Remembering The Godfather Of Solar Astronomy, Robert “Barlow Bob” Godfrey

As appeared on the CNY Observers & Observing website on 20 June 2014:

The field of amateur astronomy hosts many different personalities. Some love to know anything and everything about astronomy equipment. Some prefer the study of astronomy through the ages. Some enjoy the banter around a large scope with others at midnight. Some enjoy the quiet solitude of a small dome or open field. Still others enjoy setting their equipment up in the middle of the chaos of a large group of people to show them the sights. Some take their love of outreach well past the observing field, taking it upon themselves to educate others by taking what they know (or don’t yet know) and making it accessible to the larger audience of amateurs and non-observers alike.

Amateur astronomy has seen a few key players pass this year, starting with John Dobson this past January and the noted comet hunter Bill Bradfield just a week ago. Both are noteworthy in their passing in that, amongst a large, large number of astro-hobbyists, their names are held in higher esteem because of their unique contributions to amateur astronomy. In the case of Bill Bradfield, he singly was responsible for finding 18 comets that bear his name, making him responsible for helping map part of the contents of our own Solar System from his home in Australia (reportedly taking 3500 hours to do so). In the case of John Dobson, he not only synthesized many great ideas in scope building with his own to produce the class of telescope that bears his name, but he also made it part of his life’s work to bring the distant heavens to anyone and everyone through his founding of what we call today “sidewalk astronomy.”

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Barlow Bob at the center of the 2014 NEAF Solar Star Party. Click for a larger view.

The CNY amateur astronomy community learned of the passing of Barlow Bob on June 13th through an email from Chuck Higgins of MVAS. I suspect most people in the community didn’t even know his real name was Robert Godfrey until the announcement of his passing. The announcement of his passing had much farther to go, as the list of people and clubs that Barlow Bob had made better through his own outreach is as large as his many contributions to solar astronomy. For the record, below is a snippet of his contributions to the CNY astronomy community generally and to me specifically.

The Postman And Telephone Operator of Northeast Astronomy

I have a decent handle on all of the astronomy clubs in the Northeast thanks to Barlow Bob’s habit of forwarding newsletters and email announcements around to his email list. Those who’ve not edited a club newsletter do not know how much this simple gesture was appreciated! In my 2008 reboot of the Syracuse Astronomical Society newsletter the Astronomical Chronicle, the biggest problem facing its monthly continuation was new content. Not only did Barlow Bob provide a steady stream of articles for “Barlow Bob’s Corner,” but I learned about several free sources of space science news from these other newsletters (the NASA News Feed and the NASA Space Place being chief among them – still sources of news and updates freely available to all). He saved myself, and the SAS, several months of organizing content and finding relevant material. Those newsletters remain available in PDF format on the SAS website, many peppered with varied hot topics in solar astronomy that Barlow Bob chose to write about for “Barlow Bob’s Corner.”

As part of his aggregative exploits, amateur astronomers in his email loop were also treated to a yearly events calendar of nearly all of the East Coast star parties and special events. His and Chuck Higgins’ 2014 Events Calendar makes up the majority of the non-celestial phenomena listed in CNYO’s current calendar.

I also had the pleasure of being one of the recipients of his many (many!) phone calls as a regular of his “astro-rounds” call list, during which I learned early on to have a pen and paper ready for all of the companies to check out and solar projects to search for. Barlow Bob loved being on the edge of solar observing technology, both in pure observational astronomy and in solar spectroscopy (his Solar Spectroscopy History article is among the most concise stories of the history of the field). A number of his voice messages lasted little more than 15 seconds, but provided enough detail for a requisite google search and email exchange after.

“You keep writing them, I’ll keep publishing them.”

