How The Universe Works: Extreme Stars

By Phil Plait | May 10, 2010 12:00 pm

howtheuniverseworksI just got a note that tonight’s (Monday May 10) episode of Discovery Channel’s "How the Universe Works" is about extreme stars, and once again the episode is infected with interviews of me. Although the interview I did for it was about a year ago, I do remember waving my hands a lot and talking about massive stars chewing through their fuel and exploding. Expect the usual bombast, and check your local listings.


Comments (27)

  1. Oh yeah? Well, I was on the radio.
    …well, a podcast.
    …sort of.

    I will, of course, faithfully record the show and skip over all the bits that don’t contain Phil.

  2. You wrote a b…er…You were on a TV show?

    I’m sure my DVR has you in its sights.

  3. NewEnglandBob

    What? …and miss the hockey playoff game? OK, I will DVR you.

  4. Does the Discovery Channel put full episodes online?

  5. Weed Monkey

    I watched the two first episodes and wasn’t really impressed. In the same vein as History Channel’s The Universe, this series relies heavily on beautiful animation and dramatic narration, while handwaving all the difficult questions away. The interviews are great, though – even if Michio Kaku does his usual thing of spewing out all the most fantastic theories while we really know nothing about them, yet.

    I’d love to see cosmological documentaries that weren’t dumbed down, so I might perhaps learn something new every once in a while.

  6. jcm

    Are you touting us about your Sooper Sekrit ProjectTM?

    That said, who wouldn’t want to see (simulations of and pics of) stars going kaboom! Think supernovae and hypernovae.

  7. Yeah, I’ve been watching the previews for this. Magnitude 32… Come on Dr. Plait, the comparison is meaningless! ūüėõ

  8. John Paradox

    4. Carey Says:
    Does the Discovery Channel put full episodes online?

    The only ‘full episodes’ I can find at DC’s website are ‘Deadliest Catch’…. but I watch stuff like the Mythbusters at other sites


  9. I can’t find How the Universe Works on Discovery here. How can that be?

  10. Bigfoot

    Another triumph for science!

  11. Karen of the 50's

    If you can’t find How the Universe Works, look under Extreme Stars. Online TIVO doesn’t have it listed as How the Universe Works.

  12. David Vanderschel

    I do not believe that the show is called “How the Universe Works”. It is simply “Extreme Stars”. That is how it is listed in the schedule data from Tribune Media Services and how it is listed in the program Guide of my Time Warner DVR (which data I think comes from TV Guide). (It may well be in the How the Universe Works series; but that is not how they are calling it for individual shows anymore.)

  13. starguts

    This, like all the other similar shows, is a mediocre attempt at popularization, but it is so cool to see you on the t.v. box in my house!

    You did a great job.

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    Excellent – I love extreme stars & Eta Carinae is a personal favourite of mine that still blows me away with its unimaginable luminosity and power every time I think about it – &, yes, I think about it a lot! ūüėČ

    See :

    once again the episode is infected with interviews of me.

    Infected? Interesting choice of word there.Does that mean you get things going at a feverish pace or we get descriptions like something from a wild fevered dream that makes us feel all hot and then all-shivery & very light-headed? I hope so especially if the alternative is a stuffy, thick -headed blocked nose-y type cold! ūüėČ

    Expect the usual bombast

    [Homer Simpson voice on] Mmmmmm … Bom-bast! ūüėČ [/Homer Simpson voice off.]

    Another interesting lexical selection there, BA. “Bombastic” is NOT how I’d usually describe you or your tone in this blog or far as I’ve seen TV & other media. Funny, punny, clear, enjoyable, whimsical & a few other words maybe but *not* bombastic

    Finally – will we be able to see this show here in Oz anytime – anyone know?

  15. Messier Tidy Upper

    @1. Tree Lobsters Says:

    Oh yeah? Well, I was on the radio.
    …well, a podcast.
    …sort of.

    Neat. Please tell us more .. :-)

    @ 13. starguts Says:

    This, like all the other similar shows, is a mediocre attempt at popularization,

    Really? :roll:

    I’d disagree with that rather sweeping, dismissive assertion although, of course, it would depend on what shows exactly you are talking about there. What precisely do you mean – which shows do you think are “mediocre” & why?

