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"The Imperative of Night" narrative
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Welcome to taosastronomer.com!

offering local "hands-on" observing
(visual and imaging) sessions and instruction
viewing and imaging from Rabbit Valley Observatory
a dark sky location on the mesa just west of Taos, NM

 

A Brief(!) History

This reflection, as with all personal histories, begins when I was just a child, growing up in suburban Wilmington, Delaware. For unexplained reasons I embraced astronomy -- although my Grandfather was certainly inspirational by showing me the smoked glass he and my Mom used to observe a solar eclipse (don’t try it, please!) when she was just a child – Grandpa said I could see one, too; if I worked at it.

Actually, though, it was my Dad who challenged me to earn enough money to pay for one-half of a quality telescope; he’d pay the other half. This was after my parents did gift me a small 3-inch reflector ($29.95, very reasonable even then) produced and sold through their venerable catalog by local New Jersey surplus optics outfit Edmund Scientific Company. As I got older we often visited that wonderful place conceived and founded by Norman W. Edmund.

 

Edmund 3-inch reflector advert
Edmund 3-inch Weasner portrait
Edmund surplus lenses
Edmund Scientific's 3-inch reflecting telescope

 

After responding somewhat favorably with the rather rudimentary 3-inch reflector, and after gaining a few years experience (it took me at least an hour to find Saturn -- a very bright object -- on my first observing night), I started earning the “big bucks” by having not one, but two paper routes; the Wilmington Evening Journal and the Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin. (This was back when children of both genders could actually learn how to be a business-person per this concept. Today, not so much. Adults now deliver the paper, if there even IS one.) I especially enjoyed Christmas-time; when collecting (done in person, NOT by mail!) I would often receive “Christmas tips.” Such tips helped me to earn the dough necessary to buy a better telescope, and taught me “just a bit” about saving, business and customer service in general. It’s not all that hard to make the stretch to a commissioned independent salesperson, which, after college, was pretty much my adult job for the rest of my working life. 

So, with $150.00 in hand, I approached Dad with my choice of a Criterion RV-6 Dynascope six-inch reflecting telescope ($194.95), with high-quality U.S. optics and a motor drive to follow the rotation of the Earth. This now-legendary ‘scope (still really a very nice unit both optically and mechanically, although unfortunately the Cambridge, MA-based Criterion went under some years back) arrived soon, essentially for Christmas. I still have the initial receipt, and the telescope itself, some 50 years old (!), is still in the family; I gave it to my younger son so that he might introduce his kids to some celestial treats.

 

Criterion RV-6 advert
Criterion RV-6
1960's advert for Criterion RV-6 Dynascope

 

At about the same time, I joined the Delaware Astronomical Society and became one of the youngest members to earn and hold an observatory key. That would be the key to the venerable Sawin Observatory, located on 226-foot high Mt. Cuba in Delaware; a technical facility that pre-dated the University of Delaware’s impressive 24-inch Tinsley Cassegrain (Dr.) Herr Telescope, which was installed several years after I became a keyholder to the original club observatory. I am still a member, likely the most senior one. (Everyone I knew has passed away.) Move over Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripkin, Jr.; I’ve been a member of the DAS for >50 consecutive years! Needless to say, I was awed and honored to be considered essentially an equal with some of the club's original members, mostly local scientists or skilled machinists.

 

Sawin observatory recent
Mt Cuba, DE main dome
24-inch Herr Telescope on Mt. Cuba, DE

 

My Dad would drive me out to the observatory, often leaving me there the whole night to observe. I was probably all of 13 or 14 years old at the time (couldn't drive) – honestly, what a thrill. I would use the telescope, but often just walk up to the top of the hill, lay back and observe (and sometimes map) meteors and the like against a rather dark, Milky Way-laden night sky. This activity was (and still is) magic!  Unfortunately, such pristine dark skies no longer exist there, and likely not in the whole of Delaware. The concept of the loss of dark skies is a (actually “THE”) major issue in Earth-based astronomy today.  I have included a section within this website discussing and pontificating on this very important and emotional subject.

During those early years, I also placed my Pentax screw-mount camera (I still have it!) piggy-back and in the optical train of the 12 1/2-inch Sawin ‘scope. I obtained some decent shots of the moon, but was disappointed when the local camera shop, Lincoln Camera in Wilmington, couldn't print them to my satisfaction. So, I eventually started obtaining darkroom equipment, desperately self-learning developing and printing skills; eventually becoming a professional photographer as well. Odd how childhood issues and frustrations can morph into lifelong endeavors and careers.

