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This is Absolute Genius.
Dive into a world of action, adventure and explosions.
Each show will introduce you to a different genius.
An amazing person that had a genius idea that shaped the world.
They will inspire us to come
up with our own genius idea at the end of each show.
But will it be any good?
Will it be any good?!
It'll be Absolute Genius.
On today's show - we prepare for deep impact...
..as we investigate the mysterious world of comets.
And discover how a genius astronomer helped to map out the universe.
-This way mate.
-Over the gap.
Got to be able to see up there. That's it.
Today we're going to introduce you to a person who
changed our view of the world, sorry, the UNIVERSE!
Yes, she was one half of a brother-and-sister team that unlocked
the secrets to deep, deep space.
From building telescopes, to discovering comets -
and even a new planet!
-Right. Try and find her.
Ladies and gentlemen, we give you...
-Have you found her yet?
-No. Got her?
Now, inspired by her genius, we're going to be creating our own
genius idea later on in the show.
And it's going to be an out of this world tribute to Herschel.
It's coming straight for us!
But first, let's find out how it all began...
Today, powerful telescopes help scientists capture the most
amazing images of the universe.
But more than 250 years ago, people knew far less about space.
Not every planet we know about now had been discovered.
Astronomy was exciting, and full of mystery,
and it was about to change the life of a young girl called Caroline.
Caroline Herschel was born in Germany in 1750,
into a life of pain and misery.
Childhood diseases like typhus left her with scars,
and stunted her growth.
Because of her appearance, her parents thought that no-one
would want to be with her for the rest of her life
so they made the decision to keep her at home as the family maid.
Have you finished yet? Get a move on.
Eugh. What a stinker.
But when she was 22 years old, she was bought to Bath in Somerset.
Rescued by her favourite brother William,
a professional musician and keen astronomer,
together they would explore deep space!
Can you believe that this house here would become Britain's
version of the NASA headquarters?
To tell us more...
..it's genius helper,
Joe Middleton from the Herschel Museum of Astronomy.
-Hi, Dom, very nice to meet you.
Hi Joe, lovely to be in the Herschels' house,
but what did they do here?
This was the place where they actually designed,
built and made their own home-made telescopes to actually
stargaze and change what we know about the heavens.
The Herschels wanted to see more clearly into deep space.
So William designed, and together they hand-built the biggest
and most hi-tech telescopes of the time.
Their telescopes were the Rolls-Royces of all telescopes -
they were the best that you could get.
It's like finding the next door neighbour was
making Formula 1 cars in the shed.
They were making the best stuff around.
What was Caroline's role in this house though?
As an amateur, William decided to do his own surveys of the night
sky and he needed Caroline's help, so she would do all
the paperwork, record it and document for future generations.
The Herschels' genius helped us map out the universe.
They made their own telescopes to see further into deep space.
William famously discovered the planet Uranus.
And his astronomer sister Caroline became the first woman to
spot one of the most mysterious objects in our solar system.
-And not just one,
she went on to discover eight of them! Genius.
What's so important about discovering comets?
Comets were just one of the real dynamic things
to see in the night sky.
I remember when I was a kid, I saw Halley's Comet.
-That's a famous one, isn't it?
-Yeah, and so to stake claim that you
discovered a new comet would just make you an instant celebrity.
Ooh, ooh, ooh - cameras!
Caroline held the world record for most comets
discovered by a woman for almost 200 years.
She also became the first female scientist in Britain to be
paid for her work.
-It says the tail of the comet...
-Very neat handwriting, isn't it?
-Looks like she's had a ruler.
-Read it, read it, read it...
"The most brilliant phenomenon that accompanied a comet is
"the stream of light which we call the tail."
Her handwriting is actually meticulous. It is so, so perfect.
That is beautiful.
Yeah, yeah, I have nice handwriting -
what about the astronomy?
We want to discover our own passion for astronomy,
so we've come here - to a house on the Wirral!
I LOVE the Wirral.
