A Brief History of Vermont Astronomy


By Gary T. Nowak

 

 

• Jul 1609 – Samuel de Champlain does the 1st astronomical observations in Vermont. Astronomical sightings were done with an astrolabe for navigation purposes.

• Sept 1682 – 1P/Halley (Halley’s Comet or Comet Halley) was visible at magnitude 0.0 and a tail 30 degrees long.

• Mar 1759 – 1P/Halley (1759 I). Comet Halley was visible at magnitude 0.0 and a tail 25 degrees long.

• 1786 – Ebenezer Warner Judd published The United States Almanac in Guildhall, VT. The Almanac contained Judd’s astronomical calculations. Later Judd would be better known for his marble industry in Frog Hollow Area (Middlebury, VT).

• 1806 – Abraham Brinsmaid and Moses Bliss manufacture and sell “Moon Clocks” in Burlington, VT.

• Summer 1816 – “Year Without a Summer”–strong halo seen around the Sun all Summer long. Snow in June, frost in July, drought in August, and snow in September. Naked eye sunspots were seen all summer long. Eruption of Mt. Tambora, Island of Sumbawa (near Java, Bali) in April 1815 caused the cool down.

• 12 Oct 1819 – Bright white colored aurora borealis covers the northern sky in 3 bands.

• 9 Nov 1819 – “Extraordinary Darkness”–daylight was changed to twilight. Sun had a blood red color. Rain fell which was black color and tasted like soot. Great forest fires caused the darkness.

• 13 Nov 1833 – : “The Great Leonid Meteor Storm”–10,000 plus meteors fell per hour. Meteor storm started at 10:00 p.m. and went into dawn. Seen all over VT and New England.

• Oct 1835 – 1P/ Halley (1835 III). Comet Halley was visible in evening sky at magnitude +1.0 and a tail 20 degrees long.

• 25 Jan 1837 – “Most Remarkable Exhibition of Aurora Borealis”–aurora borealis had strong red color and was as bright as the full moon.

• Mar 1843 – “The Great March Comet” (1843 I). Bright comet was magnitude 0.0 and had a tail 40 degrees long. Comet helped fueled the fire of the Adventist Christian Movement in VT and New England.

• July 1861 – Comet Tebbutt (1861 II). Comet seen in early morning sky at magnitude -2.0 and with a 90 degree long tail. Some believe comet was a potent for upcoming Battle of Bull Run (21 July 1861) and the U.S. Civil War.

• 13 Nov 1866 – The Leonid Meteor Storm–2000 meteors per hour were seen just before dawn.

• 27 Apr 1870 – S.W. Burnham (Sherburne Wesley Burnham) discovered his 1st double star (B40) with a 6″ F/15 Alvan Clark Refractor. Burnham, originally from Thetford, VT would go on to discover a total of 1,340 new double stars. He becomes America’s outstanding amateur authority on visual double stars.

• 27 Nov 1872 – The broken remains of Comet P/Biela caused a meteor storm of 3000 meteors per hour. In the later years, the “Bielids” or the “Andromedids Meteor Shower” went dead and failed to appear at all.

• Sept 1882 – ” The Great September Comet” (1882 II). Seen in the daylight from 17 – 27 September. Comet then moved into morning sky at magnitude 0.0 with a tail 25 degrees long.

• 6 Dec 1882 – The Transit of Venus across the face of the Sun is visible throughout Vermont and New England.

• 1 Feb 1883 – Wilson A. Bentley of Jericho, VT records his 1st aurora borealis observation. Bentley would study aurora for the next 49 years. Bentley is better known as “Snowflake Bentley” for his pioneer efforts in snowflake photography.

• Fall 1883 ­to Winter 1885 – “Krakatau Effects”: Blue or green colored Sun with Bishop’s Ring, abnormally strong purple ­orange sunsets, blue or green colored Moon, and haloes around the brightest stars. These effects were caused by volcanic dust / ash from the eruption of Mt. Krakatau (27 Aug 1883), South Lampung, Samatra

• 27 Aug 1885 – Dr. Seth M. Blake of Bellows Falls, VT and Col. L.K. Fuller of Brattleboro, VT make independent discoveries of a supernova in M31 galaxy (SN 1885). These telescopic discoveries were made when the supernova was magnitude +6.4.

• 13 Feb 1892 – Wilson A. Bentley records the “brightest and best aurora” of his studies. This bright red aurora extended across the sky from East to West and overhead (zenith).

• Fall 1892 – C.A. Bradford of North Ferrisburg, VT builds the state’s largest observatory. The observatory houses a John Brashier 8.5″ F/8.4 Newtonian on a German Equatorial Mount. The scope’s eyepieces give a range of powers from 50x to 250x.

• 21-8 Feb 1901 – Nova Perseus 1901. 1st brilliant nova of the 20th century peaks out at +0.2 magnitude. Brightest nova seen in 297 years.

• 15 Nov 1906 – Rev. Joel Hastings Metcalf accidentally discovers Comet P/ Metcalf (1906 I) while doing a photographic search for asteroids. Comet was at magnitude +11.5 in Eridanus.

