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Science

“What Darwin Never Knew” — a NOVA documentary on the burgeoning science of evolutionary developmental biology — will air on December 29, 2009, on public broadcasting stations around the country. According to NOVA:

Earth teems with a staggering variety of animals, including 9,000 kinds of birds, 28,000 types of fish, and more than 350,000 species of beetles. What explains this explosion of living creatures — 1.4 million different species discovered so far, with perhaps another 50 million to go? The source of life’s endless forms was a profound mystery until Charles Darwin brought forth his revolutionary idea of natural selection. But Darwin’s radical insights raised as many questions as they answered. What actually drives evolution and turns one species into another? To what degree do different animals rely on the same genetic toolkit? And how did we evolve?

“What Darwin Never Knew” offers answers to riddles that Darwin couldn’t explain. Breakthroughs in a brand-new science — nicknamed “evo devo” — are linking the enigmas of evolution to another of nature’s great mysteries, the development of the embryo. NOVA takes viewers on a journey from the Galapagos Islands to the Arctic, and from the explosion of animal forms half a billion years ago to the research labs of today. Scientists are finally beginning to crack nature’s biggest secrets at the genetic level. The results are confirming the brilliance of Darwin’s insights while revealing clues to life’s breathtaking diversity in ways the great naturalist could scarcely have imagined.

Video (Playlist): http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=B38BEBDA02F70C35

Several thousand years have passed since their construction, and still, the enigma of the pyramids is not fully understood.

The structures have survived all these years of natural weathering and damage inflicted by modern mankind.

Through the magic of computer simulation, the viewer can experience the pyramids as they must have appeared to the ancient Egyptians who built them.

Ultimate Guide: Pyramids also provides information on how the pyramids might have been constructed.

Documentary that goes inside the framework of pyramids to show how these structures have changed over time, starting as flat-roofed houses and evolving into temples and grave sites.

The program reconstructs how these fabled pyramids and their cities must have looked at the peak of their civilizations.

Video (Playlist): http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=BAC872510149DEBC

Nothing is more fascinating to us than, well, us. Where did we come from? What makes us human? NOVA’s groundbreaking investigation explores how new discoveries are transforming views of our earliest ancestors.

Featuring interviews with world-renowned scientists, footage shot in the trenches as fossils were unearthed, and stunning computer-generated animation, Becoming Human brings early hominids to life, examining how they lived and how we became the creative and adaptable modern humans of today.

In the first episode, NOVA encounters Selam, the amazingly complete remains of a 3 million year-old child, packed with clues to why we split from the apes, came down from the trees, and started walking upright.

In gripping forensic detail, the second episode investigates the riddle of Turkana Boy -a tantalizing fossil of Homo erectus, the first ancestor to leave Africa and colonize the globe. What led to this first great African exodus?

In the final episode, Becoming Human explores the origins of us -where modern humans and our capacities for art, invention, and survival came from, and what happened when we encountered the mysterious Neanderthals.

Crucial new evidence comes from the recent decoding of the Neanderthal genome. Did modern humans interbreed with Neanderthals? Exterminate them?

Becoming Human examines why we survived while our other ancestral cousins-including Indonesia’s bizarre 3 foot-high Hobbit -died out. And NOVA poses the intriguing question: Are we still evolving today?

Video (Playlist): http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=2CEE805C23C756FC

Congratulations: You are an ape. A “great ape,” technically. Alongside us in this brainy family of animals are four other living species: chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and bonobos (formerly called “pygmy chimpanzees”). The biological gap between us and our great ape cousins is small. At last count, only 1.23 percent of our genes differ from those of chimpanzees. But mentally, the gap between us and them is a Grand Canyon.

On an average day in the life of the human species, we file thousands of patents, post tens of thousands of Internet videos, and think countless thoughts that have never been thought before. On a good day, chimpanzees are lucky to exploit rudimentary tried-and-true techniques, such as using stone tools to crack nuts.

Not only do we innovate more than the other great apes, we are vastly better at sharing ideas with one another. The majority of recent behavioral studies focus on information-transmission rather than invention. All of the great apes can learn new tricks by imitating a human or another ape. But only humans go one step further and routinely teacheach other. Teaching may be the signature skill of our species, and researchers are now zeroing in on three particular mental talents that make it possible.

