Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Patrick Moore

The death last month of Sir Patrick Moore was in a way the end of an era of amateur astronomers of the old school. I loved his eccentric presentation of "The Sky at Night" an astronomical program which started on the 26th April 1957 on BBC television. It is the longest running television program in the world. In the case of Patrick he was also the presenter throughout. I can't remember exactly when I first started to watch the program on a regular basis, but it would have been before I left school so it was in the early 1960's. Without a doubt Patrick was the man who brought me to a life long interest in astronomy. 

Patrick died at his West Sussex home on 9 December 2012. Friends and members of Moore's staff released a statement: "After a short spell in hospital last week, it was determined that no further treatment would benefit him, and it was his wish to spend his last days in his own home, Farthings, where he today passed on, in the company of close friends and carers and his cat Ptolemy. Over the past few years, Patrick, an inspiration to generations of astronomers, fought his way back from many serious spells of illness and continued to work and write at a great rate, but this time his body was too weak to overcome the infection which set in a few weeks ago. He was able to perform on his world record-holding TV Programme The Sky at Night right up until the most recent episode. His executors and close friends plan to fulfil his wishes for a quiet ceremony of interment, but a farewell event is planned for what would have been his 90th birthday in March 2013."

I always found astronomy fascinating, in the early days through the expectations that were influenced a young mind. Fed by the adventures of Dan Dare in the Eagle comic. I loved the whole idea of space travel and ray guns. Both of which have come to pass. Man has been to the moon and the laser is the ray gun brought to realisation. The other thing that I was apprehensive in anticipating was aliens from space - which I expected to be a bit like the Mekon Dare's arch enemy. (The Mekon was the ruler of Venus.) I did hope that the aliens when they arrived would not be so warlike. Patrick always discouraged such ideas of little green men ever arriving. Yet the more we learn about the cosmos the more we realise that we are not mathematically unique. Every new discovery seems to confirm the chances of life on other planets is almost certain.

The space race between the USA and the Russians which kicked off with launch of Sputnik became a another driver feeding my interest. I was always good at mathematics at school, and so I did for a while harbour an interest in a career in astronomy. The problem was the more that I looked at the requirements the more I realised that astronomy was becoming more theoretical based. So rather than looking for a formal route, I chose to go down the route of just being an interested amateur. Pursuing my career in the early days of number crunching computing and early digital communications. So today I tend to read research materials about astronomy. But only in the areas that continue to interest me. However, I did for a few years teach the basics of astronomy part time.

Is there life out there, yes I'm pretty convinced. It may not be in a form that we might instantly recognise. Will we ever be in communication with such life forms. I doubt it, unless we can come up with a communications system that is not bound to the mathematical constant that is the speed of light. There has been some theoretical postulation about using superluminal (faster than light) communications. The theory of relativity or to be more correct the theory of special relativity, does not forbid the existence of particles that travel faster than light. Although the plausibility of this, as a faster than light communications solution is uncertain.

Its my opinion as the guru of amateur astronomers Patrick can never be surpassed. He was someone I would have liked to have met. As a much loved English eccentric he is also second to none. As an unconventional yet quintessential English man he was a genuine legend in his own lifetime. Often imitated, never duplicated. RIP Patrick.



  1. What a lovely post to a great man. He's very sadly missed in our village where he lived, we were very priviledged to have known Patrick for the last few years of his life, he was always up for a meal or a drink and to meet new people, he even attended our birthday/wedding party in August last year, sadly one of his last public outings, as soon after then he became quite unwell. Great interview with him on BBC4 the other night..... typical Patrick!

    1. Thanks for the info about the interview with Patrick on BBC4. Just been on iPlayer and had a viewing. Well worth watching. I expect there will be additional programmes on the Beeb about Patrick over the next few months.

      I could not help but think what a contrast, between two who made their fame on the BBC, Patrick and Savile.




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