10 Best Episodes of NOVA - Season 42

PBS' premier science series helps viewers of all ages explore the science behind the headlines. Along the way, NOVA demystifies science and technology, and highlights the people involved in scientific pursuits.

Written by Sophie and last updated on feb 10, 2023.

PS: The following content contains spoilers!

PPS: I will admit that parts of this page was written with the help of AI - it makes my work so much easier to not start from a blank page!

NOVA - S42E19

#15 - Making North America: Life (Season 42 - Episode 19)

How did life emerge on our primeval continent? Why was North America home to so many iconic dinosaurs like T. rex? And how did a huge sea filled with giant marine reptiles end up covering Kansas? We tell the surprising intertwined story of life and the landscape in North America. 

The episode was rated 7.60 from 55 votes.

NOVA - S42E11

#14 - Chasing Pluto (Season 42 - Episode 11)


On July 14, 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft, one of the most advanced ever built, is scheduled to fly by Pluto to take the very first detailed images of the dwarf planet. After nine years and 3 billion miles, we will finally get a close look at this strange, icy world, but only if the craft can survive the final, treacherous leg of its journey, which could take it through a dangerous field of debris. If it does, New Horizons is poised to make dramatic new discoveries, not just about Pluto, but about the vast realm of icy bodies lurking beyond Neptune, relics of the earliest days of the solar system’s formation. Back on Earth, the planetary scientists who have spent decades working on this mission anxiously await a signal from their spacecraft. Our cameras will be there to witness the moment. If all goes well, we’ll see Pluto’s mysterious surface in unprecedented detail and learn new secrets about other alien worlds at the far limits of our solar system.

The episode was rated 7.63 from 60 votes.

NOVA - S42E16

#13 - Cyberwar Threat (Season 42 - Episode 16)

NOVA examines the science and technology behind cyber warfare and asks if we are already in the midst of a deadly new arms race.

The episode was rated 7.64 from 36 votes.

NOVA - S42E9

#12 - Nazi Attack on America (Season 42 - Episode 9)


A sunken German U-boat off the coast of New Orleans tells the story of Operation Drumbeat

The episode was rated 7.64 from 36 votes.

NOVA - S42E2

#11 - Sunken Ship Rescue (Season 42 - Episode 2)

Efforts to secure, raise and salvage the Costa Concordia cruise ship which capsized off the Italian coast on Jan. 13, 2012, killing 32 people.

The episode was rated 7.66 from 64 votes.

NOVA - S42E6

#10 - Hagia Sophia: Istanbul’s Ancient Mystery (Season 42 - Episode 6)


Whether serving as Christian church, Islamic mosque, or secular museum, Hagia Sophia and its saring dome have inspired reverence and awe. For 800 years, it was the largest enclosed building in the world—the Statue of Liberty can fit beneath its dome with room to spare. How has it survived its location on one of the world’s most active seismic faults, which has inflicted a dozen devastating earthquakes since it was built in 537? As Istanbul braces for the next big quake, a team of architects and engineers is urgently investigating Hagia Sophia’s seismic secrets. Follow engineers as they build a massive 8-ton model of the building’s core structure, place it on a motorized shake table, and hit it with a series of simulated quakes, pushing it collapse—a fate that the team is determined to avoid with the real building.

The episode was rated 7.69 from 55 votes.

NOVA - S42E15

#9 - Secrets of Noah's Ark (Season 42 - Episode 15)

A team of historians and expert boat builders investigates the fascinating Noah's Ark flood legend and sets out to rebuild a tantalizing, ancient forerunner of the Ark.

The episode was rated 7.70 from 33 votes.

NOVA - S42E12

#8 - Nuclear Meltdown Disaster (Season 42 - Episode 12)


NOVA reveals the minute-by-minute story of the Fukushima nuclear crisis—the one you know about, and the one you likely don’t: the perilously close call at the other Fukushima nuclear power plant a few miles away from the meltdowns. With unprecedented access inside both Fukushima nuclear power plants, NOVA speaks with workers who were there during the harrowing days—a crisis that began as a natural a disaster but was made worse by human beings. But why did the worst happen at one plant while another that faced nearly identical challenges emerged unscathed? It may come down to the skill and knowledge of one man, who has worked there since they started construction. These are crucial questions as the company that runs both plants, TEPCO, tries to clean up an unprecedented radioactive mess and seeks to reopen the plant that was just barely saved.

