Old solar films from the Solar Building were transferred to Manila Observatory’s Archives

by Quirino Sugon Jr.

Rafael Joseph del Mundo of Manila Observatory's Library and Archives

Rafael Joseph del Mundo of Manila Observatory's Library and Archives

Last week, I visited the Manila Observatory’s Library and Archives and met with  Mr. Rafael Joseph del Mundo, the Observatory’s new librarian.  Raf is from the Ateneo Library.  He replaced Ms. Carina Sarmaniego who transferred to the Ateneo de Manila University’s Archives.

“Hi, Raf,” I said as I walked through the door.  “Nino Uy said that some films from the Solar Building were transferred here.  Would you know where they are?”

“Yes,” he said, “It’s on the other side.”

We went to the room at the back of his office.  I looked around.  There are rows and rows of shelves containing long sheets of paper, some of them showing signs of termite infestation.  These were from the seismic vault at the center of the Manila Observatory complex.  I saw these sheets years ago as they were transferred in boxes from the vault.  The sheets now rests on the Archives, awaiting the day when a scientist would pore over them, looking signs for small tremors that can only be measured by these delicate instruments: the pulsations of the earth due to the moon or the water waves beating on land.  The Archives used to be the Jesuit kitchen.  But the Jesuits are gone.

“Where are the solar films?” I asked.

“Its outside the door,” Raf said, pointing to the exit.

We walked towards the door and opened it.  And I saw the the long hallway of the third floor of the Observatory’s Main Building.  Non-Jesuits were forbidden here before.  The nearest room is the sacristy.  Behind the wooden walls are three side chapels for private masses with altars fixed to the wall.  There are still still old chasubles there of different colors–gold, black, red, green, and violet–all collecting dust for decades.  The next room is the chapel.  Through the wooden slitted walls you can see an empty room with the other wall filled with windows which give a good view of the green fields and blue skies. A large crucifix hangs above a small altar table.  The tabernacle’s red light is lit.  The other rooms are Jesuit lodgings.  On each door is a slit for mails.  There is one common toilet with several cubicles.  I heard that these lodgings would soon be gone and replaced with research laboratories for students and scientists of Ateneo de Manila University and Manila Observatory.  The farthest end of the hallway is shrouded in darkness, but there is a stairway there that leads to the lower floor and another stairway that leads to rooftop for watching the stars at night.

“So Raf, where are the Solar films?” I asked.

“It’s behind the door,” said Raf.

Behind the door is a gray metal cabinet, about an inch shorter than my shoulder height. There are 10 vertical layers and each layer has 5 drawers.  I read the labels:

  • Razdow processed film: 1968 to 1979
  • Photographic journal of the sun: Dec 1967 to Feb 1978
  • White light: 1963, 1975-1978
  • Sunspots: 1974-1975
Jesuits at Manila Observatory in 1956: Fr. Doucette, Fr. Deppermann, Fr. Miller, and Fr. Hennessey

Jesuits at Manila Observatory in 1956: Fr. Doucette, Fr. Deppermann, Fr. Miller, and Fr. Hennessey

The Razdow 10 inch refracting telescope was set up in 1968 on top of the solar building.  From the base to the tip of the objective lens is about two and a half persons high, and the telescope’s diameter can fit a small boy.  Razdow telescopes were designed by Dr. Adolph Razdow for tracking the sun across the sky and transmitting images of the solar disk in the Hydrogen-alpha spectrum.  Fr. James J. Hennessey, SJ described the Razdow telescope in 1969:

The Razdow refractor (Figure 3) makes use of a Halle filter to obtain the solar image in hydrogen-alpha light.  The sunlight beams is divided and fed into four different systems: (a) to the eye piece for detailed visual patrol, (b) to the camera for thirty-five millimeter recording at preselected rates usuallyu one photo every minute, (c) to the photocell for keeping the objective tracking the sun and (d) for the television pickup.  This last system presents a large image of the sun for convenient monitoring of solar activity.  In such a preceision in instrument it is evident that other worthwhile features have been built in, for example, the automatic sunset stop and return to sunrise position, the automatic camera exposure mechanism, humidity controls, and a set of occulting cones for prominence photography. (Solar Physics 9 (1969) 496-501)
Fr. James J. Hennessey, S.J. (1909-1987) joined the Manila Observatory 1951 and succeeded Charles E. Deppermann (1889-1957) as director in 1957. (Udias 2003, p. 156)
The Razdow telescope was actually used in conjunction with the spectroheliograph.  This was also described by Fr. Hennessey, SJ in the same paper:
In 1963 the first major solar instrument put in operation at this site was the vacuum spectroheliograph.  This was specially designed for Manila.  A pair of 16-inch coelestat mirrors directs sunlight to the 12-inch objective mirror of an off-axis Gregorian system with a choice of either 8-inch or a 3-inch secondary mirror.  All optics are of fused quartz.  The entrance slit of the vacuum tanks serves dual function.  Part of the light beam is reflected to a Halle Lyot-type filter.  This passes only H\alpha light needed for the visual patrol and for photography.  Secondly, the light beam entering the slit passes to an off-axis 11-inch parabolic mirror at the bottom of the 17-foot vacuum tank, then to the Bausch and Lomb replica diffraction grating.  From the six-by-eight-inch grating with 15000 lines to the inch, the selected spectral light is reflected down the tank to a second off-axis 11-inch parabolic mirror and thence to the exit slit at the top of the tank.  The seals at the entrance and exit slits are similar field lenses.  This system can be used either as a spectroheliograph or as a spectrograph.  In daily routine use hydrogen and calcium spectroheliograms are taken.  The Halle filter serves well for the monitoring  of solar features. (Solar Physics 9 (1969) 496-501)

