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October 31, 2010

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Bad Universe Episode 2 Review

October 7, 2010

This is my first review of the science show Bad Universe. I missed the pilot, so I am reviewing episode 2. That is too bad because the first episode was about asteroid impact, which I think is cooler and has a much better ground in reality than tonight’s episode: Alien Attack. Here is a teaser, which the host of the show himself, which the badastronomer Phil Plait was generous to post on his own blog:

So, the first thing I want to comment on is the host Phil Plait. And just as I expected, he was awesome. The explanations were simple, as expected, but the delivery of them is really good, with neat graphics and visuals backing them up. Also, he injects a nice amount of humor. I thought the random cutout to the steak scene was quiet funny while explaining that most living things on Earth uses sunpower. Mostly, though, I think it is his personality and enthusiasm which makes the show enjoyable to watch.

Today’s episode was kind of cheesy, especially the initial invasion scene. That’s okay, though. The theme of the episode was alien attacks. I really liked the flying saucers lasers destroying things scene, which were very reminsicent of Independence Day. The robot, though, was very lame, with its very crummy design. By the way, since this is my first time watching the show, I would like to compliment the comic book style presentation. It is very unique, and I especially love it when they cartoonize the various people Phil Plait is meeting with. Also, the comic book style presentation was really effective when it came to presenting the infectious bacteria from outer space. A live action shot would have probably shown some boring blur of bodies covered with sheets, or other sorts of boring stock footages that these kind of shows like to bring up. And while some of the annoying repetition, like the freaking alien footages, was here in this show, I think that the show’s presentational style kind of balanced it.

As an example of the comic book style presentation, look at the intro of the latter half of this clip:

The science itself was mostly good. The show was mostly devoted to answering the probability that alien life could come on our planet. So naturally, the first thing that was presented was the Drake equation, which estimates the probability intelligent life might exist in the galaxy. I thought it had a really neat presentation. It was basically a walkthrough of each variable along with the snazzy graphic showing the letters in a floating 3d look. At the end, he explained that it was all a guess, which I am glad he did. Although I don’t think he should have stuck with 20. Maybe he should have mentioned a range because what the viewers could take from that is that the number is a fact.

Afterwards, Phil showed what it would take for aliens to travel the vast interstellar distances. Basically, one would have to accelerate so much for so long that one would probably throw up one’s stomach out after the first few days in the trip, as Phil’s nauseated look showed after having endured over 4g’s of force in the jet plane. Although this brings up a question. Can’t they just accelerate in spurt? Since space is pure vacumn, there is no air friction that slows it down. So according to Newton’s first law, once you speed up, you just keep going and going. Of course, then the spacecraft would have to slow down, and as you see, the whole enterprise sounds like a mess. Unfortunately, the show didn’t mention the ultimate obstacle of space faring aliens: the speed of light, the speed at which no matter shall travel. At a certain point, no matter how much energy you dump into the ship, it would only get closer to the speed of light, never get there. But then, it is a 45 minute show, and there is only so many things you can put in there, so all is forgiven. 🙂

My two favorite segments came afterwards. The first one was an experiment trying to show whether e. colis could survive an impact if they came riding on an asteroid into Earth. They did it by putting a solution of bacterias inside a metal ball and shooting it in a long air gun towards a pile of sand. The poor blobs didn’t make it, unfortunately. So, the ruling of alien bacterias arriving on Earth is almost nil. While a lot of bacteria can survive space and radiation, whether they can survive being sent into space after an impact in another planet, and then surviving the crash on Earth is a whole another story. The other cool part was the cave exploration. They were making the point that life doesn’t have to be like the way we know it, so an extreme planet could support life. They made their point by citing extremophiles, which are bacterias that survive extreme conditions. In the cave, there were no sunlight, yet bacterias thrived by metabolizing minerals on rocks. They managed to scrape some and show them under a microscope. Very cool.

As for the martian rock thing, it was kind of meh. While I agree that the chance of Mars having had life back in the really old days (as in billions of years ago), I don’t think the patterns on the rock is it. Granted, I was impressed with the patterns on the rock, since I didn’t know how weird rocks were microscopically. But it reminds me too much of the previous life on martian meteorite hype in the 90’s. Well, I think it was a hype. If anyone out there is an astronomer, what do you think? As he says in the end, we need more serious study on this subject.

Finally, there was the replicating robot kills everything scenario at the end. While the scenario is science fiction, I have got to admit, it is quiet compelling and really cool. It is my favorite scenario, and no, I am not sadistic (c’mon, they are replicating robots!). He placed this as one of the more probable one because these are machines, and they can endure the coldness and harshness of space, and grab resources to make more of themselves. In the end, he summarizes the whole thing this way:

“We just don’t know.”

And in the end, that is the best answer there is, and the best way to end the program.