400 years in one night

Here’s a quick heads-up for some astronomy related television due to be aired in the next few days. This International Year of Astronomy marks the 400th anniversary of the first use of the telescope for astronomical purposes, by the English astronomer Thomas Harriot and later the great Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. This coming Wednesday (the 7th January) BBC Four will be celebrating this with a night of four programmes about the telescope and astronomy. The evening kicks off at 8:00pm with a special hour long episode of The Sky At Night entitled “Light Fantastic”. The programme covers the four century long history of the astronomical telescope as well as an interview with one of the astronauts who fixed the Hubble Space Telescope.

hubblefloatingHubble is just one of the stars of Wednesday night’s TV coverage. Credit: NASA


After The Sky At Night, at 9:00pm, there’s a documentary about the history of Hubble. Then at 10:00pm there’s a new documentary called “BLAST!“, billed by its producers as “astrophysics Indiana Jones style!”. It follows a group of astronomers who journey to the Arctic and Antarctica, in order to launch the Balloon-borne Large-Aperture Sub-millimeter Telescope (a.k.a BLAST) on a high-altitude balloon, to study the formation of high redshift (and therefore very distant) galaxies.

Finally then the evening rounds off, back down to Earth, with Adam Hart-Davis who presents a look at “Britain’s 40,000 amateur astronomers” with appearances from Colin Pillinger, Terry Pratchett and Patrick Moore. And before you settle down to watch this little lot of TV, don’t forget to look outside to see the Moon occulting (that’s moving in front of) the Pleiades star cluster — at about 17:15 UT. The Moon will be about 45 degrees high in the east at this time and should look great, in front of the cluster, through a good pair of binoculars. What better way to kick off the International Year of Astronomy 2009!


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