• June 1908 – Robert Todd Lincoln (President Lincoln son) builds an observatory at Hildene, Manchester, VT. Observatory houses a 6″ F/12 John Brashier Refractor on a Warner and Swayze German Equatorial Mount.

• Jan 1910 – “Daylight Comet” (1910 I). Comet seen in broad daylight on 17- 19 January. Comet moves into the evening sky at magnitude -4.0 with a 10-degree long tail.

• May 1910 – 1P/Halley (1910 II). Comet Halley seen in evening sky at magnitude 0.0 with a 30 degree tail.

• 9 Aug 1910 – Rev. Joel Hastings Metcalf discovers Comet Metcalf (1910 IV) visually from South Hero, VT. Comet was at magnitude +8.5 in Hercules. Using his homemade 7″ F/10 Folded Refractor, Metcalf would discover additional 5 comets. Developing a new photographic search method he would discover 41 asteroids and 9 variable stars. Rev. Metcalf was a Unitarian Minister in Burlington, VT. His list of discoveries makes Metcalf one of the two greatest amateur astronomers of the USA.

• 2 Sept 1913 – Rev. Metcalf visually discovers Comet Metcalf (1913 IV) from South Hero, VT. Comet was at magnitude +9.5 in Lynx.

• 8-30 June 1918 – Nova Aquilae 1918. Brightest nova ever seen in the last 300 years peaks out at magnitude -1.4.

• 21 Aug 1919 – Rev. Metcalf visually discovers P/Brorsen – Metcalf (1919 III) from South Hero, VT. Comet was at magnitude +9.0 in Pegasus.

• 22 Aug 1919 – Rev. Metcalf visually discovers another comet from South Hero VT. Comet was at magnitude +10.0 in Aquila. Later this discovery would be discredited due to an earlier recovery (which was unknown to Metcalf at the time). Comet P/Kopff (1919 I).

• 23 Aug 1919 – Rev. Metcalf visually discovers Comet Metcalf (1919 V) from South Hero, VT. Comet was at magnitude +8.0 in Bootes.

• 17 Aug 1920 – 1st Mirror Making Class taught by Russell W. Porter in Springfield, VT. 16 people attend this class which is the birth of the Amateur Telescope Making Movement.

• 1921 – Gov. James Hartness of VT takes office. He is Vermont’s 1st Astronomical Governor and inventor of the Hartness Turret Telescope.

• 1922 – Andrew Elliot Douglass founded Steward Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. Douglass is originally from Windsor, VT.

• 7 Dec 1923 – 1st meeting of the Springfield Telescope Makers (Club) in Springfield, VT. Russell W. Porter founded the club and Gov. James Hartness becomes a member. In the future; VT Senator Ralph E. Flanders and Gov. Joseph B. Johnson would become members.

• 3 July 1926 – 1st Annual Telescope Building/Astronomical Convention held at Stellafane, Springfield VT. This is the birth of amateur astronomical conventions and the amateur telescope making movement spreads worldwide.

• 1928 – Russell Porter and Oscar S. Marshall, both from Springfield, VT, join the staff to build the 200″ telescope at Mt. Palomar, CA.  At the time it was the world’s largest telescope.

• Sept 1931 – Poet Robert Frost considers himself a “Confirmed Astronomer”.

• 26 Nov 1931 – One month before his death, “Snowflake Bentley” records his last aurora observation. Over a 49-year period Bentley would observe and record a total of 634 auroras.

• 13-29 Dec 1934 – Nova Herculis 1934. One of the brightest novae of the 20th century peaks at magnitude +1.3.

• 1937 – Andrew Elliot Douglass does tree ring-dating research vs. sunspot numbers. Douglass is the founder of the Science of Dendrochronology.

• 1942 – 1945 – Stellafane Convention not held because of WWII call up of men. Convention resumes after WWII.

• 9 – 29 Nov 1942 – Nova Puppis 1942. One of the brightest novae of modern times peaks at magnitude +0.3.

• Apr 1957 – Comet Arend – Roland (1957 III). First brilliant comet seen in VT since Comet Halley 1910. Comet was in evening sky at magnitude 0.0 with a 30 degree long tail.

• Aug 1957 – Comet Mrkos (1957 V) moves into the NW evening sky at magnitude +1.0 with two 10 degree long tails.

• 6 May 1964 – 1st meeting of the VAS (VT Astronomical Society) in Burlington, VT. 12 people attend. 1st elected President is Robert B. Jones Jr. (Jones would start other clubs in the Burlington area such as the Rock and Mineral Club).

• Fall 1964 – Vivid orange- red sunsets. These sunset colors were enhanced by volcanic ash from the eruption of Mt. Agung (Jan 1963), Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia.

• Oct 1965 – Comet Ikeya – Seki (1965 VIII). Comet seen in broad daylight on 21-3 Oct. Later comet moved into morning sky at magnitude -4.0 with a 60-degree long tail.