The Wirral, the north west of England,
location for the M53 motorway.
and childhood home to Bond actor Daniel Craig.
But we're not here to spot Hollywood superstars, no,
we're here to explore the wonders of the universe.
Yep, we're going stargazing!
With genius helper Brendan Martin,
and his mates Dave and Geoff, from the Liverpool Astronomical Society.
Just like the Herschels, they build their own telescopes.
The proof is in the back garden.
It's full of home-built observatories.
Brendan and the guys are letting us
borrow one of their precious handmade telescopes.
It works in a similar way to the Herschels' telescopes,
and took three years to build.
How does this telescope work then?
The light comes down, hits this mirror,
then it's reflected back up to this secondary mirror, which is
at a 45 degree angle and that sends the light out to the eyepiece.
Why is amateur astronomy so important?
We search for supernova, the death of a massive star.
The professionals who used to do this don't have the time any more.
So what happens is the amateurs discover them,
and then they can let the professionals know,
and then they can turn their telescopes onto them.
So you're like the professionals' secret spy unit.
There are amateur astronomers all over the world just like Brendan.
Using modern telescopes, they capture amazing images,
often making new discoveries of their own.
Ah, the M45 star cluster. Mmm. Yes...
So you built this with your fair hands
and you're going to trust us with it?
I'm going to let you look through it.
Yeah, and that's it.
Don't let us anywhere near that very lovely mirror.
And while we prepare for a night of stargazing,
here are some top facts about the solar system.
It's the genius top five.
At five - more than 100 spacecraft have been
launched to the moon.
It's still the only place in space that humans have landed on,
stepped onto, and explored.
-I'm king of the moon!
Four - the furthest galaxy detected from earth is about 30 billion
light years away,
And goes by the catchy name of z8 GND 5296!
Three - Jupiter's Great Red Spot is a gigantic storm -
about the size of up to three planet Earths,
and it's been raging for hundreds of years.
At two - More than 200 thousand people have
applied for a one-way ticket to Mars.
A Dutch engineer's been asking for volunteers to set up a human
base on the planet.
Problem is, if you change your mind, there's no way back!
And at one - apart from the eight planets
in our solar system,
there are more than half a million registered minor planets -
17 of them called Dave...
..and one called Dick.
I always said he was on another planet.
Right, so because it's night-time we've of course,
as you've probably realised, got night vision.
Let's have a look at what we can see.
-If you want to have a look at that.
-You've spotted something already?
-Yep. It's a globular cluster.
Global... Globeler... I can't even say it.
What's a glob-lar cluster?
It's a collection of stars, about 33,000 light years away.
33... It's incomprehensible to think about how far away that is.
The M13 cluster is home to more than 100,000 stars,
so huge it spans 150 light years -
each light year equal to around 6 trillion miles!
Amazing. Come and have a look.
Look, it's there, look.
In the middle.
And how big are each one of these stars?
-They vary in size.
-What's the biggest?
Um, probably around 20 solar masses, possibly more.
So the size of...? Is that compared to our sun?
About 20 times the size of the sun.
We're looking at some stars and some of them
are 20 times the size of the sun.
Yeah, but get this right in your head...
-The sun is how many times bigger than the earth?
But what is it? Hang on... What is it?
It's a massive ball of fire - just floating around in space!
What's it doing there?
What's it think it's doing?
It's making me feel quite uncomfortable.
Very hard to get your head around the universe, isn't it?
It is, it can be.
How important was the work the Herschels were doing at the time?
Well, it was very important, because they were actually
cataloguing everything they saw and marking its location in the sky,
to make it easier for other astronomers around the world.
I think we can now realise why the Herschels were getting
so excited about what's up there.
What is up there?
We've been blown away by seeing the M13 globular cluster,
but Caroline was searching for something even more spectacular -
Which leads us to one burning question...
What are comets?
-I don't know.
This is Fran, she just loves experimenting...
..to help explain the ideas of our geniuses.
