Tales from the Golden Age: The Telescopes of Sir Patrick Moore (1923-2012)

Sir Patrick Moore(1923-2012), seen here standing beside his 5 inch f/12 Cooke refractor. Image credit: Martin Mobberley.

The late Sir Patrick Moore(1923-2012) needs no introduction to the astronomical community. A towering figure for over half a century, he was adored (and sadly, disliked by a few) by a legion of fans the world over as the eccentric, silver tongued English writer and presenter of the longest running television series in history; BBC Sky at Night; with an encyclopedic knowledge of astronomy. Inexplicable to Americans, gin guzzling, pipe smoking, xenophobic, insensitive, incomprehensible to some, inflexible, irksome, he was also warm, passionate, generous to a fault, loyal to his friends, an institution in his own right, and a law unto himself!

As a fan of Sir Patrick from childhood, I bought, borrowed and read many of his books. He was the person who first sparked my interest in astronomy, and even as my hobby turned into a profession of sorts, he always returned my phone calls and promptly responded to my letters in his unique way; using an old fashioned type writer. But while there was hardly a telescope, amateur or professional, that the great man didn’t peer through during his prolific career, it pays to take a closer look at the kinds of instruments he personally owned.

Expressing an interest in the night sky since he was knee high to a proverbial grasshopper, Moore was lucky enough to live right across the road from the tycoon, Frederick J. Hanbury, at East Grinstead, West Sussex, who had a lavishly equipped observatory erected on his estate, with a 6.1 inch Cooke refractor as its Pièce de résistance. But Hanbury himself was far too busy to run the observatory from day to day, instead hiring a full time assistant, William Saddler Franks(1851-1935), to  demonstrate at the telescope, and tasked with entertaining Hanbury’s frequent guests and business acquaintances with the glories of the Sun, Moon, planets and distant stars. On quieter evenings, Franks would return to more routine work, measuring double stars with a filar micrometer and completing sketches of what he saw at the eyepiece. Franks struck up a strong bond of friendship with the young Patrick Moore and it was here that he probably enjoyed his first views of the night sky through a telescope.

Acting on a recommendation he received from the Dr. W.H. Steavenson (a prominent member of the British Astronomical Association in those days), Patrick, accompanied by his mother, took a train up to London to visit the workshops of the leading telescope maker for amateurs in the country; Broadhurst Clarkson, where he acquired his first proper instrument; a 3 inch achromatic refractor for the princely sum of £7 10 shillings. This was quite a bit of cash to splash out for the time. Martin Mobberley, writing in his excellent biography of Moore: It Came From Outer Space Wearing an RAF Blazer! estimates that it was the equivalent of about two weeks wages for an ordinary working man. But a fine telescope it was nonetheless!

Sir Patrick Moore’s newly restored 3″ f/12 Broadhurst Clarkson refractor.

Already almost a quarter of a century old (circa 1910 vintage), the shining, rolled brass tube, housed a very well figured 3 inch object glass with a focal length of three feet (so f/12). The instrument has a smooth, single wheel focuser (like all small refractors of the era) and came equipped with a few eyepieces for low, medium and high power work. Its Achilles’ Heel though, as Moore soon found out to his chagrin, was the flimsy ‘pillar and claw’ mount that accompanied it. While it looked rather ornate in the corner of a stately indoor space, it was next to useless for astronomical purposes. Moore referred to it discontentedly as the ‘blancmange’ but it was quickly replaced by a much more sturdy tripod of extendable height, at an additional cost of 30 shillings.

A rescued Broadhurst Clarkson 3″ f/12 achromat (1940s vintage), field tested by the author.

Though this author has not had the privilege of looking though Sir Patricks particular 3” f/12 achromatic telescope, he has sampled, as it were, a ‘system of particles‘ centred on an 80mm f/11 achromat, but also from shorter and longer ‘particles‘. But more specifically, this author partially restored an essentially identical instrument to Moore’s telescopic alma mater during the autumn of 2012, where he spent a few days testing its optics. The instrument produced very pleasing, high contrast images of the daytime landscape, with very little secondary spectrum. Night time tests showed that stars presented as tight pinpoints of light with almost identical Fraunhofer diffraction rings both inside and outside focus. Lunar views were crisp and sharp at powers up to approximately 150x, and a suite of suitable double stars were also well resolved at the highest magnifications employed. In short, this author was confident that such a telescope would show any experienced observer what the best modern 3 inch refractor could present.

Moore used the instrument extensively, where it presented him with all the showpieces of the night sky. This much is abundantly clear from his many references to the 3 inch in his voluminous published writings of later times. It was with this telescope that he learned his way around the battered face of the Moon; a study that would propel the young man to international notoriety in the years to come.  Indeed, he used his 3 inch Broadhurst Clarkson to suggest his first paper to the BAA entitled, Small Craterlets in the Mare Crisium, in 1937, at the tender age of 14! And while there is no official record of such a presentation, Moore most definitely studied this lunar region with his small telescope. Mobberley, who had the pleasure of examining Moore’s observational records show that while he demonstrated almost no artistic flare at school, his drawings of various lunar features made with the 3 inch and dated to 1940 show that he had, by that time, developed considerable ability to draw complex structures at the eyepiece. And though he would go on to make rapid progress within the ranks of the BAA in the post-war years, the 3 inch Broadhurst Clarkson was probably the only telescope he personally owned right up until about 1950!

While many astronomers consider the Moon to be a form of light pollution, Sir Patrick maintained a lifelong passion for exploring our nearest neighbour in space. For over half a century, astronomers working with some of the largest telescopes in the world were busy photographing its surface, but the relative insensitivity of photographic emulsions during that era meant that there was always visual work to do in fleshing out the finest selenographic details. This kind of work was ideally suited to moderately sized instruments that could be pressed into service fairly frequently. No doubt, it was this possibility that influenced Sir Patrick’s next telescope acquisition, and it would come from his new mentor, Hugh Percy Wilkins(1896–1960), a Welsh–born mechanical engineer and amateur astronomer.

From 1946 to 1956, Wilkins served as the Director of the Lunar Section of the BAA and it was through its meetings and publications that Moore became attracted to Wilkins’ work. Indeed, in many ways, Wilkins and Moore were very much alike. Both were extroverted, more than a little odd, and passionate about everything pertaining to our natural satellite. Wilkins had moved from his native Wales to put down roots at 35 Fairlawn Avenue, Bexleyheath, Kent, only 25 miles north of Moore’s abode at Glencathara, East Grinstead. There the young astronomer enjoyed many fine views through Wilkins’ 12.5 Newtonian. Over the years, Wilkins had produced truly colossal Moon maps, starting with a 24” completed in 1924, and, with the help of Moore, culminating with a 300” lunar map in 1951 and which was considered by some to represent “the culmination of the art of selenography prior to the space age.”

Sir Patrick looking through his trusty 12.5 inch f/6 Newtonian reflector nicknamed ‘Oscar.’ Early 1950s. Image credit: Martin Mobberley.

















When Wilkin’s decided to acquire a larger instrument (a 15.25 inch Newtonian), Moore, having tried and trusted the 12.5 inch, had no hesitation in buying it off him.  With a focal length of 72 inches (so f/6), its primary mirror was made by the noted British telescope maker, Henry Wildey(1913–2003). This new telescope, which Moore affectionately referred to as ‘Oscar,’ was mounted on a heavy duty altazimuth mount equipped, specially designed Ron Irving(1915–2005) with good slow motion controls. And while Moore intended to upgrade the mount to equatorial mode at some point in the future, the astronomical (pun intended) cost that it would incur stopped that project dead in the water. Indeed, ‘Oscar’ was to remain on its original altazimuth mounting for the remainder of Moore’s long life, housed inside a double–ended roll off shed at his home at East Grinstead. This 12.5 inch was arguably the instrument Moore used most often throughout his career to produce some of his finest work.

Oscar in old age, being inspected by the crew of BBC Sky at Night. Image credit: Martin Mobberley.


To say that Sir Patrick Moore was more of a showman, as some of his more envious contemporaries would have claimed, than an observer, would be very far from the truth. One need look no further than his observing logbooks to see that not only was he a regular observer, but he was also capable of great bouts of stamina, well above and beyond the efforts of many amateurs today. One example this author stumbled upon was an entry he made in March 1967 while he was serving as Director of Armagh Planetarium, Northern Ireland. These notes, which are very neat and tidy, show that, despite having access to a very good 10 inch Grubb refractor at the Observatory annexed to the Planetarium, he was using Oscar and a 8.5 inch With Browning Newtonian (acquired sometime in the early 1960s), both of which he had shipped over to Northern Ireland, to make some excellent Jupiter observations, recoding details of both the Jovian disk as well as several transits of the Galilean satellites watched continually over a complete rotation of the planet (so about 10 hours)!

To be continued………..

De Fideli.

Bible Facts Part VII

Continued from Part VI


Carbost, Isle of Skye.

















The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is arguably the most beautiful in its genre, reproduced here from the 1611 King James Version of the Holy Bible. This famous and time honoured Davidic psalm has provided comfort in times of trouble and distress for countless millions of people across the world, and over many generations. Minds young and old soak up its words after just a few recitals.


The City of David, featuring the Dome of the Rock. Image credit: Avraham Graicer.

David and all the Israelites marched to Jerusalem (that is, Jebus). The Jebusites who lived there said to David, ‘You will not get in here.’ Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion – which is the City of David.

David had said, ‘Whoever leads the attack on the Jebusites will become commander-in-chief.’ Joab son of Zeruiah went up first, and so he received the command.

David then took up residence in the fortress, and so it was called the City of David. He built up the city around it, from the terraces to the surrounding wall, while Joab restored the rest of the city.  And David became more and more powerful, because the Lord Almighty was with him.

1 Chronicles 11:4-9

In this passage from the Old Testament, we learn that Jerusalem was not always known by that name. Prior to David’s forces capturing of the city, it was known as Jebus and inhabited by a tribe known as the Jebusites (see also Exodus 3:8). Once David and his army took the city, it became known thereafter as Jerusalem, the City of David.


Hear, my children, the instruction of a father,
And give attention to know understanding;
 For I give you good doctrine:
Do not forsake my law.
 When I was my father’s son,
Tender and the only one in the sight of my mother,
 He also taught me, and said to me:
“Let your heart retain my words;
Keep my commands, and live.
Get wisdom! Get understanding!
Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;
Love her, and she will keep you.
Wisdom is the principal thing;
Therefore get wisdom.
And in all your getting, get understanding.
Exalt her, and she will promote you;
She will bring you honor, when you embrace her.
She will place on your head an ornament of grace;
A crown of glory she will deliver to you.”

Hear, my son, and receive my sayings,
And the years of your life will be many.

Proverbs 4:1-10

The Bible encourages us to seek righteous wisdom. King Solomon himself likens it to a “crown of glory”. God gave us big brains to learn the things that will improve our lives and the lives of others. All of God’s enemies despise true wisdom.


A quiet country road near my home.

















When Jotham heard about this, he climbed to the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted,

“Listen to me, citizens of Shechem!
    Listen to me if you want God to listen to you!
Once upon a time the trees decided to choose a king.
    First they said to the olive tree,
    ‘Be our king!’
 But the olive tree refused, saying,
‘Should I quit producing the olive oil
    that blesses both God and people,
    just to wave back and forth over the trees?’

“Then they said to the fig tree,
    ‘You be our king!’
But the fig tree also refused, saying,
‘Should I quit producing my sweet fruit
    just to wave back and forth over the trees?’

 “Then they said to the grapevine,
    ‘You be our king!’
 But the grapevine also refused, saying,
‘Should I quit producing the wine
    that cheers both God and people,
    just to wave back and forth over the trees?’

 “Then all the trees finally turned to the thornbush and said,
    ‘Come, you be our king!’
 And the thornbush replied to the trees,
‘If you truly want to make me your king,
    come and take shelter in my shade.
If not, let fire come out from me
    and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’”

Judges 9:7-15

Chapter 9 of the Book of Judges is noteworthy in a number of respects. First, it presents a parable in the Old Testament; a style of writing that is far more common in the New Testament. The trees convene to consider who will be king among them. The Olive, vine and fig trees all produce fruit, oil or wine in their season, unlike the thornbush, which yields little of sustenance. The reader will note that the thornbush invites the other trees to lie in its shade; something that would cause them to die. All in all, the parable teaches the folly of choosing a king without consulting the Lord.

In Judges 9:22 we learn that the usurper, Abimelech, ruled as king in Schechem (the first capital of the northern kingdom of Israel) for three years before being deposed. Saul was therefore not the first king in Israel, as is commonly believed. Indeed, the Hebrews actively sought a monarch ever since the time of Gideon.


Now the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. The sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel.

Exodus 24:16-17

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the Lord is commonly described as a consuming fire, such as when He appeared to the emancipated Hebrew nation atop Mount Sinai in the Second Book of Moses. Fire is a useful analogy in describing the Spirit of God. It is ‘living.’ Its heat and light bring us comfort. It is transformative. But when ignored, abused or disrespected, it can wreak destruction on all and sundry. It sorts the wheat from the chaff, reducing everything to its essence. It can never be quenched.


Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

Peace of mind is perhaps the most valuable thing you can gain in this life. When you place your trust in Jesus Christ, a peace that surpasses all things resides in you, like a cool breeze on a hot, summer day.


Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
  and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.

Daniel 2:20-22

It has been said that the survival of humanity depends on how well we understand nature. That is only half true;. it also depends crucially on how well we understand Scripture. Keep reading Scripture and pray that the Lord will give us wisdom and understanding.


There are six things that the Lord hates,
  seven that are an abomination to him:
 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
 a heart that devises wicked plans,
  feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.

                                                                         Proverbs 6:16-19
The God of the Bible condemns all acts of terrorism.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
 And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
 He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”
                                                                  Luke 1:46-55
This beautiful passage from the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, is sometimes called The Magnificat. Here, Mary, a sinner, acknowledges her need of a Saviour, just like every one else. And yet the child that she would bring forth from her womb would be that Saviour. Mary reveals God’s plan for the world. The Lord will be the Great Leveller of History; He will lay low the mighty, scatter the arrogant, and send the rich away empty.
Praise be to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!



“Gideon thanks God for the miracle of the dew” by Marten van Heemskerck (1550). Image credit: Wiki Commons.




























In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Judges 21:25

One of the most compelling reasons to trust the Bible is that it tells a historical narrative (names, places etc), warts and all, irrespective of how we react to it. That said, the last three chapters of the Book of Judges (19 through 21) are out of kilter with the rest of the text in that it must have occurred very early in the history of Israel. The evidence for this comes from the name of the High Priest (necessarily a Levite) at the time; Phinehas, who was the grandson of Aaron, the elder brother of Moses (see Judges 20:28).

These last chapters of Judges recount a horrific story of gang rape, murder, lawlessness and internecine conflict between the tribe of Benjamin and the other tribes of Israel. Above all, it shows what happens when a God fearing society without a righteous king can sink to the depths of depravity with disastrous consequences. The dreadful story these chapters relate has ramifications for all societies that turn their back on the living God.


Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Image credit: Wiki Commons.


The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

We live in uncertain times and many people are understandably anxious about what the future may bring. The internet is full of false prophets setting dates for the return of Christ, the Rapture, the Tribulation and a lot more nonsense besides. They lure gullible people and make them even more anxious. In doing these wicked things, they do more harm than good. Avoid them at all costs!

St. Peter, an apostle of Jesus, provided the correct perspective on how we ought to see God’s sovereign plan unfolding. The Lord wants as large a family as possible and is willing to wait as long as possible to realise it. There are more people alive today than have ever existed in history, so we can begin to see why He would wait.


So don’t be anxious, God’s always in control.

Just keep on keeping on!


Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

Encouraging words for uncertain times.


It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them.  He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.  When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.  Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. ‘Quick, get up!’ he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, ‘Put on your clothes and sandals.’ And Peter did so. ‘Wrap your cloak round you and follow me,’ the angel told him.  Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.  They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

Acts 12:1-10

Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humour!

In this passage from the Book of Acts, Peter is miraculously rescued from prison by an angel of the Lord, who tells him to put on his clothes, sandals and cloak before making his get away! It’s a funny little detail. One’s natural reaction would be to get out at all costs. In such a perilous situation, the last thing on your mind would be your clothes, but the Lord is a cool cookie; He’s got style. First things first. Talk about gracefulness!

Our God is awesome is He not?


Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

1 Timothy 4:15-16

Jesus warned his followers not to follow those who change their doctrines to suit the time and the culture in which they live. We need to be mindful of what deceit actually is. It’s subtle, seemingly progressive and has the outward appearance of being innocuous. But its effects are absolutely lethal.

Doctrines don’t evolve. That’s the most effective trick used by the Adversary in these times. And he holds many under his spell.

Trust what the Bible says and stay true to the doctrines it teaches. Afterall, the truth is timeless.


Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.”  And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.  But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.  And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Acts 3:1-10

Anyone who reads the Gospel accounts with a completely open mind will quickly come to the conclusion that they’re true. They pass all the tests even the hardest sceptic would ask with flying colours. The writers literally couldn’t have made them up!

The Book of Acts provides very powerful evidence of this great truth. Think about it: why would a group of men and women risk their very lives in the aftermath of Jesus’ death and resurrection if it was all just an elaborate hoax? Why did they not cower behind closed doors or go back to their normal way of life but instead risk life and limb, preaching boldly in public places and healing the sick and the infirmed? The only explanation that makes any sense is this; what they witnessed really happened. The Author of Life became a human being and lived among us.


Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him.  And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.

Mark 6:1-6

In this passage from Scripture, we learn that Jesus was rejected by his own people from his own town. It further says that he couldn’t perform the great miracles he had already done elsewhere in Israel. But it was not so much that he couldn’t display his power so much as he wouldn’t. Jesus chose not to engage in miraculous acts there except for a few healings of sick people. Our Lord simply refused to shower miraculous deeds on a place that had rejected his message. It was exactly as the Prophet Isaiah wrote seven centuries before:

Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed.”

Isaiah 6:10

Unbelief is the great barrier that prevents God working in our lives. Remove that barrier and a transformation can begin!

To be continued…………………………

De Fideli.



Tales from the Golden Age: Excerpts from the Life of Leslie C. Peltier.

The distinguished American amateur astronomer, Leslie C. Peltier (1900 – 1980).









Out of whose womb came the ice?

and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?

The waters are hid as with a stone,

and the face of the deep is frozen.

 Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades,

or loose the bands of Orion?

Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?

or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?

Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?

canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?

Job 38:29-33.

Picture a time before radio, before television, computers, cell phones, a time before electricity, running water and central heating. Could anyone possibly be happy in such a world? Could such a time ever be said to be idyllic? After learning of the life of Leslie Copus Peltier, one can begin to understand why that could well be so.

Born in the small town of Delphos, Ohio, on the second day of January 1900, Peltier spent almost his entire life on the family farm called Brookhaven, that was worked by his ancestors since the time before the Civil War. Such rural families formed the basic unit of civilised society. They were self sufficient, hardworking and God fearing. The 50 acres of land was fertile, watered by the nearby Auglaize River, and brought forth crops of corn, wheat and oats in rotation before being revitalised by clover planting. Fresh vegetables were sown, grown and harvested, as were succulent strawberries, cultivated on two acres of land,  which proved to be a valuable source of income for the family every summer.  A half dozen dairy cattle gorged on the fresh blades of grass springing up along the river bank, providing wholesome milk both to drink and to make cream, butter and cheese with. Poultry provided a fresh supply of eggs and a small herd of hogs gave the family a steady supply of ham and sausage. Nothing was wasted. Any surplus foodstuffs were canned, salted or smoked for consumption through the long winters.

But while life was hard, there was a palpable sense of fraternity among the farming communities of Northwestern Ohio, centred as they were in the local Church hall, where meetings were convened to discuss matters of public concern. Both Leslie’s parents were regular Church goers and taught Sunday School to the children. In his famous autobiography; Starlight Nights; the Adventures of a Stargazer; Peltier describes his parents as “living harmoniously” together and this in turn brought happiness and stability to the entire family. “Blessed are they who are raised on a farm,” he was to prophetically write many years later.

The Peltiers were voracious readers. This was a family that knew the Bible, the great classic works of American literature and the immortal poems and plays of Shakespeare. They were also the proud owners of some of the earliest renditions of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Any news from the outside world arrived twice a week in the form of a newspaper, week in and week out. Living so close to nature, it is small wonder that Peltier had a highly developed spiritual sense, which spilled over into his eloquent writings in later life. He got his first encounter with the shining stars at age five, when his mother showed him the brilliant Pleiades which captivated the young boy. And two years later, his father pointed out the mighty planet Jupiter beaming its still yellow light across the sable depths of space. In 1910, two bright comets graced the skies over Ohio. First came 1910a in January, followed by the faithful return of Halley’s Comet in May which enthralled him. But it was not until Peltier was 15 years old that the stars of heaven really began to call him.

Though the family library was a veritable mine of information on just about any topic, there was nothing he could find there that could fully assuage the questions that bubbled up in his fecund mind. But these were sated by a visit to the school library, where he picked up a copy of Martha Evans Martin’s classic work, The Friendly Stars, which enabled the boy to begin to identify, first the brightest stellar luminaries like Vega, Deneb, Altair and Arcturus, but as the weeks and months went by, the stars of lesser glory also, together with the shapes of the constellations to which they were assigned. According to his autobiography, Peltier spent nearly two years learning his way around the night sky. Fascinated by how the fixed stars in the firmament mapped out the passage of time, he would rise at ungodly hours of the night just to get a glimpse of how the sky would look at more respectable hours in the month’s ahead. It was his time machine. And all the while, this great journey of celestial exploration was done entirely without any optical aid. He had, as yet, no telescope to extend the reach of his naked eye. But that was something he would have to remedy sooner rather than later.

Between 1915 and 1917, Leslie attended the local High School and it was there, during his middle year, that he had his first encounter with a telescope. It was not very big but to Leslie it was all he could think about! There it was, boldly displayed in the physics lab, like some kind of museum piece, under lock and key inside a fortress of glass. And while he was permitted to handle the instrument by his instructor, his request to borrow it for a spell was firmly refused. Peltier never divulges the reasons for this rebuttal; perhaps his superiors thought he would damage it or some such, but the event had a somewhat unexpected effect on the young man. Instead of dragging his feet and sulking, it only deepened his resolve to save up and buy one with his own money.

And luckily there was a way of earning coin on the farm. The month of June was high season for picking strawberries at Brookhaven and the boy put his back into filling the crates with the choice summer fruit, each of which earned him two cents. Meanwhile he began leafing through various mail order catalogues in the hope that someone was advertising telescopes for sale. His search came up with not one, but two sources. One firm was offering a 3 inch Bardou refractor for the princely sum of $65. His heart must have sank as he realised he would never be able to afford such an instrument, at least for the foreseeable future. But the other advert gave him good cause for optimism; this time it was a 2 inch refractor offered by a firm in St. Louis for $18. By the end of June 1916, Peltier had saved up that $18 and without a moment’s hesitation despatched his order, together with the payment.

The next nine days must have seemed like an eternity as the young squire anxiously watched for the postwagon to pull up on the dirt road leading up to the homestead. Every morning at 11am he’d be there to greet the postman, but on one faithful morning, he delivered that magical package. In prose that would melt even the hardest heart, Peltier described the ceremonial unboxing;

Plopping on the ground right beside the mailbox I hastily removed the outer wrapping of corrugated paper to find inside a round case of heavy cardboard. I pulled off the cover of this case, and there, wrapped in tissue paper, was my telescope; a beautiful thing of black pebbled leather and shining brass.

pp 53

The telescope was actually designed for terrestrial viewing. Technically, it was a four draw instrument, with an achromatic objective of 2 inch aperture and focal length of 3 feet (so f/18). An additional lens placed between the ocular and the objective provided an upright image but that hardly mattered to the young astronomer. He had a telescope, and it was his pride and his joy!

As the postwagon pulled away, he took his first look through the instrument but was somewhat dismayed to find that it yielded a blurred image. Peltier, you see, knew absolutely nothing about how a telescope works! How could he possibly know? He had to learn how to focus it by moving the outermost drawtube first towards the objective, and then away from the same, until the sharpest, clearest image was presented and that position, he quickly learned, depended on the distance to the object in view. At lunchtime, the family gathered round the newly arrived instrument, for it was truly a thing of wonder! They all had a gander though it, and all were smitten. What a marvellous contrivance a telescope is!

The author’s charming 3 draw spyglass, with a one inch objective.



The instrument, which he affectionately named, the Strawberry Spyglass, came supplied with two eyepieces, delivering powers of 35x and 60x, as well as a solar filter. Peltier quickly learned that in order to optimise its performance, it would have to be rigidly mounted. But the supremely frugal and resourceful Peltier soon solved this problem by hobbling together a disused fence post, an old, heavy millstone and some planks of wood. Let the reader understand; nothing at Brookhaven was discarded; nothing went to waste. The mount allowed the telescope to move smoothly both in azimuth and altitude and was apparently as solid as a proverbial rock.

Leslie Peltier looking through the Strawberry Spyglass.

The Strawberry Spyglass was to be his constant companion under the starry heaven for the next three and a half years. And what a journey it took him on!

He writes:

Despite its diminutive size a 2 inch telescope is fully capable of doing serious work. A quality scope of this aperture will reveal a representative example of every major class of celestial object that can be seen with the very largest instruments.

pp 58.

He marvelled at Jupiter’s constantly changing cloud belts and the bewitching cadence of its Galilean satellites as they lapped the gas giant. He beheld the glory of Saturn’s rings and could even make out the Cassini Division and also managed to track down the distant planets, Uranus and Neptune, with the 2 inch. He followed with singular joy the evolving phases of the Moon, watching how its craters and mountains changed their aspect as the angle of sunlight striking its surface advanced over time. This was all well and good but he wanted to see more, much more. Unfortunately, his by now heavily soiled and tattered copy of The Friendly Stars would not yield the information he desperately craved.

Sensing his frustration, Peltier’s mother presented him with a new book as a Christmas gift; A Field Book of the Stars, by William Tyler Olcott. A law graduate from the University of Connecticut, Olcott ditched it all to become an astronomical evangelist, writing popular astronomy texts for the growing number of people across the country who owned small telescopes. Needless to say, Peltier devoured its contents, conveniently arranged as they were into the 12 months of the astronomical year. It was with this book and the simple charts it contained, that Peltier enjoyed, as the seasons progressed, his virginal sightings of various bright nebulae, open clusters and a rich assortment of double stars. But what really caught his attention was a curious footnote written by Olcott:

Many readers of this book may be fortunate possessors of small telescopes. It may be that they have observed the heavens from time to time in a desultory way and have no notion that valuable and practical scientific research work can be accomplished with a small glass. If those who are willing to aid in the great work of astrophysical research will communicate with the author he will be pleased to outline a most practical and fascinating line of observational work which will enable them to share in the advance of our knowledge respecting the stars. It is work that involves no mathematics and its details are easily mastered.

pp 63

This was dynamite to the young star gazer! How on God’s Earth could he turn down the offer of becoming an “astrophysical researcher?” It had, afterall, a rather exalted ring to it. So he wrote off to Olcott, and to his great relief, the gentleman duly replied, explaining that he, together with seven other active telescopists, had formed the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). Mr. Olcott further added that if Peltier was in possession of a 3 inch or larger telescope, he could join the new organisation!

A 3 inch! Peltier only had a two inch, of course, but after a spell he worked up the courage to apply anyway. Though he spins an interesting yarn on what happened next in his autobiography, this author strongly suspects that the young astronomer deliberately fudged the issue by making the number 2 look like a 3 on the form! Would you shoot him or salute him?

His application was accepted, and the rest, as they say, is history!

Peltier received his first charts from the AAVSO indicating the positions of the target variable stars he was to monitor. The procedure couldn’t be simpler. One would estimate the magnitude of the variable star marked on the charts using nearby stars of fixed magnitude, some brighter and some fainter than the variable under study. But Peltier found, not surprisingly, that this was easier said than done. He first had to find those star fields with a spyglass offering a small field. Using a copy of Upton’s Star Atlas (which served him well for 30 years before dying a tattered death), his maiden surveys were made during the cold nights of February 1918, where he attempted to track down R Leonis. But try as he may, he couldn’t find the correct field for several nights until fortune finally smiled on him on the evening of March 1 1918, when the Strawberry Spyglass first centred Omicron Leonis and moving “a little more than one field to the northeast,” he stumbled upon the little triangle of stars, one of which represented the Mira type variable he was after. Though this author has never looked through Peltier’s 2 inch telescope, it can be deduced that since the distance between Omicron and R Leonis is about 2.3 degrees, his telescope must have offered a true field of about 2 angular degrees; wide enough to monitor many variable stars. This was the first of legion magnitude estimates Peltier was to make and submit to the AAVSO over the decades to come.

By this time, Peltier had dropped out of High School, not because of any premeditated rebellion against his parents or society in general, but out of sheer necessity. Schooling in those days was often interrupted, owing to circumstances beyond his control. His country was at war and his older brother, Kenneth, had enlisted in the army, serving in war ravaged France. Thus, extra duties had to be assigned to him at Brookhaven. But Peltier’s three years of further education were looked back upon with great affection. And like most young people in those days before the relative comfort of the school bus, he had to peddle the 4 mile trip to and from his home in all weathers. Peltier explains in his autobiography how he was particularly captivated by the biology lessons. The school had two microscopes stored under large bell jars to keep the dust at bay, and he was taught the rudiments of cell biology and histology, cutting thin sections with the microtome and staining them with all manner of dyes. He was particularly captivated by the hay infusion; made by adding a handful of hay to a jar of rainwater and letting it stand on a window sill for a few days before a thin veneer of scum would appear on it surface. And though Leslie didn’t have a microscope of his own, he would improvise by using his 60x ocular as a high power magnifying loupe. Placing a drop of this artificial ‘pondwater’ on a pane of glass, he’d run his makeshift microscope across it and was able to make out the skirting antics of myriad ‘animalcules’, charming Paramecia and Colpidia, which, in fact, are just large enough to make out with the naked eye (a personal reminisce from my own childhood) under suitably strong illumination. He writes:

I tried to envision in my mind what an infinite galaxy of worlds our haymow held in bonds of arid dormancy. Surely they must outnumber the countless stars of the sky. I wondered too, how many spyglass lenses had ever watched two such extremes; the microcosmic worlds in water drops and the giant orbs of the Milky Way.

pp 81/2

What an invalubale lesson to learn in life! To gain a true sense of perspective of the very small and the very large, and all from the application of his Strawberry Spyglass!

June 8 1918 was forever etched into the memory of Leslie Peltier, for in the afternoon of that faithful day there was to be a solar eclipse visible across large swathes of the American nation. From Brookhaven it would cover some three quarters of the Sun’s disk. And as luck would have it, the auguries of nature forecast good seeing conditions from the get go. Dawn broke with heavy dew soaking the fields, and the sky presented as cobalt blue, decorated here and there with delicate, fleece white clouds which only added to its comeliness. And, as morning gave way to afternoon, clear skies prevailed.

Peltier moved his makeshift mount to allow him to obtain the best views of the Sun through his 2 inch telescope as it began to sink ever so slowly into the southwestern sky.  And though it was a small instrument, it was a far cry from the apparatus he used to view the only other eclipse he had solemnly witnessed as a young boy.  While at school, some ten years before, his teacher instructed the pupils to flame pieces of window glass so that they would become glazed in a thin layer of soot, allowing the children to safely observe the apparition. This time round however, Peltier resorted to what many other telescopists of the era did; use a thick piece of welder’s glass, which imparted a strong red tint to the solar image.

As the time of first contact approached, he would entertain himself by observing the many sunspots that peppered the disk of our star, and there were many to see on that day, as it was around the time of solar maximum. The eclipse began right on time, and he eagerly drank up the views through his telescope. His keen eye picked up the jagged edges of the Moon silhouetted against the blinding solar furnace, but he was also mindful to observe the surrounding landscape during mid eclipse. He writes:

At mid eclipse I turned away and looked about. Everything I saw, the nearby fields, the distant vistas, all seemed wrapped in some unearthly early twilight. The sky seemed darker; shadows faint and indistinct. A cool wind, almost chilly, had sprung up from the west. The grass beneath the nearby maple now was appliqued with scores of crescent suns, projected there from each small aperture between the leaves above.

pp 93

But an even greater spectacle awaited Peltier as the suns rays fell beneath the horizon later that evening. Thankfully, the skies remained resolutely clear as he set up his Strawberry Spyglass for a night of variable star observing. But as he was clamping his telescope to its mount in the yard, his eyes gazed up to heaven and immediately were met by an intensely bright star that he had never seen before! Located near the bright summer luminary Altair, it was just as brilliant in his estimation. Was this a renegade planet that had strayed far from the ecliptic? Surely not! And Upton’s Star Atlas left him none the wiser. Leslie Peltier had just seen his first nova, a star that had flared up suddenly, increasing its brilliance by a million times or more! Fortunately, he could not claim it as his own, as that honour was bestowed upon the Bangladeshi–Indian amateur, Radha Gobinda Chandra (1878–1975), who had spotted it the evening before with his trusty 3 inch refractor.

It was a mesmerizing sight to Peltier though, and he watched in complete amazement as the star continued to brighten as the night progressed, reaching its peak luminosity on June 9, where the Ohio amateur logged a value of –1.4 in his journals, so about as brilliant as Sirius shines in the winter sky. The official reports published in the days and weeks after Nova Aquila 1918 made its appearance stated that it peaked at –1.5! Peltier continued to monitor the nova as it faded slowly through his telescope for years after that memorable June evening of 1918. Only after 11 years had the star fallen back to its original 12th magnitude.

As the weeks gave way to months and years, Peltier’s stamina for variable star work increased apace. By September 1919, he had amassed hundreds of valuable observations, all of which were published by the AAVSO. But after several years of dedication to his ‘astrophysical researchers,’ it became abundantly clear to his fellow AAVSO peers that here they had a man of extraordinary diligence and talent. But to break new ground he would need a larger telescope and accordingly the organisation offered him the loan of a much more powerful glass; a 4 inch f/15 Mogey refractor with its own equatorially mounted head. The only provisos were that he would employ it as diligently as he had used his own telescope and that he would keep the instrument in good working condition.  Peltier, of course, was only too happy to accommodate the new instrument and so his Strawberry Spyglass was duly retired from active service. It would however continue to occupy a special place in his heart for the remainder of his life.

The author’s previously owned and used 4 inch f/15 achromatic refractor, similar to the 4 inch Mogey presented to Peltier in the autumn of 1919.













Just how diligent was Peltier in the scheme of things? The reader of his masterful autobiography will be presented with a clue;

The slowly declining nova and my constantly growing observing list of variable stars kept the 2 inch busily occupied for many months. During the fiscal year of the AAVSO which ended in September 1919 it had watched the stars on a total of 190 nights; more than half the nights of the year.

pp 109

Intriguingly, this claim comports very well with the findings of another equally diligent amateur astronomer living half a world away; William F. Denning (1848-1931), who, like Peltier, lived out almost all his entire life in one place (in this case Bristol, England). This frequency is also supported by the records of the Devon based amateur astronomer Charles Grover. As stated before, this author, for a variety of reasons, has come to trust the records of historical figures more than his own contemporaries. Furthermore, in previously published work (data not shown) this author confirmed that observing opportunities indeed arise far more frequently than is commonly reported by ‘forum culture’.

Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to use a good 4 inch f/15 achromat will tell you that, provided they are appropriately mounted, they are a joy to use! Images are very crisp and sharp at both low and high power, and contrast is excellent. Rest assured, in comparison to his beloved 2 inch telescope, the Mogey would take Peltier’s observations to a whole new level of performance! But to make proper use of it, he had to mount it first. And like with his Strawberry Spyglass before, Peltier set to work building his own.

Unlike the mount for his smaller telescope though, the new arrangement for the larger Mogey would not be transportable. So, he had to carefully plan and select a location in which to permanently situate it. After some deliberation, he decided that it would have to go in the middle of the farm’s cow pasture, which, barring the exception of his grandfather’s maple trees which occluded the lowest 20 degrees of sky to the east, afforded excellent views from horizon to the zenith in all cardinal directions.

One might legitimately ask why a refractor was given to Peltier, when a reflector could do this work equally well. This author suggests that it was the former’s robustness and lack of maintenance which made them ideally suited to these tasks, especially working in all weathers. For example, mirrors needed to be recoated from time to time to enable them to perform at their best. They also required careful collimation. No such provision was needed with refractors though, the object glasses of which were hard to miscollimate and could last for decades and even centuries in comparison. In addition, the revolution wrought by the silver on glass reflector, which had swept the length and breadth of Britain and Europe more broadly, had not yet penetrated so deeply into the American amateur psyche.

Having spent the previous few years using an altazimuth mount with his 2 inch instrument, which entailed moving the ‘scope horizontally as well as vertically,  the equatorial setup, in comparison, would take some getting used to. But he clearly understood its considerable advantages in making his work that little bit easier to carry out. If its rotation axis were accurately pointed at the north celestial pole, it would enable him to accurately track his variable star targets using a single motion. Accordingly, he built a solid pillar on some level ground, then mounted the 4 inch, together with its equatorial head on top. Next, he spent a few clear nights accurately aligning the axis of rotation of the mount with the pole star, which hung 41 degrees above his northern horizon (the latitude of Brookhaven). It took a bit of getting used to, but with enough tinkering he managed to get it working well. Now he was ready for his first light through the 4 inch glass.

Beginning sometime in December 1919, the first part of his maiden voyage with the 4 inch was entirely devoted to sight seeing. In reverence to his 2 inch which was first turned on Vega, so too did he open his observations on this first magnitude star, which by now, had sunk low into the northwestern sky. He writes:

Three years before, on a warm summer evening, she had been the first star for my 2 inch spyglass. In the 4 inch she was almost dazzling, and, after critical focusing, beautifully sharp and clear.

pp 111.

