- October 27, 2012
Sielewicz: I’ve never seen any flying saucers
Cosmic hunter form Vilnius Region
“I decided to build a telescope myself and I did it” Henryk Sielewicz, an amateur astronomer who have already “hunted” a few stars and whose work has been appreciated by the Minor Planet Centre in the U.S.A., said at an interview for PL DELFI. “Even during our conversation somewhere in the universe there is Sielewicz’s asteroid” added the astronomer.
Ancient Maya priests, who had rich knowledge of the sky, prophesied the end of the world in 2012. 2012 is coming to an end so… the end of the world is close by.
It may sound trivial but since the beginning of time people have been observing stars. Some people looked at them with fear and others with curiosity. Stars and their laws are still surrounded by many superstitions. And as far as the end of the world is concerned… we have already heard about so many of them. In the Middle Ages comets announced apocalypses and catastrophes. The news about the end of the world travelled from one end of Europe to the other in a flash without the Internet or mobile phones but the ultimate apocalypse didn’t happen. In my opinion, the Maya prophecy will meet the same end and the media will find a new sensation and announce next apocalypse.
What about mysterious flying objects driven by aliens? Are they a sensation too?
I have been observing the sky since the day my father gave me binoculars 46 years ago. I haven’t seen any flying saucer or green alien at the helm. Except for a flying saucer that recently I’ve knocked over from the kitchen table. It flew, actually, but without help of any green alien. Unfortunately, I was an involuntary originator of that flight. I’m convinced that all witnessed mysterious flying objects can be logically explained. They can be for example the remains of a weather balloon or satellite, some metrological anomaly. Nowadays, in the age of the Internet people are constantly looking for a sensation, scandal or something new. Every little thing is uploaded but if we want to check people who witnessed it, it usually turns out that they don’t exist or can’t provide a truthful and exact description.
Father gave my binoculars…
I’m from generation that dreamed about cosmic flights to unknown planets and stars. I was only eight years old when the first Soviet satellite was launched. The binoculars, a present from my father, marked the beginning of my cosmic adventure. The adventure that continues until now. Those moments, when through my binoculars I was observing the sky and noticed small stars surrounding the bigger and brighter one, have engraved on my memory. I remember that exhilaration and excitement when I looked at the stars and wanted to touch them. Well, neither I nor any other person have managed to touch them yet… And I don’t think it will change for the time being. Jupiter was that bigger and brighter star, the smaller stars were its satellites. I read about it in a book. The first book about astronomy I have ever read.
A surefire career of an astronomer and scientist?
Yes and no. I dreamed about the stars but the journey towards them wasn’t easy. Certainly not! My journey towards the stars was not a bed of roses. My father died when I was 17 years old. I decided to support my mother. She was left alone with me and my brothers. Instead of observing the stars, I was working long and hard but I didn’t abandoned my dreams. I didn’t abandoned them even when I was forced to join the Soviet army. I served in Vitebsk Region, near Polotsk. During my evening guard duty, if the weather was good, I was observing the night sky. I was looking for familiar constellations, I marvelled at my beloved stars that were so close and so far at the same time. My military service came to an end and I returned to my homeland, Lithuania. After my return I became a locksmith and began working in a factory of computing machines in Vilnius.
Locksmith and astronomer?
Strange, isn’t it? I had to manage somehow but used my locksmith experience to build my first telescope. I was learning lathe and welding with curiosity. Nowadays, when you can buy every and even the most expensive telescope, it’s hard to believe. Astronomer who have to learn metalwork and dirty his hands?! The situation was different back then. Telescopes offered in shops couldn’t be used to do serious scientific research and amateur-astronomers could only dream about work in a real observatory. I decided to build my own telescope and I achieved my goal. I ground the mirror myself and the whole construction took me two years. In spring 1977 I observed Jupiter and its satellites once again. I was observing it using my own telescope. That time I noticed much more than before. I saw clouds on the surface of this huge planet, satellites. I felt I obtained wings. I’m astronomer! In the countryside I built my first observatory where I started regular observation of the universe.
What about your wife?
Nothing. She didn’t have any objections. I had a good salary, I didn’t drink too much alcohol. I was already 27 when I got married. We weren’t like those modern couples. One day they love each other and get married and the other day they can’t live together. I built our home in the countryside myself at the beginning of the ’90s. I have one son Marek and a grandson. Members of my family have always looked kindly on my passion for stars.
At the beginning of the ‘90s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Lithuania experienced a great crisis and you started to build a house?
I have never been a city slicker. Every city is full of people who live in a constant hurry and forget about the existence of nature, stars and soul. No, it’s definitely not for me. There is also one more reason: cities are the worst places to observe the starry sky. When the crisis began and I lost my job we sold our flat in the city and moved to the countryside. I’ve been living in the countryside for 22 years. Here I have my home, observatory, farm, friends.
Yes. My friends live not only in Lithuania. I have friends in various corners of the world. In Russia, Poland… It was my friend and professional astronomer, Kazimierz Czenis, who gave me one of the most unique birthday presents. On my 60th birthday he discovered a new asteroid and gave it my name. Even during our conversation somewhere in the universe there is Sielewicz’s asteroid. It is 3km in diameter and circles the sun in 4 years. And it’s worth noting that “my” asteroid doesn’t pose a threat to the Earth as opposed to other dangerous asteroids. On March 14 1990 in my observatory Kazimierz discovered a new comet. It was the first comet discovered by an astronomer form Lithuania.
Is equipment for observing the sky expensive?
Yes, it is. A “good” telescope costs more than thousand Lithuanian litas but it’s still only a toy for amateurs. I advise all beginners to start with less expensive equipment. When someone decides to begin a serious adventure with astronomy, then it’s worth buying good equipment. Professional equipment can be the equivalent of a brand new car. Despite high costs, such a telescope has its advantages. Thanks the Newtonian telescope with a mirror 35cm in diameter, I’m the only astronomer in Lithuania who can observe small, dangerous for the Earth asteroids and pass the obtained data on to the Minor Planet Centre in the U.S.A. But the observation of dangerous asteroids doesn’t have an impact on me. It’s just a matter of routine…
If the observation of destructive asteroids is routine, then what isn’t routine?
A total eclipse of the sun certainly isn’t routine. I observed my first eclipse of the sun in Siberia in 1981. It made a huge impression on me. A black wall that was quickly approaching and devouring everybody and everything on its way gave me the creeps. For a while I thought that the wall of blackness would crush and destroy everything. Visits in mountain observatories aren’t routine. In the mountains you are so close to the sky and so far away from other things that you think are important or relevant but in reality they are just worthless. Włodzimierz Wysocki sang the most beautiful songs about mountains. In my opinion, he was the only person who had such an insight into the soul of mountains.
Well, it seems that you have everything… Sielewicz’s asteroid, the observatory. Do you lack anything else?
I feel the lack of beautiful stars. Until the day I die I want to observe stars. Admire their beauty and charm. People say that there is nothing in a vacuum and stars are cold and unfriendly. It’s not true! They present us their warm shine, direct travellers to their destinations, accompany us throughout our whole lives. I am who I am: an unpractical romantic suffering from a “cosmic virus”. I will continue to observe and take photos of the starry sky, make films and simply live…
Tłumaczenie Karolina Rolka w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Karolina Rolka the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.