FLEMINGSBURG Kenneth Macht has seen and done many things in his 86 years, but starry skies can still keep him up at night.
The retired Navy veteran has seen all sorts of astronomical events since he began building “more sophisticated” telescopes in mid 1950s. From the head of Haley’s Comet to the occultation (when one object hides another) of Saturn and the moon, he has been a witness to celestial events like these standing in an open field in eastern Kentucky.
“There’s all kinds of things like that,” said Macht as he looked into the evening sky from his observatory.
Macht bought surplus military optics from an Air Force material command in Oklahoma. When he moved back to Kentucky he bought from a surplus location in Lexington. He converted these optics into parts for telescopes.
“I built three 4-inch refractors,” said Macht, who went to an aviation electronic school in Oklahoma City. “I used those for a while and then I donated them to the local high school.”
In the Navy, Macht was stationed on a USS Navy aviation repair vessel where he would modify and repair electronics that had been damaged by shell fire. He said he was able to learn about large optics there.
Macht left the Navy and spent 36 years with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He worked his way up to the Chief of Operations in southeastern Kentucky before being stationed in Panama to help the Panamanian government set up its own air traffic control system.
Macht said his interest in astronomy began when he was born. But no one wakes up and decides to be an “amateur astronomer,” he said. Something has to spark it, he added.
For him, that was a middle school field trip in Fort Thomas.
“We saw a variety of things and that just electrified me,” said Macht.
One of the things they saw were double stars. A double star, or binary star system, are two stars that are so close together their gravity causes them to rotate around each other.
“You’ll never hear an astronomer singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,’” he said while pointing out where a double star is in constellation Cassiopeia.
That’s because stars don’t “twinkle.” The atmosphere causes the shimmer.
Macht said early astronomers and sailors often thought of nebulas as a form of cloud. With one of the telescopes he built, he said seeing the bright nebula for the first time was exciting.
“The first one I saw (a planetary nebula) was in the constellation Hercules and I couldn’t quit looking at it,” said Macht. “You see little individual bodies clustered around their center of gravity, hundreds of them.”
During the August 2017 solar eclipse, Macht decided to use his best optics — his eyes.
“I didn’t look through anything but them,” he said. “That was something I wanted to see my whole life — a total eclipse. I can hardly describe.”
Macht started his own group called Indiana River Astronomical Society in Vero Beach, Florida, where he was the mayor for two years.
He has slowed down on building telescopes, but he keeps his favorites at hand so he can get out and look up at the galaxies overhead.
“Right off the top of my head, I’d say (I do this) because you see beautiful things,” said Macht.
When he saw Haley’s Comet, he said it was obscured, which left it without a noticeable tail.
“Now, I’m obligated to live another 35 years before it comes again,” he added.