Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics|
Publications and Public Affairs
GREAT REFURBISHING FOR HARVARD'S "GREAT REFRACTOR"
If you haven't climbed the spiral staircase of the Sears Tower to see "The Great Refractor" recently, it's time to take another look. Thanks to a host of people, both at the CfA and in the greater astronomical community, many of whom donated countless hours of time and priceless expertise, the old Dome Room has been cleared and cleaned, the Observer's Chair has been painted and reupholstered, new exhibits have been installed in the alcoves, the collection of historical photographs has been updated and revised, and vital (and long-missing) features of the historic 15-inch telescope have been restored. For example, as part of the renovation effort, a replica of the telescope's original clock drive has been built and reinstalled on the mount, and the primary lens has been removed and cleaned.
The special alcove exhibits include classic instruments related to astronomy and representative of the "cutting edge" 19th Century technologies on extended loan from the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard University. The left alcove contains the "Millionaire" calculator, one of the first commercially available multiplying machines, circa 1899; Henry Draper's silver-coated 28-inch (70 cm) mirror, finished in 1872 and used in the early observations of star spectra that would eventually lead to the Henry Draper Catalog of spectral classifications; the tailpiece of the 24-inch (60 cm) Bruce Doublet telescope used to make the photographic plates of the Great Magellanic Cloud from which Henrietta Leavitt derived the period-luminosity relation of the Cepheids ; and, one of HCO Director Edward Pickering's polarizing photometers. (Incidentally, for good luck, you can pat Pickering's marble pate on the way up the staircase to the Dome Room.)
The right alcove houses a William Bond & Sons regulator, circa 1880, used as a standard by which other timepieces were calibrated; a student transit instrument used to mark the passage of stars across the meridian and, thus, provide accurate time for both astronomy and railroads; and a chronograph, circa 1900, modeled on the device originally built by HCO director William Cranch Bond to mechanically record the time of star transits.
The work was done just in time for the Antique Telescope Society's meeting at the CfA on the weekend of October 24-25, as well as for the visit of the Smithsonian National Board members and other guests on October 27.
Although more repairs, improvements and innovations are still ahead, the effort so far has been achieved thanks to: the late Russell Elwell of Florida, a volunteer who recreated the clock drive; Hugo Logemann and Ed Wallner, volunteer retired engineers, who worked on restoration of the telescope; Ken Launie, a Polaroid optics specialist and member of the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston, who cleaned the lens; Will Andrewes, Curator of Harvard's Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, his assistant Martha Richardson, and horologist Richard Ketchen, who installed the historic instruments; Harvard carpenter George Barnes and Judy Peritz of Science Ed, who helped clean the room and install the exhibits; Barbara Welther, who is renovating the photographic "swing panels;" Charlie Hickey, HCO Building Manager and general facilitator, who got the cases built, procured the scaffolding, and supervised all aspects of the clean-up and fix-up; and, Professor Owen Gingerich, general supervisor, restoration impresario, and self-described "Great Refractor Great Appreciator."
A new annual award, designed to encourage and promote cometary astronomy and administered by SAO, will honor amateur astronomers who discover new comets. The Edgar Wilson Award, named for a late Kentucky businessman with a love for the heavens, will provide as much as $20,000 annually to be distributed among eligible discoverers.
Every amateur discoverer of a comet whose name is officially assigned to that comet by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) qualifies for a portion of the total prize money. Thus, the more comets that a person finds during any year, the greater the portion of the prize money that he or she will receive. Or, in the unlikely case that only one new comet is discovered by one person in an amateur capacity, then its recognized discoverer will receive the year's entire award. In years when there are no eligible comet discoveries, the award will be made instead to the amateur astronomer or astronomers judged to have made the greatest contribution toward promoting an interest in the study of comets. The official "counting" for this year's award began at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on June 10, 1998 (midnight Greenwich Mean Time). The first award will be announced on or about July 1, 1999.
The award will be administered by SAO through the Central Bureau of Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT), for 75 years the clearinghouse for reporting, announcing, and naming all new comets, and which is operated for the IAU by SAO.
