Saturday 17 March 2018

Radio: Natural solution to many of the world's problems

David Moore of Astronomy Ireland. Photo: Donal Doherty
David Moore of Astronomy Ireland. Photo: Donal Doherty
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

With the world so grievously damaged by ideologies of all stripes, you could argue that one way to make things better is for humanity to step outside itself more often. Our anthropocentrism, which considers human society to be the only thing that really matters, is ruining the world, for us and every other form of life.

Nature and science, the living earth and vast expanses of space: these things can help us understand that, yes, our species is unique - but also part of a network of millions, on a spinning rock, itself just one of billions, in an infinite universe. Perspective is a blessing.

If it was up to me, science and nature and cosmology would be mandatory reading for everyone on Earth, of all ages, their whole lives. In the meantime, radio is doing its bit with some superlative programming about the natural world.

The total solar eclipse which moved across the US this week, of course, received a lot of attention on news shows. On Morning Ireland (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 7am) we heard from David Moore of Astronomy Ireland, who'd travelled to Nashville for this incredible celestial event. Day turning into night for two full minutes - it's no wonder people have been chasing and obsessing about eclipses for millennia.

Returning to terra firma, stand-in Moncrieff (Mon-Fri 2pm) host Tom Dunne spoke to British glaciologist Joseph Cook, who has won "the science equivalent of the Oscars" for his work charting the progression of ice melting in the Arctic.

Cheerful and informative, Cook opened up the almost invisible world of ice microbiology for the listener. I was astonished at how much life exists, and thrives, in this seemingly barren environment: an estimated 100 million billion trillion micro-organisms live in the top two metres of earth's ice. As Tom said, there's a whole world inside one drop of water.

Meanwhile The Dave Fanning Show (2FM, Sat-Sun 9am) looked at retro tech. As one of the few remaining people to still use a so-called "dumb phone" - pretty sure me and Warren Buffett are the last hold-outs - I had a dog in this fight, so to speak.

John Reilly, from technology website, discussed the recent trend for "detoxing" from gadgets, how the iPod is cool again - it makes you feel very old when something invented in your thirties is now retro - vinyl sales are up and, yep, Nokia have relaunched the iconic 3310 mobile.

According to John, this new love for older things is both a reaction to tech overload and simple nostalgia for the past. Some people are making a hipster statement, but many simply want to disconnect from the internet. Or they just want a disposable phone. (Presumably this is for dealing drugs or having an affair.)

One thing we can all agree on is that aficionados are correct when they say music sounds better on vinyl. That lovely warm crackle, it's like being there in person…

I'm also really enjoying the weekly Astronomy Show on Dublin City FM (Tue 8pm). Hosts Ben Emmett and John Dickson take a leisurely stroll through all things space-related, be that orbiting bodies or human bodies whooshed up to get a closer look.

This week alone the topics included comets over earth, a meteorite crashing in Russia, space tourism and sub-orbital flights on Virgin Galactic, the International Space Station, Chinese astronauts trying to survive on worms for 105 days (don't ask me), NASA artefacts being auctioned to the public…

I love this stuff. My only regret is not bidding on Neil Armstrong's lunar sample bag - still containing traces of the moon, and bought at auction for $1.8m. Maybe next time.

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