Babe Among the Stars: My friend Sir Patrick Moore

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Galaxy Babe's column banner, showing a full moon and some little folk looking up at the sky

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy

My friend Sir Patrick Moore

Sir Patrick Moore died on 9 December, 2012. Although not a shock as he had been ill for some time, I was still upset at the loss of a remarkable man. He inspired my love of astronomy and I loved how he was able to speak about the subject in a language I understood. Years ago I wrote to him and I got a reply, complete with a postcard of the telescope in his garden and him standing beside it. When I was researching his life to write up his h2g2 article, I discovered that his telephone number was not ex-directory because he wanted to be accessible to anyone with an astronomy question. I rang him and we chatted for a while. He wanted to know all about the local astronomy club that I belong to. Some time later he rang me, leaving a message on my answering machine. We had another chat later, but I kept that message until it got wiped off during a power cut. I am glad I rang him a few months ago to have a chat about the transit of Venus; his view was clear, mine was not. But we both laughed at how much we astronomers are always at the mercy of the weather. I have always respected his knowledge and enthusiasm, and his sheer versatility. This man was not a one-trick pony. He could talk to anyone, schoolchildren, men who'd walked on the Moon, music legends, professors...strangers on the phone. I can honestly say that he shaped the writer in me, because he had a high profile and was such a good communicator, yet he remained an amateur astronomer to the end. I decided that's what I would do, write about what I loved in a language understandable to my friends and my grandson. My memories of Sir Patrick are good ones. I hope the BBC decides to keep broadcasting The Sky At Night programme each month with Dr Chris Lintott at the helm.

January Diary Dates

Stargazing Live returns to the BBC on 8 ,9 and 10 January so don't forget to tune in! In conjunction, my local astronomy club is having an open night on Friday 11th January, so there may be such an event near you.

In times past there were many constellations littering the skies and in 1922 the International Astronomical Union tidied things up. They designated 88 official constellations and some ancient ones were confined to history. One such was Quadrans Muralis in the Northern Hemisphere, which happened to have a meteor shower associated with it. Although the constellation itself doesn't survive today, the meteor shower does, and still retains its original name of the Quadrantids. It's a good shower with an average of 2 a minute at the peak. You'll need to be looking in the direction of Boötes the Herdsman. If you're not familiar with him, seek out the famous 1st-magnitude star Arcturus, which is the luminary of that constellation. It's easily found if you know the asterism the Plough/Big Dipper of Ursa Major, you just continue on the tail of the bear (or the pan handle) and you're led right to it. Good luck!

  • 01: Earth is at perihelion (91.4 million miles from the Sun; the closest point of Earth's orbit)
  • 03: Quadrantid meteor shower peak
  • 05: The Moon passes within a degree of Spica (alpha Virginis)
  • 06: The Moon passes 4° south of Saturn
  • 10: Venus and the Moon are 3° apart in the pre-dawn sky
  • 10: The Moon is at perigee (223,723 miles from Earth)
  • 11: New Moon
  • 13: Mars within 6° of the Moon (daytime)
  • 14: Neptune is 6° south of the Moon (daytime)
  • 16: Uranus is 5° south of the Moon
  • 21: The Moon passes within half a degree of Jupiter
  • 22: The Moon is at apogee (251,848 miles from Earth)
  • 27: Full Moon has several names: the Wolf Moon, the Old Moon, the Ice Moon, or the Moon after Yule

  • Chat about your celestial observances at the H2G2 Astronomy Society. Comment on anything in this edition of Babe Among the Stars by starting a new conversation below.

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