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The Story of a Comet Hunter's Life

My 50 years with Comets

Part 3: The first viewing of the sunspots

    While running around the haunted house scared, I was separated from my parents. Finding a white building near the exit blocking my way, I somewhat felt relieved. I pushed the door to open it. Inside the building was a little dark, but the spring sun through the slightly opened skylight created a warm atmosphere, contrary to the ghastly air of the haunted house.
    What would spring out of the darkness this time? I looked around still scared, then suddenly loud laughs burst out of the darkness.
    "Ha, ha, ha, ha...Welcome, son! Are you scared? I am not a ghost. I am a very kind man and show the stars to the visitors." Saying this, a man came out from behind the furniture. This is the true identity of the "ghost" of the observatory in Geisei Village. I was standing in the corner of the room still frightened. This mysterious man said to me, "Come here, son. I will show you something very unusual," and started operating a strange-looking machine.
    "What is this machine?" The man's quiet manner made me feel easy and I asked him at last.
    "This is called an astronomical telescope and used to watch the stars. But during the daytime we can't see the stars, so I show the visitors sunspots. Watch this." The man began projecting the dazzlingly bright sun onto a white sheet of paper.
    The sun's activity might have been high that year (1937). A view of about 10 large and small sunspots all lined up neatly is still etched in my mind firmly, even after 60 years. The face of the good-natured old man (he looked like that to the little boy) of small stature is very clearly imaged on my mind's film. Who in the world is this mysterious gentleman in the haunted house who showed a 6-year old child an astronomical object for the first time. Why was he to appear at Geisei Observatory as a ghost half a century later. By now quick-thinking readers may have realized that this gentleman was Mr. Saizo Goto, a well-known telescope maker. Now I am going to explain to you the mystery behind this and you will believe this bizarre story.
    Mr. Goto established an optical company in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo in 1962. In the 11th year of its operation he "forced his way" into the exhibition accompanied by his wife Tomeko bringing a 10cm equatorial refractor along built by his own company. It was his observatory (called "Solar Hall") at the exhibition where this 6-year-old brat took shelter. Several decades later this kid happened to discover Minor Planet Goto. If this is not a fate, what is? Mr. Goto told me later that he had asked Kochi City to allow him to display his company's telescopes at the exhibition held that year (1937). But his request was turned down for the reason of lack of space. He persisted, though, and the City finally offered a corner space in the haunted house. This is how he happened to operate his "business" called the Solar Hall" on the exhibition ground. There is no way to tell how many people visited this unusual "observatory", but when I visited it in early April there seemed to be nobody else. After the end of the Nangoku Expo, Mr. Goto generously offered this equatorial refractor to the city, but regrettably his goodwill was not accepted. It could be partly because of lack of interest in astronomy among the general public not long after the change of the eras. In spite of this experience Mr. Goto, however, donated planetariums and observatories to his birthplace, the City of Aki, as well as primary and junior high schools. He was well-known for his business acumen, but was prepared to make sacrifices to accomplish whatever was necessary for cultural and scientific development. Mr. Goto's last gift to his hometown was the 60cm reflector established at Geisei Village not far from where he was born.
    To our astonishment Kochi City swept aside his generous offer. (How does astronomy benefit the prefecture?) The thinking of those leading bureaucrats at that time has remained exactly the same since the time of the Nangoku Expo half a century ago. Kochi Prefecture has been putting their efforts in politics, sports, and gambling, but when it comes to science, they have very little understanding of it. This cultural desert, which was once called a "desert island on land", seems not to have changed much in spite of new bridges and improved roads. I take my hat off to Mr. Goto's passion and persistence. He donated his 60cm reflector to the prefecture which held on to outmoded thinking. He had them build a dome for it, too. His primary objective for the donation was to contribute to improvement of the prefecture's scarce scientific resources. This goal has been achieved and the observatory has been successfully in operation since its opening by several dedicated staff members. Although a fewer people know about Mr. Goto now, many people visit the observatory on public viewing nights which are held dozens of times a year and enjoy the views of the heavens. The second objective is to make scientific contributions by discovering new astronomical objects.
    Mr. Goto had donated many telescopes and facilities, but it is disappointing that these are not fully utilized at present. Some of them are left rundown. Some are treated as nothing more than storage space. Geisei Observatory must not be allowed to follow their demise. The telescope is one of the largest built by the company with so much sacrifice. I sincerely hope that the telescope will be used by able hands for many, many years to come. I believe that Mr. Goto appeared as a ghost to have his wish heard. Mr. Saizo Goto, who is not with us any longer, has become Minor Planet 2621 and travels space. His spirit departs his planet and comes down to earth on the observatory's public viewing nights. He sees the popularity of the events and returns to the sky satisfied. It may sound similar to the plot in the Rider on the White Horse (Der Schimmelreiter) by the German novelist Theodor Storm. On some nights when I am observing alone, I hear footsteps wandering around the dome. I feel as if continuing to observe protected by Mr. Goto's spirit, I feel.

Copyright (C) 2005 Tsutomu Seki.