Patrick Moore dies aged 89


Sir Patrick Moore, the man who arguably did most to popularise astronomy, died yesterday at the age of 89.

To the end he maintained his remarkable record of presenting every edition of the BBC television programme The Sky at Night, which he fronted for more than 50 years, interrupted only once, by salmonella poisoning.

With his upper-class accent and monocle, Moore was the personification of an eccentric English gentleman but was also a gifted television presenter and astronomy writer.

Sickly as a child, he began his lifelong interest in astronomy at the age of six. He later became an authority on the moon and his maps were regarded as definitive in the days before satellite imaging.

In Moore’s final edition of The Sky at Night, which marked the 40th anniversary of Apollo 17 mission, Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, said Nasa had regularly used his maps for navigation during Apollo missions.

First broadcast in 1957, and shunted from one late-night slot in the schedule to another for much of its existence, The Sky at Night is the longestrunning series presented by one individual.

Born in Pinner, Middlesex, in 1923, Moore was a navigator in Bomber Command in the second World War.

Though he met many famous figures, from aviator Orville Wright to astronaut Neil Armstrong, his favourite meeting was with physicist Albert Einstein in New York in 1940, when Moore, aged 17, was on leave from RAF training. The two performed a duet, Moore on piano, Einstein on violin.

Moore had one only other job: director of the Armagh Planetarium between 1965 and 1968.

‘Friend of Irish astronomy’

Astronomy Ireland director David Moore (no relation) described him as a “friend of Irish astronomy”. To mark his death there will be a minute’s silence this evening at the club’s Christmas lecture.

Moore showcased on The Sky at Night the work of two of Ireland’s leading amateur astronomers, David Grennan and Carl O’Beirnes.

He gave three public lectures in Dublin to celebrate his 70th birthday and was a regular visitor although he disliked travelling abroad. Moore supported the UK Independence Party. He was also on the committee to restore the telescope at Birr Castle.

Mr Grennan, who stayed in Moore’s house as a guest on several occasions, described him as a “very warm and caring man” who liked to tell stories into the small hours.

“For the vast majority of amateur astronomers like myself he was the inspiration, the one you looked at and said, ‘Wow, I want to do that’.”

Stargazing Moore's life and times

The Sky at Night was first broadcast on April 24th, 1957. There have been 705 programmes. Moore missed only one episode. He contracted salmonella from a poisoned egg in July 2004.

He was good friends with Queen guitarist and astronomer Brian May and the pair wrote a book together. May described Moore as a “dear friend, and a kind of father figure to me”.

Moore has an asteroid named after him, 2602 Moore, discovered in 1982 by an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

His fiancee Lorna was killed by a German bomb in 1943. Earlier this year he said there may be some good German people but “I haven’t met any”.