PBS Series Takes Astronomy Buffs Back in Time With 'Ancient Skies'

Our ancestors spent millennia looking at the sky before spacecraft could explore it. The new PBS series "Ancient Skies" will explore the science, engineering and experiments that preceded modern times. The three-part series airs Wednesdays, starting July 24, at 8 p.m. EDT.

"'Ancient Skies' will provide a tantalizing look at humankind's understanding of our place in the cosmos, including when imagination alone allowed us to slip to the surly bonds of Earth, until the advent of telescopes and eventually a space rocket opened new windows into the universe and beyond," PBS said in a statement.

The first episode, "Gods and Monsters" (airs July 24), explores ancient creation myths and the birth of astronomy. As experts in the series explain, monuments such as Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza were likely constructed to help observe the skies. Viewers will learn about the Nebra sky disk (believed to be the first known sky map, from 3,500 years ago), as well as scientific cultures in places ranging from Babylonia to Ancient Greece.

Related: Our Solar System: A Photo Tour of the Planets 

The second episode, "Finding the Center" (July 31), explains how astronomers figured out the structure of our solar system and the size of our Earth. An Earth-centered model of the universe persisted for 1,500 years after it was created by Ptolemy, a first-century Greco-Roman scientist. It wasn't until the Renaissance that scientists such as Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei showed proof for heliocentrism, or the idea that the planets moved around the sun. The invention of the telescope also showed that other planets have moons.

The third episode, "Our Place in the Universe" (airs Aug. 7) brings viewers closer to the modern age. As PBS explains: "The series breaks through the spheres that defined the skies for millennia, abandons the long-held idea of circular orbits, discovers new neighbors in the solar system and begins to comprehend the enormity of the ever-growing universe."

This series is one of several new ones airing on PBS as part of its "Summer of Space," which tells stories from around the solar system in a multimedia format.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace