By David Levy
Something old, something new…Eureka instead of Echo.
This is the story of my first telescope, of the comet it did not discover (and which later collided with Jupiter), and the telescope that replaced it. Although this story has been building for almost sixty years, it came to a head last fall. First, in late October, I got a brand-new reflector telescope. It is a 12-inch diameter reflector, with a fast f/5 focal ratio, which means that at low power I can get well over a degree field of sky when I gaze through it. That means more than two Moon-diameters. I had need some help setting up the new telescope, but when it finally was ready, the views were a wonder to behold.
I named the new telescope Eureka, after an asteroid I discovered at Palomar with Henry Holt, in June of 1990. The asteroid turned out to be orbiting at the L5 point (LaGrangian 5) in Mars’s orbit, as has been that way for much of the life of the solar system. The asteroid is the first known Martian trojan, and we proposed the name Eureka as an expression of joy in making a discovery. The term comes from Archimedes’ expression of delight after discovering how objects displace water. Ge leapt out of his bathtub and ran down the street yelling Eureka! For the record, there is nothing in the story that suggested that Archimedes bothered to dry off and dress before he darted outside. For my new telescope Eureka’s first light, (see last month’s column) I chose Jupiter, which is my choice for first light objects ever since September 1, 1960.
That brings me to the second telescope, named Echo after a large passive communications satellite launched on August 12, 1960. Echo was my very first telescope, and it was the telescope through which I looked at Jupiter for the first time on that far-off night. On that distant night, Mom and Dad were with me and they were excited as well. An entirely new world was opening up for me, a world that has remained open and inviting ever since. For a few years it was my only telescope, replaced only when I upgraded to a 5-inch telescope while I was a patient at the Jewish National Home for Asthmatic Children in Denver, and an 8-inch a year later. Over the years Echo has provided a wealth of happy nights under the stars.
On Thursday evening, November 7, 2019, I formally donated Echo, my first telescope, to the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering, and Technology in Kansas City, along with more of my observing records. Echo began its new life that very evening. Under a clear sky, some people got the chance to look at the Moon through Echo, which still functions well after 59 years. May Echo get a lot of use at this wonderful library, one of the largest science libraries in the world.
All this brings me back to Eureka. After all these years I wanted a powerful telescope to replace my first telescope. With Eureka, I now have that telescope. Every time I look through it, my mind is filled with the magic and delight of that long-gone evening when I first set up a telescope and looked at Jupiter. On that night I saw Jupiter, its belts, and its four big moons. One thing I did not see, and neither did anybody else, was a small comet moving close to the planet. That comet would remain undetected until March 23, 1993, when Gene and Carolyn Shoemaker and I set up a night’s observing at Palomar that would include the field that revealed this comet. It was reported on the 25th. Sixteen months later, this comet, now known as Shoemaker-Levy 9, collided with Jupiter in the most dramatic explosions ever witnessed by humanity. May Eureka, instead of Echo, also reach for the stars.