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astronomy, Documentaries

Death Dive to Saturn

YEAR: 2017 | LENGTH: 1 part (54 minutes)  |  SOURCE: PBS

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Almost everything we know today about the beautiful giant ringed planet comes from Cassini, the NASA mission that launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. Since then, the space probe has been beaming home miraculous images and scientific data, revealing countless wonders about the planet, its rings and 62 moons – including some that could harbor life. As the mission approaches its final days in 2017, it attempts one last set of daring maneuvers – diving between the innermost ring and the top of Saturn’s atmosphere. Aiming to skim less than 2000 miles above the cloud tops, no spacecraft has ever gone so close to Saturn, and hopes are high for incredible observations that could solve major mysteries about the planet’s core. But such a daring maneuver comes with many risks and is no slam dunk. In fact, slamming into rocks in the rings is a real possibility. Join NASA engineers for the tense and triumphant moments as they find out if their bold re-programming has worked, and discover the wonders that Cassini has revealed over the years.

Documentaries, nature

Saving the Dead Sea

YEAR: 2019 | LENGTH: 1 part (54 minutes)  |  SOURCE: PBS

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Since 1976, the Dead Sea’s level has dropped more than 100 feet, leaving its coastline pockmarked with thousands of sinkholes. NOVA follows the unprecedented endeavor to connect the Red Sea to the Dead Sea by way of a massive desalination plant – perhaps the world’s largest water chemistry experiment – as scientists race to save the Dead Sea and bring water to one of the driest regions on Earth.

Documentaries, nature

Behind Russia’s Frozen Curtain

YEAR: 2015 | LENGTH: 1 part (44 minutes)  |  SOURCE: NATGEO

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Explore the stark landscape, frigid sea, and wild animals in one of the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth. National Geographic Pristine Seas Explorer-in-residence Enric Sala leads a group of scientists on the first international scientific expedition to Franz Josef Land. His team works with Russia’s most formidable biologists, geomorphologists and ornithologists to understand how climate change is affecting this remote ecosystem. From diving in subzero temperatures to running away from polar bears to avoiding titanic icebergs, the Pristine Seas team faces some of its most dangerous challenges to date. Produced by National Geographic Studios

Documentaries, nature

Dogs in the Land of Lions

YEAR: 2018 | LENGTH: 1 part (53 minutes)  |  SOURCE: PBS

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Filmed over two years by cinematographer Kim Wolhuter (Nature: The Cheetah Children), NATURE takes viewers into the heart of an African wild dog family. When lions kill her mate, a wild dog mother called Puzzles suddenly must raise two generations of pups all on her own without the help of a pack. Witness the loyalty and selflessness that sets wild dogs apart from other large, social carnivores in this deeply intimate portrayal of motherhood. But in this unforgiving Zimbabwe wilderness, it turns out the top dogs are the big cats – lions are the wild dogs’ ultimate enemies. The young dogs provide some light-hearted moments while discovering the world around them, but as they grow up, they must face these eternal enemies on their journey to independence.

astronomy, Documentaries

Journey to an Alien Moon

YEAR: 2010 | LENGTH: 1 part (50 minutes)  |  SOURCE: NATGEO

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Europa – an icy moon of Jupiter 485 million miles away from Earth – may be our best hope for finding alien life in our solar system. Everywhere we find water on Earth, we find life. What does this mean for the search for life beyond Earth? Scientists believe that on Europa there is a liquid ocean buried beneath its icy crust. To find out if this alien ocean holds life, well need to get there, penetrate the ice shell, and navigate in an alien sea. In this episode of Explorer, well plunge headlong into the challenges of discovery on an alien world. Well meet the scientists, adventurers, and engineers who are determined to launch a mission to Europa – and follow them through the challenges, frustrations, and triumphs that come with planning a distant mission to an alien world. Through high-end CGI and quests to the edge of our planet, well go on a journey to and alien moon called Europa. To answer the basic question: Are we alone in the universe?

astronomy, Documentaries, geology

Volcanoes of the Solar System

YEAR: 2015 | LENGTH: 1 part (29 minutes)  |  SOURCE: BBC

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We think of volcanoes as some of the most powerful natural phenomena on earth – but they are nothing compared to the volcanoes we find elsewhere in the solar system. This month’s Sky at Night reveals the weird and wonderful world of volcanism on other planets and moons – from the giant extinct volcanoes of Mars to the tantalising possibility of continuing eruptions on Venus, and from the vast sulphur plumes of Io to the mysterious cryovolcanoes of Enceladus. An episode with the same name was broadcast in 2011.

