For the Love of Comets If you have read this column more than once, you probably are not too surprised to understand that I love comets. Comets are a part of me, a part of who I am. But I had to wait a while before I saw my first comet. I was already 17 years old and had been interested in the sky for a number of years. When I learned that the two young Japanese amateur astronomers Kaoru Ikeya and Tsutomu Seki had discovered a comet that could become the comet of the century, I was spellbound. During the mild autumn of 1965, as I awaited this mighty comet, I decided to begin a comet search program of my own. At the end of October I finally saw this comet as it rose, tail first, in the sky to the east beyond the St. Lawrence River. I observed it again a week later in early November. I have … Continue reading →
About David Levy
David H. Levy is one of the most successful comet discoverers in history. He has discovered 22 comets, nine of them using his own backyard telescopes. With Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker at the Palomar Observatory in California he discovered Shoemaker-Levy 9, the comet that collided with Jupiter in 1994. That episode produced the most spectacular explosions ever witnessed in the solar system. Levy is currently involved with the Jarnac Comet Survey, which is based at the Jarnac Observatory in Vail, Arizona but which has telescopes planned for locations around the world.
Levy is the author or editor of 35 books and other products. He won an Emmy in 1998 as part of the writing team for the Discovery Channel documentary, "Three Minutes to Impact." As the Science Editor for Parade Magazine from 1997 to 2006, he was able to reach more than 80 million readers, almost a quarter of the population of the United States. A contributing editor for Sky and Telescope Magazine, he writes its monthly "Star Trails" column, and his "Nightfall" feature appears in each issue of the Canadian Magazine Skynews.
David Levy has given more than 1000 lectures and major interviews, and has appeared on many television programs, such as the Today show (4 times), Good Morning America (twice), the National Geographic special "Asteroids: Deadly Impact", and ABC's World News Tonight, where he and the Shoemakers were named Persons of the Week for July 22, 1994. Also, Levy has done nationally broadcast testimonials for PBS (1995-present), and for the Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon (1998-1999). He and his wife Wendee host a weekly radio show available worldwide at www.letstalkstars.com. In 2004 he was the Senator John Rhodes Chair in Public Policy and American Institutions at Arizona State University. He has been awarded five honorary doctorates, and asteroid 3673 (Levy) was named in his honor. In 2010, David became the first person to discover comets visually, photographically, and electronically.
On June 6, 2010, David was awarded a Ph. D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for his dissertation for the Department of English on the topic of "The Sky in Early Modern English Literature: A Study of Allusions to Celestial Events in Elizabethan and Jacobean Writing, 1572-1610."
Levy is President of the National Sharing the Sky Foundation, an organization intended to inspire new generations to develop an inquiring interest in the sciences, or in other words, to reach for the stars.
Levy resides in Vail, Arizona, with his wife, Wendee. After teaching Physical Education in the Las Cruces school district for 26 years, in 1996 Wendee became the manager of Jarnac Observatory, and was promoted to Director in 2004. Wendee is an integral part of our Jarnac Comet Survey, helping to organize the program and scan the images. As Secretary-Treasurer of the National Sharing the Sky Foundation, Wendee plays a vital role in its activities. - From David's website.
March 23 In 1963, while living as a patient at the Jewish National Home for Asthmatic Children in Denver, I strolled outside on the evening of March 23 to observe the evening sky. The sky was brilliant and clear that evening so long ago as I set up my small first telescope, Echo, and proceeded to sketch a portion of the Milky Way as it shone in the sky over Denver. It was a silly and immature project of no particular value whatsoever, but it was important to me, and it resulted in a small chart of the winter Milky Way. Over many years, the particular date of March 23 has brought many treasured memories to my personal life and my skywatching life. Late in 1988 I began studying the behavior of TV Corvi, a certain variable star that had been discovered in 1931 by Clyde Tombaugh, the same person who discovered Pluto. On the evening of March 23, 1990, … Continue reading →
For those of us who were alive back then, where were you on Christmas Eve, in the year 1968? I remember exactly where I was: sitting in front of my family’s television, we were watching a surreal scene on TV. There was a camera peering through a triangular-shaped window on a spacecraft called Apollo 8, out of which was a view of mountains, plains, and craters. And at the bottom of the screen were the words, “Live from the Moon.” I have a feeling that most of you, if you were living then, were watching too. The Apollo 8 Christmas eve broadcast was the most watched television program in the world up to that time. The announcer on our station, Walter Cronkite, was not saying much. Occasionally he would update us as to what part of the Moon the spacecraft was looking at, but most of the time, the view on the screen said it all. And it was magical. … Continue reading →
Inner Starlight In 1994, Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of the most popular shows on television. The episodes were so good that it was easy to tell that the cast was especially enjoying themselves. One of the episodes that year was “The Inner Light.” It was a beautiful story in which a strange probe approaches the Enterprise and attaches a beam to Captain Picard, who loses consciousness and has a dream in which he is living on a distant planet. He enjoys a full life there, with a wife, two children and a grandson, and he becomes politically active in his community. He even outlives his wife. One day his daughter asks him to watch a rocket launch. He hesitates, but then his deceased wife and best friend appear. The Captain then exclaims, “It’s the probe that was sent for me!” After enjoying this episode many times, I was reminded of another beautiful story. Written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1824, it is called … Continue reading →
