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The Sky At Night - our 700th episode

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Dr Chris Lintott Dr Chris Lintott | 15:00 UK time, Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Sky At Night has been a part of my life for years. My school had an observatory and the astronomy club devoured episodes old and new, so it was an enormous honour to be asked to appear on the programme.

When I first appeared, in 2000, the programme was still shot in a corner of one of BBC Television Centre's enormous studios.

But when producer Jane Fletcher took over in 2002 we moved to the homelier surroundings of Farthings, Sir Patrick Moore's home in Selsey, West Sussex.

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By then I'd joined Patrick as co-presenter, reporting on missions to Mars and Saturn as well as trying to talk coherently about the mysteries of cosmology.

Luckily, the show has a fantastic relationship with the scientists who appear on it, most of whom jump at the chance to spend time in Patrick's home, full of astronomical books and curios of all sorts.

It's our ability to sit down and find out what's exciting these passionate, clever people that's one of the secrets of the show's longevity.

The other reason the show reaches its 700th episode on Sunday is, of course, Patrick.

When he speaks, people listen because they're confident they will understand his explanations, whether he's talking about the Moon or black holes.

We needed every ounce of that ability to deal with some of the questions that we had for the 700th programme, which ranged from enquires about alien life to questions about why Venus' thick, sulphurous atmosphere is so different from that of Earth.

The idea to ask for viewers' questions for our 700th episode came from a conversation amongst the team, but I'm really surprised and pleased how well it's come out.

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The filming was a real highlight of my time on the programme. Our expert panel, which included Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, Brian Cox and even Jon Culshaw, did a fabulous job of working through the questions.

I think everyone involved - except possibly Patrick, who knows everything already - learned something along the way.

Hopefully the programme will be remembered as a high point in The Sky At Night's 54-year run, but there have been lows too.

Patrick has learned to laugh at the 50th programme, when an attempt to show live images through a telescope was stymied by clouds, [see Cloudy Skies clip] but for me I think the worst was the programme where we had to report the loss of British Mars probe, Beagle 2.

There have been plenty of successes, though, and our view of the universe is very different today from when the first programme went out.

The pace of change is accelerating all the time, and I for one can't wait to see what the universe looks like after another 700 programmes.

Dr Chris Lintott is the co-presenter of The Sky At Night.

The Sky At Night's 700th episode is on BBC One and BBC One HD at 11.25pm on Sunday, 6 March. There is a special extended hour-long edition on BBC Four at 7.30pm on Tuesday, 8 March.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Watch Sky At Night episodes from 2001 to 2008 on the BBC Science website and see the moon landings on The Sky At Night on the BBC Archive.

The Sky At Night co-presenter Paul Abel was a guest on Shaun Keaveny's 6 Music breakfast show on Wednesday. You can listen to the show at 6 Music's website until Tuesday, 8 March.

You can view and add your own astronomy photos to The Sky At Night's Flickr group.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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