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• August 15
This is the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World
War. It has been a hot mid-summer day. There were many events related to
the end of the war along the length of the Japanese archipelago in the
midst of heat. Sixty years have passed and memories of those days are now
fading. This day 60 years ago I learned the end of the war at Mt. Hishimayama
in Kochi City. I was a lower secondary school student and working with
soldiers as a student voluntee for the defense of the country. Mt. Hishimayama
was a small mountain in the northeastern part of Kochi City, but used to
be an island in the Pacific Ocean in earlier days. Keisan Kawatani, an
astronomical almanac scholar in the Edo period, predicted a solar eclipse
on September 1, 1759, which had not been on the then calendar, and proved
his prediction correct by observing it on that island.
There were an uninhabited temple at the top of the mountain
and a mysterious cave on the hill at the back. Nobody knew who had dug
it. Fun-loving children sneaked into the weed-covered very dark cave during
lunch time. We called it an "exploration." The cave was unexpectedly
long and we walked on for about 50 meters driven by curiosity and fear.
Then suddenly it brightened up all around us and we were out of the cave.
In front of us was a pretty grassy opening overlooking the city of Kochi
charred in air raids and sprawling like a sea. The sky was clear and beautiful.
We could not see anything moving in the ruins of the city spreading as
far as the eye could see. We felt as if looking at a painting. The harsh
mid-summer sun was bearing down on us, while red dragonflies were dancing
around in the air undisturbed. "The country lying in ruins after many
wars, yet the mountains and rivers left untouched." This verse written
by Tu Fu, an 18th Century Chinese poet, crossed my mind at that moment.
I went to the observatory at night on August 15. It was just
to check the condition of the faulty 60cm reflector, but the superb weather
encouraged me to stay on observing until morning. I heard a busy chirping
chorus of autumn insects in the bush around the dome. Particularly, "bell-ringing"
crickets add to the atmosphere with their lovely crystal clear singing.
It is not possible to do slow-motion guiding on the 60cm
reflector, but I turned the telescope to the possible new planet 2003 UB313
which was moving in Cetus. It was not so much for photographing but for
checking the tracking accuracy of the 60cm telescope. There was less than
a 3" drift in 30 minutes, almost perfect tracking. However, it will
be very difficult to capture any objects fainter than 20 magnitude during
warm summer months. Pluto is now the most distant planet of the solar system,
but how would it have been taken if the Kuiper belt objects had been known
at the time of its discovery.
After completing a busy observing schedule, I began searching
the eastern sky with the comet seeker at 3 am. I didn't set up the digital
setting circles, because it was tedious. I saw M1 for the first time in
many months. And 4 am the long-awaited M42 in Orion come into view. I felt
my mind "purified" by the beauty of numerous star clusters in
Auriga. And at the start of twilight I felt the sense of deep satisfaction
after completing the day's search. In spite of lack of discovery, comet
search itself is a gratifying endeavor which enables you to appreciate
the genuine beauty of the heavens. It fills your mind with purity and warmth
peculiar to human beings. The world of the stars created in your comet
seeker is known only to you. You will thoroughly enjoy such a world and
would not want anything more.
• August 12
We had the third day of the regular "Astro Class"
today. Luckily, we had reasonably good weather. It was a hot summer day
and the loud chorus of cicadas was heard around us.
Two technicians from Goto Optics had stayed here until two
days ago working on the 60cm reflector. They managed to get the motors
going, but the remote control system still does not work rendering precise
astrometric measurements impossible. The RA digital display is not reliable
either. The motor drive works perfectly well, but it is very difficult
to do accurate guiding on the comet's motion and photograph faint objects.
However, seeing was excellent tonight and details on Jupiter were superb.
After the class, I attached digital setting circles to the
binoculars used for comet search. It was to acquire the comet's position.
By registering two aligning stars initially, you can obtain the coordinates
(RA and declination) of a possible comet which you come across during your
search. However, it was not easy to set it up because I was unfamiliar
with the procedure required by the system. If I was in a hurry, I would
probably observe without the device. As the binoculars was not fixed perfectly
horizontal, errors on the digital setting circles were as large as 15'.
However, I will be happy with any errors within 1 degree because I will
not totally rely on the comet's position shown on the display panel. After
that, a sketch of the field of view will certainly help. It was successful
as the first try on the system. In old days, I converted azimuth and altitude
to RA and declination reducing errors within 5'. Without firmly fixing
the binoculars to the ground, better accuracy will not be expected. Furthermore,
the red digits on the display panel are difficult to read because they
are small and distorted. However, nothing will be more useful than the
digital setting circles when a possible comet is caught in bright twilight.
It is almost as effective as an equatorial mounting.
The gentle footsteps of the autumn comet searching season
seem to be getting closer.