I gave a talk at the town of Tosa at the end of February.
There was a faint sign of spring in the air. The participants were members
of "the University of Senior Citizens" (the Japanese equivalent
of the University of the Third Age), who are over 65 years of age. At lectures
like this I always notice that 90% of the audience is ladies. The same
trend is seen in Kochi City. I wonder if women of this age are more interested
in opportunities to learn than men or men find it difficult to attend such
talks. There are so few men in the audience that I have to look for them.
All of the 100 participants listened to me with great interest.
I told them that, when Ryoma Sakamoto was born at Kamimachi
in Kochi City on November 15, 1835, Halley's Comet at perihelion made a
magnificent appearance over the roofs of the houses at Kamimachi. Ryoma
(meaning a dragon horse) was named after a "flying dragon" in
the night sky, which was most likely Halley's Comet. I also told the audience
that Mr. Saizo Goto from Aki City, Kochi prefecture, who had built Geisei's
60cm reflector, saw Halley's Comet when he was young. He had a burning
desire to see the comet for the second time, but had fallen ill and passed
away before his dream was realized. But his wife Mrs. Tomeko Goto fulfilled
her husband's wish by successfully observing the comet for him with Geisei's
telescope her husband had built. I recited Mrs. Goto's poem to the audience:
The star of Ryoma* and the star of Goto**,
flying around the sky,
together seeking Halley's Comet.
Both Ryoma and Mr. Goto, now turned into asteroids, are flying
through space, I told the audience.
The town of Tosa, where I gave a talk, is near famous Sameura
Dam. I returned home via Kuishiyama Mountain (1180mjinstead of driving
west through Otoyo town.
* 2835 Ryoma (1982 WF)
** 2621 Goto (1981 CA)
Mr. Isamo Akita of Joyo City came to see me. He has been
serving as president of "Hoshi no Hiroba" (the Star Square) for
many years. He was accompanied by Mr. Hongu and Mr. Kameyama who work for
NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation).
It was around 1975, I believe, when the American comet hunter
Mr. Bortle visited me. If my memory serves me correct, Mr. Shigeru Yoshida
and Mr. Akita were with him. After showing them Geisei's facilities, I
took them on a sightseeing trip to Muroto-misaki (Cape Muroto). Mr. Yasuo
Yabu and Mr. Syuichi Nakano joined us, too. At that time Geisei's 60cm
reflector hadn't been installed yet. I think it was a little before the
great comet West appeared.
I showed them our equipment inside the 6-meter dome at the
observatory. Mr. Kameyama is a member of NTT Astronomy Club and quite knowledgeable
of telescopes. He gave me advice on Geisei's future facilities. He visited
Mr. Koichi Ike at Chiba and told me about him. Mr. Ike was a comet hunter
who had lived in Tosa City in Kochi prefecture for many years. Mr. Kameyama
showed me a photograph of a 12.5-cm comet seeker refractor, Mr. Ikefs long-time
favorite. This refractorfs superb objective lens was ground by the renowned
optician Mr. Namura of Shiga, who also made my 9-cm come seekerfs lens.
Mr. Ikefs sole achievement was the independent discovery of the periodic
comet Kopff around 1964.
Mr. Ike had enjoyed searching for comets over half a century.
His search results aside, he had been good company to me. At the time of
Comet Ikeya-Seki's grazing of the sun in 1965, Mr. Ike and I rushed to
the mountains and beaches looking for a chance to observe the comet and
managed to make valuable observations. Forty years later, as Mr. Ike's
grey hairs tell the passing of time, our memory of the excitement has become
faded and hazy.
There must be many comet hunters in the world like Mr. Ike,
who have been quietly dedicating their time and effort to comet search
but without being rewarded with success. I am looking forward to talking
with such hunters, whom I have never met, at the Comet Conference at Niigata
prefecture in April and listening to their pains and disappointment. I
am one of them who had experienced a defeat in spite of 10 years of search
with a 15-cm reflector. These comet hunters will never become known to
the world until they discover a comet. But they must be wonderful people
dedicated to comet search, though not blessed with luck yet.
