April 2006 - Chichester Planetarium by Patrick Moore

 

In February 2006, the London Planetarium, opened in 1958, announced that it is to stop showing the sky, and instead it will show ‘celebrities’. Patrick Moore says that in the last few years, ‘’It had dumbed down. It had become a glorified peep show, giving a tantalising glimpse of the universe, but not a scintilla of good scientific information. Such a terrible wasted opportunity.’’ On his last visit, ‘’There was a show with weird and wonderful music, and spaceships dancing about the sky – but no real astronomy at all.’’

The natural world fills us every day of our life with wonder, knowledge and awe, it never fails. Every day brings new insight and every day is fun. But fun is not ‘zany’ or ‘whacky’, these are 2 of the most dreaded words in our language. Our top broadcasters, Patrick Moore, Chris Packham, David Attenborough require no zany camera angles, no gimmicks, they speak in a calm, quiet, natural voice, and let the birds, the animals, the universe, hog the limelight. The 'stars' are the stars of the show. When, because of the content, broadcasters believe your attention span is 5 seconds, it probably is.

So our capital city has no planetarium; but Chichester does! London can no longer support a planetarium, (at least until Greenwich 2007) but Chichester can, this small city with no catchment area. No one from outside of Sussex seems aware that it is here. The Chichester Planetarium is a local marvel.

(Ensure you arrive 15 minutes before the programme begins. If you are late, it is no use saying, ’Do you know who I am?’ I tried this once, but as soon as the show begins, you’ve had it, even if you have travelled specifically from Waga Waga. So, principally on your first visit, get there early, as you have to find the place.)

The planetarium had all the criteria required for lottery funding. It would appeal to everyone, especially the youngsters of the local community, being educational, enjoyable, stimulating, non-profit making, so they applied for lottery support and were turned down flat, not a penny. It therefore took 7 years of fund-raising and hard work to build.

It was built by volunteers, is still run by volunteers, and has that friendly, laid-back British welcome to everyone. It quite simply would not be here but for Dr John Mason, and Patrick Moore living nearby, giving his name and time to the project. For some reason, the local MP also gave it no support whatever, not even bothering to turn up at the opening ceremony.

Patrick Moore needs no introduction. If you have not heard of him during the last 50 years, you must have been living on the planet Zog. His TV programme has celebrated its 50th anniversary, the world’s longest ever-running television programme, in 2005 a new monthly magazine was introduced, the ‘Sky at Night’, he is the most recognised astronomer in the world - - well this is what Buzz Aldrin says about him:

‘‘Patrick is still at the Sky at Night and still has no contract with the BBC. He says it’s just a gentleman’s agreement.

Patrick is a self-made and self-motivated man. At the age of 11 he was elected the youngest member of the British Astronomical Association. Fifty years later to the day, he was elected its president.

On his 1908 typewriter** he has written over sixty books on astronomy. Yet he still claims to be an amateur, although one of the few to be honoured with the CBE and OBE, seven doctorates and a knighthood.

Patrick’s special subject has always been the moon, he has named some features on it and provided maps. In 1959 he was able to bring viewers the first direct pictures of the far side of the moon.

Incidentally it was his lunar charts that the Russians used to correlate this new information. And again, it was some of Patrick’s records that NASA used in the early Apollo landings.Not only has this man met every single astronaut, he will modestly tell you that he has also met both the first man in space and the first man in an aeroplane, Orville Wright, as well as the author H G Wells, and the great physicist Albert Einstein.’’

As I said, no introduction.

The above illustrates just 10% of what he does and has achieved, we all love his eccentricity, his never-diminishing enthusiasm, keeping up with our rapidly changing understanding of the universe, and he is a local boy from Selsey. This piece was written on his 1908 typewriter, which still types as clear as crystal. Well, sort of - - - **(incidentally, Patrick Moore wrote this article for my website on this famous typewriter.)

This piece was written immediately, and if 10 pages had been asked for - it would have been done. This was not required, as there is an excellent website, below. Please visit, support your local amenities, and you will not be disappointed.

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THE SOUTH DOWNS PLANETARIUM

The idea of a major planetarium in Sussex came originally from Dr. John Mason. There were obvious problems to overcome – finance of course, being the most pressing, but these were overcome, and the Planetarium proved to be most successful. Typically, there was nothing in the lottery and the local Conservative MP showed no interest whatsoever, so that the whole project was financed privately and with assistance from local industry.

The Planetarium lies within easy walking distance of Chichester’s station, it lays close to Kingsham Road, just outside Chichester High School for Boys.

It seats over 100 people, and the projector is Japanese, showing a sky which is amazingly realistic. Most displays are ‘live’ with time for questions. Dr. Mason is the main lecturer, but there are also other qualified astronomers, plus occasional guest speakers. The equipment will do everything that a planetarium is capable of doing.

Displays – each lasting for a full hour – cover all aspects of astronomy and space research. In addition, there is an exhibition on the ground floor, and above this an excellent library.

Full details about programmes and facilities can be obtained from the director, South Downs Planetarium, the Sir Patrick Moore Building, Kingsham Farm, Chichester West Sussex, PO19 8RP, or Chichester 774400. We look forward to seeing you, and there are good car-parking facilities.

www.southdowns.org.uk/sdpt

Patrick Moore.

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For further reading on astronomy, buy one of Patrick’s books or one of the thousands on the universe, but please beware. It might just set you off on a new hobby for life.

P.S. If you feel suicidal, just before you tighten the noose, try reading his autobiography, and the chapter entitled, ‘O Argentina’. You’ll still finish up kicking the stool away, but you’ll go laughing. Not suitable fo rthose into political correctness, but there is much more in this book on the planetarium.

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