Skyward, July 2023 A little religion, but not too much. David H. Levy As an undergraduate student at Acadia University, in the Canadian maritime province of Nova Scotia, my geology professor was trying to teach us about the water cycle. Despite reams of published evidence, the best document he could come up with was this beautiful line from Ecclesiastes: “All the rivers run into the sea, Yet the sea is not full, Unto the place whither the rivers go, Thither they go again.” –Ecclesisastes 1.7. Dr. George Stevens’s comment had a profound impact on me. First, as a budding young scientist, it opened my mind to the relationship between the night sky and Scripture, and second, later as my passion for the arts grew, it reminded me of how ancient peoples viewed the night sky. From the “11 stars” symbolizing Jacob’s brothers, to the line in Amos about “the seven stars” of the Pleiades, to his aggressive tone with Job (9:5-8): “Who removeth the mountains, and they know it not, (possibly referring to the evolution of the Earth); Who maketh the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades? Who shaketh the Earth out of her place (a big earthquake or a major […]
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Skyward June 2023 Wendee among the stars David H. Levy Never in my life did I appreciate the peace and beauty of the night sky as I do now. It offers solace; it brings peace. And now more than eight months since my wife Wendee’s death, it is an easy reminder of why I love the sky. Over many years, I have been reading brief poems for multiple online and personal sessions. One of my favourites is the Denver Astronomical Society, which I first joined in May of 1963 while I was a patient at the Jewish National Home for Asthmatic Children in Denver. Recently they even elected me as their poet laureate. Like the night sky, poetry brings peace. The days go on; I watch the news, the details of war, of debt, of artificial intelligence well beyond my own, of murder, theft, and lies. But as the Sun sinks in the west, the shadow of our planet rises in the east, and with the daily darkening of the sky comes a bigger picture. The Universe does not care about the details; our days and years are nanoseconds in the cosmic timescale. But when we look toward the sky, […]
Skyward – A magic beagle and the stars April 2023 David H. Levy It is my honor to introduce you, dear readers, this month to my latest book, “Clipper, Cosmos, and Children: Finding the Eureka moment.” It is a book specially designed to inspire young people to enjoy the night sky. Whether you are physically young, or even just young at heart, this new book is meant to inspire you to reach for the stars. This book’s genesis was one day a few years ago. As I strolled into the office in the east wing of our home, I saw Wendee engrossed in the reading of an old book entitled Clipper. “When did you write this book?”she inquired. “I wrote it when I was ten. Around 1958.” Not a word about the stars in it. “David, this is the best book I have ever read of yours. In fact,” she laughed, “all your other books have gone downhill since this one.” She asked me that day to rewrite Clipper as an astronomy book. I did, and the book is now published by RJI publishing in 2022 and is available from Amazon for about $20. As I wrote and revised the […]
Of comets, more comets, and Fritz Zwicky Since October 1965, when I spotted my first comet, Comet Ikeya-Seki, I have seen 227 different comets. Near the dawn of my passion for the night sky, watching that mighty comet rise, apparently right out the St. Lawrence River, was a sight I shall never forget. The two most recent comets I have seen share the same name; they are both called Comet ZTF for Zwicky Transit Facility. This project t uses a new camera that offers a very wide field of view. The camera is attached to the large 48-inch Oschin Schmidt camera at Palomar. This project has a rich history. It is loosely named for astronomer Fritz Zwicky, one of the founding astronomers at Palomar and one of the foremost scientists of the last century. He developed not the big Schmidt but the original smaller 18-inch Schmidt camera, the very first telescope atop that mountain. Since this project is named after Zwicky, why are its comets called “ZTF” instead of just Zwicky? It is because the comets are named for the project, not the man. The historical Zwicky actually had little interest in comets. His career leaned towards the big questions […]
Skyward February 2023 David H. Levy Back to the Moon I shouldn’t have been surprised by the complete success of the Artemis mission last fall. NASA’s A team of engineers really know what they are doing. The mission was fun to watch, particularly the brilliant light when the msain engines lit up, and it provided some hope that we may actually return to the Moon, someday soon. But somehow, it isn’t the same. Something is missing. For those of us who were alive and young in 1961, do you remember President Kennedy’s poignant speech to Congress on May 25, 1961, when he asked the nation to commit itself to landing a person on the Moon? Only three days after my 13th birthday, this was a call I heard distinctly. I did miss the fact that this was the second of three speeches. The fireest call was during his inaugural address: “Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science, instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars…” And at Rice University he gave his third: “We choose to go to the Moon.” On August 25 of the summer of 1960, I observed a 99.2% partial eclipse of […]
