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1. Astronomy (1942)
The Department of Astronomy at the University of Michigan has a long and honorable record. A professorship of astronomy, “didaxia of astronomia,” was among the thirteen “didaxiim” proposed in the Act of 1817 establishing “the catholepistemiad, or university, of Michigania.” A professorship of natural philosophy, a subject under which astronomy has an important place, was provided for in Ann Arbor in 1837. In the first published announcement of the University in 1843-44, George Palmer Williams, one of the two members of the original faculty, appeared as Professor of Natural Philosophy and Mathematics.
Winfield Smith (’46, A.M. ’49) reported that in the beginning no science was taught “except Mathematics by Professor Williams,” but in the first Catalogue, under the general heading “Mathematical and Scientific Studies,” Davison Olmsted’s Astronomy, an American text first published in 1839, was listed with the work required of juniors. In the Catalogue of 1844-45 astronomy was first listed as a separate subject; it was given in the third term of the junior year. Members of the class of 1849, a half-century after graduation, boasted that they were “the boys who calculated eclipses of the moon from the desk of Williams, the Paternal.” His biographer, the Honorable James V. Campbell, said that Williams excelled as a teacher of astronomy and in spite of meager appliances excited much enthusiasm in that pursuit. As early as 1849 the Board of Regents made an official plea for astronomical instruments.
When the University’s teaching program was completely revamped in 1852-53 at the opening of the Tappan administration, astronomical studies were given particular emphasis (see Part I: Tappan Administration). A scientific curriculum leading to the bachelor of science degree was introduced parallel with the classical course, and advanced undergraduate and graduate studies were attempted. The new scheme would, it was announced, “require the erection of an Observatory, a large increase of our library and our philosophical apparatus, and additional Professors.” Astronomy was listed in the scientific course and also among the graduate subjects, but there was a blank beneath the title “Professor of Astronomy and Civil Engineering,” and it was explained that both subjects were temporarily included, so far as was practicable, in the study of mathematics.
Immediately after Tappan’s inauguration a special fund for the Astronomical Observatory was begun. It grew with surprising rapidity, and the Observatory became the outward and visible indication that the new instructional program was under way. In the course of the year the architect was authorized to draw up the plans, and the President arranged for the construction of astronomical instruments in New York and Berlin. (A separate account of the acquisition of physical properties for astronomical instruction and research at the University, including lands, buildings, and equipment, is given in Part III: Astronomical Observatories at Ann Arbor.)
President Tappan offered the position of professor of astronomy and director of the Observatory first to Professor W. A. Norton of Yale College and then to Dr. B. A. Gould of Boston, but both declined. In the course of these negotiations Professor Haven called the President’s attention to Professor Alexander Winchell, of the University of Alabama, and vouched for his ability to manage the astronomical program as well as to teach the natural and physical sciences and engineering. Winchell was engaged to come in January, 1854, as Professor of Physics and Civil Engineering, however, and the search for an astronomer continued.
The President was in correspondence at the time with Dr. Franz F. E. Brünnow of Berlin, who, with Professor J. F. Encke, was supervising the construction of astronomical instruments for the University. Brünnow expressed his enthusiastic admiration of the meridian circle and said he would envy the astronomer who would have the good fortune to use it. Tappan conceived the idea of bringing him to Michigan. He consulted American astronomers, and they bore unanimous testimony to Brünnow’s eminent qualifications. Gould, however, advised against the appointment because he doubted the wisdom of engaging foreign professors to teach in American universities. Tappan ruled otherwise. He claimed that “the republic of letters overleaps national boundaries,” and that if the growth of a finer native scholarship could be fostered by the importation of an eminent foreigner “even a peculiar national interest” would be served. Moreover, because the Observatory ranked high in the perfection of its instruments, its management would require a master hand.
Franz Friedrich Ernst Brünnow (Ph.D. Berlin ’43) was thirty-three at the time he was offered the position of Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory at Ann Arbor in 1854. He was a native of Berlin, and the son of a privy councilor of state. In the University of Berlin he was the favorite pupil of Encke and one of the notable group — including Galle, Bremiker, and D’Arrest — that had gathered about that great astronomer. He was present when Neptune was first recognized, and his notification of its discovery was one of the first to reach England. After serving as assistant to Encke in the Royal Observatory of Berlin he was in 1847 appointed Director of Bilk Observatory, near Düsseldorf, and in 1851 he returned to the Royal Observatory, succeeding Galle as First Assistant to the Director. In the meantime (1848) he published his Mémoire sur la comète de Vico, which brought him the gold medal of the Royal Institute of the Netherlands. He had contributed papers on the orbits of minor planets and comets to the Astronomische Nachrichten, and was the first astronomer to calculate the tables of the asteroids. Humboldt was greatly interested in his career; he urged Brünnow to accept the Michigan offer and looked forward to the contributions he would make in the New World.
The young man’s acceptance, according to rumor perhaps apocryphal, was stimulated by a desire to escape personal pursuit. Encke had three daughters, who were fine girls and excellent hausfrauen, but they unfortunately lacked personal beauty. Encke’s attachment for Brünnow extended to a desire to have him for a son-in-law. The wilds of the New World offered Brünnow a means of escape; but he later became the son-in-law of President Tappan.
Brünnow reached Ann Arbor in July, 1854. That fall, as the Catalogue of 1854-55 announced, the Observatory building was completed, the transit mounted, and the astronomer had begun his observations. A higher, or “university,” course in astronomy was added to the curriculum, and the Observatory instruments were available to students prepared to use them.
But though Brünnow’s arrival had been much heralded, his introduction to Ann Arbor was not free from embarrassment. Attacks on President Tappan’s “Prussianism” became more pointed. The Detroit Free Press commented that the Regents had brought an assistant from the “Royal Observatory of Prussia” to take charge of the “Royal Observatory at Ann Arbor” (Perry, p. 206). Students complained that they could not understand Brünnow’s lectures. Apparently undisturbed, he quietly proceeded with his work.
When the Walker meridian circle arrived from Berlin in September, 1854, he tested it for systematic errors, and, according to one reviewer, his published table of corrections for this instrument, computed for every fifth degree in position, is perhaps not to be surpassed for thoroughness by anything similar in the whole range of astronomical literature. The sidereal clock and other instruments were installed, but serious difficulties were encountered in the construction and installation of the large telescope from New York — first a long delay, then the temporary use of a loaned instrument, the rejection of the telescope when delivered, revision of the contract, and finally, in March, 1856, a new campaign for funds.
Brünnow soon attacked the problem of “raising up native astronomers,” in accordance with President Tappan’s expectations. Although an American astronomer needed systematic training in which higher courses in theory should be correlated with practice in the use of instruments under expert guidance, such training was not provided by the only other observatories in the United States that had comparable equipment — Washington, Cincinnati, and Harvard.
At the University of Michigan the basic undergraduate course in astronomy was given early in the junior year. As a senior the student might enroll upon a two-year program of advanced study, which was only briefly referred to in the Catalogue during Brünnow’s first two years at Michigan, but was announced in some detail for the year 1856-57:
- An introductory course, with general regard to the History of Astronomy.
- Spherical Astronomy and theory of the instruments.
- Calculation of orbits of the celestial bodies.
- Numerical calculus; theory of intergrolutions; evolution of differentials and integrals from a series of numerical values; method of the least squares.
- Physical Astronomy; calculation of special and general perturbations of the heavenly bodies.
(The fact that “intergrolutions” for “interpolations” could appear in print, in the description of Course 4, is an interesting side light on the newness and strangeness of the subjects treated, and perhaps also on the unfamiliar script of Brünnow.)
His Lehrbuch der sphärischen Astronomie had won wide acceptance and had been translated into French, Russian, Italian, and Spanish, and his Tables of Flora was published in Berlin in 1855. His professional ability, already established in Europe, was soon recognized in America and helped bring the University of Michigan a reputation for scientific achievement.
As early as March, 1857, Cleveland Abbe wrote to “every astronomer in the country,” inquiring about courses of study in astronomy and practice with astronomical instruments, and was told to study in Ann Arbor if he could not go to one of the famous European universities. According to Robert S. Woodward it was Brünnow who introduced in America before 1860 the methods of “the illustrious Gauss and the incomparable Bessel,” the German astronomers who laid the foundation of modern spherical and observational astronomy. From Brünnow are descended directly some of the most distinguished American astronomers.
His influence upon American scholarship has been compared by Professor Castle of Harvard to that of Agassiz. J. McKeen Cattell has also noted the parallel:
… At nearly the same time Agassiz came from abroad to Harvard and Brünnow to Michigan. We all know the list of distinguished naturalists trained under Agassiz … From Michigan have come, as is not so well known, one-fourth of our distinguished astronomers.
(Quoted in Mich. Alum., 22 : 6.)
The University has always honored and maintained the tradition, established in Brünnow’s administration, that training future astronomers is one of the principal functions of the professor of astronomy and director of the Observatory.But although gifted students were attracted and the lectures were of high quality, the enrollment was not large. In one course Brünnow lectured to a single student. When he was asked, “Why do you devote so much time to so small a class?” he replied, “That class consists of Watson.” Later events showed that his high estimate of this particular student was fully justified. Professor Andrew D. White years afterward remarked, “The best audience any professor ever had in this University was the audience of Dr. Brünnow when he was lecturing to his single pupil, Watson” (Adams, p. 13).
James Craig Watson (’57, Ph.D. Leipzig ’70, LL.D. Columbia ’77) was born in Ontario in 1838. When he enrolled in the University as a freshman in 1853 his home address was Scio, in the township west of Ann Arbor. He obtained the bachelor’s degree at the age of nineteen. During his undergraduate days he mastered Laplace’s Mécanique céleste, translated Prechtl’s Praktische Dioptrik, and made a four-inch achromatic telescope. Prechtl’s work contained instructions for grinding, polishing, and mounting such an instrument, but it appears from Watson’s student notebook that he had also appealed directly to Henry Fitz of New York, maker of the large telescope for the University, and had received a letter from Fitz containing instructions for the process. Watson’s notebook gives evidence of thorough training in mechanics, optics, and astronomy at the University.
Brünnow was the teacher not only of Watson, but also of Cleveland Abbe (College of the City of New York ’57, Ph.D. ibid. ’95, LL.D. Michigan ’88), founder of the United States Signal Service, of Orlando B. Wheeler (A.B. and B.S. ’62, C.E. hon. ’79), and of Asaph Hall, Sr., who discovered the two satellites of Mars and whose son was in charge of the Department of Astronomy from 1892 to 1905.
In addition to his scientific achievements, Brünnow’s quiet simplicity, fine spirit, and musical accomplishments won many friends on the faculty and caused those “who knew him best to love him most.” Nevertheless, his administration was full of difficulties. The antagonism aroused against “Prussianism” in the University continued in the form of merciless but largely anonymous criticism of the President and Brünnow. The Observatory drained money from the fund faster than it could be obtained from subscribers, and as early as 1856 the Observatory debt was a source of serious annoyance. The young astronomer’s interests were even more closely allied with those of the President by his marriage in 1857 to Rebecca Lloyd Tappan, the President’s daughter; his trip to Europe, for which he obtained a leave of absence from March to October of that year, is referred to in Alexander Winchell’s journal as his “wedding tour.” While in Berlin Brünnow may have confided to his old friend Humboldt his difficulties as to the Observatory, for in a letter dated May 4, 1857, to the New York Evening Post, Humboldt wrote:
The supreme direction of an institute worthy of the States which move at the head of the civilization of the New World cannot be entrusted to more worthy hands. Attached heart and soul, like myself, to the prosperity, the grandeur, to the intellectual progress of your noble country, Mr. Brünnow will justify the sympathies solicited through your support…
(Winchell, MS “Scrapbook,” I: 2.)
Not until November, 1857, just after his return, was the large telescope by Fitz finally received and accepted as satisfactory; it was ready for use in December.In 1858 he began the Astronomical Notices, published at Ann Arbor, as a medium for the regular publication of observations and scientific investigations carried on at the Observatory, and also to furnish practical astronomers ephemerides of newly discovered comets and asteroids. In this as well as in the observational work he was ably assisted by his favorite pupil, Watson, who was assistant observer during the two years after his graduation in 1857. In 1859 Watson and DeVolson Wood, then Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, received the first master’s degrees that the University granted on examination.
Brünnow’s Tables of Victoria, a very complete work on the motion of this asteroid, involving a large amount of computation, was published in 1858. For this work the Regents placed $200 at the disposal of President Tappan. Appropriations were also made toward the expenses of the Astronomical Notices. The first article of Volume 1 of that publication was Brünnow’s “The General Perturbations and Elliptical Elements of Vesta,” another valuable contribution on the motion of the asteroids. This was followed by a paper on the “Oppositions of Vesta.” Watson contributed observations on comets and asteroids. Articles and observations were contributed from various observatories in this country, including Hamilton College, Dudley, Harvard, Naval, and L. M. Rutherford’s, also from several in Europe, including Bilk, Upsala, Hamburg, and Madrid. “On a Magnetic Break-circuit” describes a contribution by Brünnow to practical astronomy. In his words, “I hit upon the idea of using the attractive force of a small magnet connected with the pendulum.” The small break-circuit mechanism “was executed with great nicety” by R. F. Bond of Boston; it could be applied to the pendulum of any clock without making alterations of the clock necessary or disturbing its uniform rate. A mention of the new mechanism was followed by an article by Bond on his isodynamic escapement.
The disturbing criticisms continued — that the Observatory was too extravagant a project for a state university, that the department reached only a few students, and that they could not understand Brünnow’s English. He felt, however, that the success of the Observatory was assured, especially as it was to collaborate with two of the best American observatories in a great task, a large catalogue of stars, but he resigned in 1859 and went to Dudley Observatory, Albany, as Associate Director. His resignation was accepted apparently in good faith by the Regents, resolutions of commendation were passed, and the impression was given that he had left for the sake of a higher salary (see also Part I: Tappan Administration). He retained the directorship of the Observatory at Ann Arbor without salary, and offered to advise Watson, who was left in charge. At the same time, the Regents changed Watson’s title to Professor of Astronomy and Instructor in Mathematics, against the advice of President Tappan, who considered the professorship premature.
