The Venus Transit: A Q&A with Dan Koehler, Associate with Yerkes Observatory at the University of Chicago (Part 2)

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Patte:             We left off with your brief history of the Mt. Wilson Observatory. Now it would be fun to be introduced to some of the amazing telescopes and especially meet the co-host of this magnificent event.

Dan:                It would be my pleasure to show you around. You will be impressed observing the Venus Transit through some of these incredible instruments.

Among the telescopes pointed at the sun this afternoon is one we are particularly fond            of … a four-inch diameter refracting (lens-type) instrument built in 1875 and owned by astronomy educator and enthusiast John Briggs of Eagle, CO, and the HUT Observatory (operated by the Mittelman Foundation). John is the other co-host of theMt.Wilsonconference and also a well-known expert on the subject of astronomical history and telescopes. He actually drove all the way from Eagle, CO, to bring half a dozen of his personal telescopes here for all of us to enjoy, and now is the perfect opportunity to introduce you to John.

Patte:             John, it is such a pleasure to meet you. You have assembled a beautiful collection of      telescopes for this event. Can you tell me something about this gorgeous brass antique telescope with the 1875 inscription?

John:              This scope was manufactured by the firm of Alvan Clark and Sons of Cambridgeport, MA … the same company that fashioned the 36-inch lenses for the Lick refractor on Mt. Hamilton in Northern California. This Alvan Clark was one of nine instruments ordered by the United States Naval Observatory to view the Venus transit of 1882, and functioned as a “back-up” to the other eight telescopes. It was never actually used to view the 19th century event, and I thought it would be most fitting to bring the instrument toMt.Wilson to finally, after nearly 130 years, view the event it was built to observe.

Please enjoy all the telescopes here today. Everyone is very friendly and happy to encourage you to view the transit through their telescopes, vintage and new.

Patte:             Thank you so much John and now, Dan, can you fill me in on some of the events that occurred Sunday and Monday leading up to the Venus Transit today?

Dan:                Sunday (June 3) many lectures took place in our Observatory auditorium. Professor Harold A. McAlister, Director of the Mt. Wilson Observatory, spoke on “Mt. Wilson Observatory in its Second Century,” which was followed up by a beautiful presentation of star maps entitled “Star Maps: Celestial Cartography from Ancient to Modern Times” with Professor Nick Kanas from the University of California at San Francisco. Dr. Donald K. Yeomans, Manager from the NASA Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL spoke on “Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us”; it was very interesting.

Monday (June 4), Dr. Sara Schechner, David P. Wheatland Curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments fromHarvardUniversity, spoke on “Politics and the Dimensions of the Solar System: Colonial American Observations of the Transit of Venus.” One of the highlights was Professor Owen Gingerich fromHarvardUniversitywho spoke on “The Greatest Myth in the History of Astronomy.” Later in the evening we all gathered in the 100-inch dome for a dinner on the Observing Floor under the open dome, followed by observing with the 60-inch telescope until midnight.

Patte:             You have had a wonderful conference culminating with the magic of the Transit of Venus.

Dan:                Yes, this has been a special lifetime event. Another special event today just now              occurred as one of our lecture speakers, Dr. Sara Schechner fromHarvardUniversity was proposed to while we have been talking.

Patte:             Oh dear … how romantic! Venus, the planet named for the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Love under the stars. It can’t get any better!

If you care to comment about this column, please email me at pattebarham@hotmail.com.

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