Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sir Patrick Moore — The Brightest Star in the Night Sky

Asteroid 2602 Moore is named after Sir Patrick Moore

Quick — name the longest running television show in history.

Nope: you’re wrong. It’s not a soap opera or Sesame Street or As The World Turns, even The Grand Old Opry.

It’s a program about astronomy from Britain called The Sky at Night, and it’s been running since 1957, practically the dawn of time, as far as television goes. It’s presenter, Sir Patrick Moore, is an amateur astronomer whose impact on the field of astronomy has been so profound that he is credited with producing an entire generation of star-gazers. He is also one of Great Britain’s most beloved eccentrics, and he died today at the age of 89.

If you like the idea of history being linked, one event or persona joining with another as if in a wondrous necklace, then Sir Patrick Moore forms one of those chains. His career spanned the history of man’s ability to foil gravity by taking to the skies — having met the Wright brothers and being well known to the astronauts and cosmonauts who ushered in the Space Age — he played an integral role as an advisor to both the US and Russian space programs.

Known for his shambolicly ill-fitting suits, his wild hair, and for his ever-present monocle, Moore was also a gifted Xylophone player and pianist — accompanying Einstein (who was playing violin) when they met, on “The Swan.” Ever an Englishman, Moore was also a fan of cricket and his home, in whose back garden he often filmed the show, staring through a giant telescope.

It’s hard to convince Americans of the extent to which Sir Patrick Moore was a beloved iconic figure, perhaps because the medium of television (especially in its early years) took such divergent paths. In Britain, it was a medium for entertainment based on facts and self-improvement, whereas in the US it was the venue for game shows.

Sir Patrick Moore was tall. His legacy is that whenever we lift our heads to look up, we will always see him winking back at us.

Perhaps he’s taken up residency on one of Saturn’s moons, Iepetus, from which he thought the most heavenly view in the universe could be seen.


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