Patrick Moore was the astronomer who, more than any other scientist living or dead, could explain to the world at large the marvels and intricacies of the universe — and beyond.
TV personalities come and go, but Moore, famous for his monocle, outlasted them all. For more than 40 years, he presented BBC TV’s popular The Sky At Night programme, a wonderland of information for the expert, the novice and his huge army of fans who had no particular scientific bent at all. It became the longest-running TV series with the same presenter.
His knowledge of outer space was prodigious and he possessed a unique ability to transmit that knowledge in a comprehensible and attractive form to the layman.
But Moore, despite an occasional irascible nature and a tendency towards eccentricity, was a kindly man and modest with it. Once he said he would like to be remembered as an amateur astronomer who played cricket and the xylophone.
Patrick Caldwell Moore was born on Mar 4, 1923. He was educated privately, because of illness.
His interest in astronomy was fired at the age of six when he read a book called Guide To The Solar System, published in 1898. “I picked up that book by sheer luck and sat down by the armchair and read it through. I understood most of it — which wasn’t bad for a six-year-old.”
When he was 11, he was nominated as a member of the British Astronomical Association — the youngest ever member. He published his first paper, on small craters in the Mare Crisium on the moon aged 13 — exactly 50 years before he was to be president of the association. The paper was accepted and he was asked to present it. “I wrote back saying, ‘Thank you for your letter. I’d be honoured but you’ve got to understand I’m only 13’. They replied: ‘We don’t see what that’s got to do with it’.”
As a young man he knew Einstein. He said of him: “He was an interesting man: totally unworldly. He was a violin player and I accompanied him playing Saint-Saens’s Swan. I wish I had a tape of it.”
He served with the Royal Air Force from 1940 to 1945.
One of his great triumphs was to explain, on TV, the existence of a giant black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy. Moore had a map of the Milky Way drawn on the floor of the studio. He walked towards the centre and then, by some feat of conjuring, disappeared.
One of his most frustrating moments as a broadcaster was when he said: “We’ll hear the voices of the first men round the moon in 20 seconds. This is one of the great moments in human history. And at that moment they switched over to Jackanory.”
Moore passionately wanted to go into space himself.
He used to gaze at the stars and say: “We are a very, very small speck in the universe, about as important as a single ant in the whole of the world.”
He was also an accomplished player of the xylophone and composed music for this instrument.
In 2000 he suffered a paralysis in his right hand which considerably restricted his activities as a musician and a writer. He was forced to cancel lectures.
He was knighted in the 2001 new year list “for services to the popularisation of science and to broadcasting”, an honour which earned him congratulations from around the world.
He battled on and in 2007 presented a special 50th anniversary episode of the show from his back garden with special guests including Queen guitarist Brian May.
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