In the UK one must pay for the privileged of having a television. For the low low price of approximately £150/year you get commercial free broadcasting from the BBC. Trouble is I pay this fee every year begrudgingly because there is rarely anything worth watching at all but the simple fact of the matter is I can't watch any television unless I pay this stupid tax to the BBC.
There is the rare occasion that the BBC will play a film that I will watch and it is nice watching it without any commercial interruptions but quite frankly I've usually seen the film at the cinema or on DVD long before it gets to the TV. Anything that might be a bit cutting edge or controversial tends to be on another channel. Heck most things that are interesting tends to be on another channel.
This week, however, over 3 evenings, the BBC earned every penny, pound and shilling of their license fee for the year. Stargazing Live was broadcast on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for an hour. The ever so dishy and frighteningly clever Professor Brian Cox co-hosted the LIVE broadcast with Dara O'Briain. Dara is an irish standup comedian and other than having a keen interst in amateur astornomy I'm not entirely sure why or how he was chosen as a co-host. Professor Brian Cox, on the other hand, is a big brain: a particle physicist who has a remarkable talent for making the complex understandable for mere mortals like myself. I won't mention that he was also in a band....oops, just did, but ignore that! And that smile.....well, he was one of People magazine's sexiest men in 2009.
I believe the objective of the show was to get people interested in those little white lights that twinkle in the night sky and educate us about how much more amazing they are when you look at them through telescopes. The photographs of Andromeda took my breath away.
Unfortunately, since the show was broadcast from Britain and we are not exactly renowned for having clear skies the majority of the time, the show was hampered by trying to fill time when the sky was filled with clouds. The best moment in the show came during the second broadcast when they were speaking with the man outside with the telescope. He complained that not much was happening since the sky was so cloudy. Just as he was saying this, a large meteorite fell through the only clear spot in the clouds just behind and above his right shoulder. Twitter lit up about the show and the producers were actually able to replay it towards the end of the live broadcast. Classic!
There were some low points in the show. The piece about the sound of stars was a bit fuzzy and not really science at all which dented the credibility of the factual nature of the show. I loved that Professor Cox was very careful to identify those things we know for fact and those things we can only theorise about.
The show featured several female scientist showing my daughter that she doesn't have to be Hannah Montana when she grows up. My son was fascinated and kept asking questions during the live show. Luckily, we recorded it and have watched it back. I fear it may stay recorded ready for reply as reference for a while.
We have a wonderful telescope which doesn't make it out as much as it should although we have impressed some dinner guests with a viewing of Jupiter but the planet did most of the impressing to be honest. The telescope will be outside when the sky clears up and we are planning on heading southwest to do some star gazing during the half term in late February. On the occasions we have looked through it, I have seen the rings of Saturn. I have seen the gases of Jupiter and at least 4 of its 63 moons. I have seen what looks to be faint pinpricks of light become swirling masses of blue, purple, yellow.
I have looked at the night sky and the BBC has helped to remind me and all their lucky viewers that £150 is a small price to pay for the knowledge that we are tiny, insignificant beings in a small galaxy and we know very little of what is beyond it. But finally, it is highly unlikely that we are alone.
PS If you are in the UK, you can still catch the program on iPlayer. If you are anywhere else, tough. You will just have to be jealous and get a telescope of your own!