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Brian and co-host Liz Bonnin on why the new series of Stargazing Live will give us the best views yet
T his year’s series of Stargazing Live, which will air on three consecutive nights on BBC2 from March 28, is the seventh in as many years. Brian will present the show with co-hosts Dara Ó Briain and Liz Bonnin, but they will not be at their regular home at Jodrell Bank Observatory in north-west England. Instead they’re heading to Australia this year, where they’ll be viewing the southern hemisphere skies.
The show’s temporary new home will be a remote mountain top in New South Wales, the site of the world-famous Siding Spring Observatory, which boasts over 50 telescopes including Australia’s largest. The night skies promise to be spectacular, and Brian’s particularly excited by the unbeatable view the team is going to have of Saturn. Of course, the planet is often visible from the Northern Hemisphere, but Stargazing Live will be able to show it in all its magnificence. ‘There’s no doubt that Saturn is endlessly fascinating,’ says Brian. ‘After all, it has that classic shape with its rings that children so love to draw. Luckily for us, we’re going to be able to show the very best view of those rings, as they’ll be angled towards us in Australia in just the right way. And better still, the lack of light from the New Moon means Saturn will appear to be much brighter.’
In past series, Stargazing Live has covered infrequent events such as eclipses and the antics of Tim Peake on the International Space Station, but this time Brian is delighted that the show is going back to its roots. ‘I want us to get back to doing some good, basic, amateur astronomy and to enthuse people,’ he says. ‘One of the problems of presenting the show from Jodrell Bank is that it’s often raining and you can’t see a thing through a telescope! However, in Australia we’re almost guaranteed clear views of the skies.’
For Liz Bonnin, better known as a wildlife presenter, the mysteries of the universe are as fascinating as those of the natural world. ‘I do suspect it won’t be long before we discover early life forms on Mars from millions of years ago,’ she says. ‘There are just too many similarities to Earth. ’
The team is also going to ask viewers to help solve the mystery of ‘Planet Nine’. Some scientists have suggested that our Solar System has a ninth planet on its outer edges, the gravitational effects of which seem to be felt for millions of miles. But the planet itself – if it exists – has yet to be spotted, and Stargazing viewers will be directed to a website, zooniverse.org, where they can help search pages of visual data gathered by telescopes. ‘Essentially, we’ll be asking people to look for a dot that moves,’ says Brian. It’s his dream that the planet is found by a child and then named after them. ‘I’d love it if it ended up being called Planet Kevin!’
Siding Spring Observatory and (inset) Liz Bonnin