Sadly, the internet is fairly abuzz with the news of Sir Patrick’s passing at 89. Many people in N. America will likely be unaware of his fame in the UK, where for generations he was and arguably still is, even in his passing, the face of astronomy. He presented “The Sky at Night” show for over 50 years, making it the longest running show with a single presenter on television.
Growing up in the UK, I can’t honestly remember the very first time I heard of him he was just there… a UK institution if you like. My earliest recollection of knowing about him is just after the moon landings and he seemed to be on TV all the time then. Many people are unaware that he was extensively involved in the mapping of the Moon prior to the Apollo landings, so it’s probably no surprise that he greatly enjoyed those missions and the resulting exposure they got on television.
There’s no doubt Moore inspired generations to be interested in the sky above them, but his fame was not without controversy. I will not go into great detail, but in later years many know that he said some frankly inappropriate things about women and voiced strongly right-wing political views that engendered criticism. Yet individual anecdotes about him encouraging young women to enter astronomy can be found around the web, he also authored a book on the unappreciated Caroline Herschel. So I hope he is remembered for the good he did rather than things said in somewhat angry old age.
At a personal level I actually got far more from his books than I ever got from his TV show. Ironic as it may be, I found the TV show quite slow and well frankly over my head as a young kid. I ended up being far more engrossed by Sagan’s beautifully produced “Cosmos” series. But Moore wrote a truly prolific number of books over his lifetime and his “The Story of Astronomy” was the first ever book I remember being completely engrossed by. At 9 years of age I think I read that book cover-to-cover and sections of it repeatedly. The story of George Hale and his efforts to build ever larger telescopes at Mount Wilson and Palomar totally captivated me. I must have read those chapters dozens of times.
Sir Patrick or really just Patrick, as he liked to be known, leaves a truly remarkable legacy of achievement in education and television. It’s hard to even think of anyone ever breaking his record of presenting a show for so long.
So long, and thanks for all the photons!