Heaven and Hell

(Comets, Impacts, Venus)
by Carl Sagan
A Personal Voyage
13 episodes
See below for
DVD purchasing options
(Carl Sagan's Cosmos episode no. 4)
  • written by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan & Steven Soter
  • series director & executive producer Adrian Malone
  • Spaceship and studio sequences directed by Rob McCain
  • Burnt Forest, Comet Impact, and Monterey sequences directed by David F. Oyster
  • Monks and the Moon sequences directed by Richard J. Wells
  • Sphinx sequence directed by Geoffrey Haines-Stiles
  • edited by James Latham (film) and Roy Stewart (videotape)

  • Main Title Theme by Vangelis
  • Music by Vangelis, Igor Stravinsky, Alan Hovhaness, and others...
  • 1 documentary @ 61 minutes

Data Capsule Review

by Martin Izsak

Here, "Cosmos" delivers another episode packed with information about astronomy, history, geology, and science in general. A brief preamble concerning sudden cataclysmic disruptions to long-term environmental bliss leads into the great mystery of the Tunguska event of 1908.

Participants include:

Dr. Carl Sagan

Astronomer, host, narrator
Voyager imaging team

Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences,
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

The initial mystery of Tunguska is brought to life better in this episode than in most other documentaries that touch on the subject, in part because it seems that "Cosmos" managed to get hold of actual black-and-white film footage of Soviet scientist L.A. Kulik and his team as they traveled to, surveyed, and examined the impact site in Tunguska, Russia. With a bit of clever editing between this, some special effects graphics, and footage of host Carl Sagan in a similar-looking burnt-out forest, "Cosmos" generates an unmatched illusion of having taken its audience right to that time and place, and via its musical choices into that culture, to witness the event.

But what happened in Tunguska? What kind of astronomical impact causes an explosion, and fire, and flattens trees, but leaves no crater and no meteorite fragments? Sagan recounts several proposed theories that don't quite match the evidence. Perhaps what has gone missing from his assumptions are concepts about how different an actual non-terrestrial craft's construction might be, or how much of it we should expect to find if it were shot down by a plasma disintegration beam, originating from upset minds in underground complexes that we're not supposed to know about. And so, he settles on getting us to consider as most likely that the impact was caused by a piece of a comet.

Okay, great. But while "Cosmos" here presents the definitive introduction to this event, the answer doesn't satisfy very well until fleshed out much more fully in the third season episode of The Universe entitled "Deadly Comets and Meteors". In that, we get to witness scientific computer simulations of such a proposed comet impact, compared with and enhanced by data from the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts on Jupiter, which demonstrate how a comet made mostly of ice can explode due to high-speed friction from our atmosphere just before actually hitting the ground. Of course, in 1980 when Cosmos was made, Jupiter had not yet been hit by Shoemaker-Levy 9, so Sagan and company couldn't have gone that far at the time. Still, it's nice to see a good companion documentary like the one described above to get a fuller, more rounded payoff to the question of there being no impact crater. Is it yet the right answer, or a well-crafted diversion from other ideas that might be less comfortable to discuss?

"Cosmos" continues with its major examination of comets next, while continuing its main theme that science and observation slowly but surely triumphed over superstition. Sagan takes his share of digs at superstition here, but does not go as far as in the previous episode, and remains tasteful about it by and large.

The best highlight of the Comet section is the very graphic "computer study" which demonstrates a comet's orbit, and how it might change during gravitational interaction with other planets in our solar system. One of the best parts of the episode.

Next comes a section that is more generally about collisions and impacts between pretty much any celestial bodies that might be found in our solar system. Though mention is made of Mercury, Mars and its moon Phobos, and Jupiter's moons Callisto and Amalthea, with an unlabeled photo of Ganymede thrown in for good measure, it is Earth's own Moon that receives all the big stories here. We get extensive historical and special effects recreation of an impact that was observed and reported by Canterbury monks in 1178 A.D., plus good coverage of the special mirrors placed by modern moon-landing astronauts and the Earthly set-ups to bounce lasers off of those mirrors, which apparently corroborate the large moon impact. This leads into a good section that attempts to detail the formation and geological history of the moon so far. Of course, the Theia impact theory had not been put forth as of 1980, so this ends up being an interesting alternative.

"Science is a Self-Correcting Process"

One of the most precious balancing comments of the entire 1980 series comes next, as Sagan recounts, and largely disproves, a theory of how Jupiter might have created Venus, triggering some all-too-recent biblical "miracles" along the way. Yes, it was pretty ridiculous, and deserved the debunking it got. But Sagan's real reprimand is for the scientists of the day, citing their attempts to suppress the theory as being of the same bad form as many religions in the past. New ideas should be expressed freely and be tested by science, according to Sagan, because you never know when that new idea might revolutionize everything. A surprising, but very, very welcome bit, and another great highlight of this episode.

Venus - Most Like Hell

The next section is, for me, the main attraction of the episode. Here, time is taken to really look at and explore Venus, once thought to be the most attractive planet in the solar system after the Earth. It has nearly the same size and gravity, and a similar orbit where it would be warm. But the major thrust of the presentation here in this episode proposes that its attractiveness was based largely on an absence of useful data, while eager Human imagination was too quick to fill in the gaps.

Introduced here in the series is the concept of spectrographic analysis, which gave us our first clue that Venus may not have such an idyllic composition as we had at first hoped. Radioastronomy is also shown to have given us our next batch of good data, but the truly definitive highlight is the coverage "Cosmos" gives to the Soviet Venera Landers, including their place in history as the first man-made objects to touch down on another planet. We see some of their early photos taken on the surface, and get some suitable model recreations with heat-shimmer. As Sagan follows their trajectory in his Ship of the Imagination, the dense yellow stormy clouds of Venus make a very strong special-effects impression.

Again, this is a very compelling and indulgent recreation of an alien setting. We come away feeling like we've been there, and that we understand fundamentally why it's so different and strange.

But in the long term, what has stuck with me most is exactly how much our knowledge of such a place like Venus is limited by having all of the information filtered primarily through NASA, or to a lesser extent through the minimal publicity from the Russian government and its space program. If they decided to squash our curiosity to investigate Venus any further, what better way than to describe hellish temperatures and noxious atmospheric chemistry? Might Venus be a classic example among many other planets, moons, and places in space that are described to us as completely inhospitable or impossible to reach, to stop us from wanting to seriously consider our options for going there? More varied sources of unfiltered information could be a very revealing thing.

"A Little Greenhouse Effect is a Good Thing."

After only about 10 minutes of real focus on Venus, "Cosmos" allows a comparison with Earth and our ideal environment to take over the episode. Sagan's visit to the Sphinx in Egypt becomes his backdrop to the concept of erosion, which can be greatly accelerated by pollution. The ultimate take-away from this bit may be the insistence that change is the only real constant in the universe, and that it persists throughout the cosmos. Nowhere is static and unchanging.

Visually, a lot of the ugliness of our civilization gets screen time in the final section here, a trigger for us to question why we don't do a better job of cleaning up our act. A fair question.

Curiously, there is a balance here which nearly flies under the radar and goes unnoticed. The abundant portions dealing with runaway greenhouse effects causing global warming, as described as having been taken to the extreme on Venus, may easily be the primary lasting impressions of the episode. But we should also note that, perhaps expressed less eloquently, Mars is also mentioned in contrast to our Earthly ideal environment, with the warning that Human activity such as de-forestation brings the danger of leaving "light" coloured bare patches on Earth, reflecting more sunlight into space instead of absorbing it, which cools us down.... "Might this also make an ice age here?" Sagan asks. Perhaps it is better not to walk around simply repeating mantras like "global warming" or even "climate change" with blind passion, but rather as this episode prompts, to be truly AWARE of all that is going on on our planet and society - environmentally, economically, and politically.

