Today started by looking at the stars learning why Dave and Sandy from Dark Sky Discovery take an umbrella with them when looking for stars. Obviously if it is raining the cloud cover would block any good observation, best to stay inside in the warm. The answer turned out to be the printed constellations on the underside of the umbrella. Revolving around Polaris the movement of the stars in the night sky was simply demonstrated with a piece of card representing the Earth’s surface and a picture of the sun pegged to the umbrella at a specific point dictated by the season. They enthusiastically demonstrated all the things you can see on a dark, cloudless night with the naked eye using software such as Stellarium and the data available from the Dark Sky Discovery website. I would definitely recommend a look. With no knowledge of the nights sky you would still be able to observe something by referring to this website; even if it is to show off pointing towards a piece of sky saying ” the international space station will appear in 3,2,1…” and yes the ISS appearance is so accurate you could set your watch off it. We also covered deep space and how to teach children the different types of galaxies; separating the red, old, elliptical galaxies from the more active, blue, spiral ones (something I only just learnt today).
Then for a complete change of subject it was off to see Michael Mosley, who you might remember from such documentaries as The Brain: A Secret History, Frontline Medicine and The Story of Sciencetelling us the best ways to produce science based television documentaries. The secret is to use story telling devices, which come in such forms as detective, love, disaster and coming of age, and to tease the audience in the first few minutes before they switch over. Useful information also included “don’t look at the camera” when presenting, well you are not engaged in a staring contest after all, instead you have to pause and look into the distance as if searching for the words. Using clips from all his previous productions, from Supervolcano and Pompeii, to Michael self experimenting with laughing gas, it was amazing to see just how much he has done since taking a BBC assistant producer role 25 years ago. Finally was some news that we can look forward to a documentary on ghosts. Well if Michael can ever be bother enough to get round to it, and of course if he can get a controller to take up the story.
The final event before the evening was Conversations with humans and non humans covering how we might be able to read animal body language, to understand animal needs, by looking at them as a whole entity and “knowing your animal”. Antonio Damasio was quoted in a New Scientist interview “Animals he says, definitely have emotions – even a fly can be happy or angry.” The question is “…do they really feel them?”. This event went on to look at how humans, in particular a guy named Big Jake, can mimic bird calls, a useful skill for ornithologists to lure rare bird out into sight. The ability for plants to communicate was also covered; well what would you expect from a country in love with their gardens, spending £5.15 Billion on gardening every year and with long standing gardening television shows close to their hearts. There maybe something in talking to your plants or at least letting them talk to you by paying attention to their needs; although I doubt any of my plants are going to start serenading me Alice in Wonderland style anytime soon. But then again I am pretty sure I have not got the green touch as I am barely keeping a bonsai alive back at home.