I tried to watch national Geographic Channel's new series "Known Universe" last night--but gave up in disgust in the middle of the second program of the 3 1-hour shows.
I should have known better after seeing the commercials all week: something like "When you wish upon a star--even at the speed of light, it will take 5 million years to get there!"
Umm, why would anyone wish on a star that's outside our own galaxy (100,000 LY across) and more than twice as far away as the Andromeda galaxy (2 million LY)? Is there ANYTHING 5 million LY away that can be seen by the naked eye? Maybe the faintest smudge of another galaxy. Why would anyone wish on that when there are thousands of bright, naked-eye stars to choose from? Traditionally, it's Venus ("Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight..."), the evening star and Goddess of Love--a few light minutes away.
But "Known Universe": plenty of one-liners and catchy quotes from well-known astronomers, physicists, etc., cut up and pasted into a rapid-fire series of flashy computer graphics. The astronomers aren't the problem. It's the crappy editing, apparently by editors who just don't get the points that the scientists are trying to make, and probably don't really know or care about the science they claim to be explaining.
Case in point: An astronomer raises the issue that most people don't understand the scale of the solar system because they've just seen those cheap classroom mobiles or other displays of planets and sun--crammed so close together that they're almost touching (and probably not in the right size ratios anyway). My hopes were raised: I've made true-scale displays, and I know that most people don't have a clue about the real size ratios and distances involved. So "Known Universe" starts out with an astronomer holding a small rubber ball ("...if this represents the sun..."), then flashes to a football stadium (good analogy--use a familiar-sized reference), then COMPLETELY DROPS the whole keep-it-to scale concept! They paste in a graphic Sun way bigger than the goalposts. What the hell? At that scale, Mercury would have to be far past the outer parking lot! But nooo! We're treated to a Mercury much too huge for the scale of the Sun, and so close that it's almost touching it!
I know exactly what they did: the scientist gave them a good size-and -distance analogy (baseball-size Sun and various other peas, BBs, pinheads, etc. stretched over the yardlines at appropriate distances to show the real size and distance scale of the solar system. But the editors just didn't get it. They couldn't resist sticking in their giant graphics so that the stadium was filled up with huge, colorful, blimp-sized balls! The result was no better than what they started out with--a 2nd grade science fair project, with styrofoam Sun and planets hanging from a coathanger. Actually, it was worse, since it purported to be a correct size and distance display!
And so it goes. I gave up in the middle of the 2nd hour, when several physicists were emphasizing the point that 99.999...% of an atom is empty space, and the sizes of the subatomic particles are as nothing compared to that space. Yet "Known Universe" continued to show us graphics of atoms with a clump of proton and neutron marbles in the middle, with similar-sized electron marbles whizzing around, not much more than a marble-diameter from the nucleus!
I found I was grinding my teeth, so I gave up and found "Top Ten Tanks" on the Military Channel.
Maybe others who watched more of "Known Universe" could fill in more egregious errors they spotted in the programs.