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Sir Patrick Moore (1923-2012)

One of Britain’s television legends has just died.

His Daily Telegraph obituary can be found here. Some key extracts:

A genuine eccentric who never took himself too seriously, Moore played up to his image as a “mad professor”, and wrote more than 100 books — most of them about astronomy for a popular audience. Meanwhile, his monthly Sky at Night programme — launched on BBC Television in April 1957 — attracted millions of viewers.
On television Moore became celebrated for the thunderous fervour with which he would utter the words: “We just don’t know!” to emphasise that our comprehension of the universe is incomplete…

The Sky at Night started almost by accident. One day in 1957 the BBC broadcast a somewhat sensationalist programme about flying saucers. Producers wanted a counterview by a “thoroughly reactionary and sceptical astronomer who knew some science and could talk”. This turned out to be Moore. He little guessed that he was starting a series that would last for half a century….

He had as little sympathy either for the peddlers of what he considered pseudoscience. Astrology he declared “rubbish”. And he was deeply angered in the 1970s by a book co-written by the journalist John Gribbin called The Jupiter Effect, which predicted that in 1982 the planets would be so closely aligned that their combined gravitational fields would cause earthquakes all over the world… Both the data and the conclusion, Moore said, were nonsense. The planets were not in alignment, and even if they had been, they were much too small and too far away to cause the predicted earthquakes. Despite his efforts, Gribbin’s book became a bestseller and was the subject of a solemn presentation at the London Planetarium.

Moore was furious. A show at the Planetarium gives an idea scientific authority, and people who saw its treatment of the “Gribbin effect” were seriously alarmed. Moore campaigned successfully to have the Planetarium show taken off and afterwards presented a humorous Sky at Night programme showing the idea up as the nonsense he considered it to be.

Meanwhile, when some of the Moon astronauts apparently claimed that in space they had had visions of God, he was asked: “What do you think they really saw?”

“I think they saw the Moon…”

He was also a euroskeptic.


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