Off he sped to SS Cygni, the irregular variable, which the Mogey could easily show him at magnitude 11.9. Then he took some recreation, paying a visit to his favourite seasonal showpieces. He marvelled at the Ring Nebula, explored the cavernous reaches of the Great Nebula in Orion, with the fetching Trapezium at its epicentre. The Pleaides was a blizzard of stars and, moving into Cygnus, he admired the gorgeous colour contrasts of Albireo. Casting his gaze a little to the southeast, he would have noticed that Chi Cygni, the famous long period variable, was invisible on this occasion. But his knowledge of the sky quickly allowed him to track it down. And there it was, hanging at the precipice of visibility, laid low at magnitude 13! This was a mighty instrument! With it he could gather four times more light and see things twice as finely as his Strawberry Spyglass. In one fell swoop, a whole new sky was opened to him!

Peltier wasted no time using the Mogey, logging in a greater tally of variable stars than ever before and submitting his results to the AAVSO every month. But the open air observatory he had built in the cow pasture was not without its problems. For one thing, he had no choice but to end his observations when the object glass dewed up (for some reason dew caps were not a standard item on early 20th century refractors), requiring him to make not too infrequent retreats indoors to remove the condensation, or on the coldest nights, the hoar frost that invaded the smooth surface of the glass. Still, he was always grateful for the warmth provided by the fire, especially on the most frigid spells. More seriously though, the curious bovines inhabiting the pasture would often use the pillar as a scratching post and this might potentially destabilise structure. A partial solution was arrived at by building a fence around the pillar, which kept the livestock at bay. By the autumn of 1921 though, his father, acknowledging the dedication his son had for his astronomical work, suggested that they build a proper observatory for the Mogey, complete with a rotating dome! This was music to Leslie’s ears and immediately they set to work drawing up plans.

His father, of course, was an accomplished carpenter and builder. After all, he constructed the two story house at Brookhaven where all the Peltier family grew up. They would lay a concrete foundation and erect a rectangular wooden building 14 feet long and 10 feet wide. On top of this they would fit a fully rotatable dome with a diameter of 9 feet. Everyone in the family helped out, as well as Leslie’s school buddy, Gilbert Miller. Erecting the walls presented little problem, but getting the dome to work satisfactorily was somewhat more of a challenge, but eventually they worked out the mechanical bugs by trial and improvement. It goes without saying that Leslie was immensely proud of his new astronomical observatory. The 4 inch Mogey was the centre piece, of course, but now had a desk and chair in situ to record his observations. The dew and frost would also be less of a problem. He did however, admit to missing the sounds of nature that saturated the air around his erstwhile outpost in the open pasture, as well as being able to see the full canopy of the sky and the excitement of witnessing a wild meteor blazing across the sky.

Though he grew fond of the Mogey, it didn’t remain long in his hands. Grateful for all the high quality work he was contributing to the AAVSO, the Director of Princeton Observatory, Henry Norris Russell, wrote Peltier offering him the loan of a 6 inch refractor. Gathering more than twice as much light as the 4 inch, this instrument would allow Peltier to follow his variable stars longer into their cycles, many right down to their minimum. Naturally enough he accepted the instrument but was not entirely prepared for what it would look like. Expecting it to have a tube of the order of 8 feet, he worried that his newly designed observatory might not be able to accommodate the larger telescope. But his fears were allayed when the boxes containing the instrument and its mount arrived from Princeton. Instead of an 8 foot monster, the telescope he received was one of rare pedigree; a 6 inch refractor with a focal length of just 48 inches (4 feet)!

Belisarius; the author’s previously owned 6″ f/8 Synta achromat.




His sense of relief was palpable:

The first box I opened cleared up the mystery and raised my drooping spirits to an all time high for when I removed the strapping and lifted the lid, there before me, a rhapsody in dark mahogany and gleaming brass, lay my new telescope, just four feet long; one foot shorter than the 4 inch. I would not require a head shrinker’s services after all.

pp 125

The exceptionally high quality Istar Persus 6″ f/8 achromat tested in the field by the author.











After unpacking and assembling the instrument together with its equatorial head, he had to remove the Mogey from the centre of his Universe and have it shipped back to Cambridge from whence it came. After setting it up and taking the instrument for a spin, he came to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of the instrument. Vistas like the Double Cluster in Perseus, the star fields around Deneb and Gamma Cygni, as well as those further south in Scutum and Sagittarius were breathtaking through the instrument. It was he insisted, designed for low power sweeping and offered a very generous two degree field. He explains his reasoning thus:

The instrument’s shortcomings were few and of little consequence since, for my observing, I needed no high magnification. For observing the planets, for separating double stars, or any work which requires high powers and critically sharp images, the focal ratio of an objective should be at least f:15, meaning that roughly the length of the scope should be 15 times the diameter. That of my new scope was only f:8.

pp 126

Peltier makes an interesting assertion here. That said, this author, having extensive experience resolving double stars with two different 6” f/8 achromats from the modern era found that their ability to split binary systems was not appreciably affected by their moderate relative apertures. Indeed, both instruments proved to be excellent in this regard. For example, the higher quality Istar unit tested here a few years back even managed to split the sub arc second pair, Lambda Cygni, under excellent seeing conditions, without much difficulty! So, I think Peltier was flatly wrong about double stars for this specification of instrument and there is no evidence from his autobiography that suggests he tested this claim to any appreciable extent. One feels Peltier fell into the trap of following ‘tradition’ rather than testing ‘received wisdom’ thoroughly before arriving at a conclusion.

Of course, a relatively fast doublet like this, derived as it was from the early workshops of the late 19th century, would probably have not operated as well as could be and thus may go some way to explaining his statement. Modern 6 inch f/8 achromatic doublets are, almost certainly, superior to Peltier’s instrument at high power work. I would however agree with the great astronomer in regard to the instrument’s planetary performance. These days, there are much better instruments to be had for less pecuniary outlays than the typical cost of these refractor units; an 8 inch f/6 reflector, for example.

iStar’s 8″ f/5.9 achromatic doublet; very good for low power sweeps. Useless for everything else.











Peltier did some research on the pedigree of the 6 inch f/8 telescope in his possession, finding that it was probably of late 19th century design, and originally made as a comet sweeper. Indeed, Zaccheus Daniel, a former student of Princeton University, used the instrument to discover a comet in 1907 and two more in 1909 (1909A and 1909E). Feeling that its distinguished history was all but forgotten, Peltier did something extraordinary:

Rather piqued by such neglect, I vowed that some recording of its earlier deeds, as they were known to me, would now be permanently preserved. I whetted up my pocket knife and on the midriff of that wooden tube I deeply carved the name of Daniel and beneath it cut the date of his three comet catches.

pp 127.

This author was rather taken aback by this gesture. Yes, while there is no doubt Peltier meant well, it was also on loan (see page 124) from Princeton University. So, strictly speaking, it was not within his remit to sanction this act.

But I digress!

It was about this time that Peltier decided to add another string to his bow. As well as using the 6 inch to monitor his variable stars, he would begin the hunt to find comets of his own. The 6 inch telescope was thereafter referred to as the Comet Catcher! But in order to do such work, which involves simple horizontal sweeps of the sky, it would be a great advantage to mount it in altazimuth mode. By now his old school friend, Gilbert Miller, had secured a good job as a draftsman in a local company, and he was able to modify the existing equatorial mount that accompanied the instrument in such a way as to enable it to be used either equatorially (which benefitted his variable star work) or altazimuthly, to optimise his comet sweeps. Problem solved!

It was on Friday November 13 1925 that Peltier struck it rich! Darkness fell early upon the landscape, as it always does at this latitude in November, and it was business as usual for the young astronomer. Off he went to the dome, now having completed five full years of active service, opened the shutters and readied the telescope for what he thought would be a routine night of variable star monitoring complemented by a comet sweep. After visiting R and T Coronae, old familiars of late autumn, he swung the telescope into Bootes, now sinking low in the northwestern sky. Sweeping through the extreme northern edge of the constellation, his 6 inch eye picked up a ghostly blur and moving his gaze downwards Peltier could just make out the faintest traces of a tail. This was a comet alright, and it was barely twenty minutes into his observing schedule! But instead of jumping about like a jackass, he took heir of himself by first making an estimate of its magnitude. Defocusing on a faint field star until its size roughly matched that of the comet, he accurately recorded its brilliance to be of the 9th magnitude. Next, he made a sketch of the object in the field of view using several stars as an aid to identifying its precise location on his atlas. Finally, he returned to the telescope and noted its relatively rapid motion among the fixed stars. It was sprinting south!

Next, he had to communicate the sighting to the hub of all astronomical knowledge; Harvard College Observatory. Preparing his telegram, he wrote: NINTH MAGNITUDE COMET ONE FIVE TWO FIVE NORTH FORTY FOUR DEGREES RAPID MOTION SOUTH. Now that electricity and a telephone line had finally come to Brookhaven, he tried to get through to the telegram office but it had closed for the evening. After getting through to the local operator he was informed that all emergency telegrams could be sent through the signal tower at the Pennsylvania Railway depot but unfortunately there was no way he could be connected directly. Naturally frustrated, he tried to track down his parents, but they had popped out in the car. This telegram just couldn’t wait, so he resolved to get on his bike and peddle his way in the dark to the railway depot several miles distant. Finally, he got there, climbed the steps to the high tower and waited patiently for the operator to tend to his request. At last, the telegram was despatched. There was nothing to do now save to make his way home and begin the long waiting game.

In a cruel twist of fate, the next several days were completely clouded out and thus he hadn’t a ghost of a chance of following the comet’s course into southern skies. All sorts of doubts started to beset him. Was this really a new comet or had someone seen and reported it before him? Did the telegram even get through? Eventually though, an agonising 8 days later, a phone call came through for him from a one Mr. Wahmhoff, the local pharmacist.  Wahmhoff sounded out the telegram he had received from Harvard; Mr. L.C. Peltier of Delphos, Ohio, had indeed discovered a comet and his name would forever be associated with it!

He made his way to the observatory housing the 6 inch, the instrument which had shown him the icy interloper before no other human being had laid eyes on it. And whetting his pen knife, he began to carefully carve its name into the tube: Peltier 1925K.

This was but the first of a total of a dozen comets discovered by his diligent vigils under the stars. The discovery of 1925K brought considerable notoriety to Peltier and he was personally congratulated by many of his astronomical peers; both amateur and professional alike. He also began to receive visitors to Brookhaven; mostly enthusiastic school kids and fellow AAVSO members, but yet remained suspicious of the press, which he felt were exploiting his new–found fame for their own swinish gains.

By his late twenties though, other things began to preoccupy the Ohio stargazer, not least of which was a pretty young brunette, Dorothy(a.k.a. ‘Dottie’) Nihiser, who grew up in the nearby town of Delphos. Dottie attended the same High School and Sunday school as Leslie, but being ten years his younger, their paths naturally never crossed that often whilst growing up. All that changed in 1925 however, when Leslie took up temporary employment as a stock clerk in a motor truck factory, which necessitated him driving into town every day.  And it wasn’t long before the pair became reacquainted with each other. Dottie was then in High School but was an excellent student who went on to study at Ohio’s Wesleyan’s University. They began dating in 1928 and were married on  November 25 1933.

Like Leslie, Dottie was a keen amateur naturalist and, in what can only be described as a beautiful honeymoon (described at length in Peltier’s autobiography), the happy couple took off on a journey of exploration to the American Southwest in their beat up 1929 Ford Sedan, camping here and there along the way. The next nine months were to be the happiest in Peltier’s life, visiting the wilds of Texas, with its rugged mountains, canyons, great rivers and desert trails.

Peltier was deeply impressed with the great natural beauty of this American wilderness, which he revered as a kind of ‘geological Mecca’ of the young nation. Back then, the skies here were utterly pristine and, as he later admitted, were in a completely different league to those he enjoyed back in rural Ohio. It was on this trip that he first caught site of the brilliant star Canopus, the brightest luminary of the far southerly constellation of Carina. Small wonder, he noted, why so many first-rate astronomical observatories were springing up all over the region.

This extended honeymoon to the Southwest was possibly inspired by a trip the courting couple took to Mount Locke in Western Texas a few years earlier, during February of 1931, where they hooked up with the Belgian–born astronomer, Dr. Van Biesbroeck (Van B.), who was, at that time, a staff astronomer at Yerkes Observatory, overlooking Williams Bay, Wisconsin. Accompanying them on the trip was the Comet Catcher, the mahogany tube of which was now replaced by a much lighter tube fashioned from rolled metal. Indeed, this new tube served him well for the remainder of his life.

At the summit of Mt. Locke, 7000 feet above the surrounding plains, the telescope provided some charming deep sky views of the southern sky, but Peltier always wondered whether Dr. Van B. would truly appreciate them, given his familiarity with much larger instruments. Here, a full 1.3 miles above sea level, he noticed how the stars hardly twinkled at all owing to the more rarefied air at high altitude. But it wasn’t so much the stars that captivated the couple on Mt. Locke that evening, so much as the deafening silence permeating the place. He writes:

The impression that I will longest remember of the night on Mt. Locke had nothing to do with sharp stellar images or the new stars I saw in the south. It was, instead, the feeling I had, while all alone in the darkness, of complete and utter detachment from all the rest of the world. There was absolutely no sound. Earlier that evening Van B. had called this to our attention by asking us to remain perfectly still for a moment and “listen to the silence.” We listened in vain for there was nothing up there to make a sound. It was winter and there was no nocturnal bird or insect sounds. There was no hum of wires, no rustle of leaves, no sigh of wind. The mountaintop was a silent wonder.

pp 168/9

A view of McDonald Observatory from highway TX-118. Mt. Fowlkes is on the left while Mt. Locke is on the right. The dome of the Hobby–Eberly Telescope is visible on Mt. Fowlkes while the domes of the Harlan J. Smith Telescope and Otto Struve Telescope are visible on Mt. Locke. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

For the next three years, the couple took up home on the Peltier estate, in Leslie’s grandfather’s cabin, situated on the opposite side of the cow pasture and so about equidistant from the domed observatory. The accommodation proved adequately roomy and comfortable while it lasted.  And it was here that their son, Stanley, was born. But their circumstances changed when Leslie’s paternal uncle, who was the original occupier of  grandfather’s house, returned to Brookhaven together with his aunt. The young family had no choice but to seek new lodgings. What’s more, his job at the truck factory folded but he soon found another one, this time, as a designer in the Delphos Bending Company.

It wasn’t long before they successfully rented a home in town, conveniently near his new employment. But since there was no easy access to his telescope, he had to totally rethink his way forward. His solution was as ingenious as it was simple; enter Peltier’s now famous Merry Go Round Observatory, the inspiration for which came to him whilst idly swivelling in an office chair at his work. In essence, it was a one roomed structure, with the objective end protruding into the outside air, and the ocular end positioned inside. He would sit in a renovated leather upholstered car seat, the height of which could be adjusted, and the entire structure could be rotated through 360 degrees simply by turning a wheel. Another wheel allowed smooth movements in altitude. Needless to say the structure worked like a dream, allowing him to bag several more comets as well as making thousands of additional variable star measures.  Expressing his pride in the design of the Merry Go Round Observatory Peltier wrote:

When in 1948 the giant 200 inch telescope on Mt. Palomar finally swung into action the press made much of the story that, when used at its prime focus, the observer, for the first time in history, would ride with the telescope. I gloated just a little over this, for by then I had been riding with my telescope for eleven years, and furthermore, I had not blocked out a single ray of light while doing it.

pp 178/9.

By now, Peltier was unquestionably one of the most dedicated star gazers in history, with a correspondingly encyclopedic knowledge of the night sky, so it was inevitable that he would discover more things in heaven than a dozen icy comets. Indeed, his name is also forever associated with five guest stars that made their explosive appearance in the skies over Ohio, just like the one he witnessed with his Strawberry Spyglass on that faithful night of June 8 1918. The reader can learn of these discoveries in Chapter 23 of Starlight Nights, but what piqued this author’s attention was his discussion of other types of visitors; what we have come to call ‘UFOs’ and ‘little green men’.

Intriguingly, Peltier declares that despite spending more time under the stars than arguably anyone else on Earth, he never once saw such objects. Indeed, he called the 1950s a period of ‘mass psychosis’. He remembers receiving numerous phone calls over the years from folk who saw strange things in the sky. In a humorous exchange, Peltier does however recount a curious incident during which, for a brief few moments, he himself was duped, only to later discover that his ‘flying saucers’ were nothing more than a flock of Canada Geese flying southward for the winter! In the end though, he maintained a healthy scepticism concerning whether such beings could really exist, despite the vastness of the Universe that he explored each clear night with his telescope. He was, afterall, too much of a Christian to go ‘a whoring after other gods’, as the Biblical narrative phrases it.

The 1940s brought its fair share of changes for the Peltiers. They were busier than ever. Leslie still had his full time job. Their second son, Gordon, arrived on the scene, while Stanley enrolled in the town’s kindergarten. Both Dottie and Leslie became actively involved in the local church, with its garden fetes and the training of a new generation of cub scouts. There was also an uprooting. The owners of the premises they rented in town notified the family that they intended to move back in, which meant that they had to search for a brand new home once again. After looking at one or two properties, they settled on a twelve acre estate, called the Old Moenning Place, which they bought outright. A fine, large house, already over a century old, it had seven large rooms with grand, high ceilings. More than 40 species of tree inhabited the various parts of the land that attended the homestead and it was conveniently located on the western edge of town, which meant that not much of the smog and dust from the various industries would accumulate on the premises or in the skies above, owing to the prevailing westerly winds that blew across the grounds. Though it was quite a task, involving several years of regular work during each spring and summer, the family slowly transformed the grounds into a picturesque natural haven of ‘cultivated wildness’ and it was appropriately renamed New Brookhaven.

Peltier selected a spot, some 100 yards north of the house, where his Merry Go Round Observatory was rehoused. And though there was minimal light pollution here owing to some distant lamp posts, the trees were quite effective at blocking it ought. Indeed, so confident was he that this would be his final abode, Peltier had a new, solid concrete foundation laid to support the observatory. But in the middle of the summer of 1959, Peltier got yet another offer, this time, of a truly gigantic telescope; a 12 inch Clark refractor to be precise, complete with its own observatory, transit room and, as Peltier himself put it, “all the trimmings!”

The instrument and its massive equatorial mount was originally constructed back in 1868 by Alvan Clark & Sons and used by Professor J.M. Van Vleck at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, but was later purchased by Miami University, Oxford, Ohio in 1922. But over the years, the observatory in which it was housed fell into disuse as more and more buildings were erected when the campus expanded. By the time Peltier was contacted by the University, it was completely boxed in! When he made a visit to the observatory, Peltier found the telescope objective was completely covered in dust, with a small chip at the egde which was partially covered by the retaining ring. “Old telescopes never die,” he wrote, “they are just laid away. There is little about a telescope that can deteriorate and the lens, the vital organ, even though a century old, can still have all the fire and sparkle of its youth.” pp 232

Because of Peltier’s great acts of philanthropy for the community of Delphos, he was held in very high esteem, and he was fortunate enough to have a boss who was capable of orchestrating such an enormous task of transporting the giant telescope, its imposing dome and octagonal walls from Miami back Delphos, a distance of 125 miles. Peltier had selected a site on his own premises for the new observatory, somewhat further north of his Merry Go Round. The dome, which was 22 feet in diameter and 11 feet high, had to be sawn in two.  The eight sided walls holding it up also had to be dismantled and the components moved individually. Needless to say, it was a massive engineering undertaking but he had an army of loyal friends, who were only too willing to lend a hand in its reconstruction. His two grown sons also put their back into the project and Dottie provided refreshments for all. His fellow AAVSO members, Don and Carolyn Hurless, based in Lima, Ohio, elected to do the painting and decorating of the inside of the new observatory. And, as stated previously, since the Peltier’s never wasted anything, some of the materials from the original dome he had built all those years ago with his father, were also incorporated into the new structure.

Before mounting the telescope, Peltier did some makeshift star testing on it but found the images to be unsatisfactory, only to subsequently discover that one of the elements had been fitted the wrong way round at some time in the past. But with a bit of help from his academic contacts, he was able to rectify this problem quickly. The 12 inch doublet achromat had a focal length of 15 feet 7 inches (relative aperture 15.6) and Peltier himself was delighted with the images it rendered as he took it on a grand tour of the heavens. He writes;

Since finally settling into its new home the 12 inch has done its level best to show off its accomplishments and as yet I have not ceased to marvel at the wonders it reveals. Star clusters such as M 13 in Hercules and M11 in Scutum are gorgeous quite beyond description, and these are only two among a host of these far away star cities whose sparkling street lights seem to wind and twist about until they fade out in the distance. A favourite of mine is known as NGC 4565, the edge on spiral galaxy in Coma Berenices. Still another is the weird and ghostly Ring Nebula in Lyra with its faint and difficult hot blue star in the center of the ring. M42 the Great Nebula in Orion, is breath taking in its sharply defined bright and dark nebular cloud forms. All of these celestial showoffs I had seen hundreds of times before in my other telescopes, but with the 12 inch, everything that before had been vague and elusive was now sharp and clear. It was pleasant to make their acquaintance all over again.

pp 221.

This was the last telescope Peltier would use regularly in his nightly vigils and it served its purposes very well. Where the Comet Catcher barely reached magnitude 14 on the best nights, the 12 inch took over, registering stars fully two magnitudes fainter. Its prowess was amply borne out when he, Don and Carolyn followed the slow fading of a supernova in one of the faint spiral galaxies inhabiting the Virgo cluster, which remained completely invisible in the 6 inch. Indeed, for the remainder of his career, the time divested on each instrument was 50:50. Indeed they perfectly complemented each other!

In the autumn of his life, Peltier, like so many lovers of the night sky, lamented the march of ‘progress’, especially in regard to the growing problem of light pollution. He concludes:

The moon and the stars no longer come to the farm. The farmer has exchanged his birthright in them for the wattage of an all night sun. His children will never know the blessed dark of night.

pp 224

Crowned by Dr. Harlow Shapley as “the world’s greatest non professional astronomer,” over a span of six decades, Peltier contributed an incredible 132,000 variable star observers to the AAVSO. Actually, from the time he joined the AAVSO aged 18, he never once missed sending in his monthly report This he could add to his tally of a dozen comets and 6 nova ( four with his naked eye!) finds. Asteroid 3850 was also named in his honour. In 1947, Peltier received an honorary doctorate from Bowling Green State University. In 1965, a Californian mountain, the site of Ford Observatory, was named Mt. Peltier to commemorate his achievements, and in 1975 he finally received his honorary high school diploma from Delphos Jefferson High School. Peltier died of a heart attack on May 10 1980, aged 80 years. Those who knew him unanimously declared that the man described in Starlight Nights was one and the same as the real Leslie Peltier. Having absorbed this engaging work of prose, this author sees no grounds to disbelieve it!

Recommended reading for all astronomers and those who lament the bucolic days before city sprawl and light pollution.


















                                                              Comets Discovered by Leslie Peltier

Comet                Date of Discovery

1925d                      13.11.1925

1930a                      20.02.1930

1932K                      08.08.1932

1933a                      16.02.1933

1936a                      15.05. 1936

1937c                       27.02.1937

1939a                       19.01.1939

1943b                       19.09. 1943

1944a                       17.12 1944

1945f                         24.11.1945

1952d                        20.06.1952

1954d                        29.06. 1954


Some other sources of interest




Dr. Neil English is author of many books on amateur and professional telescopes and has been a regular contributor to Britain’s Astronomy Now magazine for over 20 years. He is currently completing an ambitious historical work; Tales from the Golden Age of Astronomy, chronicling the lives of visual observers over four centuries since the invention of the telescope, which is to be published in the spring of 2018.


De Fideli.

What I’m Reading













Kindle form Highly recommended!

Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics is a lucid, entertaining, even witty discussion of important themes in evolutionary computation, relating them to information theory. It’s far more than that, however. It is an assessment of how things might have come to be the way they are, applying an appropriate scientific skepticism to the hypothesis that random processes can explain many observed phenomena. Thus the book is appropriate for the expert and non-expert alike. –Donald Wunsch, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Applied Computational Intelligence Lab, Missouri University of Science & Technology, USA

Evolution requires the origin of new information. In this book, information experts Bob Marks, Bill Dembski, and Winston Ewert provide a comprehensive introduction to the models underlying evolution and the science of design. The authors demonstrate clearly that all evolutionary models rely implicitly on information that comes from intelligent design, and that unguided evolution cannot deliver what its promoters advertise. Though mathematically rigorous, the book is written primarily for non-mathematicians. I recommend it highly. –Jonathan Wells, Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute

Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics helps the non-expert reader grapple with a fundamental problem in science today: We cannot model information in the same way as we model matter and energy because there is no relationship between the metrics. As a result, much effort goes into attempting to explain information away. The authors show, using clear and simple illustrations, why that approach not only does not work but [that it also] impedes understanding of our universe. –Denyse O’Leary, Science Writer

About the Author

Robert J Marks II is Distinguished Professor of Engineering in the Department of Engineering at Baylor University, USA. Marks’s professional awards include a NASA Tech Brief Award and a best paper award from the American Brachytherapy Society for prostate cancer research. He is Fellow of both IEEE and The Optical Society of America. His consulting activities include: Microsoft Corporation, DARPA, and Boeing Computer Services. He is listed as one of the 50 Most Influential Scientists in the World Today by TheBestSchools.org. (2014). His contributions include: the Zhao-Atlas-Marks (ZAM) time-frequency distribution in the field of signal processing, and the Cheung-Marks theorem in Shannon sampling theory.

Marks’s research has been funded by organizations such as the National Science Foundation, General Electric, Southern California Edison, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Office of Naval Research, the United States Naval Research Laboratory, the Whitaker Foundation, Boeing Defense, the National Institutes of Health, The Jet Propulsion Lab, Army Research Office, and NASA. His books include Handbook of Fourier Analysis and Its Applications (Oxford University Press), Introduction to Shannon Sampling and Interpolation Theory (Springer Verlag), and Neural Smithing: Supervised Learning in Feedforward Artificial Neural Networks (MIT Press) with Russ Reed. Marks has edited/co-edited five other volumes in fields such as power engineering, neural networks, and fuzzy logic. He was instrumental in defining the discipline of computational intelligence (CI) and is a co-editor of the first book using CI in the title: Computational Intelligence: Imitating Life (IEEE Press, 1994). His authored/coauthored book chapters include nine papers reprinted in collections of classic papers. Other book chapters include contributions to Michael Arbib’s The Handbook of Brain Theory and Neural Networks (MIT Press, 1996), and Michael Licona et al.’s Evidence for God (Baker Books, 2010), Marks has also authored/co-authored hundreds of peer-reviewed conference and journal papers.

William A Dembski is Senior Research Scientist at the Evolutionary Informatics Lab in McGregor, Texas; and also an entrepreneur developing educational websites and software. He holds a BA in Psychology, MS in Statistics, PhD in Philosophy, and a PhD in Mathematics (awarded in 1988 by the University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA), and an MDiv degree from Princeton Theological Seminary (1996, New Jersey, USA). Dembski’s work experience includes being an Associate Research Professor with the Conceptual Foundations of Science, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, USA. He has taught at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA; the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, USA; and the University of Dallas, Irving, Texas, USA. He has done postdoctoral work in mathematics with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA; in physics with the University of Chicago, USA; and in computer science with Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. He is a Mathematician and Philosopher. He has held National Science Foundation graduate and postdoctoral fellowships, and has published articles in mathematics, engineering, philosophy, and theology journals and is the author/editor of more than twenty books.

Winston Ewert is currently a Software Engineer in Vancouver, Canada. He is a Senior Research Scientist at the Evolutionary Informatics Lab. Ewert holds a PhD from Baylor University, Waco, Texas, USA. He has written a number of papers relating to search, information, and complexity including studies of computer models purporting to describe Darwinian evolution and developing information theoretic models to measure specified complexity.


De Fideli.


Tales from the Golden Age: Clyde W. Tombaugh; Discoverer of Pluto.

Clyde W. Tombaugh pictured here with his homemade long focus 9 inch Newtonian reflector.


Preamble 1

Preamble 2

Can it be a coincidence that many of the most pre-eminent amateur astronomers to emerge in the United States during the early 20th century were born into rural communities? We have already seen some of the work of the late Sky & Telescope columnist, Walter Scott Houston, who was born and raised in Tippecanoe, Wisconsin. Then there is Leslie Peltier, the great comet and variable star observer, who lived his entire life among the strawberry fields of Delphos, Ohio. And that list wouldn’t be complete without Clyde W. Tombaugh, who hailed from a farmstead seven miles from the town of Streator, Northern Illinois. In this vast open country, where fields would stretch from horizon to horizon, the glory of the night sky would have been made manifest to their young, curious eyes, stoking an early passion for all things astronomical.

No; there are no coincidences, only convergences.

These great American amateurs all started out with humble beginnings. Life was hard, very hard by modern standards, but ultimately rewarding. It was into this kind of world that Clyde W. Tombaugh was ultimately thrust. The first born and eldest son of Muron (born 1880) and Adella Tombaugh, Clyde entered the world on February 4 1906. For a few generations, the Tombaughs were distinguished from many other families in their rural community in being an educated bunch. Clyde’s grandfather was University educated and served as a school teacher. His father too had high ambitions to follow a career in mechanical engineering but the circumstances of his early days meant that there were many stops and starts in his education, with the result that, although he attended the local University of Illinois, he never completed his degree. More children arrived in rapid succession to Clyde; first Esther, two and half years his younger, and then Roy, Charles, Robert and finally Anita. Such a large family demanded an industrious bread winner and Muron did his Sunday best for his family, running a busy rented farm which eked a modest income from the cultivation of oats, wheat and corn. He also singlehandedly managed a threshing company which catered for the local farming community.

Being the eldest in the family, Clyde quickly became like a second father figure to his younger siblings and helped look after them when his parents were preoccupied with other matters. By all accounts Clyde’s elementary school days were happy and productive and he was lucky enough to have teachers who encouraged the boy’s natural curiosity. He excelled at history and geography. But his transition to high school was marred by a particularly vicious bout of whooping cough, which left young Clyde bedridden for a few months, and as a result he fell behind with his studies. After school, he was expected to help out on the farm, planting seed beds, cultivating, harvesting and threshing crops as they matured in their appointed time. In those days before mechanisation, work days on the farm could be were very long, often lasting from seven in the morning until 6 in the evening. In these ways, Clyde’s early life was no different to many thousands of other youths, especially since many late teenagers had enlisted in the U.S. army between 1917 and 1920.

In high school, Tombaugh enjoyed the elementary courses in physical science and biology and in his spare time he’d often be found reading into the night, with only a kerosene lamp for light. He reputedly read and studied the Bible from cover to cover; quite a feat for such a young man and which had a lasting effect on him, right on into old age. He also borrowed his father’s old books on engineering mathematics and even dabbled in some ancient Greek and Latin. Clyde’s interest in astronomy was piqued by his paternal uncle, Lee, who’s family lived and worked on a nearby farm and who cultivated a life long interest in astronomy. Lee was the proud owner of a 3 inch singlet (read non achromatic) refractor giving a fixed power of 36 diameters. While the optics on such a telescope were understandably so-so, they did give good views of the lunar regolith, which mesmerised young Clyde.

Responding to Clyde’s growing interest in astronomy, Muron and Lee chipped in to purchase a new and in many ways, more serious telescope; a 2.3 inch aperture long focus achromatic refractor offered by Sears Roebuck & Co. (an early U.S. based department store), which was equipped with a single ocular delivering a power of 45x. That telescope enjoyed a very long and productive life. In those early days, the Sears family telescope alternated between his home and his uncle Lee’s. It was with this telescope that Clyde enjoyed his first decent view of Mars during a favourable opposition, where it showed a few dark markings and the polar ice cap. By now, Tombaugh had been enthralled by some pamphlets circulated by the Tennessee amateur, Latimer J. Wilson, who owned a magnificent 11 inch reflecting telescope with which he began to draw the canals of Mars, sensationalised by the late Professor Percival Lowell and the Italian astronomer, G.V. Schiaparelli.

In 1922, the first upheaval in Clyde’s life occurred when the family crops failed. Seriously strapped for cash, the Tombaughs were forced to move to Burdett, Kansas, where Clyde’s uncle Lee had recently moved to manage a 250-acre property. He found the move especially stressful though, as he had forged a very strong bond with his first cousins who lived in Streator. Then in 1924, Clyde suffered a particularly nasty fall while pole vaulting which all but ended his keenness for athletics and football. After graduating from Burdett High School in 1925, he considered enrolling at the local University of Kansas but had to save the money to pay for his University fees. Apart from his work helping out on the farm, Clyde’s desire to make a serious sized telescope grew ever more strong, and with the help of some books and magazine articles, he ordered up the materials to make a long focal length 8 inch reflecting telescope from scratch. Completed in April 1926, it had a focal length of 84 inches, which he had intended to mount inside a long wooden tube and mounting with two setting circles (also of wood) to assist in pointing the instrument. All that was left to do was to get the mirror blank silvered. Since he did not have the chemicals at hand to do the silvering, he entrusted the mirror to a telescope maker, a one Napoleon Carreau, who had set up a business in Wichita about 140 miles away.

Mr. Carreau did the lad a favour and had the mirror tested prior to silvering. And what he found didn’t exactly inspire; the mirror was badly figured and would not yield the good high power images Tombaugh had hoped it would. Needless to say, the returned mirror with attached note from Carreau left Tombaugh gutted. But thankfully, he didn’t give up. Instead, he vowed to build his very own testing area for any future mirrors he would grind. And it was there and then that Tombaugh plotted an ingenious scheme. He would ask his father for help in the construction of a so called “cyclone cellar” an underground storage area for foodstuffs and a safe haven to take refuge in the event of a tornado strike. His plot worked! After the all important harvest of 1926, with no bull dozers to call upon, Clyde had to dig his own hole; and an enormous one at that; some 24 feet long  by 8 feet wide  and 7 feet deep! He enlisted the help of friendly neighbours to pour 540 cubic feet of concrete to complete the structure replete with floor, walls, windows and even an arched staircase! When completed, this new cellar served as the ideal place to perform testing on his future mirrors, as the air circulating within it was always cool and rather uniform in temperature.

His next mirror, a 7 inch, was made for his uncle Lee, and when tested by Carreau, was found to be rather good! Auspiciously, Comet-Winnecke 1927 VII was ripe for observation, reaching a conspicuous magnitude of +3.5 at the time Tombaugh turned the telescope upon it. Lee was most impressed with the new instrument and immediately bought it from him. With these new funds, Tombaugh began thinking about a personal telescope; an instrument that might allow him to see the great showpieces of the sky and perhaps contribute his own findings to planetology. So in August 1927, he purchased the glass blanks to begin work on this third telescope; a 9 inch Newtonian reflector (featured above) with a focal length of 70 inches (so f/7.8). Grinding the mirror was not without its problems however, for as soon as he got rid of one zone up popped another but he kept working on through the winter and by the spring of 1928 Tombaugh was eventually able to obtain a very smooth figure with an accurate paraboloid, allowing the mirror to sustain very high powers (of the order of 400 diameters), so good enough for all applications he would use it for. By the autumn of 1928, the telescope was ready for first light and with a great sense of excitement he turned it on mighty Jupiter to see how it performed. Well, he needn’t have worried; Clyde watched in sheer amazement as its various markings were seen to drift across the disk. Turning next to Messier 13, the great globular custer in Hercules, he saw a storm of well resolved stars where his little Sears only registered a fuzzy blob. Clyde Tombaugh had realised his dream of owning a serious telescope. Indeed, it was so good that Mr. Carreau offered him a job as a technician in his Wichita workshop. Things were beginning to look up for the enterprising young squire from the back of beyond.

Despite the sheer elation he must surely have felt in designing and building his dream ‘scope, 1928 would not be a year Tombaugh would forget for completely different reasons. Earlier that summer, on June 20 to be precise, disaster struck the Tombaugh farm. A violent thunder storm wreaked havoc with the wheat and oat crops that were, until then, doing so well, owing to a warm spring. In the space of a quarter of an hour they lost it all! And it was so localised that the neighbouring farms went completely unscathed! It was a cruel twist of fate that there and then ended Tombaugh’s ambitions to attend college. It also meant his father had to put off buying that all important combine harvester that would have made life better for everyone. One thing was clear; Tombaugh had had enough of farming. Time to pursue something else.

By the end of 1928, Clyde had amassed an impressive portfolio of planetary drawings and he mailed a selection of them to Lowell Observatory, together with a letter explaining that he wished to be a professional astronomer and inquiring about how best he might go about becoming one. He must have made quite an impression, for what happened next was not only unexpected, it was downright music to his ears! As luck would have it, the administrators at the Observatory were looking for a keen amateur astronomer in good health who would assist in the operation of a new photographic telescope that would shortly be installed there. Needless to say, it set his heart racing!

It was make your mind up time; either become some obscure telescope maker or get a chance to become an astronomer at his favourite Observatory. It was a no brainer! He would accept the post at Lowell, on the understanding that he was to be employed for a trial period of 10 months before being offered the post on a permanent basis. What is more, with a guaranteed monthly salary of $125, he was now earning more than he ever could while working on the family farmstead.

Tombaugh, however, would have to find the means to fund his 1,000 mile rail journey to the American southwest, as well as his initial stay, but he continued working like a Trojan throughout the summer and autumn of that year, operating a combine on a neighbour’s farm, and that earned him the additional cash he badly needed. So, on the morning of January 14 1929, after saying goodbye to his family, he mounted the couch car and settled in for the long, 28 hour journey ahead. As the train pulled off, he must have felt very sad to leave his family, especially since his mother was about to give birth (within 12 hours actually) to the youngest member of the Tombaugh family; little Anita. Indeed, he would not lay eyes on his newly arrived sister for another six months!