Documentaries, nature

The River: A Year in the Life of the Tay

YEAR: 2019 | LENGTH: 1 part (89 minutes)  |  SOURCE: BBC

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Helen Macdonald traces the dramatic journey of Britain’s greatest river, the Tay, over an entire year. Mixing natural history, cutting-edge science and historical biography with a spectacular travelogue, the film is a celebration of our largest river as it transforms from melting Highland snow to a vast torrent flowing into the cold North Sea. Following the river’s course from Ben Lui in the west to Dundee in the east, Helen explores the Tay’s magical landscapes, encounters its rare and beautiful wildlife and traces the epic lifecycle of its iconic Salmon population across four spectacular seasons. Spring’s mountain glens reveal hardy lifeforms, honed for life in rushing water, from the Dipper, the world’s only swimming songbird, to a mayfly nymph that mimics the shape of a racing car’s aerofoil to withstand fast-flowing streams. Helen continues her travels with a visit to the remote Tay tributary, whose riverbed rocks led to an 18th-century man of science, James Hutton, becoming the first person to fully grasp the Earth’s true age, sparking the ‘heretical’ concept of deep time.

As spring moves into summer, Helen studies a newly introduced wild Beaver colony to see how this controversial returnee is transforming the Tay’s landscape. She also takes a fascinating look at the microscopic life that fills the sun-drenched waters in a lab where these tiny green algae are helping to answer one of life’s great questions: how multicellular bodies like ours first evolved. Autumn’s cooling air creates darker, richer waters as the Tay’s riverside trees shed millions of leaves. This huge influx of nutrients threatens to upset the delicate balance of the river’s ecosystem. But Helen meets an unlikely saviour: the unassuming freshwater pearl mussel. As winter starts to grip, Helen’s journey reaches Perth, the point where the river begins to mingle with the sea. In the brackish water downstream lies the UK’s largest reed bed, a sanctuary for one of our rarest birds, the bearded tit, a wonderful example of man and nature working together to support each other.

As the river finally becomes the North Sea beyond Dundee, Helen reflects on the extraordinary legacy of local polymath D’Arcy Thompson, whose insights a century ago revealed how simple mathematical rules can explain the complex beauty of the natural world. Interwoven with Helen’s journey downstream is the story of the Tay’s most iconic species: Atlantic salmon. The majestic king of Fish has suffered a rapid decline in recent decades. Helen will meet the river guardians striving to save these wonderful creatures, and the scientists using new technology to solve the mystery of why they are disappearing. More than just the Tay’s stunning natural and geographical highlights, Helen also seeks to understand how rivers enter our imaginations. The story of the Tay interweaves history and nature, human endeavour and misadventure, and ultimately captures how the fine balance of our complex lives is reflected in its constant winding silver thread.

biology, Documentaries, nature

Secrets of Skin

YEAR: 2019 | LENGTH: 6 parts (172 minutes in total)  |  SOURCE: BBC

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Featuring groundbreaking new science, experiments and leading scientists from a variety of disciplines, the series unravels the natural history of the body’s largest organ. Skin is an incredible, multi-function organ that science is still learning so much about. It has adapted to allow animals to conquer virtually every habitat on the planet.

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Professor Ben Garrod reveals some ground-breaking new science and amazing, specialist, factual insight as he discovers how human skin is an ecosystem in its own right, playing host to demodex mites, that might redefine our understanding of human ancestry. He explores the new science that could pave the way for re-engineering human skin on amputations to make it more robust. And he reveals how keratin, a protein that is a key component of skin and that makes up our hair and nails, has been taken to the extreme by some animals including pangolins and horses. Skin is the body’s largest organ and all vertebrates share the same basic blue print. Adaptations in the three main layers, the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutaneous fat layers have allowed vertebrates to thrive in virtually every habitat on earth.

What makes sharks built for speed? How do snakes move without limbs? How do sugar gliders fly without feathers? The answer all lies in their skin. Professor Ben Garrod uncovers the secrets of how skin has evolved to enable animals to solve some of the most remarkable challenges on earth. To do this, Ben heads to the specialist flight centre at the Royal Veterinary College to analyse the way a sugar glider uses its skin flaps to stay aloft. He goes diving with sharks at the Blue Planet Aquarium and discovers that, far from being smooth, sharkskin is incredibly rough. It is covered with thousands of tiny teeth that make a shark hydrodynamic. Ben also finds out how the keratinised scales on snakes' bellies are the perfect configuration to allow them to move over virtually any surface they encounter. Amongst many other wonders of how skin has had an impact on nature.

