Friday, February 8, 2013

Old Magazines: Living in the Past...and Present

Last week I was speaking at the Nevada County Astronomers, an astronomy club I'm in that I really enjoy a lot. Our President, Dave Buchla, happened to decide to clean out some old magazines he had in boxes at his house, and brought in a bunch of old copies of Sky and Telescope magazine from the 70s and 80s with a few other magazines from the same time period thrown in.

Well, I've got my own collection of S&T, I have a six foot tall book case that's over half full of them dating back to about 1979, when I first subscribed. But Dave had a bunch of older ones, most of which I remember reading in the library, before I had the money to have my own subscription. So I snagged a healthy sized pile of those.

Today I picked up the first one on the top of the stack next to my easy chair, and started reading. Honestly, I wasn't sure quite what to expect from reading a magazine over thirty years old, no matter how rosy my memories of it might be. It turned out to be much more than a simple sentimental journey, though.

The Future, From the Past

The magazine happened to be the March, 1979 issue of Sky and Telescope. The beautiful image of Jupiter on the cover drew me to it immediately. On the contents page I learned that this was an image from one of the Big Events of my youth, Voyager 1's encounter with the planet.

A few pages in I stopped my page-flipping at an article on mutual occultations of the planets. The headline included "1557 to 2230". Well, I figured I'd take a look at the chart and see if there was anything coming up now based on thirty-some year old predictions.

Unfortunately, the closest was not until 2065. So thirty years wasn't enough to catch up with the material of the article! A figure on the opposite page illustrated an event that's a bit closer, though, in 2037--a near miss of an occultation. So I dove into the article itself. Thirty years hasn't taken anything from this article. It's as timely today as it was back in 1979.

Dang, I thought, that's why I loved this magazine so much back then.

What Ever Happened to MIRA?

Moving on, I next paused at an article titled "Making it in Monterey". I wondered if the article was about something in Monterey, CA, not too far away from us here in the California foothills. Plus, I end up in Monterey about once or twice a year because we have family there. The word "Cleveland" in the caption of one of the photos confused the issue for a moment, but a quick scan of the start of the article confirmed that Monterey, CA, was indeed the place the article was discussing.

The article describes an effort to found a private observatory by a number of astronomy grad students back in the 70s. The article was very interesting, but the whole time I read it, I couldn't help but wonder what had come of their efforts. Being three decades into the future, I was able to go straight from the article to the internet to get an answer as to what happened.

Well, their daring escapade came to a happy end, at least from today's perspective. The observatory is still in existence, they have managed to construct their hoped-for site at Chew Ridge, and they have numerous public events. It's all on their website,

What a nice way to end the article.

So Much for the First 20-Some Pages

So now I'm about 25 pages or so into the first magazine from a stack that's about a foot tall. Already I've learned more about what's going on in astronomy today than I expected from a stack of 70's mags. I rather more expected to relive some past moments in the way that the "25, 50, and 100 Years Ago" column in S&T does each month, but with a bit more than the paragraph or two they reprint from each issue there.

Things like this are why I wish I could go to something like Google Books or the sites of the magazines themselves from the past (where they still exist) and sift through the old issues of all the ones I enjoyed back when, or the ones I missed out on.

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