World-famous astronomer and broadcaster Sir Patrick Moore has died, after a short illness, at his home in Selsey, Sussex. He was 89 years old. He presented a monthly TV show for the BBC for 55 years. His show, The Sky at Night, featured information about astronomy—a subject, on which Moore was enthusiastic and knowledgeable. He always described himself as an amateur astronomer, because he didn't have formal astronomy qualifications. However, not only was he highly knowledgeable, but he had the rare gift of being able to present complicated concepts for TV in a manner which was entertaining as well as understandable.
I had the privilege of getting to know Moore somewhat, when I was a young child. The Sky at Night was broadcast late, so that live astronomical events could be featured. This made it impossible, usually, for a child like me to watch. However, the show was sometimes repeated late afternoons, so that I could occasionally see it. Additionally, for a brief period during the late 1960s, he presented a children's version of the show, called Seeing Stars. As a seven-year-old, I wrote to Moore, via the BBC. I was surprised to receive a personal reply from him, from his home address, within a couple of days. I was even more surprised to receive a copy of his special book for children, also entitled Seeing Stars. My lifelong interest in astronomy stemmed from this moment. Also, a regular correspondence began between Moore and myself, which lasted for about 4 years.
In 1969, my family traveled southwards from our home in Manchester for a summer vacation on England's south coast, so that we could visit some of my mother's relatives. When I mentioned this in a letter to Moore, he invited my family and I to visit his home in Selsey. He lived in this beautiful old house for many decades, and had a number of large telescopes housed in observatories around the yard. In 1969, his elderly mother also lived there, along with her companion. It was this companion who met us at the door. She was understandably suspicious, but Moore heard us, and came to the door to welcome us. We had a wonderful time. We came back later that evening, after dark, so that we could look through the telescopes, and also had dinner with them.
My mother remarked on the number of books on Moore's bookshelves. “How do you find time to read all those?” she asked. “I wrote all those”, came his matter-of-fact reply.
Like me, Moore was a keen musician. I was already quite accomplished on the piano as an 8-year-old. I was privileged to be able to play his grand piano. Moore also played for us, both on his piano and on his concert xylophone. He had written quite a bit of classical music himself, and encouraged me to do likewise.
Another lifelong influence that I got from him was the ability to type. Moore always typed his letters, then signed them. He did this, because he said is handwriting was poor and his publishers would never have been able to read his books otherwise. He encourage me to do likewise. When we returned home, my parents bought me a good second-hand typewriter. Like Moore, I never learned the proper fingerings, just using whatever fingers seemed best. Nevertheless, my speed on the keyboard became pretty good. When computers and word processing programs began to become popular, my skills easily transferred. The typewriter itself lasted a long time. I wrote my undergraduate essays on it during my degree from 1979-82. I also wrote my first Master's degree essay on it in 1988.
I have no idea why the correspondence fizzled out, after I was about 11 or 12. It was probably just the impetuous of youth on my part. I regret that the correspondence did not last, but never stopped enjoying his programs. Moore was kindness and generosity itself. I received several first editions of books that he produced—notably, two interesting large format books that I still have, entitled Moon Flight Atlas and challenge of the Stars.
As an unbeliever, Moore would not have shared my conversion gladly. He clung to traditional evolutionary scientific views, such as the Big Bang theory, while I see the heavens as declaring the glory of God, and pointing to the Creator who made everything just as He said. Since moving to America, I have been able to keep up with The Sky at Night through internet means. Moore was more respectful of Christian beliefs than some of the young turks who have begun to co-present the show of late, and will presumably continue it beyond his death. His death is truly the end of an era for popular science broadcasting and writing. It is unlikely that a keen amateur, like Moore, will ever have such an impact again.