Some years ago I started running. Well I say running, it’s quite possible many could walk faster. I normally, depending on mood / willingness of the body / weather conditions manage anywhere between 10 and 12 minutes per mile. On average I rack up somewhere between 100 and 125 miles a month. Which means I have a lot of time where I can just elect to mentally “switch off” and run, or, listen to something while I’m out. Initially I used to choose music, but after a while I tired of that and starting listening to podcasts.
As the title suggests, this piece is about podcasts about (in general) anything astronomy or space related. A quick flick through your choice of podcast feed will reveal dozens of candidates worthy of a listen. I’ve tried many. But I invariably settle down to those I’ve listed below. Anyone will surely realise that a choice of what you may consider “the best” is very subjective. It depends on many criteria, not least of which are what you expect from it, to be informed? Entertained? Challenged?
Anyway, here are my ‘goto’ podcasts. I’ll give a brief overview of why I choose them and what they offer.
The Jodcast: http://www.jodcast.net – is created by the astronomers from the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank. From a simple astronomical perspective, every month there is very comprehensive star guide for both northern and southern skies. If you’re wondering what to look for, then this section gives you an excellent head start for the month ahead. Most of you will no doubt know that Jodrell Bank if famous for the Lovell Telescope, an iconic and (still) world leading radio telescope in Cheshire. The astronomers at the facility therefore have a natural bent towards that branch of the profession. This suits me fine since one of my other interests is radio. While I confess that some of the content is a little over my head since it can be quite “academic rich”, it’s at a sufficient level that should I be really taken by one of the subjects, I can read around and very quickly understand what’s being discussed. A bonus, (in my view) is that the presenters are (dare I say it), “normal” people. The production, while certainly professional, doesn’t come across in any way patronising. It’s simply knowledgeable people talking about that they do in a way that attempts to explain to those who know a little less what they’re on about. In addition, there is often a podcast extra which complements the standard monthly addition and often features insightful interviews with those who visit Jodrell Bank from other facilities giving talks and lectures to those that are based there. I was lucky enough to attend the 10th anniversary “Jodcast Live” where the episode was recorded in front of a live audience. Many ex presenters came along to add to the occasion as did Chris Lintott of “The Sky at Night” fame (amongst other things). I’m hoping they have another such event but maybe sooner than the next ten year anniversary! The podcast is most certainly educational and informative. It’s well worth a listen.
Awesome Astronomy: https://www.awesomeastronomy.com – is an unashamedly British (correction Martian) astronomy podcast. You’ll have to listen to it to understand that. It too has a monthly “Sky Guide” episode which is very informative and offers ideas as to what is worth observing in the coming month. There are sections for all aspects of astronomy, lunar, planetary, deep sky etc. The episode is long enough to give more than enough detail while at the same time not being too long. All presenters are used which breaks the narrative up nicely. Then there is the main monthly edition, and it’s here that everything moves to different level. Without doubt, the podcast addresses key issues and news stories of the day, but it’s the presentation style that I particularly like. It’s serious when it needs to be, but it also is not averse to taking a lighter view as well. It’s fair to say there are some genuine laugh out loud moments. This podcast is both informative, and for me, very entertaining. For a few years there were two main presenters, Ralph and Paul, both very knowledgeable in their own fields, and both with years of experience in, well, astronomy. Recently Jeni has joined the team, and while significantly reducing the average age of the team, she has greatly enhanced the listening experience. The ability to not take themselves too seriously adds to the quality of this podcast. You can be actually be laughing while learning something. That’s got to be good. To give an indication, they pride themselves on being the only astronomical podcast never to have received a podcast award 🙂 My comment is that I have to continue to listen to ensure that their standards never quite meet those required to be given an award!
Cheap Astronomy: http://www.cheapastro.com – This podcast is generally short, and typically addresses a key question or issue around science / space / astronomy. It’s presented by Steve Nerlich. Many topics are covered, and despite it being quite short, the explanation of the science surrounding what is being discussed is both accurate and very thorough. I would imagine it must take quite some time to research each subject to be able to give the insight that it does. It’s an Australian podcast, based out of Canberra and is well worth a listen.
Planetary Radio: http://www.planetary.org/multimedia/planetary-radio – This podcast is broadcast weekly and comes from the USA based Planetary Society. It’s generally around thirty minutes long. Bill Nye “The Science Guy” is the CEO of the organisation and usually gets interviewed towards the start of the show. Emily Lakdawalla also features demonstrating great knowledge of her subject. From the outset I will state that it too is a very informative podcast. The host, Matt Kaplan presents the show with great professionalism. But as a Brit, I have to comment that it’s also very American. It’s almost too professional. Everything about it is produced to perfection. There are no slip ups or errors, or if there are, they’re edited out, unlike UK based podcasts where errors are often left in which makes the whole thing easier to listen to. But I can live with all of that because the content justifies the time spent listening. I especially like their additional (monthly) “Space Policy Edition” which goes into great detail about how the US government and NASA manage to assign priorities and more importantly a budget.
There are other podcasts too, The Sky at Night have and occasional podcast at http://www.skyatnightmagazine.com/podcasts In addition you’ll find some linked to Astronomical societies. But it’s the ones I’ve listed above I keep coming back to. If you were to ask me which is my favourite I’d say for out and out enjoyment, then Awesome Astronomy, but for that little more serious, academic view, then it’s the Jodcast.
Try having a listen yourself if space and astronomy are subjects you enjoy. But remember that just as noise is now the scourge of the short wave listener (see previous post), it’s light pollution that’s the major issue with today’s suburban astronomy, and that the sights I used to marvel at in the night sky at my parents’ house back in the sixties are now no longer observable. For example you have to get well clear of a town these days to be able to see the Milky Way. That’s very depressing.
So, if you’ve read this, and also listen to these podcasts, what’s your favourite? vote now!