The Sun, beautiful. The Moon, even more beautiful. Oh yeah
Space, the final frontier. These were / are the voyages of generations of amateur astronomers. I hope that this introduction, combined with the above photograph, extracted from the bowels of the 7 June 1969 issue of La Presse of Montréal, Québec, the largest French-language daily newspaper in North America, stoked your curiosity just a little bit. I must confess that the observation of the celestial vault does not tug at my heartstrings. What about you, my reading friend?
This being said (typed?), I must also admit to a great admiration, perhaps tinged with envy, for those who devote years, even decades, to an unprofessional activity that gives them joy. One of these enthusiasts is at the heart of this week’s issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.
Lucien E. “Luno” Coallier was born in 1911, at a date and place that yours truly has not yet identified. There is also some uncertainty about the origins of this great Quebecer’s passion for astronomy. One source pointed out that it was a neighbor who liked reading who led Coallier to take an interest in this science, when he was barely 15 years old. Another source stated that this passion was due to the fact that his father bought him, just before 1927 perhaps, 3 books on astronomy written by a French amateur astronomer and meteorologist. Reverend Louis Théophile Moreux was one of the best known francophone scientific communicators / popularizers of the first quarter of the 20th century.
Fascinated by what he read in these books, Coallier began the fabrication of a refracting telescope, in other words a telescope equipped with lenses. Knowing absolutely nothing about the polishing of lenses, the young man realized a perfectly useless instrument. This failure did not discourage him however. Astronomy became for Coallier a fascinating activity, if not a devouring passion. His interest moved more and more towards the Moon. He realized, little by little, to his great surprise, that professional astronomers were far more interested in planets and stars than in the companion of our blue planet. Even worse, many of them did not spend much time observing the sky.
Over the months and years, Coallier filled many notebooks following observations of the Moon made using a few instruments. In 1957, for example, he could count on a fairly powerful refracting telescope that he planned to replace with a reflecting telescope whose mirror he was polishing himself. Coallier became a member of the Société astronomique de France at an indeterminate date, just like the aforementioned Moreux actually.
Before I forget it, Coallier seemingly made his living as a teacher.
In 1955, Coallier became a member of the Centre français de Montréal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, today’s Centre francophone de Montréal de la Société royale d’astronomie du Canada, a group founded in May 1947 by a dozen French-speaking members of the Montreal Center of said society, itself founded in 1918. Before long, this group was making presentations on the Moon and other subjects. I dare hope you remember that Valéry René Marie Georges Giscard d’Estaing, a future French president mentioned in a November 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee, was among the speakers who spoke in Montréal in the late 1940s.
As important as the Centre français de Montréal was, the fact was that a French language astronomical society, the Institut astronomique et philosophique du Canada, existed in Montréal between about 1926 and 1933. Its founder, the typographer, printing manager, printer, photographer, insurance agent, bookseller and bookbinder Joseph Edgar Guimont, a member of the Société astronomique de France since about 1915, was one of the founding members of the aforementioned Montreal Center. Guimont and another astronomy enthusiast, also a member of the Société astronomique de France, DeLisle Garneau, an accountant at the ministère du Revenu national, inaugurated an observatory at the latter’s residence in December 1941 – the very day of the Japanese attack against the American bases of the Hawaiian Islands. This Observatoire Ville-Marie closed its doors in 1954 after hosting, year after year, several hundred amateur astronomers.
Would you believe that the Collège Sainte-Marie, a Catholic educational institution mentioned in an April 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee, had one of the few telescopes that existed in Montréal at the time? Ours is a small world, is not it? But back to the Centre français de Montréal.
Members other than Coallier were also very active during the 1950s and 1960s. Pierrette Jean launched the center’s first group of observers around 1961. The first group of telescope makers, on the other hand, was born that same year. The first mirrors polishing workshop followed a few weeks later.
In June 1968, the Centre français de Montréal founded an independent organisation, the Société d’astronomie de Montréal (SAM). Fascinated by the Moon race between the Americans and the Soviets, hundreds of people came to its local, at the Jardin botanique de Montréal, to observe the sky and / or attend weekly presentations. In September 1969, for example, SAM held the largest observation evening in its history: approximately 4 500 participants could observe the skies using more than 40 refracting and reflecting telescopes.
And yes, my reading friend whose culture is only equal to her / his curiosity, Brother Marie-Victorin, born Joseph Louis Conrad Kirouac, mentioned in an April 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee, was truly the founder of the Jardin botanique de Montréal. I applaud your enthusiasm but let’s not stray too far from our subject.
