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October 2005

• October 24
    Around this time of year 40 years ago, I was running about madly everyday trying to find out what had happened to Comet Ikeya-Seki, which had plunged into the sun's coronas. Had it survived?
    Searching for the answer, I traveled to the beaches and climbed tall mountains. Wherever I went, I came across ordinary people who were trying to see the comet. This is an indication of how much this comet attracted the attention of the general public.
    Mr. Koichi Ike, a professed "astronomy adventurer", climbed Mt.Bandamori (elevation 765m) many times and made successful observations of the comet. He confirmed the survival of the comet 7 hours before and 17 hours after perihelion from the mountain. He observed the sharp golden-color nucleus and white vapor-like tail whose appearance changed very fast. It was the very image of the comet violently bubbling in one million degree heat. Excited Mr. Ike, who had the face of a rustic, unsophisticated man, called out to the rising sun at the top of his lungs, "Hello!" He definitely heard the echo! Yes, the comet had survived the incredible ordeal. A spectacular show was going to commence before our eyes in cool fall skies. Mr. Ike gave us truly miraculous observations of the comet.
    Forty years later I was driving to Susaki City where I had experienced memorable times. Passing through the Shin-Nagoya Tunnel, I glimpsed the majestic view of distant Mt. Bandamori on the right during the decent toward Susaki. The mountain was blurred and faint in mist, as was my memory of the comet. Time has passed by, the stars have come and gone, and friends have moved on. Born into this world, I want to leave something for future generations. I feel part of my dream and aspiration has been realized. The image of Mt. Bandamori shining in the distance persisted in me...

Majestic Mt. Bandamori seen in the distance

• October 21
    Hot weather still continues in Kochi. The sun is now slightly shifted to the south and the temperature in my upstairs study climbed to 28 degrees C. yesterday. We still need air-conditioning.
    Forty years ago today, October 21, Comet Ikeya-Seki passed perihelion. Day after day, we had very bright, magnificently clear blue skies.

The day Comet Ikeya-Seki passed perihelion.
October 21, 1965

    The comet plunged into the sun's atmosphere past noon that day, but our house and roof (where the observing deck was) had been crowded with reporters since the early morning. I can easily imagine that Mr. Ikeya at Hamamatsu was experiencing the same.

Visitors gathered under the observing deck.
Mr. Koichi Ike (center) and reporters
October 21, 1965

    It is extremely dangerous to observe a comet through a telescope so close to the scorching sun. This made our attempt to see the comet very difficult and we failed to see it during daytime. However, Mr. Koichi Ike of Tosa City, a member of our observing team, succeeded in sighting the comet holding its own from a mountain 7 hours earlier. The comet on its approach to the sun was viewed during the morning by observers at Ueno in Tokyo and Kurashiki. Some members of the general public also saw the comet from the low-lying plains. They all saw the comet quite close to the sun with the naked eye. Mr. M at Ueno told me that he had observed the comet by holding a telescope's solar filter against the sun's disk. Mr. H at Kurashiki successfully photographed the comet and reported it to be 30 or 40 times brighter than full moon. You wouldn't be able to see Venus or full moon if they were so close to the sun. I wonder what the magnitude of Comet Ikeya-Seki was then. Soon after the discovery in September, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory predicted it to become the brightest comet of the century and they were right.
    It is incredible that Dr. Rigollet of France determined the comet to be a Kreutz reaching perihelion on October 21. In those days orbits were calculated mainly by Dr. Cunningham while Dr. Elizabeth Roemer at Flagstaff was at her best in observing.
    I looked out the window to the north and noticed a white glow high up in the sky. I recalled that the white glows looking like snow flakes were dancing around in the blue sky on that particular day 40 years ago. A sound of marching band was heard, perhaps, a late-autumn sports day at an elementary school somewhere. In my mind I was humming the song "Comet Ikeya-Seki" composed by Jose Caleyo.
"The stars come and go, time going by, people moving on"

Click the image for a larger photo

Music "Comet Ikeya-Seki"
Composed by Jose Caleyo of Havana City (October 1965)

