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May 2004

• May 30
    This May was supposed to be the month when the night sky displayed two great comets simultaneously. However, NEAT appeared in the northern sky as a small 6th magnitude object and its tail could not be confirmed. LINEAR turned up low in the southern sky as a very disappointing 9th magnitude telescopic object (though predicted to brighten to 2nd or 3rd magnitude), barely visible in the telescope. Many observers must have been made to realize how difficult it was to predict comets' magnitudes. It might have been different in the southern hemisphere, but in the northern hemisphere the comets have been visible faintly for a very short period of time. It still holds true that things much talked too early never live up to the expectations. Great comets seem to have a tendency to appear suddenly without a forewarning.
    For a change I went to browse the Sunday market around Kochi Castle. I wrote in my earlier entry about my discovery of an unusual object in the stall under the tent. It had disappeared from that tent as seen in this photograph. This unusual object was a device to rub an ink stick on the ink stone to make calligraphy ink. It was a metal casting and intended to be used for making ink quickly by rotating a roller. This device is quite commonly used among calligraphers now. The question is about the person who invented this and tried to take out a patent on it in the long past of 1950. Who in the world is this person? In those days making ink was considered to be part of calligraphy training and this device was not well accepted. I remember seeing this metal casting before.
    Who is the inventor of this tool? I may have to bring in this amazing person again, who was called an "amateur inventor" a half a century ago.

Comet NEAT (C/2001 Q4) by ε160
10-minute exposure from 20:42 May 24, 2004
ISO 800 color-negative film

An antique stall at the Sunday market
May 30, 2004

• May 23
    When I was perusing the old school diary of a primary school, which is Mr. Koichi Ike's alma mater, in Takaokacho, Tosa City, I discovered an astonishing record of the fall of a meteor. It reads as follows:

March 4 (March 4 in the 28th year of Meiji Period)
    A fireball appeared around 10 am. During its flight from the southeast to the northwest an iridescent cloud was seen in mid-air bearing red, blue, and yellow colors. About 5 minutes later an earth-shattering blast was heard twice. It sounded like a successive firing of a canon and shook the ground tremendously. It was indescribably violent and many people rushed out of their houses thinking it was a very strong earthquake. As it occurred during the exam period, it caused a great confusion. Many theories were argued about the cause of this phenomenon; some say it was caused by an explosion of an ammunition dump or landing of an explosive shell. After vigorous arguments for some time, in the end they said that it was simply a meteoric phenomenon.

March 16
    The 84th graduation ceremony of this school was held for Koma Morioka and 12 other male students and Sono Sendo with 6 other female students.
    The 28th year of Meiji was the year when the Sino-Japanese war was fought. My grandfather (my mother's father) lived in Takaoka around that time and should have encountered the fall of this meteor when he was a child. He told me in an intriguing way about seeing Ignis Fatuus (will-o'-the-wisp) and witnessing mirages, a very rare phenomenon in Tosa (Kochi). However, I didn't have a chance to ask him about the meteor. Someday I will tell you the frightful ghost stories of Tosa told by my grandfather, Ushiro.
    I wonder where that meteor landed. If it flew to the northwest from Tosa City, and if it landed at all, Kannarashiike Pond would lie in its path. If it was a phenomenon caused by a large meteor...I am tempted to let my imagination run wild. Or was it just a fantasy?
    The pond seems to be trying to tell something to the beautiful mountain ranges.

• May 22
    One day when I was driving Shikoku's central mountain ranges I came across a small crater-like hole on the hillside of Nishikuromori Mountain near Kamegamori Mountain. This hole is called Kannarashiike by locals and known since ancient times. It used to be full of water. The moment I saw it I thought intuitively it must be a crater by a meteor. Near the pond stands a sign which reads: "One day in ancient times, this pond was created instantly at the moment a thunderous boom was heard. Later, a rock was found in the pond, which may be the rock talked about in folklore. "
There might have been folklore related to the pond. Later, I explored this Kannarashiike with Mr. Okamura of Geisei Observatory, but we could not find anything like a meteorite.
    Where has this rock in folklore gone?
    In later days I discovered an astonishing record in the school diary of a country-side primary school.
[Photo of Kannarashiike]

• May 21
    In the wake of the typhoon the weather finally improved but with clouds still hanging around all day. We managed to have clear patches in the sky above the Observatory and observed NEAT. It was about 6.3 magnitude. In the 20cm telescope at 60x the coma was 8' across and the tail was 1 degree long streaming to the east. Because of haze, peculiar to spring nights, the photograph taken by the 60cm telescope was not impressive. A much better photograph can be taken, as the comet continues to move north and glows with the Big Dipper behind it in the darker sky.

• May 18
    Cloudy and rainy days continue just like weather during the rainy season.
    Regarding the minor planet Fukuchan*, reporters came from local papers as well as Asahi, Mainichi, and Kyodo. I am always wary about mass media, as they sometimes inaccurately report my words.
    The Pons-Winnecke meteor shower will begin around June 23. I recall the grand appearance of this meteor shower 6 years ago. It was a miraculous encounter. June 30 is the day of Wanuke God festival and it is believed that it rains without exception in Tosa (the old Kochi). Unexpectedly it was a clear night and I saw a shower of meteors raining on us. There are a number of unforgettable images I have seen during my long astronomy career and this is one of the most impressive images.

*Fukuchan is the name of a boy character and the title of the cartoons.
created by Ryuichi Yokoyama (1909-2001), who was born in Kochi City.
Yokoyama was a famous and respected cartoonist in Japan.

• May 3
    On May 3, in the middle of spring when flowers were blooming everywhere, the whole family of mine visited Monet's Garden at the village of Kitagawa in Aki, Kochi Prefecture. They say it is a stunning French garden, but what surprised me were many rare flowers and people and people and people; people were everywhere.
    This remote mountain village was the birthplace of Shintaro Nakaoka, one of the leaders campaigning for the Meiji Restoration. Shintaro's ramshackle house with a thatched roof was surrounded by tall rugged mountains reflecting his harsh boyhood. Shintaro is said to have passed these tall mountains everyday to go to a private school.
Shintaro was cut down with Ryoma* by an enemy's sword at Omiya Soy Saurce Store in Kyoto. He was 33 years old. His untimely death was a huge loss, as he headed Kaientai (the naval auxiliary force) and his future was promising. Sitting in the simple lounge of his home for a while, where Shintaro spent his boyhood, I reminisced about the days of Shintaro and Ryoma.

Copyright (C) 2004 Tsutomu Seki.