MAS can trace its beginnings back to 1975 and while there are still a few people who have been members since the club started, most people remain for only a few years before moving on. As a result, much of the club’s history is now in the form of oral stories that are passed on from one generation to the next. For years, our primary written record has been our Gemini newsletter although that has been supplemented in recent years by activity on our website (e.g., e-mail lists and blogs).
Last year, the club decided that it was time to create a new name to cover our growing complex of buildings at Baylor Park and during the discussions, something jogged an old memory. Back when we were raising funds for the Onan Observatory in 1997, the board had promised to put up a plaque with the names of people who had donated $1000 or more to the construction. Somehow, we had never gotten around to doing that and I decided to bring it up with the current board. When I raised the question, I was surprised to see a bunch of blank faces. None of them had any idea as to what I was talking about. I quickly learned that none of the current board had even been members of MAS back in 1997.
That’s when I decided that we needed to make more of the club’s history accessible to current members. At the time, we had an archive of 88 old issues of Gemini that went back to October 1999. Digging around in my basement, I found many issues going back to 1986 when I joined MAS. I asked Dave Falkner and Clayton Lindsey if there was any interesting in expanding the computerized archive and they were enthusiastic about the idea.
Over the next few months, I scanned all of the printed issues that I had from the pre 2000 era. I also discovered that I was missing several issues and I reached out to former editors Carl Harstad, Stuart Levy, and Thor Olson. They were able to provide me with some old computer files that allowed me to recover the text of several issues although the artwork no longer existed. When I was done, I had almost 500 pages of text covering 14 years. I gave a disk to Merle Hiltner who complied the individual pages into over 60 issues in .pdf form. These issues were added to the existing issues on our website.
Both Merle and I then put out requests (the “Great Gemini Hunt”) trying to find anyone who might have a collection of old issues going back before 1986. About a month later, Andy Fraser came forward with a claim that he had a complete set going back to the very first issue in 1976. Suddenly, I had a lot more work to do.
Over the next few months, I scanned Andy’s collection into my computer. During that time, I got a great appreciation for the early editors of Gemini. Despite not having computers and having to use a typewriter for every issue, for the first seven years, the editors managed to publish an issue almost every month! Scanning these issues was a bit difficult at times. The paper was sometimes torn and had yellowed with age. Print had faded and there were occasional stains from coffee cups. After some trial and error with various image processing techniques, I was able to get easily readable copies for most of the issues. Andy’s collection added 650 new pages to the archive, an additional 122 issues. Merle has since compiled, converted to .pdf and added all of this to the collection on the website. There are now 261 issues archived on the website totaling 2108 pages. We’re still missing a handful of issues and hopefully someday we will find another collection buried in someone’s basement to fill in the gaps.
Feel free to browse through the collection. You can find stories from the very beginning of the club, the name change to Minnesota Astronomical Society, and the moving of the Larson telescope from Duluth to Minneapolis. There are stories on the construction of the observatories and reports on the observations of eclipses, occultations, and comets. There’s no master index, but don’t let that discourage you. There’s lots of worthwhile material to read. Some highlights:
April 1976 – The very first issue of Gemini from the Twin City Astronomy Club.
January 1980 – The club changes its name to Minnesota Astronomical Society.
May 1980 – “Big Scope Beckons!”
August 1980 – Moving the Larson telescope from Duluth.
April 1981 – MAS hosts an Astronomical League convention.
November 1986 – My personal favorite. The front page has a note from the editor that says “This is the first time since I’ve been in the club that at this time of going to the presses, we don’t know what or who topic or speaker will be. Every now and then we need a little SURPRISE in our lives, so this month is as good as any.”
February 1990 – The announcement of the $20,000 grant that would provide the bulk of the funding to build the Onan Observatory.
December 1992 – An early report on the Cherry Grove Observatory.
August 1997 – Green Light for Onan Observatory.
December 1997 – Early construction photos from Onan Observatory.
June 1998 – Our first (and so far only) issue that was printed in color. Several members contributed their best astro photos.
For those of you who are technically inclined, here are some details on what I did when scanning the images. The original scans were done at 600 DPI in an 8 bit gray scale. This extra high resolution proved to be useful for removing noise and speckles from the image. I then performed a histogram adjustment to compensate for faded paper. I then applied an unsharp mask to clean up the edges of the text. Finally, I reduced the resolution to 200 DPI to make the file sizes more acceptable for viewing via our website. Sometimes I had to do some hand adjustments where the paper had been folded for mailing and the crease created shadows. This technique worked for many, but not all pages. Some issues were printed on color paper which reduced the contrast between the background and the text. Some pages had coffee stains. In those cases, I found it useful to scan the pages in color so that I could remove the stains and background color before converting the image to gray scale and then performing the normal processing. Some issues contained photographs and those sometimes created problems. Fortunately, scanning at 600 DPI frequently avoided the moiré patterns from half tone printing, but not always. I tried some of the standard moiré reduction tools, but they weren’t always successful. Most of the photographs turned out with acceptable but not great quality. There are a few that are terrible and I apologize that I couldn’t find a way to improve them.
Finally, I would also like to take this opportunity to encourage people to contribute articles to Gemini. Putting together this collection made me realize how important it is to document the club’s history and its activities. Your articles don’t have to be about some major or exciting event. They could be just a simple paragraph about an outreach event, progress at an observatory work party, or what you did during an observing session. Sometimes those dull boring things become very interesting to future readers. Years from now, amateur astronomers may laugh at the primitive equipment that we struggled with or be in awe at what we managed to accomplish and the challenges that we overcame. The history of what we did may also be useful in future fund raisings to convince donors that we do serve an educational purpose and that we’re an asset to the community. So I encourage all of you to occasionally sit down at your computer, type out a few sentences about your astronomical activities, and send them to the Gemini editor.