“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, But in battalions.” (Hamlet 4.5.76-77) This column begins with a delightful quotation from Hamlet, where King Claudius reflects on the deaths of Hamlet’s father, Polonius, and the madness of Ophelia. In this lonely period of my own life, the one constant I have is being able to continue doing the stargazing that I love so much. In recent months, the losses of Don Machholz, Constantine Papacosmas, and Wendee have tested the strength of observing the night sky as never before. But I must add to this the passing of my closest friend from my youth, Carl Jorgensen, on October 18. Of these four transitions that occurred late this year two of them—Don and Carl, both died from Covid. This is strong evidence that we are nowhere near being done with this dreadful illness. Our lifelong friendship began in November of 1963. I had just returned from a 14-month stay at the Jewish National Home for Asthmatic Children in Denver. At the observatory of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in Montreal, Isabel Williamson introduced “young Carl Jorgensen” to “young David Levy” and our friendship never wavered over 59 stargazing years after that. […]
As I get older and older, the list of people who depart gets longer and increases with a greater frequency. But now I find myself writing, for the third month in a row, about the loss of someone who meant a lot to me and without whom I do not know how I will continue my own journey through the night sky. Constantine Papacosmas introduced himself to me the first night I entered the old observatory of the Montreal Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. The young observer had just completed a truly fabulous 8-inch reflector which we used once or twice. At that time he was brilliant, creative and inspiring. Within a few years we had become great friends and we spent a lot of time together. One afternoon while walking down a hill to my junior high school classes, a car passed me, then slammed on its brakes about 300 meters away. Putting the car in reverse, the driver screeched backward until it reached me. “Hello David!” It was Constantine. You might have read a few months ago the story of how I got my own 8-inch reflector, Pegasus. It was a loaner scope. By the […]
Skyward November 2022 Goodbye, Wendee. Dear readers, What follows is the most difficult article I have ever written. On Friday, September 23, 2022, my wife Wendee died. She had been suffering from metastatic breast cancer for over a decade, but this past summer she was truly and clearly suffering. We had an oncologist who was good clinically but who had no bedside manner, and a nurse practitioner who was very good, but a bit of a pollyanna. Therefore, when Wendee began to destabilize by the hour near the end of September, I was just not prepared for it. Wendee and I were together for more than thirty years, and we were married for the last 25 of them. We got together as the result of a fix-up. When Wendee’s Mom, Annette Wallach, and my Mom, Edith Pailet Levy, resumed their childhood friendship in 1985, my father has just died from Alzheimer’s Disease. They got together in Montreal and immediately shared stories about their children. Wendee, it turned out, had just separated from her first husband and I was long since divcorced from my “practice wife.” They decided to try to bring us together. Wendee was the first to reject the […]
On first looking through Baade’s window Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold, And many goodly stars and clusters seen; Round celestial islands have I been With telescope after telescope to the night sky hold. Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That Galileo ruled as his demesne; Yet did I never breathe its pure serene Till I heard Baade speak out loud and bold: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new star cluster swims into his ken; Through his majestic window looks upon the Milky Way He star’d at the centre of our galaxy. Like a diamond shining in the sky, with a wild surmise— Silent, through the mists of space and time. (–Keats, Chapman’s Homer sonnet, adapted for this article.) Lying in the western portion of Sagittarius, the archer, is a small region of sky that has unusual importance for astronomers around the world and which to med is one of the most beautiful things in the whole sky. It was most thoroughly studied by the German astronomer Walter Baade while using the great 100-inch Hooker reflector at Mt. Wilson Observatory in California while searching for the center of […]
What an excellent outing with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Young Men’s Encampment! There were about 60 guests on site, and what a pleasure! We started off with a fairly detailed tour of the whole facility followed by a bit of Lunar viewing thru John’s refractor and Cecil running the 20″ Newt… Jim fielded questions in between folks looking at the site and looking thru gear while I demoed the classroom/dome and gave a quick demo of the 14″ SCT… So special thanks to those members! Thanks to Alan, Rusty and Sam who were able to come out, but due to the cloudy weather, I asked that they only come out if they wanted as there would be little to see with the 50% or more cloud cover. As usual, we were tied up with guests and didn’t get much in the line of pictures… but I did take 2 quick shots in the classroom/dome. Again, thanx to the youth group, and you are welcome back any time!!!
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