29 November 2010

Starry, starry night

Research libraries collect fascinating items.

One of the ACT Heritage Library's most surprising holdings is of two star charts printed by W J Sear in Canberra in 1943.

One is an Equatorial Star Chart, the other a South Polar Star Chart with a detailed plotting of the closest stars. The charts describe stars visible from Canberra, and also show where we sit in the Saggitarius arm of the Milky Way.

We asked John Blank, a member of the Canberra Astronomical Society, why such charts would be useful.

He compared the charts to one published in 2000, and explained that dated charts are useful for documenting the movement of the Earth and the stars.

The Earth wobbles on its axis. In 1943, the star Canopus, a very bright star, was located at 6 hours ,10 minutes. In 2000, it was 6 hours, 20 minutes. The difference of 10 minutes is a bit more than 2 degrees of a "wobble".

The charts are also very professionally produced and we wondered about their creator.

William James Sear was born in Petersham, NSW in July 1900, third child of William and Helen (Nellie) Brown. He grew up at 36 Queen Street, Ashfield, studying at the University of Sydney. He was an army cadet. William enlisted in the AIF at the end of World War I, just after his 18th birthday.

On the ACT electoral rolls, William lists his occupation as draftsman, which explains the professional quality of our star charts.

William married Lydia Marks in Ashfield, NSW in 1925 and settled in the new capital sometime between 1928 and 1933. William passed first in an examination to employ temporary clerks for the 1934 census in Canberra in 1933; positions only available to ex-servicemen. He and Lydia appear on the ACT Electoral Rolls at 17 Foveaux Street/Paterson Street, Ainslie from 1935.

The couple attended the Baptist Church and Lydia was a keen lawn bowler. They had at least three daughers, Merla (or Merle), Alleyn (or Alwyn) and Beverley, who attended Ainslie Primary and Canberra High Schools.

William was active in the Ainslie Primary School Parents' and Citizens' Association, being auditor in at least 1950 and 1951.

He was also, obviously, a keen amateur astronomer, but beyond the two charts, we can find no further evidence of his involvement.