Skyward for December 2020
David H. Levy
The night of December 17, 1965 changed my life. That was the night I began a search for comets that this goes on to this day. It represents the second most important decision I have ever made, to begin a visual search for comets and exploding stars that are called novae. The first most important decision, of course, was to marry Wendee. Both decisions made my life what it is today.
Usually in Montreal, November, December, and April are the cloudiest months. Therefore I wasn’t counting on a clear sky that evening. After a Friday evening dinner with my family, I walked over to my friend Tom Meyer’s home and we visited for a while. Afterwards, around 11 pm. I took Clipper, our little beagle, for a walk towards the summit of the hill on which we lived.
It was during this little stroll with Clipper that things began to change. Towards the west there appeared to be some lightening of cloud cover, and soon after, clearing. Within about 15 minutes large swaths of sky were showing some stars. I couldn’t believe it. I turned toward home, and for a few seconds Clipper and I enjoyed a tug-of-war until he gave up and walked back home with me. Just before midnight on the 17th, I began my first comet hunting and I scanned the sky between Pollux and Castor, in the constellation of Gemini. The clouds returned after that.
As the famous ABC news reporter Jules Bergman said on the launch of Telstar, the world’s first active telecommunications satellite in 1962, “And it all began today.” For me, it surely did. In December 2020, fifty-five years will have passed, and I still am searching almost every clear night. There are 22 comets roaming about the solar system with the Levy name on them, plus one named Jarnac. Jarnac Observatory is the name of our observing site here in Vail, Arizona and is named in turn after my grandfather’s cottage, Jarnac, near Ripon, Quebec. An object was found and automatically reported by Tom Glinos, who once had an automated telescope here. Because he incorrectly identified the object as an asteroid, when it turned out that it sported a tail and was reclassified as a comet, it was named, following the rules, for the observatory, not for the discoverer. Thus, my total is now 23 comets. If my grandfather knew that his beloved cottage (and later observatory) now had a comet with its name on it, he would be dancing all over heaven. It is a happy story that still goes on today.
David H. Levy
The caption for the picture is:
“I have owned and used Pegasus, an 8-inch diameter Cave reflector, for more than half a century. In this picture, camper Andy Bauman and I are pointing Pegasus to project the Sun, at the Adirondack Science Camp, in 1966.I used this telescope on my first night of comet hunting in 1965.”
Photograph by Joe Howard.
David H. Levy
National sharing the Sky Foundation.
Ad amorem nocte caelum.
Ego diligo in nocte caelum.
Dona nobis pacem.