New troubles arose, chiefly as to the relative merits of published astronomical observations by Watson and Brünnow and as to Watson’s conduct of the Observatory. Watson’s contributions were characterized as routine observations which any assistant might make, whereas those of Brünnow, though fewer in number, were said to be more important and to have involved a larger amount of labor in computation. Watson replied that whereas Brünnow had eight published contributions between July, 1854, and September, 1858, he had twenty-one (one report gives twenty-eight), and that although some of them were of minor importance others were more valuable: he had reported the discovery of a comet and the independent though not earliest discovery of a new asteroid, Aglaia, and his paper, “The Orbit of Donati’s Comet,” in 1858, was accepted as authoritative.
Watson replied to the charges that no observations had been made in 1859-60, that he had failed to respond to telegraphic signals in longitude determination, and that students and others were not permitted to visit the Observatory. He pointed out that Brünnow had taught only a few courses and had had an assistant observer for routine work, whereas he, Watson, had none in 1859-60 and was carrying a heavy teaching load in mathematics and astronomy. He claimed that he had had to entertain visitors and that in spite of these handicaps observations had been carried on and computations had been made.
The Regents were kindly disposed toward Watson; at his request they appropriated funds for improving the building, and their resolution to restrict visitors to the Observatory to one night a month, although it was tabled, is also indicative of their sympathetic attitude.
Friends of the Observatory, however, especially the Detroit contributors, urged the Board of Regents to endeavor to induce Brünnow to return. The result was his reappointment at a higher salary ($1,500) to begin October 1, 1860. Watson was appointed Professor of Physics and Instructor in Mathematics at a salary of $1,000, which he declined at first but finally accepted. Brünnow’s return to Ann Arbor was mentioned in the Astronomical Notices, fourteen numbers of which had been published at Albany. Publication at Ann Arbor was resumed in October, 1860, and was continued through the issuance of the twenty-ninth and last number on March 18, 1862.
In the summer of 1860 Brünnow visited Peters at Hamilton College Observatory and with him observed a partial solar eclipse, recording the time of beginning and end.
In addition to the work on star positions in co-operation with Mitchell, Brünnow undertook to observe all double stars south of the equator visible at Ann Arbor, and to furnish regular observations on eight assigned asteroids, also observational data on all newly discovered asteroids and comets.
Arrangements were made to carry out meridian-circle observations in connection with Hamilton College for the determination of the longitude of the Detroit Observatory. The value derived by Brünnow in 1861 was 5h34m54s.87 W. The adopted value for Harvard, with which Hamilton had been connected, was revised later, and the longitude of the Walker meridian circle at Ann Arbor is now fixed at 5h34m55s.27 W. Brünnow’s value for the latitude was +42° 16’48.”0, in close agreement with the present adopted value +42°16’48.”7.
An article on flexure by Brünnow appeared in 1861. Star observations, however, constituted his chief work during the remainder of his period of service in Ann Arbor. At the end of President Tappan’s administration in 1863, Brünnow left for Germany, taking his star observations with him.
In the meantime Watson, as Professor of Physics and Instructor in Mathematics, had continued to contribute publications in astronomy, but not of an observational nature. In 1860 his Popular Treatise on Comets appeared. He disproved that “dry fogs” were caused by comets and branded Whiston’s attempt to account for the Biblical flood by their influence “the effect of a mind devoted to speculations.” He included discussion of a resisting medium, the nebular hypothesis, and the stability of the solar system, and concluded with general remarks on infinity and Omnipotence.
He became interested through Gould in the reduction of the Washington Zones, and devoted much time to this work.
His article, “On the Correction of the Elements of the Orbit of a Comet,” published in the American Journal of Science and Arts in 1863, later became the subject of attack.
While teaching at Michigan Brünnow had felt the need of an English text on spherical astronomy and had made arrangements to translate his own Lehrbuch der sphärischen Astronomie, but only after his return to Germany was he able to complete his translation, which was published in 1864. In the following year he became Astronomer Royal of Scotland and Andrews Professor of Astronomy at the University of Dublin. His son, Rudolph Ernst Brünnow, later became professor of oriental languages at Heidelberg University.
The administration of Watson as Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory began auspiciously in the fall of 1863. The resolution appointing him in August of that year lists, in his support, the leading astronomers in the United States, including Professor Elias Loomis of Yale College, Professor Benjamin Peirce of Harvard College, Dr. B. A. Gould of the United States Coast Survey, Professor William Chauvenet of Washington University, St. Louis, Joseph Winlock, the superintendent of the Nautical Almanac office, and Commander J. M. Gillis, of the United States Naval Observatory, Washington (R.P., 1837-64, p. 1062).
The Tappan party, however, was yet to be heard from. Watson was accused of plagiarism; the charge was made that his article “On the Corrections of the Elements of the Orbit of a Comet” in Silliman’s Journal was taken from Brünnow’s notes. Cleveland Abbe contributed a paper somewhat similar but less detailed, entitled, “On the Improvement of the Elements of a Comet’s Orbit: Brünnow’s Method,” and credited it to notes made in 1858 from Brünnow’s lectures. Watson’s contributions, however, continued to appear in the Journal.
There was another bone of contention in that the site of the Observatory was inaccessible and that its foundation was unsteady. Citizens of Ann Arbor advocated the removal of the Observatory to the campus. It was said that Brünnow before his resignation had favored this change of site, and Watson was represented as favorable, because he thought a better foundation might be had and that the proposed location would be more convenient and the instruments more useful. In 1865 the citizens of Ann Arbor subscribed $10,000 for the project and the city proposed to pay the Regents $10,000 for the building and the site. Tappan wrote from Berlin October 27, 1865, to Professor Edward P. Evans, of the Department of Modern Languages:
… Your account of Watson’s maneuvering is very amusing. And they really thought to blast my reputation by moving the Observatory! Every body knows … that I am responsible for everything respecting the Observatory excepting its location upon a hill. That was decided while I was absent in Europe, & I had absolutely nothing to do with it.
(Perry, p. 352.)
President Haven presented reasons for retaining the site, and the Regents were in favor of keeping the five acres of land. Watson joined these forces and made an appeal in behalf of the Observatory, including among its needs about $3,000 for changes in the building, an endowment of at least $10,000 for one or more assistants, and a publication fund, at least $10,000, for astronomical and meteorological contributions. Haven, in his report for 1866, called attention to the resources and the number of assistants of other observatories whose contributions to science during the preceding few years he intimated were not as great as those of the Detroit Observatory, and concluded:
Let the liberal friends of science in Detroit complete the work which they have so happily begun; let the building be enlarged and let the Observatory have an independent endowment of about $30,000, the interest of which will support the Director and pay for the printing of valuable observations and calculations and other papers, and the whole will be a perpetual and noble monument of the far-seeing liberality of its founders.
(P.R., 1866, p. 3.)
Watson proposed to present the subscription list in person to “as many of the solid men of Detroit as possible.” The Detroit editors took up the question. One, not entirely convinced, expressed a representative attitude:
… But, before the building is enlarged our citizens are interested in procuring its removal to a more suitable, central and getatablelocation. It has been for years conceded that a mistake was made in locating the Observatory.
(Winchell, MS, “Scrapbook,” II: 24.)
The President of the University and the Director of the Observatory won the argument. The citizens of Ann Arbor were also convinced upon the cancellation of their subscriptions. The Observatory building was enlarged, both cities having responded to the new appeal with $3,000 each, with the understanding that $500 from Ann Arbor would be used for roads (see Part I: Haven Administration).
The courses in astronomy offered in Watson’s time were similar to those given by Brünnow. In 1868-69 Descriptive Astronomy was included in the junior year of the classical, the scientific, the Latin and scientific, and the civil engineering programs of study. The special two-year program in higher astronomy was retained. In 1868-69 the description of two of the courses was somewhat changed; these appeared as “Numerical Calculus; Theory of Interpolation; Method of Least Squares” and “Physical Astronomy; Calculation of Special and General Perturbations of Planets; and Perturbations of Comets.” A revision of the special program in higher astronomy was announced for 1875-76. Only the general topics which would “give direction to the lectures” were listed. They were:
Formation of the Fundamental Equations of Motion. Integration of the Equations for Undisturbed Motion, and Determination of the Elements of the Orbit. Theory of Interpolation. Calculation of Ephemerides.
Calculation of the Orbits of the Celestial Bodies from Three or more Observations. Correction of the Elements. Combination of Observations by Method of Least Squares. Special and General Perturbations. Determination of Time, Latitude, and Longitude.
Theory of the Instruments.
(Cal., 1875-76, p. 75.)
A course especially for students of engineering, Spherical and Practical Astronomy, was introduced in 1878-79. In the same year physics and mathematics were made prerequisites, and the order in which courses in astronomy might be elected was designated. Watson’s general lectures in Astronomy 2 had to be preceded not only by Physics 1 but also by some elementary work in astronomy, “as Lockyer’s, Loomis’s, or White’s.”
Watson’s discovery of asteroids was one of his outstanding achievements. Soon after his appointment as Director he began the preparation of ecliptic star charts to use in this work. Although the charts were not entirely completed they served their chief purpose by providing fields for search and comparison stars for the measurement of motion in the discovery of twenty-two asteroids. Watson found more than one-fifth of the total number discovered between 1863 and 1877 (Eurynome to Clytemnestra). Juewa was discovered at Peking, China, during the transit-of-Venus expedition. For the discovery of six in 1868, an unprecedented feat, and three previously, he was awarded the Lalande prize by the French Academy in 1870.
Watson’s “bagging asteroids” became a well-known local phrase. An Eastern paper, the Providence Journal, Providence, Rhode Island, in 1871 contained an article with the following comment:
… Discovering asteroids is getting to be an every-day affair. One of the professors in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just received a gold medal from some European society for discovering nine of them … They are not of much account and gold medals might be more worthily bestowed.
(Chronicle, 2 : 57.)
This was termed “sour grapes” by his admirers.He left a fund with the National Acaddemy of Science to provide for computing and publishing tables of his asteroids. The distinguished theoretical astronomer Simon Newcomb was on the first board of trustees of the Watson fund. The unruly asteroids provided a merry chase. Several proved so wayward that they eluded pursuit for many years.
In 1869 Watson accepted the supervision of work committed to him by Professor Benjamin Peirce of Harvard, Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey, on the improvement of lunar tables for use in calculations for the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac. Existing moon tables at that time needed correction, especially for practical navigation. Meridian observations and star occultations provided more exact data to check improved theory. In his report to the president in 1872 Watson stated that the work on lunar theory had progressed well. Messrs. Kintner, Edgerton, Burton, Ritter, Baker, and Chute, all Michigan alumni, were engaged in computation under Watson’s direction at the expense of the United States Coast Survey. During five years’ work on the motion of the moon, the theories of Hansen and Peirce were compared with observations. The result was quite satisfactory, but was not published and is lost.
Watson had charge of the transit-of-Venus expedition to Peking, China, in 1874, which was his most important scientific commission. Two years before the event he was appointed astronomer-in-chief of the expedition by the United States Government and was granted a leave of absence for 1873-74. Several parties were sent out under the commission created by Congress. The scientific data obtained by the party to Peking is included in the volume on the Observations of the Transit of Venus, December 8-9, 1874. All four contacts were observed, although the times were somewhat uncertain because of thin clouds, unsteadiness of the image, the “black drop,” and the atmosphere of Venus. Mrs. James C. Watson called time and acted as recorder for her husband.
In 1875 Watson interrupted his return trip from the expedition to China to cooperate with Egyptian engineers in establishing a fundamental geodetic survey. For this service he accepted no monetary honorarium, but was decorated as Knight Commander of the Imperial Order of the Medjidieh of Turkey and Egypt.
He was one of the judges of instruments of precision at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, and prepared a comprehensive report on the horological instruments, which was published in book form in 1880. He was present when Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his newly invented telephone. The illustrious company present on this occasion included Sir William Thompson (Lord Kelvin) of England, the Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil, and Professor Joseph Henry of Princeton. One report states: “Most of the routine transmitting was done by Professor Watson of Ann Arbor, whose voice appeared to transmit most readily.”
In 1877 an appropriation of $1,500 was made for instruments to observe the transit of Mercury May 8, 1878. Watson appealed in person and secured from the Regents a sum not to exceed $200 for a building to enable him to locate at the Observatory one of the United States Government stations for the approaching transit. Part of the expense was paid by Congress, and Watson’s observations were reported to Washington. Instruments loaned by the government were returned, and an additional appropriation was secured to fit up the building and supplement the equipment for the students’ observatory, which was being used more and more.
Watson went on an eclipse expedition to Iowa in 1869, on another to Sicily in 1870, and on one to Wyoming in 1878. For the eclipse in 1869 Congress appropriated $5,000 for Professor J. H. C. Coffin, superintendent of the American Nautical Almanac, who established his station at Burlington, Iowa. Watson, stationed at Mount Pleasant, Iowa, made the preliminary computations and directed the program, personally observing the prominences, their form and distribution, and also the form and extent of the corona.
On the way to the Sicily eclipse he was entertained at the Greenwich Observatory by the astronomer royal, Professor Airy, and after the event received the degree of doctor of philosophy at Leipzig and was made a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Italy. Upon his return to Michigan his speeches on his travels in Europe were enthusiastically received.
The year 1878 centered Watson’s attention on the problem of “Vulcan,” a hypothetical planet within Mercury’s orbit, postulated by Leverrier to account for the discrepancy between the observed and computed advance in the longitude of the perihelion of Mercury. The “discovery” of Vulcan had been announced by Lescarbault, but later confirmation was lacking. Watson had obtained from Leverrier data with regard to Vulcan, including the computed times of its transit of the sun, and had made observations in search of the planet. For the solar eclipse July 29, 1878, Watson made a long trip to Separation, Wyoming, in the Rocky Mountains, to look for Vulcan. On that occasion he thought he observed one, or perhaps two, intramercurial planets. His observations were reported to Washington and also to the Astronomische Nachrichten. At the University this supposed discovery was accepted as “the most brilliant of the many achievements” of Watson. He had not only found Vulcan but also another planet. But the astronomical world was skeptical. Watson evidently was confident of the existence of Vulcan, for his later efforts were largely centered on this problem.
