DEPARTMENT OF ASTRONOMY
Heber Doust Curtis became Director of the Observatories of the University and Chairman of the Department of Astronomy on October 1, 1930. Curtis had a clear directive and promise of financial support for developing a new site for an observatory and a new large telescope of world rank for astronomical research. Curtis died on January 9, 1942, just six months before reaching retirement age, without achieving any considerable progress toward completion of the tasks he had been hired to do. McGregor Fund of Detroit, however, had given the University of Michigan a disk of pyrex glass 2.5 meters in diameter for use in the construction of the reflecting telescope that Curtis had designed soon after becoming the Director of the Observatories.
Will Carl Rufus was made Acting Chairman to succeed Curtis. He served throughout the war years until reaching retirement furlough July 1, 1945. All of the members of the department served full time in war-related teaching and research and often were assigned to serve far from the campus and far from any University supervision. Rufus, however, assumed directorial duties with regard to the observatories and produced new designs and plans for the proposed large reflecting telescope. A part of Rufus's plans envisioned a cooperative development by the University of California and the University of Michigan, a type of organization that was to become popular in the postwar years under the name of "consortium." Perhaps Rufus's greatest achievement was the effecting of a complete integration of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory into the academic structure of the Department of Astronomy and the Literary College.
Page 124Allan Douglas Maxwell followed Rufus as Acting Chairman on July 1, 1945. He began the regrouping and reorganization of the department that would be required at the end of the war and on the appointment of a Chairman and Director. On June 30, 1946, Maxwell resigned to accept an appointment at the United States Naval Observatory and Freeman Devold Miller was appointed as a Visiting Associate Professor to assume Maxwell's teaching duties for 1946-47. The observatories and the department, without a director or a chairman, attempted to continue their postwar reorganization throughout the 1946 summer, but most of their efforts were expended in a search for replacements to fill the vacant top positions. At Rufus's request for assistance in attracting suitable candidates, the University administration had allocated $100,000 for a new telescope to be constructed in the development of the area purchased for the Department of Astronomy in 1927. For administrative reasons the Observatory Purchase, the Stinchfield Woods, and the Newkirk Purchase were combined in 1945 into a single holding to be called the Stinchfield Woods under the supervision of the School of Forestry with astronomy granted suitable sites for telescopes.
An end to the search for a director and chairman was reached in 1946 when Leo Goldberg, Assistant Professor of Astronomy assigned to the McMath-Hulbert Observatory, was confirmed as Associate Professor of Astronomy, Chairman of the Department of Astronomy, and Director of the University Observatory. Robert Raynolds McMath had been appointed Director of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory in 1938, and he continued as Director with sole responsibility and authority to act for this part of the department after the appointment of Goldberg.
In the summer of 1946 the McGregor Fund asked the University and the department about intentions for the large disk given to the Observatories for use in a suitable telescope. Judge Henry Schoolcraft Hulbert, secretary of McGregor Fund, expressed dissatisfaction with the almost imperceptible progress of the preceding ten years, and suggested that in view of well-understood promises, the telescope construction should be started immediately and should be named in memoriam to Heber Doust Curtis. The Regents decided to return the 2.5 meter disk, given by McGregor Fund Page 125in January 1935, to the Fund with thanks and regrets that they could see no funds to pay the costs of an instrument of that size. McGregor Fund then agreed to contribute a total of $100,000 during fiscal years 1948-49 and 1949-50 toward construction and equipment leading to the installation of a much smaller telescope of advanced design in the Stinchfield Woods, the telescope to be named The Heber Doust Curtis Memorial Telescope.
The death of Robert Patterson Lamont, February 18, 1948, donor of the Lamont-Hussey Observatory, Bloemfontein, South Africa, and principal financial supporter of its activities and the research of the Observatory in Ann Arbor, caused a careful review of the methods of raising money for the support of astronomy in the University. Throughout the years the University had paid the full costs of astronomical instruction, but almost none of the cost of doing research and operating the observatories. Noninstructional activities were paid for by donations from individuals or foundations.
At the end of the war in 1945 the armed forces began to offer grants and award contracts in support of astronomy and, somewhat later, similar allocations of government money began to be made by agencies created specifically for such tasks. The Office of Naval Research became one of the main supports for astronomical research nationally, and the Michigan Observatories and the Department of Astronomy moved rapidly to get money for their research programs. Important support, in amounts larger than any previously available, came from the Navy for studies in ultraviolet and infrared solar spectroscopy. The National Science Foundation, after its creation in 1950, replaced the ONR as the main source of funds for the support of astronomical research and advanced instruction.
