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  Space Cover 214: "You Call These Space Covers?"

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Author Topic:   Space Cover 214: "You Call These Space Covers?"
stevedd841
Member

Posts: 164
From: millersville, maryland, usa
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 05-19-2013 06:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for stevedd841   Click Here to Email stevedd841     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Space Cover of the Week, Week 214 (May 19, 2013)

Okay, I admit it. I really have a passion for early space covers and thought my focus this week should be on two covers that many collectors would call early space covers. To get agreement on this, I also thought my question to Space Cover of the Week followers should be, "You call these space covers?" I was interested in these two particular early covers to see what other cover collectors might think and to see their responses.

This first cover is a Pilgrim Cachet cover cancelled December 25, 1940, at Santa Claus, Indiana, showing a cachet of Saturn, the ringed planet. Yes, in case you missed it, the cover also has the name Santa Claus in bold red print under the postage stamps of the cover, a nice touch for an early space cover, don't you think? The cover in very small print also notes that perihelion for Cunningham's Comet would occur mid-month the following month for comet watchers. This is where our story begins.

Surprisingly a year later, I found a second Pilgrim Cachet cover cancelled for the perihelion date of Cunningham's Comet cancelled a few weeks later on January 16, 1941, Jamaica, New York. The printed Pilgrim Cachet on the cover shows the approach of Cunningham's Comet with the comet's tail pointed away from the Sun, then traveling past the Earth, and at perihelion, turning away from the Sun and speeding outward through the inner planets of the Solar System on its journey back into deep space. Auspiciously, this second Pilgrim Cachet cover is cancelled on the Cunningham Comet's perihelion date around the Sun, January 16, 1941.

Space Cover #214, "You Call These Space Covers?"

To put our story in perspective, the birthday of John Alden of Pilgrim Cachets, of Bergenfield, New Jersey, happened to fall on the perihelion date of Cunningham's Comet, January 16, 1941. The perihelion date would be the closest point of approach of the newly discovered comet in its orbital flight around the Sun. The comet had first been identified by astronomer Leland E. Cunningham earlier in the fall of 1940. As a refresher, perihelion is the point in the comet's orbit when it is nearest the Sun. Cunningham's Comet would come closest to the Sun at 0.6 Astronomical Units (AU) or 55.79 million miles, and between the orbits of the inner planets Mercury and Venus.

Writer John Cobb, in an article appearing in Harvard University's "The Harvard Crimson," December 20, 1940, adds to the story, "On Christmas Eve, when normal people are hanging stockings and trimming trees, Harvard's astronomical wise men will be out in the cold wind following a new star in a new way. They will be following Comet Cunningham with the cross wires of Harvard's six best and biggest photographic telescopes at the Oak Ridge Station of the Observatory in Harvard--Harvard, Massachusetts." Further, Leland Cunningham had organized a comet observation tracking program and photo session of the comet's approach to Earth and around the Sun in collaboration with Fletcher Watson, executive secretary of Harvard's Observatory.

But, back to our story, it was going to be publisher John Alden's birthday at the perihelion date of Cunningham's Comet. What better birthday present for the publisher of Pilgrim Cachets than a Pilgrim Cachet cover on his birthday at the comet's closest approach to the Sun at perihelion? The first cover above appears to showcase the outer planets Saturn and Jupiter very visible now in the night winter sky and in conjunction to one another, but also joining the now very visible Cunningham's Comet speeding on its course towards the Sun in the cold, winter night sky.

The second Pilgrim Cachet cover pictured, fixes the inner planets in their respective positions in orbit and in relation to the comet with everything displayed in "galactic array." Cunningham's Comet is shown at perihelion to the Sun and at its most visible brightness and beauty, January 16, 1941. What a great birthday present for John Alden, too!

Amazingly, the two covers made by Pilgrim Cachets in 1940 and 1941 would also become very early space covers for those of us who gaze up at the winter sky in awe and wonder at the firmament. So, "You call these space covers?" Why, yes, we do! And Happy Birthday, John Alden!

Steve Durst, SU 4379

Bas S Warwick
Member

Posts: 15
From: New Zealand
Registered: May 2013

posted 05-20-2013 04:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Bas S Warwick     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Really great covers Steve - hadnt realised there were any space 'covers' that old.

Interesting you found the second cover a year later, and that it was also addressed to the same person as the first.

Thanks for scanning and taking the time to relate all the facts.

Glint
Member

Posts: 747
From: New Windsor, Maryland USA
Registered: Jan 2004

posted 05-20-2013 02:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From the geometry in the second sample, it appears that at perihelion the comet's angular distance from the sun as seen from earth was rather small. This would make the comet viewable only during twilight. Also, because the comet is between earth and sun, the tail may have been foreshortened as seen from earth.

These circumstances apparently made observation difficult and I looked for images of the comet on the web. Here's an image taken at Yerkes Observatory showing a short tail. It's not a bad comet even though a similar observation using a 5" Schmidt at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles mentioned the "comet's low altitude and consequent position in the evening twilight."

A comment found in a newspaper from Oregon should come as little surprise to experienced comet observers: "Cunningham's comet has not come up to expectations, so far as brilliancy is concerned." In fact, the description accompanying the Yerkes images lamented how the "general public has been disappointed in the expectation of a brilliant cometary display." Astronomers leading people to unrealistic expectations as seen with so many other comets since.

stevedd841
Member

Posts: 164
From: millersville, maryland, usa
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 05-21-2013 04:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stevedd841   Click Here to Email stevedd841     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you Bas and Glint for your comments in response to "You Call These Space Covers?!" I had a lot of fun putting the article together for Space Covers of the Week. Bas, I see you are joining us on our web site from New Zealand. Yes, there are early space covers out there that people are not aware off. This comet cover is a postcard dated September 13, 1899, Vienna, Austria, for the approach of the E. Holmes comet, June 11, 1899.

Joining early comet covers are also space covers commemorating solar eclipses (see below, a cover in my collection from 1937), other astronomical events such as meteor strikes, and early observatory photo covers of the Sun, the Moon and other early astronomical sightings.

Glint, agree, Cunningham's comet was not as awe inspiring as astronomer Leland Cunningham had anticipated. Many thanks, too, for the additional information for the comet information that you added to this thread and especially the great photo of Cunningham's comet approaching perihelion in 1940. Your additional information is very much appreciated!

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