Six Characters in Search of a Blogger

10.2 Sir Patrick Moore Guides Us Through “The Sky at Night”
January 14, 2009, 10:00 am
Filed under: People Looking at the Stars | Tags: , , , ,

Thanks to this week’s Special Guest Author, Iain B.  (my husband)

Sir Patrick Moore, host of the BBC's "The Sky at Night"

Sir Patrick Moore, host of the BBC's "The Sky at Night"

Ask anyone from the UK to name an astronomer, and chances are it’ll be Patrick Moore.  He is to the UK what Carl Sagan was to the USA, or Einstein is to–well, everyone.

Patrick Moore, or Sir Alfred Patrick Caldwell-Moore (CBE) to be precise, is a musician and composer.  But the root of his fame is that since the late 1950’s – well before manned spaceflight – Patrick has been an amateur astronomer and presenter of a monthly BBC TV program called The Sky at Night.

The show covers a different topic each month related to astronomy, and well before the invention of online media it regularly issued a quarterly newsletter that could be obtained by viewers on mail-order for just the price of return postage.

Although he modestly describes himself as little more than an amateur stargazer, his lifelong dedication to the field has made him into a pillar of both the amateur and professional branches of the astronomical community.

Perhaps this is apocryphal, but I’ve often heard it repeated that the maps of the moon he created using a small telescope from his backyard in Selsey were the maps used by the Russians when they were planning their moon probes in the early 1960s, so accurate were the details of its features (particularly at the edges of the orb.)  Whether that particular anecdote is true or not, Sir Patrick has actually made a huge contribution to virtually every one of the telescopes you can currently buy at places like Sears, Costco and BJ’s.  That contribution is the Caldwell Catalogue – a list of the 100 or so brightest or most interesting “must see” sky objects for school kids and budding amateur astronomers to aim their new toys at.

(In fact, these days its even easier – many telescopes now come with internal computers for “go to” positioning, and all that’s needed is to press a couple of buttons -[C for Caldwell,  for example] and punch in a number, for the telescope to drive itself to the correct place in the sky.)

Nobody is perfect; and Patrick Moore is certainly no exception, having taken some rather controversial stances on immigration and women in television during his long career (he is now 85.)  But despite his political views, I think it’s important that we don’t obscure the man’s scientific accomplishments because of a few provocative statements.  There are very few of us who will make the contributions to society that he has consistently made through the years.

So here’s to Patrick Moore – long may he continue to inspire popular interest in astronomy, as he did for me back when I was 8 or 9 years old begging my parents to let me stay up and watch him in his late-night TV timeslot.


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