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Volume 59 – No. 9 – September 2020
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All copyright including the photographs belongs directly to the authors.
I continue to be impressed with the work Dave Chisholm and Chris Teron are doing with our Virtual Meetings each month. I don’t know what all goes into it but whatever it is, they seem to have mastered it. Everything runs smoothly and the whole event is a pleasure to watch. Thank you, guys, for all you are doing. Great job.
We have something a little different for you this month. Paul Sadler brings us the first in a series of articles reviewing early issues of Sky & Telescope. What was being published and discussed in this publication in the early 1940’s before the U.S.A. entered WW II? Read on and find out. It might surprise you.
In our ongoing series of Member Profiles, we look at Bob Olson who many of you will recognize as one of our regular presenters of observations. Many of you will have known Bob as a member for a number of years and a superb astro-imager but Bob has some other talents that may surprise you.
I received the following correction from Rick Scholes regarding his article in last month’s issue:
The article describing The Fred Lossing Observatory in the August 2020 issue of Astronotes contained a factual error. Rolf Meier actually discovered his first comet from FLO on the night of 26-27 April 1978; the discovery was described in the June 1978 issue of Astronotes.
The author would also like to recognize Shinya Sato for his generous purchase and donation of a new lawnmower to FLO.
By Dave Chisholm
September 2nd – Full Moon. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Corn Moon because the corn is harvested around this time of year.
Rise/Set 07:37/20:07 -> 09:28/19:19
At greatest eastern elongation on October 1st.
Look for the planet low in the western sky just after sunset.
Visible before sunrise.
Rise/Set 02:39/17:26 -> 03:28/17:14
Visible in the evening and through the night.
Rise/Set 21:37/10:32 -> 19:34/08:27
Visible evening and through night.
Rise/Set 17:13/01:54 -> 15:20/23:58
Visible in the evening and through the night.
Rise/Set 17:41/02:37 -> 15:45/00:40
Visible all night.
Rise/Set 21:48/11:50 -> 19:52/09:53
Visible all night.
Rise/Set 20:01/07:21 -> 18:05/05:23
At opposition (closest to Earth) on September 11th
Astro Echoes – Sky and Telescope, 1941
By Paul Sadler
I inherited a collection of Sky and Telescope covering 1966 to 2017 from Paul Boltwood, and my intent is to read through them as a poor man’s guide to the historical evolution of amateur astronomy. I supplemented the paper copies with electronic copies going back to the magazine’s origins, and I am looking forward to discovering what sort of astronomy echoes I can hear from the old issues.
The first thing to jump out at me was the starting year of the magazine, 1941. I confess, the idea that anyone would start a magazine devoted to amateur astronomy during World War II seems astounding. Of course, at the time, the U.S. was not formally in the war. Plus, to be fair, life did not stand still outside the theatre of war. People were still making movies, writing books, recording music, producing Broadway shows, and airing radio programs. While the history books like to suggest every aspect of home life was geared towards supporting the war effort, some leisurely pursuits were just that…pursuits of leisure and hobbies during difficult times. Distractions for some, occupations even for others.
The second thing that hit me was that I had also never given much thought to the name. Sky and Telescope seems an odd conjunction of two nouns with no other context. The first issue of 1941 clears up any grammatical issues with the naming convention by pointing out that its maiden issue is not exactly the first issue of a new magazine. Instead, it was the combination of two other magazines…one named The Sky (a small bulletin started in 1929 with 10 issues per year to 1941, under the auspices of the Amateur Astronomers Association) and another named The Telescope (a quarterly magazine from March 1931-1941, linked to the Perkins Observatory at Ohio Wesleyan University). They merged and, well, you know the result.
