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Astronomy Now
Florida Today, the newspaper for the area including NASA's Kennedy Space Centre
The JPL Newsroom

Another astronomical holiday - in southern Crete.  I particularly like the sound of 'Aspro potamos'!

One of Wadhurst's 'sons' came good in astronomy.

Mike Clark of the Physics & Astronomy Dept, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand e-mailed to say "I spent just over 25 years as a professional astronomer from 1971 to 1996. The last 16 were as superintendent of Mount John Observatory; New Zealand's premier observatory. It sports as the main instruments 2 60cm and a 1 metre reflector. These are a classical Cassegrain, a Boller & Chivens Ritchey Cretchen, and the 1 metre is a Dall-Kirkham, sharing equal place as the world's largest at the time. It was built in Christchurch, optics and all, and still performs brilliantly. The site is near Mt Cook in the Southern Alps and has a beautiful and majestic outlook over the surrounds. My family and I lived on top of the mountain for those 16 years - metres from work, so it was a full on 24 hour x 7 x 52 labour of love. As the years roll by however one's system eventually objects and begins to send messages that ' this has got to stop'! Accordingly I transferred to the relative warmth and pace of the University in Christchurch.

I really miss the climate and the view though. I worked on photographic sky patrols ( Bamberg and Harvard ) where we discovered and monitored hundreds of new variable stars. I undertook many photometric programs on the Cassegrain moving from photomultiplier tubes to CCD and from punch cards through paper tape, magnetic tape and finally to CD-ROMS. I also ran the one metre for its first 10 years or so. This was used mainly for spectroscopic work. We used a large echelle spectrograph which was either fixed to the scope, or was fed via an optical fibre into a thermally controlled room. This instrument has now been completely dwarfed by a new echelle spectrograph which is over 1 metre in diameter and 3 metres long! Obviously this too sits in a controlled environment. But like when I was using its predecessor it spends its time obtaining spectra of any star types of usable brightness that are of interest at the time. Mainly Eclipsing Binaries and Cepheids, but also objects of special spectral interest.

Over the years we have worked on Quasars, vibrating White Dwarfs, Flare stars, Cepheids, Binaries, the odd comet, one of which I discovered in 1973 from a photographic patrol. That is P/Clark with a period of almost exactly 5.5 years. It is normally quite faint so every 11 years it comes around at about 11th mag. Almost all of our students have gone on to well appointed positions after their astronomy graduations here. Some have ended up in Britain. A couple that come to mind are Gerry Gilmore of Cambridge, Andrew Cameron-Collier of Univ.St. Andrews, Scotland. Many more are in Australia, USA, Canada - those that are still in the subject of course. Anyway, I guess that might fill you in a bit on details.

None of this was looking possible or likely when I left Wadhurst at the immature age of 15. 15 years old then was very different from being 15 now. Where Uplands is now, there used to be an enormous empty 2 storied house. Really spooky and forbidden to go there. Yeah, right. We had a lot of fun in a 'play-castle' like that. Out the back was a small pond where we used to fish for bleak, tench, rudd. I doubt that is still there."