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On Christmas eve, when normal people are hanging stockings and trimming trees, Harvard's astronomical wise men will be out in the cold wind following a new star in a new way. They will be following Comet Cunningham with the cross wires of Harvard's six best and biggest photographic telescopes at the Oak Ridge Station of the Observatory in Harvard--Harvard, Massachusetts, not Harvard University.
Harvard's is the only observatory conducting an extensive study of Comet Cunningham, which was discovered here by Leland E. Cunningham this fall. Cunningham himself is organizing the observation program in collaboration with Fletcher Watson, executive secretary of the Observatory.
Thirty Plates per Night
For the past month a group of six hardy astronomers has travelled the fifty miles to Oak Ridge and back every clear night. The thirty-odd eight by ten inch photographic plates which they take each night will not have been completely studied for a year or more, but some results of interest have already been found.
Following a comet with a telescope is much harder than following a star because while telescopes are geared to follow stars automatically, comets move across the sky rapidly. Consequently it is necessary for the observers to stay by their instruments every minute, for hours at a time, in order to keep the image of the comet in the same position on the photographic plate.
Recent advances in photographic technique have enabled Cunningham and his co-workers for the first time to take photographs of the infra-red end of the spectrum and to measure the absolute brightness of the comet.
Christmas eve will be a banner night for the comet-watchers, because on that night the lights of Fort Devens, which ordinarily light up the sky and cut down the brightness of Comet Cunningham, will at be out.
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