Luminous Review - Stars Never Looked So Good

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Luminous, from Director Sam Smartt, brings to the screen an incredible discovery as Astronomy Professor Larry Molnar, introduces the world to the possibility of a nova, a new star, and the journey to prove the phenomena.

The documentary opens with voice over from Professor Molnar, explaining his credentials: He earned his PhD from Harvard University in 1985 and attended a post-doctoral at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics from 1985-1988, he is lauded by peers as a natural scientist, something that is as innate as learned.

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While most of his peers have moved to major positions with the community, he explains, he doesn't know of any that teach at a small liberal arts college like Calvin University in Grand Rapids, MI., where Molnar teaches Physics and Astronomy.

As every subject matter expert, he is enthralled with his subject, Astronomy, the galaxies, stars, and the possibilities the vastness of space hold. And with exuberance he explains the world is becoming more enthused about the vastness of space also.

This begins the introduction into the nova, the new star that Professor Molnar believes he has found. He introduces viewers to this phenomenon through animation that show the stars moving around each other, with force and intensity that he and others expect is about to explode, which is a very rare occurrence, a once in a millennial occurrence.

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Initially, the potential nova was discovered by an undergraduate student, and soon Professor Molnar and a small team of students embark on a dramatic and exciting journey of scientific discovery. However, others in the astronomical community are skeptical and Larry's professional reputation hangs in the balance.

Midway through the documentary we understand why Molnar moved from the larger more prestigious university position to this smaller, and more quiet university. During his tenure at University of Iowa, in 1991, three members of the Physics and Astronomy faculty, his department, and others, were murdered in gun violence by a Chinese student who did not win the scholarship. As Molnar describes this event, he is still without words to explain. The tragedy is very present.

Luminous tells the story of the first astronomer in history to publicly predict the near-future explosion of a star – if he's right, 2022 will see the closest thing to a supernova in the skies of earth in 400 years, and every school kid in the northern hemisphere will know it.

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We walk with him as he tests out his unprecedented prediction, knowing that its success or failure will unfold squarely in the international spotlight. "…It's an incredible needle in the haystack. One in ten million stars would go through this in a human lifetime," said Mark Reid, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

For those who study Astronomy the science behind the prediction is necessary to validate the findings. We see the data leading up to the red nova in 2008, and understand the predicted curve of exponential period decay which predicts a similar red nova outburst in 2022.

With only one such event estimated to occur in our galaxy every ten years, it seems wildly improbable that Larry has stumbled upon the next one to explode, but when the system follows the prediction perfectly for two years, Larry decides to go public with his prediction so that everyone can watch the event if it occurs.

With a cast of Astronomy experts from around the world, each weighing in on the probability, Luminous is as much a mystery thriller as a scientific documentary.

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To learn more about Luminous, visit

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