Whether your intergalactic interest was tickled during Sandra Bullock blockbuster Gravity, or if you’re a devoted astronomer starved of great astral-themed shows, the good news is Professor Brian Cox and Dara O Briain are back.
Stargazing Live (BBC2, 8pm) promises three days of live astronomy, jaw-dropping images, surprising science and unique demonstrations.
The first episode takes us to northern Norway, where Liz Bonnin joins aurora borealis researchers to unravel the secrets of the stunning spectacle.
Plus, Nasa scientist Dr Carolyn Porco shares photographic images of Saturn’s storms as taken by the Cassini probe; the hosts deliver a weather report from around the solar system, and Mark Thompson advises viewers on the best astronomical sights visible from the UK.
“This series promises to be bolder and more ambitious than ever,” explains Brian. “We’ll be looking at everything from the Milky Way and other galaxies to space weather. Everyone can get involved and we hope the audience will join in to explore the wonders of space.”
Dara admits he’s been thrilled by the success of this series, which has been a ratings winner for BBC Two over the past few Januarys.
“At one stage in season two we were getting four million (viewers) an episode,” he explains. “We were settling into a more normal three - three and a half on the (last) one, so maybe we’ve passed our peak but actually, for all the stuff I’ve done on BBC Two, the Three Men in a Boat, all the Mock the Weeks even, this has got greater ratings than any of that.”
Of course it doesn’t hurt that his co-presenter, Brian Cox, has attracted a solid fanbase over the years.
“Obviously Cox, you can’t underestimate the appeal of the man,” enthuses Dara. “There’s a thing in showbiz where you know when somebody’s been hit with the star wand, and you know with Coxy that’s the case.”
One thing that isn’t quite so apparent is how difficult it is to make a show like this. Dara admits he is often amazed by the team behind the scenes.
“It’s a great operation to watch those people go: ‘We’ve got a film on this, we’re going to link to this, you’re doing a show that’s going live to four different places - plus space!”
Stargazing spin-off Back to Earth is also rather popular. That discussion strand is the rarest of shows on British TV, as O Briain knows only too well.
“You very rarely are given a half hour completely open for a conversation with loads of scientists where it can go in any direction, and you can cue in things or not cue in things, as long as you say hello to stars and goodbye at the end, so it’s a very happy thing.
“The first one (Stargazing Live) has to be worked out to the second so we know where we’re going to, and then to Back to Earth, where we get zero rehearsal time, so it’s completely up to me what order we do things in and where.”