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PBS 'Stellar' Series Shows How Space Discoveries Are Made

The Event Horizon Telescope, a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration, captured this image of the supermassive black hole in the center of the galaxy M87 and its shadow.
(Image credit: EHT Collaboration)

A new PBS series offers viewers a behind-the-scenes look at observatories and other institutions that are spearheading the latest space discoveries as well as the longer history of space exploration and science.

The six-episode series, called "Stellar," will air on PBS' YouTube and Facebook pages starting today (June 20). It will feature three PBS Digital Studios hosts known for their enthusiasm for space: Dianna Cowern from "Physics Girl," Matt O'Dowd from "Space Time" and Joe Hanson from "It's Okay To Be Smart." The release of the series is pegged to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing this July.

"'Stellar' is an evolution for PBS's original digital programming; it blends together the cinematic quality of broadcast science documentaries with the communal spirit of YouTube and Facebook," Brandon Arolfo, senior director of PBS Digital Studios, said in a statement. "We've brought together three of PBS' biggest science creators to help bring the universe to digital audiences, and couldn't be more excited to share this great content in celebration of this momentous anniversary."

Related: Apollo 11 at 50: A Complete Guide to the Historic Moon Landing Mission

The series begins June 20 with an episode called "The Mysterious Quasar at the Beginning of the Universe." This episode will show how the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii found a quasar (a type of galaxy with a large black hole) known as J0439+1634. It's the oldest and most distant object ever seen. 

Then, the series turns to another strange phenomenon, gravitational waves. Episode 2, "Detecting Black Hole Collisions From 5 Billion Years Ago," airs on June 25. From the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Hanford Observatory in Washington state, this episode will show how astronomers use gravitational waves to examine phenomena like merging black holes.

On June 27, "Imaging an Impossible Object With a World Sized Telescope" will cover a new development in space science: How astronomers imaged a black hole from one of the participating observatories, the Submillimeter Array in Hawaii.

"How We Discovered the Universe," airing on July 11, explores the longer history of space science. It was only in the last century that we discovered that the universe is much bigger than just our Milky Way galaxy. This episode, which was filmed at Mount Wilson Observatory in Los Angeles and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, tells how astronomers made this discovery.

Next, on July 18, the episode "Where Is Everyone?" visits the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. There, the show explores the Drake Equation, which calculates the likelihood that intelligent civilizations exist in our universe.

The series ends on July 25, when "Can We Live Elsewhere in the Solar System?" explores what's to come in space exploration. Future NASA rovers and spacecraft will explore two places in our own solar system that could be habitable, Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa. The episode takes place from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"Stellar" is one of more than 20 space-themed offerings that PBS will air this summer as part of its "Summer of Space." That programming package includes not only episodes but also an interactive hub (available in July) for users to submit entries showing their love of space and a site full of space-themed educational materials for teachers and homeschoolers.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.