That partly sets us up for our response to episode 13, but to be fair, the political and economic aspects of this are really beyond the scope of "Cosmos". Episode 4 has kept itself interesting by focusing predominantly on science and astronomical phenomena. The only real key it can comment on here is the need for BALANCE, which requires us to keenly observe how and in which directions we may have gone or may be going out of balance in the first place.

And so, a decent episode of "Cosmos" comes to an end. While there are a lot of good highlights that I enjoy, there are a number of other bits that are either just average, or are not presented with enough careful depth to reveal those aspects of the issues that really would trigger people to make the kind of changes required to finally transcend and conquer those issues. It chips away at beginning the process of awareness, while remaining frustratingly behind-the-times in terms of identifying some of the real roots of the problems. "Cosmos" has other, cleaner, more interesting episodes, although this one is certainly not bad at all.

International Titles:

Deutsch: Unser Kosmos - "Himmel und Hölle"

Español: Cosmos - "Cielo e infierno"

Magyar: Kozmosz - "Menny és pokol"

Русский: Космос - "Небеса и преисподняя"
или "Небеса и ад"

Français: "Le paradis et l'enfer"

Italiano: "Paradiso e inferno"

As much as it might be one of Carl Sagan's more magnanimous thoughts that we should entertain theories that don't work out, another level of pragmatism hits home when time and space to deliver one's messages become limited. The version of the episode cut down to 43 minutes for broadcast on the ZDF channel in Germany lost all footage of Sagan interacting with the model of the solar system and its large planets on the studio floor, and as an editor I'd agree that the theory of Jupiter creating a miracle-facilitating Venus was probably the least interesting/important piece of information in the episode, and should be the first item to hit the cutting room floor for a trimmed-down version. I might though have wanted Sagan's quote "Science is a self-correcting process" to be re-injected into the narration elsewhere.

The Russian wikipedia lists this episode as "Небеса и преисподняя", but a dubbed version of the episode features a female narrator who can clearly be heard calling the episode "Небеса и ад". The word "ад" can refer to the undesirable afterlife destination, as well as any purely non-judgmental big blazing "inferno".

The Music - Episode 4 - Heaven and Hell

(Anything written in green text represents a name I made up to help keep some music better identified in my own head.)
(Golden yellow backgrounds indicate selections that also appear on Voyager's Golden Record.)
Collectors' Edition 2000 (DVD) Original 1980
Composer/PerformerTitle 2000 Composer/PerformerTitle 1980Notes
VangelisSymphony to the Powers B, Movement Three
also known as "Theme from Cosmos"
Title Music
Wolfgang MozartClarinet Concerto K622 in A Major
Movement 2
Johannes BrahmsViolin Concerto in D Major
Movement 2 - Adagio
Georgian Men's ChorusTchakrulo from Voyager's Golden Record
Alan HovhanessSymphony No. 19 - trekking coda 2 excerpts2:53 - 3:11
Alan HovhanessSymphony No. 19 - "Sea Slog" excerpt3:10 - 4:42
Mark EmneyPioneers - section 3 of 3 (dark synth music,
with wide swoops. 4:40 - 5:41)
Gavin BryarsThe Sinking of the Titanic4:40 - 5:41
Igor Stravinsky
The Rite of Spring - Part 2, section 5 of 6: Ritual Action of the Ancestors
(quiet "Jawa" pulse march)
7:00 - 8:24
Igor StravinskyThe Rite of Spring - Part 1, section 7 of 7: Dance of the Earth (loud & dramatic)8:23 - 8:51 comet
hits Tunguska
?? Vangelis???Comet Movement? - The Big Burn -- -- 9:21 - 9:38
Mark EmneyPioneers - section 1 of 3 (dark synth music) Gavin BryarsThe Sinking of the Titanic9:23 - 10:27
Igor StravinskyThe Rite of Spring - Part 2, section 4 of 6: Evocation of the Ancestors10:26 - 10:52
Dmitri ShostakovichSymph. 11 Mvmt. 2 - "The 9th of January", part A Carl OrffCarmina Burana
Main Theme: "O Fortuna"
11:00 - 13:00
???? light humorous classical Phillip P. Bliss
/ Joseph Byrd
Hold the Fort
from "Yankee Transcendoodle"
13:44 - 14:44
Carl OrffCarmina Burana
Main Theme: "O Fortuna"
14:40 - 14:58
Edgar FroeseA Dali-esque Sleep Fuse14:44 - 17:50
(Comets' solar
orbit demo)
VangelisCreation Du Monde Gavin Bryars