As I read through the first issue dated November of that year, I was pleasantly surprised to see many of the same elements that continue to appear in modern issues. While it is easy to believe that the last 80 years has produced vastly superior tools, techniques, and equipment for the backyard astronomer, the first issue of Sky and Telescope had:
A star map, along with a list of occultations and plotting Jupiter’s Galilean moons throughout the month, as well as an ecliptic chart
An overview plus pictures of a planet (Mars)
An article for beginners, with a good overview of the moon, including the same circular diagram we see today of the phases of the moon being lit up by the sun as the moon circles the Earth
A technical discussion of an interesting physics topic (calculating the exact distance to the sun)
International developments, including possible coverage of an eclipse
Photographs from amateur astronomers
A special section on related phenomena, such as aurorae
Tips for users on collimation
Recent books about astronomy, the sky, or the science of stars; and,
A list of amateur astronomy societies for members to join around the world.
Our present-day issues might be more sophisticated with their content, or simply more easily produced for graphs, data, and colour photographs, but the first issue contained all of it in 28 short pages. There is even an extended report on a viewing of the Leonid meteor shower with amateurs taking very detailed observation counts of how many they saw in various parts of the sky.
I was expecting more mention of the war somewhere in the pages. Even perhaps in the opening editorial area, perhaps mentioning the challenge of issuing it during the war, or trying to maintain the hobby, etc. but it doesn’t, at least not directly. However, there is mention of one of the societies reaching out around the world to various astronomy organizations and asking if any of them had anything planned for an eclipse that happened in the fall of that year. In the replies, there are two fascinating letters.
The first was from J.L. Thomsen of the New Zealand Astronomical Society who noted that they had not been able to do anything for the eclipse:
The present world situation has prevented anyone in New Zealand from considering an expedition to observe the eclipse, and indeed, up to the present, I have not heard of any expedition at all that is setting out to observe it. I should imagine, however, that there will be considerable work done in Russia, and I would not be surprised if the Chinese Academy of Sciences made some observations in their territory.
(Sky and Telescope, volume 1, issue 1, November 1941: p.13)
I feel the first sentence to be the politest way of saying, “You know there’s a war on, right?” but I’m equally impressed that in 1941, one would be aware and giving credit to the work of the Russians and Chinese, or suggesting that they would be willing to share their results. Not exactly the view most people would have of either country for the timeframe. Fascinating.
Perhaps more dramatic though is a letter from Jaakko Tuominen from the Astronomical Observatory in Helsinki, Finland. The letter, dated from August, notes:
I was wounded in a battle a month ago and came a few days ago home for convalescence furlough. An open hole and a shell splinter are still in my back. We are all in Helsinki, and I try to do astronomical work. We can only wish that the war would be soon over.
In the spring, I succeeded to finish a paper about the drift of sunspots in latitude. It is going to be printed in Zeitshrift fur Astrophysik.
(Sky and Telescope, volume 1, issue 1, November 1941: p.13)
So, the guy is wounded, he still has an open wound in his back along with shell splinters, and he’s doing astronomy? And yet I complain about lugging my gear around to the back yard or out to a darker sky site.
There are some other items in the short 28-page issue that are interesting, if not as newsworthy:
A report of a noted astronomer giving speeches to debunk astrology (a debate that still surfaces in 2020 and is often quickly shut down in astronomy fora)
The number of comets discovered in the previous year (12) making it the most ever, in then-modern times, with pictures of two of them that rival NEOWISE imaging of late
A theoretical consideration of the possibility of life on Mars, and if so, what form it would or could take (spoiler alert: they thought plants were possible, but not likely sentient lifeforms, even if they weren’t positive yet)
A report of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), a group that continues today in varying forms and subsidiaries, but which also notes certain individual observers in the group had recorded over 60K observations in their lifetime (and sent in the records), with one member the previous year having recorded over 3K themselves. Others were only at a measly 30K or 50K submitted reports in their lifetime.
A biography of the late Canadian J.S. Plunkett, first Director (and major proponent) of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria, B.C.
Announcements of various radio broadcasts on related science topics.
A technical list of auroral forms to aid those in recording what they saw.
Tips and tricks / lessons learned for amateur telescope makers.
Trivia questions, with a mix of basic and more advanced astro knowledge questions.
