Watching the science news on the latest close(ish) fly-by of another asteroid reminded me that one of my favorite astronomers, Patrick Moore, died on December 9, 2012. Born on March 4, 1923, he also worked as a researcher, radio commentator, writer and TV presenter. The astronomy show: The Sky at Night was his creation. First broadcast in April, 1957, it continues as one of TV’s longest running shows.
I remember the first time I watched an episode of The Sky at Night. It was a Saturday night and I always sat up late at weekends to watch the late movies. It was 1979 and I was 11-years-old. I can’t remember which movies I watched, but I do remember that one of the TV channels ran a late-night horror double-bill every Saturday. It was usually an old, 1940s-50s black-and-white movie, followed by one from the 70s. Passing time before the first movie began, I watched The Sky at Night. I was already into science fiction in a big way, but this was the first factual show I ever watched about the planets, stars, cosmos, et al. Astronomy has been one of my hobbies ever since. The grandiose and haunting theme music to The Sky at Night never changed and still resonates with me: At the Castle Gate, by Jean Sibelius.
The monocle-wearing host, Patrick Moore, often fast-talking [particularly when reporting breaking news of a cosmic event], was instantly likeable and succeeded in being both entertaining and educational. In life, despite his long-term health problems, he was highly talented, having self-taught the piano and xylophone. He was also a keen traveler. During World War II, he served with the Royal Air Force, and it was during the war years that he met and fell in love with his fiancée, Lorna. Tragically, she was killed during a bombing raid and Patrick remained a bachelor for the rest his life, dedicating himself to his life-work and study of astronomy, publishing many books on the subject. A cat-lover, he was a supporter of animal welfare charities and firmly opposed any blood sports. Along with presenting The Sky at Night, he made several appearances on other TV shows over the decades. His radio work also included a small role in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In later years, as his health worsened, he presented The Sky at Night from his home, where he also had his own observatory.
Two of my favorite quotes by him are:
“At my age I do what Mark Twain did. I get my daily paper, look at the obituaries page and if I'm not there I carry on as usual.”
“There is absolutely nothing to be said in favor of growing old. There ought to be legislation against it.”
The Sky at Night is now expertly co-presented by Chris Lintott, Pete Lawrence, Paul Abel and Chris North. The physicist, Brian Cox, has also appeared on the show.
Patrick, thank you for bringing the spectacle and mystery of the universe into my small world. I was one of many you inspired to look up in wonder and curiosity at the stars.
In memory of Patrick Moore (March 4, 1923 – December 9, 2012).