The Sinking
of the Titanic ... 20:36
Perspective I
18:38 - 22:06
Alan HovhanessSymphony No. 4 - Movement 2 (tiny snippet of marimba)22:05 - 22:10
Richard MyhillBenedictus Benediktiner-
Erzabtei Mönche
St. Martin, Beuron
Credo V
(Gregorian chanting)
22:08 - 22:35
Alan HovhanessSymphony No. 4 - Movement 2 (warm woodwinds)22:35 - 22:54
VangelisEntends Chiens #2 - Ancient Angles Vangelis
Roberto Gerhard

Alan Hovhaness
Carl Nielsen
Ancient Angles
"The Plague" Part 9 of 9,
final cue (during the impact)
Ancient Angles
Symphony No. 4 - Movement 1
Symph. No 5, Mv.1
Alan HovhanessSymphony No. 4 - Movement 1 (low woodwinds & quiet tings)27:08 - 27:34
VangelisHimalaya Roberto Gerhard
Carl Nielsen
The Plague - Part 9 of 9 (choral)
Symphony 5, Mv.1
27:33 - 29:50
Alan HovhanessSymphony No. 4 - Movement 3 (deep brass effect) as Jupiter
spits out "Venus"
Brian EnoMusic for Airports No. 4 - "2/2"31:56 - 33:30
(scale of the planets)
?? Vangelis???Comet Movement?
- Venus Goes Digital (2 excerpts)
Vincenzo GalileiFantasia34:31 - 35:19 Venus
35:44 - 36:29
Gustav HolstVenus - The Bringer of Peace(much shorter / quieter)36:46 - 37:26
light spectrum
??? high tone pads (merged with Holst's Venus)37:18 - 37:49
??? more high tone pads (multiple times)38:14...
Venera probes
Wolfgang MozartClarinet Concerto K622 in A Major
Movement 2
BrahmsViolin Concerto45:50... Back to
heavenly Earth
Samuel BarberMedea Suite, section 5 of 7: Medea (opening - must be looped 3x or so)47:01 - 48:43
creepy Sphinx
Igor StravinskyThe Rite of Spring - Part 1
section 3 of 7: Spring Rounds
48:41 - 49:23
Igor StravinskyThe Rite of Spring - Part 1
section 7 of 7: Dance of the Earth
Igor Stravinsky The Rite of Spring - Part 2
section 6 of 6: Sacrificial Dance
(the only section included
on Voyager's Golden Record)
(major changes,
dramatic action)
Igor Stravinsky The Rite of Spring - Part 2
section 6 of 6: Sacrificial Dance (2nd half)
(the only section included
on Voyager's Golden Record)
Igor StravinskyThe Rite of Spring - Part 1
section 2 of 7: Augers of Spring (end)
49:49 - 50:50
?? Vangelis???Comet Movement? - The Big Burn
(dark string/pad w. loud crash)
Gavin BryarsThe Sinking of the Titanic
(bit with piano plunkiness)
50:44 - 51:46
Franz LisztTotentanz51:45 - 54:33
VangelisEntends Chiens #2 - Ancient Angles
Dmitri ShostakovichSymph. 11 Mvmt. 1 - "The Palace Square", part An/aCosmos Update
VangelisEntends-Tu Les Chiens Aboyer? #1 Himalaya continues...end credits
VangelisComet 16n/aCollector's Edition 2000 Credits

This documentary has become available on DVD.
Cosmos - by Carl Sagan: A Personal Voyage

13 hour-long episodes, 1980



Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


Read the data capsule review for the next episode: "Blues for a Red Planet"

Home Page Site Map Sci-Fi Astronomy "The Universe" "Cosmos" Episode Guide Catalogue