Astronomy in old and new media : the Sky at Night on demand

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Physics


Although I am primarily a researcher, I have put a lot of effort in the last four years into talking about astronomy to as wide an audience as possible, primarily in my role as co-presenter of the BBC's Sky at Night program. This covers the whole of astronomy, a broad field covering everything from the origins of the Universe, via the possibility of life elsewhere, through to the exploration of Mars and even the effect of the Sun on the Earth. It's an excellent time to be an astronomer; advances in computing power and technology, together with facilities such as the Hubble Space Telescope, have produced major breakthroughs in almost every field. Particularly dramatic examples include the first reliable determination of the age of the Universe, the discovery of the first planets orbiting stars other than our Sun, and the first landing on Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Many of these discoveries eventually get reported in the press. However, the press usually only cover the beginning or the end of a mission, or have a tendency to present each story as the final word in an argument. What motivates most of us as researchers isn't a dry compilation of facts, but the sheer fun of not knowing things and attempting to find them out, and it's only by letting the public in on science as it happens that we can share this with the audience. This takes time, and as you might expect, tleaves us with a lot of ground to cover in what is only a short, monthly program. The results from a single mission such as Cassini (which is exploring Saturn and its moons) could easily fill every program for years, and so the aim of this proposal is to provide time to report on more of the incredible work that British astronomers are lucky enough to take part in. I plan to use material that doesn't make the final cut of the program, together with new interviews on different subjects, to provide a host of web-based audio and video content, which can be viewed online or downloaded. At the same time, the extra time a fellowship gives me would let me spend much more time on background research, which should allow us to cover new topics and interview new people, particularly younger researchers, instead of relying on the same people and the same perspective time after time.


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