• February 20
On February 1st the streets were covered all over with heavy
snow for the first time in many years. After that it was relatively warm
for a while but cold weather returned. Late at night I went out into the
yard and found the moon shining brightly in the freezingly cold sky, while
Orion and Canis Major were projected prominently with a surprising clarity.
Among all the brightly shining stars I was awestruck particularly by sapphire-like
beauty of bright Sirius. How could you explain this dark sky? I was in
the middle of a city of 300,000 citizens and the moon, close to full moon,
was shining near the zenith. And yet the sky was so dark and the stars
were so brilliant and vibrant that the 60cm reflector could capture 18th-magnitude
stars. A city glow may not affect the sky darkness, as long as the air
In the 1950s the late Mrkos and Padjusakova achieved outstanding
success in comet discovery in the Tatla mountains in Czech Republic. Particularly,
Mrkos's discovery of a new 9th-magnitude comet in the sky astounded me,
the discovery made in spite of light from a 13-day-old moon flooding the
sky. The sky over the 1400-meter-high SKalnate Pleso Observatory must have
been extraordinary. Mrkos even climbed to a meteorological observation
deck (at an elevation of 2800 meters) on top of the observatory and put
in a lot of effort to discover many comets. Coincidentally It is 13-day-old
moon today. It occurred to me that there might be a chance to discover
a 9th-magnitude comet under tonight's dark sky.
They used 25x10cm binoculars, a new weapon for comet discovery,
at the snow-covered fortress-like Skalnate Pleso Observatory and discovered
approximately 20 comets. The quality of their binoculars was far superior
to others in those days. However, all this was behind the iron curtain
and there was no way to know more about their binoculars. Who made these
binoculars? A letter I wrote to Padjusakova was not replied to, though.
According to one unreliable source, the binoculars had a surprisingly wide
5-degree field. Later, I learned from Alcock and others that they were
perhaps made by Somet (Russian?) with an 105cm aperture and a 4.5-degree
field at 25x. Alcock himself was using binoculars and I suspect his binoculars
were the same as theirs. Incidentally, I learned that his binoculars were
searching an area of the sky only 3 degrees away from the spot I discovered
1961f in October, 1961.
Late at night, Leo rose in the east, which tells us that
spring has arrived. The area around Beta Leonis, where I discovered 1961f,
will become visible too. It was 44 years ago. The discoverer of that comet
is now standing here. Come to think of it, the very spot I am standing
now is where I discovered the comet. The memory of the event almost half
a century ago occupied my mind for a while.