Quick question: When was the last time a television series dedicated purely to science premiered on a major network during primetime? The fact that barely anyone can remember the answer was but one reason to tune into FOX last night for the premiere of "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey." The 13-part series, a follow-up to the 1980 original with Carl Sagan, has been exhaustively covered by the media in anticipation of its return. Last night, we were finally able to see if the wait was worth it. And wow — it really did start with a bang.
While I encourage you to watch the entire first episode online here, below are some of the more amazing highlights.
I. President Barack Obama's opening introduction
When the president of the United States is the one opening up your series premiere, you know what's coming is not only something special, but also valuable to the overall education of the country. President Obama did that last night with a perfectly succinct opening, expressing his love of the original "Cosmos" and hoping that the latest reboot inspires a new generation of Americans to look up and dream.
“America has always been a nation of fearless explorers who dream big and reach farther than others imagine,” he said. Check it out below.
If you know of Neil deGrasse Tyson, seeing him as the host of "Cosmos" last night wasn't much of a surprise. For millions more, however, Tyson is an unknown. Last night changed all that, with the 55-year-old displaying his talent for making such heavy topics not only accessible, but fun and awe-inspiring. And while some public speakers often find the jump to television a bit intimidating, Tyson pulled it off with ease — especially when you consider that most of the time, he was on a giant green screen set with very little to work off of.
III. That amazing Cosmic Calendar
While Carl Sagan premiered a similar "cosmic calendar" back in 1980, the one on display last night was really incredible. I've no doubt this part of "Cosmos" will be replayed countless times in science classes around the world for decades to come. The calendar, represented by our 12-month calendar, covers 13.8 billion years — with 438 years per second, 1.58 million years per hour, and 37.8 million years per day.
If you want to feel really small, consider this: Using this scale, humanity only arrived on the scene less than an hour ago.
Of all the computer simulations last night of our solar system, I thought the view from within Jupiter's Great Red Spot was the coolest. We've all seen the massive storm, spanning more than the size of three Earths from above, but to be in it looking out was something else entirely.
V. The Carl Sagan shout-out
In what was a beautiful tribute, I enjoyed how the producers took a break from the science last night to honor the late, great Sagan. In addition to recognizing his substantial efforts to bringing science to the forefront of American culture, Tyson also shared a personal moment — a meeting between the two back in 1975 that forever changed his life.
"I already knew that I wanted to become a scientist," recalls Tyson. "But that afternoon, I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become."
For more on the "Cosmos", check out the official site here.