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You Should Be Watching: 'Wonders of the Solar System

If you seek entertaining scientific programming, binge-watch “Wonders of the Solar System.” Presented by Brian Cox, this miniseries offers sublime graphics, incredible locations, and clear scientific explanations.

Title: “Wonders of the Solar System”

Year it began: 2010

Where it can be seen: Netflix, Amazon, BBC, DVD.

Typical episode length: 60 minutes

Number of episodes to date: 5

Brief plot description: Narrated by physicist Brian Cox, the show explains basic laws of nature by connecting various earthly sites and phenomena with wondrous features of the solar system. The show features narration, graphics, symbolic locations and interviews.

Why it’s worth watching: Both engrossing and informative, “Wonders of the Solar System” offers outstanding science programming. With what is clearly a massive BBC budget, Cox, a University of Manchester physicist, travels to many exciting, well-chosen locations to explain parallels between what’s going on here and elsewhere in the solar system. Whether it’s walking on Arctic ice to help you visualize the ice particles composing Saturn’s rings, or traveling to Africa’s Namib Desert to illustrate Mars’ barren but ordered landscapes, Cox literally travels to the ends of the earth to help us understand the wondrous laws of nature. Cox’s extreme excursions are often very cinematic.

In demonstrating how the swirling motion of dust created the solar system, for example, Cox follows a storm-chaser in Oklahoma while explaining the science of tornadoes along with thrilling images of twisters. In another instance, he takes a glorious ride in an English Electric Lightning jet, traveling 18 kilometers to show us why earth’s atmosphere is the “thin blue line” shielding us from destructive solar winds. The true strength of the show lies in its generating a fantastic learning atmosphere through serene pacing, sublime music and a dizzying array of gorgeous photos and graphics that Cox cheerily and clearly describes.

What makes “Wonders of the Solar System” truly outstanding is Cox’s commitment to teaching viewers the basic science needed to appreciate natural wonders: whereas many shows dwell on flashier, more advanced subjects such as quantum mechanics or relativity, Cox shows how understanding such basic concepts as gravitational force and the conservation of angular momentum give us a deep understanding of the solar system, from its chaotic beginnings to its wondrously ordered present.

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