Tombaugh, of course, had no idea what was in store for him at Lowell Observatory. What would he be working on? Would he live up to expectations? Would he enjoy the work? All of these questions must have flashed through his mind as the train ventured further and further away from Kansas. Little did he know that he would be getting involved in the hunt for a new planet, long since predicted by the mathematical astronomers who had deduced the presence of a world beyond the orbit of Neptune, based on perturbations in the orbits of the outer planets. And little did he know that this search commenced a full year before Tombaugh was born!

Professor Lowell, deeply depressed by the ridicule he had received for advancing his far fetched idea of an intelligent race of Martians, desperately needed to restore credibility to his work and the status of the Observatory he founded. So in 1905 Lowell spearheaded a new search for Planet X and began acquiring astrographs that would enable a systematic search to be conducted at Mars Hill. By 1912, he had borrowed a state of the art wide angle camera with a 9 inch lens from Swarthmore College’s Sproul Observatory, but after his untimely death in 1916, the camera had to be returned to its rightful owners. Unbeknown to Lowell and his well trained staff, that same camera actually recorded the mysterious planet in a series of exposures captured on March 19 and April 7 1915, but this would not come to light until many years later.

When he arrived at Flagstaff station, he was met by Dr. Vesto M. Slipher, who escorted him by car out of town and up to Mars Hill. As they began to ascend in altitude, he would see the Ponderosa pine trees following the contours of the winding road, now covered in winter ice. Indeed, it was from these pine trees that Lowell built the dome to house the great 24 inch Clark refractor which formed the centre piece of the famous Observatory.

The Clark Telescope Dome on Mars Hill. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

When they arrived, Clyde was introduced to the staff on duty that day; Drs C.O Lampland, E. Pettit and S.B. Nicholson and the Observatory’s handy man, Mr. Jennings. Dr Slipher provided Tombaugh with the details of his job description; he was to operate the new 13 inch f/5.3 astrograph to resume the hunt for Planet X which had come to a halt back in early July of 1916. A smaller 5 inch astrograph was piggybacked atop the main instrument and it took exposures of precisely the same region of sky as the larger astrograph. Indeed, as we shall see, this smaller instrument played an important role in Tombaugh’s seminal discovery.

After the introductions were over, Jennings gave Clyde a lift back down the hill for a spot of breakfast, and in the afternoon Tombaugh would be introduced to the instrument that would soon make him famous; the heavily mounted 13 inch astrograph ready for operation, except for one important detail; it was still without its lens. Indeed, this would not be installed until the middle of February. Designed by Carl Lundin, chief optician to the Alvan Clark & Sons telescope firm, it was a triplet objective designed to capture wide field images of the sky. It was exquisitely well made; one element had very strong curvature which made it very expensive to make, but after it was carefully loaded off the Model T truck, unpacked and mounted, initial tests could be conducted on its imaging potential. A few days later, everything was ready to enable it to take its maiden exposure. The astrograph was pointed at the Sword Handle of Orion and a 30 minute guided exposure conducted. Slipher, Lampland and Tombaugh were present that evening at the telescope. After exposing the photographic plates it was clear that the instrument was working well. The stars were pinpoint sharp, right across the field. Slipher must have let out a big sigh of relief; this expensive piece of kit would be more than capable of detecting Planet X; if it existed, that is!

The 13 inch f/5.3 Lawrence Lowell astrograph featuring the Lundin triplet objective used to conduct the search for Planet X. Image credit; Wiki Commons.

Tombaugh continued his training with the 13 inch astrograph for a couple of months, during which time he sorted out a number of mechanical bugs that might have otherwise jeopardised the entire project. By April 6, it was ready to go.

As one can imagine, finding such a planetary body amid the myriad stars captured by such photographic means was very much akin to finding a proverbial needle in a haystack. The search was confined to a narrow swathe of sky centred on the zodiac, beginning in Cancer but then carrying on the search into Gemini and Leo, and so on. And while each plate typically recorded the spurious disks of hundreds of thousands of stars, it was a great blessing in comparison to the prospect of having to comb through the blizzard of stellar bodies residing closer to the main body of the Milky Way, where stellar population densities shot up to greater than a million per plate in comparison. The strategy adopted by Dr. Slipher was to employ an ingenious device called a blink comparator, invented in 1904 by the German physicist, Carl Pulfrich, working for the famous optics firm, Carl Zeiss Stiftung. The instrument permitted rapid switching from the viewing of one photograph to another, “blinking” back and forth between the two images taken of precisely the same area of the sky but at different times. This allowed the user to more easily detect objects in the night sky that changed position. Of course, other objects besides planets were well known to move relative to the background stars; asteroids, for example. Many of these ‘interlopers’ were to be expected, of course, but they could be weeded out by a consideration of how much they moved in a given time interval. The velocity of a body orbiting the Sun depends on its distance from the Sun. The further away the object lies, the slower its orbital velocity will be and thus the smaller the distance it would be expected to move on a photographic plate.

Because most asteroids reside between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, they will have a very well defined distribution of velocities all of which correlate with the distance moved on the photographic plates. Objects residing beyond the orbit of Neptune will have correspondingly smaller orbital velocities and will thus show much less relative movement on the photographic plates. So, Tombaugh was trained to look for movements in a certain size range per unit time (of the order of a few millimetres over the course of a week). That said, there were many other sources of error to consider, including the length of exposure of the plates, the effects of atmospheric refraction, dust, clouds, the spurious results attributed to variable stars, as well as false positives owing to defects with the emulsion (equivalent to CCD ‘blooming’ in contemporary digital imaging). In addition, great care had to be made to match the centres of each plate taken at a given time interval.

The Zeiss blink comparator used by Tombaugh with the 13 inch Lowell Astrograph. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

In addition to all of the above parameters, the frequency of blinking had to be fine tuned for optimal results. This was found to be about 3 Hz (i.e. 3 times per second).  Anything greater than 10Hz would introduce an effect known as ‘persistence of vision’, where the eye would start to register considerably less motion. Less that 2Hz and the time realistically needed to conduct the searches would have to have been greatly increased. In this way, every inch of these plates were to be examined microscopically, requiring great concentration to carry it out effectively.

In consideration of all of this, Slipher was acutely aware that the odds of success were still very low and, as a result, the staff were told to keep ‘schtum’ about the details of the project, for fear of more ridicule from either the gallous press or the greater scientific community. Indeed, this much was acknowledged by Professor Lowell at the outset of the project, and he accordingly encouraged his staff to pursue other avenues of research so as to shore up the amount of ‘conventional’ data produced by the astronomers on Mars Hill. Overall, Tombaugh conceded that his new post was far from glamorous. It required long hours, and 100 per cent commitment in sometimes freezing conditions that would tax the hardiest soul.

On bright, moonlit nights, no exposures could be made, and Tombaugh was therefore free to catch up with other duties, ranging from the mundane but no less essential, such as stoking the furnaces with logs and shovelling snow, to the specialised, like mounting and developing the photographic plates, operating the blinker and keeping detailed written records of events as they unfolded, and so on. There was also time for leisurely observing. One of the treats Clyde enjoyed during these moonlit spells was the use of the great refractor for the visual inspection of the planets. Though V.M. Slipher was a formidable theorist and spectroscopist, he was also a highly skilled visual observer, having conducted many years of observations through the 24 inch Clark.

Records show that he would regularly employ a yellow filter at the eyepiece to supress the secondary spectrum produced by the achromatic doublet lens while observing Mars at high power. Others preferred red or orange filters but Slipher felt the transmitted yellow light preserved the natural colours of the planet best. Typically powers were kept below 500 diameters for planetary work on the great refractor (double star mensuration would often require more but the instrument was not used for such work, at least during the time Tombaugh was at the Observatory). It was through his in depth discussion with Slipher that Tombaugh learned that Percival Lowell was accustomed to stopping down the aperture of the 24 inch to 16 inches some 90 per cent of the time it was being used! Tombaugh also practiced this technique rather often with the large refractor but he recalled many occasions where he saw the alleged canals, more or less, as Lowell and Slipher had recorded them. But he also added that when he finally had a chance to examine the Red Planet through the considerably more powerful 82 inch reflector (dedicated in 1939) at McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis, Texas, where the seeing conditions were often better, the canals disappeared into a series of dots that the eye would naturally try to join in a smaller instrument. Tombaugh most certainly knew that Lowell’s canals were a sweet illusion.

Percival Lowell at the 24 inch Clark, conducting daylight observations of Venus. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

It is also noteworthy that Tombaugh did not revere the great refractor, or any other kind of  telescope for that matter. Indeed, one biographer noted how Tombaugh would frequently argue with the other staff astronomers that a Newtonian reflector could equal or exceed the performance of the best refractors, and without generating a colour error. His peers were biased though, as they only had the 42 inch reflector at Lowell Observatory to compare the great refractor with; and that was hardly a fair comparison as it was badly mounted below ground and as a result suffered from inferior seeing more frequently than the refractor! Indeed, the conclusion reached by Tombaugh was also arrived at by the late Professor E.E. Barnard, whilst comparing the planetary images garnered with the great 36 and 40 inch Clark refractors, with which he was intimately acquainted, to the newly arrived 60 inch reflector atop Mount Wilson, which saw first light in early December 1908.

The morning of February 18, 1930, was rather overcast while Clyde went about his routine work at the Observatory. This morning he was comparing two plates, each consisting of 10 minute exposures, taken near the star Delta Geminorum; one dated to the evening of January 23 (no. 165) and the other, to January 29 ( no. 171) 1930. Loading the plates into the blink comparator he noticed a shift in position of a body that looked very promising. It had shifted by 3.5mm; in the ballpark of the trans Neptunian object. But he wasn’t getting excited just yet. Tombaugh was far too cautious to jump to any conclusions before he carried out his battery of checks. Was it a blooming artefact?  Was it a variable star? Was one plate overexposed relative to the other? All of these had to be investigated but sure enough, the object looked solid. Now he was getting excited but still doubted himself. Then he thought of the smaller 5” astrograph, which should have recorded the same phenomenon. So he had those plates exposed and though the images were considerably fainter, his microscopic examination showed the same blinking! A tingle ran down his spine as he contemplated the evidence; he was now 100 per cent sure that he had discovered Planet X.

Now he had to tell someone.

Dr. Lampland was working in his office adjacent to Clyde’s. Later he would recall that something seemed amiss that morning as the sound of the blink comparator fell silent for a good half an hour. Tombaugh shuffled across the corridor and knocked on Lampland’s office door. “Come in,” Lampland shouted. Quietly opening the door, Tombaugh popped his head round and said, “I think I’ve found Planet X!” With this, Lampland jumped out of his seat and darted across the corridor to check the data for himself. As Tombaugh described the drill of checks he had carried out, Lampland looked very impressed. It was time to inform Dr. Slipher. So, excitedly, Tombaugh made his way down the long corridor leading to his office. “Dr. Slipher,” he said, “I have found your Planet X.” With a lingering stare, Slipher charged out of the office to examine the evidence for himself. For another hour the three men poured over the data and all were in agreement that it was a bona fide world beyond the orbit of the 8th planet.

It’s position among the stars of Gemini was also significant. Professor Lowell, proficient in celestial mechanics, had initially calculated the locus of Planet X to be in Libra, but upon later revisions, he revised this, first to eastern Taurus before finally settling on Gemini. Lowell had at last been vindicated, albeit posthumously. Dr. Slipher was in no hurry to announce the news just yet though. He was far too cautious for that. Thinking ahead, he ordered Tombaugh to take another set of exposures of the region near Delta Geminorum with the 13 inch astrograph, while Lampland was to obtain more precise positional data on the object using the 42 inch reflector. The comparator was fitted with a higher power microscope in order to obtain more accurate data on the object’s kinematics in order to compute its orbit.  On the evening of Wednesday February 20, Slipher, Lampland and Tombaugh opened the dome of the great refractor and pointed it at the new object. What they saw disappointed them. It was dim (of the 15th magnitude) and was completely indistinguishable from the other stars in the field! If this was a new world, it was very small. Indeed, the uninspiring telescopic sight of the planet induced a degree of paranoia in Tombaugh. What if this wasn’t Planet X after all? Maybe if he searched some more he’d find a larger object, more befitting of the icy giant worlds discovered by Sir William Herschel, Urbain Le Verrier and John Couch Adams?

As the days passed by, some other scientists were notified for consultative purposes, including Vesto’s brother and fellow astronomer, Earl C. Slipher, and Harlow Shapley, the then Director of Harvard College Observatory, in strict confidence that it would, for now, go no further. One date seemed especially appropriate; March 13 1930. It was Percival Lowell’s birthday; the highly esteemed persona who had given birth to the dream. It was also the 149th anniversary of Herschel’s discovery of Uranus. In the meantime, they would get their heads down and find out as much as possible about this small new world at the edge of the known Solar System.

Tombaugh went to work making a better estimate of the object’s magnitude, which he revised to magnitude 15.25. To get a better fix on its orbit, the staff re-examined plates from 1929. If they could find an earlier position of Planet X, they reasoned, they would have a larger arc to work with and hence be able to pin down its orbit with greater accuracy. But time was seriously against them and the search did not yield anything. The faithful day had arrived. Shortly after midnight on March 13, Tombaugh, Slipher met in the secretary’s office at Lowell Observatory and despatched a telegram to Harlow Shapley, who in turn immediately informed the International Union’s Bureau in Copenhagen. In addition to these telegrams, the Observatory issued a circular entitled, “The Discovery of a Solar System Body Apparently Trans Neptunian.” The circular gave some background to the project, how it was spearheaded by Lowell in 1905, discovered by Tombaugh and was being followed up and photographed regularly by Lampland. In addition, the celestial coordinates of its position at discovery was issued.

By the evening of March 13, the newspapers got wind of the story, and with that, the usual hodgepodge of misinformation.  Some didn’t metion Tombaugh at all, while in other stories his named was lost amongst a dozen other characters associated with the search since 1905. Back home in Burdett, Kansas, journalists from the local newspaper came out to the Tombaugh farm to get some background information for a cover story. In the space of a few hours the name “Clyde Tombaugh” was on the lips of everyone in the State and in the days that followed, he became an international ‘wonder boy’. But the announcement was also accepted with quite a bit of cynicism, especially from the professional community. Some astronomers questioned whether it really was a planet or merely a slow moving asteroid or comet near its aphelion. Others complained that the Lowell astronomers could not yet definitively say whether it was a trans Neptunian world without issuing its orbital details; data they had not yet been amassed with any accuracy. All of this upwelled troubling thoughts in Tombaugh’s young mind; the thrill of discovery was now tainted with lingering doubts and feelings of inadequacy.

The staff at Lowell Observatory were wise not to issue the precise coordinates of Planet X, as everyone and their grandmother was trying to find it. By June 1930, two further plates were recovered featuring the object in March and April 1915 and an intriguing record emerged from astronomers based in Uccle Observatory, Belgium, who had allegedly recovered the same object on a photographic plate dated to January 27 1927. These data greatly assisted the celestial mechanicians to place Planet X’s orbit on a much sounder footing. This was no comet; it was a real planet.

The appellation “Planet X” of course, would not satisfy a curious public, so the matter of bestowing an official name on the planet grew in urgency. Percival Lowell’s widow, Constance, suggested the name “Zeus” but upon later reflection humbly (no, not really!) offered “Percival,” and then, in a somewhat egotistical vein, “Constance,” which infuriated Tombaugh. However, conservatism had the last word, and so in keeping with the tradition of the names given to the other planets in our Solar System, Planet X would have to be Romanised. Many suggestions were forwarded, including Minerva and Cronus, but it was the suggestion made by an 11 year old English girl, herself a keen student of classical mythology, Venetia Burney, who suggested “Pluto”; after the Roman god of the underworld. What’s more, as V.M. Slipher pointed out, Pluto’s lettering started with the initials of Percival Lowell’s name, which sated the desire of the senior staff at Lowell Observatory  to ‘canonize’ their founding father. The name resonated with the public too. So from May 1 1930 Planet X was now known as Pluto.

The discovery of Pluto suggested to astronomers that there may be other objects lurking in the shadows beyond Neptune’s orbit. Many astronomers begun such searches and it soon became incumbent upon the staff at Lowell Observatory to resume further searches. This Tombaugh did for much of that late Spring. During this time, many more visitors were making the pilgrimmage to Mars Hill and Clyde was asked to submit popularised articles to various ‘highbrow’ periodicals, which he carried out with great diligence and enthusiasm. He even got a personal visit from Constance Lowell, immaculately turned out all in funeral black, like some grotesque parody of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Constance was by all accounts, a snooty and overpowering character who never really accepted Tombaugh as the discoverer of “her husband’s planet.”

With the advent of the rainy season in July 1930, Clyde was granted three weeks leave to go home and see his family in Kansas and to finally meet his baby sister for the first time. It was a joyous reunion for the young man who made it to the big time, and like Cincinnatus of old, laying down the bloodied cloak of a soldier to embrace the ploughshare, so too did Tombaugh relish the prospect of returning to the wheat and the threshing floor on his family’s farmstead. It was a breath of fresh air for the famous farmer turned astronomer. He also got to use his dearly missed 9 inch reflector for bouts of recreational astronomy under summer skies.

After his well earned vacation, Tombaugh returned to Lowell Observatory to carry on the search for new trans Neptunian objects. If anything, the next few years were even more taxing than before, as the search became more extensive, covering much larger areas of sky.  But although his work brought up many false positive results, he did have the pleasure of clarifying the nature of one object, a globular cluster, NGC 5694, in Hydra, first identified by Sir William Herschel in May 1784 as a fuzzy star. It was also a time where Tombaugh ‘evangelised’ his formally trained colleagues, constructing a number of reflecting telescopes for casual sweeping. Indeed, Clyde is rumoured to have constructed the first ultrarich field reflector in the United States; a 5 inch f/4 instrument which enthralled Lampland, Slipher and others. As a personal telescope though, Tombaugh was a bit more discriminating. A relative aperture of 5 was just about acceptable to him on account of the amount of coma it showed at the edge of the field. But f/6 or slower was far superior in his opinion. Indeed, during these years, he would argue that a long focus Cassegrain reflector would knock the socks off the 24 inch refractor and he was even able to definitively offer a reason why the 42 inch reflector erected west of the great refractor gave less good visual results on most occasions. The mounting, he discovered, was shoddy, and because it was erected just below ground level it suffered far more from thermals. Still, his recommendations fell on deaf ears. The 24 inch was elevated to the status of a ‘holy relic’ and no amount of reasoned argument was enough to sway Lowell’s learned disciples.

Indeed, Tombaugh conducted his own set of experiments on the great refractor on Lowell’s favourite target, Mars, and his conclusions were very revealing. At the powers Lowell used (typically 400x) with a stopped down lens, Tombaugh was absolutely certain that he saw the canals as Lowell reported them. But he felt that Lowell was quite unscientific in his choice of magnification. Specifically, when the power was increased some more, the straight canals lost their linearity. Lowell was obsessed with canals though. He desperately wanted them to exist, and even saw them on Venus, Mercury as well as on the Galilean satellites of Jupiter!

Tombaugh also conceded that the dramatic seasonal changes on Mars as seen through the great refractor did often look like the march of green vegetation, with some canals appearing and disappearing from one apparition to the next. This was a common perception though, as astronomers were completely open to the idea that some form of plant life could eke out a living on the Red Planet right up until the advent of the Space Age.

Despite Tombaugh’s international fame, it was not accompanied by wealth. Nor did he actively seek it. The University of Kansas offered Tombaugh a four year Edward Emory Slosson Scholarship in 1931, the first of its kind, but he chose to postpone his University studies for a year in order to complete the ambitious survey he was assigned to. It was while studying for his Bachelors degree in astronomy (graduating in 1936) that he met his future wife, Patricia Edson, who also graduated with an honours degree in the Liberal Arts. ‘Patsy,’ seven years his younger, married Clyde in June 1934 and accompanied her husband back to his accommodation at Lowell Observatory. Tombaugh went on to earn a Masters degree in astronomy at the same University in 1938. His employers at Lowell Observatory were only too happy to see him complete his formal education, as they felt that would make him a more ‘rounded’ scientist.

Except for a year long hiatus to complete his Master’s degree in 1938, Tombaugh resumed his photographic patrol of the sky with the 13 inch astrograph atop Mars Hill, Arizona, but was fully cognizant of the rapid developments the better equipped observatories were making, especially with the giant 60 and 100 inch reflecting telescopes on Mount Wilson in California. Tombaugh began to think of other ways to use the huge quantities of image data captured by his photographic surveys. It occurred to him that the same data could be used to uncover new variable stars, asteroids and comets and sure enough it did. In addition though, it brought dividends concerning the distribution of the spiral nebulae, the ‘Island Universes’ beyond the confines of the Milky Way. Specifically, Tombaugh uncovered a striking increase in the number of galaxies in the Great Square of Pegasus and extending eastward as far as Perseus. V.M. Slipher was very excited about this discovery and encouraged Clyde to write up a paper on his findings, which he presented at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, which convened in Denver, Colorado, in June of 1937. Tombaugh uncovered evidence that galaxies too are arranged into higher order structures like clusters and super clusters, stoking a brand new line of galactic astronomy that continues apace to this day. But the rise of Nazi Germany in Europe and the jostling for power in the Pacific Basin was about to trigger a World War that would change everyone’s priorities.

The outbreak of World War II brought sweeping changes to the lives of millions of people across the globe. And Clyde’s circumstances were no different, especially after the events of Pearl Harbor on December 7 1941. In February 1943, while still officially working at the Lowell Observatory, he was invited to teach a physics class at Arizona State Teacher’s College at Flagstaff, a post which he accepted but only briefly held, as the U.S. Navy headhunted him to teach navigation to a new generation of mariners at Northern Arizona University. Although he felt unqualified to take the post, the navy commander in correspondence with Tombaugh reassured him that he was, especially since he had by now gained the trigonometrical skills in his astronomy training to grapple with the course content. He felt it his duty to accept the new job, postponing, for now at least, his work with Lowell Observatory. Then, in 1944, Tombaugh was approached by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), which offered him a decent wage for teaching two semesters of astronomy classes to undergraduates. He accepted that post and enjoyed his time in California.

By this time however, tensions were being strained with his relationship with the staff at Lowell Observatory, who felt that his skills were now dispensable. Slipher was also showing outward signs of jealousy toward Tombaugh, who, in his opinion, had stolen the show with his sole claim on Pluto. He was formally dismissed from the institution in 1945.  It was hard to know which way to go for the Tombaughs in the immediate aftermath of the War but it was Patsy’s brother, James Edson, who provided the way forward. Having just secured a good job at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, where the U.S. military were developing their space age defence technologies. As part of their ambitious program, they needed someone to operate a new long focal length telescope to image missiles in flight. Tombaugh’s expertise in practical and theoretical optics made him just the man for the job. The money wasn’t bad either, all the more important to support their two new arrivals, Anette and Alden.  Clyde was to work and live at the base and from October 1946, Patsy and her two kids stayed at rented accommodation in the nearby town of Las Crusces. From the outset, Clyde’s training as a telescopist brought dividends to his new employers, by greatly improving the tracking capability of V2 rockets. For example, he soon discovered that one of the major reasons why the missiles could not be tracked over long distances was because of the times at which they were launched; usually 11 am. Tombaugh pointed out that there was so much turbulence in the air at this time that it would greatly impede optical telemetry efforts. He suggested instead that they change the time of launch of the V2 missiles to either the early morning or early evening when thermals were much less of an issue. He also suggested that instead of using the traditional achromatic telescopes for tracking, they ought to build a large aperture reflecting telescope (16 inch f/6), which offered better optics (owing to the lack of chromatic aberration) at much reduced expense.

His almost overnight success at White Sands military base gave him a level of security he never enjoyed in the stuffy intellectual climate he experienced toward the end of his days at Lowell Observatory. His comrades at the base elevated him to the status of a hero and he was constantly in demand to recount his story of how he discovered the furthest planet known in the Solar System. And a good, regular salary allowed the Tombaugh’s to purchase their first house at 636 South Almeda, Las Cruces, albeit in a rather dilapidated state (a new roof being chief among the repairs needed). This was to be their home for the next two decades. By 1950, Tombaugh had fulfilled all the major technical tasks his employers had asked of him and he was thereafter able to return to the hobby which had launched his career. He wrote his father back in Kansas, requesting him to send on his old 9 inch reflector so that he resume his amateur work. It was a round this time also that he started thinking about the planets again, particularly Mars, which had captivated him ever since his youth. Accordingly, he wrote up and published a couple of interesting research papers predicting the presence of impact craters on the surface of Mars, owing to its very thin atmosphere and its greater proximity to the asteroid belt. This work presaged the findings of Mariner IV, which in 1965 showed conclusively that the Red Planet was peppered with craters of all shapes and sizes, making it more like the Moon than anything else.

It was in 1953 that Tombaugh became personally involved in the search for Near Earth Objects and/or small, natural satellites, to assist the government in establishing how safe it was to launch spacecraft into near Earth space. In essence, the nature of these searches were the same as those Tombaugh carried out in his earlier planet searching days at Lowell Observatory, although since the objects were so much closer to our planet, they would move much larger distances on photographic plates per unit time. Ironically, one of the best instruments for doing this kind of work was the 13 inch Lawrence Lowell telescope atop Mars Hill. Tombaugh found himself commuting between Flagstaff and White Sands, only this time he was fully funded by the U.S. military with assistants under his command. The cash starved adminstrators on Mars Hill were only too happy to acquiesce. While there was some cause to keep aspects of the project secret, Tombaugh publicly announced at a meteor conference held at Los Angeles in 1957 that the four year long search had been unsuccessful.

The 1950s represented a time of unprecedented scientific progress. Literally anything was possible. Cures for cancer were just around the corner, and new drugs had conquered nearly all diseases that had plagued humankind for millennia. Now Man was setting his sights on the heavens and the discoveries that might lie in our future. Although Tombaugh never studied the subject, he blindly believed in Darwinian evolution and thus fully expected there to be intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Curiously, this happened around the same time he down played his traditional Christian beliefs and embraced the all singing, all dancing, Unitarian Universalist (read anything goes) church. Intriguingly, this dovetailed with his growing interest in Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). Indeed, Tombaugh not only believed that UFOs were a manifestation of extraterrestrial intelligence, he actually reported seeing ‘six to eight’ such objects on August 20 1949 near his home at Las Cruces, New Mexico. What is more, it is also known that he offered to spearhead a new project for the military to capture these objects with the telemetric technology available to him at White Sands.

What an extraordinary convergence of ideologies! For the record, the consensus opinion among secular scientists who have studied the phenomenon over several decades concluded that UFOs have a strong demonic dimension.

From 1955 until his retirement in 1973, Tombaugh joined the academic staff at New Mexico State University, where he took up a research interest close to his heart; the visual and photographic monitoring of planets which came into effect around 1958. Calling it the Planetary Patrol and Study Project, Tombaugh and his colleague Bradford Smith (who would later become an imaging scientist with the Mariner and Voyager missions), set up a fine 12 inch f/6.7 Newtonian just off campus. Funded by small grants from the National Science Foundation, it began taking images of the major planets across a broad range of wavelengths from the ultraviolet right the way through to the infrared. The instrument was later moved to an even better site in the nearby Tortugas Mountains. In addition to these multispectral photographic studies, regular visual drawings were made of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and Venus. Collectively, the data was used to assist NASA’s ambitious Mariner and (later) Pioneer spacecraft program. Optically, the 12 inch was reputed to be very fine indeed. To get an idea of how good it was, a visiting astronomer from Lowell Observatory had the pleasure of using it for a short spell and he declared that its images were sharper and clearer than the best images rendered with the old 24 inch Clark refractor on Mars Hill.

The Mariner missions to the planets were received with mixed blessings by Tombaugh. On the one hand, he was delighted that the Mariner IV spacecraft had beamed back solid evidence that the Red Planet was littered with craters, but was very disappointed that no evidence for Martian vegetation was forthcoming from the same mission. Because of his misplaced faith in evolution, Tombaugh was sure that the ‘waves of darkening’ he observed through his telescopes over the years were the manifestation of plant life and never really gave up hope that one day they would discover life there.

As well as his beloved 9 inch reflector, Tombaugh dusted down an old project he had begun in the 1930s and early 1940s involving a substantially larger personal telescope; a 16 inch f/10 Newtonian. Indeed, the mirror had been ground by 1944 but because of work commitments, he had to foreswear until 1960, when he finally completed the telescope. By this time the Tombaughs had moved into a larger and more opulent home setting at the southeastern apex of Las Crusces. He donated this instrument, which had an Honest John Booster as a tube, together with a very heavy equatorial mount to the newly founded Las Crusces Astronomical Society.

All who assessed the quality of the work conducted with the 12 inch for the Planetary Patrol Project, agreed that it was of the highest quality and of great importance to the developing space program. Indeed, Tombaugh was able to persuade NASA to provide funding for not one, but two 24 inch reflectors; one to be dedicated to planetary studies and the other to extend stellar and extragalactic research. The archives at NMSU have preserved about a million photographs of which more than half were taken of Jupiter. By 1961, the Planetary Patrol Project and Study Group consisted of a team of five scientists and it was about this time that NMSU officials approached Tombaugh to set up a brand new department within the University system. Although he was reluctant to do so, Tombaugh eventually amalgamated the originally small Department of Geography & Geology into a new and substantially larger Department of Earth Sciences and Astronomy.

Tombaugh’s retirement years were long and productive, and not surprisingly, he was approached by all and sundry to write his memoirs of his extraordinary career, as well as his philosophy of life. Interestingly, he vehemently denied, despite the battery of hard physical evidence in support of it,  that the Universe had a beginning, as that would give too much credence to the Biblical narrative, which clearly (and uniquely) states in its opening line the prophetic words:

In the beginning God created the Heaven and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (from Tombaugh’s copy of the Authorized King James Version)

Indeed, for a man who supposedly eschewed ‘the illogical,’ his denial of Big Bang Cosmology was somewhat hypocritical.

And although his hands were associated with many an amateur telescope, he enjoyed deep sky observing with a 10 inch f/5 Newtonian. His iconic 9 inch reflector was donated to the Smithsonian Institution as part of the display dedicated to the “Nation’s Attic.” He collaborated with Sir Patrick Moore on a new book chronicling his discovery of Pluto; Out of Darkness, The Planet Pluto; which was published in 1980, the highlights of which were serialised in a series of Sky & Telescope articles appearing about the same time. Much of his retirement days were also spent travelling as guest speaker at a number of amateur gatherings the length and breadth of the country. Indeed, as one biographer noted, he was busier during these years than he had ever been while in full time employment. Many honours were bestowed upon him, and none undeservedly, including a kindergarten school at Las Crusces, an entire Observatory at NMSU and at the University of Kansas, as well as the Jackson–Gwilt Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.

But his career was tinged with a great deal of personal sadness, as his most famous discovery was progressively demoted in importance owing to the discovery of several other trans Neptunian objects, most notable of which was 1992 QB1. The reality was that Tombaugh had inadvertently opened a veritable Pandora’s Box of new objects residing in the Solar System’s Kuiper Belt. And, to add insult to injury, there was growing talk that the discovery of more and more Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) would almost certainly mean that Pluto would have to be downgraded to the status of the first discovered member of a new group of ‘dwarf planets.’

The dwarf planet 134340 Pluto, as imaged by the New Horizons spacecraft on July 14 2015. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Tombaugh passed away quietly in his wheelchair on Friday January 17th 1997, survived by his wife and two children. Less than ten years later, the 26th Assembly of the International Astronomical Union voted, predictably, to reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet (134340 Pluto), and so the Solar System went back to having eight members. After his cremation, a small part of his ashes (30g) were placed inside a vial that was carried by NASA’s New Horizon Spacecraft, which visited Pluto and its entourage of moons in July 2015, beaming back a wealth of high resolution images of this distant ice world on the edge of the Solar System. One of its major features, a vast ice field, was also named in his honour; Tombaugh Regio.

Clyde William Tombaugh (1906 –1997); a life in science.

References & Further Reading

Levy, D.H. Clyde Tombaugh, Discover of Planet Pluto, Sky Publishing Corp, 2006.

Tombaugh, C. & Moore, P., Into the Darkness, The Planet Pluto, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Stackpole, 1980.

Sheehan, W. The Immortal Fire Within, The Life and Work of Edward Emerson Barnard, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Ashbrook, J., The Astronomical Scrapbook, Sky Publishing, 1984.

Ross, H. Samples, K & Clark, M. Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, NavPress Publishing Group, 2002.

Steiger, B., Project Bluebook, Ballatine Books, 1976.

Menzel, D. & Boyd, L.G.,The World of Flying Saucers: A scientific examination of a major myth of the space age, Doubleday, 1963.

Biographical Link: https://carlkop.home.xs4all.nl/clyde.html


Dr. Neil English is author of several books on amateur telescopic astronomy and is currently writing a new work entitled: Tales from the Golden Age of Astronomy, published in the spring of 2018.


De Fideli.

Tales from the Golden Age: A Short Commentary on Walter Scott Houston’s “Deep Sky Wonders” Part II

A Distillation of observing notes from the late Walter Scott Houston(1912–93)
















Chapter 8: August (continued)

Summer lies hot and tranquil on the land. The gigantic storms of winter and the turbulent atmosphere that accompanies them are only memories now. At this time of year the seeing is steady all night.

West of the Meridian in late evening lie the great star fields dancing with the brilliance of Sagittarius, Scorpius and Scutum. The eastern sky, however, is a virtual desert of bright stars. The Great Square of Pegasus has little to offer the naked eye observer, and Equuleus is likewise dim. On nights when a bright Moon floods the heavens with its golden light, the eastern sky appears almost devoid of stars. Near the meridian, however, in the small constellation of Delphinus the Dolphin.

pp 187

I can almost imagine Scotty setiing up at sunset, his charts in one hand, his tobacco pipe in the other, pensive, waiting for the curtain of darkness to draw on the landscape. August is a very special time in my own seasonal viewing, as it represents the end of a long period of summer twilight, when the sky never becomes truly dark. Running from late May to the end of July, year in, year out, the arrival of true darkness in early August is an event to be celebrated!

As Scotty mentions, the summer months generally bring the best seeing in the year, and that’s true across many areas of Europe too, despite the encroach of biting insects; Scotty had the mosquito, here it is the midge fly. Despite its diminutive size, Delphinus offers a fair amount of deep sky real estate for the enthusiastic star gazer and Scotty does a sterling job highlighting them for his readership.

Scotty says that he developed a “fondness” for Delphinus because of its richness in variable stars, which he enthusiastically monitored in the early days of his work for the AAVSO. On page 188 he points out that the constellation is home to a number of very fetching double stars that are accessible with binoculars or a small telescope. Arguably the most celebrated is Gamma Delphini, which marks the northeastern corner of the Dolphin. Through my 80mm f/5 achromatic telescope it is easily resolved at 50x showing a lovely golden primary and pale yellow secondary separated by about 12″ of dark sky.  Scotty says they’ve hardly moved since the system was first surveyed in 1830 by Wilhelm Struve.

Houston also mentions the much more challenging binary system; Beta Delphini ( magnitudes 4.0 and 4.9)  the secondary of which exhibits an apastron of 0.6″ and periastron of 0.2.” This system was first discovered by S.W Burnham in August 1873 using his 6 inch Clark refractor. Scotty informs us that Burnham was lucky enough to examine the stars near their maximum separation. Then on page 189 he delivers another invaluable account of his own efforts to resolve this pair using his old Newtonian;

In 1950 I examined the star with my newly completed 10 inch reflector. Then the separation was near a maximum of 0.6″ with the companion due north of the primary. My first attempts to split the pair failed because the companion was lost in the diffraction spike caused by the telescope’s secondary mirror holder. Success came only after rotating the tube 45 degrees in its cradle to shift the position of the spike.

pp 189.


Author’s note: I have spent the past few years carefully studying the properties of Newtonian reflectors in regard to their ability to split double stars. My findings showed that they were excellent instruments in pursuing this high resolution work, which has been traditionally associated with equatorially mounted classical refractors, and more recently in the promotion of very expensive apochromatic refractors. My own instrument of choice in the divination of difficult double stars, including sub arc second pairs is a 20.4cm f/6 Dobsonian (affectionately called ‘Octavius’) with a 22 per cent central obstruction. This work has instilled in me a deep respect for these telescopes that I am eager to share with my peers across the world. I give thanks both to Scotty and to Stephen James O’ Meara for including this material from his old Sky & Telescope columns and this book, respectively.


Octavius; the author’s tried and trusted 8″ f/6 Newtonian on its ‘pushto’ mount.
















Delphinus is also home to a number of rather lacklustre deep space objects. A challenge for larger apertures is provided with the tiny, compact globular cluster NGC 7006 (magnitude10.5), found by panning some 3.5 degrees east of Gamma Delphini. In my 8 inch telescope, NGC 7006 remains unresolved at 200x; more like a fuzzy snowball than anything else. Indeed, Scotty maintains that it remains unresolved in all but the largest instruments, and I would tend to agree. The reason is the enormous distance of this globular; now estimated to be about 140,000 light years (Scotty quotes 110,000 light years).

In the last couple of pages, Houston  discusses a few other objects of note in Delphinus, including the globular cluster, NGC 6934, the planetary nebula, NGC 6905, and the galaxy, NGC 6956. What is noteworthy is that Scotty weaves the experiences of other observers into his narrative, including Barbara Wilson, Philip Harrington, as well as celebrated authorities from yesteryear, such as the Reverend T.W. Webb (see pages 190 through 191).


