November 2009


Oh, how they hated this thing.  You put your eye (just one) against the brass ocular, and stared and stared and stared, while images jumped before your eyes.  It made a clack-clack-clack noise, and gave off a smell of burned dust.  While interviewing Henry Giclas (who was on staff at Lowell Observatory) I asked exactly how the comparator was positioned in its room on the first floor of the Main Building; they had arranged it near the window, so you could rest your eyes looking outside.  You needed to take a lot of breaks.

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I don’t know about you, but I think once you’ve made it into a stained glass window, you can pretty much call it quits.  This is an awesome thing (in his New Mexico church) showing Clyde with a totally anachronistic mustache, grinding his blank glass disk against the oil drum in his farmyard.  And also a rocket ship.  Here’s a link to the whole thing.

Clyde was only able to make these drawings because he finally managed to build himself a working telescope — one that could resolve the planets. 

As I understand it, these images would each have been about an inch square (in other words, a very small section of the 14 x 17 inch plates ).

Clyde found Planet X in February 1930, after about 10 months of searching.

Taken the year before his death.

The iconic picture of Clyde on his way in — I guess — to a night of observing.  Nevermind that it’s broad daylight.  The plates for the 13-inch astrograph were so big (14 by 17 inches) that V.M. Slipher had to design a special holder to give the glass plates a slight curvature — so light would strike the edges of the plates correctly.  You screwed down the four corners of the plate with thumbscrews (visible in this picture, in fact).  And if you got the plate in too tight — pow — it would explode like a bomb.

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