The passing of a true British institution: Sir Patrick Moore

Sir Patrick Moore sadly passed away in December 2012, but he leaves behind a true legacy of astronomical knowledge and broadcasting. Our Education Demonstrator at the Planetarium, John Moran, shares his thoughts.

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Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell Moore CBE, FRS, FRAS to give him his full title, sadly passed away in December 2012, but he leaves behind a true legacy of not only astronomical knowledge, but also of broadcasting over 50 years to which I am personally very grateful.

The Sky at Night is the longest continuous show in British television history and is still going strong For the last few years The Sky at Night has been broadcast from the home of Sir Patrick on account of his frail health, but he never lost his enthusiasm or sharp mind for his subject. People often say to me how difficult it was to understand him as he spoke so fast and with the fervour of a true intellectual that they would often feel bamboozled, but his books, of which he has written dozens, are the complete opposite, with simple explanations on some hard to explain subjects. Patrick Moore was one of the main reasons behind igniting my love of astronomy and what made it even cooler in my mind is that he always considered himself to be an amateur.

One of his biggest contributions in astronomy was advancing our understanding of the moon. He made some of the first finely detailed maps of the lunar surface which were consulted by NASA and the Apollo astronauts; this before the invention of amateur astrophotography and so was gained by hundreds of hours looking through his telescopes, and the notes and research are now an invaluable archive. It therefore seems somehow prophetic that he has passed away only two days after the 40th anniversary of the last manned mission to the moon, Apollo 17. Commander Eugene Cernan being the last man to step foot on the moon, something that Sir Patrick played a not insignificant part in.

Easily one of the most recognisable voices on television he was also one of the most imitated; we all remember the famous Ronnie Barker sketch from the Two Ronnie’s, or more recently John Culshaw, himself a keen astronomer and many times a guest on the Sky at Night, interviewing Patrick Moore as Patrick Moore. This showed also what a great sport he was.

Sir Patrick was also a fierce campaigner for animal rights, a lifelong cricket enthusiast and accomplished musician; and as well as science fact he also wrote science fiction, truly a man of many talents. So in an age when people are lifted up to hero status far too easily for far too little, in my humble opinion Sir Patrick Moore will always stand out and be remembered as a truly inspirational British and global institution the likes of which we will never see again.