Saturday, 15 November 2014

Johannes Kultima in memoriam

Johannes Kultima taking notes during absolute magnetic
field measurements at Kevo on 3rd October 2014.

Upon arrival at Tähtelä, Sodankylä, as a novice student of natural sciences I could not see what kind of father figure I met when I very first time shook hands with Johannes Kultima at the observatory.  I was advised beforehand that I might also find Uula in him, a colourful and original person.

Actually Uula always took newly arriving young scientists under his wings and taught them that you can’t compromise on the quality of scientific work: observations need to be properly prepared and carefully executed because every observation of nature is unique. He was a true Observer of the Stars: an astronomer by education, who honed, with his own hands, the 1-metre telescope lens at Tuorla observatory, Turku. After he came to Sodankylä he carried out with great care the observation of Earth's polar motion during every cloudless night using a zenith telescope. He missed only two clear nights during 15 years of observations.

After satellites began to measure Earth's precise motion, Uula was responsible for geomagnetic observations, which he continued with the same strict attitude to scientific precision. Even the frames of spectacles need to be selected carefully for observations. Magnetic field observations are still done in iron-free buildings. Once someone passed the geomagnetic observatory close-by on skies, and on the next day Uula diplomatically brought up the magnetic properties of the ski bindings and effects on the observations. He had linked the disturbance in the observations to tracks left by the skis at the magnetic observatory.

Basic geomagnetic observatory data, by themselves, rarely bring out new scientific results and publications, but they offer high-quality, validated observations for the global scientific community. Uula’s observations are unique measurements of nature at the time, and as such they stand as invaluable material for researchers.

Uula was a team spirit builder. Without him, we would not go to pick berries in autumn, have a play about the history of science or have a snow football game. He liked pupils and had a talent to awaken the curiosity of children about phenomena of nature. He arranged for observatory scientists to tour the schools of Lapland and tell facts about the northern lights and space research. He also came up with the idea of courses on these topics to be taught at the local upper secondary school. Uula was very interested in history and wrote popular articles, among others, about the stories of the Sami night sky and Star of Bethlehem.

Often Uula solved practical problems with finesse – and humour. Without him many things would have remained unresolved, like transport across 40 km of wilderness to the remote cabin of Porojärvi for a couple of weeks of scientific measurements. There, in the middle of nowhere, far from other people, he took care of matters in his own, unique calmness, and we couldn't have been there without him. During those measurement campaigns we learnt that when Uula sleeps, all is well!

Even after retirement he still proofed texts, digitised his old polar motion observations and visited kindergartens to tell about space. After having taught the art of magnetic measurements to the next generation, he loved to join measurement trips to the various magnetometer stations just to lend a hand even until October 2014.

Now Uula is sleeping. We are not quite sure if all is well. The Observer of the Stars left for his last journey unexpectedly, and too soon. We will continue his work reminiscing his teachings, which remain as fond and vivid memories.

Thank you, Uula,

Esa Turunen and the Staff of Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory

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