Again, did I mention it is only 28 short pages, and packs all of that in? It is a great issue and even by modern standards would be considered money well-spent to receive.
The December issue of course went to print long before the day of infamy in Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), and reading it seems a little surreal. Everything changed for the U.S. during that month, and perhaps changed for the world too. I am reminded in part of a friend who was in NYC on 9/11, and the night before was at the World Trade Centre past midnight. So, their receipt says 9/11 on it. And the next morning, the world’s paradigm shifted.
Yet the issue was already set and has all the standard stuff from the first issue again. There is more about the moon for beginners, observing reports from amateurs including a blackout observing report from a military base in Texas after a hurricane, tips for making your own scope, an observer’s page for the location of the planets / list of occultations / ecliptic chart, and the list of centers/societies, etc. Classified ads were added to the magazine, such as an advertisement for a used 6″ reflector with cell, tube and eyepiece holder for sale, with the mirror guaranteed, and the seller noting he was selling it because he had a larger scope now. But you could write to him in Arizona about the 6″ reflector (alas, it is probably sold by now).
Special articles for the month focused on the new National Observatory in Mexico at Tonanzintla (which is still operational today, although in different forms and not the only one in Mexico), an eclipse report from Guam (written by a member of RASC, Foster Brunton), an overview of Neptune and Uranus (with a shout out to Mercury, Saturn and Pluto) as forgotten planets that don’t get enough attention, a special discussion of possible explanations for the Star of Bethlehem in light of upcoming Christmas festivities, an historical article about a legal dispute from the 1830s regarding building a telescope using a flawed mounting technique, and a detailed account of Harvard-led research to count all the galaxies visible to given magnitudes.
However, the article I found the most evocative of modern-day discussions was about an amateur, Herbert M. Harris, who had been introduced to astronomy by a friend in Maine who was trying to form a local club. He wasn’t particularly interested in astronomy at first, but he was intrigued by the technique the friend was using to grind his own mirror. Nevertheless, he was hooked enough to buy some books. Then some binoculars. Then a small 3″ telescope. And then, after observing enough variable stars to join the AAVSO, he decided he needed a better setup for his hobby.
A year later, Harris sold his Bardou [refractor] and bought what he calls “a real telescope,” which is housed in the new observatory. This compact, cleverly designed building is situated on a ledge back of his new home and bolted to eight concrete piers. The roof opens in the center, each half sliding back on tracks overextending arms at the corners of the structure. A 50-year old railroad lantern atop a pyramidal post, wired for electricity, and a flight of concrete steps mark the approach, and a blue spruce indicates the beginning of landscaping. This place is fully electrified, with controls on a switchboard, and remote control from his home.
Of course, the center of interest is the impressive 6-inch Clark refractor, with a lens ground by Carl Lundin himself, who figured the famous Yerkes 40-inch glass. The steel pier is bolted and cemented to a 5-foot concrete block based in the ledge. There are friction clutches for quick motion, and slow-motion controls as well. The dew-cap is heated by electricity, so the glass remains free of moisture.
The various gadgets necessary for observation are stored in a small corner closet which is heated slightly by an electric warmer. His illuminated star-chart box has two small red electric lights — the red light does not affect the eye adversely during observing.
Together with his friend, Dr. L.W. Hadley, Mr. Harris built a driving machine which he says transgresses mechanical principles in minor ways but has the merit that it works. It consists of a variable-speed motor with worm gears, successfully reducing the speed 40, 52 and five times. A long, vertical shaft and miter gears carry the motion to a worm gear on the telescope’s polar axis, and this cuts the speed 207 times more — completing the reduction from 15,000 revolutions per minute to one revolution in about 24 hours. A patiometer does the final adjusting.
(Sky and Telescope, “A Stargazer’s Workshop” by Adeline Dunton, volume 2, issue 2, December 1941: p.18)
The article includes both a picture of the homemade driving mechanism (I’m not sure the math accurately describes what he did) as well as of the roll-off roof (RoR) observatory. The refractor is shown as elevated above the roof when it is open, and I would love to know what he had inside to stand on for his visual viewing. But the RoR itself? It could probably match any modern designs in a head-to-head consideration.
