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OU on the BBC: Light and Dark – Light

Updated Monday 18th November 2013

Professor Jim Al-Khalili tells the story of how we used light to reveal the cosmos.

Recreating Galileo's telescope with two lenses Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC Recreating Galileo's telescope with a pair of lenses The first in a two-part series about our quest to discover, understand and manipulate light and dark.

The story of how we used light to reveal the cosmos begins in the 3rd century BC when, by trying to understand the tricks of perspective, the Greek mathematician Euclid discovered that light travels in straight lines, a discovery that meant that if we could change its path we could change how we see the world.

In Renaissance Italy 2,000 years later, Galileo Galilei did just that by using the lenses of his simple telescope to reveal our true place in the cosmos.

With each new insight into the nature of light came a fresh understanding of the cosmos.

It has allowed us to peer deep into space and even revealed the composition and lifecycles of the stars.

In the 1670s, the Danish astronomer Ole Roemer discovered that light travelled at a finite speed, a discovery that had a profound implication.

It meant the further one looks out into the universe, the further one looks back in time.

And in 1964, by detecting the cosmic microwave background, the afterglow of the big bang, we captured the oldest light in the universe and saw as far back as its possible to see with light.

Light and Dark on BBC Four

You can watch the first episode of Light and Dark on Monday 18 November at 9:00pm on BBC Four. Further information, including details of repeats and how to watch on the iPlayer, can be found on the BBC website.

 

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