Archive for June 2020

The “Great Lensnapping” By Guest Host: James Mullaney

June 17, 2020

Roger, I don’t know how many of your readers have heard of the “Great Lensnapping” that happened at the original Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh in the late 1800s.  

My beloved 13-inch Fitz-Clark had it’s objective lens stolen and held for ransom.  At the time, it was the third largest in the world!  (Now it’s the third largest in the current Observatory.)   

Samuel Pierpont Langley was director at the time and refused to pay anything, as no telescope in the country would then be safe from theft.  He finally met the thief at a hotel in a Pittsburgh suburb – the thief agreed to return it if Langley didn’t prosecute.  He subsequently found it in a waste basket at that very hotel.  

The lens was pretty well scratched up and Langley sent it to Alvin Clark for refinishing.  Thus the dual name Fitz-Clark.  As I’ve stated before, it is without question the finest visual telescope I’ve ever seen or used bar none!

To read more and see a photo of the famous 13-inch Fitz-Clark refractor, see the following link:

This is the telescope that Wally McCall and I used for our visual sky survey in the mid-60’s that resulted in the Sky & Telescope series The Finest Deep-Sky Objects and its eventual Sky Publishing reprint that went through three printings.  My personal total eyepiece time logged using this amazing instrument over many years was some 10,000 hours!   It clearly showed markings on several of the Galilean satellites and spiral structure within Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.  One of the “discoveries” we made using the 13-inch was the “Blinking Planetary” in Cygnus (NGC 6826) which has become a favorite showpiece at star parties and public viewing sessions. 


The Finest Deep-Sky Objects by James Mullaney and Wallace McCall

Allegheny Observatory, University of Pittsburgh

“On Public Nights at Allegheny Observatory, when the dome of the 13-inch refractor is crowded with visitors, all anxious to look at everything in the sky, a hand finding list of impressive objects is invaluable.”

These words prefaced our short list of celestial showpieces published in the December, 1962, issue of “Sky and Telescope”.  We now present an expanded version, intended as a roster of the finest star clusters, nebulae, and other deep-sky objects, for the convenience of amateur astronomers with telescopes of all sizes.  It is the result of our five-year visual survey of the heavens north of -40º declination….

The “Finest Deep-Sky Objects” Cover Photo: 



Messier 8: Nebula and Cluster in Sagittarius – July 2020 Observer’s Challenge Report #138

June 11, 2020



Compiled by:

Roger Ivester, North Carolina


Sue French, New York

July 2020

Report #138

Messier 8, Nebula and Cluster in Sagittarius

Complete Observer’s Challenge Report