. Maybe this is how we’ll feelat the edge of the universe. But we’ve barely left the shore. If the solar system was one mile wide,so far we’ve traveled about 3 inches. Out of the deep,another strange beast… …the god of the sea, Neptune. This world is covered in methane gas. And a storm as big as Earth… …whipped upby savage thousand mile-an-hour winds. Back home,it’s the Sun that drives the wind… …but Neptune’s far away. Something else must be creatingthese ferocious winds. But what? We know very littleabout our own solar system. After all those balls of gas,a solid moon… …Triton. Solid but not stable.

Just look at those geysers… …cosmic smokestackspumping out strange soot. And this moonis revolving around Neptune… …in the opposite directionof the planet’s spin. A cosmic battle of wills… …that this angry moonis destined to lose. Neptune’s massive gravityis pulling on Triton. Slowing it down, reeling it in. One day,it will be ripped apart by Neptune. And that’s it. No more moons,no more planets in our solar system. It’s getting colder,we’re getting further from the Sun… …slipping from the gripof its gravitational tentacles. But this isn’t a void. It’s teeming with frozen rocks. Like Pluto. Until recently,we thought Pluto was alone. Beyond it, nothing. We were wrong. More frozen worlds. Discoveries so newnobody can agree what to call them. Plutinos, ice dwarves, cubewanos. Our solar system is far more chaoticand strange than we had imagined. Now we’re 8 billion miles from home.

The most distant thing ever seenthat orbits the Sun… …another small, icy world, Sedna,discovered in 2003. Its orbittakes 10,000 years to complete. Hang on,there’s something else out here. Ten billion miles from homethe space probe, Voyager 1. This bundle of aluminumand antennae… …gave us close up viewsof the giant planets… …and discoveredmany of their strange moons. It’s traveling 20 times faster than a bullet,sending messages home. That gold plaque… …its a kind of intergalactic messagein a bottle. A greetingrecorded in different languages. <i>BOY</i> [OVER <i>RADIO]:Hello, from the children of planet Earth.</i> [MAN AND WOMAN SPEAKING INFOREIGN LANGUAGES OVER RADIO] NARRATOR: And a map showinghow to find our home solar system.

The great physicist, Stephen Hawking… …thinks it was a mistaketo roll out the welcome mat. After all, if you’re in the jungle,is it wise to call out? These cometslook like the ones we saw earlier. There’s a theory thatthe raw materials for life began out here… …on a rock like thisuntil something dislodged it… …sending it hurtling towards the Earth.

And seeing all this ice,maybe comets carried water to Earth too. The water in the oceans, in your body… …all from this distantcelestial ice machine. We’re 5 million, million,that’s 5 trillion miles from home. But this is still only a baby step. Ahead,trillions of miles, billions of stars. Time to stop looking backand start looking ahead… …to step out into the big, wide universe. Interstellar space. Billions of stars like our own Sun… …many with planets,many of those with moons. It’s hard to know which way to go. There are infinite possibilities. We’re going to needa serious burst of acceleration.

 Twenty-five trillion miles from home. A 150,000-year ridein the space shuttle. And we’ve only just reachedthe first solar system beyond our own… …Alpha Centauri. Not one but three stars. Spinning around each other,locked in a celestial standoff. Each star’s gravity attracting the other… …their blazing orbital speedkeeping them apart. Get between themand we’d be vaporized… …trillions of miles from home. So farthat miles are becoming meaningless. Out here, we measure in light years. Light travels 6 trillion miles a year… …so we are over four light-yearsfrom home. Distances so vastthey’re mind-boggling. Who knowswhat strange forces lie ahead… …what we’ll discover when– If we reach the edge of the universe.

