Lift thine eyes to the heavens!


This is just to say that I’m impressed with the series of three popular astronomy programmes broadcast this week by the BBC. When human populations are increasingly concentrated in urban areas, with artificial light polluting the night sky as well as doing its intended job, it is a challenge to get people interested in stargazing.

We are fortunate to have available at the click of a mouse stunning images of deep sky wonders captured with state-of-the-art professional telescopes. The downside is that this can leave us reluctant to venture into the cold night air and turn our attention to the heavens. But the only way to develop a sense of astronomical perspective is to study the patterns formed by the stars, resolve with the naked eye the extended shapes of star clusters, nebulae and galaxies, and watch through an evening as the moon and planets cross the sky. That you cannot do with images on a computer or television screen.

The BBC Stargazing Live series features the usual suspect celebrities, but that is 21st century television for you, and one just has to accept the capriciousness and conservatism of programme producers. Presenters Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain are intelligent chaps with popular appeal, and they do an excellent job of explaining astronomical concepts at a level that should be comprehensible by those with no scientific education.

Stargazing Live is excellent popular science TV, and we could do with more of the same.