Story: After decades of space exploration and scientific breakthroughs, the vast expanse of space remains one of the frontiers that humans have barely touched. But the progression from the first space voyage to the launch of specialized exploration missions has been beyond remarkable, as have the discoveries made from the images and data recovered. In The Planets, we’re given the ground tour of our solar system and given in depth looks at the planets and regions within. And who better to be our guides than those who made these incredible missions possible, as they reveal not only the secrets unlocked, but the backstories on the missions themselves. This are the stories of the planets of our solar system and the historic trips we have taken to learn about them.
Entertainment Value: I love space documentaries, so I watched this five episode series in one sitting and was never bored in the slightest. I should mention this was originally a BBC production narrated by Brian Cox, while a version that aired as part of PBS’ NOVA series made some slight edits and is narrated by Zachary Quinto. This material is so interesting and rich with depth, you can’t go wrong either way, but if you need to choose, I’d lean toward the BBC version if possible. But regardless, make sure you don’t miss this series, whichever version you choose. The five episodes kick off with The Inner Worlds, a look at Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, with a focus on the distant pasts of each planet, when they were quite different. You learn about missions launched to explore the non Earth planets, which I found to be beyond fascinating. Mercury is such an interesting planet, but Venus tends to steal the show, especially how it was thought to be perhaps a tropical planet, only to be revealed as a hellscape. Those two planets were highlights for me and while there is some Mars information in this episode, there is much more in the second episode, which focuses on Mars. A good deal of time is taken to look at how Mars might have been an Earth like planet at one point. I loved the images from the planet exploration missions in these first two episodes, plus all the insights on the missions.
The third episode takes us to the biggest planet in the solar system, Jupiter and I loved this episode, such an information rich experience. In addition to the images and data from exploration missions, we learn about how Jupiter helped shape the entire solar system and how it interacts with the other planets, super interesting stuff. A special focus is placed on how Jupiter and Saturn interact with each other, as well as Jupiter’s role in protecting and harming other planets (including Earth) and I was just mesmerized, it all seems so wild and ethereal. The fourth episode takes us to Saturn and of course, the rings are explored in immense detail, but also so much more. I love the Voyager mission and while I had just watched a piece on that mission, but I still found a lot of insights here. How the data was gathered was so interesting, as well as how that data was used to unlock so much knowledge. Saturn is simply a gorgeous planet and I loved hearing all about it here. The final episode covers The Ice Worlds, with Uranus and Neptune on tap, as well as Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects. This is an almost surreal episode to watch, as the edge of the solar system is explored and we see the planets and objects documented in great detail for the first time, thanks to historic missions. I had an absolute blast with The Planets and if you have even a casual interest in space or science, this is highly recommended.