Stardate scoops top award: Transit of Venus, the first Stardate astronomy event, has beaten off stiff competition to win a prestigious Royal Television Society award. In a ceremony at the Savoy Hotel in London, Executive Producer Paul Bader and Director Patrick Titley collected the award from Sir Bob Phillis, President of the RTS. We won the Lifelong Learning & Multi-Media Award, given to programmes in the main TV schedule. The judges said this was “ A difficult subject, well covered with opportunities for real experimentation”. The Transit of Venus broadcast was based in Greenwich, Egypt and Lancashire, and consisted of four live transmissions into BBC1 Breakfast and Daytime, plus a 1-hour BBC2 show late that night, and a half hour programme to set the whole thing up.
Deep Impact is huge hit: Stardate was at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to bring reports of NASA's amazing Deep Impact mission direct to BBC viewers. Early on the morning of the 4th of July (yes it was Independence Day, and no it wasn't a coincidence) the 'Impactor' craft thumped into comet Tempel 1 at 37,000 kilometres an hour, ejecting a huge plume of material from the never-before-seen inside of a comet out into space. A huge cheer went up, witnessed by presenters Dr Brian Cox and Dr Lucie Green. Editing through the night, our prodction team then raced to put out two half hours - the first at 1145 into BBC1, the second at 2000 into BBC2, where it pulled in 2.1 million viwers. The programmes included not only reports of the buildup and impact from California, but a report from Hawaii on the huge world-wide telescope campaign to record the impact from Earth. As usual, great science content was to the fore, with amazing footage of our own impact experiments, suggesting the comet interior might be rather like mashed potato.
Stardate is an ambitous new astronomy series for BBC2, screened to coincide with events like the Transit of Venus in June 2004, or space missions like Cassini / Huygens in January 2005. The programmes will often be live and combine a fantastic sense of being at the centre of the event with genuine viewer interaction. If you watch Stardate, you not only learn about astronomy - you get to do it too. The first three were presented by Adam Hart-Davis with astronomer Dr Lucie Green, and we welcomed particle physicist Dr Brian Cox for Deep Impact. We go behind the scenes, and talk to the top scientists involved.
Transit of Venus was the launch event on June 8th 2004 when Venus passed in front of the sun - a once in a lifetime event. We were live in Greenwich with Adam and Lucie, Egypt (for guaranteed clear skies) with Dr Paul Roche, and in Much Hoole, Lancashire, with Vanessa Collingridge who reported from the site where the first ever transit was observed in 1639.
We had four live programmes during the morning, including our '3rd contact' show at 1200 when we invited viewers to measure the distance to the sun using our live Egypt feed. 1.2 million watched, with thousands taking up the challenge through Open2.net. We then edited the 1-hour programme on board our outside broadcast truck, finally sending it by satellite to the BBC in time (just!) for transmission that evening. Our colleagues at the Open University and BBC reported that the broadcasts 'exceeded all expectations'.
Second transmission was 29th September 2004 for a programme all about near earth objects, screened as 3-mile-long asteroid Toutatis became the biggest thing to pass that close to the Earth for 100 years. We were at the Natural History Museum in London. Reports by Lucie from the USA included features on how NASA create amazingly detailed 3-D images of asteroids from hardly any data; Marvin Killgore, one of a growing breed of commercial meteorite hunters; and mining asteroids, a mind-boggling idea but one that might ensure not only the future of space exploration, but even the survival of the species itself. Climax of the show was the launch of our 'Great British Meteorite Hunt', with help from Dr Matt Genge of Imperial College. Surprisingly, only 20 meteorites have ever been found in Britain, though Matt reckons some 70,000 could be lying around undiscovered. We've set up a web page (found through Open2.net/astronomy) where anyone with a likely rock submits it to the experts. At the NHM three likely candidates came to show off their finds. Early results suggest we might have found a new meteorite.
Stardate is commissioned by the Open University, who we thank for their support, and the BBC.