November 1, 2010 #103 - Lightning Strikes on the Observatory

Two years ago my wife and I were driving through a valley on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a clear beautiful day, when suddenly lightning struck a rock wall a thousand feet above the valley. Again, a few nights ago a fast moving storm swept across the College Mountain Range in CO, where we are camping. We could hear many strikes echoing in the valleys. This started a train of thought about astronomers on mountain tops and lightning strikes. Out of curiosity I cranked up the old search engine and began looking for articles on the subject written in the 1800's and early 1900's. I didn't find a lot but there were some interesting entries.

The first reference I found was written by J.A. Brashear, a renowned optical instrument builder. This article about a strike on an objective-lens is from the 1894-95, "Popular Astronomy Vol. II".

The second is a strike on the Observatorio National Argentino, found in the 1913 "Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Vol. XXV.

The Third is about a survey crew on Pikes Peak, CO that had their theodolite struck twice in one day, in the 1894, "Report of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey - Part II".

Number four I found, in of all places a 1912, "ABC Pathfinder Railway Guide" This article speaks of strikes on several observatories in Europe.

The final article is not strictly a strike on an observatory, but a horrific story of a geologic expedition to the mountains which turns into a life and death struggle with lightning, the story is as riveting as any fiction written. It comes from an 1874-75, "Bulletin of the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey".

Clear Sky - Rich

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