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January 2011 Extra: Stargazing

January 2011 Extra

In this show we talk to the presenters of BBC Stargazing Live: Dara Ó Briain, Mark Thompson and Professor Brian Cox. As always, Dr Tim O'Brien answers your astronomical questions and we report on some odds and ends from the world of astronomy.

Interview with Dara Ó Briain


Evan spoke to Dara Ó Briain about his thoughts on astronomy and his experience hosting BBC Stargazing Live at Jodrell Bank. But who is this guy?

Dara originally trained in Mathematical Physics and has a degree from University College Dublin. During his studies he also found time to become the Irish National debating champion in both the English and Irish languages. It is clear from the interview that Dara has the ‘gift of the gab’. He then went on to host children's television (“Echo Island”, a bi-lingual Blue Peter type show) before becoming renowned for his stand up comedy, TV presenting and writing. He later moved to the UK where he has become a household name, after working on numerous well-known BBC television shows, such as Mock the Week.

As discussed in the interview, his scientific curiosity has never left him and he is well known for debunking ‘bad science’ and is not afraid to stand up and use his considerable debating powers to argue the case for common sense. His experience of BBC Stargazing Live seems to have brought out the amateur astronomer in Dara and hopefully we will see him around Jodrell again in the future.

Interview with Mark Thompson


Mark Thompson is “The People’s Astronomer” and shares his passion for stargazing with a wide range of audiences, from Norwich Astronomical Society to viewers of the BBC’s The One Show. Having spent much of the past 25 years staring up at the night sky, he tells us why seeing it for yourself is the best way to look at the Universe, and speaks about the ease with which anyone can make beautiful images of space with simple equipment. He discusses how today’s connected World allows people to share the excitement of astronomy, even when it means they are talking about him missing a meteor on live television. Along the way, Mark talks about stargazing from a plane, being the real astronomer on Stargazing Live and why you shouldn’t call him an astrologer.

Interview with Professor Brian Cox


Professor Brian Cox is a particle physicist at The University of Manchester. In this interview, he gives a brief introduction about particle physics, describes some of his work at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and explains some of the links between particle physics and astrophysics.

One area of research that brings particle physics and astrophysics together is the study of neutrinos, elusive fundamental particles that are extremely hard to detect. Most of the neutrinos passing through the Earth are produced in the Sun, although they are produced elsewhere, including in supernovae. In order to detect neutrinos, huge detectors are built underground, such as the Super Kamiokande experiment in Japan (which took this picture of the Sun in neutrinos) and SNOLAB in Canada.

If you want to find out more about neutrinos, check out Dave's SNOLAB interview in the August 2010 Extra show. Or if you need a more detailed explanation of the fundamental forces, Astronomy Cast covered them in episodes 102 (gravity), 103 (electromagnetism) and 105 (strong and weak forces).

Ask an Astronomer


Dr Tim O'Brien answers your questions:

Odds and Ends


A partial solar eclipse was visible from much of Europe, Africa and Asia on 4 January 2011. The eclipse saw many stunning images produced by astrophotographers, most of which were in visible light. However, Niko Lavonen, at the Helsinki University of Technology's Metsähovi Observatory, observed the eclipse at radio wavelengths and has produced several images, as well as an animation, of the eclipse. Other impressive eclipse photos include Thierry Legault's picture of the Sun being eclipsed by the Sun and the International Space Station, a collection of photos on the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre Flickr group and a movie of the eclipse from the Hinode satellite.

The 217th meeting of the American Astronomical Society took place in early January 2011. We will have a full report of the results presented at the meeting in the February show, including a new image of Hanny's Voorwerp from the Hubble Space Telescope, the first rocky planet found by the Kepler mission and antimatter from thunderstorms detected by the Fermi satellite.

The first scientific results from Planck were released at a press briefing in Paris on 11 January 2011. Chris discussed some of the results, more details can be found at the Jodrell Bank press release.

Show Credits

Interview:Dara Ó Briain and Evan Keane
Interview:Mark Thompson and Mark Purver
Interview:Professor Brian Cox and Jen Gupta
Ask An Astronomer:Dr Tim O'Brien
Presenters:Jen Gupta, Evan Keane, Mark Purver and Chris Tibbs
Editors:Adam Avison, Jen Gupta, Stuart Lowe and Tim O'Brien
Segment voice:Lizette Ramirez
Website:Stuart Lowe and Jen Gupta
Cover art:The Jodcast team with the presenters of Stargazing Live! Credit: Mike Peel

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