• May 1967 – VAS builds its first observatory (Barr Astronomical Observatory) on leased land in Shelburne VT.

• Mar 1970 – Comet Bennett (1970 II). This pre dawn yellow colored comet was at magnitude 0.0 with a 30 degree long tail.

• July 1974 – Barr Astronomical Center attacked and destroyed by vandals. VAS builds its second observatory (Patterson Astronomical Center) on leased land in Underhill, VT. 9″ F/12 Alvan Clark Refractor installed.

• 29 Aug – 7 Sept 1975 – Nova Cygnus 1975. Last bright nova seen from northern skies peaks at magnitude +1.8.

• Mar 1976 – Comet West (1976 VI). This bright 3-tailed comet was in the morning sky at magnitude -3.0 with tails 30 -35 degrees long.

• Summer 1980 – Byron Dix and James Mavor Jr. hypothesize about various stone chamber alignments in Windsor County, VT. These stone chambers were constructed in prehistoric times to record astronomical events for ritual and calendar purposes.

• Sept 1980 – Patterson Astronomical Center closed.

• Dec 1980:VAS opens West Oak Hill Observatory site on leased land in Williston, VT.

• Nov 1985: 1P/Halley (1982i) becomes visible to the unaided eye. Public interest in the comet grows quickly.

• Mar – April 1986 – 1P/Halley 1982i. The return of Halley’s Comet into the evening sky at magnitude +3.0 and with a tail of 8 degrees long.

• 13 Mar 1989 – “Aurora of the Century”–the finest aurora borealis display of the century. The aurora had 6 different colors (red, yellow, green, blue, purple, and violet). Aurora was seen overhead and covered ¾ths of the sky.

• 1 April 1989: West Oak Hill Observatory closed. VAS observes at different sites.

• 1989 – Stellafane is designated a National Historical Landmark.

• 9 Nov 1991: “Great Aurora Display of 1991” Sky is covered by great aurora curtains of white color. Nicknamed “The White Cathedral of Light”.

• Late Summer/Fall 1992 – “Pinatubo Sunsets”–brilliant purple­ red sunsets along with Bishop’s Ring and green colored Moon. These effects were caused by the volcanic dust/ash from the Mt. Pinatubo eruption (June 1991), Philippines.

• 14-5 June 1992: Very dark partial Lunar Eclipse caused by dust and ash from the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.

• 9 Dec 1992 – “The Black Lunar Eclipse”–the black colored total lunar eclipse was just barely visible to the unaided eye (L = 0 Danjon Scale), another effect from the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.

• Aug 1993 : VAS opens Green Mountain Observatory on leased land in Hinesburg, VT.

• 10 May 1994: Annular Solar Eclipse seen in Vermont. Central eclipse line crosses through the center part of the state.

• Mar – Apr 1996 – C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake). Comet Hyakutake in the evening sky at magnitude 0.0 with a 70-degree long tail.

• Feb 1997 – Larry Garrett of Fairfax, VT was made Assistant Recorder of the Minor Planet Section for the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers.

• Apr 1997 – C/1995 O1 (Hale – Bopp). Twin tailed Comet Hale- Bopp was in the evening sky at magnitude 0.0 with tails 25 degrees long. One tail was blue color and the other tail was yellow color.

• 1 Dec 1999 – Gary T. Nowak of Essex Jct. VT was a co – discover of Nova Aquilae 1999 No.2 with a pair of 7 x 35 binoculars. Nova was at magnitude +5.6 when discovered.

• 6 Sept 2000 – Larry Garrett visually sees his 1,000th asteroid, (1405) Sibelius in a 12.5″ F/6 Newtonian Telescope at 154x. Only 8 people in recorded history have done this.

• 18 Nov 2001 – The Leonid Meteor Shower. 240 meteors per hour were observed in the VT pre-dawn hours.

• Spring 2002 – VT’s 1st Light Pollution Survey was done on the Greater Chittenden County Area. Frank Pakulski of Shelburne,VT spearheaded the VAS team effort.

• 7-8 Sept 2002 – Strong aurora borealis display. Many green and white colored rays shooting upwards towards the zenith. Aurora covered about 75% of the sky.

• 27-8 Aug 2003 – Mars Historical Opposition–Mars closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years.  Mars size 25.11″ and magnitude -2.9.

• 30 Oct 2003 – Active aurora borealis display during the early evening hours.  Many pink, red and yellow colored rays shooting upward to the zenith.  Aurora covered about 90% of the sky.

• 8 June 2004 – The early morning Venus Transit egresses from the face of the Sun is widely observed in the State of Vermont.  Using proper solar filter protection, Venus could be seen by the unaided eye while in transit.

• 5 June 2012 – Despite dismal weather forecast, the late afternoon Venus Transit entrance over the solar disk was seen.  Using small telescopes for low power solar projection, the “Black Dot of Venus” was easily seen while in transit.

• 6 May 2014 – VAS celebrates its 50th anniversary as an amateur astronomy club.