Barlow Bob was, by all metrics, a prolific writer on the topic of solar astronomy. My Barlow Bob CD contains at least 50 full articles along with pictures, equipment reviews, and society newsletters including his articles. Barlow Bob took great pleasure equally in his own understanding some aspect of solar astronomy and his committing that understanding to keyboard and computer screen for others. While many amateur astronomers delight in knowing something well enough to be able to talk about it with authority, precious few in the community actually take the next step and distill all they know into something others far beyond their immediate sphere can appreciate. Even those who’ve never been to NEAF likely knew of Barlow Bob through his writings. Along with his founding of the NEAF Solar Star Party, his many articles will serve as his lasting contribution to the field. We will continue to include Barlow Bob’s articles on the CNYO website and we hope that other societies will consider doing the same. Some of those articles are available on his dedicated webpage at NEAF Solar, http://www.neafsolar.com/barlowbob.html.

The Bob-o-Scope Comes To Syracuse

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Barlow Bob and “the works” at Darling Hill Observatory. Click for a larger view.

While Syracuse only managed to have one solar session hosted by Barlow Bob, that one session provided a number of lasting memories. After a few months of planning around available weekends and Barlow Bob’s own vacation schedule, we finally settled on the early afternoon of 30 July 2011 for a solar session (with a lecture by CNY’s own Bob Piekiel to follow that evening, making for one of the better amateur astronomy weekends in Syracuse) at Darling Hill Observatory, home of the Syracuse Astronomical Society.

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Very likely him at Darling Hill Observatory. Click for a larger view.

Our initial plan was for an 11 a.m. set-up and a noon to 3-ish observing session. Saturday morning started a bit earlier than I expected with a phone call at 9:30 a.m. – Barlow Bob, ever ready to be out and about on a clear day, was outside the locked front gate of Darling Hill Observatory. A frantic prep and drive out later, Barlow Bob and I set up and placed his many scopes on the observing grounds to the delight of about 30 attendees. I myself took one look through the Bob-o-Scope and began calling people, telling them “you have to come and see this.” A full day of observing in, Barlow Bob didn’t end up leaving Darling Hill until just before 5 p.m. The hour we took to leisurely pack his station wagon with all of his gear was full of shop talk, people and equipment to be made aware of, and plans on a similar event at some point in the future. That hang and the view through his Bob-o-Scope are two of my favorite memories during my tenure as SAS president.

Barlow Bob and a spectroscopy mini-lecture at Darling Hill Observatory, 30 July 2011.

The Sun, being the excellent, usually accessible target that it is, is ideal for hosting impromptu observing sessions at most any location. Members of CNYO now do as a small group (and with cheaper equipment) what Barlow Bob would do single-handedly – set up and observe “with attitude.”

Not Just NEAF

Barlow Bob is known to many in the community as the founder of the NEAF Solar Star Party and as the author of articles for “Barlow Bob’s Corner.” To those of us with a bent towards public outreach, Barlow Bob is an example of someone who could take some fancy equipment and his own know-how and run a one-host show. Barlow Bob committed a great deal of his own time and talent to doing for our nearest star what those like John Dobson did for far more distant objects. Despite the many, many amateur astronomers in the world today, it’s still a field where a single person can have a strong influence simply by being a perfectly-polished primary mirror that reflects their own love of the field for others to appreciate. Amateur astronomy outreach can learn a lot from Barlow Bob’s example and CNYO will continue in his footsteps of making safe, variously-filtered solar sights available to the public as part of our observing efforts. May we all become a bit more familiar with our nearest star, following in Barlow Bob’s footsteps to observe it “with attitude.”

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“It’s like looking in a mirror!” Barlow Bob and I at Kopernik’s 2013 Astrofest.

* Announcement of his passing on Cloudy Nights: cloudynights.com/ubbthreads/showflat.php/Cat/0/Number/6581115/Main/6578514

* David Eicher’s announcement at astronomy.com: cs.astronomy.com/asy/b/daves-universe/archive/2014/06/16/solar-astronomy-guru-quot-barlow-bob-quot-dies.aspx

* A memorial webpage at forevermissed.com: http://www.forevermissed.com/robert-a-godfrey/

The 16-inch f/4.5 Collapsible-Truss Dobsonian From New Moon Telescopes – Feature Article In Astronomy Technology Today

As first appeared on the CNY Observers & Observing website, www.cnyo.org, on 22 June 2013.

