Wednesday, July 22, 2009

FORTY YEARS AGO -- where I was

McDonald Observatory, Mt. Locke, West Texas July 1969

When I exposed the film for this image 40 years ago, almost to the day, I didn't have a clue if it would work or not. I was literally guessing in the dark using a small, red-lens'd flashlight to see the camera settings even though the image may make it appear it was still light outside.

At the time, I was working for the News & Information Service (UNIS) at the Univ. of Texas, Austin. Myself and John Van Beekum (who was working for the Daily Texan) were there along with other press people for coverage of the beginning of the Lunar Laser Ranging Project. I remember very clearly that I was using a Nikon F and a 28mm Nikkor, and the film was Ektachrome tungsten balanced film pushed two stops in processing. In those days, it was all guess work, and in the very short window of time, I remember bracketing wildly hoping to get a decent image. Guessing today and seeing how the stars recorded, I would say it was an exposure of about 30-45 seconds, maybe a minute. If I had had my Canon 5D Mark II to make this image, it would have been a cake walk. To bad the image belongs to UT, and not me. I'm told that they still get a goodly number of request for usage of this image.

As an aside story, while eating a late supper one evening, I found myslf sitting next the then director of the observatory, Harlan Smith. I got to thinking as I listened to him explain about the nature of laser light being passed through a telescope -- how it tended to stay relatively tightly bundled out in space. The laser beam from the 2.7m mirror only spreads to about 6.5 km at the moons surface. I ask Dr. Smith this: since the laser beam will remain in tact if not disturbed or acted on by some outside force, would it not be possible that on some little planet rotating around one of our sister suns in the Milky Way that a bright slightly green star might suddenly on a cold wintry night appear in the sky above some lonely shepherds guarding their flocks? Assuming of course there is such a planet, and that there is life on that planet, and that life on that planet has taken the form of shepherds and sheep. Dr. Smith said he had never thought about it in that manner, but, yes, it might be possible. I assume my readers get my drift....


doonster said...

With all the Apollo stuff around at the moment, I caught a segment on this laser range finding project last week. It is still going, the only Apollo project still in operation.
And then, linked to the eclipse event yesterday, it was stated that the moon is receding quite quickly, sufficient that we are at the only point in the Earth's history where the moon is (and will be) exactly the same apparant size as the sun during an eclipse.

Lovely photo, BTW.

Steve Skinner said...

Great post, I get the message.

Yesterday, I also remembered where I was 40 years ago. Now if I could only remember where I put my keys.

pitchertaker said...

Yes, it still on-going, but just not at McDonald Observatory -- their funding has been cut. I knew from reading about the LLR that the moom was moving away, but didn't know about the size thing.

luksky said...

Another great pic! Also one of the places I want to visit in Texas before I die. I believe it is the only observatory in I right???

Bob Towery said...

Great image (especially for 40 years ago) and interesting story.

Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)