Today we conclude our visit through my favorite PBS Digital Studio offerings, in honor of the one-year anniversary of PBS Idea Channel, with a look at the recently launched It's Okay To Be Smart based on the great blog of the same name. Through the witty episodes we'll learn about the Auroras, why the sky is blue, and lastly, the odds of finding life and love.
Space might seem like an empty place, but the area surrounding Earth is constantly being bombarded by waves of charged particles released by the Sun: The solar wind. Luckily, thanks to Earth's swirling, molten core (and the magnetic field it provides), we are protected from this planet-sterilizing onslaught like an invisible force field.
All that science has a beautiful side effect: It makes the auroras! The Northern and Southern lights are the result of the solar wind and its dance with Earth's magnetic field and polar atmosphere. It's Earth's own cosmic light show!
Why is the sky blue? It's a question that you'd think kids have been asking for thousands of years, but it might not be that old at all. The ancient Greek poet Homer never used a word for blue in The Odyssey or The Iliad, because blue is one of the last colors that cultures pick out a word for.
In this episode, I'll tell you not only why the sky is blue, but why it's red at sunset. It turns out, those colors are all part of the same sunbeam. And when you're looking at a blue sky, you could be sharing a special moment with someone thousands of miles away. Next time a kid (or the kid inside you) wants to know why the sky is blue, you'll have science to back you up!
(We know that the Earth turns the wrong direction in the animation, sorry about that. Something weird happened when we were programming the animation and it got reversed. Or maybe time travel!)
Love is a complicated combination of brain chemicals and behavior that scientists are only just beginning to figure out. And it's remarkable that in every society that we have looked at on Earth, romantic love exists. So if love is so universal, and there are 7 billion other people out there looking for it, why can it seem like it's so hard to find?
In this episode, we'll look at what we can learn about the search for love from the search for extraterrestrial life. We'll start with Enrico Fermi's paradox of why we haven't been contacted by any extraterrestrials yet, and then at Frank Drake's equation to estimate the number of civilizations that might exist in our galaxy (updated with current numbers). Finally, we'll meet a young lady named Ann and see if we can calculate how many special someones there might be out there for her. It's a cosmic love story!