AAS 203rd Meeting, January 2004
Session 28 HAD II
Division Oral, Monday, January 5, 2004, 10:00-11:30am, Regency V

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[28.03] Leslie Peltier, Amateur Astronomer and Observer Extraordinaire

B.G. Corbin (U.S. Naval Observatory)

Leslie Copus Peltier, (Jan. 2, 1900-May 10, 1980) was called “the world’s greatest non-professional astronomer” by none other than Harlow Shapley, and also referred to as the “the world’s greatest living amateur astronomer”. He began observing variable stars on March 1, 1918 with an observation of R. Leonis and at the time of his death had made a total of 132,123 observations of variable stars. These were reported to the AAVSO on a consecutive monthly basis stretching from 1918 to his death in 1980. As of October 2003, he was still on AAVSO’s list of the top 25 observers in its history. Born on a farm near Delphos, Ohio, his parents were well read and their home was filled with books on different subjects, including nature guides. As a young man he studied the flora and fauna of the area and in 1915 began his study of the heavens with Vega being the first star he identified. After the purchase of a 2-inch spyglass, his observations of variable stars began to be noticed by professional astronomers and the AAVSO loaned him a 4-inch Mogey refractor; shortly thereafter Henry Norris Russell of Princeton loaned him via the AAVSO a 6-inch refractor, a comet seeker of short focus. He discovered 12 comets, 10 of which carry his name, and 6 novae or recurring novae. His design of the “Merry-Go-Round Observatory” was a novel approach with the whole observatory revolving around the observer while seated in his observing chair. Miami University (Ohio) later donated to him their 12-inch Clark refractor with its dome.

His first book, Starlight Nights: The Adventures of a Star-Gazer, appeared in 1965. This autobiography, an ode to the joys of observing both the night sky and nature, was written in beautifully descriptive language that helped lead countless readers into astronomy. Departing from astronomy, in 1977 he published The Place on Jennings Creek. Written in the style of the 19th century naturalist, the book was devoted to his family’s home, Brookhaven, and its natural surroundings. Peltier was a shy person who rarely left Delphos, and worked as a designer of children’s furniture and toys until his death. However, he was widely recognized during his lifetime with articles about him appearing in popular magazines such as Reader’s Digest and Newsweek. Many famous astronomers visited him at Delphos including W.W. Morgan, W.A. Hiltner, Donald Menzel, the Boks, and others. He received many honors including an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Bowling Green State University (Ohio) and the AAVSO’s first Merit Award in 1934. Starlight Nights returned to print in 1999 with a foreword by David Levy, and is now introducing a new generation to the beauty and thrill of observing.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: corbin.brenda@usno.navy.mil

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 35#5
© 2003. The American Astronomical Soceity.