Want to get a head start on a mind-bending TV miniseries about space, time and the multiverse? There's an app for that.
Eight years after PBS aired "The Elegant Universe," a series based on Columbia physicist Brian Greene's best-selling book about string theory, the public-TV network is gearing up for the sequel. "The Fabric of the Cosmos," a four-parter from the "Nova" documentary team, focuses on the mysteries surrounding all the cosmic stuff that surrounds us.
The show premieres on Nov. 2, and it'll be streamed on PBS' video website — but if you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch and are of a mind to download the PBS app, you can watch the first hour right now.
"Brian Greene's 'The Fabric of the Cosmos' is an amazing journey into some truly astounding theories of our universe," Jason Seiken, senior vice president for interactive, product development and innovation, said today in a news release. "On mobile, viewers get a sneak preview of the series' futuristic concepts and graphics leading up to the broadcast premiere and can continue their scientific exploration throughout the series."
It's been seven years since book version of "The Fabric of the Cosmos" was published, but the theme of the TV show is basically the same: Everything you know about space and time just might be wrong.
"We really see how our understanding of space and time from Newton until today has gone through remarkable changes," Greene told me back in 2004, "and most importantly, how so many things that we have in our intuition about space and time, their properties and so forth, are just not true to how the world actually works."
For example, consider space. Most of the universe is made up of empty space, and I'm not just talking about outer space. During the program, Greene uses computer graphics to bring the point home: If you could remove all the empty space from New York's Empire State Building, you would be left with a clump of smashed-together subatomic particles that was no bigger than a grain of rice — but still weighed hundreds of millions of pounds.
Greene isn't the only one gob-smacked by the weirdness of the space-time continuum. During the program, University of Maryland physicist S. James Gates says the nature of space "is one of the deepest mysteries in physics."
During the course of the miniseries, Greene manages to work in some of the ideas from "The Hidden Reality," the book that came after "The Fabric of the Cosmos." The last episode dwells on the concept of the multiverse — the idea that our universe might be just one of the myriads of cosmic bubbles floating in an larger extradimensional reality. Some of those bubbles might even be exactly like the one we inhabit — except, perhaps, that I'm the brainy physicist and Brian Greene is the befuddled journalist.
In this cosmic bubble, Greene and his brainy friends are planning lots of activities tied to the series. The World Science Festival, "Nova" and Columbia University have set up a special screening of the opening episode at 9 p.m. ET Nov. 2 at Columbia's Miller Theatre. After the show, the World Science Festival is planning a live webcast of a conversation with Greene and other guests, including newly named Nobel laureate Saul Perlmutter.
"Nova" has also teamed up with the American Society of Physics Students to create a special series of science cafes, focusing on the out-of-this-world ideas raised by "The Fabric of the Cosmos." Check out this map to find the nearest Cosmic Cafe. Maybe I'll see you at the Seattle event.
More about space, time and the multiverse:
- What? Could our universe be just one of many?
- Probe confirms that we live in a space-time warp
- Interactive: Looking beyond the big bang
- Can we dodge the arrow of time?
- Physics prize highlights cosmic puzzles
- Physicist introduces you to 'The Hidden Reality'
- YouTube: Brian Greene at New York Comic Con
Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter or adding me to a circle on Google+. And for something completely different, check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.