Universe Unravelled

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Universe Unravelled

Universe Unravelled

If you noticed that things have been a little quiet on Plus for the last 18 months or so, we can finally reveal why: we have been working with the Discovery Channel and the Stephen Hawking Centre for Theoretical Cosmology on a TV documentary exploring the history and mysteries of our Universe. And now we're proud to announce its launch.

The Universe Unravelled series premieres on Discovery+ in November 2020, coinciding with the UK launch of this new digital platform. It's aimed at anyone who is curious about the Universe we live in, with no previous knowledge of cosmology required. In over 20 short episodes the series explores what we already know about the Universe, what cosmologists are working on right now, and what they hope to find out in the future.

The series comes at an exciting time in the development of cosmology and relativity. Over the last few decades, the field evolved from a niche subject on the fringes of science to a fully-fledged precision science. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background — left-over radiation from the Big Bang — in the 1960s, and the first observation of gravitational waves in 2016 were milestones in this context. Both provide powerful observational tools with which to probe our Universe and test our theories.

Filming at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge

Some of the CTC team being filmed at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge. Photo: Rachel Thomas.

Stephen Hawking's career spanned much of this golden age of cosmology. In 2007 he founded the Stephen Hawking Centre for Theoretical Cosmology (CTC) within the University of Cambridge, which now enables researchers of all career stages to carry on his legacy. They develop and test mathematical theories that describe the history of our Universe, and investigate the two events that shake its basic fabric most violently, revealing its secrets in the process: the Hot Big Bang and the collisions and mergers of black holes. Underlying this work is a theory which recently celebrated its 100th birthday: Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Universe Unravelled explores cutting-edge topics in cosmology and extreme gravity in a way that's accessible to everyone. It describes how massive objects warp the fabric of spacetime and how they can collapse under their own gravity to form black holes. It explores how these black holes can send gravitational waves rippling across spacetime, and what happens if you were to fall into a black hole. It also explores the violent explosion that marked the beginning of our Universe, and how the Universe expanded from this initial Big Bang, forming all the structures we observe today – galaxies, stars and planets. It also probes the mysteries that still puzzle cosmologists, such as dark energy and dark matter. And it features some stunning graphics, some produced in collaboration with Intel's Advanced Visualization team.

Amelia Drew

CTC researcher Amelia Drew explaining her work for the camera. Photo: Rachel Thomas.

The series features 17 CTC researchers explaining these mind-blowing concepts, together with members of the Kavli Institute of Cosmology, Cambridge. It offers a glimpse of what it's like to work at the cutting edge of cosmology: confronting sophisticated mathematics with observational data, employing some of the world's fastest supercomputers, and even daring to challenge Einstein's highly successful theory in an attempt to explain what has so far defied explanation. Viewers not only learn about the deepest secrets of our Universe, but also find out about the everyday life of students and staff at a world-leading research centre.

The series was filmed on-site at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences (home of Plus) and the Institute of Astronomy. In the role of Science Editors the Plus editorial team explained the science to the production team from Navada Studios, contributed to the script, interviewed the contributors, and managed the project on the Cambridge side. We enjoyed working closely with the CTC team and with Matthew Scott and Beatriz Clemente from Navada Studios, who led the production of the series. Funding for the project was provided by the Kavli Foundation, an organisation dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity, promoting public understanding of scientific research, and supporting scientists and their work.

Filming at the Institute of Astronomy

Blake Sherwin during filming at the Institute of Astronomy. Photo: Rachel Thomas.

"We are grateful to Discovery and the Kavli Foundation for supporting this unique opportunity to continue Stephen Hawking's vision of reaching out, especially to younger audiences, to inspire curiosity about our Universe and the huge progress currently being made to unveil its secrets," says Paul Shellard, CTC Director. "This was a remarkable collaboration in which we were able to work closely back and forth with the production team, ensuring both viewer interest and scientific accuracy, which we hope provides a great model for future science outreach."

We're really proud of the series and hope that everyone who watches will share in the fascination of our Universe and the amazing work that's being done by researchers at the CTC and around the world. The series will be available from November 2020 on the new Discovery+ service, which can be found here.