More than two thousand years ago, getting loose change was about as easy as it is today. Hand a shopkeeper a silver dollar in today’s world, and you can expect four quarters in change. What isn’t the same as today is the design of the coin one might want to get change for. Hand the same shopkeeper a Roman coin from the first century, especially one with a bright comet engraved on its head, and one of two things might happen: either you’d get thrown out of the store, or the shopkeeper would treat you to dinner and then bequeath his children to you. After all, if the shopkeeper read Shakespeare, he would know that the coin was celebrating Julius Caesar’s Great Comet, the comet that appeared in the northern sky during the games held shortly after the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March , March 15, 44 BC. In the Shakespearian tragedy Julius Caesar, Calpurnia even … Continue reading →
If you build it… “If you build it,” said the voice, “he will come.” In eastern Iowa near the town of Dyersville, near a well-kept farmhouse, lies a regulation baseball diamond in the midst of a cornfield. This is the Field of Dreams from the 1989 movie. On the beautiful Sunday afternoon of September 9, Jeff Struve and I drove down to visit the site as part of the Eastern Iowa Star Party he had so well organized. With impact crater specialist Jennifer Anderson and her husband David, we saw where one of my favorite movies was filmed. Dr. Anderson had just delivered a stunning and lively lecture about her impact crater research at Winona State University’s geosciences department. The theme of Field of Dreams revolves around baseball. But even though I am a baseball fan, the movie’s influence on me was not about the sport but about the dreams. It is about a dream I began to have in … Continue reading →
When Meteors Graze the Sky If I were just getting started in astronomy, who knows what field would have attracted me? In the 1960s it was comets, and I have no regrets. And notwithstanding the truism that there are no ifs in history, it is possible that I would have chosen meteors instead. Besides, meteors and comets are closely related. Each time a comet rounds the Sun, tiny specks of dust come off its surface. These specks of dust orbit the Sun in the same orbit as the parent comet, but when the Earth crosses that orbit, those specks of dust may enter the atmosphere and burn up. Thus, while we may spot a comet but once in its orbit, its meteors we can see every year. Click and scroll on this interactive display of the Perseid meteoroid stream: Because of that, throughout the year we are treated to very good shows of meteors. But each year, the same meteor … Continue reading →
Mighty Mars and the Adirondacks The summer of 2018 featured our fifteenth Adirondack Astronomy Retreat in the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York. It is also the last one that Wendee and I will host. Usually the dark and pristine sky from the AAR, as the retreat is known, provides brilliant walkways amongst the distant stars of the globular star cluster Messier 15, or the spiral arms of a galaxy all but lost in the vacuum of space and the mists of time. But not this year. For the first time in fifteen years, Mars, relatively nearby, shone like a big red traffic light in the sky. All night long in the sky, during this particular summer, Mars ruled the night. The last time Mars looked this good, it was the late summer of 2003. I looked through Obadiah, my six-inch diameter refractor, and I decided that this was by far the best view I have ever had of Mars. … Continue reading →
The Universe of Rik and Dolores Hill Having lived in Arizona for 39 years, more than half my life, I enjoy looking back at some of the more interesting things that have happened. One of the nicest, a strong bond of friendship, began in January 1980, when I got a telephone call from Rik Hill. Like me, he had just relocated to Arizona to begin work running the Burrell Schmidt telescope atop Kitt Peak. It was a telescope designed to photograph large fields of the sky. At the time, Kitt Peak National Observatory was one of the world’s foremost centers of research in astronomy. There, Rik set up his big telescopic camera and began a night of taking pictures of the night sky, studying the highly energetic centers of distant galaxies that we call quasi-stellar objects, or quasars. While Rik was working that night, I brought along my 6-inch diameter reflector telescope, which I now call Minerva. At the time … Continue reading →
The National Sharing the Sky Foundation Back in 2006, Wendee and I founded an organization designed to spread our enthusiasm and passion for the night sky. We called it the National Sharing the Sky Foundation. Its basic purpose was to bring the magic of the night sky to as many people as we possibly could. Over the years, we have encouraged thousands of people to enjoy the night sky. Whether this happened in small groups, at public schools or even smaller groups at our home, at big “star parties” on University campuses, or at dark sky sites at remote locations, our goal has always been to share the sky in the simplest way we could. Do I have a favorite memory from Sharing the Sky? Indeed, I do. Of all the nights I have spent under the stars, the greatest moment was at our Adirondack Astronomy Retreat in upstate New York. One night there I gazed at the giant globular star … Continue reading →
An Observing Man for all Seasons On Friday evening, May 4, 2018, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (also known as the TAAA) bestowed its highest honor, the Bart and Priscilla Bok award, to Dr. Tim Hunter, a retired radiologist at the University of Arizona. The award honors a lifetime of service to astronomy, and dedication and a passion for the night sky. The TAAA’s Bok award was started around 1984 in honor of the husband-and-wife team of astronomers whose lives were devoted to studying our galaxy, the Milky Way. Bart and Priscilla Bok’s enthusiasm led to four editions of a popular science book called The Milky Way. After Priscilla’s death in 1975, Bart produced a legendary fifth edition, which he dedicated in his wife’s memory. “This is the first time I’ve revised the book without her,” he wrote. At that time, Tim Hunter was beginning his career in radiology and rapidly expanding his work in astronomy. He has approached the … Continue reading →
“Ever Edith” The stars, it somehow appears, were aligned in good fortune when my Mother, Edith Pailet Levy, was born in New Orleans on June 1, 1918. Just one week later, a total eclipse of the Sun tracked all the way across the United States from Oregon to Florida. A few weeks ago, when I told her about this eclipse, Mom appeared to appreciate what I was talking about. But she had no idea about the rest of that story: When darkness fell across North America that very night, a bright nova appeared in the constellation of Aquila near Altair. Not everyone could enjoy the eclipse that June 8, but practically everyone could spot the brilliant exploding Sun that for a few nights was the brightest star in the sky. It is well described in Leslie Peltier’s autobiography Starlight Nights. When Mom married my father in 1939, she was a medical student who, by the early 1950s, became fascinated … Continue reading →