The Stories | The Photos
In the Fall of 1988, Terry Hunefeld - for a series of articles profiling GRAAA members - wrote one about Bruce, which was printed in the Fall Inside Orbit of that year. You can find read the online version at this link...
Bruce Sidell… has now observed… with his home-built 10 inch Dobsonian… in excess… of… two thousand (2,000 or 2.00 x 103)… galaxies!!! Words do not apply. He has seen with his own eyes… the it.
-- from the GRAAA newsletter
It was a dark, moonless summer night at the James C. Veen Observatory in the mid 80’s. I was observing variable stars from the front lawn with my Meade 8” when a car came up the drive, its lights off.
The driver exited the car, unloaded a Dobsonian telescope and set up on the lawn. All was quiet. All I could see of the stranger was the glow of a cigarette.
“Howdy,” I said. “Nice evening.”
“Hello to you,” came the reply.
By the end of that evening, I learned that the man’s name was Bruce, and that he was dentist. He asked about my profession. When I replied that I was in real estate, he quipped, “I don’t plan to be buying any houses, so don’t get your hopes up.”
That was the first of thousands of wisecracks that I would hear from Bruce P. Sidell over the next 20 years.
Little did I know then that Bruce would proceed to observe more than 2000 galaxies from that scope, become my family’s dentist, teach me (and provide encouragement) on how to ride a bicycle 100 miles at a time, ride his bike from Lansing to the Mackinaw Bridge 25 times on 25 successive Labor Day weekends (DalMac) and that we would become best friends.
Those were heady days, a snapshot in time. Together we shared the wonders of the sky, learning how to star-hop to Pluto and barely visible galaxies. We would pore over Wil Tiron’s new Sky Atlas 2000 with our just-invented LED flashlights. We drove to dark cornfields to observe the faintest of comets. We chased all over the county timing occultations.
One year, we calculated conditions to be just right to observe a very, very new moon from Michigan. Accompanied by Kevin Jung and the good luck of a clear sky, we witnessed the one of the newest moons in history from Fisk Knob through my 10” Dobsonian telescope, a feat written up several months later in Sky & Tel by Dennis DiCiccio.
Our social calendars revolved around the moon. On moonless nights, we made no firm commitments, because if clear, we would be at the observatory. If clouds moved in while observing, we would move inside and read the logs written by Gary M. Ross, who was to us an amateur astronomer god.
On cloudy nights we often attended movies together. I never laughed so hard as the first time, while were still in our mid-forties, that Bruce discovered we could get the senior discount just for asking. It wasn’t the act of asking that made me laugh, but was that satisfied little half-smirk he would give me with twinkling eyes and a raise of the eyebrows every time we asked for the discount – and got it. To Bruce, it was a satisfying as if we had pulled off some huge bank caper.
I never could get Bruce to come visit after we moved to California in 1998. He loved the simplicity of his practice, his family, his hobbies, his bicycling and his pets.
I’ve missed him over the past years, and miss him even more now.
-- Terry Hunefeld, San Diego, CA
Bruce (“The Great Enigma”) Sidell continues his trek through the cosmos. On the night of 6 December, he observed two galaxies estimated at 14th magnitude from the Veen Observatory grounds using his trusty ten-inch homemade Dobsonian telescope. This is all in a nights’ work for the astronomer who goes where even Carl Sagan fears to tread.
-- from the GRAAA newsletter
Bruce was one of the first people I met in the GRAAA when I joined in 1989. I learned how to deploy the Hawkins and spent every clear night trying to learn to star hop. Often Bruce, Terry Hunefeld and Gary Ross were pursuing their quarry as well - Terry having fun observing, Bruce hunting down another two dozen galaxies towards his next thousand and Gary making another null observation of some variable for the AAVSO. Bruce very generously helped me get started and, when I asked how the"Telluride" worked, didn't even laugh at me until the next time we were both observing when he explained that Telluride was a nice town in Colorado and that I was looking through a Telrad!
