Brian Cox cheerfully admits that his TV documentaries are part-scientific exposition, part eye-boggling travelogue. “The original, very good idea,” he says, “was that we should use places on Earth as analogues for the solar system.”
Wonders of the Solar System, Wonders of the Universe and other shows have inspired countless young and not so young minds. But Cox still thinks the screen is “no substitute” for actually visiting great sites of scientific discovery: “TV can light the flame. But to go further you need to go to the places where cutting-edge science was done.”
For this list we gave him a strict brief: no Namibian deserts or Chilean glaciers. So here are Cox’s top 10 places in Britain and Ireland that changed the world.
Jodrell Bank, Cheshire
My mum and dad would take me there when I was growing up in Manchester. You feel that this large thing pointing into the sky is capable of discovering places you can only dream of: it’s a symbol of everything that’s magical about astronomy. It is still one of the world’s largest radio telescopes and the headquarters of the Square Kilometre Array, which is building the world’s largest telescope, in Western Australia.
• Daily 10am-4pm, adult £8, child £5.95, family £26.50-£31, jodrellbank.net
This place shows the close connection between astronomy and seafaring. To navigate, you need to know what the time is. So telling the time is ultimately linked to astronomy, and to the great challenge of defining longitude. Greenwich has a tremendous visitor centre: you can stand on the zero longitude line. The telescope dome is quite small but very evocative.
• Daily 10am-5pm, adult from £9, child from £5.85, rmg.co.uk