No one has yet given an adequate explanation of Watson’s supposed discovery of two intramercurial planets. He was a careful and experienced observer, yet all subsequent searches have failed to corroborate his observations, and the consensus of present-day opinion is that no such bodies are in existence; at least of the brightness noted by Watson. Extensive photographic observations made during modern eclipses, mainly by Lick Observatory, have never disclosed any small planet within the orbit of Mercury, though objects far fainter than those noted by Watson should invariably have been discovered. The only possible explanation seems to be that the objects he thought were intramercurial planets were in reality stars.
Watson was freely criticized by students and public for not giving them the opportunity to visit the Observatory and to look through the large telescope. A few students expected to specialize in astronomy, but many wished to look through the famous instrument.
At the beginning of his administration Watson evidently desired to meet this demand. In the fall of 1863 it was announced that the Observatory would be open to visitors every Friday night. This practice, however, was short-lived.
The class of 1869 claimed that there was a “want of enthusiasm apparent” when they were studying astronomy, and assigned it in part to the imperfect illustration which the subject received. “Not more than one-half of those engaged in the study ever entered the Observatory,” they said.
In 1874 the following complaint was chronicled:
… During the present week the Juniors have been granted the privilege of making this long-wished-for visit to the Observatory. A passing glance at pale Luna and girdled Jupiter was allowed each man as his row slided [sidled?] along the seat, and then his only sight of the big telescope during his four years’ course was over.
(Chronicle, 5 : 199.)
Watson’s absence while serving as a judge at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 was the occasion of a thrust by the Ann Arbor Courier at the “Accommodating (?) Director of our Observatory”:
… If our “star-gazer” has too much to do [to admit visitors], which is possible, if he be not only director of the observatory, but director of the planetary system and Centennial as well, might he not at least on Centennial years have some assistance …
(Ann Arbor Courier, May 26, 1876.)
The students who declared themselves the sufferers at that time were of the class of 1877; they had seen the Observatory “only afar off.” An appeal by the students helped the situation within the University, but so great was the complaint on the behalf of the taxpayers that a committee of the state legislature took up the question. This committee, however, justified his refusal to admit miscellaneous visitors.As juniors the class of 1879 showed more interest in the subject. They were “sworn admirers of Professor Watson and his mode of teaching” and looked on astronomy “as the most pleasant work of the year.”
Student elections in his courses were undoubtedly influenced by the wide acceptance of his Theoretical Astronomy, upon which his reputation as a writer was chiefly based. This authoritative work was completed in 1867 and published in 1868; in 1869-70 twelve seniors were enrolled in the advanced work, using it as a textbook. Two editions had been published in the United States and one in England since its first appearance, and it was used as a text at Oxford, Leipzig, Upsala, Breslau, and Utrecht. It is a complete compilation and digest of the theory and method of orbital determination. In his preface Watson traced the historical development of the subject from the time of Newton’s discovery of the law of gravitation and gave credit to the chief contributors to date, including Brünnow, but, with very few exceptions, specific credit was not given throughout the text. Watson covered the whole field very thoroughly and drew pertinent material from every available source, but his great power of assimilation made it all his own. His ability to adapt theory to method and arrange complicated problems in convenient form for solution remains unexcelled.
Watson advocated and practiced the lecture method and in this way contributed to the adoption of the elective system in the University.
His teaching methods were “somewhat peculiar,” and the student response varied accordingly. William H. H. Beadle (’61, ’67l, LL.D. ’02) has reported:
… He taught individuals better than classes. He was selective in method, and gave chief attention to those who showed aptness and efficiency. The more one loved the subject the closer Watson was to him. Due to his great celerity in the use of mathematics and enthusiasm for astronomy only comparatively few kept up with his lead.
(Mich. Alum., 9 : 10-11.)
He was a computer of such remarkable skill and rapidity that he is reported to have computed the elliptic elements of an orbit at a single sitting, and on one occasion in a trial of skill he defeated a professional calculator of the lecture platform.President Angell placed a high estimate on Watson’s achievements. Regarding his pedagogic methods the President said:
In teaching he had none of the methods of the drill master. But his lecture or his talk was so stimulating that one could not but learn and love to learn by listening. Sometimes while discussing an intricate problem he would suddenly have an entirely new demonstration flash upon his mind as by inspiration and then and there he would write it out upon the blackboard.
(Angell, p. 232.)
Other estimates agree with this. One class expressed a preference to hear him rather than use a text. Perhaps there was another reason: he was not exacting in recitations or examinations. He is said to have passed on final examination an entire class, including one member who had died shortly after enrollment. His lectures before the whole student body attracted special attention. Sophomores enjoyed giving the freshmen extravagant expectations regarding the personal appearance of “Tubby,” whose rotund form, ruddy face, and full voice contributed to his popularity. Frequently there was a large attendance at his public lectures, as after his return from Peking — he had to repeat one travelogue to meet popular demand — but when one of his scientific lectures ran to extreme length, the suggestion was made that some would rather have gone twice.Hinsdale comments that astronomy was one of the two fields in which the University’s advanced work previous to 1878 really deserved the name of graduate study. It was the “old astronomy,” a study chiefly of the positions and motions of the heavenly bodies, that was taught, although spectrum analysis had been placed on a scientific basis in 1859 and later completely revolutionized the study of astronomy by the introduction of astrophysics. As early as 1870, however, special attention was called to the need of a spectroscope, but many years were to pass before this urgent need was supplied.
Despite the Observatory’s international reputation Watson was frequently hampered in his efforts to obtain instruments, assistants, and computers. In 1876 President Angell reported to the Regents:
It is much to be regretted that an Observatory at which so much work is done, giving a wide reputation to the University and making most valuable contributions to science, is not provided with an adequate fund for the payment of assistants and computers, and for the publication of full reports of the labor accomplished.
(P.R., 1876, p. 8.)
Watson’s request for assistants and funds for publication in the fall of 1878 met with some success; John Martin Schaeberle (’76e) was made an assistant at $500 and another man was appointed for mechanical work and janitor service.Watson was greatly interested in the offer of the directorship of Washburn Observatory, newly established at the University of Wisconsin; there he would have the use of a new 15 1/2-inch Clarke refractor and a prospective solar observatory in his search for Vulcan. A committee of the Board of Regents reported in 1878:
… Professor Watson has done and is doing a large amount of work in the field of original research and computation, not coming strictly within the scope of his work of instruction, and which he has hitherto performed voluntarily and without consideration.
(R.P., 1876-81, p. 317.)
In an effort to retain his services the Regents unanimously passed a resolution to support and develop the Observatory and increased his salary from $2,200 to $2,700. A local paper complained that this was $500 more than any other professor in the University received, and ridiculed the “artful cry” that “the University must not lose Watson,” which had been raised when it was rumored, after his trip to Wisconsin, that he had been offered $3,200 and $2,000 for an assistant.Nevertheless, Watson left. He apparently made a tentative arrangement in October, 1878, and resigned February 7, 1879. On March 25 his successor, Mark Walrod Harrington (’68, A.M. ’71, LL.D. ’94), was appointed, his service to begin October 1. Watson died in November, 1880, less than two years after his departure; his illness was brought on by exposure while he was superintending construction of the astronomer’s residence in Madison. The funeral and memorial services for him were held in Ann Arbor.
Harrington had been connected with the University in one capacity or another from 1868, the date of his graduation, until 1876. He was Assistant Curator of the Museum and also taught a number of subjects, including mathematics, geology, zoology, and botany. In 1870-71 his instructorships included French, but he was released from this duty.
In the summer of 1871 he went to Alaska as astronomical assistant on an expedition of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, and on his return in December, 1872, presented the University with about two hundred and fifty botanical specimens, nearly one hundred geological specimens, and a few ethnological specimens. He taught in the Department of Geology until 1874 and in the Department of Zoology and Botany until 1876-77, when he was absent on leave to attend the University of Leipzig. The next year he resigned and went to China as Professor of Astronomy in the Cadet School of the Foreign Office at Peking, but returned to America in 1878 because of ill health. In 1878-79 he taught at the University of Louisiana.
The measurement of requirements for the bachelor’s degree by actual count of class and laboratory hours (the “credit system”) went into effect in 1878-79, the year before Harrington came. Early in his administration the time devoted to Astronomy 2, General Astronomy, was extended from one to three meetings a week, and a new course in meteorology, Astronomy 5, was added.
Under Harrington more astronomical instruments for the use of students were obtained, as well as meteorological equipment, and the practice of issuing regular meteorological reports was begun. Tridaily records of the barograph, thermograph, and anemograph were reported to the State Board of Health at Lansing.
Schaeberle, Assistant in the Observatory, continued the observations (chiefly with the Walker meridian circle) which he had begun under Watson. Positions of 155 stars he had earlier observed were published at the Washburn Observatory at the beginning of Watson’s administration there. Appended to Harrington’s report was a letter from Schaeberle, who summarized the results he had obtained at the University between October 1, 1879, and January 1, 1881, as follows (Harrington, p. 20):
|Stars for clock and instrumental corrections||561|
|249 stars for latitude work||548|
|Struve’s double stars||397|
With the equatorial telescope, observations were made on twenty-eight nights, chiefly on comets and comparison stars, some of which, not in catalogues, had to be observed with the meridian circle. Two comets were discovered at Ann Arbor during this fifteen-month period. One had been previously seen, but one which Schaeberle found in April, 1880, was new. He added another in 1881. The astronomical results which he and Harrington obtained appeared in various scientific publications.Harrington had a short leave of absence in the fall of 1881 in order to do astronomical work on the Pacific coast. Further changes were made in the announcement of courses, and Schaeberle was given teaching duties as well as observational work.
In 1882 the Observatory participated in the work on the great comet of that year. This comet attracted wide attention, not only because of the remarkable luminosity which made it visible by day, but also because opinion as to its identity was divided. Some held that it was identical with the great comet of 1843 and Comet 1880 I and that the periods had been shortened by passage through the solar corona at a distance of only 300,000 miles from the surface, and predicted still further decrease and final fall into the sun. After perihelion the nucleus divided into four parts and even fainter components were seen. The view was then accepted that these three comets were different but followed nearly the same track when close to the sun. Other comets have since been added to this famous group.
The greater part of Harrington’s published contributions was in the new field of meteorology rather than in astronomy. His work in establishing the American Meteorological Journal in 1884 and in serving as its editor until 1892 stimulated great interest and inspired investigations by others.
In 1883 “The Tools of an Astronomer,” an article by him, appeared in the Sidereal Messenger. His thesis is well stated: “Our proposition is: that in the progress of astronomy the instrumental art has led the science and has also led advances in the sciences nearest allied.” But, although he emphasized the progress which the application of the astronomical telescope, as well as of older instruments, had brought about, he only briefly described the application of the spectroscope and said nothing of its great possibilities.
Another of the publications by Harrington is an undated treatise of twenty-five pages, The Law of Averages, in which he describes the curve of frequency and gives an application of some of its properties. He omits the theory of the subject, and refers the reader to Merriman’s Method of Least Squares for additional rules to apply. Mathematical Theories of Planetary Motions, the translation of a German work by Dr. Otto Dziobek of Berlin-Charlottenburg, was begun in Ann Arbor by Harrington in collaboration with William Joseph Hussey, but was not published until 1892, when both had left the department.
In March, 1885, Harrington obtained a leave of absence for 1885-86 because of illness; in April classes were placed under Schaeberle, and he was made Acting Assistant Professor of Astronomy at a salary of $1,600.
Schaeberle continued his observational work until 1888, when he resigned and went to Lick Observatory, Mount Hamilton, California. William Wallace Campbell (’86e, Sc.D. ’05, LL.D. Wisconsin ’02), later president of the University of California, was then appointed Instructor in Astronomy, and held the position until he also went to Lick Observatory in 1891. Campbell, who had received his practical training as an astronomer under Schaeberle, carried on the observational work, chiefly on comets and their orbital determination, and in 1888 published his Elements of Practical Astronomy.
In June, 1891, Harrington was granted another leave of absence for the first semester of the coming year and William Joseph Hussey (’89e, Sc.D. Brown ’12), who for two years had been Instructor in Mathematics, was made Instructor in Astronomy at the same salary he had previously received, $900, and was placed in charge of the Observatory and of the Department of Astronomy. Harrington then went to Washington to reorganize the meteorological work of the government, and on July 1, 1891, became first Chief of the Weather Bureau.
The government work on the weather had formerly been under the Signal Service, where army discipline had been maintained. He was not a disciplinarian, and in the role of first civilian chief, with methods acquired in educational work, did not succeed as an executive. After four years he was removed from his position. Then he served for two years as president of the University of Washington. In September, 1898, he re-entered the Weather Bureau as director at San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was recalled six months later and stationed at New York, but retired in June, 1899, because of failing mental and physical health. Soon after retirement he wandered from home and no word came from him excepting a weird message or two and an occasional news item regarding a strange learned character working at menial labor in out-of-the-way places. He even wandered as far as China, the scene of earlier professorial service. In June, 1907, an applicant for shelter appeared at a police station in Newark, New Jersey, unable to identify himself or give an account of his wanderings. In the sanitarium where he was placed he acquired a reputation for great learning, which spread outside and was the means of his discovery by his wife and son in 1908. His condition showed some improvement, but he did not recover sufficiently to remain at home. He died October 9, 1926.
In the autumn of 1891, after Harrington’s departure from Ann Arbor, Hussey’s title was changed to Instructor in Astronomy and Acting Director of the Observatory. During the year some of the announced courses were not given; meteorology was dropped and has never been offered since that time in the Department of Astronomy. Hussey resigned in 1892 in order to go to Leland Stanford Junior University, and Asaph Hall, Jr. (Harvard ’82, Ph.D. Yale ’89), was appointed Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory.
Hall, unlike the second and third directors of the Observatory, was not Michigan-trained. He was the son of the famous Asaph Hall, astronomer, who had studied for a short time at Ann Arbor under Brünnow (see p. 445). Hall, Jr., came to the University from the United States Naval Observatory, where he had been assistant astronomer since 1882, with the exception of four years spent at Yale University.
The announced courses of instruction were continued with very slight change; they included General Astronomy, Spherical and Practical Astronomy, Theoretical Astronomy, and an extended practical course, Astronomy 9, to which only students who received special permission were admitted.
