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.

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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