LONDON: Astronomer Patrick Moore, renowned for his work mapping the Moon’s surface and for having popularised his subject with the British public, died Sunday at the age of 89, friends and colleagues announced.
Moore, whose lunar research was used by both the U.S. and Soviets space programmes, died peacefully at 12:25pm (1225 GMT) at his home in Selsey on the southern English coast.
He had succumbed to an infection, colleagues said in a statement.
“After a short spell in hospital last week, it was determined that no further treatment would benefit him, and it was his wish to spend his last days in his own home,” they said.
World’s longest-running TV show presenter
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 and still running today, making him the world’s longest-running presenter of the same television show. His last program was broadcast on Monday.
Moore only ever missed one episode, in 2004, laid low by a contaminated egg.
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.
“The first man on Mars probably already born”
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.
Skilled xylophone player and cricketer
Buzz Aldrin, who accompanied Armstrong to the lunar surface, told the BBC in 2009 that Moore put astronomy “into perspective so that ordinary people understand the enormity of the universe”.
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 World War II. He met Wright and Albert Einstein while on leave in North America, once accompanying the violin-playing Einstein on piano.
His fiancée was killed by a bomb during the war, leaving Moore heartbroken. He died unmarried.
Moore was also a skilled xylophone player who composed several pieces, as well as being a useful cricketer.
“An inspiration to generations of astronomers”
Queen Elizabeth II knighted him in 2001 for “services to the popularisation of science and to broadcasting”.
The statement announcing his death said Moore had passed away in the company of close friends, carers and his cat Ptolemy.
“Over the past few years, Patrick, an inspiration to generations of astronomers, fought his way back from many serious spells of illness and continued to work and write at a great rate, but this time his body was too weak to overcome the infection which set in a few weeks ago,” it said.
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.”
“Every astronomer owes something to Patrick Moore”
Former BBC science correspondent David Whitehouse also paid tribute to his colleague.
Moore “was not a professionally trained astronomer and yet did professional quality work, particularly when it came to mapping the Moon in the 1950s,” he told Sky News television.
“I think every astronomer in the world owes something to Patrick Moore.”
Moore had asked for a “quiet ceremony of interment”, said the statement from his friends.
But a farewell event is planned in March, for what would have been his 90th birthday.