The new Director, whose father had urged him to do meridian-circle work when he came to Michigan, took an immediate interest in the condition of the instruments. Watson had not made regular use of the meridian circle. It was now put into good condition and re-examined for division errors to test Brünnow’s results. Brünnow’s elaborate series of observations of the Bradley stars made with this instrument had been taken to Europe. Hall resumed work on the Bradley stars, including some for latitude determination and latitude variation.
The need for regular publication of astronomical investigations conducted at the University was one which Hall recognized soon after he came to Ann Arbor. In the way of records very little could be found. Brünnow’s Astronomical Notices, begun in 1858, had been discontinued in March, 1862. Articles on the subsequent observation of comets and asteroids made here with the twelve-inch telescope by Brünnow, Watson, Schaeberle, Campbell, and Hussey were hard to find, since they were scattered through various astronomical and other scientific publications. Although Hall wished to establish a series of publications and succeeded in producing part of a volume, articles from the Observatory during his administration continued to appear in outside periodicals, chiefly the Astronomical Journal. Most of these writings were by Sidney Dean Townley (Wisconsin ’90, Sc.D. Michigan ’97).
A paper which Hall presented at the eighth annual meeting of the Michigan Academy in March, 1902, was published in 1904 by that organization, together with a reprint of pages 37-88 labeled “Transactions of the Detroit Observatory, University of Michigan, Part I. Determination of the Aberration Constant from Zenith Distances of Polaris Measured with the Walker Meridian Circle.” It contained a historical introduction regarding the Observatory and a brief section on the latitude and longitude, giving the values previously adopted. Then followed a general description of the Walker meridian circle and specific details regarding its various parts, including a redetermination of the errors of the divisions of the circles. An extensive series of observations on Polaris from April, 1898, to February, 1901, was recorded, and the data were combined by the method of least squares. This involved a large amount of computing, for which a grant was received from the Bache fund of the National Academy of Sciences. The value of the aberration constant obtained was 20.”683; this was rather large compared with the value 20.”47, which was adopted by the Paris conference of 1896 and is still in use (1942).
The determination of the latitude of the Walker meridian circle was inherent in Hall’s method of finding the aberration constant. He obtained +42°16′ 48.”78; from Hall’s meridian-circle observations Harriet Bigelow (Smith ’93, Ph.D. Michigan ’04) has obtained a value of +42°16’48.”76; the present adopted value is +42°16’48.”70.
Hall’s work on the aberration constant was the last he published at the Detroit Observatory. In 1905 he resigned to return to the United States Naval Observatory, where for the third time he held the position of assistant astronomer. He remained in the naval service until five years after the normal date of retirement; when he left the Naval Observatory in 1929 he held a professorship of astronomy with the rank of commander in the United States Navy. Full of enthusiasm and apparently in good health, he then began work as guest and volunteer observer at the Flower Observatory of the University of Pennsylvania, but in a few months was taken ill and died at League Island Naval Hospital in January, 1930.
William Joseph Hussey was called back to Ann Arbor in 1905 as Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory. In the first three years of his thirteen-year absence he had risen to a full professorship in Leland Stanford Junior University. He had later served as astronomer at Lick Observatory for nine and one-half years, and there had engaged in productive research on comets, asteroids, and other objects, especially double stars. By 1905 he had discovered 1,338 pairs. For the work on binaries in which Hussey and Robert G. Aitken had collaborated at Lick Observatory the Académie des Sciences in 1906 conferred the Lalande prize upon them both. In 1903, under the Carnegie Institution, Hussey had investigated sites in southern California, Arizona, and Australia suitable for the sixty-inch reflector, which was installed at Mount Wilson in accordance with his recommendation. Mount Wilson later became the site also of the famous 100-inch reflector.
In 1905 Hussey went to Egypt in charge of the Lick Observatory expedition to observe the total solar eclipse on August 30, and returned to Ann Arbor in October to begin his new duties.
Here he inaugurated a new era of progress. The reconstruction of Observatory instruments and the making of new parts were added to the work done at Ann Arbor when the Observatory Shop was established in 1906, and E. J. Madden, a skilled machinist from Pasadena, California, was brought here as instrumentmaker. E. P. Pegg and Henry J. Colliau were also appointed to the shop staff, and these three gave valuable service in renovating the old twelve-inch refractor.
In June, 1906, an addition to the Observatory building was authorized, and the Regents made their first appropriation toward enabling the department to do the spectrographic research that has brought new astronomical fame to the University. In January of the next year Hussey asked for more mechanics, the purchase of additional grounds, and the establishment of a United States Weather Bureau station. Through President Angell’s endeavors the Weather Bureau station, which is still active, was established. The Regents authorized the appointment of three mechanics and interested themselves in the request for lands. Work on the designs for the large new telescope proceeded at the Observatory under Hussey’s direction.
Until the fall of 1907 the new Director was alone in his teaching duties in the department. In 1906-7 he offered seven courses of instruction: the Method of Least Squares and General Astronomy, the Solar System, were the two courses offered in the first semester only; General Astronomy, the Stellar System, was taught only in the second semester; and there were four courses given each semester — Spherical and Practical Astronomy, Theoretical Astronomy, Advanced Practical Astronomy, and Advanced Theoretical Astronomy.
Hussey’s plans for the department included not only the continuation of instruction in theoretical and practical astronomy begun by Brünnow, for which the University had long been noted, but the addition of courses in modern astronomy, including astrophysics. A correspondence begun in March, 1907, resulted in the appointment of Ralph Hamilton Curtiss (California ’01, Ph.D. ibid. ’05) as Assistant Professor of Astrophysics, to begin in October, 1907. While holding a fellowship at Lick Observatory, Curtiss had been associated with Hussey and Aitken. Since 1905, in the position of astronomer at Allegheny Observatory, he had assisted in designing the spectrograph at that institution. In 1907-8 additional courses were introduced, including History of Astronomy, Variable Stars, and Astrophysics; these were all assigned to Curtiss, who also gave the Theory of Errors and Elementary Practical Astronomy. The following year Spectroscopic Binaries was added.
In 1908 the Students’ Observatory was moved to allow space for the addition in which the new telescope was to be placed. In the same year Robert P. Lamont made his initial gift of $1,000 toward the University’s large refracting telescope for a double-star survey in the Southern Hemisphere. The Lamont-Hussey Observatory at Bloemfontein, South Africa, “the fruition of one man’s generosity and another’s vision,” is described in a separate article (see Part III: Lamont-Hussey Observatory).
The single-prism spectrograph to be used with the new reflector arrived in January, 1909. In August, when the Observatory addition was complete except for the dome and the new seismological equipment had been installed, the Observatory began to keep a continuous seismological record. In 1910 the new forty-foot dome was put in place, in January, 1911, the large mirror was ready, and on January 31 the first spectrogram with the new instrument was obtained.
In June, 1911, Hussey sailed for Argentina. This came about as the result of an offer of the directorship of La Plata Observatory cabled to him in March, 1910, by President Gonzalez of the National University of La Plata. By the arrangement made meanwhile, Hussey was to accept the South American directorship and still retain his position at the University of Michigan, dividing his time between the two institutions, and Ralph Hamilton Curtiss became Assistant Director of the Observatory at Ann Arbor and was to have full charge during the Director’s absence. This arrangement continued for about five years.
The staff for instruction and research was permanently enlarged during Hussey’s directorship, and several changes took place. Will Carl Rufus (Albion ’02, Ph.D. Michigan ’15) came into the department as Instructor, and Richard Alfred Rossiter (Wesleyan ’14, Ph.D. Michigan ’23), who in 1919 was engaged as a telescope assistant, became Assistant Astronomer the next year, and in 1922 joined the teaching staff, is now Associate Professor and in charge of the Lamont-Hussey Observatory in Africa.
Courses of instruction were added from time to time as the department developed and needs were met. A course in navigation was introduced in 1917-18, chiefly for the benefit of men in the United States Naval Reserve units. Preparation for the ensign’s examination for deck officers was provided. One hundred and twenty students enrolled in this course under Curtiss in the second semester of 1917-18, and more than half of them later enlisted in the Naval Reserve or Naval Auxiliary Reserve Force. After the World War, elections in the navigation course decreased, but the course has been continued. The number of students electing courses in astronomy greatly increased during this administration, and reached a total of 650 in 1922-23. In 1924-25 it was stated in an article in the Michigan Alumnus that the department had fifteen times as many students as ithad had when Hussey’s administration began.
The low-dispersion spectrographic program instituted by Curtiss was devoted chiefly to the spectra of early-type stars with broad lines (Class B with emission lines) and has been followed consistently to the present time, although stars of other types have been included. The purpose of the program was early stated: “An effort to establish some classification which shall connect the spectra (of Class Be stars) more closely with a rational theory of stellar evolution.”
The Publications of the Observatory of the University of Michigan, a series begun in 1912, served as a means of recording and publishing the researches of staff and graduate students. Volume 1, Part 1, contained a general account of the Observatory and its equipment, including the new telescope just installed at Ann Arbor, by Hussey, a description of the single-prism spectrograph, by Curtiss, and an article on the registration of earthquakes at the Observatory, August 16, 1909 — January 1, 1912, by Walter Mann Mitchell (Pennsylvania ’02, Ph.D. Princeton ’05), Assistant Professor of Astronomy.
Part 2 of Volume 1 did not appear until 1915. It gave evidence of intensive work on the observational program, which involved not only Class Be stars, but also the early Potsdam velocity stars not known to be binaries, zone stars (35° to 40° north declination) to sixth visual magnitude, long-period variables, stars of Class R (some to photographic magnitude about 10.5), and selected spectroscopic binaries. Observations of the moon, of stars of Class N, Class O, and other classes, and of new stars, comets, and planets were also recorded, and in the same number were lists of doublestar observations made by Hussey at La Plata Observatory, a record of observations of comets and asteroids by Hussey and others both in Ann Arbor and at La Plata, and the Observatory’s earthquake records for 1912 and 1913.
Higher courses offered by the department and the facilities for research in astrophysics attracted many graduate students. Eleven persons completed their work for the doctor of philosophy degree in astronomy between 1915 and 1926, including Rufus, Rossiter, and Hazel Marie Losh. There were six master of arts degrees and five master of science degrees conferred for work in astronomy during the Hussey administration.
Volume 2 of the Publications of the Observatory was issued in 1916. In addition to six articles by Curtiss, mostly in continuation of his valuable work on Class Be stars, it contained papers by P. W. Merrill and B. H. Dawson and the doctoral dissertations of Laurence Hadley, Rufus, and Clifford C. C. Crump.
Hussey withheld publications of the Observatory until a sufficient number of articles was ready to constitute a volume. Volume 3 was published in 1923. The studies by Curtiss again constituted an important part, and there were contributions by C. C. Kiess, F. Henroteau, L. L. Mellor, and Rufus, who had all been on the staff sometime in the period since Volume 2 had appeared. The photographic reproduction of typical stellar spectra by Rufus has been used in many astronomical publications and textbooks in astronomy throughout America and Europe.
A plan to increase the interest in astronomy in the high schools of Michigan and Ontario, fostered especially by William C. Weber of Detroit with Hussey’s co-operation, was undertaken in 1922. A program of illustrated lectures was instituted. The outcome was rather disappointing to Mr. Weber. A more ambitious part of his program was the construction of the largest telescope that could possibly be made: an aperture of twenty-five feet was proposed! The project was discussed with President Burton, but nothing ever came of it.
The necessity of arranging for a new Students’ Observatory became apparent in the fall of 1922. The laboratory needs of the department were taken into consideration when the plans for Angell Hall were discussed in 1923, but the new Students’ Observatory did not materialize during Hussey’s administration. This project is described in the article on the Observatory and equipment, which also contains an account of the efforts made during these years to prevent nuisances, to acquire new lands, and to remove the Observatory to a site outside the city of Ann Arbor.
In 1924-25 Hussey gave an extension course in astronomy at Detroit. About fifty enrolled the first semester. Curtiss and Rufus later carried on these classes, which with a few interruptions have been continued.
The total solar eclipse of January 24, 1925, was the occasion of two expedition parties. Hussey, in co-operation with Judge Henry S. Hulbert, Ralph H. Upson, and Francis C. McMath of Detroit, made plans to observe the eclipse from a balloon. A trip was made to Geneva, New York, where President Murray Bartlett and Professor William P. Durfee of Hobart College had assisted in making arrangements. But although $4,000 had been expended in preparation, a high wind and too limited an open space for filling and taking off prevented the flight of the balloon, and clouds prevented the men from making observations and taking photographs. Clouds also prevailed at Bad Axe, Michigan, where Rufus had gone with another party.
A life-long dream of Hussey’s — the erection of a large telescope in the Southern Hemisphere for a double-star survey — was on the eve of realization in the autumn of 1926. Late in September he was taken ill with pleurisy, and feared that postponement of his trip to Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, would be necessary. With his usual fortitude, however, he left Ann Arbor on October 7 with Mrs. Hussey, Dr. Rossiter, and Dr. Rossiter’s family. On October 28, at dinner with friends in London, he suddenly collapsed and died instantly.
Hussey was the first of the directors of the Observatory to die in office. His predecessors, Brünnow, Watson, Harrington, and Hall, had each left Michigan to complete their careers elsewhere.
When the news of Hussey’s death reached Ann Arbor, Ralph Hamilton Curtiss was appointed Acting Director of the Observatory. On March 25, 1927, he was made Director, a position for which his heavy teaching responsibilities in the department and his long experience as Assistant Director had well qualified him. He had been actively in charge of all phases of the work during Hussey’s many absences in the Southern Hemisphere. His sabbatical leave in the second semester of 1925-26 had been spent chiefly at Mount Wilson, Lick, and Yerkes observatories.
Many difficulties confronted Curtiss in the fall of 1926. In any event the South African trip would temporarily have claimed the time of two important staff members, and Rufus had been given a leave of absence for the full academic year to join the faculty of the University World Cruise. New members were appointed to the staff: Herbert Frederick Schiefer as Instructor in Astronomy, H. F. Balmer as Instructor for one year only, and Morris K. Jessup, a graduate student, as an assistant in astronomy. These three were assigned teaching duties as well as observational work, and several graduate students assisted in the observing program. Upon Hussey’s death, the responsibility of directing the Lamont expedition to South Africa at a distance was added to the new duties of Curtiss as Director. His part in the successful outcome of the enterprise is recorded elsewhere.
