Thursday, September 02, 2010

TV Review - Bad Universe

Oops. I'm on the fail wagon. I only just got around to seeing Phil Plait's Bad Universe. Tardy. I know.

Overall score: Solid A.

Phil's enthusiasm, as always shows through and the show is a ton of fun because of it. Right from the very beginning the viewer hits the ground running with the doomsday scenario of an asteroid hitting the Earth. It jumps then, to simulating an impact and the resulting crater, to simulations of a nuke on an asteroid, through other tests, and finally a solution. The road is paved with tons of explosions.

But in the end, I felt... dizzy. While all the information was there, it didn't feel especially organized. It jumped between asteroids of varying sizes, compositions, and even to big nasties that weren't asteroids. Not that all these topics aren't important do discuss, but I often felt it kept going back and forth.

And worse, something very important was left as merely a single line that got brushed off. This isn't the exact quote, but I think it's pretty close:

"The damage from an impact comes from its kinetic energy which is determined by its mass and more importantly, its velocity."

Yep. KE = 1/2mv2. See that squared term? That means that the velocity is gonna get real important, real fast. And that paraphrase I just gave, is the entire story of velocity in this show. There's an obvious reason for this though: The vast majority of the asteroids that could hit us are all from the same groups and the velocity range is narrow. The mass range isn't. So obviously that's what the focus would have to be on, but the jumpiness I mentioned earlier left it hard to get a clear picture of what size will do what damage.

Here's the breakdown:

Beachball = ~60 ft across
Stadium = Miles across
Few Miles across = No more dinosaurs

Great. But what about that HUGE gap between stadium and dinosaur killer? There was a ton that could be talked about there that would have been really great to get a real grip on how size corresponds to damage because it's not exactly easy given that mass doesn't scale linearly with size (given it's dependent on volume and all).

Obviously, there's quite a bit that had to be left out for the sake of time and to be fair, that was a perfectly reasonable thing to leave out. Because what the main focus of the show wasn't what the dangers and effects are, but what we can do to stop it. When viewed in that light, that's why I can give the show such a high approval rating despite not liking that some of the science was left out; The show achieved its goal.

In the meantime, there were some great lines. Working "epic fail" into a serious show = win.

But the best line in the whole show, one that makes me glad I wasn't drinking anything at the time, came from Dan Durda. As they're about to test the effect of a kinetic impactor on a large, spherical rock, Phil makes a joke about how it looks like they're about to make the Death Star. Without missing a beat, Dan responds, "Yeah, so let's blow this thing and go home." For those not fanboy enough to get the response, go watch this.


Unknown said...

I'm slower than you there, I haven't had a chance to watch it yet. Hopefully I will find time to dig it up soon, sounds fun.

Chet Twarog said...

Ok, this might seem trite.
It was a great, enthusiastic, science episode... Why is "human civilization" just the focal point? If the mountain asteroid 65 my ago missed, it would be a very different ecosystem today--we might not exist.
Those big impactors radically alter evolutionary history.
However, it should also be our imperative to colonize the inner solar system.

GlitchTech said...

I'm slower than you there, I haven't had a chance to watch it yet. Hopefully I will find time to dig it up soon, sounds fun.