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June 2004

• June 28    The mystery of a comet seeker 1
    Mr. Masamitsu Yamasaki seems to be the first person that built the comet seeker in Japan when he lived in Mizusawa around 1928. Mr. Yamasaki discovered Comet Crommelin in October 1928 using this comet seeker. His strange-looking comet seeker seems to be a copy of an American observer's telescope. Around that time there was a fine-quality comet seeker built by Zeiss at the Tokyo Astronomical Observatory and using this telescope Mr. Shigeru Kaho, a staff member, discovered Comet Kaho-Kozik-Lis in July 1936. According to Mr. Koichiro Tomita at the then Tokyo Observatory, Mr. Kaho accidentally found the comet while he was observing variable stars in the evening western sky. This comet seeker was a 20cm f/6.7 telescope with a three-element objective and with a useful turret eyepiece holder the magnifications could be changed freely from 27 to 150 power, an advantage in comet hunting. By turning a steering wheel the telescope and observing chair rotate together and the whole sky could be searched with the height of the eyepiece barely changing. It was truly an ideal telescope. When you found a possible comet, determining its right-ascension and declination is often difficult. This telescope was an effective comet seeker and yet equatorially mounted.
    The question is who, for what purpose, purchased this Zeiss comet seeker in the same year as the 60cm refractor was installed at Tokyo Observatory. I cannot believe that professional astronomers bought this telescope to search for comets seriously. This is a mystery never to be solved. How was the comet discovered by this telescope is another mystery. Mr. Minoru Honda, a great comet hunter, said he had never seen it nor used it. Naturally, I haven't, either . It is now firmly etched in our memory as a mysterious comet seeker.
    I illustrated the telescope's structure with some details in my book "A Guidebook to the Comet" published by Seibundo Shinkosha Publishers about 30 years ago. As you know, soon after, Mr.Koichi Ike copied the idea and built a "360-degree rotational " comet seeker, which made him a popular figure. It was around 1964, I think, that he made the achievement of finding Comet Kopff first in Japan.
    Where has the Zeiss comet seeker gone? Many years had passed and in the spring of 1966 I happened to encounter this very comet seeker. It was in such a state from which I could hardly imagine its original appearance. It was "on active duty", but... ?
    (to be continued)

Mr. Koichiro Tomita and the late Mr. Shigeru Kaho (right)
Mr. Kaho is a discoverer of Comet Kaho-Kozik-Lis.
May, 1962 T.Seki

• June 23
    It has been raining lightly. We seem to have entered the second half of the rainy season. I feel disheartened and do not feel like doing anything when my thoughts turn to the coming long interruption of observation. It may not be because of this state of mind but an extreme, sharp pain runs through my back when I try to get out of bed. Unbearable pains strike me even with a little body movement. It may be a kind of arthritis. I left home telling my wife I would go to hospital, but I actually ended up at the swimming pool, of all places, in Haruno Sports Park. In a drizzle I swam about 1000 meters in this outdoor long-course (50 meters) pool and shook off this ailment.
   This fearlessness is not mine but the traditional character of the Tosa (Kochi) people. The spirit that characterizes them is represented by the local word "igosso". It is difficult to fully explain the meaning of this word, but I think it is the same mindset as to help discover comets.
During the rainy season I am thinking of position measurement of comets on the films I have accumulated.

    Aki City near Geisei is where the composer Ryutaro Hirota was born. His rain song goes:

It rains and rains.
I want to go out and play but no umbrella.
A red thong of my clogs is broken too.

    Rainy days depress me and make me feel bored and dejected.

