One of the Chichester Districts most famous residents, Sir Patrick Moore, died this week aged 89 and will be sorely missed. Living at a cottage named “Farthings” in nearby Selsey since 1968, he inspired generations of star gazers and astronomers through his many books, long running BBC TV series “The Sky at Night” and through his patronage of The South Downs Planetarium and Science Centre, located at the Chichester High School on the edge of the city.
Well known and loved for his passion for all things astronomical and musical he was born at Pinner, Middlesex on 4 Mar 1923, but soon moved first to Bognor Regis and then to East Grinstead and was educated at home. It was a copy of GF Chambers’ book, The Story of the Solar System, which triggered his lifelong passion for astronomy. He turned down a place at Cambridge and lied about his age to join the RAF, serving as a navigator with Bomber Command and rising to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, during the Second World War, and his experiences, left him a bitter opponent of war. During the war his fiancee, Lorna, was killed when an ambulance she was driving was hit by a bomb, and he never married.
After the war astronomy became his main interest and he built his own telescope in the garden of his cottage in Selsey, producing detailed maps of the moon’s surface used by NASA as part of the preparations for the moon landing.He had a long association with the BBC which was founded in 1923, the year he was born. “The Sky at Night” was first broadcast on the BBC on24th April 1957, six months before the launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial earth orbiting satellite, at the start of the modern space age. The series has lasted for over 50 years with Sir Patrick only missing one episode, in July 2004 due to food poisoning and in 1969 he was part of the BBC commentary team which described the moon landings. He always described himself as an amateur astronomer, but it was as a true ambassador of science that he was knighted in 2001. Well known and loved for his quirky presentation style, rapid speech and raised eyebrow above that famous monocle he quickly became a national favourite, appearing on many TV programmes, both serious and entertaining. He was also an enthusiastic composer, once playing piano with Albert Einstein accompanying him on the violin. Other passions included cricket, T.V. panel games and the xylophone, which he played enthusiastically. He helped initiate the International Birdman Competition which started in Selsey before moving to nearby Bognor Regis. He wrote more than 70 books created on his 1908 manual typewriter preferring this to modern computer technology.
He insisted that astronomy was a hobby, not work, although many renowned professionals and countless amateurs have been inspired by his infectious enthusiasm. These include Buzz Aldrin, the pilot on the Apollo 11 moon landing, who said in 2009, “Astronomy has grown in leaps and bounds and it’s people like Patrick who have been able to put it into perspective so that ordinary people understand the enormity of the universe.”
It is thought that he was the only person to have met the first man to fly, Orville Wright, the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, and the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong
A quiet funeral will be followed by a larger memorial event planned for what would have been his 90th birthday in March 2013