A Chat with Stargazing Live’s Mark Thompson
By Roger Crow/@RogerCrow
I love the BBC’s Stargazing Live, and it’s coming back soon isn’t it?
Yes, they’re doing a ‘one night only’ for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landings.
What can we see in the night skies in April and May?
So, the moon will still be visible; obviously everyone can see the moon; everyone knows what it is. Over the next few weeks you can see the Lyrid meteor shower. So every year around this time of year, you get to see pieces of rock and dust which are falling in through the atmosphere, and as they do that they give off this wonderful characteristic glow, which we recognise as shooting stars, but they’re actually chunks of rock. And the great thing about it is you need no equipment. You can just go outside, look up at the sky, assuming it’s dark and clear; get on a sun lounger; make yourself comfortable, wrap up nice and warm, and you get to see shooting stars.
What was it that got you into astronomy?
I was about 10 and my dad took me along to my local astronomy society, and I saw Saturn through a telescope. For him that was enough really; he saw that and he didn’t really want to do any more. And for me that totally hooked me. I can still remember that first image I saw of Saturn. Which by today’s standards, the stuff you see from Voyager and the Hubble telescope is nothing in comparison to them, but the fact I saw it for myself was just incredible, and that’s totally what got me hooked on it.
The recent black hole news was amazing wasn’t it?
Yeah, it’s something we’ve theorised for a lot of years that they exist, but we’ve not had any direct evidence of them. I guess we’ve had inferred evidence because of the way they interact with surrounding parts of space, but to see a black hole for real… that black disc is the region called the event horizon, and if anything falls in there, you’re never going to see it again, and you’ll never see any information coming from it. The fact that it’s 55 million light years away… you’re seeing it as it was 55 million years ago. What really plays with your mind; if you’re an astronomer sat on a planet near that black hole looking back at Earth, if you looked at it today, you would see the Earth as it was 55 million years ago, which is just incredible. You’d have seen dinosaurs on the earth.
For me it’s Orion’s belt, but when star-gazing is there a point of reference you always look for?
Once you’ve done it for a lot of years, you kind of know your way around without using points of reference, but there are constellations like Orion and its belt; the Plough, which is always there, whichever time of year you look. Cassopeia, all the big, bright constellations. If you can find those, then you can find anything else. You can use them as guides around the night sky to find other stuff.
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn
Decades ago, the sight of Ms Marvel on comic book stands was as common as Hulk, Captain America and Spider-Man. But at the time the thought of making a movie based on such a fringe character was inconceivable.
A shame, because in the 1970s, an era of big hair and (positively) blooming feminism, it would have been an ideal antidote to all the macho posturing of what few superhero movies there were.
As someone who’s been a Marvel fan since the seventies when I would crave any comic or related TV show I could find, the past few years have been a joy. And seeing Captain Marvel finally make it to the big screen in a delight, especially after the humdrum Black Panther from last spring. As acclaimed as that was, I was non-plussed, but the latest offering in the MCU puts the fun back into the ever expanding universe.
It helps that the filmmakers don’t give the audience an opening crawl to fill in all the blanks and set up the premise.
It’s just a case of dropping them on an alien planet and telling them to keep up.
Brie Larson is perfectly cast as the eponymous heroine; ’Vers’ and Carol Danvers, bringing the right amount of sex appeal, heroism and reducing the need for extraneous dialogue with an arched eyebrow or a wry smile.
For a chunk of the movie it’s a double act with Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury. The fact this takes place in 1994, and features a perfectly pre-aged SLJ to slot in with the Pulp Fiction era is a sight to behold. Admittedly Clark Gregg’s pre-aged Agent Coulson is a little off-putting, but he doesn’t have as much screen time so it matters less.
The plot involves Vers (Larson), an alien warrior fighting in the Skrull-Kree wars, a conflict that’s long been part of Marvel history, and has been touched upon for the past few years in films such as Guardians of the Galaxy. And it’s that film this movie most resembles, especially as Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser pops up with another character from James Gunn’s sumblime blockbuster.
What’s glorious about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is how well all the threads from other movies tie together. I can only imagine the whiteboard at Marvel HQ that has the vast array of heroes and villains, and how they overlap and tie together.
Thrown into the mix here is Annette Bening as a military type; Jude Law as Vers’ colleague; Lashana Lynch as Danvers’ fellow pilot; Ben Mendelsohn as an apparent alien bad guy, and a cat called Goose, who all but steals the movie.
It’s fast, funny, touching and while it’s obviously the first major Marvel tentpole movie to feature a female lead (the less said about minor Marvel flop Elektra the better), it’s also one of their best offerings in years.
It also boasts one of the best soundtracks of 2019, with a string of nostalgic cracking tunes by the likes of Garbage, Elastica and Hole.
With a billion dollars at the box office, a sequel is only a matter of time, though we only have to wait a matter of weeks to see Carol Danvers again in Avengers: Endgame, a three-hour blockbuster which should be the biggest hit of the year.
The acid test for any good movie: would I sit through Captain Marvel again within a day of watching?