Space rocks and love

Space rocks! Except when space rocks rock earth. Bad things happen, like dinosaurs going extinct. Luckily, unlike the dinosaurs, we humans have a sophisticated space programme. And Bruce Willis. Here’s a cool little story I wrote for The Wireless about asteroids, impacts, and Aotearoa.

The interviews with Alan, Philip, and Jess were really interesting. As I’ve been finding with a lot of my stories for The Wireless, you could almost write a book with all the information that doesn’t make it into the final cut.

Alan Gilmore — Resident Superintendent of University of Canterbury’s Mt John Observatory, based at Lake Tekapo — shared this informative and heart warming piece of personal and NZ space history when I asked him about what got him interested in tracking Near Earth Objects (NEO).

“I got interested in this work in the 1970s when at the Carter Observatory in Wellington.  The Carter Observatory had an excellent new telescope with a 16-inch (40 cm) mirror.  It was not doing much science.  Almost no one in the southern hemisphere was measuring the positions of comets and asteroids to help calculate their orbits.  So I built a device that allowed us to move the photographic plate in the telescope to follow the moving object while the telescope was guided on a background star.  At first we measured the plates on a machine at the Physics & Engineering Laboratory (PEL) of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, in Gracefield, Lower Hutt.  (PEL became Industrial Research Limited and is now called Callaghan Innovation New Zealand.) We were much encouraged in this work by international specialists in comet and asteroids.  Soon were able to borrow from the US a machine to measure the plates on.  (The ‘we’ is Pam Kilmartin and me. Pam was an amateur astronomer — as was I originally — and qualified librarian who joined the Carter Observatory as Librarian and Information Officer.  We quickly made an observing team and married in 1974.)”

Lovers bought together by DIY skills and a fascination for NEOs. That is super cute.

Alan rounded out the interview saying he and Pam hope to build or buy some smaller but useful telescopes to allow them to do some follow-up work on NEOs at any time.

“I’d say how lucky I feel that we have been able to pursue our NEO programme for so long and through such remarkable changes of technology. That it has been a joint effort with a life’s partner has made all the more a delight.”

Once again my heart melts like a comet screaming toward the sun.

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