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Stars in his eyes; TV'S LONGEST-SERVING PRESENTER WILL BE CONCENTRATING SOLELY ON THE SKIES FOR TOMORROW'S TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN.

ALIENS with razor sharp teeth with acid dripping from their mouths. Sounds like the average front bench in the House of Commons to me," hoots Patrick Moore with laughter.

The moon-struck astronomer is equally dismissive of little green men and pronounces Roswell and its alien visitors as a hoax.

But the sprightly 76-year-old does not entirely rule out the possibility of other beings living in other galaxies and says he loves Hollywood movies like ET and Close Encounters.

"I know that one day we shall land on Mars though I fear I won't be around to see that," says Patrick.

He also knows he will be not be around when Britain has its next total solar eclipse in 2090 so he aims to make the most of the last eclipse of the millennium next Wednesday.

He will be joining the BBC presenting team in Cornwall and explains: "Every eclipse is special and different. No two eclipses are the alike, so we will be learning. But they are all simply a magnificent sight.

"This promises to be every bit as good a phenomena. Let us all pray it isn't a cloudy day."

Patrick became interested in astronomy when he was just six and by the age of 11 was the youngest member of the British Astronomical Association.

His crumpled suits and shirt collars have become his eccentric trademarks and he has ruled the airwaves for more than 40 years as host of The Sky At Night.

He has also written 60 books under the name of R T Fishall and is in the Guinness Book Of Records for being television's longest running presenter.

Patrick writes every day on his trusty 1908 typewriter at his home in Sussex and, when he is not stargazing on one of his four telescopes, composes marches and operas and plays the xylophone in his drawing room.

He was a bomber navigator during his World War II service and still plays cricket for his local team.

But the monocled gentle astronomer extraordinaire says astronomy is his first love and he is mesmerised by the moon and cannot think of a better way of "pegging out" than gazing at Earth's familiar satellite. "I still have this fascination with the moon," he confesses.

But the man who followed the Russians launching their Sputniks and astronaut Neil Armstrong's giant leap for mankind says he is all too aware of the "lunatic fringe".

"The truth is that eclipses and other stuff such as the imminent arrival of comets seem to bring all the crackpots out of the woodwork. Nobody should really listen to what they have to say."

ECLIPSE OF THE TV

Channel 5, 9.55am: Astrologer Russell Grant and TV presenter Kirsty Young lead the station's coverage of the eclipse. Kirsty will be on hand with information about how to view it safely and Grant will be making his predictions following the portentous event. Steve Bell will be at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich to get a boffins-eye view of events.

Channel 4, 11am: A live programme from Cornwall with guitarist and astronomy buff Brian May and TV presenters Josie d'Arby and Richard Bacon.

BBC 1, 9.45am: Michael Buerk, Phillipa Forrester, Jamie Theakston and Patrick Moore host the BBC's live coverage of the event. They have cameras around Cornwall and promise viewers will be brought the best possible pictures of eclipse - whatever the weather. If there is cloud cover on the day, cameras on board an RAF Hercules will fly above the clouds for a perfect picture. The TV team will also link up with the Radio 1 Roadshow and presenters Zoe Ball and Simon Mayo.

Those simply too busy to watch the actual eclipse can catch the highlights at 11.35pm.

Timetable for the darkening of the sky

TOMORROW'S solar eclipse, the last of the millennium, will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for millions of people to experience one of nature's grandest spectacles.

A 100 km wide shadow will hurtle across the globe at over 3,000 km/h.

The eclipse begins with what's known as First Contact: a tiny notch appearing at the sun's edge.

For an hour and a half, the moon creeps across the sun, but with little noticeable change in the light or fall in temperature until totality.

If you are in Cornwall or Devon First Contact should happen at 9.58am.

Outside of the West Country the timetable for the eclipse stages will be a few minutes later and the eclipse won't be total. (In Coventry and Warwickshire, First Contact should be about 10am.)

At 10.35am about half the sun will have disappeared from view. It will appear like dusk has fallen.

11.11am total eclipse in Cornwall, which will last about three minutes. The earth will darken considerably and all that will be visible of the sun will be a halo of white light.

During totality the sky should turn a deep blue and the horizon will have the colours of a sunset.

A white halo, known as a corona, will apear against the blacked out sun. At about 11.14am

By 12.32pm the moon will have completed its journey across the sun and daylight will return.

Each total eclipse is only visible over a small part of the globe because the moon's shadow is relatively small by the time it reaches earth.

The 'zone of totality' is never more than 272 km (169 miles) wide and usually less as tomorrow's will be.

ECLIPSE MYTHS

ECLIPSES were signs of ill omen and portents of doom and disaster in ancient times.

THE ancient Chinese believed that solar eclipses were caused by a dragon swallowing the sun and fireworks were set off and gongs banged to drive it away.

THE Chinese word for solar eclipse is resh or "sun-eat".

THE earliest record of a solar eclipse is believed to come from China and is dated about October 22, 2134 BC. A document records that "the sun and the moon did not meet harmoniously".

BETWEEN 2165 BC and 1948 BC the brothers His and Ho were appointed by the Emperor Yao to predict eclipses. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful and were beheaded.

RAHU is a demon in Hindu myth who causes eclipses. He rides in a chariot pulled by eight black horses with his mouth wide open ready to devour the sun.

ONI are Japanese demons who resemble humans but with three eyes, big mouths and sharp nails. They are believed to be responsible for earthquakes and eclipses.

IN Norse mythology Sol is the sun goddess who rides through the sky in a chariot pulled by the horses Alsvid "all swift" and Arvak "early riser". She is chased by the wolf Skoll. During solar eclipses the sun was in danger of being eaten by Skoll.

ALIGNAK is the Inuit (Eskimo) moon and weather god who rules over the creatures of the sea, the tides and eclipses. Some of the native people of Arctic America believe that during an eclipse the sun leaves its place in the sky to check that all is well on earth.

17th CENTURY Britain was not free from eclipse superstitions. Milton in Paradise Lost wrote: "The Sun/In dim eclipse disastrous twilight sheds/On half the nations, and with fear of change/Perplexes monarchs."

IN the early 17th century Shakespeare had Gloucester say in King Lear: "These late eclipses in the sun and the moon pretend no good to us."

AS RECENTLY as the last century, the Chinese Imperial Navy fired its ceremonial guns during an eclipse to chase away the dragon.

SOME people in Japan today cover water well to prevent poison dropping into them from the darkened sky.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:McMULLEN, MARION
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Aug 10, 1999
Words:1279
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