[Alien] Moons

Season 1
DVD box set
8 episodes
See below for purchasing options
DVD & Blu-ray
"How the Universe Works" episode no. 8 (season 1)
  • script editor Ed Fields
  • directed by Shaun Trevisick
  • edited by Alex Archer, Steve Brown, and Steve 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

Overall, this documentary is a fairly satisfying overview of the variety of moons in our solar system - possibly the best episode of the first season.

Drs. Chris McKay, Amanda Hendrix, Dan Durda, and Carolyn Porco all give fascinating bits of information on various aspects of specific moons, and hold viewer attention well. McKay even explains and demonstrates his recreating of tholins in the lab, just as they would be created on the cold outer moons, and McKay's exuberance towards the process is infectious.

Other highlights include the geological contrast demonstrated here between Ganymede and Callisto, the very detailed graphic trajectory of Cruithne that aptly shows why it's only considered an "almost second moon" of Earth, and the various New Millennium discoveries of the Cassini probe as it investigates Saturn's rings and moons.

The Theia Impact theory of the creation of Earth's moon is also detailed, including corroborating experiments, but somehow this turned out to be less captivating than much of the other material. A much better presentation can be found in the season 4 episode of "The Universe" called "The Day the Moon Was Gone", in which Dr. William Hartmann gives a much better interview, and the theory is fleshed out much more fully.

Once again, the narration is a bit stuck on trying to be too spellbound with simple concepts. It's important to recap the accretion concept early in this episode in order to understand the examples and specifics that the scientists discuss later on, but since accretion was covered extensively in previous episodes, the narration's "oh, this is so awesome, it must be the answer to everything" style is a bit over the top. Our minds are inquiring, not supplicating!

I often find myself wishing the narration would get out of the way and let the scientists take over more on this series. At least, in this episode, it does feel like that happens quite often, and our tour of the solar system's moons feels quite rich and full by the time it is all over. Definitely one of the best episodes in this series.

Moons detailed include:

  • geological contrast of Ganymede and Callisto
  • Io
  • Europa
  • Saturn's rings (technically billions of moons)
  • Phobos and Deimos as captured asteroids with destabilizing orbits
  • Cruithne, wannabe 2nd moon of Earth (discovered 1986)
  • Triton
  • The Theia impact theory of the creation of Earth's moon
  • Enceladus
  • Titan, and Cassini's Huygens landing probe

This episode gives us one of the most memorable quotes ever from
Dr. Chris McKay, Astrobiologist:
"There may be more habitable moons in our galaxy than there are habitable planets. ...I'm for moons; you can keep the planets."

Narrator: "In 2005, the Cassini probe spotted ice volcanoes erupting from the surface of Enceladus."

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

Buried on the inside disc cover:

Moons come in every possible shape and size. Home to incredible natural phenomena like gigantic geysers and colossal volcanoes, moons also offer perhaps the best chance of finding alien life in the universe - and they probably exist in the billions.

Participants include:

Dr. Chris McKay

NASA Ames Research Center

spent over 25 years decoding the origin of life on Earth in order to find it elsewhere.

Dr. Amanda Hendrix

Planetary Scientist
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Dr. Dan Durda


Dr. Carolyn Porco

Planetary Scientist

Dr. David Grinspoon

Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Dr. William K. Hartmann

Planetary Scientist

part of the team that came up with the idea that the moon formed from a giant impact.

Prof. Peter Schultz

Impact Specialist,
NASA Vertical Gun Range

tests the Theia impact theory in the lab.

This documentary has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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Cross over to the series "Cosmos" for the premiere episode: "The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean"

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