Mr. Akita, Mr. Hongu, and Mr. Kameyama
(from left to right) at Geisei Observatory
I visited an observatory situated at Kuma Kogen Highland
in neighboring Ehime prefecture on February 23. I was accompanied by Mr.
Nakauchi and Mr. Takahashi from Kochi prefectural governmentfs Life-Long
Learning Department. For many years Mr. Akimasa Nakamura has been taking
good care of the observatory while doing excellent work in discovery and
observation of the Solar System objects. Although this was my first visit
to the observatory, I have often driven along the national highway via
Kuma Kogen Highland on my way to Matsuyama, always wondering where the
observatory would be. Normally, this area is completely covered with snow
around this time of year, but on this trip there was no sign of snow anywhere
due to the unusually warm winter. I found the observatory located one kilometer
off the highway, farther than I had expected, and was built in a basin
surrounded by mountains. I was told that fog often occurs in this area
and it was one of the two places most frequently affected by bad weather
in Shikoku; the other is the township of Otoyo where Kajigamori Observatory
The 60cm reflector, the main telescope of Kuma Kogen Astronomical
Observatory, is much more compact and light-weight compared with Geiseifs
60cm reflector. The fork-mount for Geiseifs reflector was built for a 75cm
telescope. It is bulky and observers tend to be overwhelmed by its size,
while Kuma Kogenfs telescope looked easier to operate because of its compactness.
I was told that that the telescope had already been installed
when Mr. Nakamura joined the observatory. There is no perfect telescope
even if it is a product of a renowned telescope maker and any shortcoming
will have to be compensated for by the skills of the observer. Mr. Nakamura
said that he had fixed defects and made some improvements to keep the telescope
in operation. I believe that the telescope has worked to its full capacity
and made great achievements owing to Mr. Nakamurafs excellent skill and
There are many one-meter-size telescopes operating in Japan,
but my honest feeling is that there are very few skilled observers to fully
utilize the capacity of these large telescopes. I believe genuine astronomical
achievements can be made largely by skills of observers, regardless of
the size of their telescopes. It is well known that some amateurs produce
outstanding results using small instruments no more than 20 cm in aperture.
I have come to think strongly that it is of the utmost importance for observatories
(including Geisei) to produce good observers, instead of boasting the large
size of the telescopes. This is what I learned from this visit to Kuma
Kogen Astronomical Observatory.
At Kuma Kogen Astronomical Observatory (February 23)
Mr. Akimasa Nakamura at center
I came to the observatory yesterday and today. Although the
moon rose past midnight, the sky was quite transparent. After a photographic
search by the 60cm reflector, I swept the eastern sky for the first time
in many days. I avoided the southeastern sky where the moon was present
and searched the sky from due east to northeast.
I discovered my second Comet Seki far back in February 1967
in Hercules. Hercules was shining in the eastern sky tonight. In those
days I was using 12cm binoculars equipped with the azimuth and altitude
rings to determine the objectfs position and converted their readings to
the equatorial coordinates. But tonight I read the right ascension and
declination directly from the "Navigator" digital setting
circles which was accurately set up. When M13 in Hercules came into view
during sweeping, I found its position displayed on Navigator very well
matching that on a star chart. It may be impossible to discover 11th-magnitude
comets these day. I am fully aware that it is going to be a long haul to
discover a new comet, but I continue to sweep the sky as a daily routine.
Very bright Vega was already in the northeastern sky and
the magnificent Cygnus cross was lying stately along the mountain ridges.
How beautiful the Milky Way is! Among all types of observing, I believe
searching for a new comet provides the best way to appreciate the beauty
of the starry night.
The 37th Comet Conference will be held in Niigata prefecture
this April. I would like to share the joy and hardship of comet search
as well as ambitions for the future with practicing comet hunters. As a
comet hunter who experienced a defeat after 10 years of search, I understand
their agonizing experience very well.