Since the dawn of modern humans more than 100,000 years ago, people have been looking into the sky in wonder.
They have mapped and measured the heavens and slowly come to understand what they represent.
Much ancient mythology is based on the constellations in the sky, and astrologers have attempted to fit the Earth and themselves into the cosmic scheme of things.
The rising and setting of the Sun dominated people's lives and they were dependent on the seasons for their livelihoods.
In ancient civilisations, from Babylon to China, events in the sky were linked with what would otherwise seem to be random natural disasters and good or bad fortune.
But the monitoring of the skies by astrologers produced some of the earliest accurate astronomical records, recording eclipses, comets and exploding stars thousands of years before our scientific era.
|02||Wandering Planets And The Centre Of The Universe.||20080606|
The ancient Greeks were the first true scientists, suggesting that natural processes such as the movements of the sun, moon and planets were the results of forces of nature rather than divine intervention.
Observational astronomy and the mathematics that underlies it were kept alive in Islamic culture through the dark ages of Western Europe.
It was not until the 16th century that Polish canon Nikolaus Copernicus began to question the geocentric model and realise that all the calculations would be much simpler if the Earth and planets all revolved around the Sun.
Johannes Kepler completed the revolution by showing that the orbits of planets could be calculated accurately if they were elliptical rather than circular.
The foundations of modern astronomy had been laid.
|03||A Matter Of Some Gravity||20080613|
Galileo's observations of the moons of Jupiter made him realise that not everything orbits the Earth.
Once Newton had laid down the principles of gravity which determine the orbits of the planets, Halley was able to extend them to comets and predict the return of the comet that bears his name.
The telescope led to a search for new planets and the discovery of the asteroids and outer planets, a quest that is continuing today.
|04||The Galaxy And Beyond||20080620|
Early ideas about the nature of the Milky Way and fuzzy patches or nebulae were transformed by precise astronomical measurements.
It took several centuries for astronomers to accept that the Milky Way is a giant body of stars of which our solar system is but one outlying member.
As techniques to estimate the distances of stars improved, the nebulae were revealed to be galaxies in their own right, island universes that were flying apart in a great expansion from the big bang of creation.
|05||Chance And Purpose In A Violent Universe||20080627|
Every discovery seems to throw up further mysteries.
An exploration of the birth, life and death of stars, the formation of planets and the search for earth-like worlds beyond our own.
The series ends by asking if there could be other lifeforms, even intelligence, out there in the vastness of space.