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Jodrell Bank Observatory to host BBC Stargazing Live
The Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank
Jodrell Bank's Lovell Telescope has become a British icon

Jodrell Bank, home of the iconic Lovell telescope, is hosting a major BBC astronomy event.

Stargazing Live, which takes place between Monday 3 and Wednesday 5 January, is being broadcast every night from the Cheshire site.

Dr Tim O'Brien from the University of Manchester research facility said that staff were looking forward to "showcasing the observatory".

"We're keeping our fingers crossed for clear skies," he added.


Professor Brian Cox
Stargazing Live is presented by Professor Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain

Stargazing Live is co-hosted by scientist and TV presenter Prof Brian Cox and comedian Dara O'Briain, an amateur astronomer, in an attempt to introduce more people to the wonders of the night sky.

All three programmes are being broadcast live from the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics where University of Manchester researchers control all three telescopes on site well as five others in Cheshire, Cambridgeshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire.

Dr O'Brien said January promised to be an 'exciting' time for stargazers with three major astronomical events, including a partial solar eclipse, taking place.

"Some of the most spectacular starscapes are in the winter, with constellations like Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades all being visible," he said.

According to Dr O'Brien, the recent cold snap had actually helped stargazing, though he was mindful that any willing stargazers should consider the freezing temperatures before venturing out into the winter night.

"Sometimes in the winter, when you get these clear cold nights, if you're lucky and you don't get the fog, all the water vapour is frozen out of the atmosphere and you can get some very beautiful, clear nights for looking at the sky," he said.

"If you spend any length of time outside, you see more and more because your eyes get used to the dark and you'll see the fainter and fainter stars.

"If it's not too cold, get wrapped up warm and persuade yourself to get outside - get a glass of mulled wine or something - and look at some of the stars, it's just beautiful."

Hearing the stars

Of course, anyone who knows anything about Jodrell Bank knows that the centre is not strictly speaking stargazing, but rather star-listening, as all eight of the main Jodrell-controlled telescopes receive radio, rather than light, waves.

Dr O'Brien said they "do have some telescopes that you can look through at Jodrell Bank, but they're rather small."

Quadrantid Meteor Shower
Mon 3 Jan: the Perihelion (point at which the Earth is closest to the Sun in its annual orbit) occurs
Tues 4 Jan: a partial solar eclipse is visible for a short time after sunrise
Weds 5 Jan: the Quadrantid Meteor Shower happens in the constellation of Boötes and the Comet Hartley passes

"All our big telescopes are radio telescopes, picking up radio waves coming from outer space, rather than visible light, the sort of stuff you can see with your eyes.

"So we don't need clear skies, we can see through clouds with radio waves, which is why we're able to do that level of astronomy from Cheshire, since it's cloudy [there] relatively often.

"We can also do it during the day as well, so in principle, radio astronomy is something that you can do 24 hours a day."

With that in mind, Dr O'Brien said the team at Jodrell were "keeping our fingers crossed for clear skies, but it's all been set up so that there'll be images brought in from around the country."

Adding: "If we're unlucky and the clouds gather over Jodrell Bank, I'm sure there'll be other places where it will be clear and people have the opportunity to get out and look up and see some of the amazing things you can see in the night sky."


Whatever happens though, Dr O'Brien said the whole three days would be a brilliant way of showing off the Centre for Astrophysics.

"I think for a long time, Jodrell Bank has been seen as an iconic representation of science and engineering as a whole, not just astronomy.

"When it was built, [the Lovell telescope] was the world's largest telescope, and it's still the third largest steerable telescope in the world, so it still has a key role to play in international astronomy.

"We're looking forward to having a chance to showcase the observatory."

Stargazing Live is on BBC2 on the evenings of Monday 3, Tuesday 4 and Wednesday 5 January.

Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics is open to the public most days (closed Mon 20 to Sun Dec, Fri 31 Dec and Sat 1 Jan) between 11am and 4pm. Entry is free.


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