Patrick Moore, Controversial Astronomy and Science Promoter, Has Died

The entire universe in blog form
Dec. 9 2012 12:16 PM

Sir Patrick Moore, 1923 - 2012

Sir Patrick Moore, 1923 - 2012
Sir Patrick Moore.

Image credit: Jabberwock on Flickr.

Sir Patrick Moore, a man whose name was synonymous with “astronomy” in England, has died.

Because his reach was so long, many articles are being written about him. Because he was controversial, these articles have wildly different opinions on him as well. I’d like to add my own voice.

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I can easily name a dozen professional astronomer friends in England heavily influenced by Moore. He was a towering figure in science promotion, and you can read about his accomplishments on his Wikipedia page. He will always be best known for his astronomy television program, “The Sky at Night”, which he presented for—get this—over 55 years, making it the longest running TV show with a single presenter in history. I cannot imagine how many people he urged into a love for astronomy through that program.

Like any human, though, his personal story is a little more complex. While he was a tireless promoter of science, he also made statements that were misogynistic, homophobic, and, if not racist, then at least xenophobic. This will of course give people, at the very least, mixed feelings on his death. [Update: Hanny van Arkel, who was on Moore's program after having discovered a new type of astronomical object, wrote a lovely article about him.]

As when they are still alive, I don’t think we necessarily need to forgive the recently deceased their failings, but neither should we let that keep us from praising their accomplishments. In this case, the best we can do is to continue to fight narrow-minded thinking, and at the same time continue to show others the joys and wonders of the Universe around us. I strongly suspect the two are not completely unrelated.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies! Follow him on Twitter.