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July 2004

• July 29 The mystery of a comet seeker 5
    Ten years have passed since. The incident of the mysterious fire at Koishikiyama has gradually faded out of people's mind with time. However, it has never been extinguished in my mind and flames have continued to flicker. My suspicion has kept growing. I remember the arsonist's figure brightly lit up by fiercely burning red flames and his smirking face when left. Who in the world was this man? What did he want to achieve by lighting fire deliberately? Was it meant to be just a challenge to the rest of the world?
    It is only 2 kilometers to the summit of Koishikiyama from my home. At 200x in my telescope it is the equivalent of seeing the culprit only from 10 meters away. I am sure he was never aware that he had been seen clearly by me from the distance.
    The man in a worker's overall with a blue soldier's cap on was a figure I might have seen somewhere before, but I couldn't recall him. However, this incident took an unexpected sudden turn.
    It was an afternoon in late spring with approaching summer days. It was Sunday and as usual I went to visit the market opened in the vicinity of Kochi Castle. They were selling fruit and vegetables, seafood, plants, antiques, dogs and cats, and so on. It is fun just browsing the stalls and looking at "shows". It is a good pastime. During such a "market browsing", you will run into someone unexpectedly or happen upon unusual items. It was when I was walking past a pickle shop's tent jostled in the crowd that I heard someone calling me "hey, Seki!." "Who would it be, calling me that way? It must be someone close to me..." I looked around but could not find anybody I knew. I went on ignoring the call and then heard someone calling me again, "Seki, wait. It's me!" It was a familiar voice. I still could not find anybody I knew. In the tent there was a middle-aged man with a soldier's cap on. He looked like a farmer with a well-suntanned face and was staring at me.
    (To be continued)

• July 23 The mystery of a comet seeker 4
    I was using a 15cm reflector at my home observatory (MPC 370) in the 1950s. The population of Kochi City in those days was 180,000 and there wasn't much air pollution over the city. Actually the sky over Kochi was better than Geisei. Mt. Hitsuzan, well known in the area, is seen in the southeast from the observatory. To the right of Mt.Hitsuzan there are a series of low peaks such as Saragamine and Koishikiyama.
Mysterious incidents began to occur around the end of the 1950s. Late-night fires became frequent in the vicinity of Saragamine where there shouldn't have been any source of fire. There was a possibility of fires being deliberately lit and the fire department and police were on the alert nightly. However, mysterious fires continued to break out, outwitting those on the watch. Later, fires broke out at more than two places simultaneously. It became possible that an experienced arsonist started fires using time device and seemed to be enjoying himself looking at fires from the distance. The culprit was never found and it went down in crime history as an unsolved mystery.
    There was a character who called himself "Jiro Soka" about 30 years ago. He succeeded in escaping from police by confusing their dragnet just like Arsene Lupin, the criminal character of Maurice Leblanc mystery. This arsonist seemed to be enjoying his criminal activity.
"He gives police an advance warning. The police dragnet closes in on him. But they find no sign of the thief there. He has left evidence, as if ridiculing the police, of his presence and successful theft."
    The name Jiro Soka has disappeared forever after a large scale police search of his crime using the Bullet train failed. The series of fires by an arsonist reminds me of this bizarre crime which has been almost forgotten by now. Didn't anybody know of this arsonist?
    Early in December, when the yearend was just around the corner, I was searching, as always, the southeastern sky one hour before the dawn at the observatory, which had been set up at the yard of my residence. I found a flame suddenly rising from the mountain. The distance to the fire was 2 kilometers in a straight line from my observatory. Instinctively, I turned my comet seeker to the fire and saw the face of the man who seemed to be the culprit. His face was lit by blazing red flames! Immediately I increased the magnification to 200. I saw a middle-aged man in a light blue worker's overall with a soldier's field cap on. He appeared as a laborer or farmer. The man left the scene quickly after making sure the fire was going.
    (To be continued)

The moon over Mt. Hitsuzan
from my home observatory (MPC 370)