• June 23
    This is the day when the Pons-Winecke meteor shower becomes active, but it has been a day, in the middle of the rainy season, with a lot of clouds.
   However, around 20:00 clouds miraculously started to retreat and I was able to watch the sky for about an hour until a little after 22.00. Suddenly at 20:53 I saw a first-magnitude meteor. It slowly ran east of Spica in Virgo. It seems to have come obviously from the radiant in the north of Bootes. I occasionally turned my eyes to the sky while doing some other work. About 50 minutes later (I think) a 2nd to 3rd magnitude meteor flew in Ophiuchus to the southeast from the radiant, which seems to be a member of the Pons-Winecke meteor shower. Transparency was poor tonight, approximately 3 on the 5-point scale. Even if meteors fainter than 4th magnitude had appeared frequently, they might not have been noticed. I felt as if I were seeing numerous short streaks of faint meteors, but it was likely an illusion. Watching this less than satisfactory sky for 30 minutes altogether, I was able to bag no more than 2 or 3 meteors.
    A long tome ago I observed meteors for many years under the leadership of Mr. Kojiro Komaki of OAA. This gave me some confidence in my observing. There is one thing that bothers me. In the 1920s the Pons-Winecke meteor shower presented a grand show (the year when Dr. Issei Yamamoto traveled to Shenyang in China), but the following year its activity was disappointing in spite of mounting expectations. One report, however, claimed that many meteors of that shower had been observed. In some book Dr. Yamamoto is quoted to say that those meteors were all so faint that they were only visible to eagle-eyed Mr.N. As I remember it, surely about 70% of the meteors during the 1998 great shower were fainter than 4th magnitude. Did Geisei's dark skies help me to see particularly faint meteors? Many fireballs surprised me too.

    I think it is rather odd that only faint meteors were seen by Mr. N, so faint, in fact, that others did not see them. Mr. N saw two comets that nobody else saw and his claim is questioned even now. I may have an opportunity to elaborate on this later in this section. In any case we can conclude that this year's shower was less than remarkable.

    The photograph below shows the magnificent Milky Way seen from Geisei on June 12.

The Milky Way
30-minute exposure on June 12
24mm f/2.8 lens with R2 filter
ISO 1600 film

• June 13
    Since the daytime the weather has been clear, which reminds me of a typical autumn day with the superbly transparent atmosphere.
    Tonight's sky over Geisei was full of stars, a magnificent starry sky, refusing any effect of light pollution to contaminate this pristine condition. And the Milky Way was deeply sculpted, three-dimensional, and almost overwhelming. A large round glow of the gegenschein was almost touching the western side of the Milky Way. The gegenschein, which had existed only in one's memory for many years, was so bright tonight that you will be stunned the moment your eyes are turned on it.
    With the magnificent sky like this the photographs by the 60cm reflector of C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) show details of the tail. These photos will be presented in the Reports from Geisei Observatory section shortly.
    We can have beautiful night skies once in a while even in the areas usually suffering from light pollution. If the sky over the 4200-meter-high summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which I visited 5 years ago, was given a score of 10 out of 10, tonight's sky over Geisei would score 7 out of 10!
I will show you the photos of the Milky Way later.

• June 12
    I came to the observatory at midnight. There were some clouds and I saw even lightening. At the change of the dates to the 13th, I captured C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) at 7 degrees above the horizon. In the 20cm refractor it was faint 6.5 magnitude. It was faintly recorded in a photograph taken by the 60cm reflector. Measuring the position may be too difficult.
    I photographed C/2003 T3 (Tabur) at 3:00 on June 13th. It faded to 11th magnitude. D=2' . Its position will be measured later.
    C/2004 F4 (Bradfield) may have faded and could not be found when casually observed. Was the prediction wrong?
    As usual, I searched the low northeastern sky for 20 minutes before the daybreak. I found M31 quite impressive.
(Bye stars, see you tomorrow)

• June 8
    When I woke up this morning, I felt dizzy and saw the ceiling spinning wildly.
    This is the day of the transit of Venus. Returning from the hospital, I saw the sun beginning to shine through an opening in the clouds. I started to prepare hurriedly to photograph the phenomenon, making a 1cm square hole on a cardboard sheet and attaching four red photographic filters to it, which in turn was fitted to the objective lens stopped down to an aperture of 1cm square. The 175mm reflector is now changed to a f/90 scope.
    A hasty preparation like this is compared in Japan to beginning to make a rope after finding a thief.
    The observing site for this transit was not at Geisei Observatory but at my residence at Kamimachi. People call this site Gen-ei-jo or Phantom Castle.
    Around 4:30 in the afternoon a small opening appeared in the western sky and the sun became partially visible. Immediately I took 5 shots successively.
    It was a miraculous moment of a duration of less than 1 minute after a long waiting of 5 hours.