Ten light years from Earth,the star Epsilon Eridani. Spectacular rings of dust and ice. And somewhere in there,planets forming out of the debris… …being born before our eyes. Asteroids and comets everywhere. We could almost be lookingat our own solar system… …billions of years ago. With comets deliveringthe building blocks of life… …to these young planets. At the center of all the action,a star smaller than our sun… …still in its infancy. Any life in this solar systemwould be primitive at best. There must be more maturesolar systems out here… …but finding them is like lookingfor a needle in a cosmic haystack. Twenty light years from Earth. Star Gliese 581. It’s about the same age as our sun. This planetis just the right distance from its sun. Any closer and water would boil away,any further and it would freeze. Ideal conditions for life to emerge. And if a comet has struck,delivering water and organic materials… …then life, complex beings like us,even civilizations like our own… …could be down there right now. They could be tuninginto our TV signals… …watching shows from 2O years ago. MAN [OVER TV]:<i>And</i> here’s your host, Joe… [PEOPLE APPLAUDING ON TV] NARRATOR: But until we devisea way of communicating… …over these vast distances,all we can do is speculate.

Us and them, living parallel lives… …unaware of each other’s existence. Unless life has come and gone. That’s the problem with comets. They’re creators and destroyers… …as the dinosaurs found outthe hard way. This is the needlein the cosmic haystack… …the closest we’ve cometo a habitable solar system like our own… …but it’s a chance encounter. There could be hundreds… …millions more solar systemslike this out there or none at all. Some of the atmosphere on this planet,Bellerophon… …is being boiled awayby its nearby star. From Earth,we can’t see planets this far out. They’re obscuredby the brilliance of their neighboring stars. But the planets have a minutegravitational pull on those stars. Measure these tiny movementsand we can prove they exist.

 That’s how we tracked downBellerophon in the 1990’s… …and hundreds of other distant planets. Sixty-five light years from Earth… …turn on your TV hereand you’d pick up Hitler’s Berlin Olympics. [MAN SPEAKING IN GERMANON TV] The twin stars of Algol. Known to the ancientsas the demon star. From Earth, it appears to blinkas one star passes across the other. Up close, it’s even stranger. One star is being suckedtowards the other. Almost 100 light years from home… …faint whispers from oneof the first ever radio broadcasts. [STATIC HISSES OVER RADIO] MAN [OVER RADIO]:We’d <i>appreciate</i> it… <i>…if anyone hearing this broadcastwould communicate with us.</i> <i>We are very anxious to knowhow far the broadcast can reach.</i> NARRATOR: From here on out,it’s as if the Earth never existed. Feels like a lifetimesince we stood on that beach… …looking up at the sky,wondering where and how we fit in. We’ve learned one thing for sure. The universe is too bizarre,too startling… …for us to guess what lies ahead.

Deep inside our galaxy, the Milky Way. Pinpricks of light that have inspireda thousand and one tales. The Seven Sisters, the daughtersof the ancient Greek god, Atlas… …transformed into starsto comfort their father… …as he held the heavenson his shoulders. And this giant, Betelgeuse. The brightest, biggest starwe’ve seen so far. Six hundred times wider than our sun. But this, it’s not a star… …not a planet,not like anything we’ve seen.

A ghostly specter,more than 1,300 light years from Earth… …Orion’s dark cloud. Dust and gas shrouding us. There, deep inside, a light,pulling the dust and gas towards it… …heating up,merging into a ball of burning hot gas. Like a star, like our sun in miniature. Inside, it’s millions of degrees. So hot, it’s beginningto trigger nuclear reactions… …the kind that keep our sun shining… …making energy, radiation, light. A star is being born. Orion’s dark cloud is a vast star factory. We’re witnessing the birthof the future universe. We’ve come to expect destruction… …but this is one of the universe’sgreatest acts of creation. Star birth. This doesn’t look right. Jets of gas exploding outwith tremendous force… …blasting dust and gas outfor millions of miles. It’s unbelievably violent and creative. Nebula… …vast glowing clouds of gashanging in space. With no wind out here,they’ll take thousands of years to disperse. They seem to be forminga vast stellar sculpture. Nature is more than a scientist,an engineer… …it’s an artiston the grandest of scales. And this is a masterpiece.