Both issues are awesome to read, and a fascinating insight into a modern issue vs. the stalwart inclusions in any monthly astronomy magazine. One year down, another 79 to go.
Interviewed by Doug Fleming & Gordon Webster
AstroNotes - Could you give our readers a little bit of info about your background?
I was born in Edmonton Alberta as the firstborn son of Frances and George. My dad had just returned home after the Second World War where he had served as a radar technician. He was now studying electrical engineering at the University of Alberta. My mom had already graduated from the University of Manitoba during the war. When my dad graduated, he was hired to manage a hydro dam in the Northwest Territories. It is somewhat of an exaggeration but basically, we were 160 km north of Yellowknife, so if you missed Yellowknife it was 1000 km to civilization in any other direction. Our world was made up of my family and six employees. My brother and I loved living in the middle of nowhere, but my mom hated it!
When I was about to turn seven years old, it suddenly occurred to my parents that maybe I should go to school. My dad accepted a transfer to the head office of the Northern Canada Power Commission in Ottawa, and I was sent off to school. When I graduated from high school, I headed back to Edmonton to get a physics degree from the University of Alberta.
Upon graduation from University I was offered a job by Atomic Energy of Canada at the White Shell reactor in Manitoba. I was an avid outdoorsman and still considered myself a Westerner so White Shell Manitoba seemed a very attractive location to live. I graduated in May and the job was to start in September. However, as the summer rolled along, I started having second thoughts about this job.
My father was in charge of many power plants in Northern Canada so I was aware of what my prospective job would be: I would be sitting in a room staring at a wall of clock faces. Remember, at this time all measuring instruments were analog and looked like clocks. I was going to be a Homer Simpson!
Thus, I decided that I would rather be a physics teacher. I applied to the faculty of education at Queens University and upon graduation in 1970 accepted a job teaching physics in Brockville, Ontario. You see, for someone with my personality having 30 people trapped in a room and forced to listen to you is like dying and going to heaven.
I retired from teaching in the year 2000 and for the last 20 years have been occupied with bird carving, golf, travel, canoeing and canoe building, grandchildren, photography, reptiles and amphibians, electronics, machining, home renovations, and of course astrophotography. I may soon be forced to retire from being retired so that I have more free time!
I have been a bird carver for over 40 years and carve mostly songbirds. My Father was a bird watcher and several members of my family, including me, followed in his footsteps. One way to really get to know a bird is to try and reproduce it in wood. Replicating a bird is one thing but getting it to look natural is the really hard part. This is what separates the great carvers from the rest of us. My carvings are not made for sale as they take so long to create that I can’t bear to lose them! I have entered some in the World Championship Carving Contest in Ocean City, Maryland and twice came second in my class.
I am more interested in carving than in painting, so I have many unpainted (read unfinished) carvings. I think the number is about 50 now. I carve because I enjoy the creativity of shaping wood and I don’t enjoy painting the carvings as I am not good at it. My personal philosophy in hobbies is do what you enjoy and ignore what you don’t.
I was a basketball player until I turned 40. At that point injuries were taking too long to heal so I retired from competition. I was also a basketball coach. I coached my first team at age 16 and continued coaching until I was almost 60. I was a much better coach than player! My high school teams won the provincial championships three times.
I am very interested in reptiles and amphibians and have edited a newsletter on them for 35 years. My interest is mostly in their biology and ecology rather than keeping them as pets.
Over the years I have built 4 canoes, 2 of which I still own. I love to go canoeing but Ginny is a non-swimmer, so I have to approach the hobby with more caution than in the past.
AstroNotes - How did you get into amateur astronomy?
Most physicists have an interest in cosmology. That is easy to understand as cosmology is merely physics taken to an extreme. It was not my major, but I did take two courses in astrophysics at university. Of course, this was a long time ago when Pluto was still a planet and we had just found out that the earth travels around the sun. Still, the principles have not changed.