• October 11
    This is October 11, the best part of autumn. Forty-four years ago today, I discovered my first comet. It was a perfectly clear autumn day. In contrast, light rain is falling today caused by the stationary autumn rain front.
    In those days I was defeated by my failure to find a comet after more than 10 years of search and experiencing emptiness in life. I finally parted with the 15cm reflector I had been using for many years and began searching with the new 88mm wide-field refractor I had developed. It was the first day I searched with the new comet seeker. I also intended to test it.
    At 4:30 am most of Leo was above the low roof in the east. This wide-field comet seeker was developed for the purpose of searching as much sky as possible in minimum time in twilight. It delivered 3.5-degree field of view, so wide that it could scan most of the eastern sky in half an hour. I used a most conventional method of sweeping by moving the telescope horizontally, beginning at a higher altitude and gradually lowering the telescope toward the horizon. I would usually complete the search a little after 5 am, but that particular morning my telescope was motionless fixed at a certain point in Leo when dawn broke. The telescope was motionless because I found something unusual there. Close at 5 am I came across a faint, pale glow in my field of view when I was searching against brightening twilight. With my training and experience over 10 years I instantly recognized it as a comet without any hesitation.
    After the first discovery, whenever I discovered a comet, I always realized that I had been able to concentrate on my search without any distraction. In my younger days when I was searching with the 15cm reflector, I always felt unsettled in spite of my devotion to searching.
    I was always conscious of discovery and unable to see what I should be able to see. The 88mm comet seeker was different. Its sharp images allowed me to concentrate. The combination of a Namura lens and 33mm Erfle eyepiece was a perfect match. At the time of my first discovery, Mr. "I", who lived 15 kilometers away, was searching the same area as I did using a 10cm reflector at 25x, but the comet escaped his search. The coma of this comet 2' across could be indistinguishable from the background stars without an excellent lens and trained eye, in spite of its 8th-magnitude brightness. Above all, the concentration of mind is extremely important.
    My first discovery was significant in that it gave me strong confidence and taught me how ideally comet search should be.
    As soon as this rain let up, I will resume searching. Only people continuing to work actively throughout their lives will know the happiness and excitement of living.

• October 2
    On this beautiful day I visited my family grave at Hijima in Kochi City. The place resembled a valley deep in the mountains and thick with vegetation. I was surprised to find the graves of a number of well-known figures, both famous and infamous, of the Edo period. I recalled that Keisan Kawatani, an astronomical almanac scholar in the Edo period, had observed the solar eclipse at this place. The eclipse had not been predicted on the calendar published by the then government.
    Tosa (Kochi) was blessed with great astronomers and almanac scholars in those early days. However, it has become a prefecture far behind the rest of the nation in various facilities, particularly in science. Several years ago there was a plan to build a science museum in Kochi City. The plan well progressed, but more or less faded away. Now there is a movement behind the scenes to establish a museum or science museum. This new plan may succeed, though it may take a long while, because this is not government-initiated but moved by private organizations and companies. Many meetings have been held for this purpose. There are a number of observatories of various sizes in Kochi prefecture other than Geisei, but most of them are not very active. Geisei's strength comes from its non-governmental beginning.
    This is around the time when the autumn rain front is stationary bringing about the worst weather conditions in the year. Forty years have passed since Comet Ikeya-Seki was discovered. I remember that I could not see the comet for about a week after the discovery because of bad weather. However, around October 21 when the comet passed perihelion, we had clear skies typical of autumn weather.
    I have received a request for information from Sky & Telescope regarding a feature to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the discovery of Comet Ikeya-Seki. By courtesy of Mr. Eiji Kato I was able to send them a large amount of information. There was a furious exchange of emails at the last minute. I am looking forward to the January issue, which will be available in December.

• October 1
    We are in the autumn rainy season and there have hardly been any clear days. On one rare fine day I was surprised that Mars looked so close to us. Its extraordinary ruddy color was impressive. It is a fine sight that Mars and the Pleiades are rising together above the eastern horizon.
    On October 29 there will be the autumn astronomy class held at Geisei Observatory. In a lecture featuring Mars observation I am thinking of talking about "The Martian Army". This is a science-fiction written by Juza Unno in the 1930s when Martians were believed to inhabit Mars. I still remember this interesting story even more than half a century later. This book could have been the biggest reason for my developing interest in the stars. Only Juza Unno as a scientist could come up with the idea that by taking advantage of the moon's perturbation the earth's collision with Comet Morroe was avoided. It is reported that Unno said that the earth was blue before Gagarin said the same.

Mars and the Pleiades over the observatory dome
21:30 on October 1, 2005
85mm f/2.5 2-minute exposure on ISO400 film

Copyright (C) 2005 Tsutomu Seki.