    Personally, I’ve seen quite a few good documentaries on science generally and astronomy in particular such as some of Brian Cox’es series (on gravity & particle physics), Carl Sagan had ‘Cosmos’, Patrick Moore has ‘The Sky At Night’ ( ), there’s been many good documentary series like ‘The Space Race’, the one titled’ ‘The Planets’ ‘ one featuring Sam Neill* (?) called ‘The Universe’ and so forth. Plus ‘Spacefiles’ and a series for kids which had some pretty good animations of a team of robots exploring various planets and astronomical objects called ‘Destination Space’ which combined SF adventure with real astronomical education. To name just a few.

    So maybe, starguts, you’ve just been unlucky in what you’ve seen or are expecting too much from programs that are usually targeted at the scientific “layperson” rather than experts?

    * Or whoever it was who was in ‘Event Horizon’ & quite a few other movies.

  16. Phil

    It took me until the last 5 minutes of the show to realize that was you.

  17. Well i only caught the end of it but i have always loved the entire concept of neutron and black hole, and i used to try and explain the gravity quality of the forth dimension to all of my lil friends when i was in the 6th grade, getting up in front of the class and drawing the gravity well diagram with the black hole sitting at the bottom while the earth and moon only make lil dimples

  18. Weed Monkey

    Actually, Sam Neill narrated BBC:s Space (which was fascinating indeed). The Universe had a nice first season, but after they had gone through the usual stuff like the Sun, each planet, black holes and so on they must have been scratching their heads: what do we do next? Then the episodes started to become ever more sci-fi and about scariest explosions or most dangerous places wherever. More entertainment, less information.

  19. BILL7718

    I watched the show and explained some of it to my kids who had to go to bed before it came on. I told them that all the elements above hydrogen were created in the center of stars and spread through the universe when the stars explode. I also told her that stars explode when they start forming iron in their cores. She immediately asked me how elements higher than iron on the periodic table are formed. I was like…your breaking up…are you there…can you hear me…I think my cell phone is cutting out…

    So quick, how are elements heavier than iron formed if iron kills stars? I gotta call her back soon!

  20. Gary

    The show was pretty good, but I get really annoyed with the descriptive language being used. Stars “gobbling gas and dust” is just one example of anthropromorphizing that trivializes what is happening. Why do we have to be spoken to like school-children?

  21. Tanveer

    Dear Brother & Sister in all religion….
    I saw this documentary yesterday night and I really liked it as it just reminded me what I have read in Quaran. I am a Muslim and most of the things they have showed is already mentioned in Quaran. Quaran (the Holy book) was revealed 1500 years back to the most beloved messengar of Allah prophet Mohammed (PBUM). Those who have already watched this documentary, I will suggest to read Quaran to cross check if its true or false.
    They were mentioning about BLACK MATTER which is nothing but Allah’s Ursh and they were also mentioning about BLACK POWER which is nothing but power of Allah who is controlling this entire Universe.

  22. dagger29

    It was a pleasant surprise to see Dr. Plait on “How the Universe Works”.

  23. Kimmy Harris

    I loved the program. For me, currently starved to get back to my education it was so inspirational to be stimulated by something other than my daily routine. Now I am starved for more. Wondering if you have a recommendation of a publication out there to read more about our universe in detail. Dr. Plait?

  24. Charlie


    Regarding the formation of elements heavier than iron, I recently saw a program that explained that they are formed under the intense pressures of the supernova explosions dying stars go through. Great question!

  25. sandeep deba misra

    i had watched the discovery show “how the universe works” & found it very interesting. i had also seen you talking about stars. i liked how you had talked about stars. it’s interesting. your presence in the program brought an energetic experience. i appreciate your presence in astrophysical programs. i also want to be an astrophysicist in my future (now i’m 12 yrs.old) & preparing for it. and the most brilliant & famous astrophysicists like you really encourage me.
    sandeep deba misra.

  26. Catnippy

    According to what was explained iron is: iron makes the stars blow up due to destabilizing the gravity and fusion and creating the supernova, BUT then when the iron is on the way out to space from the center of the star (during the actual explosion) is when the heavier elements are made.

    Just my 2 cents.

  27. DMZ

    In “Extreme Stars”, it is noted that we are in the time of stars and that, eventually, all the stars will burn out and the universe will be dark. Given this, will the resulting darkness be due to all those stars becoming Black Holes? And, is there a “life cycle of the universe”?


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