I have been interested in photography my whole life. As a child I was given a Brownie camera and was fascinated by optics in general. As a teenager I thought it would be wonderful to take pictures of the planets and the moon. My efforts with film and simple telescopes were a disaster. I don’t believe I got one useful photo of even the moon.
While at University I ground a 6-inch mirror using a kit I had purchased from Edmund Scientific. I mounted the un-silvered mirror in my homemade tube on my homemade mount and pointed it at the brightest star in the sky. I was astonished to see that it was not a star but was Saturn. Even though the mirror was uncoated I could easily see the rings and even the division between the rings.
I then silvered the mirror using chemicals, including nitric acid, purchased at the local drugstore. The only warning the pharmacist gave me was, “don’t make nitroglycerin.” I used this telescope to look at Saturn and the moon. My mount was too rickety to find anything else.
After this I did very little observational astronomy until 30 years later when I purchased a second hand four-inch Celestron SCT. I was given guidance on how to use this scope and where objects were in the sky by two of my teaching buddies (Paul Sheppard and Paul Bullock) who were interested in astronomy. I also started to attend the meetings of the Kingston RASC.
In the 1990’s I bought a half-completed Cookbook CCD camera kit from a friend (Mike Zeidler). When I finished putting it together my astrophotography hobby kicked into gear!
AstroNotes - What excited you about it?
Clearly, I am fascinated by astrophotography. I love the equipment, the theory, and the resulting photos. I can see stuff in the photos that would require enormous telescopes to see with the eye alone. Since my first homemade camera with its tiny CCD sensor I have progressed through three more cameras, each more advanced than the previous. My present camera has a CCD with four times the surface area of my first.
AstroNotes - What aspects of the hobby have particularly held your interest? What kinds of observing do you do?
Presently I image with a homemade 12 ½ inch diameter Newtonian mounted on an Astro-Physics 900 mount. I think my equipment is better than my skies and my ability.
I image from my home in the village of North Augusta, about 80 km south of Ottawa. The skies are fairly dark but not wilderness dark. The biggest problem I have is that the skies are not really steady. I think the Jet Stream lives over my house.
There are two components to astrophotography. The first is the technical challenge of capturing the image with your telescope and camera. And the second is processing the raw data that your CCD camera downloaded to your computer. I am fascinated by the first and don’t have the patience for the second! It takes hours to process the data from the camera into a useful image.
An astronomical image might total 10 hours of exposure, but it is a summation of 10-minute exposures that are taken through clear, red, green and blue filters. These are added together to produce a colour image. These 60 individual images need to be calibrated, aligned, stacked and stretched.
I quite quickly become bored with this processing so head back out to the observatory to gather more data with my telescope thus getting even further behind in my processing. Can you see the problem? Too bad, so sad, but this is a hobby, so I only do the parts that I enjoy!
AstroNotes - What connections has the hobby made to the rest of your life?
We are in the middle of a pandemic which requires us to stay home and not socialize with other people. Astrophotography is a solitary process so fits perfectly into this style of existence. So far this year I have imaged 49 nights. We spent the winter down south so my imaging started in March. Therefore in 6 months I have been out with my scope 49 times. This is more than usual as to image you need clear skies and no moon. Last year during the same period I was out 33 times.
When I was teaching physics, astronomy was part of the curriculum, so my hobby was obviously useful.
For the last decade or so I have created Christmas cards incorporating my astronomical images. These are sent to friends and family. This is a sneaky way to introduce folks to the wonders of the sky and generate interest in the field of astronomy.
AstroNotes - What advice would you give to novice amateur astronomers?
This is a tough hobby to figure out by yourself. I would strongly suggest that you latch on to some friendly amateur astronomer who has been in the hobby for awhile. Every amateur astronomer that I have met loves to pass on their knowledge to others. One of our favourite pastimes is sidewalk astronomy where we spend the entire evening not looking in the eyepiece but instead showing others the view.
