The world-wide community of stargazers has been saddened by the passing of one of its great characters. Patrick Moore was a hugely popular figure whose many books, television appearances and talks inspired generations of young people into pursuing astronomy as a hobby or a profession.
Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore was born in 1923 and began his life-long interest in astronomy from a very early age. In the Second World War he served as a navigator in the RAF.
In the 1950s Patrick Moore became known to a wider audience with his TV appearances. He first ventured in this new medium when, as a well-known amateur astronomer, he was invited to debate the then-popular topic of flying saucers live on the BBC. Demonstrating a good-natured wit, Moore impressed both viewers and programme makers. In 1957 he began to present the ever-popular monthly Sky at Night programme, which is still broadcast up his death. He very rapidly established himself as the face of astronomy (and indeed science) in the UK, and played up the British public’s view of scientists as eccentric boffins. As well as his own programme and enormous output of books and articles, he was a regular commentator on space and astronomy stories for newspapers and the broadcast media making his face and distinctive manner familiar to viewers and listeners.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he was sufficiently recognisable to be invited as a guest on numerous comedy shows and panel games on television. In these appearances he would play up his slightly ‘mad scientist’ persona for comedic effect, wearing his trademark monocle, displaying a disregard for fashion in his dress-sense and often demonstrating his xylophone-playing prowess (he had a genuine talent for this instrument), endearing himself to the wider public. In 1976, as an April 1st prank, Moore told BBC radio listeners that a planetary alignment at precisely 9:47 a.m. that day would briefly lower the Earth’s gravitational pull. Jumping into the air at the critical moment would lead to a short experience of weightlessness. Subsequently, listeners ‘phoned the BBC to report how they had performed astronaut-style zero-gravity acrobatics in their kitchens at the exact time. This illustrates how Moore was regarded as the final authority on astronomical matters by the public.
In 1965 Patrick Moore was invited to Northern Ireland to be the first director of Armagh Planetarium which was already under construction. Here he oversaw the construction of the original dome and presented talks on astronomy to both the general public and school audiences. Moore resigned as director on the day the Planetarium was formally opened, returning to his home town of Selsey to continue his writing, lecturing and media career which he continued up until his passing. Knighted in 2001, he was still a regular contributor to the Sky at Night a record-breaking 55 years after the programme started.
(Article by Colin Johnston, Science Communicator)