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

As if NEAF wasn’t already an excellent first showing for Ryan (and Heather!) Goodson and New Moon Telescopes (including discussions at Cloudy Nights (link 1, link 2) and a recorded observation in Sky & Telescope in this month’s issue), I am pleased to provide a full copy of the result of their first NEAF meeting with Gary Parkerson, Managing Editor of Astronomy Technology Today (www.astronomytechnologytoday.com): A feature (and cover) article (by yours truly) giving the NMT 16″ f/4.5 Dobsonian a complete walk-through in the May-June 2013 issue.

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Before anything else – I’d like to personally thank Gary and all at ATT for providing a platform for my review of the NMT scope, their continued support of other amateur astronomers through many years of excellent equipment reviews, and their complete coolness with allowing CNYO to repost the complete article for your viewing pleasure.

Click HERE For The Full Article (PDF, 2.3 MB)

From the article:

New Moon Telescopes (NMT, newmoontelescopes.com) is a very recent addition to the list of manufacturers of custom Dobsonians, having made their first company appearance at the Kopernik Winter Star Party (kopernik.org) this past January and their commercial appearance at NEAF 2013 this past April.

While NMT is now making itself known to the larger amateur astronomy community, NMT is no secret to Central New York observers. Amateur astronomers in several CNY astronomy clubs have seen the expert woodworking skills and design choices of NMT’s owner and sole craftsman, Ryan Goodson, first-hand, giving CNY observers and their always unpredictable weather conditions the honor of being NMT’s original customer base both in rebuilds and new Dobsonians.

The article introduction is no joke! There are three NMT Dobs owned just by CNYO session hosts alone (Larry S, Dan W, and myself), not counting whatever Ryan brings to our observing sessions, then several additional just in the CNY area (one CNY customer’s beautiful 18″ Dob having been on display at NEAF). I remember just within the past ten years when SCTs and fancy mounts seemed to rule the observing grounds at Darling Hill Observatory, now all of the sessions I attend are populated by light buckets. The GOTO is increasingly being superseded in favor of memorization. I say excellent!

As a point of discussion in the article, I make reference to Ryan’s high-end component choices (the MoonLite focuser being high on the list – my “Ruby” (NMT #1) is named for its red focuser). I spent an extra block of time discussing the merits of a primary mirror purchase from John Lightholder at Lightholder Premium Optics.

Just as I have seen many an amateur astronomer start with seemingly decent eyepieces, then eventually sell and buy their way up to TeleVue (my personal bias, anyway), I have heard too many stories of observers with primary mirrors that eventually have their faults found out over the course of many observing sessions (the primary mirrors, that is). The solution, while not cheap, is simple – start with the best you can get and never, ever, find yourself regretting an “intermediate” purchase when you go to finally take the plunge on a high-quality primary.

The mirror alone cost more than many of the major vendors are currently charging for complete-and-shipped 12-inch Dobsonian telescopes. The reason is simple – it is absolutely worth it.

A final thought about the whole enterprise comes from Gary himself at ATT:

The Goodsons’ telescopes captured my attention, as did the Goodsons themselves, for the simple reason that they represent one of the aspects I love most about the telescope industry. Astronomy enthusiasts are primarily served by what are essentially cottage enterprises, populated with business people and craftsmen for whom their astro products and services represent labors of love. Most are family businesses, as is ATT, a fact that is reinforced with each trip to NEAF as I am privileged to again greet in person the family partnerships who gather there each year.

I am grateful to Gary and ATT for allowing us to repost the complete article on the CNYO website (and this pruned version of the issue was generated from the PDF I obtained as an enlightened subscriber to the digital version of ATT). It remains an excellent source of information from real users of equipment, a kind of completeness of analysis and discussion many of us had the pleasure of experiencing during discussions with Stu Forster and still have the pleasure of experiencing with my favorite local scope-sage Bob Piekiel.

And why yes, now that you mention it, it is easy to subscribe to ATT today! Click on the image below for more info!

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