Astronomy proves no joke for well-known comic

Aug 11, 2011
Astronomy proves no joke for well-known comic

Innocent Twitter banter between a Cardiff University astronomer and well-known Irish TV presenter and comic Dara O Briain has sparked a major on-line search for stars.

Thousands of followers of the Irish TV presenter and comic were treated to a lesson in star gazing with the help of a University and an internet controlled telescope.

The one-off on-line event followed a chance exchange of .

"Dara O Briain had his first taste of using a robotically controlled telescope when he took part in the BBC’s Stargazing Live event earlier this year," said Honorary lecturer and Las Cumbres Observatory director of Education and Public Outreach, Dr. Edward Gomez from the School of Physics and Astronomy.

"Given his interest in the subject I’ve become a regular follower of him on Twitter. So when Dara’s tweeted that he’d like to use the telescope again, I thought I’d offer him the chance to observe the cosmos and, to my surprise, Dara responded immediately."

With the support of the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii, Dr Gomez was able to provide Dara with an hour of observing time using one of Las Cumbres Observatory’s 2m robotic telescopes in Hawaii. Las Cumbres Observatory is in the process of constructing a global network of 42 robotic telescopes, which will be available to the public and professional scientists remotely via the internet.

What started out as two people discussing using a robotic telescope for an hour, turned into an experience which thousands of people had the chance to share on-line.

Through his Twitter account, the well-known Irish comic and presenter of the BBC programme Mock the Week asked his half-a-million followers for suggestions of what to observe in his session. Using the Twitter hashtag #ShowMeStars anyone on the internet was able to keep up with the observing session as it happened.

"We realised we could have thousands of people watching the observations happen. We rapidly made up a web page which pulled in people’s comments from Twitter, alongside the observations as they were coming in," said Dr. Gomez.

"This page proved so popular that our web servers were in danger of collapse. This whole event was totally ad-hoc, but that was part of the serendipitous beauty of it. We were engaging with members of the public who may never have looked through a telescope or been interested in astronomy previously," he added.

Commenting on his observing experience Dara O Briain said, "Many thanks to all at Las Cumbres Observatory for the kind offer of time on Faulkes North. I feel guilty that their reward was for me to crash their servers by directing too many people to them. Still no good deed goes unpunished.

"If it's any comfort it's also a sign of how many people chose to spend their lunchtime with me, traversing the skies, looking at the awe-inspiring sights of the cosmos. And well done for offering that access halfway across the world."

The Show Me Stars website can be found at

Explore further: Planck helps to understand the macrostructure of the universe

Related Stories

Backyard astronomer in Ireland finds supernova

Oct 08, 2010

( -- An amateur astronomer working from his backyard shed in Ireland was the first in the world to spot a supernova explosion last month. The discovery is the biggest ever in amateur astronomy ...

Tweeting Shooting Stars

Aug 10, 2009

Amateur astronomers across the UK are preparing to tweet the world’s first mass participation meteor star party, as part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009). Led by Newbury Astronomical Society, the Twitter ...

Twitter sets record as Japan rang in New Year

Jan 07, 2011

A flood of Japanese Tweets sent as the New Year arrived in Tokyo boosted global traffic within the network to a record 6,939 tweets per second (TPS), the microblogging site has reported.

A cracked comet

Mar 24, 2010

( -- A leading amateur astronomer has made a major astronomical discovery thanks to a sophisticated educational telescope project led by Cardiff University astronomers.

Giant Magellan telescope site selected

Oct 04, 2007

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) Consortium announces that the GMT will be constructed at Cerro Las Campanas, Chile. This location was selected for its high altitude, dry climate, dark skies, and unsurpassed seeing quality, ...

Unique telescope looks at the universe

Dec 22, 2005

CONDOR, a deuterium observation telescope receiver, opened its eye to the universe for the first time last month and opened a new chapter in astronomy.

Recommended for you

Image: The tumultuous heart of the Large Magellanic Cloud

10 hours ago

A scene of jagged fiery peaks, turbulent magma-like clouds and fiercely hot bursts of bright light. Although this may be reminiscent of a raging fire or the heart of a volcano, it actually shows a cold cosmic ...

Rocky planets may orbit many double stars

Mar 30, 2015

Luke Skywalker's home in "Star Wars" is the desert planet Tatooine, with twin sunsets because it orbits two stars. So far, only uninhabitable gas-giant planets have been identified circling such binary stars, ...

Is the universe finite or infinite?

Mar 27, 2015

Two possiblities exist: either the Universe is finite and has a size, or it's infinite and goes on forever. Both possibilities have mind-bending implications.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.