Nigel Henbest

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Nigel Henbest
Born (1951-05-06)May 6, 1951
Manchester, England, UK
Residence United Kingdom
Nationality British
Fields Astronomy
Alma mater
Doctoral advisor Sir Martin Ryle
Known for
Promotion and popularisation of Science and Astronomy

Prof Nigel Henbest, BSc, MSci (Cantab), DSc (Hon), FRAS[1] (born 6 May 1951) is a British astronomer, born in Manchester and educated in Northern Ireland and at Leicester University, where he studied physics, chemistry and astronomy. He did postgraduate research at the University of Cambridge before becoming a freelance science writer. He has written over 50 books and over 1,000 articles on astronomy and space and these have been translated into 27 languages, many of them in collaboration with Heather Couper. Previously he has been Astronomy Consultant to New Scientist magazine, editor of the Journal of the British Astronomical Association and media consultant to the Royal Greenwich Observatory. Along with Couper and Stuart Carter, director of the Channel 4 series The Stars, he set up Pioneer Productions where he produced award-winning television programmes and series. Asteroid 3795 Nigel is named after him.[2][3]

Early life and education[edit]

Nigel Henbest was born in West Didsbury, Manchester, where he lived for the first five years of his life. His father, Bernard Henbest, was an organic chemist and his mother, Rosalind (née James) a psychiatrist. In 1958, his father was appointed Professor of Organic Chemistry at Queen’s University, Belfast, and Henbest was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution until the age of 18.

Henbest graduated from the University of Leicester in 1972, gaining a First class honours BSc in astrophysics.[4] Here, he met fellow astronomy student Heather Couper; they formed a working partnership - Hencoup Enterprises - that focuses on astronomy popularisation.


Moving to St John’s College, Cambridge, Henbest researched at the Cavendish Laboratory, under the then Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Ryle. During 1972-73 Henbest made pioneering observations of the remnant of Tycho’s Supernova (observed by Tycho Brahe in 1572).[5] Then in 1974 he published the first comprehensive observations of quasars and galaxies made with the newly opened Five Kilometre Telescope.[6]

Henbest also researched the optical spectra of quasars at the Royal Greenwich Observatory,[7] before returning to the Department of Geology at Leicester University, to develop and install tiltmeters and a recording seismometer on the active volcano Mount Etna[8][9]

He has also presented research on ancient astronomical observations to the European Association of Archaeologists [10]

Henbest is now an Honorary Professor in the School of Duncan of Jordanstone Art & Design, University of Dundee.


In 2009, Henbest signed up with Virgin Galactic for a suborbital flight into space, launching in SpaceShipTwo from the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport Spaceport America.[11]

As an ambassador for private human spaceflight, Henbest has appeared in Forbes magazine[12] and presents Nigel Goes to Space! on YouTube[13][14]


Henbest’s main professional interest has been the promotion and popularisation of science - astronomy in particular - in the media. In parallel with authoring books, he has contributed widely to magazines, especially New Scientist where he was Astronomy Consultant for ten years 1982-92. With 40 books translated into 27 languages often co-authored with Heather Couper. Henbest and Couper are ‘unsung heroes of astronomy, great storytellers years ahead of their time and with an eye for a colourful character’[15]





Public appearances[edit]

In the 1980s, Henbest began to appear regularly on BBC radio, and was consultant on the television series The Planets and The Stars, presented by Heather Couper in 1985 and 1988 on Channel 4. With Couper and the director of The Stars series, Stuart Carter, Henbest set up Pioneer Productions later in 1988. Here Henbest produced many award-winning programmes and series for both British and American television broadcasters.

He also delivers presentations on Astronomy and Television at international conferences.[21][22]

Henbest is interviewed regularly on television as an astronomy expert, as well as presenting on the YouTube channel Naked Science.[23]


  • Naked Science YouTube channel[24] Learn and discover with Naked Science, the channel dedicated to bringing you the world of science and technology. Henbest presents the regular strand Nigel goes to Space![25]
  • Presenter of the YouTube Channel Nigel Goes to Space![26]

Radio appearances[edit]

Regular personal appearances on BBC Radio 2, Radio 4, Radio 5Live, Radio Scotland, Radio Wales, British Forces Broadcasting Service and most local UK radio stations

  • Chairman, The Litmus Test, BBC Radio 4, 1991-93[27][28]
  • Presenter (with Heather Couper), Seeing Stars, BBC World Service, 1989-2001[29]
  • Reporter for the BBC World Service: Including location reports on solar eclipses, spacecraft encounters with planets, repair of Hubble Space Telescope.

