Alien Earths

National Geographic Documentary
"Alien Earths" - the Emmy-nominated National Geographic special
  • written by Dana Berry, Steven Reich, and Ray Villard
  • produced and directed by Dana Berry
  • edited by Tchavdar Georgiev

  • narrated by Craig Sechler (U.S. version) or
    Christopher Kent (U.K. / International version)
  • music by Bruce Hanifan
  • Skyworks Digital, Inc. for National Geographic Channel
  • (c) 2009 NGC Network US, LLC
  • 1 documentary @ 46 minutes

Data Capsule Review

by Martin Izsak

This short documentary is one of the best introductions to the science of exo-planet hunting to be found in television, as it goes in-depth with a lot of details on specific famous planets and covers a wide variety of planet types. It remains highly focused, well-paced, and presents its information to the audience respectfully and intelligently.

The Kepler Mission bookends the film, as it begins with the then-recent launch of the specialist telescope in March of 2009, and ends with the high hopes that scientists had of the discoveries that would be forthcoming. In between, we get a comprehensive overview of the exoplanet discoveries that had taken place so far....

Exoplanets discussed include:

  • 51 Pegasi b (This documentary not only interviews this first exoplanet's discoverer Michel Mayor, but it also may be the strongest documentary to try to popularize Geoff Marcy's unofficial nickname for the planet: Bellerophon. It wouldn't be until 2015 that the International Astronomical Union held a vote deciding that the planet's official name would become "Dimidium".)
  • The Eagle Nebula star-forming region
  • HD 209458 b, nicknamed "Osirus", the first exoplanet whose composition scientists could determine.
  • 16 Cygnus B b - the "Yoyo Planet" with its 26-month elongated orbit. Much time is spent speculating on the seasonal conditions that might exist should this planet have an Earth-like moon orbiting it.
  • Planimos - rogue planets with no star to orbit
  • pulsar planets in Virgo
  • Destroyed planet debris disc orbiting HD 23514 in the Pleiades Cluster. A collision of two planets, or the vengeful retaliation for interference with the Orion Empire? This event is compared with the here-unnamed Theia Impact Theory of the formation of our own Moon.
  • Super-Earths
  • Gliese 581 c - a popular water-world super-Earth in Libra, discovered by Michel Mayor. At the time, 3 planets were known in the system (b, c, and d). As the possibility of life on planet c is discussed, it is compared with Europa.
  • Carbon planets - Curiously, it is implied that only under conditions very different than in our solar system can carbon planets form, even though the description of a carbon planet is exactly what was actually found on Saturn's moon Titan, which isn't mentioned.

The original American version features narration by Craig Sechler listing many distances measured in miles, and temperatures measured in "degrees" with the Fahrenheit scale being assumed rather than specified.

International versions of the documentary can also be found, though in many cases the title has been changed to "Weirdest Planets". U.K. narrator Christopher Kent works with an improved narration text, where distances are given in miles and kilometres, and temperatures are specified in degrees Celsius. Much more civilized. In many places, the international versions also feature extra footage and information. (For example, three extra shots during the "winter" section of the 16 Cygnus B Yoyo moon sequence.)

Participants include:

Michel Mayor

Professor of Astrophysics,
Geneva University

co-discoverer with Didier Queloz of the first exoplanet 51 Pegasi b.

Geoff Marcy

Professor of Astronomy,
University of California, Berkeley

As of the first 300 exoplanets discovered by 2009, he and colleague Paul Butler had been credited with finding more extra-solar planets than anyone else.

Alan Boss

Theoretical Astrophysicist,
Carnegie Institution

reviewed the paper of the first discovery of a hot jupiter extra-solar planet: 51 Pegasi b, in 1995

Sara Seager

Professor of Planetary Science,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.)

Marc Kuchner

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Dimitar Sasselov

Professor of Astronomy
Harvard University

Eric Chaisson

Director, Wright Center
Tufts University

Robert Hurt

Visualization Scientist,
NASA Spitzer Space Telescope

Mario Livio

Space Telescope Science Institute

Edna DeVore

Director of Education & Outreach,
SETI Institute

I would love to be able to point you to a method of acquiring this documentary that actually rewards the filmmakers for their outstanding efforts in putting this movie together. However, even being nominated for an Emmy doesn't seem to be enough to convince National Geographic to keep its marketing together for this one-off show. It doesn't appear to have ever become available on DVD or Blu-ray as it deserves, either at the National Geographic store or on Amazon, and the National Geographic web video channel doesn't seem to want to stream it anymore either. Even NASA's links to clips from this show have gone dead. National Geographic seems to be more interested in promoting this Gallery of Images from the show instead. Strange.

Perhaps more interesting is director Dana Berry's discussion of this show and his work in general on his Linked-In Profile (Dana Berry).

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Read the data capsule review for another documentary,
the first episode of The Universe: "Secrets of the Sun"

Or, get an overview of all episodes of that series from our
Episode Guide Catalogue for "The Universe".

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