At the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, SAM was the largest French language astronomy club in North America. One of its best known and most famous members was undoubtedly Jacques Lebrun, an astronautics enthusiast and one of my heroes who, if you behave, could be the subject of an article in our blog / bulletin / thingee, and ... All right, all right, calm down. An article on Lebrun should come out before the end of 2019, if the flying spaghetti monster wills it, and ... You want to know more about Coallier, my reading friend? Very good.
We are in September 1963. At the time, Coallier was observing a region of the Sea of Tranquility, near one of the relatively flat potential landing sites evaluated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a world famous American organisation mentioned a few times since March 2018 in issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Having discovered a steep and potentially dangerous slope, he immediately informed NASA. Two American observatories confirmed Coallier’s discovery. He later noted some problems with another potential landing site at the foot of the Apennine mountain range. This observation was also confirmed.
In 1964, Coallier became one of 12 Canadian members of a research group set up by NASA in collaboration with a research center of the Smithsonian Institution. This group of (amateurs?) astronomers, known as the Lunar International Observers Network (LION), was interested in so-called transient phenomena that took / take place on our satellite. In 1969, for example, more than 175 astronomers from nearly 35 countries observed the Moon during the Apollo 10 mission. Any observation deemed important were forwarded to the 3 astronauts for verification. LION also produced a cartographic study used by NASA when it chose the landing sites of the Apollo program’s Apollo Lunar Modules / Lunar Excursion Modules.
Speaking of so-called transient phenomena, it should be noted that Coallier observed something of this kind in 1963 in Aristarchus crater. At least one American observer then reported seeing a glow in this same crater. LION astronomers based in the United States and Spain also saw something in 1969. In July of the same year, during the Apollo 11 mission, at least one astronaut reported seeing a glow in Aristarchus crater – a first in the area of observation of transient phenomena. A West German member of LION confirmed this observation. In 1971, while flying over the Moon, the crew of Apollo 15 detected a stream of harmless radiation from the area surrounding Aristarchus crater. In fact, more than 120 reports of so-called transient phenomena from various eras exist for this region.
Could it be that someone is trying to get our attention? You will remember of course that a magnetic anomaly found in Tycho crater was at the heart of the plot of the magnificent film 2001: A Space Odyssey. This anomaly was mentioned in a May 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.
Coallier inaugurated his own observatory, behind his house, in Ville de Laval, Québec, in June 1969. The mayor of Ville de Laval, Joseph Jacques Maurice Tétreault, took part in the event. The observatory, known as Luno, like its creator, contained the most powerful amateur refracting telescope in Canada. This high-precision instrument can be found in the photo on the left at the very beginning of this article. Coallier and his wife, Nolita Saint-Cyr Coallier, a member of SAM since 1962, used it for a good 10 years to make drawings of the lunar surface.
Did you know that Tétreault was one of the very many graduates of the aforementioned Collège Sainte-Marie? Ours is a small world indeed.
The complex driving mechanism of Coallier’s large refracting telescope was among the many achievements of Adélard Rousseau. This highly skilled professional machinist occupied the position of adviser of the Centre français de Montréal and SAM between 1958 and 1982. He counted among the leading souls of the optic section launched unofficially in the autumn of 1965.
Coallier was well known for his column, “Club des Observateurs,” published between 1877 and 1980 in SAM’s bimonthly magazine, Le Québec astronomique, founded in 1972. Over the years, he inspired and helped Québec amateur astronomers of all levels. Coallier also maintained a voluminous correspondence with amateur astronomers from other countries.
In 1979, for example, while he was president of SAM, Coallier reminded its members that many Québec amateur astronomers won prizes at the Stellafane Convention, an annual competition of amateur telescope manufacturers held at the Stellafane observatory, near Springfield, Vermont, since 1926. The time had come, he said, to recognize the quality of the work of these people. The Concours annuel de fabricants de télescope amateurs (CAFTA) was born. With two exceptions (1989 and 1990), this competition has been held ever since to reward the magnificent work of Québec’s amateur astronomers. SAM has organized CAFTA in collaboration with the Club d’astronomie Orion de la région de Salaberry-de-Valleyfield and / or the Club d’astronomie de Dorval since 1992 or so.
Recipient of awards from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the Association des groupes d’astronomes amateurs, today’s Fédération des astronomes amateurs du Québec, in 1981 and 1983, Coallier died in December 1986, at the age of 75. His passion for astronomy continues to inspire many amateur astronomers from Québec.