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Sir Patrick Moore – 1923-2012: A tribute to the record-breaking astronomer

 
 
 
 
 
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British astronomer and broadcaster Sir Patrick Moore died peacefully at his home last week, aged 89.

Sir Patrick held the record title for "most durable TV presenter / Longest running TV show - same presenter", having hosted the monthly BBC series The Sky at Night since its first edition aired in 1957, with his final appearance on the show coming less than a week before his death.  

Here below, fellow astronomer and Guinness World Records Science & Technology Consultant Dave Hawksett pays tribute to his friend.

There is a saying that one should never meet one's heroes. Sir Patrick Moore, who died peacefully at home on 9 December aged 89, was the exception.

A self-taught astronomer who always described himself as an amateur, Patrick's own mapping effort of the Moon assisted both the American and Soviet lunar exploration programmes.

During World War II he served as a navigator in Bomber Command and there are rumours of his actions behind enemy lines for British intelligence. His television show, The Sky At Night, was broadcast once a month from April 1957 to December 2012. He only missed one episode due to food poisoning in 2004.

Sir Patrick Moore with friends

Image: Guinness World Records' Dave Hawksett with Patrick Moore (left) and astronomer Iain Nicolson (right)

Patrick was a unique broadcaster. His machine gun-style delivery, coupled with his childlike enthusiasm drew you into the screen. Countless people, me included, were inspired by him to take up astronomy.

I first met Patrick 20 years ago, and later worked with him on the BBC's coverage of the Mars Pathfinder landing, taught astronomy with him at Wansfell College, and contributed to some of his many books. Upon calling him to congratulate him on his knighthood some years ago, I received a series of one-liners explaining why he did not deserve it, punctuated by his laughter and mine.

Despite his fame and accomplishments, Patrick was humble, approachable and generous. After attending one of his legendary house parties, I stayed in the local hotel and was shocked upon checking out to find Patrick had paid for my room.

Patrick brought astronomy to the public during its golden age, from before the era of manned spaceflight right up to the present. He knew Orville Wright, Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong, and once played a duet with Albert Einstein.

Patrick never married. His fiancée was killed in World War II and he could not settle for second best. Instead, his vast circle of friends became his family and he operated an open-house policy at his home: 'There's only one rule here, and that's help yourself!' was how he greeted visitors. Without his presence the night sky already seems dimmer.

Clear skies and thanks for everything Sir Patrick.

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