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Ben Mayer, 1925-99.

Los Angeles amateur Ben Mayer, whose accomplishments and out-of-the-box thinking during the 1970s and '80s earned him an international reputation, died on December 28th at age 74. Like many amateurs, Mayer first gained distinction in the pages of Sky & Telescope. In the July 1974 issue he described building an automatic meteor camera with cobbled parts, including a lawn-sprinkler timer.

A year later the camera recorded an unprecedented 13-exposure prediscovery sequence of Nova Cygni 1975. Lacking meteor trails, the film was initially discarded and rescued from the trash only after Mayer learned of the nova's existence. This prompted him to build an ingenious blink comparator using two slide projectors, and he eventually founded a sky-patrol program called Problicom. One of its ardent supporters was Harvard astronomer William Liller, who discovered numerous novae and one comet as a Problicom participant.

Mayer developed a novel way to learn the constellations. Made from a wire coathanger and star charts copied onto plastic food wrap, his Starframes evolved into a commercial product.

Mayer wrote several books, including The Cambridge Astronomy Guide, which he coauthored with Liller. He delighted in telling people that Liller wrote the even chapters and he wrote the odd ones. He also published more than a dozen articles in this magazine, including the first-ever complete set of Messier objects photographed in color.

An excellent public speaker, Mayer maintained a rapport with his audience through his keen wit, self-deprecating humor, and attitude of "If I can do it, so can you." One of the few individuals to be a repeat keynote speaker at Vermont's annual Stellafane convention, Mayer received rare standing ovations in 1978 and again in 1984.

Mayer was the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's amateur of the year in 1982, and asteroid 2863 Ben Mayer was named in his honor. A series of strokes reduced his ability to pursue astronomical activities, and his death came within days of a major stroke last December.

Memorial donations in his name can be made to the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's Project ASTRO, 390 Ashton Ave., San Francisco, CA 94112.

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Title Annotation:amateur astronomer
Author:di Cicco, Dennis
Publication:Sky & Telescope
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Apr 1, 2000
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