OU on the BBC: Stardate: Close encounters

In September 2004, Asteroid Toutatis is set to impact on millions of Britons as it propels directly into living-rooms around the United Kingdom.

By: The Stardate team (Programme and web teams)

  • Duration 5 mins
  • Updated Friday 6th August 2004
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under TV, Stardate
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Evidence of meteor impacts - on the asteroid Eros (Image: NASA/JPL) Copyrighted image Copyright: NASA/JPL

Ignore this warning and the opportunity to get up close and personal with asteroid Toutatis will pass you by as this small planet stars in the latest programme in the Stardate series.

Stardate: Close Encounters, hosted by Adam Hart-Davis delves into the mysterious world of asteroids, meteors and meteorites.

The programme will allow the United Kingdom access to an astronomical experience that would otherwise require global travel. As asteroid Toutatis is only visible in the Southern Hemisphere, the Open University and BBC are ensuring that Britain will also have a close encounter with Toutatis.

The 29 September 2004, approach of asteroid Toutatis to Earth is the closest in this century of any known asteroid at least as large as Toutatis. The asteroid will come within 962,951 miles of Earth.

“This passing of asteroid Toutatis (relatively) close by Earth provides the perfect backdrop for Stardate to consider the nature of Near Earth Objects,” says Stardate presenter, Adam Hart-Davis.

As always Stardate is looking to provide an interactive experience for its audience and has therefore set up a public challenge.

“The emphasis of the Stardate series is to build up the public’s enthusiasm about astronomy, by making them a part of the experience. In the first programme in the series we asked people to put on their scientific hats and measure the distance between the Earth and the Sun, during the Transit of Venus. For this programme we are asking people to scour the country for meteorites,” says Adam Hart-Davis.

The Great British Meteorite Hunt kicked off nationwide in early August. The results will be featured on the show, as it reveals some of the finds people have made during the hunt, and whether these finds are indeed from outer space – and if so how much the find is worth in scientific and monetary terms.Marvin Killgore from Arizona will be interviewed to find out what life is like when your occupation is professional meteorite hunter.

The programme will also address the ‘Hollywood blockbuster movie’ question of what would happen if an asteroid was spotted heading towards Earth. Stardate will reconstruct the events around Object AL00667; a Near Earth Object that scientists believed was two days away from crashing into earth, earlier this year.

Stardate: Close Encounters will also feature top amateur astronomer Peter Birtwhistle who will reveal just how important amateur astronomers are in confirming the orbits of Near Earth Objects.

The programme also investigates plans to mine asteroids in the future, as it interviews Dr John Lewis of the University of Arizona and the CEO of SpaceDev, Jim Benson.

“Stardate: Close Encounters will provide an insight into all aspects of Near Earth Objects, from the people who dedicate their lives to finding them, to those who study them and the scientific stories these billion-year-old objects from outer space tell us,” says Adam Hart-Davis.

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