Our DNA is less than 2 percent different from that of chimpanzees, so what is that makes humans so different from the great apes? Find out what our ape cousins can do — and what they can’t.

Video (Playlist): http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=C68538044D52A06C

Meet “Ida,” the small “missing link” found in Germany that’s created a big media splash and will likely continue to make waves among those who study human origins. In this documentary paleontologist Jorn Hurum, who led the team that analyzed the 47-million-year-old fossil seen above, suggests Ida is a critical missing-link species in primate evolution.

The fossil, he says, bridges the evolutionary split between higher primates such as monkeys, apes, and humans and their more distant relatives such as lemurs. “This is the first link to all humans,” Hurum, of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway, said in a statement. Ida represents “the closest thing we can get to a direct ancestor.” Ida, properly known as Darwinius masillae, has a unique anatomy. The lemur-like skeleton features primate-like characteristics, including grasping hands, opposable thumbs, clawless digits with nails, and relatively short limbs. “This specimen looks like a really early fossil monkey that belongs to the group that includes us,” said Brian Richmond, a biological anthropologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study, published this week in the journal PLoS ONE.

But there’s a big gap in the fossil record from this time period, Richmond noted. Researchers are unsure when and where the primate group that includes monkeys, apes, and humans split from the other group of primates that includes lemurs. “[Ida] is one of the important branching points on the evolutionary tree,” Richmond said, “but it’s not the only branching point.” At least one aspect of Ida is unquestionably unique: her incredible preservation, unheard of in specimens from the Eocene era, when early primates underwent a period of rapid evolution. (Explore a prehistoric time line.) “From this time period there are very few fossils, and they tend to be an isolated tooth here or maybe a tailbone there,” Richmond explained. “So you can’t say a whole lot of what that [type of fossil] represents in terms of evolutionary history or biology.”

In Ida’s case, scientists were able to examine fossil evidence of fur and soft tissue and even picked through the remains of her last meal: fruits, seeds, and leaves. What’s more, the newly described “missing link” was found in Germany’s Messel Pit. Ida’s European origins are intriguing, Richmond said, because they could suggest – contrary to common assumptions – that the continent was an important area for primate evolution.

Video (Playlist): http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=83899978BA7C3F27

National Geographic presents the first accurate non-stop voyage from Earth to the edge of the Universe using a single, unbroken shot through the use of spectacular CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) technology.

Building on images taken from the Hubble telescope, Journey to the Edge of the Universe explores the science and history behind the distant celestial bodies in the solar system.

This spectacular, epic voyage across the cosmos, takes us from the Earth, past the Moon and our neighboring planets, out of our Solar System, to the nearest stars, nebulae and galaxies and beyond – right to the edge of the Universe itself.

When you finish this video, you will walk away from it with an awareness that you never had before, of the unseen astronomically massive universe that we float around on like a spec of dust in the ocean.

This video takes you on a journey through the universe as if you are watching a Sci Fi adventure. Yet you constantly have to remind yourself that what you’re seeing is really out there.

Video – Part 1: http://video.yahoo.com/watch/5657948

Video – Part 2:  http://video.yahoo.com/watch/5657960

10,000 B.C. was a time of cataclysmic change on Earth. Extreme climactic fluctuations hurled the planet into a minor ice age; mega-fauna like the saber-toothed tiger and woolly mammoth were suddenly becoming extinct; and early humans began to inhabit North America.

Cold and hungry, their fragile communities undertook perilous hunting expeditions. The slaughter of a single mammoth, weighing nearly ten tons, could be the difference between survival and death.

JOURNEY TO 10,000 B.C. brings this unique and thrilling period to life, and investigates the geologic and climate changes that scientists are just beginning to understand.

In a major forensic investigation, History visits early human archaeological sites to uncover fossilized bones, ancient dwellings, and stone weapons, and uses state-of-the-art CGI to recreate the treacherous mammoth hunts and the devastating impact of a comet colliding with Earth.

Video (Playlist): http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=CE14017A086EBC2E