In a multimedia release, The Astronomers was made available to videocassette viewers in its entirety even before the $5.3 million, six-part series of science programs had its run on PBS, along with a handsome $24.95 companion hardback book. Judged by the luxurious production and strikingly lucid content of the videos, this marketing supernova is certainly justified.
While the hour-long tapes excel in their ground-level explanations of stratospheric concepts (gravity waves, background radiation), they are best at humanizing and explaining this most romantic of sciences by showing a range of its practitioners: the venerated elder pioneers, the current heavyweights, and the fresh-faced graduate assistants. The common source of their drive, invoked repeatedly through these tapes, is a bedrock curiosity articulated by Bell Laboratories’ Tony Tyson: ”the fact that more than 90 percent of everything in the universe is something that we know nothing about.” While not presuming to offer answers, The Astronomers series helps us to understand the directions from which those answers are likely to come. A