In 1926-27 the Angell Hall Observatory was made ready for the students. The observational and laboratory requirements in descriptive courses were thereupon increased, which may have had something to do with a decrease in enrollment. In the fall of 1927 visitors’ nights at the Angell Hall Observatory were begun; they have proved to be very popular. A complete record has not been kept, but 1,194 visitors in all were received at the main Observatory and at Angell Hall Observatory together in 1928-29. At the Lamont-Hussey Observatory in South Africa 2,606 visitors were recorded during its first year.
Early in 1927 spectrograms of some of the brighter stars on the observing program were obtained with the new two-prism spectrograph, used on the 37½-inch telescope, and tables for the reduction of plates were prepared. Because of the comparatively small light-gathering power of the reflecting telescope and the difficulty of changing from the one-prism to the two-prism spectrograph, the latter has not been put into frequent use.
In September, 1927, the staff was increased by the appointment of Dean Benjamin McLaughlin (’23, Ph.D. ’27) Assistant Professor of Astronomy, Allan Douglas Maxwell (California ’23, Ph.D. ibid. ’27), Instructor in Astronomy, and Hazel Marie Losh (Ohio Wesleyan ’20, Ph.D. Michigan ’24), Research Assistant in Astrophysics. These appointees, together with Rufus, have remained on the staff. Schiefer resigned in September, 1928. In June, 1929, the Regents conferred the title Honorary Curator of Astronomical Observation, University of Michigan Observatory, on each of the three founders of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory — Judge Henry S. Hulbert, Francis C. McMath, and Robert R. McMath, all of Detroit. This Observatory, given to the University in January, 1932, is situated at Lake Angelus, near Pontiac, Michigan (see Part III: McMath-Hulbert Observatory). In 1929 the department was so fortunate as to obtain the services of Edward Arthur Milne, Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics in Oxford University, who gave lectures on astronomy during the summer session.
The student laboratory work continued to be enriched by the installation of new facilities in the Angell Hall Observatory; otherwise there was little change in courses of instruction during the Curtiss administration. Student enrollment in 1928-29 reached a total of 534.
Graduate instruction continued to receive special attention; in the years 1927 to 1929, inclusive, six doctor’s degrees and six master’s degrees were conferred in the field of astronomy. Among the studies for the doctor’s degree were two in spectrophotometry made possible by the loan of a Moll self-registering spectrophotometer by the Department of Physics; these were “A Spectrophotometric and Spectroscopic Study of Phi Persei,” by Schiefer, and “A Microphotometric Study of the Spectrum of Beta Lyrae,” by Mrs. Laura E. H. McLaughlin.
The project for the purchase of a more favorable Observatory site and larger and more up-to-date instruments again came to the foreground in 1928-29 and received the definite approval of the Board of Regents. Also, some steps were taken toward its realization.
Publications of the six doctoral theses was delayed awaiting the next volume of the Publications of the Observatory. This work was postponed by Curtiss on account of other duties, including the preparation of an article, “The Classification and Description of Stellar Spectra,” for the Handbuch der Astrophysik. The publication of articles by members of the staff was also withheld in accordance with the plan to publish by complete volumes rather than by separate numbers.
In the midst of these Observatory and departmental problems and of many personal research projects in different stages of progress Curtiss was stricken with serious illness and passed away on Christmas day, 1929. Rufus was appointed Acting Director of the Observatory and Acting Chairman of the Department of Astronomy, and was placed in charge of the South African expedition.
All of the announced courses of instruction were continued during the year 1929-30. The total enrollment reached 535 that year; three master’s degrees were granted in astronomy, and Walter J. Williams, Instructor in Astronomy for the period 1928-30, received the degree of doctor of philosophy. Williams’ thesis, begun under Curtiss, was “A Spectrographic Study of P Cygni.”
In September, 1930, Heber Doust Curtis (’92, Ph.D. Virginia ’02, Sc.D. hon. Pittsburgh ’20), Director of the Allegheny Observatory, was appointed Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory. He arrived in October. Curtis, whose work had been principally in spectroscopy and nebular photography, had had charge of the D. O. Mills expedition of the Lick Observatory at Santiago, Chile, from 1906 to 1910.
Curtis, Rufus, McLaughlin, Maxwell, and Miss Losh, who with Robert M. Petrie made up the staff in 1930-31, have all remained to 1942. Petrie, after having served as Instructor since 1930, resigned in 1935 to go to the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory at Vancouver. His place was filled by Robley Cook Williams (Cornell ’31, Ph.D. ibid. ’35), who in addition to his teaching duties has given expert service to the University in the supervision of the aluminizing of the large mirror for the 37½-inch reflector. Curtis has improved the slow-motion guiding of this reflector. The Observatory project has progressed further under his administration, although the years of financial depression temporarily brought plans to a halt. New equipment has been installed in the Angell Hall Observatory, and the disk for the new 97½-inch mirror, which when completed will rank third in size in the world, has been cast and stored.
The number of students enrolled in courses in astronomy increased from 653 in 1930-31 to a maximum of about nine hundred in 1933-34, and then decreased to 710 in 1936-37. In the years 1931 to 1937, inclusive, eight master’s degrees were conferred and seven candidates completed the doctorate, including one who received the degree of doctor of science.
McLaughlin has been in charge of the spectrographic program. He has also supervised the research work of candidates for the doctorate in astrophysics.
Curtis conducted a party to Fryeburg, Maine, to observe the total solar eclipse of August 31, 1932. Clouds interfered at times during partial eclipse, and light clouds were present at the time of totality, which lasted about ninety seconds. Excellent large-scale photographs of the corona with a forty-foot camera were obtained, however, and also motion pictures by the McMath-Hulbert staff with seventy-four-inch-, forty-inch-, and fourteen-inch-focus cameras. Flash spectra were made by Curtis with a grating spectrograph for the infrared and by McLaughlin with a two-prism instrument. The large interferometer for special work on the green coronal line, 5303A, was operated by William Frederick Meggers of the Bureau of Standards. This consisted of etalon plates four and eight-tenths inches in diameter with a Ross lens of three and five-tenths inches aperture and seventy-two inches focal length. Comparison rings were provided by neon plus mercury, neon, and helium tubes. Interference was recorded for the bright prominence and is suspected on the coronal ring. Curtis was of the opinion that the light clouds prevented a stronger record. He made plans for another attempt to obtain the exact wave-length of the green coronal line at the total eclipse of June 8, 1937, but illness prevented him from joining the eclipse expedition of that year.
At the beginning of his administration an accumulation of unpublished papers was on hand, including articles by members of the staff and theses by graduate students in astronomy. The system was changed to permit the publication of monographs. Volume 4 appeared in 1931-32. Volume 5 (1934) consisted of fifteen papers, Volume 6 (1937) contained twelve, and Volume 7 (1939) contained nine papers. The increased amount of published material by members of the staff and graduate students indicates that the change in method of publication was opportune and well advised.
– W. Carl Rufus
- Abbe, Cleveland. “The Observatory of the University.”Mich. Alum., 9 (1903): 419-21.
- Adams, Charles K.”Professor Adams’ Address.” In: The Memorial Addresses Delivered … at the Funeral of Professor James Craig Watson, Ph.D., LL.D. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1882. Pp. 9-19.
- Angell, James B.The Reminiscences of … New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912.
- “The Annual Alumni Dinner.”Mich. Alum., 18 (1912): 515-26.
- The Ann Arbor Courier, May 26, 1876.
- The Ann Arbor Register, Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, 1880.
- The Argonaut, 1 (1882): 24-25.
- Astronomical Notices, Vol. 1 (1858-62), Nos. 1-29.
- “Astronomy at the University of Michigan.”Mich. Alum., 33 (1927): 627-29.
- Beadle, William H. H., and Others. “The Days of Auld Lang Syne. — Recollections of Michigan Alumni.”Mich. Alum., 9 (1902): 9-15.
- Brown, Minnie K.”History of the Class of ’49.”Mich. Alum., 6 (1900): 334-38.
- Calendar, Univ. Mich., 1871-1914.
- Campbell, James V.A Memorial Discourse on the Life and Services of Rev. George Palmer Williams, … LL.D., Professor in the University from 1841 to 1881. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1882.
- Catalogue …, Univ. Mich., 1844-71, 1914-23.
- Catalogue and Register, Univ. Mich., 1923-27.
- The Chronicle (title varies), 1867-91.
- Cross, Arthur L., and Others. “Ralph Hamilton Curtiss.” In: University Council and Senate Records, 1929-1932. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1932. Pp. 66-71.
- Curtis, Heber D.”Observatory Is Gift to University.”Mich. Alum., 38 (1932): 347-48.
- Curtis, Heber D.”Michigan’s Eclipse Expedition.”Mich. Alum., 39 (1932): 5-6.
- Curtis, Heber D.”Mammoth Disk Cast for University.”Mich. Alum., 40 (1934): 341-42, 353.
- Curtis, Heber D.”Eighty Years of Astronomy at the University of Michigan.”Mich. Alum. Quart. Rev., 41 (1934): 244-49.
- Curtis, Heber D.”James Craig Watson, 1838-1880.”Mich. Alum. Quart. Rev., 44 (1938): 306-13.
- “Detroit Observatory.”Mich. Univ. Mag., 3 (1869): 388-91.
- General Register Issue, Univ. Mich., 1927-40.
- Harrington, Mark W.Report of the Director of the Detroit Observatory of the University of Michigan … for the Period Beginning October 1, 1879, and Ending January 1, 1881. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1881.
- Hinsdale, Burke A.History of the University of Michigan. Ed. by Isaac N. Demmon. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1906.
- MS, “Hussey Memorial Volume.” Univ. Mich.
- Hussey, William J. MS, “Diary,” 1905-25. Univ. Mich.
- “John Martin Schaeberle, ’76e.”Mich. Alum., 31 (1925): 585-86.
- Mackenzie, Catherine D.Alexander Graham Bell, the Man Who Contracted Space. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1928. Pp. 122-23.
- “Mark Walrod Harrington …”Mich. Alum., 34 (1928): 343.
- “Michigan a Leader in Astronomy.”Mich. Alum., 28 (1921): 333-34.
- “Michigan’s Astronomers.”Mich. Alum., 22 (1915): 6.
- MS, “Minutes of the University Senate,” May 16, 1927. Univ. Mich.
- [News notes.]Mich. Alum., 13 (1907): 303-4; 15 (1908): 45-46; 16 (1910): 213; 17 (1910): 146; 17 (1911): 292, 296-98; 18 (1912): 260-62, 521-22; 22 (1915): 6; 24 (1918): 210; 28 (1922): 566; 30 (1924): 453-56; 3 (1929): 235.
- “The Observatory’s Honorable Record.”Mich. Alum., 31 (1925): 539.
- Pendill, Claude G.[Letter to the editor.]Mich. Alum., 39 (1932): 13.
- Perry, Charles M.Henry Philip Tappan, Philosopher and University President. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich. Press, 1933.
- President’s Report, Univ. Mich., 1853-1940. (P.R.)
- Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1864-1940. (R.P.)
- Publications of the Observatory [Detroit Observatory, 1912-31] of the University of Michigan, Vols. 1-8 (1912-40).
- Rufus, W. Carl. “Professor Curtiss, Astronomer, Dies.”Mich. Alum., 36 (1930): 251.
- Shaw, Wilfred B.The University of Michigan. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.
- Smith, Winfield. “Early Days of the University.”Mich. Alum., 5 (1898): 12-15.
- Tappan, Henry P.”Review by Rev. Dr. … Historic Statement of My Connection with the University.”R.P., 1837-64, pp. 1119-66.
- Transactions of the Detroit Observatory, University of Michigan, Vol. 1 (1904), Pt. 1.
- U. of M. Daily, Dec. 10, 1895; Apr. 30, 1896.
- University of Michigan Regents’ Proceedings …, 1837-1864. Ed. by Isaac N. Demmon. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1915. (R.P., 1837-64.)
- Watson, James C. Papers, MS and printed. Univ. Mich.
- “Why Michigan Needs a Museum and Observatory.”Mich. Alum., 31 (1925): 531-34.
- Winchell, Alexander. “James Craig Watson.”Amer. Journ. Sci., Mem., 3d ser., 21 (1881): 62-65.
- Winchell, Alexander. MS, “University of Michigan Scrapbook,” Vols. I and II. In Alexander Winchell Papers. Mich. Hist. Coll., Univ. Mich. (“Scrapbook.”)
1.a. The Astronomical Observatories at Ann Arbor
The earliest indication of a specific desire for astronomical equipment at the University of Michigan is to be found in the Regents’ report to the superintendent of public instruction in 1849. The Regents expressed regret for the lack of “philosophical apparatus,” and particularly of a “Telescope or Sextant or Orrery, or transit instrument,” and hopefully remarked, “A law exists authorizing the Board to purchase apparatus.” No steps were taken toward the realization of this hope until the beginning of the Tappan administration in 1852.
In his inaugural address President Tappan outlined plans for developing a true university, in the highest sense of the term, and appealed for assistance. Soon after the address Henry N. Walker of Detroit volunteered and inquired what he could do. The President proposed a campaign in Detroit to secure funds for an observatory. The initial meeting to promote the project was held at the Michigan Exchange, Detroit, December 29, 1852. There President Tappan made an appeal, and $7,000 was subscribed. General Lewis Cass, Henry P. Baldwin, later Governor of Michigan, Senator Zachariah Chandler, and Henry N. Walker were among the twenty-eight prominent citizens who responded on this occasion. The name “Detroit Observatory” was proposed to stimulate the response and was used until 1931.
The President continued to take an active part in soliciting and collecting subscriptions. One day Mr. A. C. McGraw saw him walking the streets of Detroit in pursuit of funds, hailed him, and contributed the price of a pair of shoes. The Catalogue for 1852-53 announced that $10,000 had been subscribed for the Observatory.
The generous response to the appeal for subscriptions made it possible to expand the original plan, which called for a large telescope only.
