- 1 Freak Wave
The world's oceans claim on average one ship a week, often in mysterious circumstances. With little evidence to go on, investigators usually point at human error or poor maintenance but an alarming series of disappearances and near-sinkings, including world-class vessels with unblemished track records, has prompted the search for a more sinister cause and renewed belief in a maritime myth: the wall of water. Waves the height of an office block. Waves twice as large as any that ships are designed to ride over. These are not tsunamis or tidal waves, but huge breaking walls of water that come out of the blue. Suspicions these were fact not fiction were roused in 1978, by the cargo ship München. She was a state-of-the-art cargo ship. The December storms predicted when she set out to cross the Atlantic did not concern her German crew. The voyage was perfectly routine until at 3am on 12 December she sent out a garbled mayday message from the mid-Atlantic. Rescue attempts began immediately with over a hundred ships combing the ocean.
Air Date: 2002-11-14
- 2 Stone Age Columbus
Who were the first people in North America? From where did they come? How did they arrive? The prehistory of the Americas has been widely studied. Over 70 years a consensus became so established that dissenters felt uneasy challenging it. Yet in 2001, genetics, anthropology and a few shards of flint combined to overturn the accepted facts and to push back one of the greatest technological changes that the Americas have ever seen by over five millennia. The accepted version of the first Americans starts with a flint spearhead unearthed at Clovis, New Mexico, in 1933. Dated by the mammoth skeleton it lay beside to 11,500 years ago (11.5kya), it was distinctive because it had two faces, where flakes had been knapped away from a core flint. The find sparked a wave of similar reports, all dating from around the same period. There seemed to be nothing human before Clovis. Whoever those incomers were around 9,500BC, they appeared to have had a clean start. And the Clovis point was their icon - across 48 states.
Air Date: 2002-11-21
- 3 Homeopathy: The Test
Homeopathy was pioneered over 200 years ago. Practitioners and patients are convinced it has the power to heal. Today, some of the most famous and influential people in the world, including pop stars, politicians, footballers and even Prince Charles, all use homeopathic remedies. Yet according to traditional science, they are wasting their money. Sceptic James Randi is so convinced that homeopathy will not work, that he has offered $1m to anyone who can provide convincing evidence of its effects. For the first time in the programme's history, Horizon conducts its own scientific experiment, to try and win his money. If they succeed, they will not only be $1m richer - they will also force scientists to rethink some of their fundamental beliefs. Homeopathy and conventional science The basic principle of homeopathy is that like cures like: that an ailment can be cured by small quantities of substances which produce the same symptoms. For example, it is believed that onions, which produce streaming, itchy eyes, can be used to relieve the symptoms of hay fever.
Air Date: 2002-11-26
- 4 The Day The Earth Nearly Died
250 million years ago, long before dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the land and oceans teemed with life. This was the Permian, a golden era of biodiversity that was about to come to a crashing end. Within just a few thousand years, 95% of the lifeforms on the planet would be wiped out, in the biggest mass extinction Earth has ever known. What natural disaster could kill on such a massive scale? It is only in recent years that evidence has begun to emerge from rocks in Antarctica, Siberia and Greenland. The demise of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago (at the so-called K/T boundary), was as nothing compared to the Permian mass extinction. The K/T event killed off 60% of life on Earth; the Permian event 95%. Geological data to explain the destruction have been hard to find, simply because the rocks are so old and therefore subject to all kinds of erosion processes. It seems plausible that some kind of catastrophic environmental change must have made life untenable across vast swathes of the planet. In the early 1990s, the hunt for evidence headed for a region of Siberia known as the Traps. Today it's a sub-Arctic wilderness but 250 million years ago, over 200,000km² of it was a blazing torrent of lava. The Siberian Traps were experiencing a 'flood basalt eruption', the biggest volcanic effect on Earth. Instead of isolated volcanoes spewing out lava, the crust split and curtains of lava were released. And the Siberian flood eruption lasted for millions of years. Could volcanic activity over such a long time alter the climate enough to kill off 95% of life on Earth?
