Look for Me Up There

The Man Who Loved Priscilla … and the Stars

In that Order

Welcome to my page for the February14, 2010 episode of 365 Days of Astronomy. This month I’m celebrating Valentine’s Day with an episode called “Look for Me Up There” — the story of Bart Bok, his love of the stars, and of course, his love for Priscilla Fairfield Bok — his wife and astronomy research partner of many years.

Bart Bok is known for many accomplishments in astronomy, including his observations and characterizations of Bok globules — those dark knots of gas and dust that are scattered throughout the galaxy. He and his colleagues reasoned that they could be the places where stars get started. This was back in the 1940s, and it remained until relatively recently for astronomers to be able to observe INTO those globules to find protostellar objects — the seeds of stars. He was also fascinated (along with Priscilla) with the luminous variable star Eta Carinae.

Bart and Priscilla were married for many years, until her death in the mid-1970s. They would observe together — he gathering images and data, and Priscilla analyzing it.  In this way, they cemented a working partnership that lasted decades.

They also wrote a well-known book called The Milky Way, 5th ed (Harvard Books on Astronomy) — and it explores all the interesting places in our own galaxy. I’ve had a signed copy for many years and it remains one of my cherished astronomy possessions.

My friend David Levy wrote a wonderful biography of Bart Bok, and it’s a great read. It’s called The Man Who Sold the Milky Way: A Biography of Bart Bok, and I highly recommend it if you want to learn more about this fascinating man, his studies, and the love of his life: Priscilla Fairfield Bok.

Some years ago, I had the chance to meet Bart Bok — he was giving a talk at a conference I was attending. He told the story of his life’s work, his wife’s work, and the very sad tale of how she died suddenly at their home in Tucson not long after he retired. He told us the tale of how she loved to study the Carina Nebula region and was fascinated by Eta Carinae — so much so that she talked about it not long before she died. David also tells the story in his book, and it’s touching.

Well, I was so taken with Dr. Bok’s story that I wrote a scene based on it into a planetarium show called “The Cowboy Astronomer” (narrated by cowboy poet Baxter Black) that my husband I produced to sell through our company, Loch Ness Productions. It is a very touching part of the show, and people often remark on how memorable that scene is. I always tell them that Bart Bok was a memorable man, and through him, we all learned about the power of love — not just for the stars, but for the woman he faithfully loved for so many years, and who told him to “look for me up there — at Eta Carinae” not long before she died.

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