President Tappan left for Europe in 1853, chiefly to visit observatories and to secure equipment. Walker accompanied him to New York, where a contract was made with Henry Fitz for a refracting telescope with an objective lens at least twelve inches in diameter and a focal length of 200 inches, to be equipped with eyepieces to give magnifying powers up to 1,200. The cost was to be $6,150 and the date of completion June 1, 1854. This was the first large telescope to be constructed entirely within the United States, and was the third largest refractor in the world. The Harvard College Observatory at Cambridge and the National Observatory at Pulkowa, Russia, each had a giant refractor fifteen inches in diameter. Cleveland Abbe, founder of the United States Signal Service, who studied at the Observatory soon after it was opened, has claimed that “national pride and financial economy” largely determined the selection of Fitz as constructor.
During the President’s absence in the spring of 1853 Walker engaged George Bird of New York to furnish plans for the Observatory building and to superintend construction at a cost of $300. Traveling expenses were added later. Walker also requested the Regents to appoint someone to direct the location of the Observatory on the University grounds.
President Tappan wished to secure in Europe a meridian circle and a sidereal clock equal in excellence to the telescope. For this purpose he had $4,000, which Walker had advanced.
He visited Sir George Airy at the Greenwich Observatory and saw the eight-inch circle constructed by Ransome and May of Ipswich and Simms of London, but considered it too expensive. At Rome Father Secchi of the Observatory of the Roman College gave him a letter to Oertel, instrument-maker of the renowned Optical Institute of Munich.
In Berlin Tappan met Professor Encke, Director of the Royal Observatory, who recommended the instrument-makers Pistor and Martins of Berlin. From that firm on July 15, 1853, the President ordered a meridian circle for 4,000 thalers (about $3,200), with the understanding that Encke and his young assistant, Franz F. E. Brünnow, particularly Brünnow, would supervise its construction and approve it before shipment. It was to be completed by May 1, 1854, and payment was to be made upon its arrival and acceptance in Ann Arbor.
For one month Brünnow thoroughly tested the sidereal clock purchased for the University from M. Tiede of Berlin, and pronounced it an excellent piece of workmanship.
When he was told of the twelve-inch telescope ordered of Fitz, Brünnow responded: “You will have one of the first observatories in the world.” President Tappan proudly replied: “Indeed, I contemplate nothing less, and I cannot but be sanguine of the results we shall arrive at under the transparent and serene skies of Michigan, when we shall have provided an Astronomer worthy of the Observatory we are thus furnishing” (P.R., 1853, p. 6).
This conversation, with its oversanguine reference to Michigan skies, illustrates President Tappan’s just personal pride in the project, which he frequently referred to as “our noble Observatory.” In his well-known “Historic Statement” just at the close of his administration he wrote: “I cannot speak of the Observatory without emotion. No one will deny that it was a creation of my own.”
In Ann Arbor, the committee on the Observatory site met with difficulty. Evidently its members, the Honorable Elon Farnsworth, the Honorable Henry N. Walker, and Professor Silas H. Douglass, did not unanimously approve “the center of the University grounds.”
A special meeting of the Board of Regents in July, 1853, was called to decide the question, but a quorum was lacking. The members present visited the proposed country hilltop, then outside the limits of Ann Arbor, discussed the proposition, and adjourned without formal action. However, an agreement was evidently reached. At the November meeting purchase of the balance of the site was authorized, including four acres from the land of a Mr. Benham at $100 per acre. The earliest Catalogue to describe the Detroit Observatory contained the statement: “It is situated half a mile from the University grounds on a hill 150 feet above the Huron river, from which is presented one of the most charming views of the country.”
Another difficulty was encountered. The enlargement of the original plan incurred unforeseen expenses. After the return of President Tappan two collimators (small telescopes to adjust the meridian circle) were added to the order of Pistor and Martins at a cost of $375. Other auxiliary instruments were needed.
Another subscription campaign in Detroit in May, 1854, resulted in twenty-three gifts, totaling only $1,150, but President Tappan, backed by Walker and other friends, pushed the project, and in July, 1854, when the new Director arrived, the building was nearly finished. It was soon ready for the arrival of the instruments. The attractive setting, as it then appeared, has been preserved in the famous oil painting made by J. F. Cropsey in 1855, from which an engraving was prepared for the Catalogue of 1855-56. The original painting is now in the University’s possession, a gift from the Honorable Andrew D. White.
The superintendent of grounds and buildings was authorized to purchase lumber and enclose the site with a plain substantial fence. A committee applied to the city council to secure the construction of roads to the Observatory. In 1856 the mayor again brought up the question of roads, and the need was soon met in country fashion by a new turnpike.
The Observatory building was soon ready to occupy. (The history of the development and activities of the Observatory staff, except for the construction of new instruments, is omitted from this article. See Part III: Department of Astronomy.) The central part is thirty-three feet square, and there are two wings, each nineteen by twenty-nine feet. The central part is surmounted by a revolving dome twenty-one feet in diameter and contains the pier for the large refractor. The pier extends fifteen feet below the surface and is constructed of solid masonry, twenty-two feet in diameter at the base and six feet at the top, where it is capped by a large circular limestone quarried at Sandusky, Ohio. This carries a vertical limestone monolith, which supports the iron pier cap. The center of motion of the instrument is about thirty-three feet above ground level. The east wing was designed for the meridian circle and the other for a library and an office for the director. The Walker meridian circle, so called in honor of Henry N. Walker for his interest in the Observatory project and his gift of $4,000 for the instrument and accessories, arrived in September, 1854. It bears the name of the makers, Pistor and Martins, Berlin, and the date, 1854. It has an objective 6.3 inches in diameter and a focal length of 96.8 inches. Its graduated circles, 37 ½ inches in diameter, ruled to ten minutes on one side and two minutes on the other, are read by microscopes to tenths of seconds of arc. One circle was slightly bent in shipment. The collimating telescopes have apertures of two inches and focal lengths of about twenty-four inches. They are mounted on piers, one north and the other south of the meridian circle, on a level with its axis.
The Tiede clock, No. 125, was mounted near the meridian circle and rated to sidereal time. At first star transits were observed by the eye-and-ear method. Soon additional equipment was installed, including a chronograph, originally placed in the west wing, two chronometers, standard barometers, and thermometers to give data for atmospheric-refraction corrections and a four-inch portable comet seeker by Henry Fitz.
The large telescope was not completed on time, so Fitz, the contractor, loaned one in April, 1855. The new one arrived in December, but was rejected, owing, it is said, to the use of cast iron for parts of the instrument and its mounting. A new contract was made at $6,750, an increase in price of $600, and the use of brass and bell metal was specified. The project now faced a debt of about $8,000 and another campaign in Detroit was launched in March, 1856, which raised about $3,500.
The new telescope arrived in Ann Arbor in November, 1857. In December it was ready for use. By this time the building and equipment had cost about $22,000. Citizens of Detroit contributed about $15,000, and for many years the name “Detroit Observatory” was used in recognition of their generosity. President Tappan frequently referred to it as an observatory of the first rank and said that he knew of no other instance of one of its class erected at so little cost. The main expense was due to the instruments and as little as possible was spent on the building. In spite of the President’s zeal in soliciting and collecting subscriptions and his carefulness in expenditures an annoying debt was incurred, part of which was carried on personal account, which remained open and unpaid for several years, adding to the friction between him and members of the Board of Regents. At one time (October, 1856) the treasurer of the University, John M. Chase, made a loan of $4,900 to President Tappan on the Observatory account, holding the President’s personal notes and a chattel mortgage on the equatorial telescope as security. An auditing committee requested by the President made a satisfactory report in 1859. Not until December, 1863, however, after the close of the period of Tappan and Brünnow, were the Regents able to record: “The old Observatory debt has been paid.”
Brünnow, while at Dudley Observatory during the year 1859-60, retained the directorship of the Observatory in Ann Arbor, but James Craig Watson, Professor of Astronomy and Instructor in Mathematics, was in charge. Watson secured appropriations from the Regents for constructing a room and furnishing the west wing of the Observatory in 1860.
In the autumn of 1863, under the presidency of Erastus O. Haven, Watson became Director of the Observatory.
Early in the administration of President Haven there was agitation to move the Observatory to the campus (p. 448). In the course of the discussion attention was drawn more and more toward what would be the requirements of operating the Observatory efficiently on its established location. In the end, $500 was appropriated for roads by Ann Arbor citizens, and an addition was made to the Observatory building. The enlargement, completed in 1868, included a residence for the director on the west side of the original building. It was further repaired and enlarged in 1905-6.
The records show that new instruments were requested from time to time, but were not furnished. In 1870 the Regents were asked to provide the Observatory with a spectroscope. Among the requests not granted this is perhaps the most significant, for the instrument has been of fundamental importance in the later development of astronomy.
A small, separate building was constructed on the occasion of the transit of Mercury, May 8, 1878, when the Observatory was made temporarily a United States Government station. This building, which was located about one hundred feet southeast of the main Observatory, was later remodeled and equipped for the use of students. It contained a six-inch equatorial refractor and a three-inch transit, with zenith telescope attachment.
In 1878 H. A. Wetzel gave a 2 ½-foot hemispherical cast of the moon, representing its elevations and depressions, which was of “great usefulness in the teaching of astronomy.”
A new director, Mark Walrod Harrington, took charge on October 1, 1879. In response to his request soon after arrival, $850 was appropriated for meteorological instruments. He secured a Hough’s barograph, a Hough’s thermograph, and an anemograph of St. Gibbon’s pattern for wind velocity and direction. From the United States Signal Service he obtained a standard thermometer, a psychrometer, a terrestrial-radiation thermometer, and a solar-radiation thermometer.
In the spring of 1880 Harrington appealed for more astronomical instruments to be used in instruction. He reported that some loaned by the Navy Department had been recalled and that the large instruments (the twelve-inch refracting telescope and the Walker meridian circle) were not available for student use. A total of $3,050 was appropriated — $1,800 for a six-inch equatorial telescope, $1,000 for a three-inch transit, and $250 for a chronometer. Reports previous to Harrington’s administration indicate that a six-inch telescope and a three-inch transit with zenith telescope attachment were in use in the Students’ Observatory. Apparently these were among the instruments “recalled” by the Navy Department, and new ones were obtained.
Near the end of this administration, upon Harrington’s request for a good astronomical globe, Bailey’s cosmosphere was demonstrated before the Regents by a Mr. Morley, but the question was referred to a committee, and we find no record of purchase of the globe.
Harrington left at the end of June, 1891, and for one year the Observatory was managed by William Joseph Hussey, Instructor in Astronomy and Acting Director of the Observatory. No changes of importance were made in the physical equipment during that year. Hussey then left the University for some years, and Asaph Hall, Jr., became Director.
Upon his arrival at Ann Arbor in 1892 Hall first gave attention to the condition of the instruments, which had been surpassed in size and efficiency by those installed at other institutions and which were in need of being cleaned and read-justed. He reported that the instruments were in bad condition. It was necessary to take the objectives apart and clean them. The Tiede clock had an irregular rate. As far as he could find out the driving clock of the twelve-inch telescope had never been of any use, and Watson had not made regular use of the Walker meridian circle. Hall had the object glass of the meridian circle taken to Clarke and had a spring put into the cell to act against the glass. He obtained a new micrometer from Repsold, a chronograph from Saegmüller, and a clock from Howard. With these improvements and accessories the instrument was remounted; it was then subjected to a very complete investigation.
The condition of the Observatory and of the Department of Astronomy was subjected to serious criticism in 1903. The Fitz objectives for large telescopes were surpassed in quality and size by Clarke. The twelve-inch telescope, once the pride of Michigan and third largest refractor in the world, was small compared with many newer ones, notably the forty-inch telescope at Yerkes and the thirty-six-inch telescope at Lick. The Meridian circle was antiquated. Instruments for work in astrophysics were lacking, and the Observatory was rapidly being surrounded by buildings. An enthusiastic alumnus, after calling attention to its brilliant past, concluded with the appeal, “Michigan and her alumni should not allow her observatory to fossilize” (Abbe, p. 421).
The only important purchases made about this time were a sextant instrument at $150 in 1902 and in 1904 a surveyor’s transit, for which $375 was appropriated.
When Hussey returned as Director of the Observatory in October, 1905, he found the Observatory building and equipment in need of repairs and improvements. Instruments for research in modern astronomy were lacking. The Observatory library and residence were reconstructed and enlarged during the winter of 1905-6. The Regents appropriated $5,000 for this work, and, in addition, the heating and lighting were provided from the general fund.
In 1906 the Observatory Shop was established, furnished with tools for the repair of old instruments and the construction of new, and provided with a staff headed by a skilled machinist.
The reconstruction of the instruments, including the twelve-inch refractor, was begun. Changes to this historical telescope included a new steel tube to replace the old pine one, a new 3 ½-inch finder in place of the 2 ½-inch finder, the addition of a coarse circle in right ascension, the addition of a coarse circle in declination, a new worm and worm wheel, a new driving clock, a new slow motion and clamp in right ascension, a new slow motion and clamp in declination, a new counter-weight arm and weights, and a new right-ascension circle. This work, including the construction of the new parts, was done at the Observatory Shop. A new micrometer for the reconstructed twelve-inch refractor was obtained in 1907 from Warner and Swasey Company. Alterations to the micrometer, including better illumination of the wires and a quick motion in position angle, were made by Colliau of the shop staff.
A new telescope with accessories for spectrographic work was one of the chief requirements. In June, 1906, the Board of Regents made an initial appropriation of $15,000 toward the construction of a new reflecting telescope and an addition to the Observatory in which it could be housed. Much of the work was done in the Observatory Shop. In August the optical parts for the reflector were ordered from the John Brashear Company, Pittsburgh. A clear aperture of at least thirty-six inches was specified. The glass was cast at Saint-Gobain, France, and after being ground and polished at Pittsburgh reached Ann Arbor in December, 1907. The diameter of the reflecting surface is 37 inches. With the eleven-inch hyperbolic secondary the equivalent focal length is sixty feet.
Among the needs which Hussey presented to the Regents in January, 1907, were additional shelves for Observatory books, seismological instruments, and drainage of the Observatory. President Angell and the Regents favored these inprovements.