A more detailed description of the spectroheliograph is given by Fr. Richard A. Miller, SJ in Applied Optics 4(9), pp. 1085-1085 (1965).  Fr. Richard A. Miller (1917-1974) came to the Observatory in 1957. He studied at Fordham University and University of Michigan (Udias 2003, p. 156).

The spectroheliograph’s celeostat was disassembled a few months ago and stored to another area (see pictures of the disassembly here).  The Solar Building will be renovated to house the research programs of the Observatory which will be transferred from the Main Building.  With the dismantling of the spectroheliograph, an era has ended.

Solar films from the spectroheliograph

Solar films from the spectroheliograph

I pulled out some drawers and took pictures.  I saw the 35-mm films, coiled as big as my palm.  These were the standard for high definition photography before and even until now, though some movie makers and advertisers are now shifting to HD (high-definition) digital cameras.  I tried to unroll the film, but some parts are stuck to each other.  The pictures have deteriorated.

“How do you clean this thing?” I asked.

“Using dry method,” said Raf.  “You just wipe it with dry cloth.”

“I think these things need to be placed in airconditioned room in order to prevent their further deterioration,” I said.

“No, we can’t do that,” said Raf.  “The chemicals in the film have fermented.  The vinegar will evaporate and destroy the other documents in the Archives.  I am thinking of sending them to the Ateneo Library to have them digitally scanned or photographed.  That’s all that we can do.”

I pulled another drawer.  I saw a piece of glass with grid lines inside a circle.

“Oh, cool!” I said.

“What’s that?” Raf asked.

“I think this is used to locate the positions of the sunspots, where they are on the sun,” said I.  “Look, here’s another one,” I said as I picked up a glass plate with globe-like gridlines.  “I think this is used for determining the location of the sunspots in solar longitude and latitude.”

“There are still other pictures here,” said Raf, as he pointed to a box outside the cabinet.

They are large black-and-white pictures of the sun as big as my fist.  I can see the swirls and spots on the sun’s surface like storms on the earth.  If the sun is very magnetically active, there are more sunspots.  The plasma is made of up charges moving around the sun’s magnetic fields.  These magnetic fields guide the paths of the charges, specially during solar flares and prominences, when parts of the sun erupts like a volcano.  An active sun with many sunspots means the earth becomes warmer.  Years with very few sunspots resulted to the cooling of the earth, as what happened in 1645 to 1715 during the Maunder Minimum when Europe and North America experienced bitterly cold winters in the Little Ice Age.

I thanked Raf for his time and we went back to his office.  After taking his picture, we parted and I went down to the Manila Observatory’s lobby.  Outside the afternoon sun still shines.

Solar rectangular grid

Solar rectangular grid

Solar grid in spherical coordinates showing longitude and latitude lines

Solar grid in spherical coordinates showing longitude and latitude lines

H-alpha patterns and structures used for inferring magnetic polarities in the sun's surface

H-alpha patterns and structures used for inferring magnetic polarities in the sun's surface

Inferred neutral lines and polarities in the sun's surface

Photograph enlarged from patrol filtergram obtained by the NOAA-operated NASA Solar Particle Alert Network observatory in Boulder, Colarado, on June 18, 1968. Inferred neutral lines and polarities are indicated below.

A picture of the sun

A picture of the sun

An image of the sun using calcium spectral line filter

An image of the sun using calcium spectral line filter


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Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

2 Responses to Old solar films from the Solar Building were transferred to Manila Observatory’s Archives

  1. numerator says:

    Nice to read this, Adolph Razdow, maker of the telescope, was my father. I remember well the days of its development and installation around the world.

    I myself am a software developer, creater of Mathcad back in 1985, the year my father died. My new company is http://www.truenum.com. I have various old pictures of Razdow Labs, and the early days of the telescope, let me know if any would be of interest to you.

    Best regards,

    -Allen Razdiw

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