How does a giraffe stay cool? What are different porcupine quills teaching us about medicine? What makes some people more likely to be bitten by mosquitoes than others? All the answers and more lie in the secrets of how skin protects us from a hostile world. When it comes to protecting our delicate insides, skin is like an external suit of armour. Animals have adapted ways of protecting themselves from everything a hostile planet has to throw at them. Hippos produce their own sunscreen to protect themselves against the dangers of UV rays from the sun. Only recently discovered by science, is the truth behind a giraffe’s spots, a network of blood vessels that they use to cool themselves down in the blazing heat of the African savannah. Professor Ben Garrod discovers how. He tests the limitations of human skin by plunging himself into a deep freezer to demonstrate how human skin just isn’t well insulated enough to cope with extreme cold. He discovers how human skin is an entire ecosystem for bugs and bacteria as he comes face to face with what is growing on his skin. And he gets bitten by mosquitoes and stable flies as he learns that disease-carrying insects have evolved to pierce everything from human skin to horse hide.

Why are male mandrill faces (big bold primates from West Africa) red and blue? How are birds' feathers so colourful? What do ringtail lemurs do to talk to one another? Their skin holds the key. As Professor Ben Garrod explores how animals communicate with one another, he uncovers a myriad more wonderful ways. Skin has evolved in some remarkable ways to enable animals to communicate with each other, from vibrant displays of colour to skin pouches to amplify sound. Ben shows how animals have evolved to use skin to make themselves heard loud and clear. Birds are notable for their use of coloured feathers to attract mates, show status and as displays of aggression. But, as Ben discovers, long before birds evolved their unrivalled use of colour, it is now believed that their ancestors, the dinosaurs, could well have been using colour to communicate. Ben also uncovers how one species of fish communicates using electricity, and a common British bird has been secretly communicating for years, without us ever knowing.

What is the most toxic animal on earth? How are porcupine quills helping us in medicine? Why is a rhino armour plated, and it is not to protect them from lions? Professor Ben Garrod discovers the complex ways, from camouflage to deadly toxins, in which the skin helps defend animals against threats of all kinds. From the barbed quills of the North American porcupine to the battering ram of a rhino’s horn, the skin has developed an impressive armoury of weapons and warnings to keep predators at bay. With experiments and specialist factual insight, Professor Ben Garrod reveals the toughest and most resilient of animals defend themselves through their skin. One of the most iconic warnings in nature is that of the rattlesnake. Ben takes a teaching sample of a rattlesnake’s tail to the University of Bristol to test just how fast it can vibrate. He uncovers how poison-dart frogs produce their toxins, and how cuttlefish are the masters of disguise when it comes to hiding in plain sight.

Professor Ben Garrod explores how some snakes can see using heat, how crocodiles feel through their jaws and how some animals use electricity to navigate their world - and it is all only possible because of remarkable adaptations to their skin. Whether animals live on land, in the sea, or in subterranean communities, skin is critical in allowing them to sense the world around them, be it to find food, navigate harsh environments or avoid danger. Even the toughest of animals, crocodilians, have a surprisingly sensitive side when it comes to the specialised skin sensors they use to detect the tiniest of ripples in the water. Deadly pit vipers use heat sensors to ambush the small rodents they feed on. Professor Ben Garrod puts them to the test with an experiment to see if they will strike a cold or warm ping-pong ball. He also uncovers how the less-than-attractive leaf-nosed bat puts its facial skin to good use as an acoustic lens to echolocate around its dense forest habitat.

Documentaries, nature

Weasels: Feisty and Fearless

YEAR: 2019 | LENGTH: 1 part (59 minutes)  |  SOURCE: BBC

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Members of the weasel family are often portrayed as the villains of the natural world, but do they deserve this reputation? By following the adventures of a tiny orphaned weasel named Twiz, this film reveals the true nature of these pocket-sized predators, which relative to their size have a bite more powerful than a tiger’s. In Yorkshire, a unique garden rigged with over 50 cameras gives a rare insight into the dramatic life of a mother stoat as she tries to raise her first family. And new science uncovers the problem-solving abilities of the honey badger, the secrets behind the ferret’s legendary flexibility, and the remarkable sense of smell of the wolverine. Together, using their extraordinary skills, this feisty and fearless family have conquered the planet.

Documentaries, nature

Meet the Bears

YEAR: 2019 | LENGTH: 1 part (59 minutes)  |  SOURCE: BBC

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From the mighty grizzly bear to the endearing real life Paddington, the spectacled bear, and Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book’s Baloo, the sloth bear, this remarkable animal family has long captured our imagination. As some of the largest animals on earth, they need more than just the ‘bare necessities’ to survive – especially in today’s ever-changing world. This film explores how bears across the world have overcome the challenges of life – from finding food and raising the cubs to confronting rivals and habitat loss – all thanks to brains, brawn and a remarkable ability to adapt.