I would also caution novice amateur astronomers about getting involved too quickly in astrophotography. It is expensive and can be very frustrating. My friends who are visual observers call astrophotography “the dark side” of astronomy. Start with an eyepiece and learn the nuances of telescopes first. Then, if the interest continues, try a camera. Again, I strongly suggest finding an astrophotographer to help you climb that very steep learning curve.
AstroNotes - What still excites you today?
That is a very dangerous question to ask a married man. I will say that if Ginny didn’t tolerate and even encourage my interest in Astronomy it would not happen.
As a physicist I think that the new theories and advances in cosmology get me the most excited. The Internet allows amateurs to read all the latest information. Quite quickly I can discover all my weaknesses in mathematics and theoretical physics. Even so anyone can follow the big picture even if the details are out of reach.
Sometimes I think that I am more interested in the technology of astronomy than in astronomy itself. New advances in optics, detectors and space telescopes fascinate me.
Astronomy is a hobby for most of us, so participate in the parts that interest you and never feel guilty about the parts that don’t.
Monthly Challenge Objects
By Oscar Echeverri
Comet NEOWISE & Aurora – Paul Klauninger
Comet NEOWISE – Paul Klauninger
Comet NEOWISE – Paul Klauninger
Comet NEOWISE – Paul Klauninger
Milky Way & Perseids – Paul Klauninger
Quasar 3C 273 and jet – Paul Klauninger
Twin Quasar – Paul Klauninger
The Bubble Nebula – Bob Olson
Estelle’s Pick of the Month
The Library is closed until our physical meetings resume.
Carp Star Parties
Here is the schedule for our Public Star Parties for the summer. Thanks Paul.
PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL PUBLIC STAR PARTIES ARE ON HOLD UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE DUE TO THE VIRUS THAT CAN’T BE NAMED!!!
FLO Star Party Dates for 2020
Our Ottawa Centre’s Members’ Star Parties at the FLO will continue this summer. If you haven’t attended before, be sure to mark at least one of these dates on your calendar. You are welcome to bring family members or a guest. The GO/NO GO call will be made on the Centre mailing list, about noon the day of the star party.
SUMMER & FALL DATES
July 18 – Waning Crescent, 27 days old– NO GO
August 22 – Waxing Crescent, 3 days, 19.7% illumination– NO GO
September 19 - Waxing Crescent, 2 days old, 9.1% illumination
October 17 – Waxing Crescent, 1 day old, 2% illumination
November 14 – Waning Crescent, 29 days old, .01% illumination
December 12 – Waning Crescent, 27 days old, 4.2% illumination
7:30 PM Friday October 2, 2020 This will be A VIRTUAL MEETING ON ZOOM. Watch for email updates. Note there will be no $4.00 parking fee. The meeting runs until 9:30 pm
PLUS: all our regular meeting features: Ottawa Skies, 10-minute Astronomy News Update, Observation Reports and, sadly, no Door Prizes!
All RASC monthly meetings are free and open to members and non-members alike. Refreshments will be available, and this will be a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends who share a common interest and chat in a relaxed, stimulating, and fun environment. Please join us!
The Ottawa Centre 2020 Council
President: Mike Moghadam (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vice President: Stephen Nourse
Secretary: Chris Teron (email@example.com)
Treasurer: David Parfett (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Centre Meeting Chair: Dave Chisholm (email@example.com)
Councillors: Carmen Rush, Gerry Shewan, Jim Sofia
National Council Representatives: Karen Finstad, OPEN
Past President: Tim Cole
2020 Appointed Positions
Membership: Art Fraser
Star Parties: Paul Sadler
Fred Lossing Observatory: Rick Scholes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Light Pollution Abatement: OPEN
Public Outreach Coordinator: Jean-Sebastien (JS) Gaudet
Hospitality: Art & Anne Fraser
Stan Mott Astronomy Library: Estelle Rother
Ted Bean Telescope Library: Darren Weatherall
Webmaster: Mick Wilson (email@example.com)
AstroNotes Editors: Gordon Webster & Douglas Fleming (firstname.lastname@example.org)