The episode was rated 7.70 from 33 votes.

NOVA - S42E4

#7 - Colosseum: Roman Death Trap (Season 42 - Episode 4)

One of the ancient world's most iconic buildings, the Colosseum is a monument to Roman imperial power and cruelty. Its graceful lines and harmonious proportions concealed a highly efficient design and advanced construction methods that made hundreds of arches out of 100,000 tons of stone. In its elliptical arena, tens of thousands of gladiators, slaves, prisoners, and wild animals met their deaths. Ancient texts report lions and elephants emerging from beneath the floor, as if by magic, to ravage gladiators and people condemned to death. Then, just as quickly, the Colosseum could be flooded with so much water that ships could engage in sea battles to the delight of the crowd. Now, archaeologists and engineers are teaming up to recreate a 25-foot lifting machine and trap door system capable of releasing a wolf into the Colosseum's arena for the first time in 1,500 years. Do they have what it takes to replicate the innovation and ingenuity of the Romans?

The episode was rated 7.71 from 38 votes.

NOVA - S42E14

#6 - Arctic Ghost Ship (Season 42 - Episode 14)


The Franklin Expedition is explored 160 years after vanishing while charting the Northwest Passage.

The episode was rated 7.81 from 32 votes.

NOVA - S42E7

#5 - The Great Math Mystery (Season 42 - Episode 7)

Join NOVA on a mathematical mystery tour—a provocative exploration of math's astonishing power across the centuries. We discover math's signature in the swirl of a nautilus shell, the whirlpool of a galaxy, and the spiral in the center of a sunflower. Math was essential to everything from the first wireless radio transmissions to the prediction and discovery of the Higgs boson and the successful landing of rovers on Mars. Astrophysicist and writer Mario Livio, along with a colorful cast of mathematicians, physicists, and engineers, follow math from Pythagoras to Einstein and beyond. It all leads to the ultimate riddle: Is math a human invention or the discovery of the language of the universe?

The episode was rated 7.82 from 60 votes.

NOVA - S42E21

#4 - Inside Einstein's Mind (Season 42 - Episode 21)


On November 25th, 1915, Einstein published his greatest work: general relativity. The theory transformed our understanding of nature’s laws and the entire history of the cosmos, reaching back to the origin of time itself. Now, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s achievement, NOVA tells the inside story of Einstein’s masterpiece. The story begins with the intuitive thought experiments that set Einstein off on his quest and traces the revolution in cosmology that is still playing out in today’s labs and observatories. Discover the simple but powerful ideas at the heart of relativity, illuminating the theory—and Einstein’s brilliance—as never before. From the first spark of an idea to the discovery of the expanding universe, the Big Bang, black holes, and dark energy, NOVA uncovers the inspired insights and brilliant breakthroughs of “the perfect theory.”

The episode was rated 7.90 from 68 votes.

NOVA - S42E17

#3 - Animal Mummies (Season 42 - Episode 17)

NOVA joins a team of leading Egyptologists who deploy the latest medical imaging to peer beneath the wrappings of Egyptian mummified beasts without damaging the animal bodies inside. The results are enlightening, often surprising insights into the weird beliefs and practices that clung to the Egyptian quest for immortality.

The episode was rated 7.94 from 71 votes.

NOVA - S42E10

#2 - Lethal Seas (Season 42 - Episode 10)


A unique coral garden in Papua New Guinea shows what the future may hold as oceans acidify

The episode was rated 8.24 from 34 votes.

NOVA - S42E18

#1 - Making North America: Origins (Season 42 - Episode 18)

The epic 3 billion-year story of how our continent came to be. From the palm trees that once flourished in Alaska to titanic eruptions that nearly tore the Midwest in two, discover how forces of almost unimaginable power gave birth to North America.

The episode was rated 8.32 from 77 votes.

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