Chapter 9: September

Scotty begins this month’s adventures in the oft overlooked constellation of Lacerta, the Lizard. Sandwiched between the larger constellations of Cynus to its west and Pegasus to its east, Lacerta is one of the ‘new’ constellations introduced by Johannes Hevelius in 1687. Scotty suggests we shouldn’t overlook Lacerta owing to the fact that since 1910, three novae have blazed forth from within its borders, so who knows when the next one will come.  First up, Scotty draws our attention a very picturesque open cluster of stars for binoculars or small telescopes; NGC 7243. You’ll find this cluster a little over 2.5 degrees west of Lacerta’s brightest luminary, Alpha Lacertae. Here’s how Scotty describes this cluster:

The cluster stands out especially well from the stellar background when I stop down my 4 inch Clark refractor down to 1.8 inches. According to Revue de constellations by R. Sagot and Jean Texereau, NGC 7243 in a 4 inch at about 50x is a rich traingular cluster of many stars between 9th and 11 th magnitude. The number of stars increases from about 15 in a 2 inch to 60 in an 8 inch. I found no define shape in a 12 inch recently, but counted at least 80 stars within a 1/3 of a degree area. Look for a wide double at the luster’s center, particularly if you have a 6 inch or larger telescope.

pp 197.

The surprisingly rich open cluster, NGC 7243, in Lacerta.



Author’s note: This cluster is indeed a fine sight in 15 x 70 binoculars or a small telescope. My 80mm f/5 telescope reveals about 30 members at 50x, but nearly double that in my 8 inch reflector. Larger telescopes show more, growing to well over 100 in a 12 inch instrument, though the precise number also depends on the magnifications employed. Best to experiment with NGC 7243 to see what’s what.


4 degrees directly south of NGC 7243 is NGC 7209, described on the bottom of page 197 and 198.

At midnorthern latitudes, the grand constellation of Cygnus rises high in the sky for exploration during September. On pages 200 to 210, Twinky covers much of its rich cache of deep sky treasures. After providing some interesting background on the constellation, Scotty launches into a wonderful discussion on the North American Nebula (NGC 7000), an enormous emission nebula located about three degrees east of the bright summer star, Deneb.

The huge and sprawling North American Nebula ( NGC 7000); a visble and infrared presentation. Image credit: Wiki Commons.



From my location, the skies are just dark enough to enable me to see the brightest parts of this emission nebula without the aid of a nebular filter. With a 32mm Plossl eyepiece delivering the large true field possible with a 1.25″ ocular, my 80mmf/5 achromatic delivers a wonderful field some 4 degrees wide at 13x. Scotty points out that NGC 7000 is an object celebrated more in modern times than in the past (see page 202). He attributes this to the rather restricted fields of the best telescopes of yesteryear, which tended to have very long focal lengths and the relative paucity of good, wide angle eyepieces. Indeed, in the darkest skies that Britain can offer, you can indeed make out the North American Nebula with the naked eye. Indeed, I last observed NGC 7000 in August of 2016 during a trip to the remote island of Skye, off the northwest coast of Scotland.

From here, Scotty moves on to M39, a nice open cluster for binoculars or small telescopes right up at the northern end of the constellation. To see it, centre your telescope on 4th magnitude, Rho Cygni, and move a little under 3 degrees further north, where it will appear in your low power telescopic field. Covering an area about half a degree wide, my tiny 3.1 glass at 13x reveals about twenty members, scattered haphazardly across the field. Scotty says he noticed a dark streak running about 5 dgrees east southeastward  from M39. A dark dust lane? What do you think?

Messier 39 in northern Cygnus; a nice binocular and/or small telescope object.Image credit:Wiki Commons.

In discussing dark lanes and nebulosity, Scotty mentions something very curious at the top of page 203:

The detection of dark nebulosity depends on many factors. I lean toward using long focus instruments because my experience has shown that they tend to scatter less light and provide a higher contrast image than do rich field telescopes. I have had some dramatic views of dark objects with my old 10 inch f/8.5 Newtonian reflector and the 12 inch f/17 Porter turret telescope in Springfield, Vermont.

pp 203.


Author’s note: If you actually read through the book, you’ll notice that Scotty also makes the same claims for the images served up by his 4″ f/15 Clark refractor.The common denominator, so far as I can see, is the long native focal length of both his aforementioned  reflecting telescope and the classical achromat. Cassegrain and compound (catadioptric) telescopes don’t really count, as the primary mirrors are quite fast (typically  f/2 to f/4). The latter’s high net f ratio relies on the magnifying effects of the secondary mirrors.

What do you think?


Pages 204 through 208 covers the weird and wonderful Veil Nebula in Cygus, an ancient supernova remnant which occured 15,000 years ago. Scotty describes it thus:

…..a broken bubble of luminous gas some 2 degrees in diameter. Although ignored by generations of telescope users, in the past 30 years the veil has progressed from a difficult test object to a reasonable target for anything from binoculars to the largest amateur telescopes. It is an excellent nebula for trainig the eye, perhaps the most important observing ” accessory,” to help us get the most out of the telescope we are using.

pp 205

Scotty informs us that the brightest parts of the nebula were discovered by Sir William Herschel back in 1784 during one of his sweeps using his homemade 18.25 inch speculum.  The Veil is partitioned into two distinct regions, east and west, with the former (NGC 6992) being slightly more easy to see. The eastern Veil (NGC 6992 & 6995) is found about 2.7 degrees northeast of the star 52 Cygni (an excellent colour constrast double for small telescopes). The western segment (NGC 6960) can be detected snaking its way past 52 Cygni. Getting to the spot in the sky where the Veil is located is the easy part but seeing it is quite a different matter! You’ll need very dark and transparent skies to have the best chance of seeing it with a backyard ‘scope without a nebular filter.

On page 206 Scotty raises the very interesting observation that it was hardly mentioned by the great amateur astronomers of the 19th century, even though their telescopes were certainly capable of detecting it.

Your chances of seeing the Veil nebula increase dramatically as the aperture of your telescope increases, but you can get very good results using an 8 or 10 inch telescope and a OIII filter. To see the individual strands with the structure a medium power should be selected (80x or 100x works well). Filters can work with smaller telescopes too, provided the magnification is not pushed too high. Below is a sketch I made a few years back of the eastern Veil using my 80mm f/5 achromat at 20x,with a 1.25″ OIII filter attached.

NGC 6992/95 as sketched with a 80mm f/5 refractor, x 20 & OIII filter.

















Though he doesn’t mention them much, Houston describes his 5 inch binoculars on page 208. Earlier in the text, he does say that they were hobbled together from two Apogee 5 inch x 20 richfield refractors:

My Japanese 5 inch binoculars, though very heavy, originally had only a shaky tripod. I remounted them on a 3 inch pipe held in concrete down to the bedrock that is Connecticut. A well greased flange allows motion in azimuth while the altitude motion is provided by the binoculars’ built in trunions. Though makeshift, the mounting is granite steady and turns smoothly.

pp 208


Author’s note: This is ‘vintage’ Scotty; making do with simple, no frills setups to maximise the time spent observing! Inspirational or what!


On pages 208 through 210, Scotty shifts gear and dicusses the curious case of NGC 6811, a small open cluster located just under 3 degrees northwest of the challenging double star, Delta Cygni. Though his own notes recorded it as rather lacklustre; he received a curious letter from an amateur based in Denmark;

Several years ago I received a letter from Tommy Christensen, who lived in Odensa, Denmark, and observes with a 3.5 inch refractor. Along with a description of M33 and the Veil Nebula was a brief note about the open star cluster NGC 6811 in Cygnus. He called it one of the most beautiful clusters he had seen and mentioned a ‘ dark band about 5’ thick running through the middle of the cluster, not completely without stars, but nevertheless conspicuously dark.”

pp 209.

Scotty solicited comments from his army of fans, deliberately keeping his question about NGC 6811 vague.  Some of the responses he got were hilarious (you can read them for yourself on page 209), but quite a few folk did notice such a dark lane.

His conclusion was right on the money though:

This is a beautiful, albeit minor example of how people see things differently. Everyone was looking at the same cluster, but because of experience, conviction, or psychological factors, each saw it in a different way.

pp 209

The remainder of this chapter covering the September sky is devoted to Aquila, the celestial Eagle. On page 213, Scotty mentions our very own Rob Moseley (who kindly chimed in to this website a while back confirming the prowess of the Orion/Skywatcher 180 Maksutov in regard to its ability to resolve double stars) who wrote Scotty concerning the planetary nebula, NGC 6804;

One of the great pleasures of deep sky observing is the individuality that certain objects acquire in the eyepiece. I’m always delighted to learn that someone sees an object in a new perspective. One such example is Robert Moseley of Coventry, England, who tracked down NGC 6804 while testing a new 10 inch f/6 reflector. His best view was at 120x. He writes,” It gives the impression of a highly condensed but partially resolved cluster. It is a faintish oval nebulosity with a 12th magnitude star near its northeastern edge. With averted vision at least one other star could be seen superimposed upon it.” Moseley questioned the 13th magnitude I had given for NGC 6804 in an earlier column. Published magnitudes for planetary nebulae cause many disagreements, and I believe it is best to slightly mistrust all of them and to record your own magnitude estimates with your notes.

pp 213.


Author’s note: Well done Rob! A fine addition to a fine book!

I like Scotty’s attitude to estimating magnitudes. What’s all the fuss about?


Chapter 10: October

October is a most auspicious month for amateur astronomers. The summer haze and humidity have given way to cooler days and crisp, clear skies at night. darkness comes earlier, dewing of the telescope’s optics is generally less of a problem, and the sky is not do jammed with star clouds that confusion rules.

The Milky Way stretches from east to west across the northern star patterns, but here we are looking in the direction approximately away from the center of the galaxy. Star swarms marking the galaxy’s plane are thinner, and it is easy to star hop and make finder searches for objects embedded within them. Some of the most beautiful sights for small telescopes are in and around this corner of the Milky Way.

pp 217

October is indeed a wonderful month to be out of doors. The leaves of decidous trees shut down their chlorophyll factories, revealing the aureal tints of their secondary pigments. Nights are pleasantly long and temperatures remain mild for the most part. The great Square of Pegasus and Andromeda, the Chained Lady, loom large nearly overhead, ripe for exploration with binoculars and telescopes. And it is here that Scotty begins his adventures.

Beginning with the Square of Pegasus itself, Scotty asks a simple question requiring nothing from his readers except their naked eyes. How many stars can you count within the confines of the Square?

If you can see 13 you are reaching magnitude six.

pp 218

On the next page he follows this up with another question. How many deep sky objects are visible in Pegasus? The answer to this question depends on how acute your vision is but also on the size of the telescope you observe with. And it is here that Scotty reflects on the growth of telescopic aperture in comparison to earlier times:

Telescopes of 17 inch aperture are now off the shelf items of modest cost. There are a dozen or more amateur groups in the United States that either now have or are completing instruments with apertures of 24 inches or more. Such light gathering power brings within reach of the backyard observer virtually every deep sky object in the NGC and IC compilations. Thus the Great Square of Pegasus alone contains more than 100 suitable objects.

pp 219


Author’s note: Scotty is referring here to the Dobsonian Revolution that swept the amateur world by storm in the last quarter of the 20th century. The Newtonian reigns supreme! As I explained in my book, Choosing and Using a Dobsonian Telescope, this was a true revolution and the only one that has occurred in amateur astronomy in living memory. And it’s gone from strength to strength; now amateurs are using fast 30 inch + behemoths for very reasonable cash investments, and which breakdown into convenient packages that can fit in an average sized car.


The first deep sky object visited is 12th magnitude NGC 7479, found by panning just shy of 3 degrees due south of Alpha Pegasi, which marks the southwestern (Scotty mistakenly quotes southeastern pp 219) corner of the square;

The magnificent barred spiral galaxy, NGC 7479 in Pegasus. Image credit: ESA/NASA

If your eye is properly dark adapted, the galaxy should be visible in even a 3 inch telescope, but a 6 inch is better. A cloth over your head and the eyepiece gives you good protection from stray light. I have seen it easily with my 4 inch Clark refractor, but with small an instrument it is not possible to see any detail. On the otherhand the 12 inch f/17 Porter turret telescope at Stellafane in Springfield, Vermont, offers a more interesting view. At 300x the central bar is obvious and there is a hint of a spiral arm at one end.

pp 219/20


Author’s note: My 8 inch reflector at 60x can make out the galaxy’s bright core, but the spiral arms do not yield at any power. Caldwell 44 needs a big gun to do it justice!


Time and time again, Scotty affirms that high f ratio ‘scopes appear to do better than those of low f ratio, but is careful not to jump to any firm conclusions;

A 12 inch f/5 reflector set up near the Porter telescope did not offer as good a view of NGC 7479 even though I thought the mirror was good.It may have something to do with the longer focal length of the Porter telescope, or a better eyepiece. The importance of fine quality eyepieces has been overlooked by many amateurs…..Objects once considered only within reach of large amateur instruments are being seen in smaller telescopes equipped with fine eyepieces.

pp 220


Author’s note: This is a can of worms! Don’t go there Scotty!

Longer focal length mirrors have less geometrical aberrations than their shorter focal length counterparts. That’s why we have coma correctors, for example! The former also hold their collimation better. That’s one of the principal reasons why I have called for the introduction of a mass market 8 or 10 inch f/7 Newtonian. Eyepiece quality is important too, as Houston points out. But we live in wonderful times nowadays. Eyepieces of higher quality than arguably the best in Scotty’s day are now available at very reasonable prices.


On pages 222 through 226, Scotty sojourns to two celebrated globular clusters adorning the autumn sky; Messier 15 in Pegasus and Messier 2 down in Aquarius.

Messier 15 as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

M 15 is easy to find about 4 degrees northwest of Epsilon Pegasi. At magnitude 6.3 it’s just within the visual range, provided you have keen eyesight and observe under a dark, country sky. The finder view is very distinctive, as the globular sits a mere half a Moon diameter due west of the magnitude 6.1 star. It pays to study the field at low power. Both objects are of the 6th magnitude but that of the globular is integrated, while that of the star is a point source. This is a good place to learn the difference between the two concepts.

The view of M15 is impressive with anything from binoculars to the largest telescope. telescopes of 4 inch aperture and lesswill not resolve the core of M15. My 4 inch Clark refractor at 40x shows M15 as a slightly oval disk, more luminous in the center, with edges just beginning to break up into individual stars. Increasing the magnification enhances the view, and at 200x stars at the center of the cluster star to be resolved.

pp 223.


Author’s note: M15 is a beautiful object at 150x in my 8 inch f/6 reflector. If you have a telescope of 12 inches or larger, M15 presents an extra challenge for you. Located in the northeast corner of the cluster is the 14th magnitude planetary nebula, Pease 1 (mentioned by Scotty on page 224). This was the first planetary to be found within a globular cluster. It was discovered in 1928 by Dr. Francis Gladheim using the 100 inch Hooker reflector atop Mount Wilson.


Moving to the northern edge of Aquarius, the Water Bearer. You can track this magnitude 6.6 globular a little over 4 degrees north of Beta Aquarii. My 130mm f/5 reflector at 100x shows it be noticeably elliptical and more condensed than M 15 but still a fine sight nonetheless. Scotty writes some interesting notes on M2:

The famous variable starobserver and comet discoverer Leslie Peltier finds M2 a more difficult object for the unaided eye than M33, the large spiral galaxy in Triangulum. In the clear dark skies over the Yucatan peninsula in Central America I could view M33 directly, but M2 required averated vision before it could be glimpsed directly. But I have seen M2 often with the naked eye in Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, and even from the bayous of Louisiana. Binoculars give enough detail to keep the amateur interested, while the view I once had with the Wesleyan University’s 20 inch Clark refractor was spellbinding.

pp 225


Author’s note: I would agree with Scotty that you’ll need a good 12 inch (see page 226) or larger telescope and high magnification to fully resolve this globular cluster


As a child  I would stand outside on autumn evenings and fantasize about constellations. I would watch as the horse archer Sagittarius shot a golden arrow at Scutum( Sobieski’s Shield). The arrow would strike the top of the shiled, tearing a great hole in it, and the fragments would fall back together as the arrow shaped open cluster M1.  The arrow would then soar upward into the star clouds, where it would hang poised for another  target in the Milky Way or perhaps another galaxy or even some imaginary other universe.

pp 226

With beguiling prose like this, Scotty would set his readers reeling for crystal clear skies. This is how he introduces his next object, the globular cluster, M71 in the peitite constellation of Sagitta, the Celestial Arrow, easily found immediately north of Aquila. Scotty says he first spied this 8th magnitude cluster with his 40x spyglass of 1 inch aperture. You can pick M71 fairly easily as it lies about midway between the third magnitude luminaries, Delta and Gamma Sagittae.

My 130mm f/5 reflector at 123x shows up a suprising number of stars (about two dozen) in this globular in a pretty stellar hinterland. Indeed, one can be fooled into thinking M71 is a dense open cluster rather than a bona fide globular. Scotty provides us with these notes;

My old 10 inch f/8.6 reflector, which, with its 0.75 inch thick plate glass mirror, was essentially a forerunner of today’s Dobsonians, gave a magnificent view of M71 at 100x. Stars were visible across the entire disk, and the object looked decidely like  an open clusterThe 20 inch Clark at Wesleyan University’s Van Vleck Observatory in Connecticut shows something  more globular.

pp 228

On pages 230 though 232 Houston discusses the celebrated Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) in Aquarius. In his discourse, Scotty includes the descriptions provided by dozens of observers using all manner of telescopic aids and is well worth a read.

On page 234, Twinky discloses a wonderful snippet of American astronomical history:

After the U.S. Civil War, however, Americans went on an observatory building binge. Funding for many installions came from state legislatures, since the astronomers provided time signals to their local areas. Almost every observatory from that era had a transit instrument for determining time. In return for their service, the lawmakers funded a large telescope to keep the astronomers happy. When I was at the University of Wisconsin in the 1930s, Wasburn Observatory still had the big brass fittings on the control board that routed time signals to commercial customers…. Most American observatories did not have special programs to search for deep sky objects.

pp 234


Author’s note: As explained in my book, Choosing and Using a Refracting Telescope, the largest equatorially mounted telescope in the United States in 1830 was a 5 inch Dollond refractor. Henry Fitz  is reputed to have made about half of all the telescopes sold in America between 1840 and 1855. Soon other makers of renown were establishing themselves, including  Alvan Clark & Sons and John Brashear, who improved and continued this telescope making legacy for the next 80 years or so. The great classical refractors, erected in their ‘cathedrals’ dedicated to the heavens, were symbolic of the new scientific confidence that the United States would enjoy well into the 20th century.


The final pages of this month’s chapter (236 through 238) discuss a number of deep sky objects south of Fomalhaut, many of which were discovered by Sir John Herschel from his observing station at the Cape of Good Hope, South Arica.


Chapter 11: November

We’re now approaching the end of the observer’s year but that certainly doesn’t mean there will be any let up in the convoy of celestial treasures to be enjoyed. In many ways, Scotty leaves the best until last, exploring as he does the bountiful constellations of Cassiopeia, and Andromeda riding high in November skies, as well as venturing to more southerly destinations in Pisces and Sculptor.

Scotty gets us off to a flying start by exploring a number of beautiful open clusters in Cassiopeia, the Celestial Queen, including NGC 457, NGC 436 and the visually striking NGC 7789.

The beautiful and exceedingly rich open cluster, NGC 7789, in Cassiopeia. Image credit: Hew Holooks.












No treatise on deep sky observing could fail to ignore NGC 7789, found about halfway between Rho and Sigma Cassiopeiae. Discovered by Caroline Herschel back in 1783, my 130mm f/5 reflector frames the cluster beautifully at 85x, revealing at least three score stars spalshed across an area roughly one quarter the size of the full Moon, and the 8 inch pulls in more than 100 at moderate powers! Scotty doesn’t hold back describing the splendour of this rich galactic cluster 6,000 light years away from the solar system;

NGC 7789 is one of those rare objects that is impressive in any size instrument. With a 4 inch rich field telescope the cluster appears  as a soft glow nearly 0.5 degrees across and speckled with tiny, often elusive, individual stars. the 12 inch f/17 Porter turret telescope at Stellafane picks up more than 100 stars. Through a 16 inch aperture the view is spectacular, and the whole field is scattered with diamond dust. And a 22 inch Dobsonian reflector in the clear skies of california gave a most impressive view with countless sparkling points filling an entire 60x field. I particularly like the drawing made by [Admiral W.H] Smyth with a 6 inch refractor.

pp 243

Another object of note in these pages is M 52. To find this 7th magnitude cluster, consider an imaginary line running from Shedir to Caph. Now extend this line about the same distance again until your finder picks up a roughly kidney shaped foggy patch of light a little less than half the size of the full Moon in diameter.

M52 ; a fine open cluster for small telescopes in Cassiopeia. Image credit: Wiki Commons.















November is a great month for observing the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), easily found with the naked eye from a fairly dark site a few degrees about Mirach (Beta Andromedae).  Large binoculars can often provide the best views of this enormous spiral galaxy on our doorstep but I am also very pleased with the view served up by my 80mm f/5 refractor coupled to a 32mm Plossl delivering 13x. It shows a very bright nucleus which gradually fades on either side. Just how far one can trace the spiral arms of M31 depends on a number of factors, not least of which is telescopic aperture, visual acuity, sky darkness and transparency. Most backyard ‘scopes can trace them to maybe 3 degrees from end to end, but Scotty informs his readers on page 246 that George P. Bond, employing the 15 inch refractor at Harvard College Observatory was able to follow the spiral arms out to 4 degrees as far back as 1847. Yet, in 1953, Robert Jonckheere, using ordinary 50mm binoculars measured their visble length to be 5.17 angular degrees!  Scotty recommends moving the nucleus out of the field to have the best chance of tracing these spiral arms. Indeed, he claims that after using 15 x 75 binoculars, he was able to measure a length of 5 degrees from end to end!

The great Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda seen here with its bright satellite galaxies, M32 left and M110 ( below to the right of centre). Image credit: Torben Hansen.












The two bright satellite galaxies attend M31, both of which are easily discerned in my 80mm refractor at the lowest power. M32 lies closer to the core of M31, whilst M110 is located further away ‘below’ the disc of M31. Scotty also reminds his readers that two other companion galaxies can be ferreted out some 7 degrees north of M31; NGC 147 and NGC 185. NGC 147 (actually located over the border in Cassiopeia)., which shines with an integrated magnitude of 9.5 can be found just under 2 angular degrees west of Omicron Cassiopeiae. The other galaxy, NGC 185, is slightly brighter, owing to its smaller, more compact size. It lies just one degree east of NGC 147. Both are well framed in my 8 inch reflector at 30x.

Scotty then moves down to Pisces, to visit the grand face on spiral galaxy, M 74. This magnitude 9.2 gem is easily located in my 80mm refractor by centering the 3rd magnitude Eta Piscium in a low power field. The galaxy is then seen as a ‘fuzzy star’ about 1.3 degrees off to the east and slightly to the north of Eta. You need a larger telescope to make out the spiral nature of this galaxy though. My 8 inch at 150x shows a number of faint stars splashed around its periphery and with good transparency, you’ll be able to make out something of its spiral nature but not a great deal. In general, it’s best to use the largest telescope available to engage in this kind of work.

After discussing some less well known faint fuzzies in Pisces, Scotty finally moves into Sculptor, featuring some of the observations of Ron Morales, Barbara Wilson and Steve Coe.


Chapter 12: December

The stuff dreams are made of; the Pleiades Cluster in Taurus, with its associated nebulosity. Image credit; Wiki Commons.

December brings winter, and with it many cold but often clear nights. On such evenings, when the stars sparkle like diamonds, there is no sight as spectacular as M45, the Pleiades. Currently, this open star cluster rides high in the eastern sky at the end of astronomical twilight. It is delightful in any instrument, from the naked eye to the largest amateur instrument, although I find large binoculars give the most impressive view. Almost every culture, past and present, mentions in its folklore the dazzling stars in this nearby culture. They have enhanced the imaginations of gifted poet and commoner alike as far as we can remember. They are the starry seven of Keats, the fireflies tangled in a silver braid of Tennyson, the fire god’s flame of the old Hindus, and the ceremonial razor of old Japan. No other celestial configuration appears so often on the pages of the poet.

pp 261.

There can be few sights that move the human spirit more deeply than the sight of the Seven Sisters rising serenely in a dark country sky. The cruelty of winter frost temporarily abates, as the mind soars. Why is the night sky so beautiful? Why were the stars made? Different people have different answers to these questions but to me they plainly attest to a Creator who delights in fashioning beautiful things, and was gracious enough to place them in the firmament so that we might know something of His awesome power. Rich or poor, young or old, the Pleiades is for everyone.

Not surprisngly, Scotty has a lot to say about this magnificent star cluster. How many stars can you see within its confines? Most have no trouble making out six members. With a little practice, a seventh can be made out, but the keenest eyes report more, many more.

Depending on light pollution and sky conditions , most persons can see between four and six naked eye Pleiads.Traditionally, the average eye can see six stars here, the exceptional eye seven, and 10 bear names or Flamsteed numbers. However, during the 1800s the noted British amateurs Richard Carrington and William Denning both counted 14 stars. The late dean of visual observers, Leslie Peltier, told me he could always see 12 to 14 stars on any good moonless night.

pp 263.


Author’s note: Having average eyesight, I can usually only count 6 members, but have certainly glimpsed a seventh but only in the darkest skies that Scotland can offer. If you have a good, blackened telescope tube (without its lenses) lying about, try peering through it to minimise the amount of peripheral light entering your eye. Can you see any more? Indeed, in perusing the work of the Victorian populariser of astronomy, Sir Robert Ball, I recall him stating that one could see stars during broad daylight if one were to observe from the bottom of a deep well. Alas, I can’t confirm this! 19th century skies were considerably darker than those we typically enjoy today, helping to explain why these observers of old saw so many more Pleiads than we generally can.


On page 263 through 265, Houston discusses the nebulosity enveloping M45, itself a good sign that the cluster is relatively young ( of the order of a few tens of millions of years most likely). The area of sky around  the star Merope is usually the place where most amateurs report such nebulosity. Technically this is a reflection nebula, where the star light is insufficiently energetic to ionize the gas but enough to allow it to get scattered off innumerable dust grains within the cluster. It was first reported by the German amateur astronomer, Wilhelm Tempel, back in 1859 using a 4 inch Steinheil refractor whilst working in Italy. Scotty points out that seeing this nebulosity depends strongly on the conditions of the sky through which we observe;

From Tucson my 4 inch showed it readily. In Connecticut, a 10 inch reflector failed but in Vermont a 5 inch Moonwatch Apogee telescope succeeded. At the August convention of the Astronomical League in Tennessee, I was surprised to find several observers who had seen the Merope Nebula more than once. It was readily visible in a 6 inch reflector made by Fred Lossing of Ottawa. Once its position southwest of the star Merope was pointed out, others saw the dim glow too. In the 16 inch, the nebula seemed much more obvious, and averted vision was not required.

pp 263.

The Crab Nebula (M1) in Taurus. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Of course, the Pleiades is grand star cluster within the larger constellation of Taurus, the Bull, and on page 265 Scotty discusses a few other gems that are visible within the constellation using the naked eye, binoculars or a modest telescope. The Hyades is a sight to behold with the naked eye or through low power binoculars or even opera glasses. Then there is the Crab Nebula (M1), which is best found by centering the star Zeta Tauri in the low power field of view of your telescope and then panning 1 degree to the northeast. The Crab is rather disappointing telescopically as it certainly does not resemble the images seen in long exposure photographs, and increasing aperture doesn’t greatly transform the view. Scotty agrees:

The Crab can be seen in 2 inch finders. Small telescopes reveal only a shapeless 8th magnitude blur variously sketched as oval, rectangular, or more often something in between.

pp 268

After discussing a few deep sky objects in Cetus, Scotty throws caution to the wind and encourages sky gazers to return to the easy objects that delighted us in our youth:

As many of us know, the telescope is a wondrous invention, and the heavens contain all manner of marvels that can still astound the imaginative mind, no matter what the smog density may be. Some of the better sights await us in the December evening sky. The Northern Cross is erect in the Northwest; Albireo has already set. Pegasus is now a great diamond shape sloping slowly to the west, as Orion mounts closer to the meridian. This is no time for routine or difficult objects; it is better that we sweep again the old favorites of our youth; the sights that enthralled us with our first homemade reflector.

pp 276

By now, old Twinky was already thinking about the great sights that he would revisit in the new year; the Great Nebula in Orion, Barnard’s Loop, the magnificent Double Cluster; and so it begins again!

Dr. Neil English’s new book, Tales from the Golden Age of Astronomy will be published in the Spring of 2018.


De Fideli.

Tales from the Golden Age: A Short Commentary on Walter Scott Houston’s,”Deep Sky Wonders.”

A Distillation of observing notes from the late Walter Scott Houston(1912–93).
















Between 1946 and 1994, the noted American observer, Walter Scott Houston, wrote the Deep Sky Wonders column for Sky & Telescope magazine, entertaining several generations of amateur astronomers across the English speaking world. His great personal knowledge of the deep sky and enthusiasm to share his experiences were downright infectious. With beautiful prose and just the right amount of technical detail, Houston’s writings presented delightful ‘word pictures’ of the many deep sky objects that adorn the night sky. The present work, first published in 1999 by Sky Publishing Corporation, represents a distillation of his writings which appeared a few short years after his untimely passing in December 1993.

The copy of the book discussed here refers to the paperback edition (309 pages), containing a preface, followed by 12 chapters covering all the months of the year, and ending with source references, a bibliography and index. The selective writings are edited by the noted observer and former Sky & Telescope columnist, Stephen James O’ Meara.

The Preface

This is divided into three distinct sections with commentaries from O’ Meara, Brian Skiff and Dennis di Cicco, who provide interesting biographical details of Houston’s life and observing philosophy.

Born in Tippecanoe, Wisconsin, on May 30 1912, Houston developed an early interest in optical instruments, constructing his first telescope as a preteenage boy: a 1 inch aperture refractor from salvaged spectacle lenses, and mounted inside a cardboard tube, which provided a magnification of 40 diameters. But we also learn that ‘Scotty’ was far more knowledgeable about microscopes than telescopes. Growing up in an era where good telescopes were very expensive by modern standards, Houston, like so many of his contemporaries, resorted to grinding his own mirrors in order to sate his growing aperture fever. This resulted, we are further informed, in a badly made 6 inch primary mirror he finished in 1930, but it was soon improved upon when he apparently produced a first rate 10 inch silver on glass mirror which formed the heart of Houston’s first serious telescope, an instrument that consolidated his lifelong love for the treasures of the deep sky. The interested reader will note that Scotty’s 10 inch mirror is on display at the R.W. Porter Museum of Amateur Telescope Making, Springfield, Vermont.

After leaving school, Scotty studied for a degree in English literature at the University of Wisconsin and it was here that he made his acquaintance with a one Joseph Meek, who stoked his interest in observing variable stars. Indeed, after joining the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) in 1931, he went on to contribute an astonishing 12,500 observations throughout his long life!

Scotty was quite the scholar, securing teaching positions at various public schools and universities across the American Midwest. During World War II, he served as an instructor for pilots at the Army Air Force’s Navigation School, at Selman, Louisiana. Finally, he moved to Connecticut, where his skills in the written word were put to good use as an editor for American Education Publications, a post he held until his retirement in 1974. He and his wife, Miriam, were inveterate travellers, visiting astronomical conventions and star parties across the United States, where he endeared himself to the community, which had so admired his Deep Sky Wonders column over the years and decades since its inception back in 1946.

Observations made with this homemade 10 inch f/8.6 reflector formed much of the basis of Scotty’s earliest astronomical forays, conducted under the dark skies of rural Kansas throughout the 1950s. That instrument must have been a best of a ‘scope, but it served as his workhorse for many years. Scotty was also very enthusiastic about using binoculars, as we shall discover. His association with the AAVSO introduced Houston to arguably his favourite telescope;a 4 inch f/15 Clark achromatic refractor. On page 84 of Deborah Warner’s book, Alvan Clark & Sons, Artists in Optics, we learn of more details about the instrument:

William Tyler Olcott, the author of several popular books on astronomy, used a 4 inch aperture Clark refractor made in 1893. A wooden tripod supported the brass with nickel tube and a hand driven work wheel. Olcott later gave the telescope to Phoebe Haas (q.v), who then gave it to the American Association of Variable Star Observers, which in turn loans it to its members. The Olcott instrument is now being used by Walter Scott Houston.

pp 84.

A neoclassical 4 inch f/15 refractor, similar to that used by Houston, and once used by this author for several years.

Later in his life, Houston acquired a 5 inch Apogee ‘Moonwatch’ rich field refractor delivering a fixed power of 20x, which he used to sweep the skies, and which features in many of his later monthly columns. He also had in his possession a 5 inch binocular, which is occasionally mentioned in the text.

Scotty eschewed the growing number of amateur astronomers who were becoming increasingly obsessed with their equipment. He was an observer, not a ‘gear head’. Brian Skiff explains:

Scotty had a light touch and avoided being distracted by technical details. You don’t find any invidious comparisons of different telescope or eyepiece brands in his writing or much about the nitty gritty of equipment at all, because Scotty knew that the most important piece of equipment was the eye, and its training the most important activity; all else was trivial in comparison. Time wasted arguing the virtues of one eyepiece over another was time not spent honing your observing skills.


How times have changed!

It was with this modest cache of instruments that Walter Scott Houston created his literary magic; word enchancements that we shall explore in this essay.

Houston invited many of his readers to comment on the more speculative commentaries he made in the course of making his observations, and accordingly invited them to write him with their findings. In this way, Houston built up a formidable correspondence base with fellow observers across the United States, Canada and further afield, and when he attended star parties he would get to finally meet his admirers in person. Back in those days before internet, Scotty corresponded with his fans via snail mail. Specifically, they’d receive a small blue postcard with a personalised message. In these and other ways, he endeared himself to his readers and inspired many to take up the gauntlet to explore the riches of the deep sky.

One of his greatest admirers was W. H. Levy, of comet fame. Indeed, according to Skiff, it was ‘Twinky’ (aka Houston), who provided the essential push to him becoming the celebrated comet discoverer he subsequently became:

David Levy tells the story of meeting Scotty at a Deep Sky Wonder Night in northern Vermont in late August 1966. He had just begun comet hunting some months earlier. In the middle of the night, David took a break and began telling Scotty of his hopes to discover a comet someday. Puffing slowly on his pipe, Scotty asked David what the sky was like outside. He answered that it was pretty clear, dark and moonless. Scotty then asked if David’s telescope was out there, to which the answer was “yes.” Scotty took another puff on his pipe, looked up quizzically and said, “Well, David, you sure aren’t going to find a comet as long as we’re inside talking about it!”


In 1980, Scotty underwent surgery to remove a cataract from his observing eye. As we shall see in his discourses, this greatly increased his sensitivity to shorter visual wavelengths as well as ultraviolet radiation. We will also discover a wealth of information concerning what ordinary individuals achieved using modest instruments, thereby providing yet more historically relevant documentation on what experienced individuals saw under the starry heavens. The individual chapters cover the entire observer’s year, parsing the sky up into twelve slices, with each fully two hours of right ascension in width. So, why not pull up a chair and enjoy some of the highlights of this charming and inspirational work from memory lane.

The Great Nebula in Orion, the majestic furnace of winter. Image credit Wiki Commons.

Chapter 1: January

I learned my constellations in Tippecanoe, Wisconsin, a town that long ago vanished into the urban sprawl of Milwaukee. Back then Tippecanoe was a rather treeless tract of farmland bounded by the great clay buffs of western Lake Michigan. The sky ran right down to the horizon, with an almost irresistible force, called for you to look at it. In January 1926, after a midnight walk home from ice skating, I wrote:

Snow crystals like blue diamonds, but with a dreamy gentle radiance totally unlike the harsh gem. A rail fence as black as Pluto himself runs along the road. The forest is black in the distance. The landscape is a masterpiece in ultramarine and sable.

As if in contrast, the heavens above blaze with a thousand tints. Incomparable Orion leads the hosts with blue Rigel, ruby Betelgeuse, and bright Bellatrix. His silver belt and sword flash like burnished stellar steel. And more advanced is the dark and somber Aldebaran, so heavy and gloomy. In fitting contrast are the delicate Pleiades, who sparkle “like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid.”

How can a person ever forget the scene, the glory of a thousand stars in a thousand hues, the radiant heavens and the peaceful Earth? There is nothing else like it. It may well be beauty in its purest form.

pp 1/2


Author’s note:  Few books make an entrance like Scotty’s opening lines of chapter 1. Recalling the days of his youth, when the skies near his home were sublimely dark and crystal clear, and when light pollution was simply non existent, Houston thrusts us headlong into the starry universe of a freezing January night. Such a scene reminds this author of the sable skies of his own youth, when he’d sit on his back on a windswept sand dune on the south coast of Ireland during summer holidays, where the stars, too numerous to count, would stretch all the way down to the horizon! The brilliant luminaries of January, coupled to the naturally darker sky experienced as our planet faces away from the hustle and bustle of the down town Milky Way, would have certainly bewitched the young sky gazer and instilled in him/her a great yearning to explore its cavernous reaches with optical aid.



On page 2 through 5, Scotty introduces us to the glories of the Great Nebula in Orion, a most fitting place to start Deep Sky Wonders. He describes how the nebula was first ‘discovered’ in 1611 and informs us that Sir William Herschel turned his first homemade reflecting telescope toward it in 1774 in the aftermath of some two hundred failed attempts to fashion a decent speculum mirror! Scotty’s mind wanders, as he discusses the drawings made of the Orion Nebula by telescopic observers prior to the advent of astronomical photography;

Drawings of the Orion Nebula made before the influence of photography raise more questions than they answer. Only superficially do the sketches bear any resemblance  to one another. The bright section of the nebula drawn by Bindon Stoney using Lord Rosse’s 3 foot reflector in Ireland doesn’t begin to match what I saw in 1935 with the 36 inch reflector at Steward Observatory in Arizona. Trouvelot’s 1882 lithograph based on observations with the Harvard 15 inch is a reasonable match to my view through a 3 inch. On the other hand, John Mallas’ drawing in the Messier Album, made in the 1960s with a 4 inch telescope shows features that most observers need a 10 inch to see.

pp 4


Author’s note: It is difficult to see the precise point Scotty is making here. Certainly, the visual acuity of the observer has a role to play, and it is certainly true that a good observer with a small telescope will probably see more than a poor observer using a larger instrument. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly true that for observing the Orion Nebula (or, indeed, the vast majority deep sky objects) that a good observer will see more in a larger instrument than the same individual will see in a smaller one, provided the optics are working as they ought to.


