The old clivia awakes
It has been a poor winter for local backcountry skiing. Recently there was some cold rain at sea level, and we hoped it would be snow above 3 thousand feet. The Diamond Head Parking Lot in Garibaldi Provincial Park is at the top of a 16 km rough mountain road that begins in the port town of Squamish. The trailhead is at 3200 feet (975 m). On Sunday, March 30, there was a couple of inches of new snow at the parking lot; and while we assembled our gear the precipitation alternated between snow and sleet. As soon as we climbed only a short distance, there was no more rain, just snowfall.
The trail was once a jeep track, so it proceeds upward at a mellow angle through high altitude old-growth forest for 4.5 km to the Red Heather Hut (1400 m). Amazingly, the depth of the new snow around the hut was over 40 cm.
Above the hut there are vast meadows and glades. And some bumps suitable for skiing. When it was time to go, we pointed our skis down the trail and skied continuously for 5 km. Well, I stopped a few times for thigh-breaks.
I was watching the charming movie, Helicopter Canada, made in 1966 by the National Film Board to celebrate the upcoming National Centennial.
In a brief scene showing Molson’s Stadium on Mount Royal, at the top of University Street on the McGill campus, I spotted the little observatory of the Montreal Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. http://goo.gl/maps/Akxi6
The observatory is gone now. It is where I spent many evenings during the mid-sixties. There, I learned astronomy from the wonderful members of the RASC. And that led to a 20-year career in planetariums.
Edited to add: Searching on the Internet, I found a picture of the 6-inch refractor that was housed in the observatory’s dome. I remember it was an accomplishment for me to be trusted to open the observatory and navigate the sky with that instrument. The image is posted at the site of Geof Gaherty, who in the 60s, was older than me and one of the Montreal Centre’s most accomplished amateur astronomers. Click here for the picture.
Yesterday, the Lower Mainland and Georgia Strait was blanketed in low cloud or fog. Just up the hill, on Hollyburn Ridge, it was a beautiful warm sunny day. After all the recent precipitation, we were surprised to find so little snow for skiing.
Today I am remembering the great gift of astronomy that came to all of us from John Dobson, the inventor of the Dobsonian telescope. John died yesterday at the age of 98.
During my lifetime, one of the most profound developments in the technology of telescopes was made by John Dobson. In 1968 telescopes for non-professionals were either cheap and crummy, or precision optical and mechanical devices that were either very expensive, or required a sophisticated workshop to construct. Telescopes with a main lens that was more than 8 inches in diameter were almost too heavy for one person to carry, and they were beyond the means of most. Dobson changed all that.
John Dobson had a passion for showing people the sky. He founded the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers. And to see some of the great celestial celebrites, he realized observers needed a huge telescope. His discovery, and invention, was that if all you wanted to do was have an awesome nighttime view of galaxies, nebulae, and other wonders, you could strip away most of the technology that professional astronomers must have, and make a telescope with only a big glass lens and a few sheets of plywood. The cost was mainly that lens.
While I call this an advancement in technology, most of what he did was simplify the construction of a telescope, and re-think how it would be used. One of his (many) breakthrough discoveries had to do with the telescope bearings. He found that if the ‘scope moved by Teflon sliding on Formica, the coeficient of sliding friction was the same as the coeficient of starting friction. What that means is that if you have a telescope with no clock drive (to follow the stars), and had to push it by hand to keep the highly magnified target in the eyepiece, with Dobson’s bearings, the telescope would move smoothly and stop smoothly.
In 1985 a group of us build a Dob with a 17-1/2 inch mirror to be able to observe the return of Comet Halley. At the time, it was the largest telescope in Manitoba (in terms of the size of the lens). Here is the story of a group of us having our first glimpse of the Comet Halley. In the months that followed, thousands of people observed the comet with that telescope.
That Dobsonian telescope is now here on Bowen Island.
I know it won’t last. What this tells me is that there is some new snow arriving high on the local mountains (where it will stay for a while). And someday soon I may be able to ski the backcountry.