Air Date: 2002-12-05
- 5 The Secret of El Dorado
In 1542, the Spanish Conquistador, Francisco de Orellana ventured along the Rio Negro, one of the Amazon Basin's great rivers. Hunting a hidden city of gold, his expedition found a network of farms, villages and even huge walled cities. At least that is what he told an eager audience on his return to Spain. The prospect of gold drew others to explore the region, but none could find the people of whom the first Conquistadors had spoken. The missionaries who followed a century later reported finding just isolated tribes of hunter-gatherers. Orellana's story seemed to be no more than a fanciful myth. A proven liar? When scientists came to weigh up the credibility of Orellana's words, they reached the same conclusion. As productive as the rainforest may appear, the soil it stands in is unsuited to farming. It is established belief that all early civilisations have agriculture at their hearts. Any major population centre will have connections with a system of intensive agriculture. If a soil cannot support crops sufficient to feed a large number of people, then that serves as an effective cap on the population in that area. Even modern chemicals and techniques have failed to generate significant food from Amazonian soil in a sustainable way . The thought that indigenous people could have survived in any number - let alone prospered - was dismissed by most scientists. Scientific consensus was sure that the original Amazonians lived in small semi-nomadic bands and that Orellana must have lied.
Air Date: 2002-12-19
- 6 The Mystery of Easter Island
On Easter Day 1722, Dutch explorers landed on Easter Island. A civilisation isolated by 4,000km of Pacific Ocean was about to meet the outside world for the first time in centuries. The strangers were about to find something very strange themselves - an island dotted with hundreds of huge stone statues and a society that was not as primitive as they expected. The first meeting was an immense clash of cultures. (Bloody too: the sailors killed ten natives within minutes of landing.) Where had the Islanders originally come from? Why and how had they built the figures? Modern science is piecing together the story, but it is far too late for the Easter Islanders themselves. They were virtually wiped out by a series of disasters - natural and manmade - that brought a population of 12,000 down to just 111 in a few centuries. The Island's inhabitants today all have Chilean roots, making solving the mysteries even harder. There is no one to ask about the first people of Easter Island. Although fragmentary legends have been passed down, only science can hope to explain the rise and fall of this unusual civilisation. From where did they sail?
Air Date: 2003-01-09
- 7 Living Nightmare
Sleeping is an essential part of everyone's life yet it remains little understood is barely understood. You might think it's a relaxing recharge but in fact your brain is working harder at times overnight than when you're conscious in the day. Fresh insight into why and how we sleep has come from studying people with sleep disorders, especially sufferers of narcolepsy. The condition means that people fall asleep many times a day, completely out of the blue. A less known symptom is paralysing attacks, that can cause narcoleptics to fall to the ground - unable to move - several times a day. If a way can be found to ease their symptoms, it could open the way to helping any of us to control our sleep patterns and perhaps even to go without rest while staying alert. Gaynor Carr has been nodding off routinely since the age of seven. Her narcolepsy has made holding down a job impossible and made her question the idea of ever having children. Gary Beattie used to work in construction, until he fell asleep 7m up a ladder. He not only loses consciousness, his body becomes paralysed in a so-called cataleptic attack. Both of them say that showing emotion sparks the paralysing attacks and that has forced them to avoid laughing and crying. Bill Baird worked in finance but describes his stockbroking days as a race. The emotion of closing a deal would bring on a fit; he had constantly to hope he could get a client's signature before his almost inevitable collapse. His sleep is restless, with vivid nightmares when he is able to hear his surroundings while seeing terrifying hallucinations.
Air Date: 2003-01-16
- 8 Averting Armageddon
The Earth is under constant bombardment. Each year, many fragments of debris hit our planet. Fortunately for us, most are so small that they burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere. However, there are hundreds of larger asteroids orbiting near the Earth. Many scientists now believe that one of these hit the Earth 65 million years ago, killing the dinosaurs, along with 90% of all life on the planet. What is more, it is only a matter of time before the Earth is hit again. Experts warn that nuclear weapons might not destroy an approaching asteroid. But Jay Meloch thinks he can use the power of the Sun to nudge an asteroid away from the Earth. A violent Solar System Until recently, no one took the asteroid threat very seriously. Yet the evidence that we are in danger is on our own doorstep. We need only look at the cratered surface of the Moon to realise that it has been pounded by impacts throughout its history.
