TV astronomer Patrick Moore dies aged 89

Uniquely eccentric stargazer's lunar research data was used by US and Soviet programmes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 December, 2012, 4:12am


Astronomer Patrick Moore, renowned for his work mapping the moon's surface and for having popularised his subject with the British public, died yesterday at the age of 89.

Moore, whose lunar research was used by both the US and Soviets space programmes, died peacefully at his home in Selsey on the southern English coast after succumbing to an infection.

Besides his skill at explaining the universe, his monocle, wit, raised eyebrow and idiosyncratic style of speech endeared him to an army of space fans.

Moore fronted the monthly BBC programme The Sky At Night from its launch in 1957, missing only one edition, making him the world's longest-running presenter of the same television show. His last programme was broadcast on Monday.

In 1959, the Soviets used his charts to correlate the first Lunik 3 pictures of the far side of the moon.

Moscow ensured he was the first Westerner to see the results, which he received mid-broadcast. His early shows went out live, with Moore once swallowing a fly on air.

He was also involved in the lunar mapping in the run-up to the Nasa Apollo missions.

"My own research - mapping the Moon - now belongs to the past, and my role, if I have one, is to try and urge others to do things which I could never do myself," he said in later life.

"This century will be very interesting," he added. "The first man on Mars has probably already been born."

Moore believed he was the only person to have met aviation pioneer Orville Wright; Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space; and Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.

Moore first became fascinated with the stars aged six, and two years later he was given the 1908 typewriter on which his vast array of books, papers and children's novels were written.

He lied about his age to join the Royal Air Force at 16 and fight in the second world war. He met Wright and Albert Einstein while on leave in North America, once accompanying the violin-playing Einstein on piano.

Moore was also a skilled xylophone player who composed several pieces, as well as being a useful cricketer.

Queen Elizabeth knighted him in 2001 for "services to the popularisation of science and to broadcasting".

Queen guitarist Brian May, a doctor of astrophysics who co-authored two books with Moore, said the world had "lost a priceless treasure".

"It's no exaggeration to say that Patrick, in his tireless and ebullient communication of the magic of astronomy, inspired every British astronomer, amateur and professional, for half a century," said May.