NOVA: Season 26 (1999)

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Season 26
NOVA

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Episodes

Air date: Oct 6, 1998

This television documentary follows the search for the key to navigating the seas. It is based on the novel by Dava Sobel, Lost at Sea -- The Search for Longitude. It begins with Will Andrewes, as he joins a crew to try out a replica of a typical log and line of the early 1700s. It was a crude method, using a triangle of wood (called a log) with a knotted line tied to it. They would count the number of knots that passed through the navigator's fingers in the time it took a 28-second sand glass to flow through. This would give the speed of the ship in knots and was the only way to tell the distance a ship traveled at sea. These ideas were advanced by astronomers and by accurate timepieces made by John Harrison in the 1700s. The rest of the episode shows the continued quest for accurate longitude through astronomy and accurately tracking time at sea.

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Air date: Oct 13, 1998

This documentary follows the attempts of scientists to find a theory that can explain the cause of the mysterious weather phenomenon El Niño. Once or twice in a decade there is a shift in the normal weather patterns and El Niño brings floods, droughts, snow, and heat to places in the world that don't normally experience such events. The documentary begins by looking at the largest feature on the surface of the Earth, the Pacific Ocean, which controls most of the planet's climate during normal periods and during El Niño. The scientists look for water that is abnormally warm, suspicious wind impulses, and ultimately trade winds that change directions as signs that El Niño has started. This information is fed into a computer to create a model that is then used to predict when El Niño will occur and how intense it will be.

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Air date: Oct 27, 1998

The aging Russian space station Mir has been plagued by a series of misfortunes. In Nova: Terror in Space, Nova explains how Mir's original life span was only five years. It is surprising to space scientists that the station could still function so long after its launch in 1986. Americans go on board in 1995 to study long-term endurance, and witness a fire from an oxygen canister during a celebration. While this was cause for panic among some, others did not deem it so serious. Eventually, the cosmonauts would lose control of a supply ship that crashes into Mir itself, causing much damage.

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Air date: Nov 3, 1998

Visiting the set of the 1997 Oscar-winning film "Titanic" and exploring the refinement of visual effects in the film industry. Included: the impact computers have had on creating more elaborate illusions.

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Air date: Nov 10, 1998

The legendary volcano Vesuvius that buried the entire city of Pompeii 2000 years before when it last erupted is being watched closely by scientists as they try to predict when it will explode again. They are certain that it will explode again, but must track the volcano scientifically to have any hope of saving the lives that lie in its path. Not only do they climb into the crater in the mouth of Vesuvius to collect data, but they also take readings in the nearby Phlegraean Fields, an eight-mile wide depression caused by another volcano 34,000 years before. They also monitor other warning signs such as tiny earthquakes in the area. Half of this television documentary focuses on interpreting the volcano that destroyed the city of Pompeii.

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Air date: Nov 24, 1998

Nova accompanies archaeologists on a historic mission as they explore the life and times of a 5,300-year-old mummy. Nicknamed Otzi after the Alps in which he was found, the Stone Age iceman smashed previously held conceptions about that time period. To begin with, he had traces of copper in his hair. Until then, scientists thought medal production came centuries later. After a thorough examination including a CAT scan, x-rays, and biopsies, a picture began to emerge of Otzi's world. Living to a ripe old age of 45, the iceman carried an axe, waterproof cape, and a quiver full of arrows. He probably had lifelong medical problems and died with a few broken ribs. To top it all off, Otzi sported over 50 tattoos, many of which were thought to have healing powers. Nova provides a stunning and humanizing look at a time long past.

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Air date: Nov 24, 1998

This television documentary follows researcher Johan Reinhard and his team as they travel up Sara Sara, a giant volcano located in the Andes mountains, in search of answers about the way that the ancient Inca people lived. They investigate the Inca ceremony called capa cocha . This was a mysterious ritual in which the Incas sacrificed their children to the mountain gods. This ritual was always presented by Spanish chronicles as bloody. One of these children was found frozen in 1954. The 500-year-old body is preserved and studied in a museum in Chile. Later examples bring into question how the children were sacrificed. Much of what they are searching for was destroyed by Spanish Catholic monks hundreds of years ago in an attempt to rid Peru of their past religious ways. At an elevation of 18,000 feet, the team must dig through six feet of 500-year-old frozen gravel.

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Air date: Nov 24, 1998

This television documentary is concerned with a 2,400-year-old frozen woman who was buried with a wealth of artifacts and discovered by scientist Natalia Polosmak in Siberia. She was removed from her grave and displayed across the world, but was returned to Polosmak to learn more of her secrets. Past discoveries of the ancient Pazyryk people by Russian archaeologist Sergei Rodenko are discussed, then the discovery by Polosmak of an intact grave with frozen horses, the body, and artifacts in 1993. Surprised to find a woman buried by herself (meaning she was an important figure, not a concubine), they discuss the other secrets unlocked from the grave. Forensic scientists and biochemists test the body. Questions arise about her death, the meaning of symbolic items and tattoos, and where certain materials came from. They try to date the coffin and body through carbon dating and by counting rings in the larch tree that were used as the coffin.

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Air date: Dec 1, 1998

In the educational video Leopards of the Night, celebrated nature authority Richard Attenborough takes a fascinating look at the activities and abilities of the leopard, a night stalker by nature, and one of the sleekest and most clever of the big cat variety. The program documents leopards both at night and during the day, revealing never-before-seen hunting behavior. Filmed in the Luangua Valley in Zambia, Leopards of the Night also discusses the dangers and challenges these beautiful creatures face on a regular basis, including lumbering crocodiles and hungry hyenas.

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Air date: Dec 29, 1998

Pearls have long been coveted for their lustrous beauty and the rarity of a perfectly spherical pearl has only added to their appeal. It is the only jewel created within a live creature, the pearl oyster. However, not every oyster produces a pearl, certainly not a perfect one. In Nova: The Perfect Pearl, Nova looks at the pearl industry, which came about when a Japanese scientist found a way to artificially induce oysters to make pearls. These "cultured" pearls found a ready market, and the pearl farms prospered. Problems have arisen and farmers must find methods to work around pollution and overcrowded conditions.

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