The Guardian reports that Great Britain has a new national hobby: amateur astronomy.
Membership and interest in astronomy and science clubs are said to be surging due to a popular BBC television program, Stargazing Live. Hosted by standup comic Dara Ó Briain (who also hosts Dara Ó Briain’s Science Club) and particle physicist Professor Brian Cox from the University of Manchester, the show attracts millions of viewers each week. It is now returning for its third year.
Stargazing Live is credited with saving the British General Certificate of Secondary Education in Astronomy from the scrap heap, as well as locating an undiscovered exoplanet during a live broadcast.
The show’s interest seems to parallel that of Cosmos, hosted by Dr. Carl Sagan, which was a popular phenomenon in the United States in the 1980′s. Cox has created Sagan’s Cosmos as being one of the major influences in his life. But unlike Sagan, who was dismissive of human spaceflight for most of his life, Cox and Ó Briain show an interest in doing more than just looking at space. On one episode, the hosts chatted live with the crew of the International Space Station. Another episode featured Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan talking about the Moon. According to Wikipedia, Cox gave his son George the middle name of “Eagle” after the Apollo 11 lunar module.
Stargazing Live once again disproves the myth that the public isn’t interested in space. Furthermore, this phenomenon is happening in Great Britain, which is often criticized for not having a manned space program. (It is frequently said that there has never been a British astronaut. For some reason, Dr. Helen Sharman doesn’t count.)
Stargazing Live also differs from Cosmos in one other respect. It urges viewers to go out and participate in amateur astronomy with their own hands and eyes. This message is well timed to fit in with the growing interest in citizen science.
Perhaps the Discovery Channel will take notice and produce similar shows for the United States. We’re getting really tired of lumberjacks, crab fishermen, and tattooed guys building motorcycles.