Imagining a Haunted Observatory

I’m excited to have a new book out as we go into the holidays at the end of 2016. I thought it would be fun to revisit a couple of posts I wrote at the Scarlet Order Journal when I was writing The Astronomer’s Crypt that discuss the inspirations for the novel. Also, I’m giving away a Kindle copy of the novel. Scroll down to the bottom of the post to find out how to enter! The novel takes much of its inspiration from my work at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Southern Arizona. One of the telescopes I operate is the observatory’s flagship telescope, the Mayall 4-meter shown here.

4-meter

Since I wrote my original post, I have heard stories that chairs in the old lounge on the so-called Utility floor could sometimes be seen to be rocking by themselves, as though occupied by ghostly inhabitants. Also, one night back in the 1990s, I once could have sworn I saw a flashlight beam from the catwalk. When I called the telescope operator on the radio though, I was assured no one was outside.

Even without these scary stories, the Mayall is eighteen stories tall. On a typical night, only three or four people inhabit the building. It’s a big space that literally moans in the wind. One night, the power went out and I had to climb the staircase in the dark, accompanied by nothing but the sound of creaking vents and the thudding of my own heart.

4-meter-stairs

When it was built, the plan was for astronomers to stay in the building. Later, it was found that heating the rooms made for poor images at the telescope. So, the rooms were abandoned. They still exist, and are used for storage, but it can be a little unnerving to walk down an empty hallway that curves around the building, frozen in time from the early 1970s.

4-meter-dorms

Large as the building is, there are also some rather cavernous spaces. Again, some of these spaces are used for storage. You can find computers from the 70s, 80s and 90s, plus parts from outdated instrumentation. When you walk into a space like this, is it so hard to imagine something lurking in the shadows?

4-meter-storage

The 4-meter telescope is a large, sophisticated machine. A lot of power is needed to run it, and pipes carry such fluids as water, glycol, and even oil throughout the building. There are numerous service facilities throughout the structure. Some of the spaces remind me of something from a science fiction film. What could be lurking around the corner in this photo?

4-meter-tunnel

The Mayall 4-meter is an amazing facility. It’s the place where the observations that led to the discovery of dark matter were made. It’s about to undergo a refit that will put it on the forefront of dark energy research. Personally, I’ve seen everything from asteroids to distant supernovae to gravitational lenses at the telescope in this building. However, on some dark and stormy nights, I’ve walked down some of these corridors and wondered if I really was alone!

astronomers-crypt-453x680

The Astronomer’s Crypt is now available as an ebook at the following retailers:

In honor of the season, I’m giving away a copy of The Astronomer’s Crypt for Kindle. Click the following link to see if you’re an instant winner: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/c1ab0e67aed8c0d9 .

The giveaway ends on January 6, 2017.

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4 comments on “Imagining a Haunted Observatory

  1. Jack Tyler says:

    What a wonderful tale! And what great fun your mind has at your expense with only the least bit of encouragement. It’s 1968, I’m 20 years old, crossing the Pacific on one of those old oil tankers. My watch section had the Mid (midnight to 4:00 AM), and when we came topside to relieve the Eve, instead of being gassed and sleepwalking as was normally the case, they were alert and animated. Seems that an hour before, the ship had been “paced” by low-flying lights that appeared to move in and out, and cross at low altitude from side to side, and that didn’t appear on radar. Probably some sort of St. Elmo’s Fire phenomenon, but that isn’t where your mind goes when you’re alone in the dark!

    There were eight watch stations, lookouts, helm, plot board, and so on, that the eight watchstanders rotated among every thirty minutes. This helped keep you both alert and multi-qualified. Six of them were clustered together on the bridge, and one (emergency steering) was deep in the bowels of the ship, but the eighth was a man-overboard watch which was stood alone on the fantail, the extreme rearmost point of the ship. That was a long and interesting 30 minutes by the time I took my turn back there! Never got a novel out of it, though. Well done, my brother. This one’s on my to-do list!

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Jack. UFO stories interest me a lot, too. My undergraduate advisor claimed to be responsible for the Roswell Incident. If you Google “Charles B. Moore” and Roswell, you can learn all about him. Also, having participated in some steampunk events on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, I’ve heard of some pretty thrilling shipboard ghost stories — and may even have had an encounter aboard the Queen Mary myself. You can read about it here: http://www.theaccidentalghosthunter.com/2012/02/queen-mary-ghosts.html

      I’m guessing you could easily write a short story or two based on your shipboard experiences, if not a whole novel. Take care, Merry Christmas, and Happy Anniversary!

  2. Kurt says:

    I think I need to read your book Dave…looks like a good one. It was indeed spooky to walk around the 4 meter at night. I’m so lucky to have had that experience of working at the telescopes. Those dorm rooms in the 4M telescope were indeed creepy…I didn’t go there often…creeped me out. It was one of the highlights of my life to wander around exploring on the mountain (tunnels and nooks and crannies) during the snowy, stormy nights when we couldn’t open the telescopes. I sincerely miss all my fellow operators and it would be fun to have one more night hanging out up there with you all. There are many times I think I never should have left the job for Silicon Valley, but that has brought other things too (wife, kids)…and in the end, a return to my music. Keep living the dream man. I still have my copy of Ray Bradbury’s picture signed and autographed to me. I never would have had that without meeting you. My sincere deepest thanks to you. It is one of my very prized possessions.

    • Thanks for dropping by, Kurt! It would be great to see you again. It’s been great to see your posts on Facebook and awesome that you’re keeping up with your music. My Ray Bradbury picture is still hanging over my desk and is one of my most prized possessions as well. I’m delighted I was able to share some of your words with him in that first issue of Hadrosaur Tales. Happy New Year! All best wishes to your family.

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