A new research program supported by the Rackham School of Graduate Studies was started at the Lamont-Hussey Observatory in 1948. It was a cooperative project, "The Michigan-Mount Wilson Southern H-alpha Survey" for spectroscopic observation of stars not visible from North America.
Another change in direction of the department, resulting from postwar reorganization occurred in the arrangements Page 126for undergraduate instruction. Earlier departmental policy had decreed that every academic member of the staff from instructor through the rank of professor should teach at least one section of the beginning courses each term in the academic year. This policy was changed in 1947 and responsibility for undergraduate instruction was assigned to a very small number of staff members, with most of the academic staff assigned to advanced instruction and research. The postwar years brought a large increase in the number of undergraduate elections in astronomy.
Infrared solar spectroscopy, supported by ONR, was so successful that specific instruments were designed for its promotion at the McMath-Hulbert Observatory, the Mount Wilson Observatory (under McMath-Hulbert supervision) in California, and finally a novel solar vacuum spectroscope was designed and constructed to embody new and improved components and techniques developed during the course of the Navy-sponsored programs. Funds for the new instruments were obtained from private donors; thus, the vacuum spectroscope at the McMath-Hulbert Observatory, completed in 1955, was one of the last major astronomical instruments built entirely without assistance from government funding agencies.
From the early war years, in 1942, results from the McMath-Hulbert Observatory's programs, consisting of visual and photographic observation of the sun at frequent intervals whenever possible, had been increasingly demanded by various federal government bureaus, and the cost incurred in making continuous series of reports of changes on the sun was defrayed by government grants and contracts. Such observation and reporting gradually became the largest part of McMath-Hulbert's observing activity, and efforts were made to supplement visual and photographic observations with data on solar activity obtained in the radio region of the spectrum. In the interest of more nearly complete coverage of the sun's changes, new facilities were developed during the 1955-56 year for studies in solar radio astronomy. A cooperative program of the Department of Astronomy and the Department of Electrical Engineering, under contract with the Office of Naval Research, supervised by Frederick Theodore Haddock, Jr., was established. A precision radio reflecting telescope, 8.54 meters in diameter, designed primarily for solar Page 127observations supplemental to the observations of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory, was installed in the Stinchfield Woods in 1955. A larger radio reflector, 26 meters in diameter, began operation in broadly-based radio astronomical study on the same site in 1958, but the 8-meter telescope remained available for solar research.
In 1954, after providing leadership for many years in United States astronomy in the Finance Committee of the American Astronomical Society, and after serving as President of the Society (1952) McMath was asked by the National Science Board through the National Science Foundation to be chairman of a committee for the study of "the astronomical needs of the United States" both internally and relative to astronomy world-wide. The work was begun and largely carried forward at the McMath-Hulbert Observatory. It was completed in Ann Arbor, October 27, 1957, at a meeting held for the formation of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy — an Arizona corporation. Thus, in the month of October, 1957, two events — the launching of the first successful artificial satellite of the Earth (October 5, 1957) — and the incorporation of AURA, Inc., started a transformation of astronomy into its modern aspect.
The corporation was created to use National Science Foundation money and other funds as available, for implementation of the recommendations of the McMath Committee. The principal recommendation proposed the establishment of a large astronomical observatory, primarily based in Arizona, but also at other locations both within and outside the United States. McMath became the first Chairman of the Board of Directors of AURA, Inc., and continued to give close and steady attention to all phases of the project until his health failed in 1961. Astronomy world-wide has benefitted enormously from the efforts of the University, its Department of Astronomy, McMath and his colleagues in the formation of AURA, Inc., a prototype of modern astronomical organization, and its three observatories, the Kitt Peak National Observatory, the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, and the Sacramento Peak Observatory. On November 2, 1962, AURA, Inc. named the world's largest solar telescope, located on Kitt Peak, The Robert R. McMath Solar Telescope.
Page 128The Lamont-Hussey Observatory in South Africa has been an important source of research data internationally but it has played a relatively insignificant role in astronomy within the University. The Regents, therefore, voted on April 24, 1953, to discontinue operation of the observatory and to provide for the return of the large objective (0.69 meters in diameter) and its auxiliaries to Ann Arbor. Action on this Regental decision was deferred indefinitely, however, because of requests from the Lowell Observatory and other groups for use of the telescope.