• July 22 A falling meteor? Kochi City was shaken!
    I was stunned by an extraordinary sound.
    Between 1:15 and 1:17 on the morning of July 22 I heard a very unusual sound. It was as if something ominous occurred to this world and sounded like the air being ripped apart. I even felt a slight vibration. I was working at the computer in my study on the third floor at that time. Immediately, I looked out the eastern window, but didn't notice anything unusual in the dark mid-night sky. Later, I learned that my wife heard the sound, too, and thought something had fallen, while watching TV on the second floor.
    The following has become known from witness accounts by Mr.Kei Yokoyama and another person who were at a fishing port in Aki City. I thought it could be a falling meteor when I heard the sound. Mr. Yokoyama and the other witness saw a large fireball flying to the west. It threw off sparks three times or so approximately at 1.15. Kochi City is about 50 kilometers west of Aki City. One minute later they heard the rumbling of the ground. They didn't realize it was a large meteor and frightened by this extraordinary event. From these accounts it is almost certain that it was a fireball. The question is whether it fell to the ground as a meteorite. Some reported that it exploded like fireworks and faded near the ground. It is not clear if it plunged into the ocean or fell to the ground while being faint.
    About 10 years ago, when I was observing with the 60cm reflector at Geisei Observatory, suddenly it became as bright as daylight inside the dome. A few minutes later an eerie sound somewhat like the roaring of the sea was heard. Later it turned out to be a fireball. If it was a meteorite, it must have flown over the observatory from north to south and fell to the sea. (The sea is 2 kilometers south of the observatory. )
    As this occurred late at night, there might not have been many witnesses. If I have heard more about it, I will report it as a sequel to this story.

• July 12    Reminiscing about the mountains
    The end of the rainy season for the Shikoku area was officially declared yesterday, but ironically it has been heavily overcast and threatening to rain since this morning. Generally the announcement of the end of the rainy season brings about a beautiful clear blue sky, but it is a somewhat hesitant end to the rainy season this year. Today's weather makes us feel that the announcement may have been made a few days too early. I don't want to draw on the past records, but generally the real summer sky will not arrive until after July 20.
    On July 23, 1951, on the day of the official end of the rainy season, I climbed Mt. Kajigamori (elevation: 1400m) by myself. It was the first time that I had tried a substantial mountain climbing, but I thoroughly enjoyed the lush green mountains, the blue sky, and the beauty of the night sky. Nature in those days had experienced none of air pollution.
When I stayed overnight at the 7th station of the mountain, I met a father-and-son pair. The father's name was Tokihisa, a physics teacher at Tosa Yamada Senior High School. His son was Susumu, if my memory is correct. I didn't tell them much about myself, being just an ordinary young man without a particular fame. Ten years later, in October 1961, when I discovered Comet Seki, this high school teacher sent me a congratulatory telegram. Maybe, somewhere in his mind, he had an image of me mesmerized by the beautiful night sky above the mountain. Ten years later, his memory may have been aroused by my discovery of the comet.
    Strangely I remember the people I met while climbing the mountains. I met a middle-aged man at Higashi Kuromoriyama near Mt. Ishizuchi. We eagerly talked about life. I met a woman climber whom I ran into in a valley darkened in twilight when I was lost at Miune near Mt. Tsurugi. She showed me the way out. She turned around and continued to climb the mountain road. She looked almost "divine" to me.
    The summer mountains are great. I cherish memories like these.

• July 11
    I visited the landing site of the "zaisho meteorite" at Kahokucho, Kamigun in Kochi Prefecture. It is at the foot of a low mountain immediately north of Monobe River. It landed in the yard of the farmhouse of a Mr. Arimitsu.
    The meteor landed approximately at 5:10 in the morning on February 1 in the 31st year of Meiji (1898). According to the local paper Doyo Shinbun, the ground and sky shook with the roaring sound which resembled a successive firing of a cannon. The sky turned a brilliant scarlet red as if fireworks had been launched and a round fireball, a size of a human head, was seen slowly falling. This is a scene witnessed at Funato, a village in the mountains near the border between Kochi and Ehime Prefectures, 40km north of the landing site. This ground-shaking roar was reported to be heard almost all over Kochi Prefecture and many people rushed out of their homes in their sleepwear.

    The meteor landing in Tosha City in the 28th year of Meiji (1895) occurred with an equally loud sound. The falling meteor seems to be quite a phenomenon accompanied by a lot of commotion. I stood at the landing site in Kahokucho. I almost felt the supernatural when I realized that a meteor actually had fallen to the ground where I was standing and it had traveled from a far-flung corner of the universe.
    The monument to commemorate the fall of the meteor was now looked after by Mr. Hiromi Arimitsu. It was erected by Mr. Saizo Goto, who owned the meteorite, around 1982. I was moved by a beautiful lily flowering quietly beside the silent monument for over 100 years
    It has become an occurrence of the long past that neither flowers nor people now know much about. But Monobe River running through the never-changing mountain ranges knows everything and I cannot help but feel the river was trying to tell me something.

