Ambitious plans for the ABC's starry, starry nights
PROFESSOR Brian Cox believes the world could use a little of the humbling power of outer space.
The world-renowned physicist and TV presenter wholeheartedly agrees with the late American astronomer Carl Sagan, who famously said "astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience".
"The moment we start thinking about our place in the universe as a little speck in an ocean of nothing punctuated with other specks of dust, you start to realise the absurdity of the idea that we would risk of damaging or wiping out our civilisation with petty squabbles," he tells The Guide.
"Set against the backdrop of the stars and age of the universe you genuinely realise we should be focusing our energy on surviving and expanding beyond Earth, not competing for limited resources on Earth.
"Perhaps the most valuable thing is to allow more people to see the Earth form space. If I could have one wish it would be to get Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un - actually all our leaders - and send them up for five minutes to look at planet Earth and say 'You are responsible for that. Now come down and behave yourself'."
Prof Cox returns to our shores this week to host the ABC's second annual Stargazing Live event with Julia Zemiro.
Broadcast over three nights from Siding Spring Observatory in NSW, the series will immerse audiences in a celebration of the night sky, with a focus on features that are best experienced from Australian soil.
Last year's inaugural event resulted in citizen scientists discovering a new solar system. Prof Cox and his team plan to top that feat this year.
"This one is going to be bigger, actually, and significantly more ambitious," he said.
"We're going to have a follow-up on last year's discovery because it's even better than we thought.
"This year, we'll be doing a similar thing but with new data this time. We're going to try to understand the expansion rate of the universe better than we do now, which ultimately leads you to the age of the universe. How can people watching a TV program, some of whom have no scientific training, refine our measurement of the age of the universe? Well, they can.
"We have so much data now taken by telescopes and space probes that we have more data than scientists can look through. If you encourage people to go and look at data, then you will find things and make discoveries."
Brian and Julia will be joined by a team of celebrated scientists and space enthusiasts, and each episode will focus on a different theme.
They also aim to set a new world record for the most people simultaneously doing astronomy. Coincidentally, Australia holds the current record.
"It's not just a stunt," he says. "I think that once you have one night of astronomy then you'll have hundreds of nights of astronomy. And why does it matter? It matters because it's a way into science. Of all the sciences you can get into, this is probably the easiest because you only need your eyes.
"The most important thing for me is to encourage people to look up. The more you know about what you're looking at, the more magical and wonderful it is."
Stargazing Live airs next Tuesday through Thursday at 8pm on ABC-TV. For more information on how to participate go to the Stargazing Live website.