The Outer Planets

The Universe
Season 1
14 episodes
See below for purchasing options
DVD & Blu-ray
"The Universe" episode no. 11 (season 1)
  • written and directed by Colin Campbell
  • additional writing by producer Brittany Graham
  • edited by Takayuki Fujiwara and Gina Vecchione
  • science consultants Dr. Michael Mischna and Dr. Henry Throop

  • 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 attempts to cover a lot of ground, hopping from planet to planet to planet, and though it gets into a lot of good stuff, it ends up being a bit more of a rush job than the episodes for Mars, Jupiter, or Saturn.

Pluto is up first, as we are teased with the question of why it is no longer considered a planet. Some of its differences from the other eight planets are highlighted as we dig into its composition and properties. We also learn why we didn't yet have any really good photos of it by 2007.

The episode takes a twist as Mike Brown is revealed as the man who discovered Eris in 2005. The similarities between Eris and Pluto, plus discovery of many more similar objects in the same space (Haumea, Makemake, 2007 OR10, to name a few) caused the International Astronomical Union to vote these objects into a new class called "Dwarf Planets". Footage of this vote is here in the episode. Many of the details of Eris are also explored here. Mention is also made of Ceres - the largest asteroid in the "Maldek" belt between Mars and Jupiter - which now also joins this new crowd of dwarf planets.

Just over half-way through, we switch to the gas giant Uranus, and as the details of its composition and properties come out, we learn why it has the most serene weather of all of the gas giants in our solar system. Both the original discovery of the planet, and its faint rings (very beautifully rendered in CGI), are recounted here. The episode is disappointingly light in talking about the planet's moons though, skipping over the four to five big ones, and instead talking about the little ones with crazy orbits. In particular, Michael Mischna suspects that the moons Cupid and Belinda orbit so closely that they may one day collide.

Neptune gets a solid segment as its composition and properties, which are quite different from Uranus, help us theorize as to why it has the fastest winds in the solar system, and why these winds wouldn't be much good at turning windmills. Also getting its due in screentime is Neptune's moon Triton, as we learn why it is one of the coldest places in the solar system, and how that defines the conditions there.

At the very end, it is emphasized that we know relatively little about these planets because we have not yet explored them in any great depth with automated probes and spacecraft, as Cassini continues to do for Saturn. Although Pluto may finally get its due via the New Horizons spacecraft due to arrive in 2015, Ed Stone adds his voice to those pushing for missions to Uranus and Neptune as well. "We could, with Voyager, where we just had a brief fly-by and we managed to collect a lot of discovery, but in fact we need to get back to pursue those discoveries."

Chapter Breakdown:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Case for Pluto
  3. The Man Who Demoted Pluto
  4. Cool Blue Uranus
  5. Windswept Neptune
  6. Moons of Neptune

Participants include:

Mike Brown


discoverer of Eris in 2005

Dr. Henry Throop

Southwest Research Institute

Leslie Young

Southwest Research Institute

Dr. Michael Mischna

Jet Propulsion Laboratory researcher

studies what drives weather on other planets

Dr. David Grinspoon

Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Ed Stone

CALTECH / Jet Propulsion Laboratory

former director of NASA / JPL

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The Universe
Season 1 Box Set
14 episodes



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Read the data capsule review for another episode: "Search for E.T."

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