On June 11, 1954, the Regents approved a proposed razing of the Observatory Residence, built in 1868. This continued a slow erosion of the Observatory properties in Ann Arbor that had begun early in the 1900s.
Goldberg resigned in February 1960, but deferred the effective date until August 31, 1960. Haddock was appointed Director of the University of Michigan Radio Astronomy Observatory, July 1, 1961, and Orren Cuthbert Mohler was appointed Director of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory, September 1, 1961. On February 1, 1962, Mohler was designated Chairman of the Department of Astronomy and Director of the University of Michigan Observatories.
By Regental decision the Department of Astronomy was required to vacate its offices, classrooms, and telescopes on the site that had been dedicated to astronomy for one hundred and ten years. Office and classroom space in a new Physics-Astronomy Building was allocated to the department, but the future for the Observatory created by Tappan in 1854 and extended by Hussey in 1905 became uncertain. In 1963 the department's astronomical observation was performed mostly at observatories remote from the campus; indeed, many research observations were being made from space vehicles in orbits around the Earth. Only the 0.95-meter-aperture cassegrainian telescope remained useful at the original location, although for many years plans had been made for its removal or replacement. In July, 1963, applications to various agencies for funds to install the 0.95-meter reflector, or to build a new and better telescope on a new site were approved.
With the deferral of the return of the Lamont-Hussey Page 129Observatory to Ann Arbor, this Observatory reopened for full-time research in May, 1963. It resumed its mission of measuring southern double stars.
In 1966 efforts to relocate or replace the 0.95-meter telescope, still on its original location, had produced the beginning of construction of a new building in the Stinchfield Woods near the building for the Heber Doust Curtis Memorial Telescope. A new telescope, a reflector 1.3 meter in aperture eventually was commissioned in this new building in 1969. These additions to the department were paid for from various sources. The University of Michigan paid most of the cost of the housing for the telescope, and most of the cost of the telescope was paid by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
The Heber Doust Curtis Telescope was used extensively in the summer and early autumn of 1967, but in October 1967, this excellent instrument was moved from the Stinchfield Woods to the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, near Vicuna, Chile. The telescope was moved as part of a leaselend agreement between AURA, Inc., and the University of Michigan, whereby all the costs of moving the telescope, refurbishing it, and installing it in working condition in Chile were paid by AURA. The University of Michigan was assigned 122 nights observing time per year by the Cerro Tololo Observatory as the rental fee for the use of the telescope. All costs for the daily operation of the telescope are now (1975) paid by Cerro Tololo.
Observing activities were definitely moving far from the University's campus. On March 9, 1967, an instrument designed and constructed within the University was placed in an orbit around the Earth on board NASA's Orbiting Solar Observatory, III. The McMath-Hulbert Observatory thus became the third astronomical observatory in the United States to make observations via satellite. The University of Michigan's Radio Astronomy Observatory had four instruments on orbiting space craft by the end of 1967.
Mohler relinquished the Chairmanship of the department and the Directorship of the University Observatories on September 1, 1970, but continued service as Professor of Astronomy and Director of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory. Page 130William Albert Hiltner was appointed Professor of Astronomy and Chairman of the Department of Astronomy.
The growth of AURA and its observatories had reached a nearly dominant position in astronomy in the United States and this success caused questioning about the appropriateness of observational equipment on the campus of any university or college. Political considerations led to an ultimate closing of the Lamont-Hussey Observatory on March 1, 1972. The Observatory had gradually resumed active work in 1963 despite the Regental action of 1953, but increasing attention to the political implications of the connection between the University of Michigan and the Lamont-Hussey Observatory in South Africa brought about the return to Ann Arbor in 1972 of the large objective, auxiliary instruments, and records; and the return to the Municipality of Bloemfontein of the observatory buildings and the land they occupied.
Policies of AURA, Inc. facilitated assigning a location for the 1.3-meter telescope, installed in the Stinchfield Woods in 1969, on land leased for the Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona. In 1974 permission was granted by the National Science Foundation to relocate the telescope on Kitt Peak. Construction was started in November. The telescope was moved and put into operation on the Arizona location in May 1975, with the express purpose of optical support for the SAS-3 X-ray Satellite. The costs of the relocation and improvement of the telescope and supporting facilities came from contributions to the consortium of the University of Michigan, Dartmouth College, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology that was created to operate the telescope. The new institution was named the McGraw-Hill Observatory as an acknowledgment of the principal donor.