And she's sure to pop up just when you really need her.
Fran, quite a big question here - what is a comet?
OK, well, a comet is like a cosmic snowball that zooms around the sun.
It orbits around it - sometimes going really close to the sun
and sometimes far away.
Comets are made from the leftover stuff from the solar system
after the planets and the moons and the sun formed.
So like, when someone's building a house they've got
a pile of leftover bricks?
Yes. That that is a comet.
But I thought the best way to show you in detail what it's
made from is to make one.
So, Dick, can you pour that water into here?
This is where I'm going to make my comet.
These are smelling salts. Do you know about smelling salts?
It's something to wake you up, is it?
-Yeah, have a sniff...
Shake that ammonia in.
A comet can be quite rocky, so we've got some sand there to represent
those rocks and minerals right inside that comet's core.
Now, the exciting thing about comets is
they contain what are known as organic molecules.
Now, organic molecules are molecules that contain an element
known as carbon, and soy sauce, surprisingly,
has a lot of organic molecules.
So can you give a good dollop?
-A good shake, let's say.
The other thing that comets contain are amino acids,
and amino acids make up proteins, so we've got some amino acids here.
So give a good sprinkle of those into our comet.
You might see on adverts that
shampoo contains amino acids, apparently,
so we've got some shampoo here.
My turn! Get off!
That's it - that'll do, that'll do.
This last ingredient will freeze it down quite quickly into what
is hopefully a dirty snowball.
But it's pretty dangerous, so we need to pop our goggles on,
so put your goggles on your face, and your gloves on.
This is dry ice, which is frozen carbon dioxide.
This is at minus 80 degrees Celsius.
Hopefully, when we put it in here,
it will cause the water to bubble away a little bit.
-Harry Potter stylee!
-Here we go...
-Mmmm. Lovely bubbly.
-Now, what I want to do is...
-All right, Fran!
-Can you see it?
I can see that.
I'm trying to squeeze all the ingredients together.
So just that bit of dry ice will freeze the contents of that bag?
-I think that might be ready.
-Have we got a dirty snowball?
Let's have a look! Ahhhh! It's a comet!
Now, this is a comets core.
Most of the pictures you might have seen of a comet have that
sort of rocky bit in the middle then that beautiful tail coming
out from behind it.
And that happens when they go near the sun, and they're heated up by
the sun and so all of the ice that's in the comet's core is turned into a
gas, so that's all the gas trailing behind the comet that you see.
-And can you see just there? Can you see that gas coming out?
That's like our comet's tail.
-Can I hold it?
-Of course you can.
Do you know what this reminds me of, Fran?
-Er, I don't think I want to know.
Comets travel in a big loop - from the icy edges of the solar
system, round the sun and back again.
When they heat up they release dust and gases -
the comet tail Herschel wrote about!
But you have to be patient to spot one.
Some, like Halley's Comet, pass earth once every 76 years.
Others take thousands of years.
We need to know more about these dirty great snowballs.
We've come to the Royal Observatory in London to meet...
..genius helper and astronomer Liz Roche.
-Hey Liz, how are you doing?
We've had the pleasure of making our own comet,
which was really interesting, but we need to know more about them.
Do you have one here in this amazing place that we can touch?
-Or a bit of one?
-A bit of one...
That would be brilliant, but unfortunately, no, we can't because
if comets ever do come to earth they kind of just evaporate and there's
nothing left to look at apart from the big hole that they left behind.
But there are other things to look at that were around at the time
when our solar system was forming that we can touch, like this one.
You're not talking about that massive
hunk of rock right in front of you, are you?
-I am. Yes.
-What is this?
-So this is a meteorite -
a chunk of asteroid that probably broke off
and then as it comes through our atmosphere we call it a meteor,
and if it lands to earth we call it a meteorite.
And how old are we talking for these comets and asteroids?
As old as our solar system.
In fact even older than our solar system
because they're left over from when it formed.
4.5 billion years old.
