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The Sky at Night: Review of the Year (S2021EP10 BBC Four Sun 12 Dec 2021)

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Review of the Year: Chris and Maggie look back at some of the stories they have covered in 2021 in the Sky at Night’s big review of the year.

In February, three missions arrived at Mars. A spacecraft from the UAE settled into its orbit, and rovers from China and the US touched down on the planet’s surface. Nasa’s Perseverance rover sent back stunning pictures of the red planet. We look again at those images and discuss the work of the first extraterrestrial helicopter, Perseverance’s robot buddy Ingenuity.

The Winchcombe Meteorite burst into our atmosphere and onto our screens at the end of March. We look again at the work of the dramatically titled Fireball Alliance – a nationwide group of cameras coordinated by scientists in anticipation of this sort of event. Thanks to them, the precious meteorite was quickly located in pristine condition. Chris reports on the research that has been undertaken since this untouched fragment of the early universe was recovered.

In the summer, we went to the National Space Centre in Leicester to look at the work of, and spectacular pictures taken by, the Juno Mission to Jupiter. There, we also met Professor Emma Bunce, who is one of the leaders of a new mission, called Juice, to Jupiter’s icy moons. Professor Bunce explained that these missions are unavoidably lengthy because of the distances involved and the complexity of the technology. But the potential rewards are enormous. Juice may provide the elusive evidence of extraterrestrial life in our solar system.

Another mission, BepiColumbo – en route to Mercury – was in the news in October, when it made the initial flypast of its target, sending back its amazing first glimpses of the planet. Maggie discovers more about the mission from one of the team, Dr Suzie Imber of the University of Leicester, in an interview recorded specially for this review episode.

In June, we featured the work of the British space industry, and in light of recent space debris stories in the news, we look again at the work of Anglo-Japanese company Astroscale, which talked to the programme about their mission to clean up the congested low earth orbits.

In September, Dallas Campbell discovered the sound of the original Tardis in the bar of the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford, where we held our Question Time edition of the show. It’s where Pete Lawrence was revealed as astronomical consultant to Radio 4’s The Archers, and where he gave us his night sky viewing guide to 2022.

Finally, another first for this remarkable show. We hear a song recorded by Yes founder member Peter Banks and his band Empire in 1974. It is called The Sky at Night and was inspired by the show.

That is all for this year. The Sky at Night is back in 2022, when it starts the sixty-sixth consecutive year in its record-breaking continuous run on air.

Airdate: Sun 12 Dec 2021 at 22:00 on BBC Four

Season 2021 Episode 10

Our team of astronomers tell us what’s on view in the night sky. From comets to quasars, there is always something fascinating to discuss in the Universe.