Stars are born, grow up,and then, then what? Do they die? Do they slip quietly into the nightor go out with a bang? Somewhere between here and the edgeof the universe lies the answer. Luminous clouds,suspended in space… …encircling what was once a starlike our own sun. All that’s left of itare these brightly colored gases… …elements formedby nuclear reactions deep inside… …released into space on its death. Green and violet,hydrogen and helium… …the raw materials of the universe. Red and blue, nitrogen and oxygen… …the building blocks of life on Earth. For us to live, stars like this had to die. Every atom in our bodywas produced by nuclear fusion… …in stars that died longbefore the Earth was even born. We are all the stuff of stars. Our family tree begins here. At its heart, the ghost of a star… …a white dwarf. White, hot, small… …but unbelievably dense. In the star’s dying moments,its atoms fused and squeezed together… …making it so dense that just a teaspoonof this white dwarf would weigh 1 ton. It’s a chilling premonitionof our sun’s fate.

Six billion years from now,it will become a white dwarf. Its death will heraldthe end of life on Earth. Makes you wonder how many other worldshave come and gone… …celestial stories left untold,lost forever. But the greatest story of them allis still to be told. We must go back through timeto the very first chapter… …to learn how the universe began. The scattered remains of a dead star… …the Crab Nebula. Six thousand light years from home,deep inside a stellar graveyard. We’ve learnt so much… …seen things we’d neverhave believed possible. Now, sights like this,wonders once beyond imagination… …we take in our stride. We’re ready to facewhatever lies ahead. Determined to reachthe edge of the universe. This is the calm after the storm,after a massive explosion… …a supernovathat turned a star into dust and gas. The eye of the storm. A spinning pulsating star, a pulsar. The gravity has squeezedthe giant star’s core down to this. It’s just 12 miles across,unimaginably dense. One pinhead of thiswould weigh hundreds… …maybe millions of tons. And as it shrank, like a figure skaterspinning on the spot… …arms outstretched,then pulling them in… …it began to spin faster. Two beams of light, energy, radiation,spinning 30 times a second. Powering the huge cloudof dust and gas. There’s so much radiation here,more even than on the Sun. That was easily the deadliest thingwe’ve encountered so far. Once, it would have terrified us.

 But now we realizethat without the dangers… …there’d be no wonders. Without the nightmares,there’d be no dreams. Getting a strange sensation. A feeling as thoughthere’s something bad out here… …a malevolent presence. The one thingwe didn’t want to encounter. Impossibly black,blotting out the stars behind it. We’re staringinto the face of extinction… …the remains of a giant star… …a black hole. Far denser than a pulsar… …and impossible to resist. Its gravity is so intense,not even light can escape. This asteroid, it’s a lump of solid rock… …but it’s actually stretching,being dragged towards the gaping hole. Inside,there’s no matter as we know it.

No time, no space,all the rules of physics collapse. The asteroid is gone. Nobody really knows where. This is the edgeof human understanding. There could be millions of black holescreeping around our galaxy… …more perhapsthan all the stars in the sky… …but we wouldn’t see themuntil it was too late. Like this star, spiraling… …disappearing,down an invisible sinkhole. Who’s to say we don’t liveinside a vast black hole… …that the whole universeisn’t inside one right now… …inside another universe? Think about it for too longand your mind reels. Sometimes it feels like the more we see,the less we know. And we’re still in our own galaxy,the Milky Way… …the vastness of the universe beyondstill lies ahead. The wonders, the dangers, the secrets,they’re out there… …waiting to be discovered. Seven thousand light years from home. It’s as though we’re in a forestthick with trees.