In order to make room for the addition to the main Observatory the old Students’ Observatory was moved in 1908 to a location about three hundred feet west of the main building. In the Students’ Observatory three rooms were provided, an entrance, an equatorial room, and a transit room. The six-inch telescope was provided with a new driving clock, a new worm and worm wheel, and an electrically driven slow motion in hour angle. A camera was provided for use with the six-inch telescope, having a lens of 4 9/16 inches’ diameter and 19 ½ inches’ focal length. In the same year, 1908, a new comet seeker, which was larger and more convenient than the old one, was constructed at the Observatory Shop. It has a lens of 4 ½ inches and an altazimuth mounting. Parts of the old Fitz comet seeker, including tube and lens, were used in the short focus finder for the 37 ½-inch reflecting telescope.
The addition to the Observatory building at Ann Arbor, begun in 1908, was completed the following year. The main floor contained offices for the Director and his secretary, a vault, clockroom, and classroom. On the second floor were additional offices and a photographic room. The basement provided, in addition to utility space, rooms for new seismological equipment, which was installed in August, 1909. These instruments include two Strassburg tromometers of the Bosch-Omori type for north-south and east-west components respectively; also a Wiechert, inverted-pendulum, astatic seismograph, which records both components, and a Wiechert vertical seismograph, which has not proved successful. Continuous records of the two horizontal components have been kept since August, 1909, except during brief periods when the instruments were being cleaned and readjusted.
Work on the 37 ½-inch reflector continued in the Observatory Shop, and additional annual appropriations were made by the Regents to cover the expenses of the telescope and accessories, which totaled about $24,000. The single-prism spectrograph by Brashear, Pittsburgh, used with the new reflector, arrived on January 18, 1909. This instrument followed in general the type of the Mills spectrograph of the Lick Observatory, with some changes which had been introduced in the Mellon spectrograph of the Allegheny Observatory, and further modifications proposed by Ralph H. Curtiss. The forty-foot dome for the new telescope, constructed by the Russell Wheel and Foundry Company of Detroit, was completed and erected in 1910.
In January, 1911, the large mirror was placed in the cell, and all accessories were ready.
In 1922-23 the 37 ½-inch reflector was overhauled, and the driving was improved. A new two-prism spectrograph designed by Curtiss was constructed in the Observatory Shop in 1923-24. This instrument was intended for use with a new and larger reflecting telescope, which was part of the plan under consideration for a new site, new buildings, and equipment. The optical parts were by J. B. McDowell. The dispersion is about twice that of the single-prism spectrograph. A Hartman spectrocomparator was purchased the same year.
Attempts to prevent nuisances near the Observatory have been frequent. In April, 1908, grading was begun on the west end of the Observatory lot for a women’s athletic field. Appeal to President Angell stopped the work and that encroachment. In 1910 Robert P. Lamont purchased twenty-six acres of land east of the Observatory for its protection in that direction.
The encroachment of University buildings began to receive serious consideration in 1912. On April 24 Hussey prepared a statement for presentation to the Regents regarding the question of putting the power plant of the University in the “cat-hole” location. The proposed site for the power plant was considered so valuable for that purpose that it seemed advisable to look for a new site for the Observatory and its research instruments. “Huddy Hill,” just east of the city, was considered. Sufficient land could have been obtained at an estimated cost of from $50,000 to $70,000.
The proposed new Hospital site just north of the Observatory raised the question again in the spring of 1915, and Huddy Hill received further consideration, but no action was taken.
In 1919 the question of the effectiveness of the Observatory on its present site was before the Regents and was referred to the buildings and grounds and Hospital committees, and Hussey recommended to the Regents that the Observatory and equipment be moved to Huddy Hill. This site, however, was not well protected from future encroachments, and action was again delayed when the question was referred to a special committee consisting of the committees on buildings and grounds, the Medical School, and the Observatory. A communication regarding the same question, including the purchase of new equipment, was before the Regents in December of that year; but in 1920 the Board declined further consideration of the question of additional equipment.
The issue regarding site became prominent again in 1922, when the western part of the Observatory grounds was proposed as a site for Couzens Hall, a new dormitory for nurses. Hussey made this record:
Conference with President Burton, Regents Clements and Hubbard, Dean Effinger, Shirley W. Smith, and Professor Shepard concerning Observatory plans, etc., at President Burton’s office. At this time President Burton stated that it was not the plan to use any part of the Observatory grounds for other purposes. Two days later the Regents voted to place the proposed Nurses Home on the west end of the Observatory Grounds.
He added, perhaps to modify the effect of the preceding item, “At the same meeting the Regents voted $18,000 for a new Observatory Shop.”In the President’s Report for 1922-23 special attention was called to the urgent need of moving the Observatory because of the power plant, the University Hospital, and the projected nurses’ home. A high hill about three miles west of the city on Liberty Street was then considered. It seemed advisable that the removal of the Observatory and the increase of equipment, including a new and larger telescope, should be incorporated as a part of the building program advocated by President Burton. The land of the Observatory site, including the twenty-six acres east of the building, if released for other uses, would provide a large amount toward a new site, new buildings, and improved equipment. Again the project was postponed, but the need remained. An article in the Michigan Alumnus (31 : 533) mentioned, in addition to other nuisances, “an earthquake every time a train passes.”
Hussey continued the search for a more suitable site. On June 19, 1925, Regent Beal, Secretary Smith, Dr. Ruthven, Mr. Paul Buckley, Professor Leigh Young, and Professor Hussey visited the hills near Portage Lake adjacent to the University’s forest preserve in that vicinity. All seemed well pleased, and action to secure a part of “Peach Mountain” for the new Observatory site was begun. An appropriation of $1,525 was authorized in September to secure the site, but real-estate complications delayed the purchase. Tentative plans were being developed for the construction of a large reflecting telescope (seventy-five inches), the refiguring of the 37 ½-inch reflector to adapt it for photographic rather than visual work, and the return of the twenty-seven-inch Lamont refractor from South Africa (see Part III: Lamont-Hussey Observatory) for double-star work in the North after completion of the southern survey. This program, it was thought, would again bring the institution and its equipment to a prominent position in the astronomical world.
Another project begun but not completed during Professor Hussey’s administration was the Angell Hall Observatory and astronomical laboratory for student use. The need of more adequate facilities for this purpose had long been felt, as the number of students electing astronomy had increased rapidly since 1905. The Students’ Observatory, previously described, was discontinued in the fall of 1923, when it had to be removed from the site of Couzens Hall. To meet this need the entire fifth floor of Angell Hall was originally designed for the use of the Department of Astronomy, although parts of that floor have temporarily been relinquished for other purposes.
Two twenty-four-foot domes were included in the plans, and later constructed by J. W. Fecker. A ten-inch refracting telescope was ordered from Warner and Swasey to occupy one part, and a reflecting telescope for the other was left to be provided in the future. The two domes by Fecker were erected, and the ten-inch refractor was installed in the first year of the directorship of Ralph Hamilton Curtiss, 1926-27.
The two-prism spectrograph constructed during Hussey’s administration was first used on the large telescope at the main Observatory for about two months early in 1927, but since then has not been put into frequent use.
In 1927-28 a three-inch transit was added to the Angell Hall equipment, and a fifteen-inch pyrex mirror was ordered from J. W. Fecker. Work on the mounting for the reflector was carried on in the Observatory Shop. The mirror arrived on January 24, 1929, and the fifteen-inch reflector was added to the Angell Hall equipment and was ready for student use in 1929-30.
Some progress was made during the administration of Curtiss toward the acquisition of a new site and new instruments for research. The ridge north of Dexter, Michigan, known as Peach Mountain, is cut into two parts by the Huron River. On the west is the site tentatively selected by Hussey; on the east is a slightly lower spur that extends south of Base Lake, on which available space could be obtained.
In November, 1928, Curtiss requested the Regents to secure an option on land in Dexter Township covering this site and extending to the shore of Base Lake. Favorable action was taken, and a part of the land recommended was afterward purchased. The new Observatory project was placed first on the Regents’ list of the University’s most urgent needs which was presented to the state legislature in 1929. Attention was called to the success of the Observatory under Brünnow, Watson, Hall, and Hussey, and to the impossibility of carrying on scientific work meeting modern improved standards on the old site and with instruments surpassed in size and efficiency at other institutions. The removal of the Observatory, it was also pointed out, would turn over to the Regents thirty acres of land owned chiefly by Lamont, the value of which would be greater than the amount proposed for the new Observatory and telescope. The request was approved, but the financial depression prevented an appropriation for the project.
In the meantime drawings were in progress for a seventy-five-inch reflecting telescope, based upon the plans of the seventy-two-inch reflector of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory at Victoria. Inquiry was also made as to the possibility of securing a disk of the fused silica quartz used in the experimental work on the 200-inch reflector for the Carnegie Institution; this program was being developed by steps, in the course of which disks sixty inches and 100 inches in diameter had been used.
The purchase of a Howard sidereal clock and of a Hale spectrohelioscope for the Angell Hall Observatory was authorized in 1929-30. A Moll microphotometer from Kipp and Zonen was added to the instruments for research at the Observatory, and a Brown and Sharpe No. 13 universal grinder was obtained for the Observatory Shop.
About two hundred acres south of Base Lake, fifteen miles northwest of Ann Arbor, was secured that year for the new Observatory site. A survey was made and a preliminary layout was proposed for the location of the main buildings. Correspondence was continued regarding means of obtaining the material for a large mirror.
The administration of Heber Doust Curtis as Director began in September, 1930. During the ensuing year the Hale spectrohelioscope, previously ordered, was added to the Angell Hall equipment, and the fifteen-inch reflector for student use was completed, although it was not installed until a year later, when the Howard clock rated to sidereal time was also ready.
The old name “Detroit Observatory,” used in honor of the Detroit contributors from the time when the Observatory was founded, had long given rise to confusion as to its location. Investigation disclosed the fact that this name had never been officially adopted; therefore, in November, 1931, it was dropped by regental action and the name “Observatory (or Observatories) of the University of Michigan” was formally accepted. The collective name now includes the old Observatory in Ann Arbor, the Angell Hall Observatory for students, the Lamont-Hussey Observatory in South Africa, and the McMath-Hulbert Observatory at Lake Angelus, Michigan, a notable gift received from the founders in January, 1932 (see Part III: McMath-Hulbert Observatory).
Improvement in the slow-motion guiding of the 37 ½-inch reflector was made by H. D. Curtis. In the spring of 1934 a motor-driven silvering carriage was constructed and necessary alterations were made to permit the removal of the mirror and its cell from the telescope for silvering the mirror and preparatory to the work of aluminizing. A steel bell-jar of forty-two inches’ inside diameter was ordered, to be equipped with necessary pumps and auxiliary apparatus. Williams, who joined the staff of the Department of Astronomy in 1935, was a specialist in the process and supervised the work of aluminizing the mirror in March, 1936. An increase in efficiency in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum was realized as expected.
The present reflector is now far excelled by the larger instruments of many American observatories, and it is probable that no observatory of like rank in America is so unfavorably located for scientific work as is that of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
The future plans for the Observatory definitely involve its removal to the Base Lake site and the installation there of a new and powerful reflector in addition to the 37 ½-inch reflector now in use. When the work in the Southern Hemisphere is completed the excellent twenty-seven-inch Lamont refractor also may be brought there from South Africa. Only the equipment necessary for instruction will be left in Ann Arbor.
The Base Lake site will eventually comprise over two hundred acres. It is some fourteen miles northwest of the city, well away from any village or community. This makes it especially favorable for scientific work, since astronomy is now at least 95 per cent photographic, and artificial light is the principal enemy of modern astronomical research. When the Observatory was built in 1855 the science was 100 per cent visual, but the growth of Ann Arbor, with its brilliantly lighted streets, has completely cut out many lines of photographic research. Scientific work at Ann Arbor is further hampered not only by the proximity of the railroad and of the large Hospital and other medical units, but also by smoke from the power plant less than one thousand feet to the southwest, for the prevailing winds of this locality come from that quarter.
Curtis accepted the directorship in 1930 with the understanding that the new Observatory project would be steadily pushed to completion. Although the depression necessitated delay, and although some special gift or legislative appropriation must be secured before the building can be constructed and the new telescope completed, at least a beginning has been made.
Curtis drew the plans for the new telescope, and a rough disk for its mirror has been provided through the generosity of the late Tracy W. McGregor, of Detroit. Under this gift a pyrex disk measuring 85 ½ inches in diameter was cast by the Corning Glass Works, but some fault developed in the long annealing process. A second and larger disk was later most successfully cast. The new disk, now stored near the Observatory, is 98.5 inches in diameter in its unfinished state and 18 inches thick. It weighs about 5 ½ tons. With the exception of the disk for the 200-inch reflector to be built in California it is the heaviest disk of pyrex yet cast. The finished mirror will exceed 96 inches in diameter, which is surpassed by the 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson. Even after the completion of the 200-inch disk, the Michigan reflector will rank third in size in the world.
Eventually a plant adequate for astronomical research will be provided, and the work done by the Observatory of the University of Michigan will be commensurate with that which has given it such high rank in the past.
– W. Carl Rufus
- Abbe, Cleveland. “The Observatory of the University.” Mich. Alum., 9 (1903): 419-21.
- “Astronomy at the University of Michigan.” Mich. Alum., 33 (1927): 627-29.
- The Ann Arbor Courier, May 26, 1876.
- Calendar, Univ. Mich., 1871-1914.
- Catalogue …, Univ. Mich., 1844-71, 1914-23.
- Catalogue and Register, Univ. Mich., 1923-27.
- Curtis, Heber D.”Observatory Is Gift to University.” Mich. Alum., 38 (1932): 347-48.
- Curtis, Heber D., “Mammoth Disk Cast for University.” Mich. Alum., 40 (1934): 341-42, 353.
- Curtis, Heber D.”Eighty Years of Astronomy at the University of Michigan.” Mich. Alum. Quart. Rev., 41 (1934): 244-49.
- Curtis, Heber D.”James Craig Watson, 1838-1880.” Mich. Alum. Quart. Rev., 44 (1938): 306-13.
- “Detroit Observatory.” Mich. Univ. Mag., 3 (1869): 388-91.
- Editorial.Chronicle, 5 (1873): 20.
- Farrand, Elizabeth M.History of the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor: Register Publ. House, 1885. P. 114.
- General Register Issue, Univ. Mich., 1927-40.
- Hinsdale, Burke A.History of the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1906.
- Hussey, William J. MS, “Diary,” 1906-25. Univ. Mich.
