Search for E.T.

The Universe
Season 1
14 episodes
See below for purchasing options
DVD & Blu-ray
"The Universe" episode no. 13 (season 1)
  • written and directed by Tony Long
  • edited by Kevin Browne with Kyle Yaskin

  • 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

Here's an episode tackling some interesting ideas and material, with mixed fortunes. Most of it is really good and fascinating, but it does go off course and get stuck before the end....

The first segment tackles the question of what it would take for life as we understand it to arise on our planet or any other. Much emphasis is placed on the chemical building blocks of life, and what the Miller-Urey experiment proved about the ease in creating those blocks throughout the universe. Unique bits include brief descriptions and photos of who Miller and Urey were, while this documentary pays much homage to Dr. Carl Sagan and his Cosmos series, particularly its second episode. In fact, it often seems to be using some of the same footage from Cosmos #2 for the experiment, and of course extrapolating the concept of the Jupiter creatures presented at that episode's end. However, Robert Hurt pursues the idea of one of those creatures to a much greater extent, and with some gorgeous new CGI footage of his "floaters". These details are really cool, and the concept is worth checking out.

Segment two is devoted to the possibility of life on Jupiter's moon Europa. We get details on the huge volume of water making up the ocean that scientists believe lies beneath its icy crust, and we learn the length of a Europan day. Dr. Richard Greenberg shares his educated speculation on the various components of a possible ecosystem, deriving energy from both photosynthesis and thermal venting, while also suspecting that Human space probes may not need to drill through the icy crust to find solid evidence of life.

Segment three shifts to Saturn's giant moon Titan. Scientists speculate on both very exotic hydro-carbon based life on its extremely cold surface, and on more familiar water-based life living hundreds of kilometers deep under its surface. The episode presents many of the challenges our space probes are faced with in getting good photos and information from this moon, including the limits of Cassini-Huygens.

The fourth segment allows Seth Shostak to make his case for SETI's efforts to discover alien life via radio. Interestingly, we actually see the set-up of one array of automated radio-telescopes that Shostak's team is using. Although I don't have much faith that radio will be the medium through which scientists finally get their big "Aha!" confirmation, it seems the SETI program could get a big boost in its effectiveness by narrowing its search with all the newly available data on exoplanets around other stars. We have a much better understanding now where the Earth-type planets may be.

The episode takes a left turn and goes way off-topic for its final segment, as Ray Kurzweil makes a thin case for our own technological advances in computing to make us all want to become cyborgs. Who's he kidding? Does anyone in the audience WANT to do that stuff to themselves? There's a LOT he's not taking into account surrounding biology and metaphysical beliefs that will make most people leave his ideas collecting dust on a shelf, not bought, not funded. As Luke Skywalker's uncle said to the Jawa salesman, "Hey, whatcha trying to push on us?"

Would Humanity's first contact be with a cyborg or completely robotic species instead of a purely biological one? I think that idea presumes that the aliens haven't been here before, don't know what to expect, and so their probes and machinery arrive first to better handle an environment hostile to their natural selves. I see no reason to hold my breath for that, and it's certainly not an effective way to quickly dismiss evidence of U.F.O. reports or Zeta-Reticuli-types of species that have surfaced in recent decades. What if a proper two-way contact big enough to make it through the major news media had the aliens acknowledging on some level that either they or their ancestors had been here long ago influencing both our ancient history and our creation, and have been here many times again more recently? The real question may be for us to feel psychologically ready to acknowledge the evidence already at our feet and our fingertips. A retroactive "first contact" seems the most likely to me. Aliens who have been here before are more likely to show up first, and/or pass notes along to any other species who might want to approach us for the first time....

However, that's not to diminish the joy we could have the first time we, by proxy through our probes, go somewhere else in the universe and say, "Hey, there are indigenous microbes and algae here! We've found life!" This episode has put most of its screentime and effort into that scientifically safe idea, and is a very interesting success because of it.

Participants include:

Robert Hurt

Visualization Scientist,
NASA Spitzer Space Telescope

Adam Showman

Planetary Scientist, University of Arizona

predicts wind speeds and weather on extra-solar planets

Dr. Richard Greenberg

University of Arizona

author of "Europa, the Ocean Moon"

Tom Spilker


Dr. Seth Shostak

Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute
Regular Radio/Podcast Host

Rosaly Lopes


Ray Kurzweil

author of "The Singularity is Near"

with a photo and quote from the late

Dr. Carl Sagan

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

Chapter Breakdown:
  1. Introduction
  2. Life's Basic Chemistry
  3. Europa
  4. Titan
  5. Radio Waves
  6. Intelligent Machines

This documentary has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Click on the amazon symbol for your area to open amazon's page in a new window and see additional product information before purchasing.

The Universe
Season 1 Box Set
14 episodes



Standard DVD
for the U.K.

More info

Blu-ray U.S.

Blu-ray Canada

Blu-ray U.K.

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: "Beyond the Big Bang"

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