Comet-hunting telescope – recalling Comet Halley

“Is that the telescope that was used to view Comet Halley back in 1985-1986?” The telescope featured in the previous blog entry was built by Bill Peters and Jay Anderson, with some help from me, in 1985 to observe the famous comet. We all lived in Winnipeg then. We knew that we would be hauling it around to star parties so we could share the comet with the public. We wanted people to look at the simple plywood construction of a Dobsonian telescope and think, “I could make that!” So we left it unpainted and crude. Thousands of folks glimpsed Halley through those optics. [More in the next pane… ]

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That year, in the September 7th issue of the Winnipeg Free Press I wrote an article about Comet Halley. The story was about the pre-dawn observing session on August 27th, 1985. We were concerned because we wanted a dark sky, but the northern heavens pulsed with northern lights. There were three of us, and the telescope, at a dark location outside of town: Bill Peters, David Clingingsmith, and myself. At the time, the 17.5-inch diameter mirror made that the largest telescope in Manitoba.

At 4 AM the comet was high enough to observe, and the telescope was pointing right at it. For 20 minutes the comet rose and we debated whether or not we could see it.

,,,as the first glow of dawn was beginning to wash together with the aurora, I took a long look. I could see the distinctive pattern of stars that we used to identify the spot, and there was no comet. I opened both eyes — people who use microscopes and telescopes soon find it easier to keep both eyes open even though there is only one eyepiece — and tried to relax.

I allowed my eye to wander around the circular telescope field, always conscious of the place where the comet was supposed to be. There was something, it was slightly above the line between the two stars and I could see it only with averted vision. Bill and David agreed. The slight shift in position from the earlier observation was due to the comet’s progress through the solar system.

For the first time in 75 years, Comet Halley was seen from Manitoba — maybe.

While Comet Halley was never spectacular, it was an astronomical celebrity, and people wanted to see it.

Author Mark Twain said, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it.” He did. The return of that comet coincides with the span of a human life.

At several public events, there was a very moving scene that I saw many times. A parent would be there with a child. While the youngster was at the eyepiece, I would hear the parent quietly implore the child to remember this glimpse of the comet because, “you will live to see it again.” The tragic part of that was unsaid, “but next time, I won’t be with you.”


1 Response to “Comet-hunting telescope – recalling Comet Halley”

  1. 1 Ornido April 11, 2010 at 3:20 am

    Nice article about Halley’s Comet, you’ve seen it too 🙂

    I was reminded of the comet and thought of writing about it, see my blog here:

    Thanks Robert!

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