The Nebula, as Scotty ably reminds us, responds well to all magnifications. “Its chaotic form gives a strong impression of twisting and turbulent motion,” he writes, “that are too slow to follow….. and its green tint is obvious to most. …… With low powers and a field wide enough to include the whole nebula, it becomes an object compelling enough to draw exclamations of delight from even the most disinterested bystander.”

pp 5.


Author’s note: Scotty is dead right! Seeing the Orion Nebula through most any telescope, large or small, is sure to knock your socks off and is arguably one of the best outreach objects to enthral beginning observers.


On pages 5 through 6, Scotty discusses the elusive Barnard’s Loop, an enormous, faint emission nebula running for several tens of degrees east of the Orion’s belt asterism.  He informs us that E.E. Barnard did not, in fact, discover the structure. It was the harvard astronomer, W. H. Pickering who first picked it up on photographic plates made at Mount Wilson in 1889; a full five years before Barnard’s own wide field astrographs confirmed it.

The beautiful but visually challenging Barnard’s Loop in Orion. Image credit: WIki Commons.
















In all his years of searching with instruments of all shapes and sizes, Houston admits that the structure had eluded him, until one night at his Connecticut home, he saw it with his naked eye when he placed a OIII filter up to his eye! The sighting of it drove him wild:

My wife says I jumped clean over the observatory (it’s a small building).

pp 6

Sticking with elusive objects, Scotty then moves onto the Horsehead Nebula, which, although discovered photographically in 1900, had eluded the most seasoned deep sky observers for generations. It’s found very close to 2nd magnitude star, Alnitak, the southermost luminary in the Hunter’s belt. Even to this day, the Horsehead has evaded most deep sky observers, generally requiring large aperture telescopes and excellent seeing conditions. A Hydrogen beta filter (unavailiable in Scotty’s time) also helps make this nebula pop.

Scotty provides his own findings with the Horsehead:

From Connecticut my 4 inch refractor failed to reveal the Horsehead, but my notebook indicates that it was visible from Kansas with a 10 inch reflector. I have since fished it out using a 4 inch Clark, a 4 inch off axis Newtonian telescope made by Margaret Snow, a 5 inch Moonwatch Apogee telescope under the same circumstances as Mr. Wooten, immediately after the passage of a cold front.Scattered light from 2nd magnitude zeta foils many attempts to find the Horsehead, since the two are seaprated by only 1/2 a degree.

pp 8

Less challenging is the Flame Nebula (IC 434), located a mere 15 arc minutes to the southeast of Alnitak. Scotty reports that the Flame has been observed in instruments as various as a 60mm classic refractor as well as small reflecting telescopes. Scotty received reports that the Flame was exceptionally well observed at high altitude.


Author’s note: Many years ago, during my brief forays into astrophography, I captured a reasonable image of the Horsehead and Flame Nebula using a 8 inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope on Kodak ektachrome. Visually, it remains an elusive object to my eyes. The Flame Nebula can be glimpsed at powers of about 200x in a good 8 inch reflector and of course, one should not neglect Alnitak itself, which presents as a wonderful triple star for backyard telescopes.


Scotty made it very clear from his writings and correspondences with amateurs across the country that the sighting of many deep sky objects depend more on the condition of the sky from which it is observed than the visual acuity of the individual. This is brought into sharp focus whilst discussing his next January target, M33, the Pinwheel Galaxy in Triangulum, which is presented on pages 9 through 11. Good seeing conditions and clean air swept clear of particulates render M 33 visible without optical aid. Scotty also informs us that it can prove a difficult target to pin down telescopically, owing to its low surface brightness:

With a diameter of 1 degree, the 7th magnitude spiral more than fills the field of view in high power binoculars and presents an almost featureless glow that is easily missed. Therefore, very low powers or even small binoculars give the best view.

pp 10.

The Pinwheel Galaxy, as imaged in a 10 inch Newtonian reflector. Image credit: Alexander Meleg.

With careful study in a moderatey large back yard telescope, Scotty  says;

“M 33 is usually smooth, but on one night I saw the whole surface surprisingly mottled, with the southeast part considerably brighter than the northeast….. Most observers settle for for locating NGC 604, a bright knot in one arm 9.1′ east and 7.6′ north of the galaxy’s nucleus….. One night in an 8 inch, a congested mass of bright patches was seen superimposed on an overall spiral pattern.

pp 11


Author’s note: The Pinwheel is a fascinating object to study in telescopes of 8 inches or larger aperture. It is very well presented in my 8 inch reflector at 30x, where a roughly ‘S’ shaped structure is seen snaking its way from a slightly brighter and more condensed centre. If you crank up the power to over 100x or so, one can make out NGC 604 as a distinct blob at the extreme tip of the galaxy’s northern spiral arm.


On pages 11 through 15, Scotty fleshes out details of an interesting correspondence with a one Pat Brennan, of Regina, Saskatchewan, an avid deep sky obsever who used a homemade 6 inch f/7 Newtonian to carry out his own observations of more obscure NGC objects and who was struck by the disprepancy between their description in Dreyer’s New General Catalogue (and its revisions) and how he found them at the eyepiece. As Scotty points out, the all sky photographic surveys, recording as they do a bewildering number of faint and bright objects, would often overwhelm well defined clusters as seen in a small amateur telescope. A few such objects (loose open clusters) are discussed, including NGC 1662, NGC 2180 and NGC 2184 in Orion, NGC 2251 in neighbouring Monoceros and NGC 7394 in Lacerta. The moral of the story here is that until one actually observes such systems for oneself, descriptions can be next to meaningless.

The magnificent Double Cluster (Caldwell 14) in Perseus.










On pages 16 through 19, Scotty discusses one the most beautiful deep sky treasures in all the heavens, the celebrated Double Cluster (also known as Xi Persei) in the constellation of Perseus. Although known to the ancients, the Double Cluster’s true majesty could scarcely be revealed until the age of the telescope was upon us. And while anyone evenly briefly acquainted with the night sky can find it without much trouble with the naked eye, Scotty is nonetheless careful to provide his readers with good directions on how to find it from less than ideal skies.

Scotty reveals that many of the great telescopic observers of past centuries recognised its splendour, including W.H. Smyth, T.W Webb and W.T. Olcott. Serviss’ Astronomy with an Opera Glass, published in 1888, described it thus:

With a telescope of medium power, it is one of the most marvelously beautiful objects in the sky; a double swarm of stars, bright enough to be clearly distinguished from one another, and yet so numerous as to to dazzle the eye with their lively beam.


A composite drawing of the Double Cluster by the author conducted with a 32mm Plossl coupled to an 18cm f/15 Maksutov Cassegrain.

Houston provides his readers with some historical references to observers who first coined the term ‘Double Cluster’, with a number of individuals using the phrase beginning around the latter part of the 19th century. From here, Scotty wastes no time in providing his impression of the system as seen through a medium sized telescope:

Each of these two open clusters would stand well on their own , but they are even more spectacular because, less than a degree apart, they are visisble in the same low power field. I see h Persei (NGC 869) being slightly brighter and more concentrated of the two. Becvar’s Atalas catalogie gives the star count in NGC 869 as 250. Just 1/2  a degree east, Chi Persei is said to contain some 300 stars. However, anyone who looks with a 10 inch telescope will certainly consider the catalog values to be conservative.

pp 19


Author’s note: Scotty declares that the finest views he has personally enjoyed of the Double Cluster was with a 6 inch refractor equipped with a special 4 inch focal length ocular designed by Art Leonard. This author has observed these clusters with all manner of instruments, including opera glasses, a three draw spyglass with a one inch diameter objective, binoculars of various sizes, as well as a plethora of astronomical telescopes. Arguably the best view was enjoyed with a rather specialised 8″ f/6 doublet achromat (utterly useless at high power though), but these days he is completely sated with the medium power views served up by his workhorse instrument, a 8″ f/6 Newtonian reflector.


The final pages of this opening chapter discusses a number of NGC objects in the far southern constellation of Fornax. On page 23, Houston discusses the visibility of the planetary nebula, NGC 1360:

A short notice on this object was in Deep Sky Wonders for 1972, and it surprises me now. I wrote that NGC 1360 was not seen in a 4 inch reffractor but glimpsed with a fast 5 inch refractor; a sad testimony to the murk of my Connecticut skies that evening…

pp 23.


Author’s note: This is an intriguing statement, and one that flies somewhat in the face of much contemporary ‘wisdom’. Afterall, a quality 4 inch long focus refractor (his beloved Clark) ought to see things ‘better’ than a fast achromat only an inch larger, right? Wrong! Scotty had little reason to prevaricate. The larger instrument showed up this magnitude 9.4 Robin’s Egg Nebula, where the 4 inch apparently could not; and under the same conditions!


Chapter 2: February

The chapter begins in the rather lacklustre constellation of Camelopardalis, to an oft overlooked galaxy that presents as quite a spectacular sight from a dark sky site; the barred spiral galaxy NGC 2403. Scotty comments that it was,

too bad Messier missed this spiral while hunting comets. If it had been included in his list, it would certainly one of the better known galaxies in the northern sky. Sky catlogue 2000.0 lists NGC 2403 as about 1/4 of a degree and shining with a total light of an 8.4 magnitude star  values similar to famous Whirlpool Galaxy, M51. Indeed, NGC 2403 is the brightest galaxy north of the celestial equator that does not have a Messier number. pp 28


Author’s note: One can find NGC 2403 about 7.5 degrees northwest of the third magnitude star Omicron Ursae Majoris (Muscida). My observations indicate that it is somewhat larger than Scotty’s quoted size; more like 25 x 13 arc minutes and thus covering an area roughly half that of the full Moon.


NGC 2403 featuring supernova 2004DJ as imaged by Rochus Hess using a 25cm f/5 Newtonian astrograph.

As Houston rightly points out, this remarkable non Messier object is well seen in large binoculars and is a ” lovely gem” in his 4 inch Clark refractor. He also points out that the famous American comet hunter, Leslie C. Peltier, included NGC 2403 in his list of galaxies used for testing out the suitability of a telescope for comet hunting. Through his 10 inch reflector the view was transformed into “an ocean of turbulence and detail.” This is more like the description this author recognises in his 8 inch f/6 Newtonian at powers of 100x or so.

Scotty then goes on to describe another galaxy in the celestial Giraffe; IC 342, first discovered by the great English amateur astronomer, W.F. Denning in the 1890s. Houston quotes this galaxy as a 12th magnitude spiral galaxy and is very much more faint than NGC 2403. Scotty was unsure about whether it constituted a bona fide member of the Local Group. Today, we know for sure that it is. This author has not seen this faint galaxy personally, but it shouldn’t present as too much of a difficulty in an 8 or 10 inch telescope with averted vision and low powers.


Author’s note: The integrated magnitude of IC342 is quoted as between 8.4 and 9.1 depending on the source; both of which are considerably brighter than the magnitude 12 figure quoted by Scotty on page 29.


Intriguingly, Scotty mentions that despite several attempts to see IC 342 with a number of 4 inch refractors, he never managed to see it with such instruments, but does go on to say that, “using a 10 inch reflector I noted it as easy and even stands 100x once located.

I wonder what you see?

Kemble’s Cascade. Image Credit: Wayne Young.

On page 30, Scotty presents his wonderful word painting of one of the most striking asterisms in the entire heavens; Kemble’s Cascade:

Despite more than half a century of peering into nooks and crannies and looking where the guide books were silent, I missed one of the sky’s more beautiful asterisms. In 1980 a letter from Lucian J. Kembe, who lives under the clean skies of Alberta, Canada, told of a fine grouping he had come across.While sweeping  with 7 x 35 binoculars in Camelopardalis, kemble found a “beautiful cascade of faint stars  tumbling  from the northwest  down to the open cluster NGC 1502.” I called the asterism Kemble’s Cascade when writing about it in this column. The name has stuck.

pp 30

It was Houston who honoured Fr. Kemble with this discovery; a remarkable feat in itself as was apparently unnoticed by earlier observers. Kemble’s Casacade runs for about 2.5 degrees all the way from Cassiopiea right down to the open cluster NGC 1502 in the Camelopardalis. My 80mm f/5 achromatic refractor frames the entire line of some 15 stars (the brightest of which is magnitude 5) using a 32 mm Plossl delivering 13x. The magnitude 5.7 cluster, NGC 1502 is also worth scrutinising with binoculars or a small telescope, where some four dozen members can be made out with a concentated gaze.

Gaius; the author’s 80mm f/5 refractor.

















Scotty also points out that the cluster is home to two interesting multiple star systems for small telescopes; Struve 484 and 485. The former is a pretty communion of three suns, with the two fainter members separated from the primary by 5.5″ and 22.5″. The latter is a wonderful amalgam of nine suns, seven of which have magnitudes in the range  7 to 13th magnitude and according to Scotty are, “within reach of a good 4 inch telescope” pp 31. The remaining two members, he says, are within range of a 8 inch telescope.


Author’s note: I can confirm that a good 8 inch reflector can tease all of the Struve 485 members fully apart and is quite a sight for sore eyes, as one might imagine.


During the early 1980s, new filter technologies were coming to the fore that would soon render objects previously considered all but invisible plainly seen. This would come about with the invention of broadband and narrow band filters and it is noteworthy that Scotty lived during this era;

At the 1982 Texas Star Party, I was asked what was the best new challenging deep sky object after the large aperture Dobsonian revolution had dispatched most of the test objects from the 1950s and ’60s. I suggested the california Nebula, not knowing that a piece of modern technology would soon remove it from the the list of challenges; a skyglow piercing nebula filter. In fact, I remember saying that it is the ultimate test object for visual observers. So much for that wisdom, for little did I realize when I made the comment that before I returned to Connecticut I would see the nebula with my naked eye through an O III filter. In the winter of 1992, in Mexico, the same filter showed the California nebula as bright.

pp 34.

Scotty informs us that this extraordinarily elusive object (prosaically referred to as NGC 1499) in Perseus was discovered visually by the young E.E.Barnard in 1885 using the 6 inch Clark refractor at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee. Barnard is well known for possessing incredibly acute vision, especially for faint objects on the precipice of vision. On page 35, Scotty offers his regal advice to observers wishing to see this object;

A low magnification should be used so that the field of view shows plenty of sky to contrast with the object. the telescope’s optics should be well collimated and free from dust and dirt that would scatter light and reduce the image contrast. The eyepiece also should be clean , and all air to glass surfaces antireflection coated. While a number of things affect the visibility of Low Surface Brightness (LSB) objects. I suspect that seeing them depends more on observer experience and eye training than on specific telescope f/ratios and magnifications.

pp 35


Author’s note: From a dark sky, away from the artificial lights of towns and cities, cast your gaze immediately north of xi Persei. NGC 1499 spans a whopping four full Moon diameters (two angular degrees) in extent. If you can’t spot it with the naked eye, try holding up a Hydrogen beta filter (which transmits at 486.1nm), which should greatly help in the visual discernment of this emission nebula. A regular Deep Sky filter should also help. The hydrogen gas that constitutes the bulk of the nebula is excited by  xi Persei, which is itself a member of the Perseus OB2 association of hot, young stars. Telescopically, one ought to choose a small rich field telescope offering as wide a field as possible, and again, one should couple this to an appropriate filter. Good luck in your endeavours to see this amazing structure!


Page 35 recounts a number of ways amateurs have seen the California Nebula over the years. Perhaps the most endearing is that described by a one Alister Ling from Montreal, Canada, who wrote Scotty with this tale. He was visiting his friend, David H. Levy, and took a small boat out upon a lake near his cottage where the air was exceptionally tranquil (think Big Bear Solar Observatory):

I made a monocular from my 400mm telephoto lens by attaching a 28mm orthoscopic eyepiece to it. This gives a magnification of about 14x and a field several degrees in diameter. No sooner had I located xi Persei than the extended nebula was quite obvious. It was about 1.5 degrees long with two fairly bright stars embedded near its edge. Roughly near its midpoint there is an obvious kink in the nebulosity. It appears more like a mass of unresloved stars than a gas cloud; very much as the Milky way appears to the naked eye. Later, a crescent Moon rose in Gemini, and rendered the California Nebula invisible.”

pp 35


Author’s note: Those were the days eh! Fun with a makeshift telescope! I can’t imagine many folk doing something like that now. Note also how the nebulosity completely vanishes in moonlight!


In the clear, cold nights of winter, the dazzling constellation Perseus stretches its silvery fishhook high in the northern sky. The Milky Way narrows considerably in Perseus, being partly veiled by interstellar dust, and we are looking well away from the center of the galaxy, in Sagittarius. Star charts show that the open star clusters which abound in Cassiopeia and Auriga are noticeably fewer in Perseus. But the constellation does offer many objects that will reward the observer who braves the cold weather to observe them.

pp 36

With words such as these, how could anyone resist the opportunity to venture outside on a clear winter’s night to observe the glory of the firmament? Scotty understood that the stars offered a kind of comfort that could not be found elsewhere. He was drawn to them, like a duck to water.

We move from Perseus briefly to explore a splendid telescopic object; M27 (NGC 6853), the Little Dumbbell, in the diminutive constellation of Vulpecula, the Fox, at the head of Cygnus. One of the brightest of the planetary nebulae, it is easily seen in binoculars as a 8th magnitude misty glow. Scotty says it’s hard to find though, and he’s right! Thankfully, he offers the reader an easy way to locate it;

Start with Phi Persei. This star and a dimmer one just to the south from a pointer, with Phi at the head that directs the observer to a diamond of faint stars, within which M76 is dimly perceptible.

pp 36.

The Little Dumbbell (M76) in Vulpecula. Image credit: Robert J. Vanderbai.

A telescope transforms the binocular view immeasurably. In my old 4 inch f/15 achromat, it appeared as a roughly boxed shaped object, greenish in hue, and about twice as long as it is wide. It responds well to high magnification. 200x is the order of the day. Two lobes of this planetary nebula are seen projecting out at either end with a pretty smattering of faint stars strewn across its face. Scotty decribes it thus:

With a small aperture or in indifferent sky conditions, M76 shows only a dim irregular oval with ragged edges. But one night, with an 8 inch reflector in the hills of the Golden Gate in san Francisco, M76 was a most exciting object.It appeared more than 2′ by 1′( large for a planetary) and high magnifications brought out an intricate network of tubulent celestial clouds.At Stellafane in Springfield, Vermont, M76 appeared as a marvelous object in George Scotten’s 12 inch f/5.7 Dobsonian reflector. The nebula seemed to float between us and the starry background, its edges appearing  even more faryed than when smaller telescopes are used. Its curled twists and streamers seemed to show the whole mass in turmoil. At the 1992 Winter Star Party in the Florida Keys I had a chnace to view M76 through a 36 inch Dobsonian reflector built by Tom and Jeannie Clark. To reach the eyepiece required climbing a stepladder half as high as the surrounding palm trees, but the view was worth it. it made anything I had ever seen in my old 10 inch reflector just a dusty memory.

pp 37.


Author’s note: Scotty vividly describes what amateur astronomers refer to as ‘aperture fever.’ That said, though he most certainly enjoyed and appreciated the views through giant light buckets, there is no evidence that he ever personally succumbed to them. Evidently, he was completely sated by much smaller, simpler kit.


From Vulpecula, we venture back into Perseus once more, where Scotty discusses the bright open cluster M 34. Situated about half way between Algol (the Demon star) and the famous double star, Gamma Andromedae (Almach), this magnitude 5.2 open cluster is an excellent target for binoculars or a small telescope.Scotty was of the opinion that the best views of this cluster were to be had with 15 x 65 binoculars, although I think the view is equally compelling at 13x in my 80mm f/5 refractor. A 4 inch telescope shows up a few dozen stars loosely associated with each other and varying in brightness from the 8th to the 12th magnitude.

Many observers, including Scotty, have noted additional structures inside the cluster more reminscent of that seen in globulars than any other type of object. Scotty also mentions the interesting double star at its heart.

I see three noteworthy curved rays of stars running out from the center which are very  evident in my 4 inch Clark refractor at 40x. Indeed, they even show in binoculars. Near the center of the swarm  lies the double star Otto Struve 44, which my 4 inch refractor splits nicely at 100x, especially when the heater is turned on to remove any trace of dew  from the objective. The primary star is of magnitude 8.5 and 9.2 companion is 1.4″ distant at position 55 degrees(toward the northeast)

pp 39

One of the great charms of reading the work of historical figures is the thrill of discovering new information about how our hobby has changed over the years and, just as importantly, how it has not changed! Such knowledge is valuable. On page 40, Houston says that until the 1970s, most deep sky charts never listed objects fainter than about 13th magnitude. The reason he says is because truly big telescope mirrors were hard to come by because they rapidly became too heavy and unwieldy. Back then, mirrors were made with a diameter to mirror thickness ratio of 6:1. A 6 inch mirror was already one inch thick and a 12 inch would have to be 2 inches thick!  And those big mirrors didn’t come cheap either:

Such mirrors larger than 12 inches cost a fortune.

pp 40

And yet, Scotty was an accomplished ATMer:

In 1932 I made a 10 inch reflector from 1/2 inch plate glass. The mirror had to be carefully supported or else it made every star in the field appear double; pretty but hardly suitable for astronomy.

pp 40

Indeed, Scotty goes on to say that during the early 1930s, the largest telescope dedicated to serious amateur observing was a 13 inch reflector donated by Cornell University to the Milwaukee Astronomical Society.

By the 1980s, advances in manufacturing technology ensured that virtually any good sized star party across the United States had good telescope mirrors 20 inches or larger in size, allowing the 13th magnitude barrier to be broken. As a test for this 13th magnitude + limit, Scotty offers the galaxy trio, NGC 1130 (magnitude 13.0) and NGC 1129(+14.5) and finally NGC 1131 (+15.5). According to Scotty, these should all be visible in a good, modern 10 inch reflector from a suitably dark site.

The remainder of the chapter discusses the huge and winding constellation of Eridanus, the celestial River. Alas, owing to my own far northerly location (56 degrees) only the northernmost tip of this constellation (to the southwest of Orion), is on view and thus I’m not in a position to comment on many of the objects Scotty discusses here, which are better suited to those observing at more southerly latitudes.

As darkness settles on the February landscape, the mighty Hunter Orion stands high over the southern horizon. Now is a fine time, however, for observers living in northern temperate latitudes to explore the backwaters and eddies of the the River Eridanus cascading westward from brilliant, blue white Rigel. Eridanus meanders in graceful loops and bends before disappearing below the southern horizon, where it ends at Achernar deep in the southern sky at declination –57 degrees.

pp 42.

The majestic barred spiral galaxy, NGC 1300 in Eridanus. Image credit: Hubb;e Site Images

Scotty goes on to inform us that Eridanus offers no star clusters to the observer but does have a profusion of galaxies. One good target for small telescopes is NGC 1300, a rather fetching barred spiral galaxy, with a visual magnitude of 10.3. Houston says:

It is within reach of a 4 inch, and I have seen it easily with a 3.5 inch Questar telescope.Though photographs  of NGC 1300 with larger telescopes reveal a central bar with two thin but tightly wound spiral arms, smaller amateur instruments show only a blurred spindle. A 4 inch f/12 oof axis reflector suggested some detail in the glow but fell short of showing any spiral structure. A 10 inch or larger will give a more diatinct image, about 6′ x 3,’ and may even reveal the faint companion to the north, NGC 1297.

pp 43.


Author’s note: This is arguably one of the most accessible galaxies in Eridanus even for those living at high northern latitudes. You can find it by panning about 2.3 degrees north of third magnitude Tau Eridani. An 8 inch or larger reflector and power of about 200x gives quite a good view of its main features.


In discussing NGC 1232, found just 3 degrees southwest of NGC 1300, Scotty mentions something curious;

In my 4 inch refractor it seems to be better seen with a 150x eyepiece than with a 50x used in combination with a 3x Barlow lens. This is curious, for usually a Barlow and a long focus eyepiece give a view a view superior to an eyepiece of shorter focus that is used alone.

pp 44.

What do you think?

On page 45, Scotty commences a fascinating discussion on the ‘natural tools’ deep sky observers employ in order to see faint objects on the edge of visibility. In particular, he mentions averted vision, long known to experienced observers, but stresses that it is not equally effective for all observers. Some folk get more out of it than others, as it were.

And, like any other human endeavour, visual astronomy is not an exact science. There are exceptions to every rule:

In experiments at the Naval Research Laboratory in the late 1950s, one subject actually saw less as the image approached the edge of his retina. However, one exceptional individual’s sensitivity increased steadily in both colors; the gain in red light was three magnitudes in a direction 40 degrees from the fovea. These experiments, by J.L. Boardman, were done with scotopic(dark adapted) vision……. Until the tyro observer acquires the skills needed to ferret out fainter deep sky targets, there is often a period of frustration at the eyepiece.

pp 45.

The moral of the story here is that no book or instruction manual can ever reveal the optimum method of visualing faint fuzzies. Personal experimentation is the only sure way of getting ahead.


Chapter 3: March

Walter Scott Houston was the complete observer. He was as happy looking with his naked eye, as he was with the help of various optical accoutrements, particularly binoculars and telescopes. Curiosity drove him.

It is in this vein that Scotty opens his topics for discussion for the month of March, and in partcular, to a beautiful, though quite elusive object in the wilds of Monoceros.

On a trip to a high altitude site in Northern Mexico he recalls:

The first target was an old favorite of mine, the Rosette Nebula( NGC 2237–39) to the east of Orion in the stellar wilderness we call Monoceros. Without a filter only a tiny glimmer of light was visible, but with an ultrahigh constrast (UHC) filter the nebula burst forth in specatcular fashion. I know of no other object in the sky where flicking back and forth in front of a naked eye produces such a wonderful effect.

pp 49

It is true indeed true that the Rosette Nebula, or that “elusive wreath of winter”, as Scotty referred to it, is often better seen in a finder ‘scope than the main instrument. Binoculars allow one to easily centre the open cluster embdeed at the epicentre of this highly complex structure; NGC 2244 easily found about two fifths of the way between ruddy Betelgeuse and brilliant white Procyon. My 80mm f/5 achromatic telescope shows up about two dozen stellar members at 50x, but larger telescopes show even more stars in the hinterland. Finding the surrounding nebulosity, of course, is an entirely different matter. Its fairly low altitude in my winter sky renders it exceptionally challenging and I’ve only glimpsed the brightest (western) edge at low power in the same telescope in the wee small hours of the morning (when the glow from Glasgow, 25 miles to the south is minimised, or ‘Glasglow’ as I disaffectionately refer to it), after a cold front has swept the air clean of particulates. Inserting a nebular filter (and powers below 50x or so) to dim the stars of NGC 2244, immeasurably improves the visibilty of the brightest parts of the associated nebulosity.

Imagers have revealed the Rosette to be enormous in relative terms; fully 1.3 square angular degrees in extent. And what a photographic spellbinder it is too!

The beautiful Rosette Nebula in Monoceros, as imaged by Andreas Fink using an 8 inch f/4 GSO imaging Newtonian.









From page 49 through 52, Scotty launches into a wonderful discussion about the Rosette Nebula, detailing how this object was discovered piecemeal. Sir William Herschel, for example, discovered the open cluster NGC 2244 but entirely missed the nebula. Neither was it seen my Charles Messier or Admiral W. H. Smyth. William Lassell however, observing with his splendid 48 inch speculum reflector from the pristine, dark skies of Malta in the 1860s, described the same cluster with the nebulosity!  And while seeing parts of the emission nebula once took on the mantle of a test object, the arrival of modern nebular filters have long removed that distinguished status from it.

From Monoceros, we move northward into the constellation of Gemini, the Heavenly Twins, where Scotty waxes lyrical about arguably one the finest Messier Objects in the northern sky; the enormous, tumbling chaos that is M35:

M35 is my favorite open cluster. Located about 2.5 degrees northwest eastward of Eta Geminorum, it is an an impressive frame of bright stars with a softly flaming background of fainter ones, seemingly containing hundreds of members. William Herschel did not include the cluster in his general catalog of deep sky objects. It was his way of honoring Messier as the man who, through his earlier catalog of about a hundred deep sky objects, had inspired him to conduct his own sky survey.

pp 52

I agree wholeheartedly with Scotty in considering M 35 to be the most visually stunning open cluster in the starry heaven. It has the uncanny ability to induce gasps of delight each time I run my telescope through this region, situated at the northern foot of the constellation.


Author’s note: Eta Geminorum (Propus) mentioned in passing by Houston is also a most challenging binary star, consisting of a marmalde orange giant star (possibly variable owing to its advanced age, and first noted as such by Julius Schmidt back in 1865) with a much fainter bluish companion that is seen to ‘bleed’ from the primary under high magnifications. Very tough for a 4 inch telescope, this author has enjoyed his finest display of the rather elusive secondary using a 8 inch f/6 Newtonian on the frosty evening of December 12 2015. See here for details.


M 35 (lower right) as imaged by the 2MASS all sky survey.  Note also the fainter cluster NGC 2158 just off centre right. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

M35 is so large that its glory is often lost in rather small, restricted fields of view offered up by large telescopes. Yet, every increment beyond binoculars causes M35 to increase in majesty. My 80mm achromatic telescope shows it well, but the view is greatly improved in my 5.1 inch f/5 reflector at 20x. But it is with my largest telescope, an 8 inch f/6 reflector, equipped with a 40mm wide angle eyepiece delivering 30x, that I drank up my finest views of the system in recent years. Scotty seems to have enjoyed a somewhat similar viewing experience to my own;

To me, M35 seems most lovely in a 6 inch at 40x; though I must admit that, through a 36 inch telescope and a wide field eyepiece, this blaze of interwoven stars is an awe inspiring sight. But I have probably viewed M35 the most with my homemade 10 inch reflector. This was my workhorse telescope years ago on Louisiana and Kansas. Wide field eyepieces were rare during the 1940s and ’50s so, using a pair of achromats and fooling with the spacing between them, I made a wide field eyepiece with passable quality. It was a copy of what 19th century photographers called a landscape lens, and it wasn’t far removed from the design now commonly called a Plossl. ….With this eyepiece on the 10 inch I could get all of M35 into a single field. The view was too beautiful to describe with mere words. Bright stars were scattered with cosmic recklessness across the field, and it was difficult to establish where the cluster’s edges dissolved into the stellar background.

pp 54.

After enjoying the sheer magnificence of M35 through the telescope you’d be forgiven to have totally overlooked the fainter open cluster located a mere 0.4 degrees to the southwest of it. But once you ‘discover’ this other system, NGC 2158, it’s like the icing on the cake. Doubtless, were it located in some other, less extraordinary patch of sky,  this rich but faint open cluster would be more often cited by deep sky observers. It is thus easy to see why, historically, it was all but overlooked by early telescopists. NGC 2158 is poorly rendered in my 80mm f/5 refractor but is quite prominently displayed in my 5.1 and 8 inch reflectors at low and moderate powers.Here’s Scotty’s description of the cluster;

The dim, arrow shaped cluster lies right on the outer edge of M35 and is a pitfall awaiting careless observers. In my youth NGC 2158 escaped my attention until one exceptional night. From the 1920s on I had looked at M35 many times, mostly with 4 and 6 inch telescopes, but occasionally with the Milwaukee Astronomical Society’s 13 inch reflector. Then while observing with a 10 inch f/8.6 reflector in 1952 under the excellent skies of Manhattan, Kansas, I accidently discovered a peculiar wedge shaped object. For a few heartbeats I thought I had discovered a comet! Fortunately, before announcing my “comet” to the world, I checked the Skalnate Pleso Atlas Catalogue and found that it was the small star cluster NGC 2158.

pp 55.


Author’s note: Scotty’s ‘discovery’ of the ‘comet’ near M35 is par for the course for any experienced deep sky observer. And while NGC 2158 seems for all the world like it is physically associated with M35, it actually lies some 10,000 light years farther away than its more illustrious neighbour!


Pages 57 through 62 are devoted to two rather special ‘deep sky’ objects, multiple stars to be more precise; Castor( Alpha Geminorum) and Sirius (Alpha Canis Majoris). Scotty recounts his own personal history with both systems, how their brighter companions have changed their orbital distances and position relative to their primaries over the decades and centuries, as well as some of the historical personae associated with them. Castor presented Scotty with one of his earliest visual feats; resolving it into two components in the 1920s using a “1 inch homemade refractor.”

Sirius B, first seen by accident by Alvan G. Clark in January 1862, whilst testing a new 18.5 achromatic doublet objective for Dearborn Observatory, Illinois, was actually deduced to exist some 18 years before it was observed by the German astronomer, Friedrich W. Bessel (not mentioned in the text by Scotty). The system also caught Scotty’s attention as a young man, where he managed to split the pair with a truly famous instrument:

I first split the pair in 1932 with the same 6 inch Clark refractor used earlier by the famous double star observer Sherburne W. Burnham.

pp 61.


Author’s note: Wow! What an honour that must have been! S.W. Burnham was a gifted (and entirely self taught) double star obsever. He saw things that still stretch credulity!

The brighter companions to Castor (B &C) and Sirius B can currently be enjoyed in very modest backyard ‘scopes. A 3 inch refractor and moderate powers ought to easily bag both.


And it was Burnham’s equally famous colleague and friend, E.E. Barnard, who, Scotty reliably informs us, discovered a whopping five new nebulae within one angular degree of brilliant Castor in 1888!

NGC 2410 lies 1 degree north of the star, whilst the others ( IC 2194, IC 2193, IC 2199 and IC 2196) lie even closer in, off to the southwest of Castor. All are in the 14th and 15th magnitude range.pp 61.


Author’s note: I have never searched for, yet alone seen any of these objects, but they’d make an interesting project for a dark, moonless, winter’s evening in a moderately large telescope.


Appropriately enough, Scotty dedicates the next couple of pages of the book to another Messier showpiece, M41, located just 4 degrees south of the Dog Star. As always, delightful words stream from Scotty’s thought flow:

In contrast to Sirius, the field below is dark and vacant, allowing the eye to regain some of its sensitivity. After a minute or two this mighty galactic cluster rides into view. Its stars shine with  the total light of single 4.5 magnitude sun, which puts the cluster well within range of the naked eye. It would probably be better known as a naked eye target were it not so low in the sky as seen from northern temperate latitudes.

pp 63


Author’s note: From my far northerly latitude M41 is always very low when it transits the meridian, making it a considerably more difficult object to see visually (though it certainly can be seen!). A good binocular object, my 5.1 inch reflector at 60x shows the system well, revealing about three dozen stars spread over an area slightly larger than the full Moon, though I suspect that were it higher in the sky I might be able to divine still more members.


Messier 41 in Canis Major as imaged by NASA’s 2MASS survey. Image credit: Wikicommons.



















Scotty also mentions two faint open clusters discovered by Clyde W. Tombaugh (about whom this author will have much more to say in an up and coming chapter) located about four degrees east of M41 (pp 63 to 64).

Did you know that the month of March offers up more 1st magnitude stars than any other from northern latitudes? Trust Scotty to notice and with great literary poise:

During March evenings eight 1st magnitude stars sit in solemn conclave in the sky above my Connecticut home. Two are in Orion, while the others are arranged in orderly grandeur around the great Hunter. Three naked eye star clusters; the Pleiades, Hyades and Praesepe; are strung along the ecliptic carrying with them a wealth of ancient folklore. Near the meridian beams the Great Orion Nebula, also visible to the naked eye. Galactic clusters are legion in the winter Milky Way, and overhead Capella shepherds a profusion of them in Auriga.

pp 65.

You can tell where Scotty is going to venture next; that splendid trio of open star clusters in the celestial Charioteer: M36, M37 and M38, as well as a few other systems of lesser splendour.

The stellar storm that is M37. Image credit: NOAO.

Scotty says M37 is the prettiest of these, and I would agree. It’s easy to find a little southeast of the midpoint between Theta Aurigae (itself a good double star for small telescopes) and Beta Tauri. First described by Hodierna back in 1654, it was independently discovered by Messier over a century later. My 80mm f/5 glass shows up a respectable 50 or so members at 50x. There’s also very pretty 9th magnitude orange star marking its epicentre, which only adds to the great natural beauty of the system.

Here’s how Scotty describes M38:

Moving “down” the Milky Way, we run into such variegated sar fields and clusters that it almost impossible to know where to halt, but this might very well be at M38. Although this cluster is well within the star strewn, it is usually visible to the naked eye without much effort.It is certainly far easier than M33(the Triangulum Galaxy), and probably easier than M11, the Scutum cluster. Evenly compressed into a glowing ball two thirds the diameter of the full Moon are over a 100 softly blazing suns. M38 is a magnificent in any sized instrument.

pp 66

Houston then calls our attention to paths less travelled, beginning with the magnitude 7.5 open cluster, NGC 1893, located just 3 degrees west of M 38. My 8 inch reflector at 100x unveils about four dozen stars arranged in a wedge shape some 12′ in size. The cluster is enveloped in a cocoon of gas and dust, IC 410, a sure indicator of its very young age (of the order of a few million years). This creates the somewhat hazy appearance of the cluster as seen in small telescopes, but Scotty raises some interesting questions all the same:

In small apertures the cluster does show a haze of unresolved stars, but, as mentioned, NGC 1893 is involved with the nebula IC 410. Like many observers, I have looked at the cluster but not seen the nebula. Could the glow we attribute to stars just below our telescope’s limit really be due to the nebula? Has anyone examined this group with a nebula filter? The results might be startling.

pp 66


Author’s note: You can indeed see traces of the IC 140 nebulosity by employing an OIII filter coupled to a moderately large aperture ‘scope. My 8 inch reflector shows up the most prominent whisps toward its northwestern edge, but a 12 inch will transform the view into something quite spectacular. NGC 1893 is an active region of star formation.


