It’s rare that Royal Mail allows an individual to choose what they want on a set of stamps – but then not everyone is Sir Patrick Moore.
He first presented his programme, The Sky at Night, in 1957, before Sputnik, before NASA and before the space race. Now, half a century on, the man and his equally famous monocle are still providing millions of viewers with a monthly guide to the stars.
In fact The Sky at Night has become an institution. It is the longest running show still with its original presenter, and Royal Mail marks this tremendous achievement on its 50th anniversary with six self-adhesive stamps featuring Sir Patrick’s favourite celestial objects.
The stamps, issued on 13th February 2007, display five nebulae - interstellar clouds of dust, gas and plasma – and The Spindle, a galaxy 32 million light years away. Turn each stamp over and a surprise is revealed. Printed on the backing paper of each self-adhesive stamp is a description of the celestial object depicted. This is the first time that Royal Mail has printed on the rear of stamps.
Sir Patrick has also written the Presentation Pack, which explains the history of The Sky at Night, and how he devised the Caldwell Catalogue number, the cataloguing system created by Sir Patrick to identify the brightest deep sky objects.
To ‘launch’ the stamps in Northern Ireland, the Royal Mail teamed up with the East Antrim Astronomical Society, where leading Meteoritics scientist, Professor Monica Grady, was delivering the annual Andrew Trimble Memorial Lecture at the Thompson Primary School in Ballyrobert. Chairman of the Society Mark Stronge helped ‘focus in’ on some of the nebulae featured on the stamps with Samuel Houston from Royal Mail.
Mr Stronge said “We are delighted to join with Royal Mail in launching these beautiful stamps which capture, in immense detail, the beauty of the night sky not normally seen with the naked eye.”
“The past 50 years have seen mankind reach incredible new heights in space exploration and no-one has a more deep-rooted passion for these celestial objects than Sir Patrick. He has given us so much pleasure and enjoyment through his television appearances on The Sky at Night and these stamps are a wonderful way of celebrating this milestone in his life and the images are a tremendous tribute to his work.”
“Not only are the nebulae featured on the stamps beautiful, but all of them can be observed using an amateur telescope.”
Barbara Roulston, Head of External Relations at Royal Mail said: “There is so much to see in the sky at night and I am sure everyone who has watched the television programme will have seen the passion Sir Patrick has for astronomy.
“We know that astronomy is an extremely popular pastime and I’m sure these spectacular images will prove a hit when they appear on millions of letters around the world.”
1st Class – Saturn Nebula C55
A favourite of amateur astronomers named after the Saturn-like shape of the nebula. Discovered by William Herschel in 1782, the Saturn Nebula is about 1,400 light years from the Sun and can be found in the constellation of Aquarius.
1st Class – Eskimo Nebula C39
A planetary nebula with a bright central star. Discovered by William Herschel in 1787 the Eskimo Nebula is about 4,000 light years from the Sun and can be found in the constellation of Gemini.
50p – Cat’s Eye Nebula C6
A bright and complex planetary nebula with a bright central star forming the glint in the Cat's Eye. Discovered by William Herschel in 1786, the Cat's Eye Nebula is about 3,000 light years from the Sun and can be found in the constellation of Draco.
50p - Helix Nebula C63
Easily seen with binoculars, the helical structure gives this nebula its name. Its central star is a very hot dwarf. At 450 light years from the Sun it is the closest nebula to the Earth and can be found in the constellation of Aquarius.
72p – Flaming star Nebula C31
The distinctive purple colour of the nebula is caused by ionising radiation from the Flaming Star, AE Aurigae, a runaway star from the Orion Nebula. The Flaming Star Nebula is 1,600 light years from the Sun and can be found in the constellation of Auriga.
72p - The Spindle C53
A lenticular galaxy with a bright nucleus, The Spindle contains a black hole that is about one billion times the size of the Sun. Visible with powerful binoculars; The Spindle is 32 million light years from the Sun near the constellation of Sextans.