10 December 2012

'Sky at Night' host Sir Patrick Moore: astronomer, writer, inspiration

Sir Patrick Moore, who introduced generations to the wonders of astronomy through his BBC TV show “The Sky at Night,” died 9 December. According to news reports, Moore was the longest-running host of the same television show ever. “The Sky at Night” began its run in April 1957. Moore appeared on its most recent episode, which aired last week, on 3 December.

Sir Patrick Moore: 1923-2012.
(Credit: Paul Grover, by exclusive permission)
"He counted himself as a writer and broadcaster first and foremost. But as Britain's most recognisable scientist for more than 50 years, he inspired countless people to take up astronomy as a hobby or astrophysics as a career,” said colleague Chris Lintott in a tribute published on the BBCwebsite.

Among those many who Moore inspired is Nobel Laureate John Mather, Senior Project Scientist and chair of the Science Working Group for the James Webb Space Telescope and a Fellow of SPIE. Remembering Moore this week, he spoke of his enjoyment of Moore's writings, from childhood on.

Moore was entirely self-taught, passing up an opportunity to enroll at Cambridge. Instead he lied about his age and enlisted in the Royal Air Force at the beginning of World War II.

Moore was noted for the trademark monocle he wore, and for his enthusiasm for scientific subjects. He interviewed guests including astronauts and astronomers, and was instrumental in BBC coverage of moon landings, eclipses, and astronomical events.

In his 1997 book, Exploring the Night Sky with Binoculars, he expressed his frustration with those who questioned the need for expenditures on space exploration. When he heard such questions, he said, “I know that I’m dealing with an idiot.”

Moore passed away at home, surrounded by friends and his cat, Ptolemy. The astronomer, a noted animal lover, had indicated that any memorial donations should go to the UK group Cats Protection.

A statement from the organization called Moore “a dedicated, lifelong cat lover and friend, supporting the charity in many ways over the years.”

See The Sky at Night website for past episodes of the television show, and for more about this "man of extraordinary gifts."

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