Happy Astronomy Day!
Astronomy Day & Memories! Astronomy Day came as I was working in the yard today. I think about a lot of things while I am mowing –making photographs, astronomy, space travel, flying saucers, telescopes, observatories. Betty and Barney Hill dominated my thoughts from about age 9 – 14.
When I was 11, I built a homemade flying saucer detector. I made it from a stiff length of wire that I magnetized. The wire was balanced and suspended from thread, so it would point True North. I bent thinner wire into a loop that encompassed the end of the magnetic wire. The thin wire ran to a lantern battery and loud buzzer. The detector was based on the belief that extraterrestrial craft would disrupt the magnetic field when they are nearby. This would cause the stiff wire to swing and complete the electrical circuit against the circular wire – BUZZZZZZZ!. I would wake up, jump out of bed, and run to the window if they hovered nearby. I put my alien alert unit on the top book shelf. Happy Astronomy Day!
At age 12 I started driving tractor, combine and wheat truck for my Dad in the summer and fall. I saw a 3″ reflector telescope in the Edmunds Scientific catalog that summer and asked my Dad if I could have it for pay after harvest. I placed the order in the late fall. The telescope arrived when we were well into the North Dakota winter. My breath kept fogging up the lenses and I my hands were getting numb. I couldn’t see a thing. It was disappointing.
The summer nights came, and what a difference that made. The skies were fantastic. I grew accustomed to looking through the lenses and found several nebulae, galaxies, moons, planets, binary stars, and few other well known objects. It still amazes me that I saw the deep space objects that I did with just a 3″ reflector, but it is mostly about training the eye to look through the lens. Happy Astronomy Day!
The scope was on a plain tripod and lacked the counter weight and setting circles. Missing was rack and pinion focusing for the lenses! In my reading, I saw a lot of astrophotography, camera mounts, electrical tracking mounts and cameras. I wished I could do the same. My dad built an outdoor toilet before we had indoor plumbing. The structure had a flat roof. I spotted a small wooden ladder and a metal ring that was about 4′ wide by 4′ deep. Dad hefted the heavy ring onto the top of the biffy – instant observatory.
Night after night I watched the unobstructed skies. No sign of extraterrestrials! I do remember at least one instance of a “spotting.” Another farmer, a friend of my dad, owned a wheat farm several miles Northwest of ours. His farmer friend spotted several glowing disc-like “craft” near the Eastern horizon near sundown. Quite hyped over this experience; he called my dad and my best friend’s father who was a border guard at the nearby US/Canadian border. My friend’s father called the Fortuna, ND radar base. They picked the craft up on radar and sent up fighter jets to have a look. The pilots spotted the objects and observed the “craft” until they flew off at incredible speeds. Happy Astronomy Day!
I’m not sure when I became a science nut. Maybe it was when I got a chemistry set for Christmas and set up a lab in the basement of our farm house. I found it on eBay today. It’s a Gilbert. What happened to the popularity of good old chemistry sets? Here’s a link to the one I had.
Build Your Own Observatory (the right way)