Patrick Moore

Sir Patrick Moore passed away today, aged 89. Through his many, many books, and TV programmes like The Sky at Night, he became Britain’s foremost populariser of astronomy. It’s safe to say he’s inspired several generations of scientists, showing us the poignant beauty of the heavens and incredible excitement of space exploration, all in his own, unique way.

I have a particularly fond memory of him. When I was quite young, probably around 8 years old, my dad and uncle took me to see Patrick give a lecture at the Victoria Hall in Stoke. I seem to remember that much of it was about Mars, and how astronomers past had mistakenly seen canals and other marks of civilisation on its surface. I still have a copy of a little red book of his, “Into Space!”, lying around somewhere at home, that we bought on the night. We also took my copy of Philip’s Atlas of the Universe (another of his), which he graciously signed for me after the lecture. I can’t remember what he said to me, other than that he’d sprained his wrist, so could only manage to scrawl his initials on the first page! I recall being slightly put out by this, for some reason – perhaps because it looked like someone had randomly scrawled on the book, thus defacing it. (Anyone who knows me will have some appreciation of how cardinal a sin the defacement of a book, however slight, is in my eyes.)

Meeting Patrick was one of a number of important events in my development that happened at around the same time. My dad bought me a little black Tasco refractor, and managed to get a stunning view of Jupiter out of it, one that I couldn’t reproduce myself for many years. A couple of years earlier, he’d woken me up in the middle of the night, literally carrying me out of bed to see a lunar eclipse. My parents had also been indulging me by buying science books, which I absolutely lapped up. One of these was Patrick’s Atlas of the Universe, the one he signed, which I often dipped into. In 1999, there was also a solar eclipse in Britain, only partial in Stoke but reaching totality in Cornwall, which I remember Patrick doing the commentary for.

These events, along with many others of a similar nature over the years, have shaped me both intellectually and personally. Being an astrophysicist is a big part of who I am, and I’m forever grateful to all of the people like Patrick who set me out on this path all those years ago. I only hope I can repay the debt by inspiring others myself.

About Phil Bull

I'm a theoretical cosmologist, currently working as a NASA NPP fellow at JPL/Caltech in Pasadena, CA. My research focuses on the effects of inhomogeneities on the evolution of the Universe and how we measure it. I'm also keen on stochastic processes, scientific computing, the philosophy of science, and open source stuff. View all posts by Phil Bull

8 responses to “Patrick Moore

  • paul

    sad news patrick moore will be sadly missed but whats to become of his beloved programe the skyat night,will it go on in his memory?

  • Stephen

    The end of an era, you are now a star yourself up there in the heavens. Perhaps a numbered galaxy should be named after Sir Patrick.

  • Will McMaster

    From a boy I had always intended to send a question into the show and get Patrick to answer it. Something now that sadly won’t happen! I had it written down and on a wall for 20 years and never got around to sending it in (For the record, are there any plans to send more crafts like the Voyager probes into deep space using the “grand tour” method and how often are the windows of opportunity with the alignments of planets available to do so?) As my old heamaster used to say “Procrastination is not only the thief of time it is the thief of opportunity”

    • Phil Bull

      Too true. For what it’s worth, it doesn’t look like there will be another alignment of the planets so favourable as the one they used for Voyager for another 140 years or so. There will be other alignments in the mean time that would allow spacecraft to visit some different combination of the planets, but not an exact reproduction of the Voyager mission. There’s also the “Interplanetary Transport Network”, which is a set of trajectories between all the planets that allows spacecraft to get between them with the minimum of energy (read: fuel). Unfortunately those trajectories would result in much longer, slower missions.

      The only other recent deep space mission that I can think of is New Horizons. It’s currently on its way to Pluto, where it will arrive in 2015. After that, it’ll head out of the Solar System, via the Kuiper Belt.

  • tonya stevens

    Sir Patrick Moore

    But he was going to live for ever
    Sir Patrick of the skies
    The monocle a’glinting
    The, oh, so sparkly eyes
    That saw great things and told us
    So we could see them too
    I’m going to miss him, this old man
    In fact I already, do.

  • Owen Kowalski

    The day the Aliens Arrived

    It was a sunny Monday morning, on my way to work.
    When it broke on the news and we all went berserk
    There was running and screaming and trying to survive
    The world went crazy the day the aliens arrived

    They landed in the cities and landed in the towns
    When they landed in Australia they landed upside down
    Some of the ships were big others were very large
    They came from outer space far beyond the stars

    Academics and Scientists wanted to see
    If they could find away to talk to ET
    Then a port opened on one of the ships from space
    They were ready to talk to the human race

    The Aliens spoke as they came through the door
    We’ve come to pay our respects to the late Sir Patrick Moore
    From our home planet we began our flight
    To come and say thanks for ‘The Sky at Night’

    55 Years of his programme we’ve all enjoyed
    As it’s beamed out in to space across the interstellar void
    A generation of Astronomers he has helped and inspired
    About wonders of the universe our imagination he fired

    To the heavens he would look, even when it was grey
    With the help of Chris, Pete, Paul and Brain May
    From Mars to deep space he has seen science go
    What he’ll discover next we just don’t know.

  • Steev

    I shed a tear on the 1 St episode without the great man it was about the Sun, and didn’t he Burn well….I’ll miss you great Man…Stephen Boult

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