Scotty discusses other, less well celebrated open clusters in Auriga on pages 67 through 68 for those who enjoy a faint fuzzy challenge. In the remaining pages of this chapter, he covers a few objects of note in the southerly constellations of Columba and Lepus.


Chapter 4: April

This chapter opens with a discussion of the novel constellation of Lynx, introduced by Hevelius in the 17th century to fill the space between the cluster rich constellation of Auriga ad the galaxy rich Ursa Major. Scotty’s first target is NGC 2419, found by panning your telescope about 7 degrees north of Castor. Shining at magnitude 10.3, this globular cluster is of particular interest owing to its great distance from the solar system; 330,000 light years, by the best estaimtes. That places it about twice as far from us as either of the Magellanic Clouds.  Yet, all the while, though its remoteness is truly mind boggling, NGC 2419 is well seen in a small telescope;

Despite its great distance, NGC 2419 shines at about 10th magnitude and appears a little less than 2′ across. Under good observing conditions the cluster should be visible with a 3 inch telescope. I once saw it from Kansas with a 4 inch refractor stopped to 2 inches and 100x. The cluster should always be within reach of a 6 inch glass, and a 12 inch may start to show some hint of individual stars around the edge. It is a beautiful object for a 17 inch. More distant globular clusters have been discovered on photographs made with the 48 inch Schmidt telescope on Palomar Mountain. However it is unlikely that any would be within the visual reach of amateur astronomers.

pp 77


Author’s note: Scotty, like virtually all of his contemporaries, thought that NGC 2419 was a true intergalactic ‘interloper’ unhinged from the gravitational influence of the Milky Way but the latest research suggests it is indeed bound up with our galaxy taking approximately 3 billion years to complete one orbit.


Scotty concedes that while Lynx is home to about a dozen galaxies, most are very faint. The exception he says is NGC 2683, which is an unexpectedly bright spiral galaxy (magnitude 9.8). Scotty accurately describes it as “cigar shaped” about 3 times as long as it is wide. While discussing this, he brings up some interesting points about the merits of having a stable mount and the relative efficacy of ‘sweeping’ as opposed to studying a ‘steady’ view:

In general, a loss of 1.5 or 2 magnitudes occurs when a rigid stand is not used.I was amazed at how much better my 20 poer Apogee telescope performed after a solid support was made for it.  Experienced observers know that bright objects can be seen during a sweep, while those near the telescope’s magnitude limit require the field of view to be steady. It helps to know exactly where to look. In this way I was able to locate NGC 2683 with a 3 inch aperture at 60x……..yet it is an easy object in a 4 inch telescope on just about any night.

pp 77.

NGC 2683, a magnificent spiral galaxy in Lynx and easily in reach of small backyard ‘scopes. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Author’s note:  NGC 2683 can be a spectacular object in a large telescope. Arguably the best view I have personally enjoyed was with a 12 inch Dob at 150x, where I was able to see clear signs of mottling. The northwestern edge of the galaxy is also seen to extend further from the core than its southwestern counterpart.


Scotty briefly discusses several other moderately bright galaxies in Lynx, including magnitude 10.9 NGC 2859 just west of Alpha Lyncis, followed by NGC 2500, NGC 2782 and  NGC 2844 (see pages 78 and 79). From here, Scotty turns his attention to one of the finest galactic sights visible in the northern sky, the ‘dynamic duo,’ M81 and M82, which are exceptionally well placed high in the sky on April evenings.

Both M81 and M82 are easily found about 2 degrees east southeast of the 4th magnitude star, 24 Ursae Majoris. Visible in a 50mm finder from a dark sky site, the view improves with every increment in aperture. Morphologically though, they could hardly be more different.;

While M81 is a textbook example of a spiral galaxy, its companion, M82, is anything but. It is in fact, one of the most unusual galaxies within the range of small telescopes.At magnitude 8.4, it is also within the grasp of binoculars.

pp 81

M81 ( bottom) and M82 (top) ; a sketch made by the author using his 80mm f/5 achromatic refractor on the evening of March 14 2015.


Scotty draws our attention to a number of less celebrated galaxies within easy reach of this pretty galaxy pair. Indeed, they are all part of the so called M81 galaxy group, including the magnitude 10.2  NGC 2976, which is well seen in my 8 inch reflector at 150x. You can find it just 1.4 degrees south southwest of M81. Scotty says he got a good view of this galaxy with a 2.4 inch (60mm) classic Unitron refractor.pp 81.

On pages 82 to 83, Scotty embarks on another discussion about some interesting double stars, in particular, Beta Delphini, which he says, “never gets more than 0.7″ apart.” What comes next is fascinating:

Typical is the report of Charles Cyrus of Baltimore, Maryland, whose 12.5 inch f/7.2 reflector has no clock drive. At 572x he saw the components clearly separated.

pp 82


Author’s note: Scotty is a breath of fresh air! Here is yet another account of a reflecting telescope splitting sub arc second pairs! And Mr.Cyrus evidently didn’t even use a clock drive! This is in perfect agreement with my work with two reflectors; a 130mm f/5 and a 204mm f/6; both of which have been shown to be excellent double star instruments.

The interested reader will also find some tips on page 83 on how best to tease apart the closer pairs with various telescope types.


On pages 84 through 87, Scotty discusses one of the finest and accessible open clusters in the northern heavens; the famous Beehive Cluster (M44) and its interesting hinterland. Spanning a region of sky fully 1.5 degrees wide, M44 is a mesmerizing sight in a small, richfield telescope at low power. You can find it by pointing your telecope to a spot midway between Castor & Pollux in Gemini and Regulus in Leo.

My 130mm f/5 reflector presents the entire star cluster beautifully at 20x and, unlike many other deep sky objects, it closely resembles the nickname bestowed upon it.

The celebrated Beehive Cluster (Praesepe) in cancer. Image credit: Miguel Garcia.

Here’s how Scotty describes the Beehive:

In low power fields, finders and binoculars, M44 is a brilliant show object. It has no sharp boundary. No one can say for sure where the cluster’s faint glow merges into the placcid sjy background. And the center is hardly brighter than the edge.The cluster appears as a ghostly sheen of cobwebs at least a degree in diameter, sometimes maybe two. Through a large telescope, the view is not particularly impressive, because the stars are widely scattered. But the cluster is an exciting object for binoculars and rich field telescopes. the best instrument for viewing M44 is one that has a field of at least 1.5 degrees across with the largest aperture that will still give an exit pupil no more than 7mm in diameter. I had an excellent view of an object with my 4 inch Clark refractor and a special eyepiece of 4 inch focal length designed by Arthur Leonard.

pp 86 to 87

For the remainder of the chapter Scotty calls our attention to various deep sky objects in Hydra, which snakes its way below the ecliptic, from Cancer in the west to Libra in the east.

In the introduction to this section, we gain valuable information concerning the origin of the Messier Marathon:

The idea of a Messier marathon; an all night session to view as many of the Messier objects as possible; sprung up independently in several locations. According to Harvard Pennington, president of California’s Pomona Valley Amateur Astronomers (PVAA), the first marathon dates to the late 1960s and a group of observers in Spain. On this side of the Atlantic, it was the mid 1970s before amateurs in Florida and Pennsylvania took up the challenge. Unaware of the earlier efforts, California comet hunter Don Macholz suggested a Messier marathon in an article published in the San Jose Amateur Astronomer’s newsletter in 1978.Pennington claims that the cat got out of the bag when I wrote about the Florida and Pennsylvania projects in my March 1979 column. After that, marathons became inceasingly popular.

pp 89.

Perhaps the most celebrated Messier object in Hydra is M48, found by moving your telescopic eye about 3 degrees south southeast of 4th magnitude Zeta Monocerotis. Binoculars reveal a few dozen members with a somehat triangular shape, and with a steady hand and my 130mm f/5 Newtonian and low power shows up at least 70 members arranged loosely over a field just shy of one angular degree. What ever item of equipment you have, M48 is well worth a gander under a dark sky.

Scotty offers some interesting background information concerning this beautiful open cluster:

The open cluster M48 was long believed to be a “missing” object until Harvard astronomer Owen Gingerich linked it with NGC 2548, which Caroline Herschel discovered in 1783. If Gingerich is correct, the original published position for M48 was about 5 degrees in error. Seemingly Messier made a mistake of 5 degrees in declination, but his right ascension is correct. But this identification seems pretty certain since there is no other nearby candidate matching Messier’s visual description of M48.

pp 90

Over the next few pages Scotty deals with a number of fainter objects in Hydra, as well as the far southerly spiral galaxy, M83.

The wonderful Planetary nebula in Hydra, NGC 3242. Image Credit Wiki Commons.

As previously mentioned, Houston underwent cataract surgery on his right eye in the summer of 1980. Many of his fans became concerned that he might give up observing all together, but their fears were soon allayed when he declared that it actually gave him a new lease of life! In particular, because a cataract selectively absorbs shorter wavelengths of visual light over longer ones, it can induce a colour bias to the objects one sees through the telecope. Scotty disclosed how his new, artificial lens perceived the bright planetary nebula, NGC 3242:

Ron Morales found NGC 3242 easily with a 6 inch f/5 telescope at 50x. Recently I looked at it with my 5 inch Apogee telescope and a 20x eyepiece. It appeared slightly oval but without the pointed ends so prominent in photographs of the object. The central star was easily seen with my eye that had its lens removed during cataract surgery. The star appeared almost as bright as the entire planetary in this eye, while it was hardly visible at all in my normal eye. This was surely due to a greater amount of ultraviolet (UV) light reaching the retina of the eye without its natural lens. Central stars in planetaries are generally strong emitters of UV.

pp 95.


Author’s note: Scotty reminds us all that growing old need not inevitably lead to reduced observing activity. His artificial lens allowed him to see objects in new ways, enhancing rather than hindering his enjoyment of all things astronomical. I wonder whether he also saw that little bit more chromatic aberration through his beloved Clark achromat?

Younger individuals usually report a bluish tinge to planetary nebulae, becoming more green as one matures in age, but there are always exceptions.


Chapter 5: May

The magnificent Omega Centauri. Image credit: ESO.

When the jet stream bulges soutward, it allows Canadian air to pour across the United States and cover all but the far West with a stable mass of cold dry air.Amateur astronomers benefit with dark nights of crystalline transparency and better astronomical seeing. Under these conditions it is no problem viewing 5th magnitude stars only 1 degree above the horizon. Globular cluster fans should wait for that special evening to try for Omega Centauri, the finest of all globulars. The search must be done when the cluster is at its highest point in the sky. On May evenings the cluster lies near the meridian. It culminates at the same time as Spica; just look for the cluster 36 degrees below the star.

pp 99.

Shortly before his death in 1993, Twinky ventured south to the Florida Keys to make his maiden observation of Omega Centauri, the finest globular cluster in all the heavens. In many ways, seeing this outstanding natural beauty was the icing on the cake for this humble man who truly loved the heavens.

Unfortunately, owing to its extreme southerly latitude, it never rises anywhere near the horizon from my far northern latitude. But it is one object that I long to see. Those lucky enough to have seen it inform me that with a telescope of 8 inches aperture about 1,000 stars can be made out at high power. And with larger telescopes, red supergiant stars can be distinguished within its seething mass.Of course, one doesn’t have to travel below the equator to see this wonder of the heavens, as Scotty explains:

In theory, an observer in the Northern Hemisphere can see into southern declinations as far as the corresponding colatitude(down to 90 minus the latitude of your location). From geometry alone we can calculate that Omega Centauri should be visible from as far north as 42.5 degrees north latitude. In practice that value is too small, because atmospheric refraction at the horizon lifts starlight by 0.5 degrees, so Omega might be viewed from 43 degrees. The challenge is to see it through terribly dense and contaminated air. Ordinarily horizon mists, smoke, and dust take a good 10 or 15 degrees off this figure.

pp 101.

What follows is a fascinating discourse on what a number of amateurs have experienced while observing Omega with various telescopes.

Progressing further through the May chapter, Scotty returns to more familiar territories, partcularly the subject of galaxy visibility. On page 103 through 105, he describes an interesting experiment carried out by a few enthusiastic amateurs concerning the factors that affect the visibility of faint galaxies in Leo Minor, specifically NGC 3414, NGC 3504 and NGC 3486, all of which hover around the 11th to 12th magnitude. The results, unsurprisingly, were far from clear cut, involving aperture, magnification and interpersonal variation.

Scotty learned from experience that two eyes are better than one:

Lately I have become increasingly aware that more can be seen with two eyes than with only one (Microscopists have known this for centuries).

pp 103


Author’s note:

The author’s fine old binocular compound microscope by Vickers (formerly Thomas Cooke & Sons, York, England)

Although I certainly appreciate the value of two eyes when using a microscope, I have still to explore fully the advantages of binoviewing in astronomy. Unfortunately, though my (limited) experiences of using them have been exercises in frustration more than anything else, I don’t doubt that they would enhance my observing experience. Binoviewers are on my future ‘to buy’ list.


On page 105 through 106, Scotty, now entering the 1990s, reminisces about how the world of astronomy has changed from the time he was young.

As we begin the last decade of the 20th century, I’m flooded with the realization of how much astronomy has changed in my own lifetime and how rapidly it continues to change. In the 1930s I remember when the first photoelectric measurements of starlight were made using an electronic amplifier. Back then we only dreamed of space rockets. But today those rockets loft telescopes into space with detectors thousands of times more sophisticated than that crude photometer of the 1930s……Amateurs work very differently now than they did only a few decades ago. For example, in the early years of deep sky observing  I would set up a small refractor near my home in Milwaukee’s Bay View. With a copy of Norton’s Star Atlas in hand (the only deep sky reference commonly available  at that time), I would sweep the sky. Today’s beginners are likely to have an 8 inch or larger telescope and access to detailed charts showing hordes of galaxies.

pp 105/6


Author’s note: Times have certainly changed, and for the better. Indeed, amateur astronomers have never had it so good! High quality items are now available at very reasonable prices, allowing most anyone with a modest income to enjoy the night sky. Other things have deteriorated though; light pollution, for example. Many amateurs(perhaps the vast majority) live in cities, where the glory of the night sky is a mere shadow of its true self. Amateurs are forced to travel further and further to seek out truly dark sanctuaries.


The next target on Scotty’s list is Leo I; a 10th magnitude dwarf galaxy in the constellation of the Lion. It’s very easy to locate, yet quite a challenge to see details in! Locate 1st magnitude Regulus in a medium to high power eyepiece and cast your gaze just 20 arc minutes north of it. If your sky is good and dark, you’ll spot a ghostly glow roughly 10′ in size. Now move Regulus just outside the field in order to increase the contrast with the background sky. Quite a challenge, undoubtedly, but worth chasing up in a moderately sized backyard ‘scope.

On pages 108 through 114, Houston discusses that happy hunting ground for galaxy observers spread across the face of Leo. Scotty provides a sense of the scale of this richness for the reader:

While the deep sky objects in Leo might seem a little drab compared with the brilliant star clusters scattered across the Winter Milky Way, there are some remarkable sights here for 8 inch and larger telescopes. Burnham’s Celestial Handbook lists over 70 deep sky objects in Leo. All are galaxies from the 9th to the 13th magnitude. I wouldn’t even try to guess the number a 17 inch telescope could find. Within the boundaries of the constellation there is not one open or globular cluster or planetary nebula suitable for amateur telescopes. This is interesting because Leo is the 12th largest constellation, covering just under 947 square degrees of sky.

pp 108

The amateur equipped with a modest telescope will thoroughly enjoy these pages on the galaxies of Leo and Leo Minor, as Scotty’s expertise walks you through them. You can enjoy many of these deep sky objects with a small telescope, as he exemplifies. Indeed, some of these galaxies don’t look all that better even when a very large telescope is employed to study them. For example, concerning NGC 3245, Scotty has this to say:

The galaxy is not difficult in my 4 inch Clark refractor at 100x. I once viewed it with a 20 inch Clark refractor at Wesleyan University, and, while it appeared larger and brighter than in the smaller telescope, I did not notice much additional detail.

pp 116.


Author’s note: Fishing out faint galaxies takes patience. A good dark sky is a huge bonus. Once you see one, the eye has the uncanny ability to pick out several others in rapid succession.


The last few pages of this chapter are dedicated to one of the sky’s brightest galaxies; NGC 3115 in Sextans. More famously known as the Spindle Galaxy, this bright lenticular galaxy can be tracked down a little over 3 degrees east of 5th magnitude star, Gamma Sextantis. Scotty prefers to let the sky do the work;

Select an eyepiece which shows at least a Moon’s diameter of sky, and place the 5th magnitude Gamma Sextantis near the southern edge of the field. If you leave the telescope stationary for 12 and a quarter minutes(turn the drive off if the telescope has one), the galaxy will be centered near the northern half of the eyepiece field.

pp 120

Houston seems well smitten with this galaxy, referring to it as a “splendid” sight in his small telescopes(pp 120). Indeed, he reckons it looked pretty much the same in his 5 inch Apogee telescope as it did in a 12 inch instrument!


Author’s note: In my 5.1 inch reflector at 100x, NGC 3115 is clearly tear shaped, about four times as long as it’s wide. My 8 inch Dob shows just a little more detail, with a highly condensed core and a slightly fainter outer ‘halo’. All in all, a marvellous Island Universe to track down and observe on a dark and moonless Spring evening.


Chapter 6: June

One of the nicest pieces of celestial real estate for hunting down cosmic treasures is the area around the Bowl of the Big Dipper. Aside perhaps from Orion, the Big Dipper is the sky’s best known objects. And what a wonderful selection of objects there is, for it is here in the polar region that the great stream of galaxies reaching northward from Virgo and Coma comes to a brilliant conclusion. Severla bright galaxies from the Messier catalog bedeck the Dipper amind scores of others that are easy targets for 6 inch telescopes.

pp 123/4

With these beautiful words, Walter Scott Houston opens his June chapter, turning his attention to the famous asterism of the Big Dipper, which is better known in Europe as the Plough. And rightly so, for this ‘flower basket,’ as Scotty refers to it, dominates the sky near the zenith during June evenings and thus is very well placed for exploration with binoculars or a backyard telescope.

The first object he addresses is M97 (a.k.a the Owl Nebula), one of the faintest in Messier’s famous catalogue. From my northerly vantage, June is arguably the worst month to see this object, as our skies are filled with seasonal twilight at this time. Nonetheless, you can find this planetary nebula just less than 2.5 degrees southeast of Beta Ursae Majoris(Merak). Scotty says it can be picked off in 15 x 65 binoculars and is easily visible in a 4 inch telecope. The Owl responds well to increases in telesope aperture. My 8 inch reflector coupled to an OIII filter at 120x reveals a colourless, rotund object some one tenth the diameter of the full Moon. A little scrutiny will show the nebula’s two ‘eyes’ staring back at you. Seeing the central white dwarf star is another matter though. While some astronomers claim it can be seen in apertures upwards of 16 inch, I have never laid eyes on it with a telescope of this size.

The Owl Nebula ( M 97). Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Scotty mentions how Admiral W. H. Smyth, observing in the 19th century with a 5.9 inch Tulley refractor, referred to this object as a “pale uniform disc about the size of Jupiter” (pp 124).


Author’s note: Surely this is a gross underestimate of its true size! More like three Jove diamters. Smyth was right on the money about its hue however, as something this faint will not yield colour to the eye in all but the largest telescopes. Photographically, that’s a different matter however, as the image above illustrates.


“It’s only a short hop,” Scotty says, “of 0.8 degrees northwest from M97 to the spiral galaxy M108, which can be seen in the same low power field.”

Yes indeed! Both objects are perceptibe in the same field of view of my 80mm f/5 refractor charged with an ocular delivering a one degree field. My 8 inch f/6 reflector at 150x shows 10th magnitude M108 to be a delicate sliver of light about four times as long as it’s wide. It also picks up the 12th magnitude star bleeding forth from near the centre of this edge on spiral galaxy.  This star, which is actually located well in the foreground of the galaxy, has doubtless fooled many an observer over the years into thinking it’s a supernova.

From here, Scotty describes how to find M109 and M106, together with interesting historical titbits, well worth reading(see page 125).

Scotty then focuses his attention on the sky inside the Bowl of the Big Dipper;

The Dipper’s Bowl also contains a fair number of 11th magnitude galaxies and fainter galaxies which generally go unmentioned in amateur observing guides.

pp 125

While Scotty mentions several NGC objects I have not personally observed, the one exception is NGC 4605, which is easy to see as a fuzzy oval in my 80mm refractor at 50x. Shining with an integrated magnitude of +10.9, it presents as rather mottled at 150x in my 8 inch reflector. Here’s how Houston describes it:

This 10th magnitude spiral lies nearly on the extension of a line joing Gamma and Delta Ursae Majoris. It is obvious in 65mm binoculars , and a large telescope makes it a fine sight, extending across a 5′ x 1.2′ area of sky.

pp 126.

On pages 127 through 129, Twinky discusses the curious mystery of M102, and specifically how it was misidentified as a duplicate obsservation of M101. Or, if you were to believe Admiral W.H. Smyth, it is to be identified with NGC 5866. Irrespective of what version of history you agree with, NGC 5866 is easily seen in my 5.1 inch f/5 reflector at 85x as a beautiful sliver of light with a highly condensed centre. You can find it manually by moving your ‘scope about 4 degrees south of the magnitide 3 luminary, Iota Draconis. My 8 inch reflector at 200x shows a very prominent dust lane coursing through its midplane.

NGC 5866 is alovely sight in a modest backyard ‘scope at high power. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

The memory of winter begins to ebb in June as mild but crisp nights complement the celestial riches now in the sky. Arcturus shines overhead, and Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, is at its dainty best. Draco coils its pinpoint stars about the ecliptic pole, and the great globular cluster M13 is climbing up the eastern sky. It doesn’t matter if you use binoculars or a 20 inch telescope, there is so much to see that you wish for an impossible succession of crystal clear nights; but where to begin?

pp 129

Scotty clearly thought of everyone when he wrote his monthly deep sky observing columns. There’s enough for each and everyone to enjoy, using whatever equipment one chooses. Where Scotty lived, Arcturus passes overhead. But at 56 degrees north, it can never reach such heights.

Scotty next calls our attention to a curious triangular patch of sky, the vertices of which are marked by three stars; Eta Ursae Majoris, Alpha Canum Venaticorum and Gamma Bootis. Wiithin such a triangle, more or less, three prominent Messier galaxies can be found; M51, M63 and M94.

He begins appropriately enough with the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51), easily located by panning your telescope a shade less than 2 degrees southwest of Eta Ursae Majoris. Scotty presents this wonderful face on spiral galaxy in curious terms;

The Whirlpool offers challenges for any telescope. For example, what is the smallest aperture required to reveal the spiral structure? Lord Rosse first detected spiral structure when he turned his giant 72 inch reflector on the galaxy in the spring of 1845. Today, with our vision sharpened by knowledge, the spiral features of of M51 are visible in instruments as small as 10 inches , and some observers have glimpsed them in a 6 inch telescope in very dark skies. An 8 inch is sufficient for me, but John Mallas needed a 12.5 inch in a dark desert sky. He correctly noted that experience and exceptional transparency are important for success. In 1936, I had a very good view of the spiral structure using the University of Arizona’s 36 inch reflector in Tucson.


The wonderful Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) in Canes Venatici. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Author’s note: I fully concur with Houston’s comments on this fascinating object. By far the finest view I have personally experienced of the spiral structure of M51 was through a good 16 inch reflector at an altitude of over 8,000 feet in the White Mountains of northeastern California. It was an amazing sight in those dark and crystal clear skies; it embodied a somewhat translucent appearance, more like living protoplasm than anything else. Such a memory is very hard to erase from the mind’s eye!


On page 132 Scotty discusses M63, famous for its weird and wonderful spiral arms, found by moving the telescope about two thirds of the way from Eta Ursae Majoris to Alpha Canum Venaticorum. The latter system is better known as Cor Caroli, a splendid double star for the large binoculars or a small telescope. My 80mm f/5 refractor at 50x thows up a beautiful scene consisting of a blue white primary, magnitude 2.9, separated by about 19″ of dark sky from its yellowish secondary (magnitude 5.5). Nature is full of beautiful things that are easy to see and find!

On pages 134 through 135, Houston presents an excellent overview of what he calls, “the Wonder of M106.” To locate it, I find it easiest to start at Chi Ursae Majoris and then move 5.5 degrees or so eastward into Canes Venatici. This is a big (20′ x 9′) and bright galaxy (magnitude 8.3). My 8 inch reflector throws up a wonderful view of this grand spiral at powers of 150x or so, and even shows distinct signs of mottling (owing to prominent dust lanes, I suppose) in its spiral arms with a concentrated gaze.

The magnificent spiral galaxy M106 as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit; Wiki Commons.

Concerning M106, Scotty declares:

Ronald Morales viewed M106 with his 10 inch Newtonian reflector. Using a power of 87x, he described it as “extremely large; very bright with a bright, compact center; extended in a north to south direction with a large, fuzzy outer envelope.” Years ago in Kansas  I viewed the galaxy with a 10 inch reflector at about the same magnification and saw a “very bright parallelogram shape with fragile spiral arms at the end of the major axis.” The nucleus appeared uniform with little variation in brightness,. Other observers using 8 inch telescopes have reported M106’s appearance as long and needle like, and one saw a dark area near the nucleus. So much for consistency!

pp 135.

Scotty wanders into the constellation of Coma Berenices for the next section of this chapter. Bereft of stars brighter than about the 4th magnitude, the eye is naturally drawn to its northeastern corner where one can make out a very extensive haze of celestial light covering about 4.5 degrees of sky. This is Melotte 111, or the Coma Berenices Star Cluster. Scotty says opera glasses, providing a magnification of just 2x or 3x (pp 136) work wonders with this bona fide cluster of stars, where about three dozen luminaries can be made out, ranging in glory from the 5th to about the 10th magnitude.

From here, he continues to discuss the three globular clusters present in Coma. M63, he says, is unimpressive in a 3 inch telescope, but magnificent in a 12.5 inch. Then there’s 11th magnitude NGC 5053 about which he says, “in large instruments it is a little gem of woven fairy fire.”

What a wonderful turn of phrase!

Moving into Virgo, Scotty preserves a curious project that dates to the time of Sir William Herschel:

There is a strip of sky here near declination +02 degrees where several galaxies and a beautiful globular cluster can be readily located by means of a technique that dates back to William Herschel. The procedure is simple; set your telescope on a prearranged starting point, leave it stationary, and watch celestial objects drift through the field according to a timetable. For this purpose, select a low power eyepiece with a field not much less than 1 degree across. To check the field size of an eyepiece, time the drift of an equatorial star centrally across it, and count one minute of arc for every four seconds of time.Once that’s completed select a star lying west of the desired galaxy, but having the same declination. The telescope is then left stationary, allowing diurnal motion to carry the object into the center of the field.

pp 138

Scotty goes on to show how this age old technique, involving little or no modern technology, can enable you to see the edge on spiral galaxy NGC 5746 and a globular cluster in the same field! See pages 138 through 140 for more activities of this ilk.

There is never a shortage of deep sky objects. Whatever the season, the sky holds more than enough of these delights to keep you busy all night, every night; if you take the time to search them out with good charts and reference books……

pp 140

Scotty clearly believed that an amateur astronomer was responsible for his/her own entertainment, however unusual or off the beaten track it might seem to others. Enthusiasm (and not necessarily elaborate equipment) is the key to unlocking such treasures; activities that can keep a star gazer happy for a lifetime.

The interacting galaxies in Corvus known as the Antennae. Image credit: ESA.

The final pages of the June chapter discusses a number of objects in Corvus,  a constellation this author is not familiar with owing to its low position below the ecliptic upon culminating the southern horizon as well as the full blaze of twilight experienced during the summer months. Nonetheless, on pages 140 through 145, Scotty discusses a number of interesting objects within the sky enclosed by the stars of the celestial Corbie. Arguably the most interesting is the famous Ringtail Galaxy, or the  Antennae. Here’s how Scotty describes it:

Several times amateurs have sent descriptions of what they believe is this galaxy, but I’m sure they believe they have mistaken another galaxy for the Ringtail. My 5 inch 20x Apogee refractor shows the pair as a bright blob. An observation made with my 4 inch Clark refractor under the indifferent skies of my old home in Haddam,Connecticut, revealed NGC 4038/39 to be alittle more than an assymetrical 11th magnitude blur. However, at a campsite near Big Sur, California, I viewed a wealth of detail in the Ringtail with a borrowed 12 inch reflector. Other reports in my files support this…

pp 145.

At the end of this chapter, Scotty returns northwards into Virgo, where he discusses the Sombrero Galaxy (M104), a far lovelier sight in April than in June at my location. My 5.1 inch reflector at 100x can just begin to show me the dust lane in this edge on spiral galaxy, though Scotty claims that the experienced deep sky observer, John Mallas, couldn’t detect it in a good 4 inch refractor (pp 146). It’s obvious in my 8 inch reflector though at similar powers. And while you’d be mistaken for thinking that it’s a bona fide part of the Virgo cluster of galaxies, M104 is actually located some 25 million light years closer to the solar system.

The inspiring Sombrero Galaxy ( M104) in Virgo. Image credit: Wiki Commons.


Author’s note: Scotty’s claim of Mallas being unable to clearly see the dust lane in a fine 4 inch f/15 refractor (that’s what he used!) resonates quite well with the author’s experience on another target; the faint double star, Pi Aquilae. In other work, it was shown that this pair of stars (magnitude 6.3 and 6.8), separated by 1.5,” was a challenging target for a 4 inch f/15 refractor (illustrated earlier)  but was considerably easier with a 130mm f/5 Newtonian. The reason was simple; the 4 inch runs out of light earlier than the 130mm, so at the magnifications employed (approximately 270x) it’s just easier to see these stars as separate in the larger aperture Newtonian. The same is probably true of the Sombrero.


Chapter 7: July

By now, the shortest nights have passed away and Scotty gets his teeth stuck into the wealth of wonderful objects on view during the longer nights of July. Personally, this is one of my favourite chapters from the book,  as it covers such a wealth of familiar objects I like to visit as a casual (read non serious) deep sky observer.

The opening pages (131 through 134) of this chapter are dedicated to a seasonal favourite and, historically speaking, a very important celestial treasure in the sheme of things; the famous planetary nebula in Draco, NGC 6543, more affectionately known as the Cat’s Eye Nebula. This 9th magnitude object is fairly easy to track down about 5 degrees east northeast of the third magnitude sun, Zeta Draconis.To my eye, this is one deep sky object that actually resembles the name bestowed upon it; a blue green feline eyeball staring back at you from the depths of space. In my 5.1 inch reflector at 100x, it is quite large; about 18″ in diameter. The central star is clearly visible; quite a feat when you think about it, as it is a hot and highly luminous white dwarf star much smaller than the Sun, and shining with an equivalent brightness of an 11th magnitude star. I find the view at 200x in my 8 inch reflector to be nothing short of stunning!

The famous Cat’s Eye Nebula in Draco as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Scotty describes what NGC 6543 looks like in all sorts of equipment, including the homemade 1″ refractor he first spied it through as a boy. It also includes a description of the view experienced by a one Michael  Gardner through the 60 inch reflector atop Mount Wilson in California(152/3). Scotty also informs us that the English amateur astronomer, Sir William Huggins, examined this planetary nebula with a crude spectroscope attached to an 8 inch refractor back in 1865, finding it to be quite distinct from any stellar body he had previously examined!

In the next few pages Scotty turns his attention to two varibale stars in the constellation of the Northern Crown; Corona Borealis (T CB and R CB).

At his location, at mid northern latitudes, July is an excellent month to track down some of the finer globular clusters in the summer sky and Houston wastes no time discussing these fascinating objects in detail, including M13 and M92 in Hercules, the ‘rival of M13’ in Serpens, M5 as well as a string of globular favourites down in Ophiuchus (pages 157 through 165). The reader is warmly encouraged to sift through this excellent literature and put some of Scotty’s suggestions to the test.

It’s always nice when Scotty includes a double star of note in his monthly columns (the ‘deep sky’ objects I am most acquainted with). In this capacity, he mentions the charming little binary system, 70 Ophiuchi on page 166;

In 1989, the 4.3 and 6.0 magnitude components were near a minimum separation of 1.5″

pp 166


Author’s note: 70 Ophiuchi is a beautiful colour contrast double star system, consisting of a yellow primary and orange secondary, orbiting their common centre of gravity in 88 years. A perennial favourite, the pair is currently widening towards their maximum separation, which will occur around 2025, after which time they will slowly close in on each other again. Currently, they are easily separated in a 60mm refractor but will require something closer to 80mm as they close in over the years (minimum 1.5″).


While you’re at it, Scotty recommends scouting out the bright (magnitude 8)  planetary nebula, NGC 6572 (a.k.a The Emerald Nebula), discovered by the famous double star observer, Wilhelm Struve, back in 1825. About the same size as the Cat’s Eye Nebula (18″) discussed previously, it’s a good target for a medium sized backyard ‘scope at high power. You’ll find this object in a low power field about 2 degrees south of the star 71 Ophiuchi.

Warm summer nights are a fine time to relax under a dark sky. As you lie back and scan the ghostly band of the Milky Way and its environs, see how many globular clusters you can detect with the unaided eye. If you observe from mid northern latitudes and can detect 6.5 magnitude stars, there are eight globulars to try for this month in the evening sky; M2 in Aquarius, M3 in Canes Venatici, M4 in Scorpius, M5 in Serpens(Caput), M13 and M92 in Hercules, M15 in Pegasus and M22 in Sagittarius.

pp 168

From a good, dark site, such globulars all seem observable with the naked eye but, as Scotty reminds us, the above assumes they are point sources. And that is not the case, as even through a finder telescope, they present as distinctly non stellar. But what a challenge nonetheless!


Chapter 8: August

The regions near the north celestial pole are usually neglected by amateurs, who seem more attracted to the spectacular sights farther south. But sometimes we overlook the obvious. Polaris, for example, is a variable star. In fact, it is the brightest Cepheid in the sky.  Sky catalogie 2000.0 gives its range as 0.15 magnitude over a 4 day period, but studies done during the 1980s show that the range is decreasing, leading some astronomers to speculate that the star may cease to vary altogether. Currently Polaris varies by only a few hundredths of a magnitude and is thus well below the range detectable by the eye.

pp 173

With these words, Scotty opens his chapter on the August sky. He takes us to the Pole Star, around which the great vault of heaven rotates, in this epoch at least.  He does mention later (but not here), that Polaris is a multiple star system; with Polaris B being easily accessible to a small backyard telescope. The companion is a lovely sight in my 80mm f/5 achromatic telescope at 50x.

That said, having explored the book’s content thus far, one comes away with the distinct  impression that Scotty wasn’t an overly enthusiatic observer of double stars. Instead he quickly alerts us to a very faint (13.5 magnitude) spiral galaxy, NGC 3172, discovered by Sir John Herschel in the early 19th century, which he christened, “Polarissima”. Needless the say, I’ve not seen it, nor looked for it. Scotty recommends an 8 inch or larger instrument to bag this bounty from the sable depths.

Sticking to far northerly targets, Scotty then moves into Cepheus, and to the open cluster, NGC 7380. You can track this 10th magnitude target down fairly easily, as it lies just a shade under 2.5 degrees east of that most famous of Cepheids; 4th magnitude Delta Cephei. In an area of sky about the size of the full Moon, my 8 inch pulls in about 20 or so stellar members of the 10th magnitude. Inserting a nebula filter will help bring out the brighter parts of the nebulosity associated with it; Sharpless 2:142

NGC 7380 and its associated Nebula imaged using narrow band filters. Image Credit: Hunter Wilson.

In my 8 inch Newtonian at 100x it shows up as a faint, misty fog on a dark night with good transparency.


Author’s note: Insert a low power eyepiece and revisit Delta Cephei. It has a magnitude 6.3 companion wide away which contrasts beautifully with the rich yellow hue of the primary. It makes a very fetching site in my 80mm telescope at 50x and is also an excellent binocular double.


The most northern galactic cluster in the sky, NGC 188, is also one of the oldest known, 14 to 16 billion years. It is located just 4 degrees south of Polaris and 1 degree south of 2 Ursae Majoris;

pp 175


Author’s note: In Scotty’s day, astronomers were not nearly as sure about a lot of things. NGC 188 is now believed to be of the order of 6 billion years old. There was also more unceratinty about the age of the cosmos back then. Today, thanks to refinements in the Hubble Constant (Ho), we are far more sure of its age; 13.799 billion years with an uncertainty of just 0.15 per cent.


To real meat in this chapter is presented on pages 179 through 184, where he discusses some of the finest planetary nebulae in the northern heavens;

To some people, the ethereal gas bubbles of planetaries have a compelling pull all their own. They float on the foam of the Milky Way like the balloons of our childhood dreams, so delicate they appear. If you want to stop the world and get off, the lovely planetaries sail by to welcome you home.

pp 179.

What a sweet sentiment; to ” stop the world and get off.” Stargazing certainly can do that!

Scotty starts with by far the most famous and well known planetary nebula, easy to find about midway between Beta and Gamma Lyrae; the famous Ring Nebula (M57). Accessible to most any telescope, it’s an enjoyable sight at 100x in my 80mm shorttube refractor, but far more compelling in my 8 inch reflector at the same power.

The magnificent Ring Nebula( M57) in Lyra. captured here by Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Appearing a bit more than 1′ across, M57 looks like a 9th magnitude star in finders. The Apogee telescope shows the ring as very bright, but no other detail is visible. At powers of 250x and up, a curious effect takes place. The oval outline of M57 takes on a lemon shape with the ends of the oval appearing rather pointed. They also appear more diffuse and wispy. A power of 600x, however, is none too great if there is sufficient aperture to support it. Even at high magnification, the interior of the nebula retains a thin film of haze that can show some structure.

pp 180/1

Scotty’s comments about this planetary are spot on. M57 looks better and better in larger and larger telescopes. You need large apertures to sustain the very high powers required to discern some of the features he describes. Small ‘scopes just run out of light on this object, limiting the magnifications one can profitably adopt. 200x is a nice place to be with M57 in my 8 inch reflector.