 Each so beautiful, so fascinating,it’s impossible to look beyond… …to see the bigger picture. We have to find a way through… …to reach the clearingat the galaxy’s edge. But faced with sights like this,it’s hard to leave. A colossal glowing cloud toppedby these great towers of dust… …the Pillars of Creation. Like a gateway into the unknown. A star factory packedwith embryonic star systems… …each larger than our solar system. We have to resist its siren song,tear ourselves away… …to carry ontowards the edge of the galaxy. Dazzled by the Milky Way’s beauty,we’ve been blinded to its terrors… …and strayed into a cosmic minefield. Like an explosion in slow motion.

A massive star,millions of times brighter than our sun. It’s going into meltdown. The fuel that sustains it is running out… …the nuclear reactions that power itwinding down. We’re watching its death throes. An even bigger,dangerously unstable star. But this one’s about to explode. And when a star this big dies… …it’s a hundred timesmore violent than a supernova. We’ve stumbled intothe most violent star death of all… …a hypernova. The core’s collapsed,it’s becoming a black hole. And that’s the shock wave,surging through the star… …ripping its outer layers into space. Deadly hypernovas, frozen comets… …scorched planets,white dwarves, red giants. Tiny drops in a vast pool of white light… …our home galaxy, the Milky Way. We wanted to know where we fit in. Here’s our answer. Civilizations, past and present. Everyone that’s ever lived. The smallest bug,the highest mountain… …all of it invisible,not even a tiny speck. Our home is a minor planetorbiting an insignificant star. If it disappeared right now,who would even notice? And yet, so far, we’ve foundnowhere else we would rather live… …nowhere we could live. It’s only now, far from home… …that we’re beginningto truly appreciate it.

Look at all these stars,hundreds of thousands of them. Surely one of them, more than one,must be capable of supporting life. Maybe here in this swarm of stars,the Great Cluster. Back in the 1970’s, astronomerssent a message in this direction… …detailing the structure of our DNAand our solar system’s location. But the message won’t arrive herefor another 25,000 years. We haven’t found alien life yet. But neither have we foundany reason to believe… …it isn’t out there somewhere. There’s an equation devised… …to estimate the numberof other advanced civilizations. The result is startling. There could be millions of civilizationsjust in our own galaxy. Everything we’ve seen so faris inside the Milky Way. Now we’re readyto leave our home galaxy… …to enter intergalactic space. Here’s our chanceto solve the ultimate mystery… …and experiencethe moment of creation. Beyond the Milky Way… …through the vast expansebetween galaxies. Against all the odds,we’ve made it to intergalactic space. Out here, there’s no horizon in sight.

 Even the closest galaxies are hundredsof thousands of light years away. The remains of galaxies ripped apart… …by the Milky Way’shuge gravitational pull… …scattered among nothing. This is as close as the universe getsto a perfect vacuum. But even this isn’t totally empty. There are thin wisps of gas,fine traces of dust. And something else, dark matter. So mysterious, we can’t see it… …feel it, taste it, touch itor even measure it. Yet so common,it could make up over 9O percent… …of all the matter in the universe. If dark matter does exist… …it means there’s no such thingas empty space. Even out here,we’re surrounded by matter.

We think it exists becauseof its apparent hold on galaxies. Like this one,the Large Magellanic Cloud. A 6-billion-year journeyin today’s fastest spacecraft… …160 thousand light yearsfrom the Milky Way… …at the edge of its gravitational reach. This galaxy should spin off into space,but something is holding it here… …something invisible,powerful, dark matter. Stars, clusters of stars, nebulae… …it’s a vast astronomicaltreasure trove. But look at this,it’s like a string of gleaming pearls. It’s a fireball… …expanding out from what musthave been a massive explosion. A supernova. So bright that when light from theexplosion reached Earth 20 years ago… …it was visible to the naked eye. And so violent,it triggered a string of nuclear reactions… …forcing atoms together,creating new elements… …gold, silver, platinum,blasting them out into space. The gold in the ring on your finger… …was forgedin a massive supernova like this… …trillions of miles away,billions of years ago.

