TV astronomer Heather Couper has died aged 70

Thursday, 20th February 2020, 2:32 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th February 2020, 2:32 pm

TV astronomer Heather Couper has died following a short illness aged 70, her best friend and business partner has confirmed.

Dr Couper appeared on programmes such as Blue Peter, Channel 4’s The Planets and The Sky At Night, as well as presenting and producing acclaimed science documentaries.

She also hosted several radio series, including Seeing Stars on BBC World Service and BBC Radio 4’s Starwatch, and was honoured with a CBE for her contributions to science back in 2007.

Fellow astronomer and friend Nigel Henbest confirmed Heather’s passing and said that he’d been by her bedside when she died.

"She basically just faded away peacefully so it was a classic case of she died peacefully in her sleep after a short three-week illness," he said.

Dr Couper was a "charismatic... and passionate communicator of science", Henbest said.

"She got people really excited about the universe and about space - that was her love, her passion in life."

'I want to help knowledge'

Born in 1949, Couper fell in love with astronomy as a child and recalled a day, in 1968, when she had realised astronomy was not just "for shambolic old men in tweed jackets any more".

According to the BBC, she went home and wrote in her diary, "I want to help knowledge. I want to make known and publicise science."

So she left her management trainee job at Topshop to become a research assistant at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge.

Couper's big break came when she was asked to appear as a guest on Sir Patrick Moore's The Sky At Night.

Sir Patrick later recalled, "Of course, she wrote to me when she was a little girl and said, 'Is there any future for me in astronomy?' And I said, 'Of course there is.' And I tried to give her a hand."

Tributes

Tributes from fellow scientists and astronomers have flooded in since the news of her passing.

Physicist Professor Brian Cox said, "She was one of the pioneers in bringing astronomy to everyone, including me".

Sad news. Heather was one of the pioneers in bringing astronomy to everyone, including me. There will be many astronomers today who had their interest in the stars sparked by her work. https://t.co/yyuDVuef9Z

— Brian Cox (@ProfBrianCox) February 20, 2020

Astronomer and journalist Will Gater wrote, “She was a superb communicator and champion of astronomy.”

Saddened to read that Heather Couper has died. She was a superb communicator and champion of astronomy. Can’t imagine there are many stargazers in the UK and beyond who haven’t been inspired to look up at some point thanks to her writing.https://t.co/m6UWjheNkT

— Will Gater (@willgater) February 19, 2020

Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell also paid tribute.

Sad to note the death of the inimitable astronomy popularizer, broadcaster and lovely person Heather Couper. Here is Heather as I remember her, with Nigel Henbest in 1983 pic.twitter.com/bs3C7rsEnx

— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) February 19, 2020