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Further: Seth Shostak

3 minutes

Cosmologist Pedro Ferreira on dark energy

3 minutes

ORIGINAL

What fat is for

4 minutes

The big city

6 minutes

Spacesavers

4 minutes

Imagine alien signals are detected. Here’s what happens next

Planets aren’t rare. Life is surprisingly durable. The more we’ve learned about the Universe, the more the search for extraterrestrial life has shifted from science fiction to serious scientific undertaking. So it’s worth considering how humanity would react if we learned, through some distant but unmistakable signal, that lifeforms elsewhere in the Universe were communicating with us. In this interview, Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Center for SETI Research in California, discusses how first contact is more likely to be perspective-shifting than Earth-shattering.

Director: Stuart Langfield

Producer: Marco Patricio

Website: StuartLangfield.com

The mysterious ‘something’ behind the accelerating expansion of the Universe

Dark energy is the term that scientists have given to the mysterious ‘something’ deemed responsible for the accelerating expansion of the Universe. However, unlike gravity, which pulls things together, physicists and cosmologists still can’t explain what dark energy really is or how it does what it does, despite the fact that it theoretically makes up a substantial part of everything. In this upbeat animation, Pedro Ferreira, professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford, points to the scenarios that his field faces – the ‘incredibly exciting’ one and the ‘doomsday’ one – perhaps taking solace in knowing that there are only two. 

Produced by Massive and Pioneer Works

Animation and Direction by Daniel Stankler

Sound by Zing Audio

Words by Pedro Ferreira

Created by Nadja Oertelt

Published in association with
SAPIENS
an Aeon Partner

Abundance has made fat an enemy, but it’s been a friend to humans for millennia

Despite the modern Western obsession with bodyweight, the idea that fat bodies are unsightly and unhealthy is largely unprecedented in human history. Nevertheless, the thin ideal is spreading, permeating societies where ‘a little extra’ has been celebrated, even until very recently. But, as this short video collaboration between Aeon and SAPIENS explains, the idea of fat as something we should get rid of is a historical outlier. Playfully visualised by the London-based Kazakh animator Ermina Takenova, What Fat Is For probes the complex role of fat across human society, from mysterious Palaeolithic figurines to Jamaican dance halls, treating this vital component of our bodies with the complexity, even reverence, it deserves.

Director and Animator: Ermina Takenova

Producer: Kellen Quinn

Writer: Nicola Williams

Associate Producer: Adam D'Arpino

Sound Design: Adam D'Arpino, Eli Cohn

Meet your single-celled neighbours – a microbial tour of a metropolis

From an anthropocentric point of view, big cities are one of humanity’s most majestic achievements: massive, self-contained ecosystems built by, catering to, and inhabited by huge numbers of people. But you could forgive microorganisms for claiming that cities are actually theirs. After all, they outnumber humans in urban environments by the trillions. They also affect cityscapes in a far more tangible way: city planners and epidemiologists shape urban environments with pathogenic threats in mind. 

For his experimental short film The Big City, the Canadian filmmaker Evan Luchkow put the hidden lifeforms of downtown Vancouver’s main roads under the literal microscope, documenting the various microbes he found to reveal, in his words, ‘the blurry boundary between human society and the natural world’. The result is an extraordinary and enlightening glimpse of the vast biodiversity with which we share our cities. 

Director: Evan Luchkow

The peculiar Boston tradition that (mostly) keeps the winter parking peace

After snowstorms in Boston, street parking tensions tend to rise, especially when car owners clear out spaces near their residences only to later find another driver has swiped their hard-earned spot. But walk the city’s streets in the wake of a blizzard, and you’ll notice a uniquely Bostonian visual language that aims to keep the parking peace – even if it isn’t always successful. In a decades-old winter tradition codified by a former mayor, residents in most Boston neighbourhoods are allowed to hold their spaces for up to 48 hours using everyday objects. The formerly Boston-based director Sarah Ginsburg explores the peculiar practice in her film Spacesavers. Shot during the winter of 2015 – a record-breaking season for snowfall – the wry observational short offers a distinctive vision of Boston’s winter streets where everything from lawn chairs to walkers and golf bags become ‘keep out’ signs.

Director: Sarah Ginsburg

Producer: Will Lennon

Imagine alien signals are detected. Here’s what happens next

Planets aren’t rare. Life is surprisingly durable. The more we’ve learned about the Universe, the more the search for extraterrestrial life has shifted from science fiction to serious scientific undertaking. So it’s worth considering how humanity would react if we learned, through some distant but unmistakable signal, that lifeforms elsewhere in the Universe were communicating with us. In this interview, Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Center for SETI Research in California, discusses how first contact is more likely to be perspective-shifting than Earth-shattering.

Director: Stuart Langfield

Producer: Marco Patricio

Website: StuartLangfield.com

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Essay/
Space Exploration
Rules in space

If we don’t invent a legal framework for space colonisation the consequences could be catastrophic: the time to act is now

Marko Kovic

Essay/
Biology
Bee-brained

Are insects ‘philosophical zombies’ with no inner life? Close attention to their behaviours and moods suggests otherwise

Lars Chittka & Catherine Wilson