This is the oldest thing you will ever touch.
What kind of damage could a comet do if it hit the earth?
You've only got to look at something like the moon to
really see the kind of damage that can be done by space rocks
hitting into something, cos our moon is covered in craters.
And that's how that was done.
Wow, right, I never knew that.
They come from lots of different things in space, like asteroids
and meteors and possibly comets as well -
so all sorts of things just crashing into it.
So the moon gets a fair old battering, doesn't it?
Has done over the years.
If that's the kind of damage comets can do - you would NOT want
to get in the way of one!
But how likely is it they could hit us on earth?
To get the lowdown we're meeting...
..genius helper Dr Gareth Collins, from Imperial College London.
He knows all about the damage caused by objects hitting us
from outer space.
-Nice to meet you.
How often do smaller objects actually penetrate
the earth's atmosphere?
Well, we're hit by pebble sized things all the time.
In fact, if it's a clear night and you're lucky,
you'll probably see a shooting star, which is
-something about that size burning up in the atmosphere.
OK, OK, so, how long before we get an asteroid or comet
-the size of a city?
-That is a truly rare event.
That probably only happens every once in 100 million years.
Thank goodness for that.
Looks like we'll all be safe for a good few million years yet.
Great idea for a science fiction movie though!
When was the last one?
65 million years ago.
And what kind of damage would that do?
When they slam into a planet it's like a huge explosion.
Comets are travelling incredibly fast.
Probably about 40km per second.
-What's that in miles an hour?
-That's 100,000 miles per hour.
100,000 miles per hour!
Or 200 times the speed of a jumbo jet.
Wow! Have you got some kind of experiment that you can
show us that will give us an idea of the damage that gets done by one?
We can't get up to 40km a second,
but what we can do is fire this cannon.
To safely provide the firepower, we've enlisted
the help of Worcester Norton Shooting Club, and their cannons.
Here's Bob and Trevor, our mini-cannon experts.
OK, boys, you think you can put a crater into that clay there?
-Well, yes, we think so, yes.
If we use the proper ammunition for it, which is
like a lead ball, it'll put a hole through that.
What are you going to use, then? What's the ammunition?
We've raided the bushes, and we're using rosehips.
So that is our comet. A biodegradable comet.
Actually, it's a great representation of a comet.
It's low density,
and just like a comet it's going to explode on impact.
Right, Bob and Trevor, do your stuff!
The cannon is primed with a small amount of gunpowder.
Look at that it's a perfect fit.
Instead of a lead ball, we're using a rosehip,
which should break up like a comet on impact.
All you need is an absolute idiot who's ready to light the thing.
He looks at me!
Fire in the hole!
BANG Yeah, look at that!
-Yeah, look at that!
Yeah, this is great. We can see
some quite characteristic features of craters here.
We have the impacter completely broken up,
a raised rim of material thrown out around the crater...
This is something you see on a lot of lunar movies,
and all the footage from the original moon landing.
It's very characteristic of impact craters.
-That's great. Can we do it again?
-Can we do it again?
BANG Yeah! Look at that!
So, Gareth, why is the crater that we've just made
so much smaller than the first?
Speed. That time, the rosehip registered only 99 feet per second.
-And what was the last one?
The first rosehip hit the clay at around 120 metres per second.
The second one was much slower, at 30 metres per second.
So it made less impact.
So the faster they're travelling the bigger the impact,
-the bigger the crater.
So how can we now do the next shot
and make sure we've got a bigger crater than the first?
-We need more speed.
-How do we make it go faster guys?
Bob's doubling the amount of firepower in our cannon to
increase the speed of the rosehip.
Our final hit should be the biggest yet.
BANG Come on!
-Look at the size of that!
How fast was that going?
That was about 240 metres per second.
That was double the speed of the first one!
Which is why it's twice as big.
Twice as big.
So it's not the size of the comet that matters,
it's all about the speed -
because these rosehips were all the same size.
Absolutely. It's all about speed.