 

Bob Coraor at Sawin 1967
Mt. Cuba solar eclipse member viewing
A high-school friend Bob Coraor doing piggy-back astrophotography at the original Sawin Observatory, 1967
Observing a partial solar eclipse at the Sawin Observatory -- May 9, 1967 (S&T July, 1967)
from left, Randy Pratt, Mike Simmons, Mike Baker and Bill Keim (kneeling person unknown)
(note white Criterion RV-6 tube bottom right, 12 1/2" Sawin reflector left and dominant)

 

During college, I started taking photographs through the RV-6 Dynascope, and actually have many nice shots, mostly of eclipses of the moon. Some have even been published in Sky and Telescope Magazine. After moving west and accompanied by friends, I traveled to Wolf Point, MT in February, 1979 (enduring minus 20 degree F. temperatures on a windswept plain overlooking the Missouri River breaks) to witness and photograph my first total solar eclipse.

 

Greiner lunar eclipse 4-12/13-1968
Greiner Wolf Point, MT total solar eclipse
Total lunar eclipse April 12-13, 1968 (S&T June, 1968)
(I had apparently "grown-up" from "Bill" to "L. W." Greiner -- what a difference a year makes!)
Total solar eclipse, Wolf Point MT February 26, 1979

 

After college and moving west, I obtained via classified ad (what’s that?) a wonderful orange C-8 Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, which I have souped-up over the years and still have. (I collect vintage telescopes; what a surprise!) That ‘scope has since traveled the world, being the photographic platform for several total solar eclipses. Image links are to my photographic websites; links on the text below are to external youtube movies so you can get the feeling of the places.  I’ve had some of these photographs published both in S&T and Astronomy Magazine. (As an important aside, what a joy and privilege it is to travel to the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Mexico with family and friends, and to enjoy those exotic locations, dark skies AND a total eclipse of the sun or other unique astronomical event. Really, it’s a spiritual experience. Also, the stories of these experiences -- some linked below -- are unforgettable!)

 

Tom Johnson and Celestron C-8
Greiner Cabo solar eclipse Prominence Experienc
Greiner Cabo solar eclipse Coronal Experience
"Coronal Experience" -- San Jose del Cabo, MX July 11, 1991 (we observed from Bahia Chileno)
Greiner Curacao solar eclipse diamond ring
Greiner Zimbabwe solar eclipse corona

 

Greiner Kariba sunset
Greiner migrating elephants on Lake Kariba
Astronomy Magazine reprints of several landscape/wildlife photographs, October, 2001
(now I'm apparently known as "Willis" Greiner)
Astronomy Mag's elephant "Travelogue" shot from Zimbabwe
We witnessed elephants amazingly traveling (walking and swimming!) many miles across man-made Lake Kariba following their ancient migration path to the now-inundated lower Zambezi River.
(read my narrative describing this extraordinary experience -- "The Persistence of Memory . . .")

 

Astronomy Magazine Zimbabwe solar eclipse
Astronomy Magazines's Bonnie Bilyeu Gordon's editorial take on the 2001 Zimbabwe total solar eclipse experience. Click here to read her complete article, a right-on comment on the beauty of Zimbabwe and especially its residents. Further, we astoundingly met a 105-year-old village matriarch later in our journeys; my narrative linked here. Bonnie Gordon is properly credited with moving Astronomy Magazine from a specialized niche position to "America's Best-Selling Astronomy Magazine." (Note in the above photo my wife and I standing with my well-traveled vintage orange Celestron C-8 instrument.)

 

I also spent a bit of time imaging comets as well as various other special astronomical events, such as Aurora Borealis and very unpredictable meteor storms.

 

Greiner Comet Hyakutake
Greiner Comet Hale-Bopp
Greiner Chena Aurora
Leonid meteor storm

 

After moving to Conifer, Colorado, a neighbor and I erected a deck and Technical Innovations astronomical dome on his property; I drove to the shadow of Mt. Hood in Washington State to purchase a used 11-inch Celestron C-11 with magnificent Losmandy G-11 German equatorial mount, the quintessential amateur astronomical photographic platform. We mounted this precision unit inside the TI dome on a cement pier. 

 

Greiner/Webers Conifer, CO observatory
Greiner/Webers Conifer, CO observatory
Greiner/Webers Conifer, CO observatory
Conifer, CO observatory -- pouring pier
Conifer, CO observatory -- finished deck and pier
Conifer, CO observatory -- Technical Innovations dome
Celestron C-11 'scope on Losmandy G-11 GEM

 

After moving to New Mexico several years’ back, I reinstalled this precision telescopic unit with accessories inside a SkyShed POD dome, having left the previous shelter behind in Colorado. This is the setup I am using today, and is the rig that this astronomical opportunity and explanatory website stems from. (Look at those clear, transparent skies!)

 

Greiner Rabbit Valley Observatory -- Taos, NM
Greiner CG-11 inside dome -- Rabbit Valley Observatory, Taos, NM
Rabbit Valley Observatory, Taos, NM
Telescope set-up at Rabbit Valley Observatory

 

Please feel free to click around, and if you have any interest, please just e-mail me with your questions, comments, wishes and concerns. And I certainly hope to see you soon!

 

 


home
history
equipment
visual observing sessions
imaging sessions
image post-processing
"The Imperative of Night" narrative
contact us

 

(all content copyright 2015 Willis Greiner Photography, all rights reserved)