Acclaimed Canadian Astronomer Dr. David Levy’s Logbooks Now Online

Sent along by our own Prof. McMahon from the HASTRO-L (History of Astronomy Discussion Group) listserve…

It isn’t often enough commented upon, but a considerable amount of the really interesting neighborhood (celestial, that is) observational astronomy is performed by amateurs (some examples can be found in stories by ABC, physicsworld, Discovery, or just google it) from the observation of impacts on Jupiter to the recording of increasing light pollution to the tracking of meteor show quantities to, perhaps most famously, the discovery and tracking of comets. David H. Levy has been a recent star in this area and, for those ever wondering how astronomers keep track of their discoveries and more general observations, the announcement below provides you a link to Dr. Levy’s complete set of logbooks.

For those wondering how to organize a logbook, taking a look at 10-year intervals to see how Dr. Levy worked towards perfecting his technique is quite instructive.

November 29, 2011

Contacts: Deborah Thompson / Randall A. Rosenfeld
[email protected] / [email protected] / +1 416-924-7973 (DT)


The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) in conjunction with Jarnac Observatory is pleased to announce the launch of the David Levy Logbooks archive. The project offers full and free access to digital facsimiles of over sixteen thousand observing sessions by David H. Levy chronicling more than half a century of astronomical exploration and discovery:

Dr. David H. Levy, co-discoverer of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, is one of the most acclaimed amateur astronomers of our time. He is the discoverer or co-discoverer of twenty two comets and more than 150 asteroids, and is the first person to have discovered comets visually, photographically, and electronically. Dr. Levy is a well-known popularizer of astronomy, who has spent a lifetime advancing the active engagement of others in the rich cultural pursuit of astronomy by personal example and through live appearances, and print and electronic media. The conviction that astronomical observation, both recreational and scientific, provides a way to discover more about our place in the universe and to better know ourselves is shared by Dr. Levy and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC), an organization of which he has been a member for nearly as long as he has been an astronomer.

The David Levy Logbooks offer a glimpse into one man’s personal engagement with the night sky, an engagement as dynamic and pristine now as when he commenced his records at age eleven with a partial solar eclipse in 1959. In the logbook pages readers will encounter his personal entries of notable discoveries — comets and near earth objects found with Eugene M. and Carolyn Shoemaker through the Palomar Asteroid and Comet Survey (PACS), including the unfolding drama of Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacting Jupiter — interspersed with records of variable star observations for the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) and searches for the RASC’s COMET and NOVA Section, along with recreational observing of deep-sky objects (DSO) and solar-system phenomena. An attractive feature of the logbooks is their witness to astronomical friendship — accompanying Dr. Levy’s notes are the autograph comments of those who have observed with him, ranging from Clyde Tombaugh the discoverer of Pluto, to observers as young as Dr. Levy was when he started in astronomy. Observational sketches, photographs, and quotes from literature reflecting astronomy can be found throughout, attesting to the wider cultural matrix in which astronomy is embedded.

Complementing the digital logbook facsimiles are several interpretive essays, one introducing the logbooks by Dr. Roy Bishop, a long-time personal friend and mentor of Dr. Levy’s, and another setting the logbooks in historical context by RASC Archivist R.A. Rosenfeld.

Few primary sources of significant amateur scientists are available in their entirety on the web. The logbooks should be of interest to all intrigued by the variety of 20th- and 21st-century practices of astronomy, and should prove a resource for those researching the history of amateur astronomy, pro-am collaboration, continuities and adaptation in modes of discovery, astronomy education and public outreach, and the scientific notebook as a literary genre, a locus for memory, and an agent for creating filiations and structuring scientific communities. The pages of the David Levy Logbooks can also aid amateur observers in finding their own voice and style of astronomical note taking through emulation, modification, and antithesis.

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The David Levy Logbooks are a joint project of the Jarnac Observatory and the RASC through its History Committee. The project team consists of Roy Bishop, David and Wendee Levy, Walter MacDonald, R.A. Rosenfeld, and Nanette Vigil.

Founded in 1868, The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is the nation’s leading astronomy organization bringing together over 4,200 enthusiastic amateurs, educators and professionals from Canada and abroad. The Vision of the RASC is to inspire curiosity in all people about the Universe, to share scientific knowledge, and to foster collaboration in astronomical pursuits, and our Mission is to encourage improved understanding of astronomy for all people, through education, outreach, research, publication, enjoyment, partnership, and community.