The Hunt for Ringed Planets

The Universe
Season 4
12 episodes
See below for purchasing options
DVD & Blu-ray
"The Universe" episode no. 49 (season 4)
  • written and produced by Frank Kosa
  • directed by Douglas J. Cohen
  • edited by Tom Ronca, R.L. Shontel, Gerard San Gemino, Katie Smith, and Lilly Posner
  • science consultant Dr. Alex Filippenko

  • narrated by Erik Thompson
  • Main Title Theme and Original Music by Eric Amdahl
  • Flight 33 Productions, (c) 2009 A & E TV Networks
  • 1 documentary @ 45 minutes

Data Capsule Review

by Martin Izsak

This documentary begins with a great deal of appreciation for Saturn's rings, including their initial discovery by Galileo in 1610, the mystery of why they seem to occasionally disappear, and the new close-up views Mankind has had of them via our automated spacecraft - revealing the many different bands and other specific features. Regular contributor Laura Danly goes cattle-herding on a farm to demonstrate the way that Saturn's moons Prometheus and Pandora herd the rings' particles with their gravity. Greg Laughlin also goes to a pizza kitchen to demonstrate the way disc shapes naturally form from material propelled into a circular motion.

Also detailed is the over 350 year struggle to detect rings around another planet, and exactly how we came to discover the rings of Uranus. The dark nature of these rings is explored with satisfying detail. With renewed excitement, the search to definitively prove whether other planets have rings or not heats up with discussion of Jupiter's smoke ring, examinations of Neptune, Mars, and Pluto, and even the sun itself.

The possibility that unspecified, newly discovered exoplanets might have rings is discussed, as is the remote possibility that we might detect those rings with the star-transit method.

Finally, we look at the technological ring Man has placed around the Earth, consisting of GPS and other satellites, and how this is becoming a crowded and dangerous space. Not quite as detailed here as in the season 3 "Edge of Space" episode, but a nice reminder of the subject matter nonetheless.

All in all, this is a fun episode, full of cool information, and one of the fourth season's better entries.

from the disc sleeve:

The Hunt for Ringed Planets:
What are the physics that form the amazing phenomenon of planetary rings? From Saturn to Neptune (a little-known fact: it has rings that were only recently discovered) and out into the realm of extrasolar planets, we explore the science behind the most beautiful planets in the sky.

Chapter List:

  1. Introduction
  2. Saturn
  3. How Rings Form
  4. Uranus and Jupiter
  5. Neptune
  6. Pluto

Participants include:

Laura Danly

Curator of the
Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

Alex Filippenko

Astronomer, supernova hunter
University of California, Berkeley

regular science consultant to
"The Universe" series.

Greg Laughlin

University of California, Santa Cruz

creates computer models of solar systems such as Alpha Centauri

Jeff Cuzzi

NASA Ames Research Center

Jack Lissauer

NASA Ames Research Center

Mark Showalter

NASA Ames Research Center

Fiorella Terenzi

Author, "Heavenly Knowledge"

This documentary has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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The Universe
Season 4 Box Set
12 episodes



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Read the data capsule review for another episode: "Liquid Universe"

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