Television appearances[edit]

  • 2000's Greatest Tragedies, National Geographic Channel, 2015
  • The 80's Greatest Tragedies, National Geographic Channel, 2014
  • Meteor Strike, Fireball from Space, Channel 4, 2013[30]
  • Contestant on Christmas University Challenge, BBC2, 30 December 2013[31]
  • UFO Europe Untold Stories, National Geographic Channel[32][33]

Television productions[edit]

Year Title Notes
1983 IRAS: The Infrared Eye for BBC
1985 The Planets 7-part series for Channel 4
1988 The Stars 6-part series for Channel 4
1992 ET: Please Phone Earth for Channel 4 & ABC - GOLD MEDAL, NEW YORK FESTIVALS
1993 Space Shuttle Discovery for Channel 4
1994 Body Atlas 13-part series for The Learning Channel
1995 On Jupiter for Discovery - GOLD MEDAL & GRAND AWARD, NEW YORK FESTIVALS[34]
1997 Spaceplanes for The Learning Channel[35]
1997 Rockets for The Learning Channel
1997 Black Holes for Channel 4, Discovery & ABC (Australia) - GOLD MEDAL, BEST SCIENCE DOCUMENTARY, NEW YORK FESTIVALS
1999 Universe:Beyond the Millennium 4-part series for Channel 4 & The Learning Channel - BEST TELEVISION PRODUCTION, GLAXO-WELLCOME/ABSW SCIENCE WRITER AWARD Stars Creation Planets Alien Life
2002 The Day the Earth was Born for Channel4/WGBH
2002 Edge of the Universe 3-part series for Channel 4 - GOLD SPECIAL JURY AWARD, WORLDFEST HOUSTON
2003 Space Shuttle: Human Time Bomb? for Channel 4
2006 Challenger: Countdown to Disaster for National Geographic/Channel 4
2007 Hindenburg for Smithsonian Networks/Channel 4/ZDF[36]
2008-9 Journey to the Edge of the Universe for National Geographic (US)/ Discovery Canada/ France 5
2010-14 How the Universe Works 1, 2 & 3 two 8-part series for Discovery
2011 Story of Earth for National Geographic
2015 How the Universe Works 4 8-part series for Science Channel

Appointments and awards[edit]


  1. ^ "Nigel Henbest biography at the University of Leicester". University of Leicester. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  2. ^ "Nigel Henbest biography at the University of Leicester". University of Leicester. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  3. ^ "The Stars were out at Morley". Learning for Life at Morley. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  4. ^ "Nigel Henbest biography". University of Leicester. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  5. ^ Nigel Henbest (13 August 1979). "The structure of Tycho's supernova remnant" (PDF). Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  6. ^ Nigel Henbest (30 July 1974). "Observations of 48 Extragalactic Radio Sources with the Cambridge 5-km Telescope at 5 GHz" (PDF). Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  7. ^ Nigel Henbest (29 March 1973). "Spectroscopic and Photometric Observations of the Quasar 4C 31.63" (PDF). Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  8. ^ "Two tiltmeters and an integrating seismometer for the monitoring of volcanic activity, and the results of some trials on Mount Etna". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. Elsevier. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  9. ^ "An optical tilt gauge - IOPscience". Journal of Physics E: Scientific Instruments. IOP Publishing. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  10. ^ Henbest, Nigel (2001). "Urania's Mirror: Archaeology as an inspiration for Astronomy.". BAR INTERNATIONAL SERIES. 999: 81–86. 
  11. ^ Philip Sherwell (23 October 2011). "Brits for blast off: tourists head to final frontier". Telegraph. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  12. ^ "Branson's Next-Generation SS2 Headlines Virgin Galactic Explorers Club Gathering". Forbes. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  13. ^ "Nigel Goes to Space". YouTube. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  14. ^ "Vomit Comet - Nigel Defies Gravity". YouTube. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  15. ^ Andy Sawers (8 July 2015). "The Secret Life of Space". Astronomy Now. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  16. ^ "Authors: Nigel Henbest". The Independent. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  17. ^ "Focus at 20: Blast from the past". BBC Focus magazine. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  18. ^ "Search for Nigel Henbest". New Scientist magazine. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  19. ^ Ben Gribbin (4 November 1989). "Science takes to the stage". New Scientist. p. 70. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  20. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica (Fifteenth Edition, second version ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 1985. ISBN 9780852294000. 
  21. ^ Nigel Henbest. "Science or Nonsense? - The Role of TV Graphics". SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS). Bibcode:2005coas.conf..165H. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  22. ^ Astronomy Communication. Springer Science Business Media BV. 2003. pp. 55–66. ISBN 9789048163076. 
  23. ^ "Naked Science you-tube channel". YouTube. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  24. ^ "Naked Science you-tube channel". YouTube. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  25. ^ "Nigel Goes to Space". YouTube. Retrieved 22 October 2015. 
  26. ^ "Naked Science". YouTube. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  27. ^ "The Litmus Test". Radio Listings. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  28. ^ "The Litmus Test". BBC Genome. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  29. ^ "Seeing Stars episodes". BBC World Service. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  30. ^ "Meteor Strike: Fireball from Space". Channel 4. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  31. ^ Tim Healey (12 December 2012). "Former University of Leicester graduates to appear on Christmas celebrity edition of BBC show". Leicester Mercury. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  32. ^ "UFO's The Untold Stories". National Geographic Channel. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  33. ^ "National Geographic UFO Europe Untold Stories - Documentary". YouTube. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  34. ^ "On Jupiter". YouTube. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  35. ^ "Spaceplanes". YouTube. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  36. ^ "Hindenburg". YouTube. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  37. ^ "Nigel Henbest Honorary degree". Youtube. University of Leicester. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  38. ^ McGee, Hazel. "Reflecting the candle: 124 years of the Journal of the BAA". Journal of the British Astronomical Association. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  39. ^ McGee, Hazel. "Reflecting the candle: 124 years of the Journal of the BAA". Journal of the British Astronomical Association. 125: 10. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  40. ^ "JBAA 1999 August: Letters". Retrieved 27 October 2015. 

External links[edit]