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The Story of a Comet Hunter's Life

My 50 years with Comets

Part 4: Halley's Comet and a Dream

    Not long after the end of the war, there was a radio drama with the plot developing like this:
    A thief escaped into an observatory deep in the mountains. The thief has always lived a life on the dark side of society committing crime after crime. At the observatory after escaping society, he begins to live a life of reflection and repentant, encouraged by the kind-hearted observatory staff. He has experienced a world he had never dreamed of and became fascinated by the universe while working at the observatory taking photographs of distant galaxies for research. The story ends when he starts to follow a path to a professional astronomer leaving his dark past behind. When I listened to this radio drama, I was reminded of a strange fate of life. Frightened at the haunted house when I was a child, I ran into an observatory where Mr. Goto showed me sunspots. From that experience I became interested in astronomy.
    Incidentally, there were many high quality radio dramas soon after the war. There were no commercial radio stations then. Today's airwaves are flooded with hundreds of stations, but in those days we could receive only NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) in Shikoku and it was enjoying a very high popularity rating. There was a drama titled "the Footsteps" broadcast in autumn of 1946. It depicted pain and distress of the mother who had been waiting for her conscripted son's return at the end of the war. One particular scene was the best of all the radio dramas. In desolate streets of town depressed by the defeat a characteristic high-pitched sound of footsteps is getting closer second by second to her doorway. It created an intense anticipation and a frightening moment. Amid a flood of trashy programs, excellent programs remain in listeners' memory forever
    I hadn't had the opportunity to see Mr. Goto for almost 40 years since the exposition, but after our dream observatory was built at Geisei Village I had maintained frequent correspondence with him.
    The primary objective of the observatory is to make it known and accessible to the public, as mentioned earlier. The second objective is to use the facilities for scientific purposes and contributions. In fact Mr. Goto had a third objective. He saw Halley's Comet in his youth and wanted to see it one more time. For that purpose, he thought, the observatory newly established at Geisei Village would be very useful. It was his last dream in his long astronomical career.
    Geisei Observatory was opened in April 1981 with Mr. and Mrs. Goto themselves present along with Mr. Masatoshi Kitamura of the National Observatory, Mr. Tsutomu Sakagami of Kyushu, and Mr. Minoru Honda of Kurashiki. However, the observatory had started "its operation" a little earlier than that. It is an endearing memory that I found the periodical comet Longmore after sneaking into the observatory one night in January, while the dome was not operative as the observatory was still under construction and not connected to power. In those days I used Kodak's 103a and Fuji FLO-II glass photographic plates. I began patrolling the sky under perfect skies where gegenschein was so bright that it could fog the plates. I was thoroughly prepared for Halley's return, but had an idea which I hadn't told anybody. I wanted to name the first minor planet I would discover at this observatory in honor of Mr. Goto . My efforts was rewarded by the discovery of the minor planet 1981CA, which was found in Leo on February 9, 1981. Without any hesitation I proposed naming this minor planet "Goto." However, for naming a minor planet the object is required to be detected at four oppositions. The approval of this proposal by the Smithsonian took place in 1984 at the time of the arrival of Halley's Comet.
    Mr. Goto had long been a member of OAA since its inception and I heard that he had been a good friend of Dr. Issei Yamamoto's. We have discovered and/or observed about 2000 minor planets at Geisei Observatory, 110 of which have been confirmed and being named. Naming of the minor planets after OAA's earlier leaders is in progress with assistance from Mr. Ken Sato and Mr. Ichiro Hasegawa. When this is completed, the current phase of Geisei's work related to minor planets will come to an end.

    Observation of Halley's Comet at its second apparition this century succeeded in September 1984. That night a woman writer accompanying a reporter from Tokyo Asahi Newspaper wrote us a poem commemorating Japan's first sighting of the comet by Geisei.
Encountering the star long awaiting
amid a chorus of insects' chirping
    That night, in fact, a loud chorus of unseasonal chirps of autumn insects was heard in the bush around the observatory. When insects' chirping is heard with the arrival of autumn, even now I remember the days we were tracking Halley's Comet; agonizing 40 minutes with my eye fixed on a guide star. A CCD high-definition television camera was following my activity all night in the normally solitary dome. They were the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) 's crew for reporting on Halley's Comet. When they went to the Smithsonian Institution in the U.S. for preliminary reporting on the comet, Dr. Marsden told them that Mt. John in New Zealand or Geisei in Japan would be the observatories to capture Halley's Comet first in the East.
    Around that time the sky over Geisei was still dark. When we found Halley's comet, its total magnitude was 20.5. In those days CCDs were generally uncommon and the situation would be quite different today.
    However, Mr. Goto was ill in bed then. He was very pleased with Japan's first sighting of Halley's Comet by Geisei and sent us a congratulatory message dictated to Mrs. Goto. He was dreaming about his second encounter with the comet. Everyday he looked at the comet's orbital path and a photograph taken at the time of detection. However, the comet's 76-year orbital period was too long for a human lifespan. Close to its return, Mr. Goto passed away. Sadly, his dream of seeing the comet twice was unfulfilled. However, I believe he saw Halley's Comet twice. It is because of a totally unexpected development in April of the following year, 1986, when Halley's comet was approaching the earth.

Copyright (C) 2005 Tsutomu Seki.