LtE in CMO #262

From Thomas A DOBBINS

. . . . . . .  Dear Masatsugu:


Thank you for the detailed report. I must confess that the reserved, skeptical reaction of your colleagues to the Disciullo and Davis images is quite understandable -- laudatory, in fact. I was not only surprised but relieved to discover the Slipher images -- CCD image processing still has a "magical" element to me, but I do thoroughly understand silver halide photography!


My esteemed Austrian friend Martin Stangl, a professor specializing in the history of astronomy who still manages to observe the planets with a 25cm Newtonian, sends the following reaction from central Europe:


"As for my observation of the bicolored aspect, I looked in my observing book and found the following facts:


Date: November 10, 1996

Time: 19h 30m to 20h 00m U.T.

Instrument: 10" Newtonian, Magn. 255x, "Luft 3"

Location: Bucharest


In white light and with Green (VG 9) and Lightblue (W80A) filters both ansae looked normal, i.e. they where of the same brightness. With Darkblue filter BG 12 however the following ansa was much dimmer than the preceding one. I estimated the difference to at least 2 steps on the 0-10 ALPO albedo scale. The difference was so pronounced, that looking with direct vision the following ansa could not be glimpsed continuously while the preceding ansa remained clearly visible all the time. With Dark-Red filter RG 2 and Orange filter OG 5 the effect was reversed: the preceding ansa was dimmer than the following. In orange light the effect was rather subtle but in the dark red light it showed clearly (although not as dramatic as in the dark-blue - maybe only 1 step on the ALPO scale. I suspect this to be a result of the transmission curve of the blue filter being more exclusive).

 I tried moving Saturn in the field, rotating the eyepiece and changing right eye to left eye. The effect always stayed the same. Saturn was rather high in the sky showing only dim atmospheric dispersion. Anyhow this effect was north-south, not east-west as in the bicolored phenomenon, i.e. it was equal for both ansae. Rings were tilted quite little in november 1996. I did not mention anything that the effect was visible only in Ring A as you mention in your article as the usual observation of the phenomenon, but of course I cannot assure that this was NOT the case. Also the Rings were tilted quite little in november 1996, so Cassini's division was not too prominent."


So, please keep the faith and do look for this phenomenon later this year. I believe that this episode will vindicate visual planetary observers much like the case of Martian flares!


I would like to request a favor... The ALPO intends to issue a monograph about Martian flares. Can you provide images of Saheki, Fukui, and Tasaka (JPEGs or TIFF) suitable for this publication, preferably beside their telescopes? In return, I can only promise free copies of the publication.


 I do earnestly hope that you will be able to visit in 2003. Although my latitude is no better than Japan's, the company of Haas, Heath, Cave, Parker, Beish, Sheehan, etc... will hopefully make this site in Ohio preferable to Okinawa or even South Africa!!!

 Your friend, 

        (30 June 2002 email)


© . . . . . . . .Dear Masatsugu:


Thank you for including me in this discussion.


 Hostility toward Lowell among professional astronomers in the United States was very pronounced, not only in the heyday of the canal controversy, but for many decades after Lowell's death in 1916. For example, the Dutch-born American astronomer Gerard Kuiper (Yerkes Observatory, University of Arizona Lunar & Planetary Laboratory), who played a very prominent role in the mid-20th century "rehabilitation" of planetary astronomy as an academic discipline in the United States, made some very harsh remarks about Percival Lowell and his contemporary William Henry Pickering in an address to the Arizona Academy of Sciences on 29 April, 1967:


 "The canals of Mars were reported by Schiaparelli, a well-known Italian scientist of the last century, who made them the basis of major speculation on the presence of intelligent life on Mars. These ideas were taken over by enthusiastic persons with literary interest in the U.S. [an obvious reference to Lowell] and further developed. The careful observers with better telescopes who continued to denounce the canals as optical illusions were castigated. The controversy brought disrepute to planetary science and weakened its status in universities. To this day the effects have not been overcome and affect even NASA programs adversely through inadequate academic scientific support. Mariner IV seems to have done what these careful observers of the past half century were unable to do, namely to destroy in the public mind the myth of the canals of Mars and all it implied...


 Before leaving the subject of the Martian canals it is instructive to see how the cult was perpetuated in the semi-professional literature for decades. For many years W. H. Pickering, the brother of the famous Harvard astronomer E. C. Pickering, collected amateur observations of Martian canals and published the results in 44 reports in "Popular Astronomy." The amateur observers were rated by the number of canals they had noted. Thus, there was a premium on reporting many canals."


 Of course, who among us can doubt that the number of astronomers - amateur or professional - who have been drawn to the study of Mars would have been much smaller had Lowell continued his career as a diplomat and scholar of the Far East and not became enamored of the Red Planet? 

 (7 July 2002 email)


© . . . . . . . .Dear Masatsugu:


 About a decade ago Howard Plotkin of the University of Toronto published an excellent article about W. H. Pickering and Mars entitled "William H. Pickering in Jamaica: The Founding of Woodlawn and Studies of Mars," Journal for the History of Astronomy, 24 (1993), 101-22.  It contains many interesting biographical details about this eccentric and often humorous character, who you may recall was a mentor to Walter Haas in his youth. If you wish, I would be happy to send you a photostatic copy via air mail.


Meanwhile, I have attached an unpublished article that Bill Sheehan and I wrote about WHP's misadventures with the Galilean satellites of Jupiter --our first literary collaboration (The “Egg-Moons” of Jupiter*). We intend to include a version of it as a chapter in our forthcoming book about the history of planetary observing.

   Kind regards,  

       (12 July 2002 email)

*CMO Note: The article begins as follows: “William Henry Pickering is a name that evokes both admiration and ridicule. He was a man of ideas, some valuable, a few seminal, and a diligent observer who will always be remembered for his photographic discovery of Phoebe, Saturn's ninth satellite, in 1898. But Pickering was so prone to wildly misinterpret his data that most astronomers of his day and historians since have had a hard time taking him seriously. In the words of the late historian of astronomy Joseph Ashbrook, he was a man "three-fifths of him genius, and two-fifths sheer fudge", who despite being endowed with many gifts -- "skill and perseverance as an observer, mathematical ability, and literary flair... almost a recipe for greatness”  -- in the end seemed to lack only one quality, though the one most essential -- sound judgment. ………”


© . . . . . . . .Dear Masatsugu:


I am very gratified that you enjoyed this little story. (It may amuse you to learn that it was rejected for publication by the J BAA.) In my opinion, a character like Pickering makes for much more interesting reading than the biography of someone whose life consisted only of a succession of successes!


  By the way, do you own a copy of the recently published history of selenography that Bill and I wrote ("Epic Moon")? An entire chapter is devoted to Pickering. If you do not have a copy, I will gladly send one with the copy of the Plotkin article.

 Kind regards,  

       (15 July 2002 email)

© . . . . . . . .Just to whet your appetite until the book arrives, please see:



        (15 July 2002 email)


 Tom DOBBINS  (Coshocton, OH, USA)

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