The Edgar Wilson Award is international in scope, open to citizens of every country. To be eligible for the award, an individual must demonstrate that he or she is acting in an amateur capacity--at least for the purpose of discovering the comet--and that only amateur, privately-owned equipment was used for the discovery.
Edgar Wilson, a long-time resident of Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky, was active in agricultural and other business interests. Upon his death in 1976, a perpetual charitable trust was established that included provision for an annual award to honor persons who discover new comets. Mr. Wilson was interested in astronomy for many years, and his express purpose for establishing the trust was to encourage an awareness of the subject. Mr. Wilson's brother, Oscar, died on June 10, 1993, and the Award was to begin five years after that date.
WITH MUSICAL TREATS, CHAMPAGNE
TOASTS, AND MATCHING TEE SHIRTS
Borne heavenward by a combination of champagne bubbles and cosmic compositions played by their musical colleagues, members of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics celebrated the unique organization's 25th Anniversary on Observatory Hill, Wednesday, October 7. Associate Director Robert Kirshner (cited that same month by Boston Magazine as one of local academe's real-life "nutty professors") served as MC for a program that honored founding director Professor George B. Field and current leader Professor Irwin I. Shapiro, as well as Professor emeritus Fred L. Whipple, who was director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in 1973 when it joined with the Harvard College Observatory to create the CfA, then and now arguably the world's largest center for astronomical research.
For the record, the event was organized by the CfA Social and Recreation Club Committee: Rosalie Blum, Ann Ellison, Elaine Fortin, Rick Harnden, Dan Harris, Frank Licata, Jim Logan, Tom Narita Ruth Rothstein, Pete Warren, and Martin Zombeck, following an idea suggested by "anniversary instigator" Peter Smith.
And, the CfA Orchestra, organized by Elaine Fortin and conducted by Jim Overly, was comprised of: Pauline Barnby, Pedro Elosegui, Bill Forman, John Girash, Carolyn Stern Grant, Shadia Habbal, Joe Hora, Penny Hora, Hannah Jang, Eric Mattison, Brian McLeod, Jukka Nevalainen, Mike Pahre, Ken Rines, Bruce Roberts, Arnold Rots, and Marion Shore.
Others contributing to the effort, included Wine & Cheese support by Peg Herlihy; planning, logistics, set-up help by Nancy Galluccio, Charlie Hickey, and Carlos Ramos; publicity by Mary Juliano, John Hamwey, and Danny Collins; cake cutting by Joyce Janjigian; logo sales by Jack Barberis, Art Gentile, Rosalie Blum, and Barbara Palmer; and lyrics by Tania Ruiz, Barbara Welther, Elaine Fortin, and Marion Shore.
What would possess the CfA to co-sponsor an exhibit of photography? The answer is, the work of David Malin, perhaps the world's premier astrophotographer. Co-sponsored by Sky & Telescope Magazine, the Charles Hayden Planetarium, and a local foundation, as well as the CfA, the Arthur Griffin Center for Photographic Art in Winchester, MA, is presenting "Night Skies: The Art of Deep Space" through January 2, 1999.
To complement Malin's spectacular photographs of galaxies, stars, dusty clouds, and other celestial phenomena, a series of free lectures was held at the Griffin Center, with three of the four lecturers drawn from the CfA: Phil Myers (November 24), Robert Kirshner (December 2), and Marty Zombeck (December 16). Zombeck was also instrumental in organizing and bringing the Malin exhibit to the Griffin Center after its stint at the National Academy of Sciences.
Unfortunately for high-energy astrophysicists around the globe, the German X-ray satellite, ROSAT, which carried a high-resolution imager (HRI) built by the CfA, has ended its scientific life. ROSAT, which had already operated over four times longer than its planned mission, was inadvertently pointed toward the Sun earlier this fall, an act that caused irreparable damage to the HRI. While an international team of scientists and engineers worked feverishly to salvage the satellite, the last astronomical observations were made December 8 of Supernova 1987A, appropriately also the first object imaged after launch in 1990. The loss of ROSAT means astronomers will be unable to synchronize its observations with those of the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF), scheduled to be put into orbit next year. ROSAT did complete one of its main goals: surveying all the detectable x-ray sources in the sky, and a catalogue was published in 1996.