CHAPTER XXII
IN THE DAY'S WORK

AN ASTRONOMER who is observing at night as I did for many years from dark to daylight is, so to speak, burning the candle at both ends. I was often too weary to sleep and scarcely ever managed to get more than four or five hours.

In winter with the temperature fifteen to twenty degrees below zero one might not consider it a pleasant prospect to spend the night in a dome where the temperature has to be as nearly as possible like that outside, so that there shall be no rising currents of warmer air to spoil the definition of the stellar images. The greatest difficulty with which an astronomer has to contend is the weather. Cloudy skies prevent at critical times the observations for which preparation may have been made for days and weeks in advance. Still worse are the nights in winter when a beautifully transparent sky is spoiled by a sudden change of weather and a consequently troubled atmosphere. Then the images of the stars in the telescope, which should be sharp points like diamonds, are spread out to look like the flickering light of a candle. Often a long exposure has been begun and carried on for some time, only to be interrupted by this condition of 'bad seeing' so that it cannot be completed. Then the astronomer might as well fold up his tent like the Arab and quietly steal away.

Those who have visited a large observatory on such a night say that they will never forget that cold eerie place, silent except for the persistent ghostly ticking of the driving clock and the wind howling around the slit in the dome. But there the astronomer sits in his Eskimo suit or fur coat and cap with his eye glued to the eyepiece of the telescope, watching closely to see that his star does not drift away from the crossed spider-threads which mark the center of his field while a plate is being exposed.

Those long hours afford ample opportunity to consider not only the various unsolved riddles of the universe, but also to ponder upon the daily problems of life. Alone with the faithful engineer

-205-

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