Transit of Venus
Around 16:30 on June 8, 2004
15cm equatorial reflector

Camera: Canon T70(1/350 second exposure)
Developer: Kodak D-76

• June 4
    We had a beautiful day today unlike the weather right before the rainy season's arrival. The sky remained truly blue down to the city's skyline and the coolness in the breezes was felt intensely.
    As the moon rises early today, I have decided to observe on the 3rd-floor rooftop of my home tonight. I thought that on the day like this the stars would be clearly seen even in the middle of the city with a population of 300,000.
    Thirty years ago I was making precise measurements of comets from my residence at Kamimachi in Kochi City. It is the very site I discovered a number of comets including Comet Ikeya-Seki. I received the observatory code 370 from IAU and began making the measurements of comets and minor planets. You may be surprised to know that this site is where precise measurements by Japanese amateurs originated.
    In those days amateurs had a very difficult time without CCDs or star catalogues such as GSC. Comparators to determine the stellar positions from photographic film were being sold from Shimadzu and cost about 500,000 yen around 1970. It was beyond means of a person of meager existence like me.
   Then how did I start the precise measurement of comets in these circumstances? There are interesting episodes about this, but I will reveal them some day later. Instead, I will show you a photo of the facilities of 370 Kochi Observatory, which was resurrected after over 30 years had passed. The telescope is A manufacturer's 175mm f/5 equatorial reflector which had been "resting in peace" at Geisei Observatory for 10 years. The equatorial mounting, which was awaken from a long sleep, is not in a good mood and frequently refuses to work. I cajole it and coax it while making up for its shortcomings by my techniques. In spite of this I measured C/2001 Q4 and C/2002 T7 and sent the results to MPC.

370 Kochi Observatory
My home observatory resurrected after 30 years of disuse

C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) photographed at my home observatory
30-second exposure on TM400 film at 20:30 on June 4, 2004

• June 2
    I feel like reminiscing about by-gone days when the weather is not good.
About a half century ago, when I was making parts of planetariums at Mr. S's factory, which was located at the edge of town, Mr. S showed up and said, "Mr. Seki, I've made something interesting. Look at this." Mr. S was the head of Kochi branch of OAA at that time. What he showed me was a device to rub an ink stick on the ink stone for Japanese calligraphy. After an experimental stage, he distributed some of them to calligraphy teachers. I am not quite sure if the one I saw at a Sunday market was one of his contraptions, but judging from its age and shape, I believe it was Mr. S's trial product. He was very famous as "an amateur inventor" those days. Mr. K, who was also an inventor known as the Edison of Kochi, is quite well in spite of his advanced age.
    Mr. K helped him as a reliable consultant when Mr. S was manufacturing planetariums. He has been running a metal fabricating business and made substantial repairs on our observatory dome when it broke down about 10 years
As for Mr. S, his dream expanded limitlessly from the starry sky to the ocean. I heard that Mr. K had helped him in building a submarine. Publicly the purpose of building the submarine "Kouten-go" is to conduct marine rescues, but what Mr. S told me about his project was full of amazing fantasies and bizarre schemes. Half a century has passed since my encounter with Mr. S and OAA at an observing session in the midst of ruins following the war back in 1948. There are good intriguing stories and romance I have kept to myself. Now I am the only person who knows them and will tell you these stories some day as I like it.


Copyright (C) 2004 Tsutomu Seki.