From William SHEEHAN
@. . . . . . . . . Dear Masatsugu, Apologies for being out or contact for
awhile -- I was in
On September 28 I had a chance to use the 26 1/2 inch Grubb refractor at the old Union Observatory for visual observations of Mars (and the Moon) -- they were about the only objects, apart from a few stars, that were visible in the light- polluted skies of the city. The telescope was used by W. S. Finsen for his (at the time) state-of-the- art color photography of Mars at the 1954 and 1956 oppositions. These were images I marveled at as a youngster. Mars with 400× was a beautiful small gibbous-moon, with some stars in the field (Mars was in the teapot of Sagittarius). The dust had cleared to the extent that a number of dark patches were easily visible; however, there was no trace of a polar cap.
I later looked at the Moon -- the rille running down Alpine Valley
(discovered with the 13-inch
I gave a lecture on Mars again at the Union Observatory for the South African Astronomical Society a few weeks later.
I note that Percival Lowell's "Mars as the Abode of Life", first published in 1908, has been reissued in a paperback reprint.
I am hoping to organize an
observing campaign for Mars to
@ . . . . . . . Dear Masatsugu, Very good to hear from you -- it was a nice
The Union Observatory was later called the Republic Observatory. It was the scene of great double-star observers beginning with Innes (who also discovered proxima Centauri) and continuing through Van den Bos and Finsen.
One of the devices that was used on the 26.5 inch refractor was a grating-- it looks like the familiar charcoal-grill used for barbecuing -- that helped observers measure the out-of-focus highly magnified images of double stars they observed, essentially little more than slightly odd-shaped diffraction patterns. It must have been rather grim work to do this sort of thing night after night. It is sad but even though many double stars merit continued study and careful remeasuring for their periods, this sort of routine is no longer fashionable -- no one seems interested in it. It smacks of bygone problems and Victorian-era civil-servant astronomers. The 26.5-inch refractor -- no longer in a very safe part of Jo'burg (but then there is very little of Jo'burg that is safe) -- is scarcely ever used; it is even my understanding that the South African Astronomical Society, an amateur group which has used the hill for fifty years, is losing its access to the site. Professional observations ended in the early 1970s -- you may remember, as I do, the photographs of the dust storm of 1973, obtained by Finsen and his colleague Roberts, which were among the last active contributions of the telescope in the research of Mars.
I agree with you that Finsen's best images were obtained in 1954 -- probably because the Martian atmosphere was quite clear and there was better contrast of the surface features. The remarkable development of the Nepenthes-Thoth was the most memorable feature of that opposition. The telescope was stopped down to half aperture -- 13 1/4 inches -- and because of the long focal length, I think the images were obtained without additional auxiliary magnification.
I regret that I didn't have more to say about Finsen in either “The Planet Mars” or “Mars: the allure of the red planet”. In a future edition of one or the other or both I hope to have something to say about him -- and also to devote a full chapter to the remarkable efforts of you and your Japanese colleagues. The lack of information about the latter is an even more serious oversight that must be rectified.
I was up early this morning for Leonids. It was a brisk shower -- not quite up to the standard of November 1966, which I observed as just a boy from Minneapolis and recorded a rate of several thousand an hour (from here, the Earth was just entering the thick part of the debris-tail that would give rise to the huge storm observed in the western part of the U.S.).
There were, however, a few hundred an hour, making it a delightful if not quite awe-inspiring event. I don't expect we'll see its like again in our lifetime since apparently the meteoriticists don't anticipate another comparable encounter with Leonid debris until 2098. Maybe the astro- dynamicists can figure out a way of perturbing the orbit by means of nuclear explosives or some other device for the sake of putting on another impressive display.
With kind regards,
@ . . . . . . . Subject: Janssen at
Masatsugu, I almost forgot to respond to your query regarding Janssen -- he was
indeed the famous French solar astronomer who flew, en ballon, out of
I don't know if I've mentioned it but I'm writing a little book on the transits of Venus (with John Westfall, long-time director of the transits of Mercury and Venus section of the ALPO) and hope to include quite a lot on Janssen and his visit to Japan. Perhaps you have contacts locally and can help point me to information about his visit. I will also be pursuing French sources.
Also, I hope
someday to visit
All the best,
@ . . . . . . .Dear Masatsugu, Just a brief reply to
your very interesting comments --I am thrilled that the meteors were so
From here, they were better than
they were in
This would have corresponded to David Ascher's first peak, which occurred a few hours before you began to observe.
It is pleasant to think each of us were able to share this special moment together from opposite sides of the globe.
You will be swamped with meteor
reports at the moment, so I will not detain you further. I do so greatly
appreciate the exciting news from
@ . . . . . . . Dear friend, I received some messages from David Strauss,
whose biography of Percival Lowell was published this past year by
Harvard. He mentions a kind of
think he'd like to be in touch, so if you are interested I can follow up. It would be nice to have a conference on
I'd love to follow
（Note) The following is an email from David STRAUSS to Bill SHEEHAN:
@ . . . . . . . Bill: Thanks for the info on
"Epic Moon" which I have now ordered. Looking forward to reading you
again. Tom Williams suggested the idea of considering your book with its
different approach to the moon along with Whitaker Interesting to hear your
account of Sept. 11 as experienced from
I'm not hopeful that we Americans will escape our innocence. After all, we have had a number of rude awakenings. In the old days, when historians talked about the national character--now out of fashion--they used to say that a fundamental American trait was innocence. If so, we can expect to have more Sept. 11ths. A depressing thought.
I'm curious about your Japanese
astronomer friend. My wife and I were actually in
There, we visited a local baker who has created a
Good to be back in touch.
@ . . . . . . .Thank you for forwarding Ed Grafton's stunning image of Saturn to me.
Tom Dobbins and I have written an article for the February issue of S&T on the forthcoming series of Saturn occultations, which I'll gladly preview to you if you wish -- our main purpose is to pique visual observers to look out for the outer ring. This image shows it beautifully. Vive la planetary imaging!
Bill SHEEHAN (MN,