I’ve been enjoying ‘Wonders of the Solar System’ because of Professor Brain Cox’s enthusiasm for science, for his relish of the great things we have achieved in throwing spacecraft millions of miles out to expand the frontier of human knowledge. It’s been good to see some of the newer pictures from that frontier and of course to see the superb graphics created. The program hasn’t really told me anything I don’t know – it’s really a Solar System basics class for those unaware of things like the order of the planets or how many planet Earths you could drop into Jupiter’s red spot, or generally what conditions pertain on each world. But it has seemed to be a return to the good BBC science program untainted by political ideology.
I mean, at one time I used to love Attenborough’s Life on Earth programs, but now I cannot watch them without feeling the urge to throw something at the TV when he delivers his regular-as-clockwork homilies about how we are destroying the planet with our profligate globally warming ways.
The first few episodes of Wonders of the Solar System remained pure enthusiasm and science so I watched with some trepidation when I realised this latest episode was about the ‘thin blue line’ – about planetary atmospheres. I enjoyed the stuff about Mercury’s lack of atmosphere leaving it open to direct meteorite collisions and vast temperature changes, the stuff about Earth’s magnetosphere protecting it from the solar wind and how deep in Jupiter the pressure turns hydrogen into a metallized liquid. But then, with the inevitability of tax rises on petrol, booze and cigarettes, we got to the greenhouse effect, and Venus.
Cox gave a brief description of how the greenhouse effect works, perhaps annoying the faithful by pointing out how without it we would be freezing our butts of in temperatures 30 degrees lower than they are now. He then went on to say that the temperature on the surface of that world is hot enough to melt lead, apparently because of its CO2-laden atmosphere. I was there rooting for Cox because he did seem a little embarrassed to be mentioning this, and I was hoping he would also go on to point out some of the rather large elephants in the room.. But no, all we got was some nonsense about Venus being in the same ‘region’ of space as Earth. Rather disappointing really.
No mention then of how Venus being 26 million miles closer to a giant fusion reactor called the sun might have some bearing on its temperature. No mention how a ground level pressure of 93 times that of Earth’s might have an effect too, or that Venus receives over a thousand Watts per square metre more solar radiation than Earth. Nope, it’s all those Venusian coal-fired power stations.
I like to think that this was the minimum deal with the Devil Cox could make to ensure he would present the program. I like to think this was the minimum he could say to calm the political demagogues at the BBC so as to enable him to zip off to Africa to experience an English Electric Lightning jet flight straight up at 5 gees to the limits of the atmosphere to observe that ‘thin blue line’, or race across the Namib in a 4x4 to do a small piece about the sands of Mars, or race a speed boat across a lake to gather up some methane whilst talking about Saturn’s moon, Titan.
Anyway, I’ll continue watching the program, and just hope that the homilies are out of the way…