As a campaign to save The Sky at Night from the axe gathers pace, Brian May has revealed that the BBC could fund an entire year of the long-running astronomy show using the budget for just one episode of its primetime BBC2 series Stargazing Live.
"I guested on Stargazing Live [as well as The Sky at Night] and I learned that the budget for just 1 night of SG would pay for 1 WHOLE YEAR of S@N," tweeted the Queen guitarist and keen astronomer. "What does that say?"
Stargazing Live is fronted by astrophysicist Professor Brian Cox and comedian Dara O Briain. It has run for three series, airing on three consecutive nights in January of 2011, 2012 and 2013, and encourages members of the public to observe the night skies while introducing them to the basics of astronomy.
Late-night show The Sky at Night, now in its 56th year, is aimed at more experienced astronomers, but also includes segments intended to introduce concepts to a wider audience. It currently airs once a month on BBC1, and has just three episodes left to go – including one this Sunday – before the Corporation's existing commitment to it ends. Bosses are said to be considering whether to recommission it, but insiders and fans are pessimistic about their intentions.
May, himself an astrophysicist, is a contributor to The Sky at Night and keen to save the show. And with one online petition currently having collected almost 40,000 signatures, he is far from alone.
The Open University students who started the campaign aim not only to save the programne but also to ensure it continues in its current format, amid fears that it could become return in a 'dumbed down' version, fronted by a celebrity presenter with no astronomy expertise.
"We want to see [The Sky at Night] continue in much the same way as it always has," say the petitioners, "pitched in a scientific manner towards people who are knowledgeable on the subject, whilst retaining its accessibility for newcomers to the hobby with items aimed at them.
"We believe that it should be presented by professional scientists and/or highly regarded amateurs, bringing the latest news and information on the subject to the people who want it. We do not want to see it fronted by a generic television presenter, or a ‘celebrity’ with no connection to the hobby. It is a specialist, scientific programme and should be treated as such and with respect to its origins and longevity."
If The Sky at Night is not recomissioned, it will come to an end a year – almost to the day – after the death of Patrick Moore, who fronted the show for over 55 years, from its inception in 1957.