Patrick Moore: 50 years of Sky at Night on the air

The first ever book on astronomy I owned, a pocket guide to the night sky, was written by an Englishman called Patrick Moore.

Armed with the tattered book, I joined night sky observation sessions of the Young Astronomers’ Association. That was more than 20 years ago.

Hormones-on-legs that we all were at the time, we were interested in heavenly bodies at both ends of a telescope. But we couldn’t have had a better guide to the celestial wonders than Patrick Moore.

The same Patrick Moore reached a milestone in the history of broadcasting this month: he has hosted the same show on television for 50 long years, more than anyone else on any subject anywhere on this planet.

The show is The Sky at Night, which started on BBC Television in April 1957.

Sir Patrick Moore Patrick Moore presenting an early Sky at Night programme

The Space Age had not even begun, and television broadcasting was still in its formative days, when a much younger Patrick Moore presented the first Sky at Night in April 1957. But as if on cue, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik One just six months later, triggering the Space Race. Thus Patrick Moore has been our able, dependable and colourful guide to the most fascinating journey in the history of humankind – our species finally venturing beyond its ‘cradle’, the Earth.

But as another populariser of space and astronomy, Sir Arthur Clarke, notes: “Sky at Night has not been just a gee-whiz show of rockets, satellites and other expensive toys deployed by rich nations trying to outsmart each other. At its most basic, it’s a show about exploring that great laboratory within easy access to anyone, anywhere on the planet: the night sky.”

Sir Arthur adds in a special tribute to his long-standing friend:
“By the time the Space Age dawned, Patrick was well on his way to becoming the best known public astronomer in the world. The Sky at Night only consolidated a reputation that was well earned through endless nights of star-gazing, and many hours of relentlessly typing an astonishing volume of books, papers and popular science articles.”

In the 50th anniversary programme, broadcast this month, Patrick Moore traveled back in time to see the first recording of The Sky at Night . He talked to his earlier self about astronomy back in 1957, and discussed how things have changed in half a century. He then time traveled to 2057 where the ‘virtual’ Patrick, saved in the BBC computer, is celebrating 100 years of making The Sky at Night and talks to Dr Brian May about the discovery of life on Mars.

Sir Patrick Moore

Thank you, Sir Patrick, for being our affable guide to the night sky and space travel for half a century. We hope you don’t consider retirement anytime soon.

Read Patrick Moore’s brief history of The Sky at Night

BBC’s 45th anniversary multimedia tribute

BBC Online interview with Sir Patrick Moore

Sir Arthur Clarke’s tribute to The Sky at Night at 50