Air Date: 2003-01-23
- 9 Dirty Bomb
A dirty bomb is a radiological weapon but unlike a nuclear bomb, its purpose is to contaminate rather than destroy. It uses normal explosives to disperse radioactive materials in the local environment, creating a hazard to health that could last for years unless cleaned up. The relative ease of making such a bomb means it is a potent terrorist weapon but Horizon's investigation shows that the risk to health from most such devices need not be great. It also underlines the need for governments to act to secure radioactive sources from falling into criminal hands. Horizon deliberately avoids outlining the production process in any detail. Horizon publishes the results of specially commissioned research, modelling two possible dirty bomb scenarios: attacks on either London or Washington DC. The main conclusion is that the health risks from a dirty bomb explosion are localised to people who are close to the incident or are in contact with the contamination. Although the modelled attack scenarios could have wide-ranging economic repercussions, the majority of the population of either capital city would have only a negligible increase in their risk of developing cancer.
Air Date: 2003-01-30
- 10 Sexual Chemistry
The drug Viagra revolutionised the treatment of sexual dysfunction in men on its launch five years ago. An accidental discovery, the tablet that gave impotent men the chance once more to have natural erections became the fastest selling pill in history and has earned its manufacturer, Pfizer, over $6bn. The search is now on for a similar drug that could help women. Research is revealing that female sexuality is more complex than expected. For women suffering from a loss of desire many scientists believe that drugs acting on the brain may be the way forward. A pioneering Scottish study may have identified just such a drug and begun testing it scientifically. A man thing An erection is achieved by filling the erectile tissue of the penis with blood. Blood vessels widen to allow blood in and then constrict to maintain the pressure. Male impotence was long thought to be a psychiatric effect, a result of stress, anxiety or depression. Medical advice was that there was not much to be done. Some patients refused to take this message on board.
Air Date: 2003-02-13
- 11 The Day We Learned To Think
Understanding of humans' earliest past often comes from studying fossils. They tell us much of what we know about the people who lived before us. There is one thing fossils cannot tell us; at what point did we stop living day-to-day and start to think symbolically, to represent ideas about our environment and how we could change it? At a dig in South Africa the discovery of a small piece of ochre pigment, 70,000 years old, has raised some very interesting questions. Anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) emerged in Africa roughly 100,000 years ago. We know from fossil evidence that Homo sapiens replaced other hominids around them and moved out of Africa into Asia and the Middle East, reaching Europe 40,000 years ago. Prof Richard Klein believes art is a landmark in human evolution. Unquestionable art that's widespread and common suggests you're dealing with people just like us. No other animals, after all, are able to define a painting as anything other than a collection of colours and shapes. This ability is unique to humans.
Air Date: 2003-02-20
- 12 Trial and Error: The Rise And Fall Of Gene Therapy
It was the simplest idea but one with enormous potential. If a gene is defective in the human body, just replace it with one that works properly. Gene therapy would mean that genetic disorders would become a thing of the past. Cancer would be cured, as would cystic fibrosis and hundreds of other genetic illnesses. Scientists were justifiably excited about the idea but, this enthusiasm that would end up costing one young man his life. Jesse Gelsinger was born with a liver disorder, a rare condition called ornithine transcarbamylase (OTC) deficiency that stops the liver metabolising ammonia. People with the disease can suffer from brain damage or coma. At its most extreme the illness is fatal. Jesse was lucky, able to lead a fairly normal life although he had a daily cocktail of drugs to control his condition. Jesse wanted to help others. When he was offered a chance to take part in a medical trial to test the safety of using gene therapy for OTC deficiency, he was keen to participate. He knew this was not a cure for his condition but that, by volunteering he might be able to help others in the future. Delivering a cure Although the concept of gene therapy is simple, the practice of administering the treatment is much more difficult. In order to replace defective genes, doctors must get working ones into the body and to the place where they are needed.
Air Date: 2003-02-27
- 13 Earthquake Storms
Earthquakes are among the most devastating natural disasters on the planet. In the last hundred years they have claimed the lives of over one million people. Earthquakes are destructive mainly because of their unpredictable nature. It is impossible to say accurately when a quake will strike but a new theory could help save lives by preparing cities long in advance for an earthquake. The surface of the Earth is made up of large 'tectonic' plates. These plates are in slow but constant motion. When two plates push against each other friction generates a great deal of energy. For this reason earthquakes occur most frequently on tectonic fault lines, where two plates meet. However these fault lines run for thousands of kilometres; predicting exactly where a quake will occur is nearly impossible. Stress lines In 1992, Dr Ross Stein was monitoring a large earthquake in a town in California called Landers. Three hours later, there was another quake 67km away at Great Bear. Stein believed that this was not simply an aftershock, instead he theorised the event at Landers had set off the earthquake at Big Bear. Stein believes that when an earthquake occurs the stress that has built up along the fault, is in part, transferred along the fault line. It is this energy transfer that causes other quakes to occur hours, days or months after the original.
