The Sky at Night Situation

Last night, having been alerted to the imminence of some sort of ‘ids’ appearing in the sky (I think they were Orionids, but I’ll look it up in a minute) I went out to look at the night.  The darkness is practically total here; apart from a couple of security lights set off by the occasional cat, there’s nothing to pierce it but the stars.

Orionids.  That’s it – which presumably means they’re connected to Orion, though I’m not sure why.  They are remnants of Halley’s comet, streaking across the sky.

Here’s a picture from 4 days ago:

I never really took to astronomy, though my mother was very keen and used to get us up in the middle of the night to watch an eclipse or check out Orion’s position in the sky.  Besides ‘Dad’s Army’, ‘The Sky at Night’ was her favourite programme and she would always stay up to the ungodly hour of 11.30 to watch the squint-eyed Patrick Moore talk in breathless tones about what Mars was up to these days and what you could see this month, whether you had a top-of-the-range telescope or just a pair of naked eyes.  Fascist though he supposedly was, you couldn’t help liking Patrick Moore – and in later years it was quite touching to see his grizzled head next to the long curly locks of Queen guitarist Brian May, also a very keen astronomer.

Like I say, I never really took to astronomy.  It’s one of those things I think I ought to take an interest in but somehow I don’t, much – I don’t know why.  In theory I am interested by the movements of stars and planets, but in practise when OH utters some universe-shattering piece of information about them (I’m sure I’ve given plenty of examples in previous posts) I can’t summon that much enthusiasm.

But it’s not because I don’t feel anything when I look at the stars.  On the contrary, I feel a sense of distance and a sense of closeness.  I feel lonely and I feel connected: I feel a sense of wonder and a sense of ignorance.  And last night, as I spotted Mars so clear and blinking and red like a small, faraway sun, and recognised both Orion and the Plough but not much else, I felt a profound sense of belonging to the entire universe.  We are stardust, after all, as the song reminds us; the blood of the stars flows in our veins.  We are connected to everything and everything is connected to us – and recognising that matters a great deal more than recognising a constellation which is, after all, a random pattern which depends on where you are standing.

Anyway, here’s a fascinating bio of Patrick Moore in all his glory: racist, sexist and homophobic (though not in public) but also generous, dedicated and with a terrific ability to make fun of himself.

And here’s his final programme, recorded shortly before he died:

And let’s not forget his facility on the xylophone:

And here’s Ronnie Barker doing a brilliant skit:

And here he is playing along with John Colshaw:


RIP, Patrick, whichever planet you’re on.

Kirk out