[Alien] Solar Systems

Season 1
DVD box set
8 episodes
See below for purchasing options
DVD & Blu-ray
"How the Universe Works" episode no. 7 (season 1)
  • script editor Ed Fields
  • directed by Lorne Townend
  • edited by Roy Gilbert
  • consultant Nigel Henbest

  • narrated by Mike Rowe
  • music by Richard Blair-Oliphant
  • Pioneer Productions, (c) 2010 Discovery Communications, LLC
  • 1 documentary @ 43 minutes

Data Capsule Review

by Martin Izsak

The DVD packaging and menus label this episode as "Alien Solar Systems", but the on-screen title is just "Solar Systems".

"This is how solar systems work." Narrator Mike Rowe immediately introduces this episode in a way that disappoints those of us who are eager to learn about solar systems outside our own, and instead sets the episode up to be a long talk about what an orbit is, drawn out to 45 minutes. Holy mackerel, they really don't know where their audience's interest lies! And their packaging seems to have made a promise on which their episode can't deliver.

However, the episode turns out to be not too bad as it continues, and in the end proves to be more fascinating than episode 5 "Planets". Interesting topics discussed include Pluto's demotion from its prior status as a planet, and what the rest of the Kuiper Belt is.

There is also a really fascinating speculation about Uranus and Neptune swapping places after their formation.

The section about Jupiter acting as a bodyguard for the inner planets against rogue objects is neat, but surely Jupiter wouldn't be in just the right position in its orbit to shield us 80% of the time or so, which never seems to get addressed anytime this idea comes up anywhere.

Sadly, this episode is VERY thin on information about exoplanets, despite interviewing some of the foremost authorities on the subject. The Gliese 581 system is mentioned, and reported as being only 20 light-years away. It is said here to have four rocky planets, and the episode gets excited about two of them, but it won't ever denote which is which while doing so. Very confusing, as I have a chart on my computer from 2010 listing 6 planets in the Gliese 581 system, all orbiting closer than Earth does to its sun. No other specific extrasolar system other than Gliese 581 is mentioned anywhere in the episode. Fairly disappointing.

As this program was made, the year was 2010, and the exoplanet count had gone over 420, up 20 from 2 episodes ago.

Buried on the inside disc cover:

Is our solar system unique? Since the first discovery of a planet orbiting another star, some 280 alien solar systems have been identified. It's only by looking at solar systems far beyond our own that we can understand how remarkable our universe is.

Participants include:

Geoff Marcy

Astronomer, Exoplanet Locator
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.

Dr. Michelle Thaller

Astronomer, NASA / CALTECH

Dr. Phil Plait


Dr. Hal Levison

Planetary Scientist

Stanley Love


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Read the data capsule review for the next episode: "[Alien] Moons"

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