Before we left home,the universe seemed separate… …something out there, up in the sky. But now we know better. We are the universe, and it is within us. It’s comforting to rememberas we venture through this abyss. Further and further. Faster and faster. The Andromeda Galaxytwo and a half million light years away. It’s racing through space… …everything blown apart,like shrapnel in an explosion.

We’re seeing this galaxy as it was… …when our ape-like ancestorsfirst walked on the African plains. Further through space,and further back in time… Hold on. This doesn’t look right. A whole galaxy exploding? The only thing large enoughto cause an explosion on this scale… …is another galaxy. It looks like the end of the world. But this galaxy won’t die,it will be reborn. A new shape,perhaps even new stars… …as dust and gas collide,creating friction, shockwaves… …triggering the birth of stars.

 There’s order in this chaos,a pattern behind the infinite variety… …an endless cycle of birth and death,creation and destruction. It’s a patternwoven through the vast fabric of space… …that binds each of these galaxies. There are billions of galaxies… …each with billions,even trillions of stars. Maybe more starsthan there are grains of sand… …on all the beaches on Earth. We’re finally beginningto see the big picture… …and it’s granderthan we ever imagined. This galaxy,the huge Pinwheel Galaxy… …is so far from Earththat if we send a message home now… …it will take 27 million yearsto get there.

Who knows whether our species,our planet… …will still be around to receive it? We travel on, back through time. Past the pointwhere the dinosaurs were wiped out… …past the moment wherethe first creatures crawled onto land. Two billion light years from home. Closing in on the edge of the universe. Going back to the beginning of time. This isn’t a galaxy.It’s brighter than a hundred galaxies. A blinding beam of energysurging for trillions of miles. Something this big, this bright,must be incredibly powerful. Experience tells us,out here, power equals danger. It looks like a quasar,the deadliest thing in the universe. Our journey could be over.

The deadliest,most powerful thing in the universe. A quasar. A swirling cauldron of superheated gas. This beast has a heart of darkness,a super-massive black hole… …as heavy as a billion suns. It’s ripping apart whole stars… …devouring them until they’re nothing… …lost forever from the visible universe. We think, we hope, we pray… …we’ve seen the worstthe universe can throw at us. But no one can know what lies ahead. We’ll need to go further, go faster. Eight billion light years from home. More galaxies, but these look different. Ragged, small, close together. We’re so far back in time… …we’re seeing these galaxiesas they were before the Earth was born. They’re still young, still growing. We’re getting closeto where and how it all began. Look at the galaxies now.

They’re more like primitive planktonfloating in a vast dark ocean. Clouds of dust and gas… …dancing, twirling,merging to make embryonic galaxies. They’re disappearing. We’ve gone backbefore the stars were born… …into a cosmic dark age. And before that, light, the afterglow… …from the massive explosionthat created the known universe. This is it. We’ve made it. The edge of the universe… …8O billion trillion miles from home… …13 and a half billion years ago. The very instant of the Big Bang… …the most violent,most creative moment in history. Everything that’s ever happenedfollows from this moment. Every religion, every culture,has pondered it.

But we still don’t knowwhat sparked this act of creation or why. This is where our journey ends… …and the universe begins. An infinitely hot, small,dense point erupts. Creating space, time, matter,our universe itself. First, it’s the sizeof a subatomic particle. The tiniest fraction of a second later… …it’s big enough to holdin the palm of your hand. Moments later, it’s the size of the Earth. Today, the light from the Big Bangis still spreading out. You can hear it as a radio hiss.

See it as television static. All the wonderswe’ve seen on our journey… …are sparksflying out from the Big Bang. Galaxies, stars, planets… …all cosmic debris. We go forward through time… …riding the blast wave. Until we reach another cooling cinder… …swirling in the afterglowof the Big Bang. We’re back where we started. Home. Only now can we really know it. Smaller, more fragilethan we ever imagined. Destined to die,swallowed by a dying sun. But we shouldn’t despair.We should rejoice.

We’ve managed to experiencethe wonders of the universe.

We should celebrateour achievements… …and enjoy our moment in the sun. 

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