The eccentric populariser of astronomy, Patrick Moore, died yesterday at the age of 89.
Tuesday 11th December, 2012
Sir Patrick Moore, host of the long-running BBC series The Sky at Night, died at his home in Selsey, West Sussex, yesterday. The well-known amateur astronomer introduced significant numbers of people to astronomy through his television programmes, books and lecture tours, and was an inspiration for several of today’s leading astronomers.
In addition to his work making astronomy of interest to the general public, Patrick was an expert on the Earth’s moon. His work was carried out prior to the automation which is central to modern astronomy, and involved hours at the telescope studying and mapping features on the surface of the Moon prior to the manned moon landings which began in 1969.
Patrick toured New Zealand twice during the latter part of last century. His first tour, organised by The Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (RASNZ), took place in April and May of 1983. He visited 16 centres over five weeks following an itinerary managed by New Zealand astronomer Graham Blow. He delivered 18 presentations to astronomers and the public, attended the annual conference of the RASNZ, and promoted National Astronomy Week. The tour was so successful that the RASNZ elected him an Honorary Member at the AGM held that year.
It wasn’t all work though. I well-remember the dinner at Wellington’s Il Casino where he tucked into a platter of our mussels accompanied by Herman and Agnes Seifried’s Refosca, which was the house red at the time. He regaled us with stories of hurtling up to the BBC studios in London in his battered Ford Prefect to deliver his weekly television programme and observing sessions held at Farthings, Selsey. For a Toastmaster, Patrick was the ultimate off-the-cuff speaker. His prodigious memory and wide interests allowed him to launch into an address on many topics in addition to astronomy, and he was a lively participant in conversation.
He was a talented musician and composer, a keen cricketer, a skilled performer and first-class dinner companion.
It’s remarkable that, having become so famous, he rarely put on airs and was always approachable, even to the extent of inviting people to visit him at home. He seemed to have hidden reserves of energy and could easily outlast us at the frequent “after match sessions” that we held after his presentations.
His signature was the monocle which could alarmingly pop out unnoticed when he became excited and his stunning machine-gun delivery. That and his boundless enthusiasm for astronomy will be sadly missed, as will his fine company.
The Guardian newspaper published an enlightening and entertaining obituary for Patrick Moore, which includes some of his masterful turns of phrase. When I read of his flirtation with the Monster Raving Looney Party because they “had one advantage over all the other parties – they knew they were loonies” I was transported back to our conversations of the 1980s. That was pure Patrick. What a cracker.
It was an honour and pleasure to have known him.