Our very own craters!
The kind of holes a speeding comet might leave behind.
Cracking craters, boys.
Inspired by the Herschels, we've discovered our own
passion for astronomy and the Universe!
We've investigated Caroline's world of comets...
..and seen the craters they can cause!
And now, inspired by Caroline's comets,
we're going to reveal the genius idea.
Right, here goes - we're going to make our own comet action movie.
Our genius idea - to star in our own film,
in which we attempt to escape a comet heading straight for us.
Our challenge -
to use what we've discovered to make it look as realistic as possible.
Our problem - we've never directed a film before.
So instead of genius, it could be absolute rubbish!
To provide the special effects, it's genius helper Mark Turner.
In the past he's helped us do this...
So a comet crater should be no problem!
-Hey, Mark. Good to see you again.
-Friend of the show.
Right, today we are making an action movie.
This is our storyboard and we need you for this part, a crater.
-We've been studying craters, we need a fairly big hole,
kind of slopes over at the side, and lots of debris.
-Can you do that?
-We can do that.
-Can I show you how the special effects people do it?
-Yeah, go on.
We take a mortar like this. We add...
A bit of this vermiculite, cork to simulate stones
and the rubble in there.
So we've got a soft, spongy mixture that's going to really fly
high into the air, but what's actually going to be sending it up?
I think we should use gunpowder.
Ha-ha! Look at that!
I reckon about a kilo of gunpowder should do it.
It's going to be one mighty crater.
Comets disintegrate on impact, so our explosive effect must be
big enough to leave an empty hole behind.
While you're covering this over
we're going to continue with our movie.
See you in a bit.
Let's make a bit of a kind of city street here,
-a little bungalow, look.
Where are you going?
It looks like a comet!
Oh, look a telescope - woohoo!
We just need one more thing for this movie to be complete.
A little flame.
All right, Mark!
To recreate a glowing comet tail, Mark's built a genius contraption,
using fishing wire and a wooden ball covered in flaming cotton felt.
Look at that! Brilliant!
Mark's an expert - so don't try this at home.
We've just one more explosive scene to film
in our Herschel-inspired action movie.
But first, here's another tale about comets.
It's the not so genius idea....
The Deep Impact Spacecraft has spent almost nine years chasing comets,
gathering incredible information on how they're formed.
Er, no, because it's gone missing!
Deep Impact's thought to have lost control,
pointing its antenna in the wrong direction.
Now it's a write off,
and NASA's given up trying to make contact.
Well, gosh, golly-darn it!
So our movie is complete.
Just one more scene to film now, which is the comet
hitting our model city, leaving a massive great crater.
Mmm. Ear defenders on. And you, Caroline.
Right, Mark, push the button.
In five, four, three, two, one!
Spoiler alert! You'll just have to wait.
We've been on an brain-boggling journey with the Herschels,
who helped unlock deep space.
We discovered how Caroline Herschel found new comets -
left over from the creation of the solar system.
And inspired by the craters they could cause,
we've filmed our own comet action movie.
And as we say in the movies that's a wrap.
Caroline Herschel, you are an Absolute Genius,
and our film is in honour of you.
It's called Caroline's Comet.
Why, thank you, boys.
Enjoy the movie.
-Where is everybody?
-I don't know.
I think I can see a comet.
It's all right, it's miles away!
-That's clever, the way it's getting bigger and bigger.
Yeah. It's coming straight for us!
Quick, get in the car!
Right, go, go, go!
Go, go, go, go, go, go, go!
-Floor it, Dicky!
We've got to do something!
-Let's change the music.
-COUNTRY AND WESTERN MUSIC
That hasn't helped!
The road's closed - handbrake turn!
THEY SCREAM IN SLOWMO
-I tell you what - that was close.
Oh, I've spotted another one!
-Now roll those credits!
Eurgh! It smacked me in the face!
-What are you doing?!
-Let me get it straight!
What's all that? What's all the black stuff?