Offering a mind-boggling update on territory covered in the legendary science series “Cosmos” from the late Carl Sagan, tonight’s “Nova” (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings) presentation “Hunting the Edge of Space” embarks on a journey into the mysteries of the Milky Way and beyond. Way beyond.
“Hunting” begins with spectacular images of distant galaxies as captured by the Hubble and other space-based telescopes. Then it backtracks into informative re-enactments, offering a survey history of the telescope itself and how these early primitive instruments allowed Galileo and others to redefine the very shape of the universe and challenge man’s place in the celestial order.
Next week, “Hunting” continues with a look at how advanced telescopes are allowing us to see stars busy being born and busy dying from distances so great that they enable us to peer billions of years into the past.
Experts also discuss the curious nature of “dark” energy and “dark” matter and ponder the possibilities that the vast majority of the universe remains unseen and, up until now, unseeable.
With so many TV series devoted to the silly; the supernatural; gossip about the uninteresting and unread; political sound and fury signifying nothing; a fashion week that never ends; and the covetous pursuit of stuff and real estate, “Nova” remains a pillar of smart programming, rewarding the curious with intelligent and challenging discussion.
• Speaking of cosmic riddles and dark energy, Desmond wakes up back on the island on “Lost” (8 p.m., ABC). Not to give anything away (as if I could), but the credits for the episode include Dominic Monaghan (Charlie) and Jeremy Davies (Daniel), who, when last seen, were really most sincerely dead.
• A filmmaker from the Hamptons chronicles his large, affluent Irish Catholic family’s multigenerational struggles with bipolar disorder in the intriguingly titled documentary “Dad’s in Heaven With Nixon” (7:30 p.m., Showtime).
• The remaining nine perform songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney on “American Idol” (7 p.m., Fox). And tonight, Mr. Cowell is topping the bill.
Tonight’s other highlights
• “How the States Got Their Shapes” (8 p.m., History) attempts to answer that very question.
• “Deadliest Catch” (8 p.m., Discover) recalls the highlights of season 4.
• Alicia and Will fight the feeling on “The Good Wife” (9 p.m., CBS).
• Anna invites a select few earthlings to live on the mothership on “V” (9 p.m., ABC).