Air Date: 2003-04-01
- 14 Life on Mars (Update)
Are we alone in the Universe? Or are there aliens somewhere in space? New evidence suggests not only might other life-forms be out there, they may even be living on the planet right next door to us - Mars. Recent discoveries have shown that Mars has all the ingredients for life, including water. Now the Mars Odyssey probe, launched in April 2001, has detected huge frozen areas of permafrost, just like that found in the Antarctic on Earth. According to astronomers, the position of this frozen slush could hold the key to Mars' mysterious water cycle. And the surface ice may hide something even more exciting below.
Air Date: 2003-03-27
- 15 The Secret Life of Caves
Set against the back drop of awe inspiring geological beauty, a strange scientific adventure sets out to discover how a mineral clad cave network - the height of a 30 storey building and the length of six football fields - came to exist deep below the Guadalupe Mountains in North America. But this journey soon unravels a multitude of inexplicable phenomena and obscure geological formations, leading to the discovery of extreme rock-eating microbes - a testimony from primordial Earth and a glimpse of life elsewhere in the Solar System. Acid attack Geologists believed that all limestone caves were formed by rain and underground water percolating through cracks in the rocks. Absorbing carbon dioxide from the soil, this water becomes weak carbonic acid, nibbling away at limestone, etching out networks of subterranean caves.
Air Date: 2003-04-03
- 16 God on the Brain
Rudi Affolter and Gwen Tighe have both experienced strong religious visions. He is an atheist; she a Christian. He thought he had died; she thought she had given birth to Jesus. Both have temporal lobe epilepsy. Like other forms of epilepsy, the condition causes fitting but it is also associated with religious hallucinations. Research into why people like Rudi and Gwen saw what they did has opened up a whole field of brain science: neurotheology. The connection between the temporal lobes of the brain and religious feeling has led one Canadian scientist to try stimulating them. (They are near your ears.) 80% of Dr Michael Persinger's experimental subjects report that an artificial magnetic field focused on those brain areas gives them a feeling of 'not being alone'. Some of them describe it as a religious sensation. His work raises the prospect that we are programmed to believe in god, that faith is a mental ability humans have developed or been given. And temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) could help unlock the mystery.
Air Date: 2003-04-17
- 17 Flight 587
265 people died when an Airbus operated by American Airlines crashed into the New York suburb of Queens in November 2001. The twin-engined jet took off from John F Kennedy Airport in fine conditions but hit trouble after just 67 seconds. In the following 38 seconds the plane started to disintegrate before nose-diving into the residential Rockaway area of the city. Everyone aboard was killed (along with five people on the ground) so the crash investigators had to rely on eyewitnesses, recovered parts of the plane and information from both air traffic control and the flight data recorders. The discovery of the Airbus' vertical tailfin hundreds of metres from the fuselage immediately focussed attention on whether the pilots lost the ability to control the plane. Why the tailfin detached was at the heart of the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. The airline and the manufacturer blame each other for creating a situation in which the stress on the rudder and tailfin exceeded the so-called ultimate load, the worst-case scenario set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A number of American Airlines pilots have taken matters into their own hands though: requesting transfers to other aircraft because of their safety concerns.
Air Date: 2003-05-08
- 18 SARS: the True Story
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome didn't even have its name in February 2003, when it struck its first known victim, Johnny Cheng, in Hanoi, Vietnam. Within days, an international effort led by the World Health Organization (WHO) had massed scientific expertise to fight the mystery illness and avert the nightmare scenario of an uncontrollable pandemic sweeping the globe. Amid attempts to quarantine high risk groups of people, it seemed only fear could spread more rapidly than the disease itself. Nothing was known about the condition - where it had come from, how it was passed on, how to spot it, contain it or treat it. The infection was described merely as 'flu-like'. But if this was a type of influenza, it was one that killed up to 15% of its sufferers. The doctor treating Mr Cheng, who first contacted the WHO about the unusual symptoms, was one of six medics to die of SARS at the hospital. But the alarm had been raised and the Organization began to pull together a response. Colossal effort by scientists around the world - and unprecented co-operation - followed. Meanwhile, the media made much of the risk posed by and to international travel, and watched financial markets respond in gloomy fashion.
Air Date: 2003-05-29