OU on the BBC: The Cosmos: A Beginner's Guide: About the series

The Open University has never been afraid of the big stories - and with The Cosmos: A Beginner's Guide it takes on the biggest of them all: The universe.

By: The OpenLearn team (Programme and web teams)

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Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Adam Hart Davis rhs Copyrighted image Copyright: The Open University

In these six programmes Adam Hart-Davis, Janet Sumner and Maggie Aderin visit the spectacular places where the exploration of the universe is being pushed to new limits.

They include the world’s biggest experiment, the Californian observatory at the centre of the search for ET, and the biggest telescope in the world, high in Chile’s Atacama desert, seeing the most distant things in the universe.

The Cosmos: A Beginner’s Guide asks big questions about the universe: How was it made? Are we alone? What’s the furthest thing we can see? Is there another earth somewhere? Where is the most exciting place to explore?

In each programme, we take on one huge idea, and head for the place most likely to provide an answer.

To find out how far we can see, we visit the Very Large Telescope, high in Chile’s Atacama Desert. It is a barren and spectacular location, but the very best place in the world to see the universe.

To answer the question: Are we alone? Adam drove into the wilds of Northern California, to the Allen Telescope Array, the new nerve centre of the hunt for extra terrestrial intelligence. If humans are going to hear from ET, our first 24 hour a day, 7 day a week alien hunting machine is where the message is likely to arrive.

Maggie Aderin, Adam Hart-Davis and Janet Sumner - Cosmos presenters Copyrighted image Copyright: The Open University

How do you build a universe? Join the 7,000 scientists trying to do just that, ramming tiny particles together at nearly the speed of light. Buried 100 metres under Geneva, this machine aims to create conditions not seen since the Big Bang, releasing particles that were present at the very start of the universe.

Does our planet have a twin - is there another Earth? The search for other worlds takes Adam to the peak of La Palma in the Canary Islands, to meet the team finding distant planets beyond the solar system. For now they can only find giant planets bigger than Jupiter – but how long will it be before they find another one like ours?

A trip to Leicester attempts to find out just how dangerous is the universe. There, an amazing new spacecraft will home in on the biggest bangs since the Big Bang, but also finds signs of violence much closer to home on the sun and the moon.

The final question, as ever, is what next? The programme is based at Europe’s space exploration HQ near Amsterdam, and investigates how astronauts will get to Mars – and how they’d survive once they got there – as well as finding out about Voyager, the first bit of man-made hardware to leave the Solar System, and new ways of getting into space without a rocket.

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