Visual comet hunter from "Land of the Rising Sun"
He accidentaly spotted a new comet at age 13 which led him to become a comet hunter. He stopped his quest when he entered a college and found a new hobby instead. 15 yeas later a bright comet restarted his search. Despite of big sky surveys he believed that comet hunters could survive. "See stars by heart", says visual comet discoverer, Shigeki Murakami.
You are a research scientist at the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute. What do you exactly do there?
I am a forest hydrologist who studies the water circle in forest. Specifically, I am interested in two hydrological processes.
One is evaporation of rainwater at the time of rainfall. Rainfall under forest canopy is some 20% less than that of treeless site because of evaporation. If we have 50 mm of rainfa er hour, evaporation is about 10 mm per hour. In the US or Europe where rainfall intensity is generally low, scientists overlooked the fact. I have proposed a new mechanism to explain large evaporation during rainfall; splash droplets produced by raindrops impacting on the forest canopy evaporate. The conventional concept assumes evaporation from wet canopy surface, but it cannot explain the observational fact.
The other is snowmelt process in forest in relation with water resources. The later the disappearance of snow cover, the longer one can utilize snowmelt water. Forest cover reduces snow accumulation on the forest floor, because some portion of snow on the canopy evaporates. At the same time forest canopy delays snowmelt on the forest floor since the canopy reduces solar radiation and wind speed. I try to find the optimized forest structure that is useful in terms of water resources.
You began watching the stars as a kid at age 10. What had been the spark of your astronomy interest?
A friend of mine bought an astronomical telescope. It inspired me to do the same thing. There were three, including me, who wanted to become amateur astronomers at that time, and we have been enjoying stargazing for several years since then. Now, I am the only man who continue to observe.
Did not you consider to become an professional astronomer as a teenager?
Yes, I did. I was interested in various fields of science in my boyhood and I considered to do so. Nonetheless, I reconsidered at the age of 15. I attended the Annual Comet Conference for the first time at that time where I met many famous comet hunters including Minoru Honda and some professional astronomers. After the conference, there was an excursion to Okayama Astrophysical Observatory, a branch of Tokyo Astronomical Observatory (at present National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, NAOJ), where the largest telescope in Japan was equipped then. Tooru Kobayashi, a discoverer of C/1975 N1 (Kobayashi-Berger-Milon), made a question to Professor Goro Ishida, the director. Kobayashi asked to Ishida, “Is your vocation enjoyable?” Ishida was confused and could not reply his question. I was impressed by Kobayashi’s question and I noticed that enjoying starwatching is one thing, and to study astronomy, is another.
I do not mean I decided not to become a professional astronomer at that time, but it is true that the incident was very influential. When I met Kobayashi at Annual Conference of Comet last year (2016), I asked him if he remembered that he made such a question to Ishida. He said he not remember on it.
What was your main source of information about astronomy during the beginings?
The only information source in my early teen was a monthly magazine of astronomy: Temmon Guide. For example, it took at least one month to get information on comet discoveries. There were some circulars sent by postal mail as in "Yamamoto Circular" (published by Oriental Astronomical Association, OAA) and "Comet Bulletin" (Comet section of OAA). However, I did not subscribe to any of them in my early career of amateur astronomy, since I was not a comet hunter. In my mid teens when I began to search a new comet I subscribed one of them. I got information on new discoveries within about a couple of weeks.
In summer of 1975, I heard in the radio a news about a new comet discovery. That evening I searched for it with my own selfmade 2" refractor. I found a small speck bellow the Big Dipper, which was confirmed as C/1975 Kobayashi-Berger-Milon. You spotted it too, by chance. How do you recall to that?
Yes, I accidentally spotted it at age 13. Though I knew it is very challenging to discover a new comet, through this experience I had an impression that I could find one if I am lucky. It lead me to become a comet hunter.