The meteor landed near the farmhouse at the
foot of the mountain along Monobe River

The monument at the landing site
of the meteor (erected in 1981)

• July 10    The mystery of a comet seeker 3
    Thanks to Mr. Honda's achievements around 1950, astronomy community in Japan experienced a "comet boom." Around the same time, other observers devised their own inventive comet seekers and were hunting for comets. They were Mr. Kikuo Kakuda in Tokyo, Messrs. Santaro Harada and Soichi Matsui in Kyoto, Mr. Einosuke Asano in Yamaguchi, and Mr. Busho Kawando in Kagawa. A little later, Mr. Tetsuyasu Mitani from Kwasan Observatory joined them and a fierce competition in comet search followed. However, Mr. Honda was the only person who succeeded and no other members of this group discovered a comet. A myth stemmed from this that no-one else but Mr.Honda could find a comet.
The observing instruments used by these people were mostly 10cm- to 15cm-aperture reflectors, but there was a 12cm f/5 refractor among them. Around that time Kansai Optical Company (now defunct) released a 15cm reflecting comet seeker. Apart from this group of observers, there was a young novice observer called Seki. He observed actively from Kochi with a 10cm reflector but 10 years had to pass before he could reach the caliber of the observers in this group.
    Today's episode of "the mystery of a comet seeker" is about Mr. Santaro Harada. The "incident" occurred early on the morning of December 4, 1948, when Mr. Honda discovered Comet Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova. Mr. Harada was searching the southeastern sky around Hydra for 30 minutes prior to the daybreak. He was sweeping horizontally with a 15cm reflector starting at a higher altitude slowly moving downward. He says he was clearly 30 minutes ahead of the area that Mr. Honda was searching. The new comet that Mr. Honda had discovered must have been waiting to be found by Mr. Harada, but what came into his eyepiece field was not a glow of the comet but red flames from a neighborhood's fire. Naturally, he rushed to the site of the fire to extinguish it. The dawn arrived during this turmoil and the honor of the discovery went to Mr. Honda at Setomura Village.
    Efforts are of the utmost importance in comet discovery, but it is easily affected by luck, too.
What happened to Mr. Harada? What followed is very important.
The next episode reveals an astonishing incident in which I was involved in a fire...and the deep mystery of a comet seeker.
    (to be continued)

• July 7
    This is the day of Tanabata (Star) Festival. The forecast issued yesterday (June 6) was "cloudy, rain developing later", but it turned out to be wrong. Forecasting during the rainy season is often proved to be wrong. I went to the observatory and continued to observe under a clear sky until late. Stars were not supposed to be visible according to the forecast, but the Milky Way was seen, though for not long. Since then, on the days when "cloudy or rain" was forecast, we sometimes have had cloudless hot days. Forecasters are often wrong. Their judgment may be clouded by the assumption that it would be only natural to be cloudy because it is during the rainy season. I check the weather maps and satellite images of the day to make my own forecast before going to the observatory.
I photographed Vega (one of the two stars of the Tanabata story) on the evening of Tanabata Festival.

• July 5    The mystery of a comet seeker 2
    I visited Dodaira Observatory in Saitama Prefecture with Mr. Kaoru Ikeya in May 1966. Mr. Tomita, a staff member, showed us around. The sky conditions were excellent and the Milky Way near Scorpius in the southern sky was clearly seen.
    The Observatory's 91cm reflector had been very effective for detection of many periodic comets. It not only detected the highest number of periodic comets in Japan, but its achievements attracted the world attention. Another staff member, Mr.Kaho, was engaged in observing together with Mr. Tomita. They were actively involved in tracking of satellites with an American-made Baker-Nunn Schmidt Camera as part of the international observing network.
    I found a strange-looking instrument there. It was a finderscope. A 20cm-aperture refractor was mounted on the camera (at far right) serving as a guidescope. This was that mysterious Zeiss telescope. What sort of star images did this telescope form with a perfect triplet lens system. This telescope had been removed from the original mounting and was now playing a vital role as a guidescope for the schmidt camera.
    I had an opportunity to attend a lecture given by Mr. Kyoyu Kudara who recovered Comet Temple 2. He talked about the world's unusual comet seekers and referred to the Zeiss telescope concluding that it had probably been imposed on them when they purchased the 60cm refractor. A scientific magazine introduced this comet seeker around 1949 with detailed illustrations together with a report on a comet hunter who was using this telescope.
    (to be continued)

Zeiss 20cm comet seeker (far right) mounted
as a guidescope on Baker-Nunn-Schmidt camera.

Copyright (C) 2004 Tsutomu Seki.