Mercury & Venus: The Inner Planets

The Universe
Season 1
14 episodes
See below for purchasing options
DVD & Blu-ray
"The Universe" episode no. 7 (season 1)
  • written and produced by Andrew Holland
  • directed by executive producer Louis C. Tarantino
  • additional writing by Jason Coffee
  • edited by Gina Vecchione and Kevin Browne

  • narrated by Erik Thompson
  • Original Music by Eric Amdahl
  • Flight 33 Productions, (c) 2007 A & E TV Networks
  • 1 documentary @ 44 minutes

Data Capsule Review

by Martin Izsak

This episode covers two planets, both in the innermost orbits of the solar system, and manages to keep the exploration of both of them quite interesting and satisfying.

Venus occupies the first half of the episode's screentime. We start with a short list of the planet's similarities to Earth, which quickly end after the most fundamental basics like mass, size, and orbital conditions. A theory is offered for the planet's reverse direction of spin, while we learn of its shorter year, and its 8-month-long days. The episode doesn't say whether tidal "braking" from the sun's gravity has influenced this slower spin as well.

Much is made of the greenhouse effect on Venus's extreme heat, and the episode proceeds to detail the surface conditions, geological and volcanic activity, atmospheric composition, and the nature of the constant lightning on Venus. Yes, this is a wicked place, as the lively graphics and sound make abundantly clear.

The second segment is a fairly deep exploration of lava in general... what makes it common to all inner planets of our solar system, and what is unique about the composition, texture, and flow properties of lava on Venus. Also briefly covered are some of Venus's other features, such as mountains and gorges called "cannali", as well as the highly reflective properties of its clouds.

Now half-way though the episode, the third segment switches over to the planet Mercury. Here we get a quick run-through of its basic properties, with its year being shorter than its day, causing a wide difference in surface temperatures from the day-side to the night-side... and apparently tidal-braking IS in effect here to an extent. Mercury's low mass is also thought to be a principle factor causing it to become geologically inert so long ago. Much time is spent looking at the heavy impact cratering on its surface, including what may be the largest crater in the solar system.

The fourth segment looks at Meteor Crater in Arizona, and how it is typical for Mercury in particular and planets throughout the solar system in general. We also examine the mystery of ice within Mercury's polar craters.

The final segment postulates that volcanic activity must have also played a minor role on Mercury. Scientists expect "cinder-cone" volcanoes, such as the ones shown in the Arizona cow pasture, to be much flatter and wider on Mercury. We also hear about the frustration caused when 1974's Mariner 10 flyby mission only mapped about 45% of the surface of Mercury, and scientists had to wait decades for the Messenger probe to go back and finish the job.

Robert G. Strom:
"I want to see the other side. I don't know what's over there ...and that's been bugging me for over 35 years!"

Chapter Breakdown:

  1. Introduction
  2. Earth's Twin Venus
  3. Exploring the Surface
  4. The Terrains of Mercury
  5. Site of Impact
  6. Volcanic Heritage

Participants include:

Robert G. Strom

University of Arizona

Dr. David Grinspoon

Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Adam Showman

Planetary Scientist, University of Arizona

predicts wind speeds and weather on extra-solar planets

Meers Oppenheim

Boston University

Jeff Sutton

U.S. Geological Survey

Jeffrey Byrnes

U.S. Geological Survey

David Kring

Lunar & Planetary Institute
...and one very opinionated cow!

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Read the data capsule review for the next episode: "Saturn: Lord of the Rings"

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