On a top class night, a 12 inch or even a 10 inch telescope can show the planetar’s central star In moments of exceptional atmospheric conditions a 12 inch or larger instrument may reveal a scattering of stars across the central vacancy and even amid the ring itself.

pp 181


Author’s note: Despite having many, many goes, I have never been able to see the central star in M57 with telescopes of the size described by Scotty. I suspect you’d need a telescope of 20 inches of aperture in this country, and great weather to boot, to have even half a chance to bag this baby!


On pages 182 through 184, Scotty switches subject to discuss the equally interesting Dumbbell Nebula (M27) in Vulpecula.  Scotty offers a neat way of finding it without setting circles or GoTo:

Set your finder on Gamma Sagittae, the head of the celestial arrow. Sweep about 5 degrees north and you should see an M shaped pattern of stars composed of 12, 13, 14, 16 and 17 Vulpeculae; this group is more conspicuous to the eye than most star charts lead you to believe. M27 is just 0.5 degrees south of the M’s central star.

pp 183.


Author’s note: M27 is a fascinating telescopic object! It’s huge; fully five times larger than the Ring Nebula but because its light is spread over much greater area it has much lower surface brightness. My 5.1 reflector at 20x easily shows the two bright lobes in an eerie greenish hue. It looks even more compelling in 8 or 10 inch aperture ‘scopes but I find it doesn’t respond well to over magnification;150x to 200x seems about optimal to me. Nebula filters (particularly an OIII)  also work well with larger apertures. Its 12th magnitude central star remains elusive in all but the largest backyard ‘scopes.


The Dumbbell Nebula ( M27). Image credit: Mohamad Abbas.

Scotty seems somewhat ambivalent concerning the ‘optimum’ sized telescope to view M27 but rightly recognises the importance of aperture;

It is hard to assign a “best” type of telescope for viewing M27. My 5 inch Apogee telescope with a fixed power of 20x shows it as a bright sphere with the dumbbell shape rather mild. My 10 inch f/8.6 reflector shows M27 much better at 300x by means of a Barlow lens less than at the same power with a short focus eyepiece. The latter left the sky gray, and contrast with the nebula was poor.

pp 183

Where Scotty lived out much if his life, the Milky Way in August must have been a wonderful sight, with Scorpius, Scutum and Sagittarius riding a respectable height above the horizon at midnight. Up here on the ‘edge of the Arctic Circle’ only the glory of the northern Milky Way manifests itself. Houston had a habit of asking questions, which at first seemed trvial, but upon reflection, were quite difficult, if well nigh impossible, to answer.  Once such question is this? Where does the Milky Way’s Way edge lie? On pages 186 if discusses this strange question but seems to conclude that, like everything else, it’s dependent upon the kind of ‘filter’ one’s local conditions impose. Whimsically, he calls it ” Houston’s Uncertainty Principle.”

To be continued in Part 2

De Fideli.

Bible Facts Part VI















Continued from Part V


Now the king and Haman came to drink wine with Esther the queen. And the king said to Esther on the second day also as they drank their wine at the banquet, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be done.” Then Queen Esther replied, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me as my petition, and my people as my request; for we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed and to be annihilated. Now if we had only been sold as slaves, men and women, I would have remained silent, for the trouble would not be commensurate with the annoyance to the king.”Then King Ahasuerus asked Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who would presume to do thus?

Esther 7:1-5

Are there coincidences in life, or is it all providential?

The Book of Esther is set during the Jewish exile, around 470 BC, when the Persian Empire was ruled by King Xerxes I (identified as Ahasuerus in some translations). In this engaging book, which reads almost like a Cinderella story, we learn of the rise of an orphan Jewish girl; Esther. Though born of lowly status, she rose to become Xerxes’ Queen, by virtue of her great beauty; both inner and outer. With the sole exception of Song of Songs, this Biblical text is the only one in which God is not explicitly mentioned, but it is nonetheless clear that a much greater, providential power than Xerxes is at work behind the scenes; in every scene, in fact.

Esther’s uncle and guardian, Mordecai, uncovers an evil plot by Xerxes’ Prime Minister, Haman, to put all Jews to death across the Empire and to confiscate all their property. Remarkably, this started out as a personal grudge Haman held against Mordecai because of his refusal to bow down to him. When he learned that Mordecai was a Jew, Haman wanted to wipe all Jews from the face of the earth.

Thanks to Mordecai’s cool head and Esther’s gracefulness, Haman’s plot was undone and the Jews were spared annihilation, thereby honouring the Abrahamic promise and securing the line to Jesus of Nazareth.

The inspired Book of Esther has implications for all generations under the sun. Every one of life’s circumstances is ordered to the divine purpose. God leaves nothing to chance! There are no coincidences; only providence.

St. Paul, writing over 500 years later, puts it splendidly:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

                                                                Romans 8:28

The Jews celebrate their deliverance from extermination in the Feast of Purim, to this very day.


The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch c. 1877. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: love each other.

John 15:9-17

Jesus knew that he would suffer a humiliating death in the hands of the authorities.He looked death right in the face. Yet in this passage from St. John’s Gospel, we see Jesus’ incredible mindset just hours before his deliverance; he spoke of having joy and how his disciples must be filled with joy even when calamity was about to fall on them. He spoke of what it means to express true love; for God first and then one’s neighbour. He stressed that true love, grounded in the Spirit, always bears fruit.


And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

John 21:25

                                   The Miracles of Jesus: a Closer Look.

a) Power over Nature.

Marriage at Cana, by Carl Bloch ( 1870).
















(1) Jesus turns water into wine:

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

 Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled,  he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions. When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

John 2:1-11

(2) Jesus calms a storm:

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’

Mark 4:35-41

(3) Jesus walks on water:

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there.  But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.

Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me! “

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33

b) Power to heal and alleviate suffering.

(1) Jesus heals ten lepers.

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?  Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’  Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’

Luke 17:11-19

(2)  Jesus cures a cripple.

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk. And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.

John 5:1-9

(3) A woman with a chronic illness is healed.

Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”

 Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction.  And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?”

But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’ And He looked around to see her who had done this thing.  But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.  And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”

Mark 5:25-34

c) Power over demonic forces:

1) Jesus exorcises a Gerasene Demoniac:

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs.  When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!’ For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

 Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’

‘Legion,’ he replied, because many demons had gone into him.  And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission.  When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over the town how much Jesus had done for him.

Luke 8:26-39

2) Jesus heals a demon possessed man in the synagogue

And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice, saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God.  And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the devil had thrown him in the midst, he came out of him, and hurt him not. And they were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this! for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out.  And the fame of him went out into every place of the country round about.

Luke 4:33-37

c) A man pleads with Jesus to restore his son’s mind to him.

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. ‘Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water.  I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.’

‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’  Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’

 He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’

Matthew 17:14-21

d) Power to know all people:

  1. Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well:

…..and around noon as he approached the village of Sychar, he came to Jacob’s Well, located on the parcel of ground Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jesus was tired from the long walk in the hot sun and sat wearily beside the well.

Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus asked her for a drink.  He was alone at the time as his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. The woman was surprised that a Jew would ask a “despised Samaritan” for anything—usually they wouldn’t even speak to them!—and she remarked about this to Jesus.

 He replied, “If you only knew what a wonderful gift God has for you, and who I am, you would ask me for some living water!”

 “But you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this is a very deep well! Where would you get this living water? And besides, are you greater than our ancestor Jacob? How can you offer better water than this which he and his sons and cattle enjoyed?”

Jesus replied that people soon became thirsty again after drinking this water. “But the water I give them,” he said, “becomes a perpetual spring within them, watering them forever with eternal life.”

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me some of that water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again and won’t have to make this long trip out here every day.”

 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.

 “But I’m not married,” the woman replied.

“All too true!” Jesus said. “For you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet.  But say, tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

 Jesus replied, “The time is coming, ma’am, when we will no longer be concerned about whether to worship the Father here or in Jerusalem. For it’s not where we worship that counts, but how we worship—is our worship spiritual and real? Do we have the Holy Spirit’s help? For God is Spirit, and we must have his help to worship as we should. The Father wants this kind of worship from us. But you Samaritans know so little about him, worshiping blindly, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes to the world through the Jews.”

The woman said, “Well, at least I know that the Messiah will come—the one they call Christ—and when he does, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!”

Just then his disciples arrived. They were surprised to find him talking to a woman, but none of them asked him why, or what they had been discussing.

Then the woman left her waterpot beside the well and went back to the village and told everyone, “Come and meet a man who told me everything I ever did! Can this be the Messiah?”  So the people came streaming from the village to see him.

 Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Jesus to eat.  “No,” he said, “I have some food you don’t know about.”

“Who brought it to him?” the disciples asked each other.

Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God who sent me, and from finishing his work. Do you think the work of harvesting will not begin until the summer ends four months from now? Look around you! Vast fields of human souls are ripening all around us, and are ready now for reaping. The reapers will be paid good wages and will be gathering eternal souls into the granaries of heaven! What joys await the sower and the reaper, both together!  For it is true that one sows and someone else reaps. I sent you to reap where you didn’t sow; others did the work, and you received the harvest.”

 Many from the Samaritan village believed he was the Messiah because of the woman’s report: “He told me everything I ever did!”  When they came out to see him at the well, they begged him to stay at their village; and he did, for two days, long enough for many of them to believe in him after hearing him. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe because we have heard him ourselves, not just because of what you told us. He is indeed the Savior of the world.”

John 4:5-42

2) Jesus perceives the wicked thoughts of the religious scribes:

Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,  “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Mark 2:6-12

3) Jesus foresees the death of Lazarus:

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.  Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”  The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”  After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.”  The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died,  and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

John 11:1-16

e) Power to raise the dead.

  1. Jesus restores the life of a widow’s son:

Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd.  And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her.  When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.

Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.”  And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region.

Luke 7:11-17

2. Jesus raises a dead girl:

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ they said. ‘Why bother the teacher anymore?’

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’

He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’  But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:35-43

3. Jesus raises Lazarus:

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days.  Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.”  So Mary immediately went to him.

Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there.  When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.  “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance.  “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me.  You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”  And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

John 11:17-44

f) Power to foresee future events.

  1. Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem:

The carrying away of the Menorah from the Jewish temple after its destruction by Roman forces under the command of General Titus Flavius Vespasianus in 70AD.

Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!”

And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

Mark 13:1-2

2. Jesus predicts his death and resurrection:

Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him:  “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles;  and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”

Mark 10:32-34

3. Jesus predicts his betrayal and abandonment by his disciples.

Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’ When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. You will all fall away,’ Jesus told them, ‘for it is written:

‘“I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered.”

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’

Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’

 ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘today – yes, tonight – before the cock crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.’

Mark 14:25-30

4. Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead:

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,  but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,  that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again. Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.  Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.  But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.  But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Luke 24:1-12


I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the Lord;
The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
 Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together.

I sought the Lord, and He heard me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces were not ashamed.
This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him,
And saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints!
There is no want to those who fear Him.
The young lions lack and suffer hunger;
But those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.

 Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Who is the man who desires life,
And loves many days, that he may see good?
 Keep your tongue from evil,
And your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He guards all his bones;
Not one of them is broken.Evil shall slay the wicked,
And those who hate the righteous shall be condemned.

The Lord redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.

Psalm 34

Sometimes the most beautiful prayers are offered up in times of great distress. At this time, David was somewhat of a fugitive, on the run from Saul and his marksmen, feigning madness in the land of the Philistines (see 1 Samuel 21).  And yet, instead of cursing his Creator, David exalts His righteousness and sure judgements over all people who walk the face of the earth, and for all ages. It is a foreshadowing of the good news of the Gospel message delivered some nine centuries later by David’s descendant; the Lord Jesus Christ.


My large print, slimline edition of the NLT Bible.

















Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.

Joshua 1:8

We are most fortunate today to have a rich variety of Bible translations. I believe this is no accident. Afterall, if we only had one version it would quickly become an object of worship and that’s not how we ought to treat it. That’s one of the reasons why I endorse many Bible translations; ‘word for word’, ‘thought for thought’, and even paraphrases. But as we get older, our eyes begin to let us down and it becomes harder to read our Bibles with very small font sizes. For this reason, I gravitate towards large print editions which are easy to read, even without glasses. That way, they grow old with you! Large print editions can be cumbersome, of course, especially if you like to read some words of Scripture while not at home. But nowadays you can combine larger fonts in very convenient sizes, such as the new large print, slimline editions now being sold by various booksellers. I think they’re really neat!

There are also some really excellent digital/online Bible resources, See here for one example. And we can get kindle versions too. But for many folk, reading from a screen is not the most convenient or comfortable way to access the Bible. And let’s face it, can we wholeheartedy rely on the accessibility of online systems indefinitely?  I don’t know. For these reasons, I prefer to read in the traditional way. Call me old fashioned, but I think everyone should have a regular, real life Bible in their homes.


John of Patmos watches the descent of New Jerusalem from God in a 14th century tapestry. Image credit: Kevin Berlin.

In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house
 will be the highest of all—
 the most important place on earth.
It will be raised above the other hills,
 and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.
People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
 to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
 and we will walk in his paths.”
For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
 his word will go out from Jerusalem.
 The Lord will mediate between peoples
 and will settle disputes between strong nations far away.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
 and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
 nor train for war anymore.
Everyone will live in peace and prosperity,
 enjoying their own grapevines and fig trees,
 for there will be nothing to fear.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies
 has made this promise!
Though the nations around us follow their idols,
 we will follow the Lord our God forever and ever.

Micah 4:1-5

In this passage from the Old Testament, the Prophet Micah provides us with a vision of the future reign of Christ on Earth. Zion is greater than Israel. And even though the Jews were the Lord’s ‘chosen people,’  this passage makes it clear that He is the God of every people, gathering all nations to Himself.


The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”

So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:24-29

The incredulity of Thomas, the disciple of Jesus, has resonated throughout history as a kind of icon of the sceptical mind. Despite having witnessed a string of miracles by Jesus throughout his three and a half year ministry, he still would not believe that his Master had risen bodily from the dead. Only after seeing Jesus in the flesh and examining his wounds was he willing to submit his will to Christ.

Today, despite a barrage of baseless attacks from ‘glorified ignoramuses’ the world over, the truth of the reality of Christ is better now than it has ever been!

How much more will the Lord reward us for keeping the faith and continuing to walk in His statutes even though we have never seen Him in the flesh?


Christ lived among men, died a horrific death in order to redeem your soul, and was raised to life by His Father.

Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Isaiah 45:23).


For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
Even to them I will give in My house
And within My walls a place and a name
Better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
That shall not be cut off.

                                                                 Isaiah 56:4-5

Here, the Lord addresses the LGBT community.

“Your rainbow is not My rainbow,” He declares, “but keep My statutes and you will have a place of honour in the Kingdom of Heaven.”


Continued in Part VII


Tales from the Golden Age: Hunters of the Red Stars.

The brilliant red giant star, Betelgeuse, shining in the northern winter sky.








Do the words of a poem lose their poignancy once its author departs this world?

Can the limp of ‘progress’ outshine the ‘grand procession’ of great accomplishment?

Can a culture, basking in the glory of its own achievement, be made mute by a faithless generation of technocrats?

Can an optical bench test inspire more than a night spent behind the eyepiece of a grand old telescope?

Let us venerate that which is deserving of veneration!

Whose crown shall we adorn with a laurel wreath?

Let us sing again of old dead men

 And clear the cobwebs from their medals.

For they have no equal in the present age

No muse to light their way.




Anno Domini 1866; the Leviathan of Parsonstown, with its six–foot primary mirror, reigns as the largest telescope in the world, bringing international prestige to Irish astronomical science; and both Dublin and Armagh have well established observatories that date back to the end of the 18th century. Their administrators are formally trained, their observing programs, specialised. But far from the Irish cities, west of the great Shannon River, a 50–year–old gentleman, hitherto unknown to the astronomical community, was strolling home along a narrow dirt road that wound its way north from the small town of Tuam, County Galway. It was shortly before midnight on the evening of May 12, that he saw a 2nd magnitude star he had never noticed before in the constellation of the Northern Crown, then situated very high in the sky. After reaching his home at Millbrook House, he sat down by the light of a paraffin lamp to check the star charts in his library. To his amazement, the only star recorded in the position he estimated was of the 9th magnitude, far too faint for even his keen eyes. He had just discovered the brightest nova to grace our skies since 1604; the star T Coronae Borealis!

Such was the meteoric arrival of John Birmingham (1816–1884) upon the world’s stage; an accomplished poet, land owner and man of letters. John was born the son and only child of Edward Birmingham and Elly Bell, who set up home at Millbrook House, near the village of Milltown, from which they received a comfortable income as landlords of a small landholding, itself part of the greater Millbrook Estate. He was educated at St. Jarlath’s College in the nearby town of Tuam and grew up to become a fine figure of a lad, both stronger and taller than many of his peers. Though there is no evidence that he attended university, we may infer from his lifelong interest in scientific matters, particularly geology, as well as his noted ability as a writer, he received an excellent and well balanced education, acquiring significant scientific knowledge from the greater popularisers of his day. Records do show however, that he was actively involved in famine relief during the years 1846 and 1847, which claimed the lives of a million people; about one eighth of the population; from starvation or the associated epidemic disease that swept the nation between 1846 and 1851. Another two million souls emigrated in a period of a little more than a decade (1845-55).

Birmingham spent about six years travelling through Europe in the late 1840s through to the mid 1850s, learning the language and culture of the nations he visited, and spending the majority of his time in Berlin, where he eked out a living from the circulation of interesting scientific articles for popular journals and newspapers, often writing under a pen name. It was here also that historians suggest he had his first encounter with the astronomical world. In particular, he took a great interest in the work of the famous German astronomer, Johann Franz Encke (1791–1865), with whom he established a strong bond of friendship. Birmingham returned to his ancestral home in the late 1850s, ostensibly acquainted with the language and literature of the French and German tongues.  The skies in this part of Ireland were often overcast and dominated by weather systems rolling in from the nearby Atlantic, but on clear evenings, the sky would have been gloriously clear and wonderfully transparent, purged of dust and other particulates; skies that would have commanded a visceral sense of awe and wonder in the young Irishman.

Johann Franz Encke (1791–1865), German astronomer. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

By all accounts, his earliest astronomical equipment was very modest; most likely a small spyglass delivering a fixed magnification of 23x, but it is clear from his later discovery that he cultivated an excellent knowledge of the naked eye heavens. The apparition of Donati’s Comet in 1858 and the Great Comet of 1861 induced great excitement in Birmingham, penning a string of prize winning essays on their appearance and significance;works which appeared in some of the most prominent British and Irish newspapers of the time. But his political connections raised eyebrows among some members of the Imperial establishment. The silver tongued Birmingham was a patriot and associated with British politicians sympathetic to the cause of Irish independence.

Perhaps the latter fact helps to illuminate the bizarre way in which the discovery of the eruptive variable star was made known to the outside world. In the wee small hours of May 13, Birmingham drafted a letter to the editor of the London Times and promptly despatched it. It landed in the hands of the editor a few days later, who, after reading it, promptly discarded it in a waste paper basket! When no acknowledgement was received by Birmingham, he decided to bypass the standard modus operandi of contacting the observatories at Dunsink and Greenwich, and instead wrote of his discovery to one of the most accomplished and respected British astronomers of his day; William Huggins (1824–1910), pioneer in astronomical spectroscopy, who ran a very well equipped private observatory from his home at Tulse Hill, London. This time it was well received, and Huggins enthusiastically turned his spectroscope toward it on the evening of May 18, finding it to be quite unlike anything he had ever seen before! A normal stellar spectrum presents as a streak of colours as in a rainbow, with faint dark lines. The spectrum of T Coronae Borealis, on the other hand, presented with very bright emission lines thought to be due to superhot hydrogen gas. Indeed, Huggins believed that the star had ejected a shell of excitable matter.

Sir William Huggins(1824 –1910), a portrait by John Collier, Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Birmingham also wrote to his local newspaper, providing details of his discovery:

I discovered it on the night of the 12th instant, when it appeared the 2nd magnitude, rather more brilliant than Alpha of the above constellation, with a bluish tinge, forming nearly a right angled triangle with Delta and Epsilon. It had nothing whatever of a cometary aspect. The state of the atmosphere prevented my seeing it again until the 17th, when it appeared reduced to the 4th magnitude…….

It was Huggins who endorsed Birmingham’s discovery at a later meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society and, after word of his discovery spread throughout Europe, the German astronomer, Julius Schmidt, based at Athens, was able to confirm, by the consultation of his notebooks, that only hours before Birmingham noticed the brightening of T Coronae Borealis, the star appeared as it normally did. i.e. a faint field object in his 6 inch refractor. Indeed, Schmidt named a lunar crater after the Irishman, located near the Moon’s northern limb, presenting it in his famous map, first published in 1878.

Lunar Crater Birmingham, located by the Moon’s northern limb. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

The discovery of T Coronae Borealis dramatically changed the course of Birmingham’s life and from there on in, he dedicated himself to further astronomical observations. Realising that his existing equipment was not really up to the task of doing any serious telescopic work, he set about acquiring a suitably powerful instrument. Huggins had enthusiastically assisted Birmingham in his telescopic researches, warmly recommending that he acquire a moderate–sized Cooke refractor for the purposes of continuing his work. Indeed, we know that Birmingham had visited some acquaintances at Scarborough, a seaside town not far from where Thomas Cooke & Sons of York had set up their world renowned telescope making workshops. The instrument he finally acquired in 1869 was a fine 4.5 inch f/15 achromatic doublet, purchased for the princely sum of £120 (still a very large sum by Birmingham’s standards). Curiously, the object glass of the telescope was rumoured to have been made by Howard Grubb of Dublin.

But what, pray tell, would he employ this quality telescope to do exactly? This became over more clear by the opening years of the 1870s, after he struck up a correspondence with one of the great amateur astronomers of his age; the Reverend T. W. Webb, who suggested that he take up the task of hunting down and cataloging the positions and magnitudes of red and orange stars some of which would be variable, a project that was only partially addressed in earlier decades by Sir John Herschel (1792–1871) and the celebrated binary star observer, Friedrich Wilhelm Struve(1793–1864). In addition, the Danish astronomer, Hans Schjellerup (1827–1887), who compiled a list of 280 red stars published in 1866 in Astronomishe Nachricten. His 4.5 inch aperture, long focus achromat would be able to reach stars down to the 12th degree of glory, and with a special, low power eyepiece delivering a power of 53 diameters, he would be able to scan (fairly) large fields of sky. So, the middle–aged amateur from the wilds of the Emerald Isle set about his new avenue of astronomical enquiry; a task he enthusiastically embraced with both hands!

Tiberius; the author’s 5″ f/12 classical refractor; a very similar instrument to that employed by John Birmingham, and used for the purposes of reconstructive history.















Brimingham devoted the next four years of his life searching the sky for red and orange stars. His copious notes show that he would often begin after supper and work all the way through until dawn, weather permitting. Such devotion reflected, at least in part, his bachelor status. He never married and is rumoured to have fathered a child (female).

He was acutely aware of the rather subjective nature of accurately assigning colours to the stars he observed. In particular, his continual correspondence with Webb alerted him to the inherent weakness of the refractor in revealing the true colour of stellar bodies and how the new silver on glass Newtonian refelectors, with their perfect achromaticity in comparison to the former, might be better tools for carrying out such delicate work. We do know however, that Birmingham had the presence of mind to include, where possible, relevant comments from other observers who, at his request, had examined the same stars. He also estimated their brightness in comparison to other field stars. Most of the stars he listed he came across were brighter than magnitude 10 but quite a few were as faint as magnitude 12. During the course of his surveys, Birmingham became intensely interested in the spectroscopic work of Father Angelo Secchi, who had himself collated a list of over 400 coloured stars in 1872 and had begun to subdivide stars into five spectroscopic types. It was during these years that the concept of stellar evolution was first entertained, an idea that greatly appealed to Birmingham and which provided further impetus to continue his surveys.While compiling his list he included Secchi’s available spectral data with his visual notes.

Birmingham’s work cullminated in a list of 658 orange and red stars, published under the title: The red stars: Observations and catalogue, which he presented to the Royal Irish Academy on June 26 1876. The work was enthusiastically accepted and published in August 1877. It is clear from the work that he owed an especial debt to Webb, who had examined about 80 of the stars in his catalogue and provided his own notes on their colour and brightness. Birmingham was also generous to a fault in providing full acknowledgements to all other collaborators.

The red stars also contains very interesting speculations concerning the nature of variables; how and why they brightened and faded. He had himself noted subtle changes in the colour of red variables. In particular, their colour often became paler to his eye as they brightened and deepened in hue as they faded back. This suggested to him that such stars were not dying, as many of his contemporaries held. He also dismissed the idea that the variation in such stars was due to stellar rotation. Birmingham offered his own explanation to explain the variable nature of these red stars, which, in his own words, involved, “the intervention and recession of a nebulous belt around the star.” Taking inspiration from the reddening of the Sun as it approached the horizon (what we refer to today as Rayleigh scattering), Birmingham believed an annulus of dusty material of varied density around such stars could cause them to dim and brighten.

Birmingham was the first observer to note that red variable stars were unevenly distributed in the heavens, being more highly concentrated in a large patch of Northern Milky Way taking in Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila; a swathe of sky he referred to as the “Red Region.”

In the years after the publication of his catalogue, Birmingham became increasingly involved in the spectroscopic designations made by his peers across Europe. For example, he queried Secchi’s assignment of the newly discovered Wolf–Rayet stars to Type IV, and was rather annoyed when the Roman Padre expressed his scepticism that there really existed a concentration of such stars in certain regions of the sky. John’s original work provided fertile ground for other observers to carry out new surveys for red stars. Indeed, Birmingham issued two voluminous addenda featuring a new list compiled by the astronomer, Carl Frederik Fearnley, and another taken from the double star lists of Struve and Herschel.

In the last years of his life, Mr. Birmingham continued to search the skies for more red stars with his 4.5 inch refractor and discovered yet another red star in Cygnus in 1881. He continually updated his list with new spectral data which was streaming in from observers on the continent. In the last year of his life, the Royal Irish Academy, convening at Dawson Street, Dublin, presented Birmingham with its prestigious Cunningham Gold Medal on January 14 1884 for his distinguished astronomical career. Its President, the poet Sir Samuel Ferguson, honoured him with these words:

If I might express an individual opinion I would say that…..you content yourself with noting facts; and shunning plausible but doubtful methods of accounting for them. It is thus [that] solid knowledge is ultimately attained to. Of you let it be said, itur ad astra. Proceed, with the best wishes of the Academy, in your philosophic method, and bear back with you to the Bermingham country this medal, as a token and assurance to our brethern beyond the Shannon that wherever Irishmen devote their leisure to higher learning, there exists for them here, in the capital of their own part of the United Kingdom, a body having perpetual succession, and speaking with the voice of the constituted authority, whose business it is to sympathise with them, to encourage and reward.

This was but one of many accolades delivered to the Tuam astronomer but they were ultimately powerless to change the personal circumstances of his life. The Irish Land League was established with the primary aim to abolish landlordism in Ireland altogether, and to enable tenant farmers to own the land they worked on. As a result, many of the tenants paying rent to Birmingham refused to do so. In addition, he had to fight a succession of legal threats to the title of both his lands and his house. Collectively, these events left him seriously short of income, which resulted in his slump into poverty. Indeed, one of his own tenants described the desperate state of his last days; “he [Mr. Birmingham] was all spent up and starved with the hunger.” He passed away in the early hours of September 7 1884, aged 68 years.

In the aftermath of his death, Birmingham’s house and estate were ransacked and rendered derelict, with much of his written notes and books burned or left to the elements. And what remains of Millbrook House is a but a ruin to this day. Only his wonderful telescope survived, which was preserved for many years at his alma mater, at St.Jarlath’s College, before being handed over to the Milltown Community Museum for posterity.

And yet, all the while, Birmingham’s work was not done in vain, for it was to be taken up once more by a most eccentric Anglican clergyman: Thomas Henry Espinell Compton (T.H.E.C) Espin (1858–1934) who, with singular enthusiam, greatly advanced the story of the red stars.

Espin, the only child of the Reverend Thomas Espin, chancellor of the diocese of Chester, was born in the city of Birmingham on May 28 1858. At age 14, Espin entered the elite boarding school for boys at Haileybury, where his headmaster, himself an astronomy enthusiast, encouraged and instructed his pupils in basic astronomical knowledge. It was the appearance of Coggia’s Comet in the sky in 1874 that really stoked his interest in all things celestial. From 1876 to 1878, he was sent to France to complete his secondary education before going on to Exeter College, Oxford University in 1878 to read for a degree in theology, for which he obtained a good honours degree. Here, his interest in astronomy flourished further when the Savilian Professor at Oxford, Charles Pritchard, allowed him to use the 13 inch De La Rue reflector of 10 foot focus at the university on the condition that he provide practical instruction to other students. It was an offer Espin could not refuse. And he excelled at what he did best; fill people with a sense of wonder and awe for the Universe, as revealed by the telescope. By January 11 1878, aged just 20, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society(FRAS) during the presidency of Sir William Huggins.

On leaving university, Espin took holy orders, following his father into a clerical career in the Anglican Communion, accepting curate positions first at West Kirkby, Wallasey and Wolsingham in 1881, 1883 and 1885, respectively, before finally taking up permanent residence as Vicar of Tow Law, County Durham, in 1888; a post he was to retain for the rest of his life. In 1880, while at Wallasey Rectory, Birkenhead, Espin wrote to the English Mechanic, proposing the formation of an amateur society aimed at organising and coordinating observations and that the best way to do so was to arrange meetings where local amateurs could discuss their observations in an open and congenial manner. The following year, 1881, the Liverpool Astronomical Society was founded.

After inheriting his father’s estate, he became financially independent, allowing him to pursue many avenues of independent scientific research, much in the same vein as Birmingham before him, including geology, botany and photography. He was an avid student of paleontology, amassing an impressive variety of fossils during his long career; a study that led him to firmly (and rightly I might add) conclude that Darwin’s theory of evolution was bogus. He was also a keen microscopist, with a encyclopedic knowledge of cell biology and the behaviour of Protozoa. Intriguingly, Espin was one of the earliest pioneers in the study of X–rays, and enjoyed using his parishioners as ‘guinea pigs’ in his early experiments!

Espin regarded his vicarage as an ‘open house’ that could be visited any time by his parishioners. They must have been fascinated by his vast collections of books, plants, rocks, fossils and aquaria to cultivate his ‘animalcules’ and pond weed for the microscope. Afterall, he was, like John Birmingham also, a lifelong bachelor. In his garden, he established a small sanatorium in order to provide his sickly ‘flock’ with some relief from the consumption (Tuberculosis). He turned the basement of his home into a gymnasium and even set up a rifle range on his grounds for use by the parish ‘lads.’ All of this was done at the expense of not providing the traditional pastoral care for his parishioners though; he didn’t do house visits. And to top it all off,  he was a well travelled gentlemen and a formidable biblical scholar.

As a boy, Espin explored the heavens using opera glasses and enjoyed a 1 inch aperture Dollond refractor as his first telescope. By the time he entered Oxford University, he was using a 3 inch refractor for his own recreation. Some time later, Espin was presented with a 5 inch refractor by the head of the Harrison line of steamers, a Churchwarden at his old parish of Wallasey, which he used to good effect. While at Wolsingham, Espin set up his first makeshift observatory using the 5 inch refractor and made regular observations through it until he secured his permanent post at Tow Law.

As Webb’s righthand man, Espin assisted his famous ‘elder statesman’ in several revisions of his celebrated Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes. And it was also Webb who piqued Espin’s interest in a fabulous new line of reflecting telescopes being fashioned by master opticians such as George Calver and George With. With these novel instruments he was able to carve out his own unique legacy in the annals of astronomical history. Their generous apertures, much lower cost than traditional refractors, as well as their freedom from chromatic aberration made them a very popular choice for a new generation of amateur and professional astronomers alike. And it was Webb himself who spearheaded this movement across Britain!

We shall not dwell on the historical evidence supporting the above assertion, for this will be covered far more extensively in a separate chapter of the book. That said, in the following excerpt, which is part of a written correspondence between Webb and a one Arthur Raynard, we gain a glimpse of his evangelism for the new silver on glass specula:

It might be worth your while to consider, before finally deciding, the comparative merits of the silvered glass reflector. You have probably heard of this beautiful instrument…. At present it is only in the hands of amateur makers, but their success has been remarkable. One of at least 8 inches clear aperture may be purchased in Hereford for about £26 or £27. As far as looks go, it is certainly very common and clumsy looking affair – being merely a great square tube of stained deal, mounted on a plain wooden stand – and if you regard appearances I could not say much for it. But the Newtonian reflector, under any circumstances, is a singular looking instrument.

Webb had himself proven the worth of these new instruments, acquiring a string of silvered mirrors and complete telescopes. Indeed, according to the noted British double star observer, Robert Argyle, they were able to resolve double stars well below one second of arc:

The 91/3 inch With Berthon reflector was obviously of high quality. One of the regular test objects used by With and Calver was γ2 Andromedae. The 8.5 inch mirrors of both makers were guaranteed to divide the pair, at a time when the separation was 0.6″. Webb also noted, in 1878, that he was able to suspect division in ω Leonis, then at 0.52″, and to divide η Coronae Borealis at 0.55″.

So much for the prognostications of the current generation of amateurs!

It was magic like this that convinced Espin to purchase his first truly ‘serious’ telescope; a 17.25 inch silvered glass reflector by Calver, purchased on Webb’s recommendation in 1885.

Octavius: the author’s 8″ f/6 Newtonian.

















Espin most likely purchased the mirrors separately and had the castings for his Calver optics made to order by Lepard & Sons of Great Yarmouth and also by the agricultural firm, Suffolk Iron Foundry, then located near Stowmarket. Espin constructed a modest observatory based on the design of the Reverend Edward Lyon Berthon(1813-1899), another clerical astronomer, which consisted of a small circular equatorial room with a conical roof, and which was commonly known as a ‘Romsey’, after the Parish in which Berthon lived and worked. Espin likely mounted his new instrument on an early equatorial (sometimes called an ‘equestrian’) designed by George With and Edward Berthon (see below).

Shortly before his death in 1885, Webb had alerted Espin to the work of John Birmingham on the red stars. In the months before he died, Birmingham despatched much of his unpublished work to Webb, requesting that he might carry on his observations. Because of his many other duties and failing health, Webb was unfortunately unable to commit to such an undertaking, yet he found a willing and able disciple in the young and enthusiastic Espin.

The With/Berthon equatorial mount( BAA# 83) featuring the 9.33 inch reflector employed by T.W. Webb in his later career. It is likely Espin used a similar mount for his larger 17.25 inch Calver Newtonian. Image courtesy of Denis Buczynski.












A Curious Aside:

Which is a better tool for red star hunting: a 5 inch refractor or a 8 inch reflector?

A wee experiment: Octavius’ (8″ f/6 Newtonian), and ‘Tiberius’ (5″ f/12 glass) strut their stuff.

















Method: A Baader 8 to 24mm zoom eyepiece was chosen to give an approximate exit pupil of about 2mm in both the 5” inch refractor and the 8” reflector, delivering powers of 64 and 100x, respectively. Both instruments were turned on the Double Cluster (Caldwell 14) in Perseus on a dark, moonless evening and the views compared, side by side, for several minutes.

Results: Though the images served up by both telescopes were very fine indeed, the easy winner was the 8” Newtonian. The contrast was a shade better in the unobstructed refractor, as one might expect, but the Newtonian, with its 22 per cent linear obstruction, wasn’t far behind it. These magnificent open clusters contain quite a few ruby stars of varying glory, but the greater light gathering power of the Newtonian (∼1 visual magnitude) made these stars considerably easier to pick out against a dark hinterland compared with the 5 inch glass. The colour of fainter members, in particular, was easier to discern in the Newtonian, a consequence, I suppose, of its greater ability to collect light. Put another way, where there is but a suggestion of colour in the refractor, it is clearly visible in the Newtonian.

From a practical point of view, it was also much easier to study these ruddy stars in the Newtonian, owing to its more comfortable eyepiece position whilst viewing an object high in the sky.

Comments: More light delivered to the retinal cone cells render colour vision more efficacious with the larger aperture. Indeed, no matter how much this author wanted the 5 inch refractor to win, owing to its elegant images, striking good looks, and much greater cost in comparison to the ‘glorified toilet roll’ that is the Dobsonian, it was never to be. Indeed, on all celestial targets examined, under reasonable to good seeing conditions, whether planetary, lunar, double star or deep sky, the Newtonian proved noticeably superior. A comparative MTF graph of a 5 inch refractor and 8 inch reflector will also show this clearly. Many lines of evidence lead to the same conclusion.

The 8 inch Newtonian was the superior instrument for hunting down and viewing red stars. This aperture is probably optimal for all kinds of general purpose viewing, including looking at red stars. Thoughtfully designed Newtonians can do wonderful things!  Here’s an interesting assessment made by a guy from Norfolk (England) of a similar telescope to the author’s modified Newtonian (in terms of raw aperture, coatings, and quality of secondary mirror), only with a slower f ratio and (slightly) smaller central obstruction.

Tiberius; Proxime Accessit.

Octavius; Optimus.


With his newly acquired 17.25 inch Calver Newtonian installed, Espin, together with his paid assistant, William Milburn, began a new and ambitious search for red stars all across the northern sky. Over the next two years, he found an incredible 3,800 red stars, discovered many new nebulae and over 30 novel variable stars. Such work called for considerable industry and his preserved records indicate that during the dark winter evenings, observing vigils were maintained for over 13 hours! Using an entirely homebuilt spectroscope, he examined over 100,000 stars from Dr. Argelander’s preeminent star charts, with magnitudes as faint as +9.0.

