The Sky At Night

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!


Latest episode of S@N

I’m manically busy at the moment so not much time to blog, but I’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned the latest episode of The Sky At Night. It’s called ‘Double Vision’ and is mainly about the Large Binocular Telescope (the LBT). The LBT is huge, has two whopping 8-metre mirrors and it looks like it’s going to be an absolute beast of a machine, with some truly incredible science potential to boot. Did I mention that it will have 10x the resolution of Hubble and weighs nearly 600 tonnes? You can find out more about it here and watch the latest episode of S@N again on BBC iPlayer here, as well as all the usual other outlets.

The Sky At Night – We just don’t know!

This month’s Sky At Night is about things we just don’t know about. Patrick is joined by Chris, Kate Land and Prof. Gerry Gilmore to talk about everything from what was before the Big Bang to dark matter and dark energy. The episode covers the topics of inflation as well as the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation and even why we are here at this time in the history of the Universe. You can catch the episode on BBC iPlayer here and again (extended by 10 mins) on various BBC channels.

The Sky At Night – The Sun revealed

Just a quick reminder that The Sky At Night is on BBC Four tomorrow night at 20:00 (more details, repeats etc., here). The title is ‘The Sun revealed’ and looks as if it will be covering the onset of solar cycle 24 and the Ulysses spacecraft which I blogged about recently.

07.04.08 edit: If you are in the UK you can also watch the programme on BBC iPlayer here for the next 6 days.

The Sky At Night – Return to the Moon


If you didn’t catch last night’s Sky At Night programme then you should try and watch it in the next 7 days on BBC iPlayer or when it is repeated on BBC 2 this Saturday at 13:30*.

The episode is an hour long special called ‘Return to the Moon’. It covers everything from NASA’s Constellation program, the recent lunar eclipse, the hardware NASA are going to be using, the UK’s MoonLITE experiment and some great exchanges on the history of lunar observing (and of course Sir Patrick’s contribution) between Dr Allan Chapman and Sir Patrick. It really is a great episode and one not to miss.

Oh and if you haven’t already seen it you should check out the latest astounding image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Chris has it over here.

*The BBC’s What’s On listing that I found lists the repeated episode as only 20 minutes long.

Above: NASA’s Orion craft (left) docked with the Altair lunar lander.
Image credit: NASA

50 Years of The Sky At Night



The Sky At Night celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary with a party at Sir Patrick Moore’s home in Selsey on the 24th of April this year. Many famous astronomers both amateur and professional from all over the world came to celebrate as well as Dr Piers Sellers (NASA Astronaut) who compered the party. I was lucky enough to be invited too and I can say that it was a very fitting tribute to Sir Patrick and the Sky At Night team. Images © Will Gater 2007