Remembering Allan Sacharow, continued:
What I remember of Allan Sacharow
I know he was a school teacher at Foran High School in Milford. He told a group of us he was instrumental in the board of education installing a planetarium and observatory when they built the school. How he fought with the builder when they didn’t install a pier that went all the way down underneath the telescope. And like he told them the telescope shook when folks walked around. The builder later installed a rubber mat underneath where the mount met the floor that helped absorb the vibrations. On an observing session he gave us he showed us the mat and how the scope still vibrated a little if you moved around a lot.
Allan got us started using Eel’s Hill as a public outreach site under Tom Lloyd’s presidency. He had used it for many years and had a 12-inch telescope up there in the top building. It took a lot of cleaning to get that site ready for the public. While it was not a dark site it did have a somewhat decent south.
Now the stories Allan told us. How he took students down to the Everglades where they observed the Zodiacal light. How it stood out as a tall triangle-shaped glow. He had taken them on a trip to Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Where he tried to get observing on top but only managed to get a spot halfway up. I think it was for a special event like an eclipse or some other astronomical event observable from Hawaii.
How he always managed to get something out of the folks at Software Bisque to raffle off at CSP.
When I was running the project with Yale, measuring the position of variable stars and later blinking the glass plates around the south galactic pole region of the Yale-San Juan Southern Proper Motion Program. Members of the club participated in that project. Alan came down with an ex-student of his, who actually became an astronomer and was working at the Hubble NASA center. Allan wanted to see what we did on the project. He saw the glass plates and wanted to make contact prints from them. He and I went back and forth on this issue. As they did not belong to me and we needed permission to do something like that, the contact prints never happened. That was the only time he came down to see the project, but he was always invited to help or see what we were doing like any other club member. That was the only time Allan and I had an real argument about something. He was always a pleasure to talk to and I certainly enjoyed his stories and looking through his Lunt Solar telescope at club picnics and the few times he had taken it to CSP. He will be missed. I kind of wished I went to Foran High School and had him for a teacher.
Harold “Fritz” Moritz:
Wow, I could write a book, considering Foran HS in Milford was built in 1973 only a 15-minute walk from my home when I was 11 years old and I already had a small telescope! So right then I started going to public classes and observing events Al was leading (I remember seeing Comet West and an occultation of Venus back then). In high school I had my own office in one of the little corner rooms around the planetarium where I would do homework with the door closed. One day I didn’t know it but some VIPs were out in the planetarium and during a tough math problem I yelled, “My brain hurts!” in my best Mr. Gumby voice from Monty Python and then Al and the VIPs started in, too! It was that kind of nutty environment.
We had a great time hosting the planetarium shows for the other schools. He would do the famous thunderstorms with Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” as a soundtrack and we’d squirt water on the poor kids. Al taught us to use and maintain the planetarium and telescope equipment, to prepare and give our own shows and of course I learned all my photography and dark room skills from him. But many folks may not know that Al, like me, was rock hound. He gave me a bunch of mineral specimens to learn from and had a binocular microscope with which I learned to take micromineral photos (still am!). Over the years he gave me many pieces that he dug up at local mines and quarries (after digging them up again in his basement). Well, one day circa 2014 Al said he wanted to sell his big slice of Gibeon meteorite (https://www.mindat.org/photo-1035789.html) so I took him to the big mineral show that happens every August in West Springfield to shop it around. An announcement reminded attendees of a talk to be given by renowned author and mineral collector Bob Jones, who has been doing that stuff for decades. Al perks up and says, “I used to go digging with a Bob Jones when we both taught at Bassick HS in Bridgeport”. So, we walk in and Bob looks at Al and says “Allan?” and Al looks at Bob and says “Bob? I haven’t seen you since you loaded up your Volkswagen and drove to Arizona in the late 1960s!” And now it’s a reunion and I’m just shaking my head! He knew everybody and always got free stuff from manufacturers and got into at least 2 music videos. A life well lived.
With the help of Jim Edlin I built my first telescope in 1996 and began going to CSP and ASNH meetings per his recommendations. This was during the same time Comet Hale-Bopp was visible and soon to make its closest approach in months to come. Without any real experience in astrophotography, I wanted to take a picture of this probably once in a lifetime comet. At an ASNH meeting I explained to Allan Sacharow what I wanted to do. Allan gave me detailed directions on how to film the comet…
Piggyback a camera (we used film back then) on to a motor driven mount that tracks with the Earth’s rotation
Use various types & speeds of film (slide & print film…100 & 400 speeds)
Use various exposure times.
Don’t track the background stars, track the comet.
After taking Allan’s advice, I filmed Hale-Bopp at its closest approach in April 1997. Eager to show Allan my results, I brought the slides and prints to next ASNH meeting.
While showing Allan the prints and slides after the meeting, Alan began calling everybody back as they were leaving the building. Just about everyone came back…Some seemed reluctant..But it was Al Sacharow’s request. Alan then proceeded to turn on the projector & show my comet slides on the planetarium dome. The images may not have looked professional, but they were as good or better than most of the photographic images taken by amateurs that night. Whenever I show people the Hale-Bopp images I took at closest approach, they say to me, “This was your first attempt at astrophotography???…How did you do it?” My answer is, “With Al Sacharow’s knowledge and guidance”.
Alan and I became good friends and in later years and I was honored to have him as a guest on my radio show a few times. In the more than 25 years of making appearances as a NASA volunteer, time & time again after my presentation people would come up to me & say, “Do you know Allan Sacharow?”
Allan mentored and touched the life of so many, and I’m fortunate to have been one of them. I’ll miss the conversations we would have at our homes, via telephone, and during dinner together. Someday we’ll catch up on the other side of the Universe and continue our discussions on Astronomy and Space Exploration.
Clear Skies Allan!