When Harvard astronomer Solon Bailey set up an observatory in Peru in the late 1800s, he took more than a hundred crates of equipment: telescopes, weather instruments, seismometers, and much more. But a couple of years later, he needed a few other pieces of equipment to keep his observatory safe: guns and clubs.
Bailey had picked the town of Arequipa, which was about 8,000 feet high and offered plenty of clear nights for observing the southern sky. Harvard Observatory director Edward Pickering then sent his brother William to run the new station. But a couple of years later, William had made a mess of things, so Bailey returned to take over.
At first, everything was calm, and Bailey produced hundreds of photographic plates of southern stars and star clusters.
But in 1894, a revolution was under way, as an exiled former president sought to return to power. Bailey and his family were on a train when it was captured by rebels, although they were unharmed. Later, when the fighting reached Arequipa, Bailey removed the lenses from his telescopes and buried them to keep them safe. He barricaded the observatory compound, and stocked up on supplies.
Hostilities soon ended, though, with no casualties among family, staff, or telescopes. And Bailey saw a chance to win a new friend. He invited the restored ex-president for a tour. With good relations assured, the observatory continued to operate in Peru for three decades more.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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