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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the abrupt transformation of stars after shining brightly for millions or billions of years, once they lack the fuel to counter the force of gravity. Those like our own star, the Sun, become red giants, expanding outwards and consuming nearby planets, only to collapse into dense white dwarves. The massive stars, up to fifty times the mass of the Sun, burst into supernovas, visible from Earth in daytime, and become incredibly dense neutron stars or black holes. In these moments of collapse, the intense heat and pressure can create all the known elements to form gases and dust which may eventually combine to form new stars, new planets and, as on Earth, new life.
The image above is of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, approximately 10,000 light years away, from a once massive star that died in a supernova explosion that was first seen from Earth in 1690
Astronomer Royal, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge
Emeritus Member of the Institute of Astronomy and Emeritus Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge
Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Southampton
Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of our ancestors, Homo erectus, who thrived on Earth for around two million years whereas we, Homo sapiens, emerged only in the last three hundred thousand years. Homo erectus, or Upright Man, spread from Africa to Asia and it was on the Island of Java that fossilised remains were found in 1891 in an expedition led by Dutch scientist Eugène Dubois. Homo erectus people adapted to different habitats, ate varied food, lived in groups, had stamina to outrun their prey; and discoveries have prompted many theories on the relationship between their diet and the size of their brains, on their ability as seafarers, on their creativity and on their ability to speak and otherwise communicate.
The image above is from a diorama at the Moesgaard Museum in Denmark, depicting the Turkana Boy referred to in the programme.
Director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark and Professor of Evolutionary History at the University of Copenhagen
Senior Researcher in Human Evolution at Naturalis Biodiversity Centre and Professor of Human Evolution at Maastricht University
Professor of Earth System Science at University College London
Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the study of earthquakes. A massive earthquake in 1755 devastated Lisbon, and this disaster helped inspire a new science of seismology which intensified after San Francisco in 1906 and advanced even further with the need to monitor nuclear tests around the world from 1945 onwards. While we now know so much more about what lies beneath the surface of the Earth, and how rocks move and crack, it remains impossible to predict when earthquakes will happen. Thanks to seismology, though, we have a clearer idea of where earthquakes will happen and how to make some of them less hazardous to lives and homes.
Senior lecturer in Geology and Geophysics at Imperial College London
Lecturer in Earth Sciences and Future Leaders Fellow at the University of Plymouth
Reader in Geophysics at Birkbeck, University of London
Producer: Simon Tillotson
In Our Time is now first on BBC Sounds
Looking for the latest episode? New episodes of In Our Time will now be available first on BBC Sounds for four weeks before other podcast apps.
If you haven’t already, you can download the BBC Sounds app to listen to the In Our Time podcast first.
BBC Sounds is also available in lots of other places. Find us on your voice device or smart speaker, on your connected TV, in your car, or at bbc.co.uk/sounds.
The latest episode is available on BBC Sounds right now.
BBC Sounds – you can find exclusive music mixes, live BBC radio and more podcasts like this one.
William and Caroline Herschel
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss William Herschel (1738 – 1822) and his sister Caroline Herschel (1750 – 1848) who were born in Hanover and made their reputation in Britain. William was one of the most eminent astronomers in British history. Although he started life as a musician, as a young man he became interested in studying the night sky. With an extraordinary talent, he constructed telescopes that were able to see further and more clearly than any others at the time. He is most celebrated today for discovering the planet Uranus and detecting what came to be known as infrared radiation. Caroline also became a distinguished astronomer, discovering several comets and collaborating with her brother.
Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences at the Open University
Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge and an Emeritus Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge
Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum in London.
Studio producer: John Goudie