This month BBC Two turns off a town’s lights (live on air) to showcase the wonders of the UK night sky.
On Wednesday 18 January, Dulverton in Somerset will attempt to become one of the first towns in the UK to have every single one of its lights turned off at the same time, as part of a Stargazing Live demonstration showcasing the beauty of a night sky free of the effects of light pollution.
There are 177 street lights in Dulverton making the night sky significantly brighter and making it much harder to see the stars. At roughly 8.15pm on Wednesday (or at the sound of a unique set of church bells), the Stargazing Live team want every single person in Dulverton to turn off every single light in the town, giving people in the area the unique chance to take in the wonders of the night sky free of the effects of light pollution.
The lights will be switched off live on air to round off the three-night spectacular Stargazing Live (starting 8.30pm, Mon 16 January, BBC Two; 8pm, Tues / Weds) hosted by Professor Brian Cox and Dara O Briain. Stargazing Live is produced in partnership with the Open University and each episode will be followed by Stargazing Live: Back To Earth, a 30-minute special in which viewers can interact with Brian and Dara live on-air.
Over the course of the three nights, the Stargazing Live team will be switching off lights across the country (at venues including the Eden Project) to demonstrate just how magical UK landmarks can look when light pollution is removed.
Amateur astronomers across the country are getting involved. Novices and stargazing fanatics alike are set to attend one of the numerous star parties - organised by BBC Learning and partners - taking place during January and whilst Stargazing Live is on air. To find your nearest event visit bbc.co.uk/stargazing.
Following the series, school children across the country will get the chance to put their astronomy questions directly to one of the nation’s favourite science teachers, Professor Brian Cox. At 2pm on Thursday 19 January Professor Cox will present a dynamic live, interactive lesson from Jodrell Bank in collaboration with The Big Bang Fair. All UK schools can join in on the website or via the BBC Red Button. A Cheshire school will interview Brian live and present a feature for BBC News School Report.
Stargazing Live returns for a three-night series set to encourage everyone – from the complete beginner to the enthusiastic amateur – to make the most of the night sky. Professor Brian Cox and Dara O Briain will broadcast live from the control room of the Jodrell Bank radio observatory in Cheshire, interacting live with the audience and calling on a starry collection of the country’s finest astronomical minds to explore the majestic wonders of the skies above Britain.
As they showcase breathtaking images from the world’s most powerful telescopes, Brian and Dara will be joined by celebrities and scientific experts including Mark Thompson, Liz Bonnin, space nut Jon Culshaw and guest of honour Captain Eugene Cernan, the last man ever to walk on the surface of the moon.
In an information packed jaunt across the cosmos, Brian and Dara will look at Moons (episode 1), the Galaxy (episode 2) and the Search For Life (episode 3), teaching us everything we’ve always wanted to know about the Solar System, our Milky Way and the deepest recesses of space.
In their own unique style, the pair will tackle some of the most intriguing questions in astronomy, such as Why Does the Moon Cause The Tides?, How Do We Know Where Black Holes Are When They Are impossible To See? and What Will We Actually Say If We Ever Make Contact With An Alien Race? Closer to home, there will also be hints and tips for getting started in stargazing and advice on navigating your way around the skies.
Following each night’s Stargazing Live episode will be Stargazing Live: Back To Earth, a 30-minute special in which viewers can put questions directly to Brian and Dara, send in their favourite astronomy pictures and take part in astronomy related discussions and debates live on air.
During the series, the Stargazing Live audience (in collaboration with the citizen science organisation Zooniverse) will be asked to help make scientific history as they’re invited to join an online experiment to discover a brand new planet, far outside the confines of our solar system.
Stargazing Live airs at 8.30pm, Monday 16 January; 8pm, Tuesday 17 January; and 8pm, Wednesday 18 January.
Stargazing Live: Back To Earth goes out at 9.30pm, Monday 16 January; 9pm, Tuesday 17 January; and 9pm, Wednesday 18 January.
The series (3x60) was commissioned by Kim Shillinglaw, Commissioner for Science and Natural History and will be executive produced by Lisa Ausden for BBC Productions. The series producer is Alan Holland. Stargazing Live is co-produced by the Open University.
A Nation of Star Lovers
Last January, up to 40,000 took part in Stargazing Live astronomy events in the UK to coincide with the series. This year, the Stargazing Live team and BBC Learning are hoping even more people get involved, with hundreds of events and Star Parties being organised from Lands End to Aberdeen with the help of partners around the country including Dark Sky Discovery.
Bringing together astronomical societies, museums and discovery centres, country parks and local authorities these exciting events include planetarium shows; star parties; astrophotography; night walks as well as topical talks and discussions contributing to a national stargazing celebration – some of which will be shown on air.
Young people from Glasgow, Salford and London are taking part in a unique Stargazing musical project at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire. They’ll be working with BBC LAB, three BBC orchestras and music producers to collect sounds from space using the Lovell Space Telescope and turn them into electronic tracks that will be played on BBC radio stations in January.
BBC Learning has created a range of new and improved Stargazing Live resources including an updated Star and Moon Guide to help beginners keen to get started on the astronomy basics. The trusty companion guide shows how to observe the naked sky with star charts each season, spot major craters and the sites of the Apollo moon landings, keeping the amateur astronomer busy all year round.
The website also features collectible Planetary Activity Cards to help youngsters to learn about the Solar System and downloadable audio and video guides to talk beginners through the process of getting to grips with astronomy.
On Saturday 14 January, BBC Big Screens across the UK will host Stargazing lunchtime events (featuring games and astronomical activities) and will live-link to the Faulkes Telescope in Hawaii. A panel of experts (including Professor Brian Cox) will answer 20 burning questions about the universe on screens across the country.
Throughout the series, star snappers are being asked to submit their astronomy snaps online, with Brian and Dara showing a selection of pictures on-air.
To find your nearest event, submit astronomy snaps or download the ever popular Star and Moon Guides, visit the Stargazing website. Teachers can find further information on resources and activities for schools on the Schools section of the site.
Notes to Editors
Last year, there were 2.4 million downloads of the Stargazing Live Star Guide – the most downloaded BBC resource of all-time (produced by BBC Learning). Over 40,000 people got involved in one of more than 300 Stargazing Live events across the country.
In 2011, the three-night TV series peaked at 4 million viewers (double the slot average), making it one of the most popular BBC Two factual series of the year.