WE OBSERVE by Anthony Mallama


In the early 1960's, the Heavens and the Earth were filled with wonders. In February 1961, Jupiter and Saturn climaxed a beautiful conjunction by passing within about ten arc minutes. In September 1962, Saturn was again at the center of attention when it was occulted by the dark limb of a ten day-old moon near the meridian. The immersion lasted over two minutes. On Saturday afternoon July 20, 1963, a long awaited solar eclipse was visible. About eighty percent of the sun was eclipsed in the Chagrin Valley.

In our United States, a country that had never lost a war, President Eisenhower was followed into office by a charismatic young Democrat, named Kennedy, who promoted space exploration. We all cheered when a Jupiter-C rocket blasted our first satellite, Explorer I, into orbit. Manned spaceflight transformed the space age into a personal experience. From the rocket powered X-15 space plane through Project Mercury, we developed boyhood idols such as Alan Shepard and John Glenn.

No Chance Encounter

None of the events of this historic period were missed by two grade school boys, one from Chagrin and one from Solon. The experiences of the early sixties shaped George Gliba and me.  Our first face-to-face meeting followed several phone conversations in which we discussed our astronomical interests. We arranged to meet at my house on a certain Saturday in January 1963. Despite a heavy snowfall, George walked seven miles from his house to mine. He was numbed by the cold when he arrived but we enjoyed our visit anyway, and it was the beginning of a long friendship.

As winter gave way to summer, George and I explored the Warner and Swasey Observatory, the Cuyahoga Astronomy Club and other avenues in search of more amateur astronomers. With summer in full swing and the big solar eclipse fresh in our minds, we attended a meeting of the Ohio Turnpike Astronomers Association (OTAA), and that is where the idea for the Chagrin Valley Astronomical Society jelled. The OTAA is an organization made up of local clubs mostly from northern Ohio.

We saw many different groups at the meeting, but the ones we noticed most were the junior clubs composed of young people just like ourselves.

In September 1963, we convened the first meeting of the CVAS, with a total of four members. The other members were Don Tuson and Rick Wilkins. We had little idea of what we wanted to do, but we knew that every club had a treasury, so we began collecting 25 cents per month dues.

Our club grew rapidly, at least in people if not in money. We were joined by Bill Gebhardt later that year. In 1964 we added Dennis Jefferson, Clif DeMaskey, the Sabec brothers, Mark Pribanic, and Don Henning. The year 1965 brought in Tom Quesinberry, Andy Jackson, and Billy and Marty Edwards.

Many Interests, Few Resources (Click for Picture)

As the membership grew, the variety of interests and ideas multiplied. We had meteor observers, planetary observers and deep sky specialists. We ground telescope mirrors, had fights with optical rouge, and built pipe-fitting mounts. We attended our first out-of-town convention in Buffalo, after Billy and Marty Edwards moved there. We dreamed of having a club observatory, though no one imagined one on the scale of Indian Hill. One member even proposed building a 12-foot radio-controlled rocket.

Only the simpler plans and activities succeeded though. The average age by the mid-1960's was still only about 15 years, so most of us were dependent on our parents to get a ride to meetings and star parties, and on our paper routes for money to buy telescopes.

One of the first good commercial telescopes was my 4 1/4-inch Palomar Junior; it was soon surpassed by George's homebuilt 6-inch f/12 reflector; but young Dennis Jefferson would surpass both of us by building a high quality 8-inch.

Our meeting place rotated among members' homes. I remember how my own parents looked forward to hosting the meetings. As I was their only kid, they always enjoyed having a few extra boys around.

Our first star party was at the baseball field on Portage Street in Solon. We did not have to go out in the country for dark skies in those days, as 6th magnitude stars were still visible from Solon and Chagrin. This particular date (believed to be June 14, 1964) was chosen because of the occultation of a 7th magnitude star by a 3.9 day-old moon. It may not sound like much, but to judge from our excitement you would think that we had witnessed a meteor crash to earth

The club newsletter first appeared in September 1964, under the title Official CVAS Bulletine (sic). This was a one-page editorial marvel that was typed and re-typed with two carbons until there were enough copies for all the members. George wrote the feature article entitled "Comet Fear?" for issue number 2 in October. Then we combined on a five-page extravaganza Christmas issue, and changed the name to the Valley Skywatcher. In January 1965, Don Henning's older sister began mimeographing the Skywatcher, and it jumped to 14 pages in length.

Service and Science

The early club was interested in education as well as observation. We were well received by the local newspapers when we announced a public star party. There was one classic picture of Don and Denny in the Herald trying not to giggle at the reporter, and one article said something about a little club with a big name. The first of at least 11 annual star parties was held in Riverside Park in Chagrin in 1966.

In 1967, the more serious minded concentrated on club observing projects such as measuring meteor rates, and measuring the phase of Venus (Project Dicot). Two years earlier, the club neophyte observers were cutting their teeth on the long-tailed comet Ikeya-Seki, which grazed the sun and emerged as a splendid pre-dawn object. The biggest observing controversy I can recall happened all the way back in 1964. On Friday evening, December 18, the moon was to be totally eclipsed, and Sky & Telescope's faithful readers were told to rate the darkness of the eclipse on the Danjon scale where L = O was the darkest and L = 4 was the brightest. This was very important they said, and pointed out that the previous two eclipsed moons (December 30, 1963 and June 24, 1964) had faded from naked-eye visibility entirely. I am sure S&T meant well, but in effect they started a war. On the morning of December 19, when we compared observing notes, it turned out that all three members from Solon had gotten L = 1, while all four from Chagrin had gotten L = 2. (Actually, it could have been the other way around, we don't even remember any more.) All sorts of accusations, including collusion, faking the data, and ordinary blindness, were hurled between the two villages. The matter was not finally settled until the February issue of S&T stated that the average reported value was about 1 1/2, which satisfied everyone.

Mr. Lovell's Observatory (Click for Picture)

In 1966, several of the club's main observers became involved with the photoelectric photometry (Click for Picture) program at Larry Lovell's observatory in Auburn. Thanks to the electrical engineering of Art Stokes, in Hudson, Larry was one of the first amateur astronomers in the country to observe photoelectrically (Click for Picture). The club members refined their observing skill and data analysis practices at Larry's observatory. During the next couple of years, we observed Beta Lyrae, Algol, and other variable stars. The one that stole the show, though, was Nova Delphini, which flared up to 5th magnitude in the summer of 1967. By December, it reached 4th magnitude.

The slow Nova Del was still above 6th magnitude the following June when Larry and late wife, Elizabeth, took Don, George and me to the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) meeting in Lima, Ohio. This event was being held to honor Leslie Peltier (1900-1980) on the occasion of his 50th year of uninterrupted variable star observing. He had made over 100,000 estimates. We met Mr. Peltier and he signed copies of his book Starlight Nights for us. Don Henning delivered a paper at this meeting on the subject of photoelectric observations of Beta Lyrae.

The Pooh Bear President

Don was an outstanding member of the early club. He was friendly, intelligent, and always willing to help. Don served two successive terms as president and the club flourished under his care. We were happy and carefree. The meetings still rotated among the members' homes, Denny delighted in humorously insulting Don as he conducted business and frequently had us all rolling on the floor with laughter. We passed our fifth year as an organization, but we were enjoying ourselves too much to stop and celebrate the occasion.


The next chapter, The Moon and Vietnam