A few years later a fine spring night found us both galaxy hopping around Leo and the Coma cluster. Bruce stepped away from his 10 inch Dob for a few minutes in the bushes. When he returned he startled me with a great shout as he backed away from his 'scope: A raccoon had decided to sit in the base and seemed disinclined to leave even though we shouted, waved, poked with sticks and generally tried to keep as far away from the beast as we could. In due time our furry friend wandered off, of course.
After I had some observing skills and could find a few Messier objects I began helping at Visitor Nights and very much enjoyed that outreach part of our hobby. Before each one I'd pore over the Observer's Guide and Burnam's to be prepared to answer guests' questions. One summer Saturday eve I overheard Bruce telling the people about this and that object. When things slowed down I complimented him on his encyclopedic knowledge of the heavens. "Oh," he replied, "I just lie. Who is going to go home and look up the actual distance to M 42 or the number of stars in M 13?"
That became our standard joke for Visitor Nights from then on. But a year or two later I was in a position to check what he was telling people because I had just read up on some of the same objects. Bruce's so called fabrications were bang on!
-- James Foerch
Bruce P. Sidell and his trusty ten-inch continue to make club headlines. The dedicated observer has observed his ONE-THOUSANDTH GALAXY, putting to shame those who claim the skies at the observatory are growing too poor for serious deep-sky observations. Kevin Jung was on hand to witness the event. A jubilant Gary Ross described Bruce’s efforts as “a beacon to us all.” This is the first time anyone in the Association has systematically observed so many galaxies from the observatory. “Who knows?” Ross later mused. “Maybe someday he will take over the entire ecosystem… push out all the lesser species.”
-- from the GRAAA newsletter
It was not a dark and stormy night. In fact, the night must have been quite clear, because why else would Bruce Pettersen Sidell appear in my upstairs bedroom door in the middle of the night? Perhaps it was that wild and crazy time, the end of the 1980s. Perhaps it was one of those episodes in which everything manages to go wrong at once.
Whilst for some strange reason I was asleep -- not my time to get up yet? -- Dr. Sidell was at his post, his ten inch Newtonian deployed on the Observatory lawn. With that humble observing "platform" (a bizarre term au courrant) he observed hundreds, nay over a thousand galaxies. If he was not the greatest, then he was the second greatest observer in the tri-state, with the possible exception of "Fast Mike" Simonsen in Macomb County. But I digress...
Like the pub ghost scene in SILAS MARNER, there he stood. In those days I slept with the footboard facing the door, and behold, oh joy, this shadowy figure in the portal. He had not turned on the stairs light, possibly because he could not find it. During the Reagan-Bush I administration I did not lock the house at night because Americans felt safe in their beds, but mainly because Mom had not yet moved in.
Maybe he had called from downstairs and I did not hear him, maybe not. I do not remember. From the upstairs hallway: "Ross?" I said something historical like, "What?"
He needed a key to the Observatory, having locked himself out. What a debacle. For some reason only known to God, he had locked his car keys in the Observatory, odd, because it was my impression he never used the building. He was too tough. A seasoned duck and deer hunter does not need a sissy building! So here he was on a patently cold and deserted night, in a mess. He walked to the Marrons' hoping to find life on other planets, but the house was dark, the days before Jay Leno was on the air and a midnight fixture in the aircraft carrier.
He duly walked all the way to my place probably expecting to pound on the do or, and failing that, set up a ruckus on the lawn that would have brought out my neighbour across the road, Mr Cummings, swinging. But as said, Kissing Rock Farm was easy then. He could have made a snack and hit the booze if he could have found it -- I never would have been the wiser. Instead, he asked for the Observatory key.
Ever gracious, I told him where to get it. No, I did not get out of bed, and no, I did not motor him back the the hill. I had suffered enough.
-- G. M. Ross
7 April 1988 will be remembered as significant in the Association’s history. That night Bruce P. Sidell became the Greatest Deep Sky Observer in the history of the G.R.A.A.A., a niche held by G. M. Ross since 1970. Already the Hardest Lad, the goal of the Great Enigma is to observe ONE THOUSAND objects from southern Michigan. A proposito, he will venture to the Texas Star Party in May, the first Association member to do so. T.G.E. reminds his admirers, however, that said expedition is simply “recreational.” The far southern objects thereby observed will not count toward his goal.
-- from the GRAAA newsletter