Just flew back in from Texas to find that Patrick Moore died. Here is Brian May’s very nice obituary. I am not one of the many astronomers who knew him personally, but I am one of the even larger number who was originally inspired by him. Here is the book in question :
Observers Book of Astronomy, 1964. Got it out of the library in Victoria Road, Margate. Its not there now. The library, not the book. I think its turned into flats.
A few years later I was a founder member of the Thanet Astronomical Society for Youth, along with the Sun Spaceman, aka Suthers, aka Mr Skymania. For some time meetings consisted of about five and a half spotty yoofs. Then somebody – probably Suthers himself – wrote to Patrick Moore and asked if he’d talk to us. He said yes, and our next meeting had two hundred people!
I remember this well, but what I never knew until today is that he stayed at Suthers house !! Its all explained in the Sun. Scroll down to the bottom.
I was given that very Observer’s Book as a primary school prize. Well not that exact copy but a similar one. I remember that TASY was aimed at yoof because I didn’t feel confident enough to run events for adults at my own tender age. Plus it was really a front to get girls along from other single-sex schools.
It also happened thanks to the support of Samuel “Bill” Mitchell FRAS, whose weekly astronomy lectures John Watler and I attended at Hilderstone Adult Education Centre to marvel at his wonderful black and white lantern slides – yes really. I’m sure the wonderful, gravelly voiced Bill played a big part in helping us to snare Patrick.
It was The Observer’s Book of Astronomy that first got me interested in the subject, too. My brother had a copy and one summer afternoon I finished the book I was reading and went to see what I could borrow from his room. I remember reading the text accompanying a colour plate showing lines in a stellar spectrum and being amazed that it was possible to infer the physical conditions and chemical composition of an object so far away. The power of that capability made quite an impression on my ~8-year old mind, and that probably did more than any other single book in determining the course of the subsequent ~36 years of my life.
I don’t recall any particular book by Patrick that influenced me, but the public library I frequented when young had simply lots of them on the shelves and I certainly borrowed a few.
Unlike Andy I don’t read the Sun regularly (only when I find one on the train) but I was pleased to see that he got a good obituary in the Financial Times. This noted:
“Given the smooth and articulate nature of Moore’s delivery of technical and complicated material, it was astronishing to discover during a studio visit in the 1980s that he used neither autocue nor the ‘idiot boards’ preferred by some presenters, but relied solely on one-word prompt cards to move on from one subject to another. It seems that he shared with A.J.P. Taylor the ability to form a script in his head and deliver it to camera without hesitation or deviation and on time.”
This is indeed a wonderful skill that he had, and I mentioned in an earlier thread my admiration for the TV lectures given by A.J.P.Taylor. Such a shame that nobody like them exists any more, or if they do, they are never allowed anywhere near a TV camera.
On another tack: the fact that most professional astronomers treated Patrick as an equal and that he was an FRAS and later honorary FRS says something good about our field – I don’t think the gifted amateur gets much of a look-in in many other areas of science, let alone proper acknowledgement.
I did have the privilege of working with him many years ago when I took part a few times in lectures that he organised at an adult education college. He was not only an wonderful presenter but also very good company and I enjoyed these weekends a lot. It is to his credit too that, even when giving a course to what was essentially a collection of people just using binoculars and small telescopes in their back gardens, he wanted to include talks on the latest advances in up and coming fields like radio astronomy (which is why I was involved).
I do hope that the “Sky at Night” keeps going in some form or other.
I do have more evidence of Patrick’s willingness to do anything. Now … this may sound a little strange .. but I have a collection of pictures of Astronomer’s feet, and Patrick kindly consented to join the collection. Some time I may set up the collection as a wee quiz and then you can see if you can spot Patrick.
With or without shoes?
Only feet or also other body parts?
only feet. no shoes or socks. [I know. I was an early contributor.]
Please explain the motivation.
I recall a famous quote from JBS Haldane.
Sorry, only my analyst gets that sort of info
Of course, the quote is “Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” But who knows, maybe you’re starting a trend here. In which case, the following Haldane quote might apply:
I suppose the process of acceptance will pass through the
usual four stages:
(i) this is worthless nonsense;
(ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view;
(iii) this is true, but quite unimportant;
(iv) I always said so.
In any case, you’re welcome to photograph my feet should our paths someday cross. (I certainly have the most beautiful astronomer feet in the universe.)
[…] an update on my Patrick Moore nostalgia post. The mysterious “Gareth” turned out to be my own nineteen year old son, who for […]