Interview with SPM

  • Print

In February (2007) our Honorary President Sir Patrick Caldwell Moore gave Dave Wright and Andy Lawes a rare insight into his life by granting us an interview. Below are some extracts of that meeting.


Born in Pinner, Middlesex, on March 4, 1923, Patrick Caldwell-Moore discovered the magic of the sky at a very young age - his first target was the Moon. His formal education was through the British public school system, but was disrupted somewhat by a heart illness. By the age of 11 he had been elected a member of the British Astronomical Association. Fifty years later to the day, he was elected again - this time to the BAA presidency. And in 1988 Moore was honoured with the title Commander of the British Empire.

At the outbreak of the war in 1939, Moore joined the Royal Air Force and flew bombers. He did not further his education when the war was over and did not get a degree in astronomy. He was once quoted as saying, "I never had a brain for maths." Moore's involvement in astronomy reached new heights in 1945 when he was elected Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. His new 12 1/2-inch reflector was a very substantial telescope for an amateur at a time when most observers in England used 6-inch reflectors or smaller refractors. He added a 15-inch to his collection in 1968.

In 1957, the year comets Arend-Roland and Mrkos passed by the Earth, and the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 into orbit, Patrick Moore capitalised on the public's growing interest in the sky and started a monthly, one-hour TV series called The Sky at Night. Entering its 47th-year this April, the program surely ranks among the most successful and long-running television shows in history.

Patrick rarely had a regular job, but from 1965 to 1967 he served as founding director of Armagh Planetarium in Northern Ireland, the site of one of the world's oldest observing centres. With few exceptions, like a brief run in the 1960s on the large refractor at Meudon Observatory near Paris, Patrick has done most of his observing from his home in Selsey, Sussex, on England's south coast.

In 1953 Patrick published his first book, A Guide to the Moon, and has since written over 100 more. Besides his popular observing guides, some of his notable titles include: Can you speak Venusian? A Guide to the Independent Thinkers (1972), Out of the Darkness: The Planet Pluto (1980, with Clyde Tombaugh), and Fireside Astronomy: An Anecdotal Tour through the History and Lore of Astronomy (1992).

Patrick’s main interest lies in observing the planets, though he has done some variable-star observing throughout the years. In 1995 he surprised the astronomical world when he produced a listing of deep-sky objects to complement Messier's seminal catalogue. He dubbed it the Caldwell Catalogue, after his middle name, partly because M objects stand for Messier, not Moore!

A lifelong bachelor, at age 83 Patrick Moore still lives at Selsey, where he feels at home with both his compatriots and the stars above.  When Dave and I saw Patrick last year we asked him if an Autobiography was on the cards, his answer was “who would be interested”  It is now out entitled 80 not out,. Patrick takes a candid look at his life, and has some controversial  views.

Patrick became honorary  president of ESAS in 2001, so from all the members of ESAS we wish you a very happy 84th birthday.

Andy Lawes