Mystery in Space

You know where the veil between worlds is truly thin? 1990′s - early 2000′s documentary programs

There are a lot of posts about liminal spaces and to be fair they’re a fascinating concept, but while highway rest stops are a good example, I feel we are all missing a great deal by not exploring the liminal dimensions present in made-for-tv documentaries from the 1990′s and early 2000′s.

For Instance:

When I was a child, my bed time was 8:00. Unfortunately for me, the weekly program about dinosaurs I wanted to watch on.. the Discovery Channel I think it was(?) happened at 9:00. My mom would tape them for me every week, because VHS was still a thing back then.

Eventually however, the series ended without either of us noticing. She taped the timeslot anyway and gave it to me to watch the next afternoon, like usual, which is how I, a 7 or 8 year old child, ended up watching a half-hour long program about people who had died by spontaneous human combustion.

I watched, enraptured, as the program explored the puzzling and horrific cases of people who, for seemingly no reason, had burst into intensely hot flames which reduced them to mere ashes, with no discernible source of ignition and which left nearby flammables curiously untouched. “Could this happen to anyone? Could this happen to you?” the program asked me, flashing yet another grisly black and white photograph of an incinerated body across the screen. “Yes, and I must fear it” I thought in reply, and continued to think about constantly for the next several years.

In time though, I forgot. Until my friend Paloma recommended me some short stories she had read for one of her classes, because I needed some new reading material for the train to class. One of them was about a character whose parents had died by SHC (Blowing Up on the Spot by Kevin Wilson). Suddenly, I remembered.

“I have to find this program,” I thought. “There must be a reason I have this specific, persistent fear, and for some reason I bet watching it again will make it less awful,” I continued, because I am an idiot and I don’t know what’s good for me.

After hours of scouring the internet, I have found exactly one copy of this show that so scarred me. It has subtitles in Greek, the audio unsyncs from the narrator’s lips and becomes steadily fuzzier as the video goes on until it is nearly indecipherable, and searching the actual name of the show yields not even a Wikipedia article. A few sites have episode lists but that’s about it, and those with dates list them all as being released on the same day in 2009, so I am forced to conclude that no one knows when these programs came into existence. They seem to exist in neither this time nor space, and attempts to keep them tied to this dimension result in warping of sound and language.

They are trying to escape, and after rewatching this awful barrage of burned bodies and early 2000s CGI simulations of people on fire, I think we should let them. The veil is thin between universes which are so close to touching as to allow hints of passage. These are moving away from us. Let them go.

This is the final vestige of a world not our own. (tw for fairly graphic images of dead bodies, I am serious here)

As much as it’s nice to see the whole gang together again… why do they all sit so close?

They have, like, all the room in the world, yet they’re all smooshed together like sardines. Does no one in the Scooby-Doo universe have a concept of personal space?

Exoplanets: Strange New Worlds

Super Saturn

Around a distant star 420 light years away is a planet with such huge rings that they’re 200 times larger than the rings of Saturn, J1407b. The rings are about 74,560,000 miles in diameter and contain about as much mass as Earth itself. Gaps in the rings, like we see in Saturn’s rings, are likely created by exomoons orbiting around the planet, clearing out paths between the rings and keeping them distinct.

(Image credit: Ron Miller)

The Planet of Burning Ice

The most remarkable things happen when you push physics to extremes.

Far away in the Gliese star system is a Neptune-sized planet called Gliese 436 b. This world is covered in ice that burns constantly at 822.2˚ Fahrenheit (439˚ C).

The reason why the water doesn’t liquify and then turn into steam is due to the massive gravity of the planet - it exerts so much force on the water that the atoms are bound tightly together as a solid: burning ice.

(Image credit: ABC Science)

The Diamond Planet

At about 7.8 times the mass of Earth, 55 Cancri e is an extremely carbon-rich planet orbiting a carbon-rich star. The intense density of the planet means that about 2/3rds of this planet’s core is made up of diamond. It’s literally a giant diamond (larger than Earth).

(Image credit: CfA)


Hd 188753 Ab is a planet candidate with three suns. That’s more than even Luke Skywalker got! It turns out that binary star systems are actually quite common, however, and there are many worlds out there where the sunsets would happen twice (or more) a day. Maybe one day a lucky couple will sit beneath a pair of setting suns, holding hands as each star dips below the alien horizon.

(Image credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/Kepler Mission)

The Water World (Miller’s Planet?)

GJ 1214b is 42 light years away from Earth. It’s 25% rock surrounded by 75% water. Its surface is an endless ocean not too dissimilar from what you’d see floating on a boat in the middle of the ocean on Earth.

As you go deeper below the surface though, you’d eventually hit ice. The water surrounding the core isn’t ice because of temperature though: the pressure of the water above it is so intense that it crushes the water below from a liquid into a solid form known as “ice VII”.

(Image credit: Found on Kurir)

Earth 2.0

Kepler-438b orbits a star 470 light years away. It receives a similar amount of energy from its sun as does Earth. Its surface temperature is perfect for liquid water. 

On the Earth Similarity Index it’s received a 0.88, the highest score of any world (except of course Earth). Liquid water almost certainly exists there and with it, the best chance for alien life.

This is the sort of planet that makes me wonder when I look up at the stars, if somewhere far away, there isn’t someone looking back.

(Image credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech)

Mabel I don’t think you’re using that word right