These new data were included in a much more extensive edition of The red stars, which also included contributions from Webb, Copeland, Birmingham and Dreyer, and published, once again by the Royal Irish Academy in 1890. The same telescope was used by Espin and Milburn to discover 2,575 double stars, many of which were measured micrometrically to establish position angles and angular separations. Espin’s proven skill as an inventor was also seen in the many new astronomical devices he made with his own hands, including arguably the first zoom eyepiece offering an assortment of magnifications, a new kind of stellar camera, as well as an improved method of lighting the cross hairs of the micrometer.

To the general public, such routine work as this often went unreported, but Espin received international fame in November 1910 with the discovery of Nova Lacertae, which burst onto the scene with a peak magnitude of 4.6. Over the next 37 days, as the world’s largest telescopes were turned on it, the nova slowly faded back to 7.6 and today it is exceedingly faint at magnitude 14.

For his great contributions to astronomical knowledge, Thomas was awarded the Jackson Gwilt Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1914 for his extensive spectroscopic work, as well as his discovery of Nova Lacertae. It was in the same year that Espin installed an even more powerful telescope at Tow Law; a 24 inch Calver reflector, with which he and his assistant continued to look for and measure new double stars. Curiously, Espin decided to concentrate his efforts on wider pairs, perhaps as a result of noting that the typical atmospheric conditions he enjoyed at Tow Law, Co. Durham, were rarely up to measuring very close pairs. This was the last telescope Espin would aquire and he used it faithfully right up until two years before his death on December 2 1934, aged 76.

                                       The nature and significance of red stars

Red stars, which include the spectral classes M, R, N and S, are not only visually striking to the human eye, standing out against the darkness of the night sky more readily than those with different hues, but they are arguably some of the most fascinating to study! First off, red stars not only include celebrated giant stars such as Betelgeuse, but they also incorporate the smallest bona fide stars in the firmament; the cool dwarf stars that comprise maybe 70 to 80 per cent of all stars that exist throughout the Universe. The largest and most luminous of the red giant stars are some 50 billion times brighter than the coolest red stars (none of which can be seen without a telescope), though they all have effective temperatures ranging from about 3900K (M0) down to 2600K (M8). Their spectra are littered with a maze of strong absorption lines, caused by the presence of simple molecules that absorb light in their tenuous, low gravity atmospheres, including substances such as TiO, CN, ZrO, C3, C2, and CO amongst others. Indeed, these substances collectively absorb so much light (particularly at shorter wavelengths) from their cores, that astronomers have found them difficult to classify in a coherent way. This is because it can often prove exceedingly difficult to trace out their black body curves, in a way that their basic properties can be inferred like hotter stars can.

Red giant stars that have evolved off the main sequence exhibit substantial mass loss in the form of powerful stellar winds and thermal pulses which expel layers of their outer atmospheres to the cold, dark of interstellar space. Cool, dwarf stars, on the other hand, have hardly changed since their birth, and are so parsimonious in their energy generation that they can continue to exist stably for a trillion years or more. And while highly evolved red giant stars are not considered likely candidates for life bearing planets, there has been quite a lot of attention paid to the environments around cool, red dwarf stars, as locations that might harbour viable life bearing worlds.

Doubtless the interested reader may have heard of recent discoveries made by astronomers in regard to a string of planets orbiting close to M dwarf stars. One example widely cited in the media is TRAPPIST-1, located 39.5 light years in the constellation Aquarius. A media frenzy ensued when the team of astronomers monitoring the system announced a cache of seven worlds orbiting the star, all of which  were deduced to have broadly Earth sized masses. The scientists, keen to maximise the impact of their work (thereby securing more funds), stressed the observation that three of these planets lie within the water habitable zone (one of several other ‘habitable zones’ that the scientific community need to talk about, openly and honestly) of TRAPPIST-1 and so could conceivably host some kind of life. But it’s always worth taking a closer look at these planets before jumping to sensationalised conclusions.

Three of these TRAPPIST-1 worlds (designated b, c and d) are of particular interest to astronomers, lying just 1.66, 2.28 and 3.14 million kilometres, respectively, from the dwarf red star’s surface. This means that they will be tidally locked to their star and thus will always show the same face to it as they move in their orbits.This creates potentially enormous differences in the temperatures of the day and night sides of the planets, which doesn’t bode well for life. They are also sufficiently massive and close to each other to exert periodic gravitational influences on one another. These induced perturbations likely rule out the possibility of life on these planets, since it would destabilise and frustrate the travails of any emergent lifeforms on these worlds.

Compounding these difficulties is the physical properties of these dwarf stars. Though only 8 per cent the mass of the Sun, recent XMM Newton observations showed its emission of X rays is comparable to that of the Sun and, owing to their very close proximity to TRAPPIST-1, the resulting X ray irradiance would likely strip away any primordial atmospheres they might have had. Then, to add insult to injury, many of these stars exhibit strong stellar winds, especially in their younger days, when they were engaged in the nurturing of planetary systems. This would require the planets to possess magnetic fields several times stronger than that of the Earth in order to stave off the certain extirpation of any putative lifeforms on their surfaces.

In short, when these physical parameters are factored into the discussion, one can begin to see the unbridled speculation of science journalists shining through. Whether it be the BBC, CNN, or from popular astronomy periodicals, can you not see that they are all hewn from the same stone? They make wild claims that have no basis in a grounded scientific assessment (and the project scientists often make no mention of them which is very telling, in and of itself). Once again, many folk, with their misplaced commitment to methodological naturalism, are only all too willing to give their sovereignty away. What a pitiable state of affairs!

I for one feel most very fortunate indeed to be able to observe the red stars from my back garden, on terra firma!

Update 23.03.17: Still more problems attending the TRAPPIST-1 system, as more detailed 3D climate modelling is done on the planets in this system. Details here.



Neil English is author of several books on astronomy and is currently writing a largely historical work, Tales from the Golden Age of Astronomy, chronicling the great achievements of historical astronomers over the past four centuries.


De Fideli.



Bible Facts Part V

Continued from Part IV


The hills near my home.

The hills near my home.

















I lift up my eyes to the hills.From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

It’s a well known fact that most atheists live in cities. Here, far from the glories of nature, there is less of God’s creation to contemplate and more temptation from sin. As a result, many city dwellers fall away from the faith. But God created the universe through Jesus by the power of his word. The magnificence of nature is but a mirror of God’s unsearchable beauty and love for his creation. Being close to nature brings you closer to him.


The Virgin in Prayer, by Sassoferrato, c. 1650. Image credit: Wiki Commons

The Virgin in Prayer, by Sassoferrato, c. 1650. Image credit: Wiki Commons










 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!”  But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Luke 11:27-28

The Bible teaches that although Mary, the mother of Jesus, is ‘blessed’ among women, she is not to be worshipped. Nor is she an intercessor between God and man. Jesus himself corrected the woman in the crowd, who cultivated this erroneous theology. Christ alone is sufficient. Those who pray to Mary are practicing idolatry.


Romeo and Juliet parting on the balcony in Act III. A painting by Ford Madox Brown ( 1867). Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Romeo and Juliet parting on the balcony in Act III. A painting by Ford Madox Brown ( 1867). Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.

Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.

Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.

Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.

Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.

Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.

Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.

Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards.

Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.

How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices! Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.

A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.

Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard,

Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:

A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.

Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.

Song of Solomon 4.

Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) is God’s erotic poetry. Historically, it depicts the amorous dealings and eventual wedding of King Solomon to a shepherdess. Often avoided by Bible teachers, owing to its strong sexual imagery, it reminds us that the Lord, who invented sex, wishes bethrothed couples to enjoy each other’s bodies throughout married life. The woman’s body is portrayed as an ‘inclosed garden’, signifying exclusivity, and its ‘fruits’ are to be enjoyed by the man. Allegorically, just as human life finds its highest fulfillment in the love expressed between a man and a woman, so spiritual life finds its grandest articulation in the love of God for his people.

This is spicy stuff!

Small wonder the Jewish rabbis prohibited their pupils from studying the text until they had reached the age of 30!


Beware the wolf

Beware the wolf

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

Mark 16:17

Christians are called to ferret out deceptions, great and small. One of these pertains to the so called ‘speaking in tongues.’ In the early days of the Church, the apostles and other believers were sometimes given the gift to speak in languages that were not their own for the express purpose of spreading the gospel to the cosmopolitan peoples of the Roman Empire. Nowadays, there is no need to speak in tongues, as the contemporary evangelist has many excellent tools at his/her disposal in order to effectively spread Christ’s message to the world. Those who continue this practice are either deluding themselves or are deceivers. Yeshua didn’t talk gibberish and neither should his followers.



Lucifer. Image credit: www. turnbacktogod.com

But the Lord is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.Thus shall ye say unto them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens.

Jeremiah 10:10-11

Many New Age and Eastern religions are based in some way on evolutionary ideology; that we are slowly ‘evolving’ towards a higher state of consciousness or that the ‘godhead’ is continually evolving towards some ‘omega point’. The Bible rubbishes all such notions however, as the Prophet Jeremiah makes clear above.  Humans are made in “God’s [unchanging; see Malachi 3:6] image and likeness”, not his evolving image and likeness.Anyone seeking to exalt himself in such a way will receive the full weight of the Lord’s wrath.


The Lord spoke to Moses from a burning bush that was not consumed.

















And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

Exodus 3:14

When the Lord spoke to his servant, Moses, from a burning bush, atop Mount Horeb, He revealed one of His names: I AM.

Jesus also laid claim to this unique title:

I Am the Bread of Life

John 6:35

I AM the Light of the World.

John 8:12

I AM the Door of the Sheep.

John 10:7

I AM the Good Shepherd.

John 10:11

I AM the Ressurrection, and the Life.

John 11:25

I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

John 14:6

I AM the True Vine

John 15: 1

Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

John 8:57-58

All of these statements made by Jesus were accompanied by specific miracles, providing rock solid evidence that he was indeed the Word Made Flesh, the God Man.

Sweet Jesus!



Afghan men at prayer. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

‘The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?’ says the Lord.‘I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals;I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you,this trampling of my courts?Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.

New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations –I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being.

They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean.

Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice.Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 1:11-17

The God of the Bible hates religion!

Religious folk murdered his only begotten Son.

Don’t be religious. Love and honour your Creator and do good to your fellow man. That’s it.


David and Goliath by Osmar Schindler ( c. 1888). Image credit: Wiki Commons.

But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.

1 Samuel 16:7

Fourteen generations separated Abraham from David. What did the Lord see in David that no one else could? The Bible teaches us that even the Prophet Samuel considered most of Jesse’s older sons before realising that it was David that found favour with God. Samuel judged by the outward appearance but the Lord always looks on the heart. Unlike King Saul, who put his own will ahead of God’s, David’s heart always put God’s will first and was quick to obey his commandments.

We must all strive to be people after God’s own heart.


                                         Some Favourite Sayings of David

Concerning Hope:

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart:
wait, I say, on the Lord.

Psalm 27:13-14.

Concerning Our Fallen Nature:

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Psalm 51:5

Concerning Prayer:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

Concerning Prophecy:

Even my close friend, someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread, has turned against me.

Psalm 41:9

False witnesses rose up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not.

Psalm 35:11

Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.

Psalm 27:12

Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

Psalm 22:16-18

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

Psalm 22:1

All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

Psalm 22:7-8

He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.

Psalm 34: 20

The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’

Psalm 110:1

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,

Psalm 8:6

Concerning Humility & Repentance:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

Psalm 51:1-3

Concerning Wisdom:

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.

Psalm 19:7-10

Concerning God’s Unmeasurable Grace:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 23.

Concerning Unbelief:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

Psalm 14:1

Concerning the Fate of Nations that Reject God:

The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.

Psalm 9:17


Tree of Jesse from the Gospel of St. Matthew, showing the patrilineage of Christ. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,  the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai,  the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda,  the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri,  the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er,  the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi,  the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim,  the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David,  the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon,  the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah,  the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor,  the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah,  the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan,  the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

Luke 3:23-38

Near the beginning of Luke’s Gospel (and also Matthew 1), we are told that Jesus of Nazareth was descended from King David. More on Biblical genealogies here.


The Angel Gabriel’s annunciation to the Virgin Mary. A painting by Murillo (c.1665). Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,  who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

Micah 5:2

The consensus opinion among Biblical scholars suggests that Jesus was likely born in September, 4 BC, before the death of Herod the Great. Both Isaiah and Micah, living in the 8th century BC (so after David, who reigned Israel and Judah between 1010 and 970 BC. See 2 Samuel 5:4/5), prophesied key features of the Messiah’s birth. Isaiah informs us that he would be born of a virgin and that he would be called ‘Immanuel’, which means, “God with us”. Micah explains that he would be born in Bethlehem, the home town of King David.


Adoration of the Magi by Giotto di Bondone. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.

Jeremiah 23:5-6

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16


Jewish Elder blowing the Shofar. A photo by Kluger Zoltan (1947).













Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—
His love endures forever.
 the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.

the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
His love endures forever.
and brought Israel out from among them
His love endures forever.
with a mighty hand and outstretched arm;
His love endures forever.

to him who divided the Red Sea asunder
His love endures forever.
 and brought Israel through the midst of it,
His love endures forever.
 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea;
His love endures forever.

to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.

 to him who struck down great kings,
His love endures forever.
and killed mighty kings—
His love endures forever.
Sihon king of the Amorites
His love endures forever.
and Og king of Bashan—
His love endures forever.
 and gave their land as an inheritance,
His love endures forever.
 an inheritance to his servant Israel.
His love endures forever.

He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
 and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.

                                                             Psalm 136

Psalm 136 is a poem/prayer of the ancient Hebrews, depicting a supernatural, epic story, and probably passed down in their oral traditions for many centuries before it was committed to writing. Its imagery is almost entirely based on the first five books of the Bible: the Pentateuch. The ancient Hebrews certainly did not understand their God fully, but nonetheless they recognised his awesome power and compassion for his people, as well as his wider creation.

Many seek to know the ‘Mind of God,’ with some even claiming that the deity they worship is completely understandable. And yet, clearly, the God of the Bible has not revealed everything about himself. There are many things concerning his personality that are shrouded in mystery.

I like that idea. It appeals to me. To my way of thinking, a deity that is totally knowable, or totally predictable, would almost certainly be false.


My coffee stained, large print, NIV 2011 Bible. Much used and much loved!

















We have heard that some went out from us without our authorisation and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said.

Acts 15:24

I know I’ve touched on this before but please bear with me.

Bible bigots really get on my wick!

Allow me to explain. There is a small number of individuals (some with too much influence, however) who continue to bash some or all modern translations of the Bible in favour of another, usually the 1611 Authorized King James Version. They claim that certain translations are ‘satanic,’ ‘new age’ or something even more ridiculous. It causes untold confusion, frustration and unnecessary divisions in the Body of Christ.

Brothers and sisters; stop this madness! Different translations are a blessing not a curse. Some are ‘word for word’, others are ‘thought for thought’, and still others are paraphrases. They all convey the Word of God. They were compiled with vigorous consultation by godly men and women with zeal to bring the wonderful message of the Bible to people who would otherwise be completely lost.

What is it that you hate so much about the march of the spoken word?

Do you not think that when you preach/teach/discuss the Bible you largely paraphrase anyway?

Can you not see the utter hypocricy of your arguments?

I would suggest to you that this indignation for modern translations is not of God at all. People should be free to choose the translation that suits them best; and more than one is always better than any one!

Don’t be a bigot. Jesus hates bigots.


Wee Bible.

















but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

Psalm 1:2

Some people have gone to extraordinary lengths to create very unusual Bibles.

The largest Bible ever produced was made by the American, Louis Waynai back in 1930. Opened up, it spanned a whopping 98 inches (nearly 2.5 metres) across. When closed it was 43.5 inches thick. It took Waynai over 8700 hours to put it together and weighed an incredible 1904 pounds!

The smallest Bible ever made was created by a team of Israeli technologists in 2014. Constructed from silicon wafer, it measures just 4.7mm on a side, with each Hebrew character just 0.18 microns in width. This ‘nanobible’ contains all 27 books of the New Testament.


Religious Pluralism: a banner of lies. Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Religions_4x5.png

















I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.

Isaiah 42:8

Time and time again, the God of the Bible makes it abundantly clear that there is no one or thing in heaven or on earth that can even remotely approach his glory. Nor will he tolerate the worshipping of the pantheon of false gods conjured by the human mind. Many ‘self professing’ Christians are really syncretists, embracing the political move for religious pluralism and/or functional humanism (the religion that says man is god) in post modern society.

Don’t be deceived!

The unchanging and ever living God is not influenced by the passage of time or the changing of public opinion.

We need to see God as he really is, how he sees things, and not as we would like him to be.


Elgol, southwest Isle of Skye, Scotland.

















Praise ye the Lord.

Praise ye the Lord from the heavens:
praise him in the heights.
 Praise ye him, all his angels:
praise ye him, all his hosts.
Praise ye him, sun and moon:
praise him, all ye stars of light.
Praise him, ye heavens of heavens,
and ye waters that be above the heavens.
Let them praise the name of the Lord:
for he commanded, and they were created.
He hath also stablished them for ever and ever:
he hath made a decree which shall not pass.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
ye dragons, and all deeps:
fire, and hail; snow, and vapour;
stormy wind fulfilling his word:
 mountains, and all hills;
fruitful trees, and all cedars:
 beasts, and all cattle;
creeping things, and flying fowl:
 kings of the earth, and all people;
princes, and all judges of the earth:
both young men, and maidens;
old men, and children:
let them praise the name of the Lord:
for his name alone is excellent;
his glory is above the earth and heaven.
He also exalteth the horn of his people,
the praise of all his saints;
even of the children of Israel,
a people near unto him.

Praise ye the Lord.

                                                                  Psalm 148

A psalm of the ancient Hebrews, extolling the God of all creation.


Joy, Tacuinum Sanitatis Casanatensis (14th century). Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Although the world we live in has many problems, the Lord has given us much that we can rejoice in. St. Paul, writing to the Philippians, encourages us to cast our mind on true and beautiful things, to remain optimistic, to seek the good in everything and everyone and to be of cheerful disposition. Chase away your doom and gloom with a smile!


The Beatitudes Sermon, by James Tissot (c. 1890). Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

The Beatitudes, recounted in the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, present some of the most inspiring and beautiful words uttered from the mouth of Jesus. Blessed are the meek.

But what does it mean to be meek?



Or is there more to it?

Searching the Scriptures, we find that meekness is mentioned in a few other places:

Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.

Numbers 12:3

Consider also the words of King David:

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.

For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.

But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.

Psalm 37:10-12


Meekness does not mean weakness; it is God’s panacea for the scourge of pride, which visits all people.

Meekness does not seek affirmation in the world. When we want to ‘blow our own trumpet’, as it were, God wishes us to ‘stick a proverbial sock in it’, to hold our tongues in check, and to walk on quietly. When evil is done to you, meekness entrusts all responses to the Sovereign Lord, who weighs every injustice fairly.

Meekness is the seeking of God’s Kingdom first; his will over and before yours.

Meekness is steadfastness. In the midst of calamity, the Lord teaches those who believe in him not to fret, for his promises are true.

Meekness is infectious; it cultivates meekness in others.

Meekness is an essential ingredient of repentance and, ultimately, salvation itself.

The Prophet Zephaniah writes:

Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.

Zephaniah 2:3


Joshua passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant by Benjamin West, 1800. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half was its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. And he overlaid it with pure gold inside and outside, and made a moulding of gold around it. And he cast for it four rings of gold for its four feet, two rings on its one side and two rings on its other side. And he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold and put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark.

Exodus 37:1-9

The ark was a holy chest that God instructed the Israelites to build and dates to about 1500 BC. The lid was called the mercy seat, and on top were placed two angelic beings called cherubim, with their wings outstretched, and facing each other with their heads cast downward. It represented the throne of God and contained the tablets upon which the ten commandments were written with the Lord’s very own finger (see Exodus 31:18; 34:1,28). Located behind the veil of the Holy of Holies inside the Tabernacle, the ark was a symbol of God’s throne and rule. The Lord even spoke from within it:

There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

Exodus 25:22

The ark served as a war palladium and could only be carried by members of the tribe of Levi. This was a special honour bequeathed by Moses, because of their unwavering service in carrying out the instructions of the Lord (see Exodus 32:29). The ark played a prominent role in the capture of Jericho (see Joshua 6 & 7). And when the ark was temporarily captured by the Philistines (see 1 Samuel 4 &5) it quickly became a curse to them. When the Temple was completed, the ark was deposited in the sanctuary (1 Kings 8:6-9). At the appointed time, the High Priest would sprinkle blood upon the mercy seat so that God’s judgement would fall upon an innocent substitute. This foreshadowed the sacrificial blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, who took away the sins of the world.

After the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians the ark was probably removed or destroyed. Since the ark symbolised God’s desire to dwell in the heart of his people, it is not especially surprising that its disappearance coincided with their rebellion and exile into Babylon. Since this time, the ark of the Covenant has never been recovered. There is no shortage of speculation about what happened to it, but no one is sure. Perhaps the most reliable answer is that the prophet Jeremiah hid the ark in a cave atop Mount Nebo before the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. Curiously, an account in 2 Maccabees (Catholic Bible) supports this hypothesis:

It was also in the writing that the prophet, having received an oracle, ordered that the tent and the ark should follow with him, and that he went out to the mountain where Moses had gone up and had seen the inheritance of God. And Jeremiah came and found a cave, and he brought there the tent and the ark and the altar of incense, and he sealed up the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up to mark the way, but could not find it. When Jeremiah learned of it, he rebuked them and declared: “The place shall be unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. And then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will appear, as they were shown in the case of Moses, and as Solomon asked that the place should be specially consecrated.”

2 Maccabees 2:4-8


In many ways, the ark represented the old covenant that was done away with when Christ died on the cross of Calvary. The prophet Jeremiah writes:

Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding. In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land,” declares the Lord, “people will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made. At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honour the name of the Lord. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.

Jeremiah 3:15-17


The Last Judgement by Michelangelo ( 1541). Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

Matthew 24:30-31

As Bible believing Christians, we ought to pay very close attention to the words of Jesus, for his utterances are completely trustworthy, unlike all the man made doctrines that are slowly poisoning the hearts and minds of his people. Jesus points out that at his second coming, all nations shall mourn when they see him on the clouds with his angels. But why will they mourn? Surely an epochal event of this nature ought to be joyous? For some it surely will, but for many others it will fill them with absolute dread! The simplest interpretation of this passage is that most will not be ready, but rather will be caught off guard. Will you be ready? Will you be caught off guard?

The prophet Isaiah writes:

Lead out those who have eyes but are blind,
who have ears but are deaf.
All the nations gather together
and the peoples assemble.
Which of their gods foretold this
and proclaimed to us the former things?
Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right,
so that others may hear and say, “It is true.”

                                                                                             Isaiah 43:8-9


Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives for ever.

                                                                                                                    1 John 2:15-17

Christians are called to live full, active and purpose filled lives. St. John informs us that much of what humans do is not of God at all but is instead grounded in the world. A lot, (perhaps the majority?) of what is beamed onto our TVs is tainted with graphic images and sentiments that are born of the flesh and have therefore no capacity to stimulate growth in the Spirit. We are called to protect our children from the barrage of media that does not respect the Lord of all creation. That said, are we to refrain from watching television or using the internet?  Not at all! These wonderful forms of technology can also be a cause for good. Keeping up with the local, national and international news is a useful activity, as we are called to remain watchful. We can use our discernment to select programmes, either online or on television, that are useful, educational and entertaining. The same is true of the various forms of social media. Old fashioned activities, such as reading, are also to be encouraged. In the end though, if we find that we are spending countless hours glued to a TV or computer screen, maybe the purposes that God has intended for us are not being fulfilled.  When the various media consume us and eat away large chunks of our free time, they can easily enslave us. That is the time to regain control and to rethink how we use these technologies for the furtherment of the Kingdom of God.


Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12:14

Peace forms the bedrock upon which growth in the Spirit occurs. Because the Lord is sovereign over all things, he gives his peace to all who trust in him. Doubtless the world will continue to have interpersonal conflicts and wars until Jesus returns and establishes true and everlasting peace. In the meantime, we are called to cultivate peace in our hearts and in our minds and to actively seek peace in our relationships with others, however much we disagree with each other. Jesus referred to peacemakers as ‘blessed’ (Matthew 5:9) and called us to be ministers of peace and reconcillation.

Concerning our Creator the psalmist declares :

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God”

Psalm 46:10


It is possible to give away and become richer! It is also possible to hold on too tightly and lose everything. Yes, the liberal man shall be rich! By watering others, he waters himself.

Proverbs 11:24-25

Tell those who are rich not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone, but their pride and trust should be in the living God who always richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give happily to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them.  By doing this they will be storing up real treasure for themselves in heaven—it is the only safe investment for eternity! And they will be living a fruitful Christian life down here as well.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

You’ve no doubt heard that it’s better to give than to receive. These ideas have their origin in the Bible. Yes, thousands of years before charities came into existence, the living word of God was right on the money!

Not too shabby!


“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
  “and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
 and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
 nor shall there be any after me.
 I, I am the Lord,
 and besides me there is no saviour.
 I declared and saved and proclaimed,
 when there was no strange god among you;
  and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.”

                                                                                                             Isaiah 43:10-12

Whichever way you slice it, besides the God of the Bible, we have a hopeless end.

But with the God of the Bible, we have endless hope!


My youngest son, Doug, showing off his freshly caught rainbow trout.

Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth,
Before the difficult days come,
And the years draw near when you say,
“I have no pleasure in them”:
While the sun and the light,
The moon and the stars,
Are not darkened,
And the clouds do not return after the rain;

                                                                                  Ecclesiastes 12:1-2

It’s always better to be early than late. That way you don’t miss a trick. While the Lord will acknowledge any genuine act of repentance, even as death approaches in old age, there is a lot to be said about cultivating a robust faith while we are young and healthy. God wants us to be early to the table, as it were, and not leave everything until the last minute. Youth and vigour are wonderful blessings but they are meaningless unless they are centred in eternity. Solomon, who knew quite a few things about life’s pleasures, advises us that it’s always best to search God when we have the energy to do so, so that we learn and set patterns that will ultimately help us later in life. Come as you are, but if at all possible, please come early, declares the Sovereign Lord!


Safe to bathe.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:28-29

Once we give our lives to Christ are we always saved? Can one lose one’s salvation? The Bible appears to suggest that some can, and indeed, do, backslide.  Consider the character of Demas, whom Paul states was a loyal co-worker in Christ:

 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

Philemon 23-24

Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.

Colossians 4:14


And yet, just a couple of years later, St. Paul informs us that Demas fell away:

Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.

2 Timothy 4:9-10

Calvanism teaches that God has already chosen those he will save and that Christ died only for the sins of the ‘elect’. It follows, according to this doctrine, that he also foreknew those who would foresake him. This is a dangerous position however, as it implies that God makes us an accessory to sin, which is patently nonsense, as God is not the author of confusion.

A balanced reading of the Scriptures suggests something entirely different: God saves those who respond to his calling. In other words, the Lord has made salvation freely available to all but doesn’t automatically make it happen, for that would make him unrighteous.  No, that choice is entirely up to us.

I like to think of salvation as a process; a daily ritual of renewing a kind of ‘marriage vow,’ with the Lord, rather than a singular event in itself. I ask my Heavenly Father to forgive me for the sins I have committed in the past, and in the present, as well as the failings I will undoubtedly make in the future, for we all fall woefully short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).


Men at work. Image credit: Paul Keheler.
















Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.’

Hosea 6:1-3

The God of the Bible is the bruiser of egos. He always tears down before he builds up. He inflicts wounds on the ungodly but is only too willing to heal and restore if we humble ourselves. Less is always more in the Kingdom of God.


The Greek word atheoi, literally ‘those who are without God’, which appears in Ephesians 2:12 as recorded on a 3rd century papyrus.

And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Matthew 24:10-13

Without a shadow of a doubt, we live in an age of mass deception, scoffers, God haters and deniers, false doctrines and teachers; wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing hellbent on scattering the flock, but it pays to remember that Jesus himself warned us about these times. He foreknew these times.

This is precisely the time to hold the line, not to shirk responsibility, to keep on trusting in his promise.

 St. Paul, writing to the early church in Corinth encourages us thus:

 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

1 Corinthians 16:13


Jesus appears on the shore of Lake Tiberias by James Tissot. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Remember the former things of old:
for I am God, and there is none else;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning,
and from ancient times the things that are not yet done,
saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

Isaiah 46:9-10

Carl Sagan once remarked that if he had a chance to travel back in time, the first place he’d visit would be the Great Library of Alexandria, to immerse himself in the lost scientific knowledge of the ancient world. For me, it would undoubtedly be a trip to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, during the closing years of the principate of Tiberius Caesar (14 AD to 37AD), in search of a miracle worker named, Jeshua.


The Lord spoke to Job from the whirlwind.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,

Who is this that darkeneth counsel
by words without knowledge?
Gird up now thy loins like a man;
for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.

 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?
declare, if thou hast understanding.
 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest?
or who hath stretched the line upon it?
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened?
or who laid the corner stone thereof;
when the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth,
as if it had issued out of the womb?
When I made the cloud the garment thereof,
and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it,
 and brake up for it my decreed place,
and set bars and doors,
and said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further:
and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?

Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days;
and caused the dayspring to know his place;
that it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
that the wicked might be shaken out of it?
It is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment.
And from the wicked their light is withholden,
and the high arm shall be broken.
Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea?
or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?
Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?
or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?
 Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth?
declare if thou knowest it all.

Where is the way where light dwelleth?
and as for darkness, where is the place thereof,
 that thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof,
and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof?
Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born?
or because the number of thy days is great?
Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?
or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,
 which I have reserved against the time of trouble,
against the day of battle and war?
By what way is the light parted,
which scattereth the east wind upon the earth?
Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters,
or a way for the lightning of thunder;
 to cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is;
on the wilderness, wherein there is no man;
to satisfy the desolate and waste ground;
and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?
 Hath the rain a father?
or who hath begotten the drops of dew?
Out of whose womb came the ice?
and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?
The waters are hid as with a stone,
and the face of the deep is frozen.

Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades,
or loose the bands of Orion?
Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?
or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?
Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?
canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?
 Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds,
that abundance of waters may cover thee?
Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go,
and say unto thee, Here we are?
 Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts?
or who hath given understanding to the heart?
 Who can number the clouds in wisdom?
or who can stay the bottles of heaven,
 when the dust groweth into hardness,
and the clods cleave fast together?
 Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion?
or fill the appetite of the young lions,
when they couch in their dens,
and abide in the covert to lie in wait?
Who provideth for the raven his food?
when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat.

Job 38.

The beautiful and arresting words of the Lord, when he spoke to his servant, Job. Some people feel they have a right to question, demand from, or even threaten God. Here we get a true sense of perspective.

What is all of human knowledge, the achievements of our kind, compared with our Creator?

It amounts to nothing; less than nothing!

If we took just a moment to contemplate the Lord’s infinite perfections, we would more clearly see that he has a right to our love, and more clearly understand the utter folly of rebelling against him, as well as our need of his mercy and salvation.


An interesting patch of the Hubble Deep Field Image. Credit: Wiki Commons.








Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,

and the heavens are the work of your hands.

They will perish, but you will remain;

 they will all wear out like a garment.

You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,

but you are the same, and your years have no end.

Psalm 102:25-27

Any true science is never in conflict with divine revelation and thus can never constitute a threat to the Christian faith. As the Psalmist declares, the Bible anticipated the universal law of decay: the second law of thermodynamics; millennia before it was formally couched in scientific terms. The Universe, if left to its own devices, is destined to run down and die in a cold, dark heat death.

St. Paul, writing to the early church in Rome, tells us that everything we observe; every creature that lives, is in a state of bondage, where pain, suffering and eventually death ensues.


For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Romans 8:22

Yet in the midst of these travails, we can still experience real hope, love and peace. For we have a great High Priest in Jesus, the Lord, who lives forever. He has promised to intervene well before this ‘fatal destiny’ manifests itself, rolling up the existing cosmos like a scroll (Isaiah 34:4) and creating new heavens and a new Earth, a place where nature does not “groan.” A place for those who love and honour him (Revelation 21:1).

Praise the Lord!


St. Seraphim of Sarov sharing his meal with a bear. Image credit: Wiki Commons.













A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire;
He rages against all wise judgment.

Proverbs 18:1

The Bible is full of the most wonderful wisdom. While we certainly ought to avoid media that dishonours the Lord, we should remain engaged with people and not give up on them. The Lord wants us to build bridges not burn them.


“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Thus says the Lord,

Who gives the sun for a light by day,

The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night,

Who disturbs the sea,

And its waves roar

(The Lord of hosts is His name):

“If those ordinances depart

From before Me, says the Lord,

Then the seed of Israel shall also cease

From being a nation before Me forever.”

Thus says the Lord:

“If heaven above can be measured,

And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath,

I will also cast off all the seed of Israel

For all that they have done, says the Lord.


Jeremiah 31:31-37

Is the Lord’s business with Israel over?  The words of Scripture provide us with a clear and unambiguous answer; no!

As the Prophet Jeremiah writes, the Lord made a new covenant with the house of Israel which was fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah; Jesus of Nazareth. What is more, this covenant is legally binding until the Lord wraps up history, when Jesus comes again to judge the nations. As Jeremiah explains, no sooner would God abandon that promise than change the physical laws that govern heaven and earth!

Will the Jews be treated any differently to Gentiles? Yes and no. St. Paul tells us that Jews who live under the law of Moses will be judged by the same law. Gentiles are to be judged by a different set of criteria based on the same moral law. As believers, this judgement pertains to rewards. In the scheme of things though, the outcome is probably the same. For example; if some Gentiles are taken out, so are some Jews!

The Prophet Amos writes:

Thus says the Lord:

“As a shepherd takes from the mouth of a lion

Two legs or a piece of an ear,

So shall the children of Israel be taken out

Who dwell in Samaria—

In the corner of a bed and on the edge of a couch!

Amos 3:12


St. Paul, writing to the church in Rome elaborates:

As He says also in Hosea:

“I will call them My people, who were not My people,

And her beloved, who was not beloved.”

“And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them,

‘You are not My people,’

There they shall be called sons of the living God.”

Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel:

“Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea,

The remnant will be saved.

For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness,

Because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth.”

Romans 9:25-28

Furthermore, St. Paul makes it clear that Israel is not to be understood in the strict political sense of the word, that is, the nation state located in the Middle East, but instead the biblical Israel consists of the ‘branches, of which the Jews are but one,’ sustained by the ‘root’, that is, the Living God; as well as those other branches ‘grafted in,’ which represent believing Gentiles:


You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.

Romans 11:19-21

In this way, and as the Scriptures say,  all ‘Israel’ will be saved;

And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,

And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;

Romans 11:29

Thus, to assert that the Jews will be treated any differently to the Gentiles is unbiblical. The truth is, there are godly and ungodly people among all nations. And since God does not show partiality (Romans 2:11), this is entirely in keeping with his character. The Jews are our brothers and sisters, no more and no less.

There is also a message here for Christians who have ‘Zionist’ agendas. Before his ascension, Jesus held this exchange with his disciples:

Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.

Acts 1:6-7

Two points to note here:

  • The apostles had no idea that Jesus was about to disappear for two thousand years, for they had not yet received the Spirit of truth.
  • Jesus reminds them that these matters have been placed in the Father’s “authority.” What’s gonna happen will happen, and no one really knows!


Political map of the world. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

 As it is written:

‘There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.’

                                                                         Romans 3:10-12

It is estimated that about one billion people living on Earth today have never heard of Christ, let alone the gospels. And what of the countless millions who lived before Christ? Is it possible that they will avoid judgement?

Although the Bible does not have a specific passage that can address these questions, some passages in Romans, St. Paul’s masterpiece, provide good answers.

In the mind’s eye, one might imagine an individual (beyond the age of accountability as it pertains to Matthew 18:14) who either was, or is, morally perfect but who never heard of Christ. Would such a person end up in heaven? Yes! But here’s the rub: such a person has never existed!

Romans 3:10-12 tells us that no one is righteous in and of themselves. Every man (with the sole exception of Jesus), woman and child who lives or has ever lived has fallen short. There are no exceptions. They have all broken the moral law.

In Chapter 1, St. Paul tells us that all people have a knowledge of God the Father but have rejected Him:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

Romans 1:18-19

Accordingly, they will be judged by their deeds and thoughts.

For those who have heard of Christ, St. Paul tells us how to attain righteousness in God’s eyes:

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,  since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

                                                                                                                 Romans 3:21-31

St. Paul also tells us that we must constantly strive to bring the gospel to as many people as possible. This is a noble cause, for their eternal destiny is at stake. You might have heard it said that such and such a person has a ‘quiet faith,’ and that the same person would never have the ‘brass neck’ to share it with anyone else. But this is precisely the kind of mindset the Lord told us not to have!

And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.

Mark 3:10

St. Paul brings all of this into sharp focus in Romans Chapter 10:

for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

Romans 10:13-15


A Swiss commemorative medal issued in 1979, showing Einstein’s vacuum field equations with zero cosmological constant. Image credit: Wiki Commons.










Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,

Hebrews 6:17

Some folk are uncomfortable with God’s refusal to bend or compromise His statutes. But that’s rather like saying “I don’t like gravity” or “I don’t like electricity.” If you disrespect the law of gravity you’ll get hurt. If you stick your finger in a light socket, you’ll suffer the consequences. Or saying you don’t believe in trucks won’t remove the possibility that one could run you over. You see, we don’t really dislike the law of gravity, or the conservation of momentum, or those principles that govern electromagnetism. We respect them and cultivate a healthy fear for them, allowing them to work for our good. The same ought to apply with our relationship with our Creator.


But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Galatians 4:4-7

Galatians chapter 4 presents arguably some of the most important lines of Scripture in the entire Bible. In accepting Christ as our saviour, we will be made fellow sons & daughters of the living God, and heirs to the Divine Creation!

What an amazing revelation!

Praise the Lord!

Continued in Part VI