sat 21/09/2019

The Planets, Series Finale, BBC Two review - ice cold on Neptune | reviews, news & interviews

The Planets, Series Finale, BBC Two review - ice cold on Neptune

The Planets, Series Finale, BBC Two review - ice cold on Neptune

Brian Cox's series concludes with a deep-frozen trip to the far end of the Solar System

Professor Cox in Iceland – not as cold as Pluto

As an aid to meditation, Professor Brian Cox’s latest series The Planets (BBC Two) could hardly be faulted. A majestic tour of the Solar System awash with computerised imagery, an eerie soundtrack and a travel budget the president of the United States might envy, it exerted a narcotic allure as Cox’s gaze roamed billions of kilometres into deep space. His whispery commentary is a bit like having a scalp massage.

Mind you, you could probably glean most of the facts from assorted scientific publications or even Wikipedia, but Cox has a gift for making you feel that he’s telling the story for the first time to you, personally. For this final episode, he (and the Voyager 2 probe) took us to the farthest reaches of the Solar System, which meant Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. It’s bloody cold out there, with Cox characterising Uranus as “the pale blue marble hanging in the dark, frozen depths of space.” Neptune, a piffling 4.5bn kilometres from the Sun, experiences winds screaming through its atmosphere at 2,000kph and temperatures of -214 Celsius. As for Pluto, so distant that not even the Hubble telescope can get a decent photograph of it, it may have an underground ocean with a topping of “soft nitrogen ice”.

Cox based himself in Iceland to evoke a sense of these glacial destinations, driving through snowy wastelands in an SUV and posing against rugged landscapes like a starship trooper. His device of showing the relative distances between the planets and the sun by using Reykjavik harbour as a reduced-scale model was ingenious and effective. Yet, though he argued the case for space exploration as a solution to Earth’s dwindling resources, he can’t change the fact that for many of us, space remains an infinite freezing vacuum with (so far) no sign of life. Which is a tiny bit terrifying.

For many of us, space remains an infinite freezing vacuum with (so far) no sign of life

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