- [News notes.]Mich. Alum., 5 (1898): 121; 13 (1907): 303-4; 15 (1908): 45-46; 16 (1910): 213; 17 (1910): 146; 35 (1929): 516; 36 (1929): 52, 235; 40 (1934): 505.
- “The Observatory’s Honorable Record.” Mich. Alum., 31 (1925): 539.
- Perry, Charles M.Henry Philip Tappan… Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich. Press, 1933.
- President’s Report, Univ. Mich., 1853-1940.
- Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1864-1940. (R.P.)
- Publications of the Observatory [Detroit Observatory, 1912-31] of the University of Michigan, Vols. 1-8 (1912-40).
- Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Michigan, 1849. (R.S.P.I.)
- Shaw, Wilfred B. The University of Michigan. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.
- Stephenson, Orlando W. Ann Arbor, the First Hundred Years. Ann Arbor: Chamber of Commerce, 1927. P. 257.
- Tappan, Henry P. A Discourse, Delivered by… on the Occasion of His Inauguration as Chancellor … Detroit: Advertiser Power Presses, 1852.
- Tappan, Henry P. “Review by Rev. Dr. … Historic Statement of My Connection with the University.”R.P., 1837-64, pp. 1119-66.
- U. of M. Daily, Apr. 30, 1896.
- “The University Forty Years Ago.” Mich. Alum., 4 (1898): 211-13.
- University of Michigan Regents’ Proceedings …, 1837-1864. Ed. by Isaac N. Demmon. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1915. (R.P., 1837-64.)
- “Why Michigan Needs a Museum and Observatory.” Mich. Alum., 31 (1925): 531-34.
- Winchell, Alexander. MS, “University of Michigan Scrapbook,” Vols. I and II. In Alexander Winchell Papers. Mich. Hist. Coll., Univ. Mich.
1.b. The Lamott-Hussey Observatory
The lifelong friendship of Robert Patterson Lamont (’91e, A.M. hon. ’12) and William Joseph Hussey (’89e, Sc.D. Brown ’12) and the latter’s special interest in double stars, are well known not only at Michigan but throughout the astronomical world. Hussey taught in the Department of Astronomy in 1891-92, and returned in 1905 for a long term of service as Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory. He has related that in November, 1902, Lamont visited the Lick Observatory at Mount Hamilton, California, and that they had their first conversation concerning the desirability of sending a large telescope to the Southern Hemisphere for the measurement of double stars and for the extension of the doublestar survey to the south celestial pole. At that time Hussey and Aitken were conducting a joint program to cover the sky available at Lick (to -22° declination). By 1905 Hussey had discovered 1,338 pairs, but left his part of the work unfinished in order to return to the University of Michigan. This joint work won for both astronomers the Lalande prize of the French Academy, conferred in 1906.
Administrative duties and the construction of the 37 ½-inch reflecting telescope for astrophysical work demanded the major part of Hussey’s time and attention until 1911. His dream of a southern station, however, was constantly kept in mind. On April 3, 1908, he and James H. Marks (’08e) went to Chicago to test the polar and declination axes for the large reflector at the Elmer Engineering Works. In the evening Hussey and Lamont attended a world-championship wrestling match. The next day at lunch Hussey spoke of his desire to proceed with the preparation of plans for a twenty-four-inch refracting telescope for the Southern Hemisphere, and Lamont promised $1,000 with which to begin. The check arrived on June 14. At this time also began the delays and disappointments that extended over nearly a quarter of a century, during which Hussey’s vision never faded and Lamont’s loyalty never faltered.
Other problems intervened. One of the first involved the protection of the Observatory site at Ann Arbor, which necessitated the purchase of adjacent property on the east. On October 2, 1908, Hussey wrote to Lamont explaining the situation, and said he needed $5,000 in cash to meet the emergency. So urgent did he think the need that he took the letter to the midnight train. Before the reply came, a bank loan of $6,000 was arranged, paid in due time by Lamont. In December he also agreed to buy a large lathe and a shaper for the Observatory Shop and to start the construction of the twenty-four-inch refractor.
Professor Hussey spent a day at the Naval Observatory with Mr. Marks in April, 1909, inspecting the twenty-six-inch refractor and the blueprints of it, and in that one day collected practically all the data that were needed for the design of the twenty-four-inch refractor. On February 20, 1910, during a visit to Ann Arbor, Lamont authorized placing the order for the glass for the refractor, and on March 7, under Hussey’s direction, plans and drawings for the mounting were begun by Samuel Pierpont Langley (’08e), nephew of the celebrated astronomer of the same name.
A few days later occurred an interruption which Hussey evidently thought might be turned to good account. A cablegram was received March 12, 1910, from President Gonzalez of the National University of La Plata, offering him the directorship of the La Plata Observatory. Acting President Hutchins was consulted regarding the offer, and, according to Hussey’s diary, advised him “not to take it,” or, at any rate, “to be in no hurry about accepting it.” Soon afterward, in Chicago, Lamont suggested that Hussey go and look it over, and offered to pay the expenses of his trip to South America.
Upon Hussey’s return from Chicago, the gifts from Mr. Lamont were announced to the Regents — the twenty-six acres of land just east of the Observatory, the large lathe and shaper for the shop, and the glass for the twenty-four-inch objective. Hussey explained to them the La Plata offer, and arrangements were made for a leave of absence to permit him to go to investigate it and to report on the possibility of arranging plans by which the two observatories might co-operate.
On January 24, 1911, the 37 ½-inch reflector was ready for trial, but the night was not clear. On January 27 telegrams were exchanged with the La Plata representative in New York. The first spectrogram with the reflector, one of Capella, was made on January 31, 1911, and on February 5 at the Hotel Astor in New York a conference was held at which President Hutchins, Director Hussey, Lamont, and Ernest Nelson of the La Plata Observatory discussed plans of co-operation between the two observatories. It was proposed that Hussey hold the directorship of both and divide his time between the two. On February 23 the Regents approved his La Plata appointment, and on June 20 he boarded the “Voltaire” for South America.
Then followed several years during which he divided his time between the two institutions. During the year 1913-14 conversations were in progress with President Gonzalez to provide a larger telescope, “the largest in the world,” at La Plata for spectroscopic work. “That here [at Ann Arbor],” wrote Hussey, “and the Lamont refractor at Cordoba on the hill would make a fine combination.” That combination, however, was not to be. The National University of La Plata met with financial reverses. In 1915 even the publications of its observatory were held up: the treasury was empty. On September 13 Hussey was summoned back to Ann Arbor by a cablegram from President Hutchins informing him of the serious illness of Mrs. Hussey, who died before he reached home. His directorship at La Plata ended in 1916.
In the meantime, work on the Lamont refractor was not forgotten. In 1911 a contract for a twenty-four-inch objective was given to Alvin Clarke and Sons. At about the same time glass was ordered from Parra-Mantois and Company of Paris, but it was not obtained. Two years later a duplicate order was placed with the German firm Schott and Genoessen. But up to the time of Hussey’s last return from South America the glass had not been received. Mr. Lundin, the expert optician selected to make the lens, had died in 1915. The World War then intervened. During this period there was improvement in the production of optical glass in the United States, and at the end of the war the glass was ordered anew from an American firm. Three more years passed without success. In August, 1922, in response to an inquiry, Hussey learned that at Jena was a pair of unsold disks twenty-eight inches in diameter suitable for a twenty-seven-inch objective. The American firm kindly consented to cancel the order. Lamont authorized the purchase of the Jena disks, which were received by McDowell and Company at Pittsburgh in April, 1923. Because of the tragic death of J. B. McDowell, chief optician, there was another delay, but the work was completed by Hageman and the objective reached Ann Arbor on January 27, 1925.
Early work on the mounting had been done in the Observatory Shop by Henry J. Colliau and was halted in 1913 awaiting final information regarding the diameter and focal length of the objective. The larger lens necessitated a new tube, which was constructed at the Observatory Shop, and adapted to the mounting, which needed only minor changes. During the summer of 1925 the twenty-seven-inch Lamont telescope was fully assembled and temporarily mounted just south of the dome of the 37 ½-inch telescope for final testing. The preliminary optical tests had been carried out at Pittsburgh, and the final test at Ann Arbor on star images, including selected double stars, proved entirely satisfactory. Tests made by Heber D. Curtis on the lens in the optician’s works at Pittsburgh showed that it might well be termed “perfect” as to figure, and this has been borne out by the subsequent performance of the telescope in South Africa. A large proportion of Rossiter’s pairs are of separation only 0.”25 to 0.”20, and experts have pronounced the discovery and measurement of many of these pairs as “an extraordinarily severe test for any observer with any telescope even under the best observing conditions.”
The southern site for the Lamont refractor had been carefully selected after thorough investigation by Hussey, whose long experience had made him an expert along this line. In 1903 he had studied “seeing” conditions in southern California, Arizona, and Australia for the Carnegie Institution, and it was largely because of his recommendation that Mount Wilson, California, was approved as the site for that institution’s 60-inch reflector and likewise, later, of its 100-inch reflector. During his South American experience, conditions at La Plata were adequately known by his discovery of 312 double stars, and he had given fairly favorable consideration to a site near Cordoba, Argentina. South Africa remained as a possible location, and in October, 1923, he left Ann Arbor, taking a ten-inch telescope with lens by McDowell, the mounting of the old six-inch telescope of the Students’ Observatory at Ann Arbor, and a new tube. With this instrument he tested sites near Bloemfontein and Johannesburg and studied information received from reliable sources regarding other sites. He stated:
Dr. Innes, Director of the Union Observatory, recommended Johannesburg, or some place in its vicinity. The late Sir David Gill, for many years Director of the Royal Observatory at Cape Town, Colonel Morris, long associated with the South African Geodetic Survey, Dr. Halm, Acting Astronomer at Cape Town, and Senator A. W. Roberts of Lovedale, all recommended Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State.
(Hussey, MS, “Lamont-Hussey Observatory.”)
Tests with the ten-inch telescope during December and January, 1923-24, confirmed these recommendations, and Naval Hill was finally selected. The site is within the city limits of Bloemfontein about two miles north and three hundred feet above the business section.
In August, 1926, the Lamont refractor was shipped for Bloemfontein, and on October 9 Hussey, accompanied by Mrs. Hussey and Richard A. Rossiter with his family, sailed from New York. In London on October 28, 1926, while Professor Hussey was at dinner with friends, occurred his unexpected death, the most severe blow received by the southern project of the University of Michigan and a tragic ending of a lifelong dream just to be realized. S. W. Burnham, another famous American double-star observer, paid a fitting tribute when he said that Hussey’s record in all fields of double-star work was brilliant and that it would not be forgotten as time went on.
Ralph Hamilton Curtiss, who came to the Observatory in 1907 and was in charge during Hussey’s many absences, succeeded him, first as Acting Director, and then, in March, 1927, as Director of the Observatory. Also, immediately upon the death of Hussey, he was placed in charge of the Lamont expedition to South Africa. It was decided that the work should proceed under Rossiter, who continued from London and arrived at Bloemfontein November 28, 1926. A fifty-six-foot dome by Fecker of Pittsburgh and some accessories were shipped the following October.
Plans for the Lamont-Hussey Observatory Building were made by W. S. Lunn, engineer, of Bloemfontein, and the construction was let to a local firm there, W. H. Birtand Sons. Another Bloemfontein company, Gillespie and Son, erected the dome. Many favors were extended by the municipality, including a practically free site, road construction, water and power at cost, and a residence for Rossiter at one dollar rent per year.
The Lamont-Hussey Observatory building consists of the circular telescope room, fifty-six feet in diameter, and a north and a south wing. The central part is covered by the large dome of the twenty-seven-inch refractor. The south wing contains the library, three offices, a restroom, a storeroom, and a darkroom. The north wing provides quarters for the caretaker and for garage and storage purposes. The steel dome weighed fifty-eight tons when it was crated for shipment. It is rotated by a five-horsepower motor with a control at the switchboard and another within reach of the observer at the telescope. An observing chair twenty-seven feet high and of light steel construction, also built by Fecker, was provided to take the place of the elevating floor originally planned. The twenty-seven-inch objective of the Lamont refractor has a focal length of 40 feet and 7 ½ inches from the rear surface of the crown-glass component. The combination of crown and flint disks is corrected for visual light. The bronze cell designed by Colliau permits relative rotation of the disks for possible improvement of definition, which has not yet been deemed necessary. A few changes from the Warner and Swasey design for the mounting were made, including a differential slow motion in the drive, and a small increase in the thickness of the steel sheets of the tube to decrease the amount of flexure. The micrometer was patterned after the Warner and Swasey micrometer of the University’s twelve-inch refractor at Ann Arbor, with improvements suggested by Hussey and made in the Observatory Shop. The adopted value of one turn of the screw is 10.”540. Ten eyepieces giving magnifying powers from 240 to 1,760 are provided.
Morris K. Jessup and Henry F. Donner sailed from New York October 1, 1927, to assist Rossiter with the doublestar program. The Lamont-Hussey Observatory was dedicated on April 28, 1928, with guests present officially representing the Orange Free State, the city of Bloemfontein, and the Boyden Station of Harvard University. The staff formally began its work, carrying out in detail the plans originally formulated by Hussey. The following account of the program, its progress, present status, and future plans, was submitted by Rossiter, June 30, 1937, who remains as Michigan’s only representative to carry to completion the comprehensive plans of Hussey’s dream and Lamont’s benefaction.
Former double-star programs customarily carried the systematic examination of stars through 9.0 or 9.1 catalogue magnitude. The searches at the Lamont-Hussey Observatory have been extended to include 9.5 catalogue magnitude. The majority of the charts from which the searches have been made were plotted to that magnitude at Ann Arbor under the direction of the late William J. Hussey. The part of the southern sky not covered by these charts is represented by charts used by Hussey at the Lick Observatory of the University of California or at the Argentine National Observatory at La Plata. Additional stars have been plotted at Bloemfontein on these old charts, and in many cases wholly new charts have been prepared. The search files of the Lamont-Hussey Observatory now contain 1,875 charts of the southern sky from -10° declination to the south pole in bands of declination four degrees wide. Each chart from -10° through -65° is 12m of right ascension wide by 4° of declination long. South of -65° the charts are of 24m or 36m of right ascension wide. The chart method has always been used at the Lamont-Hussey Observatory in searches, researches, and in remeasures. An observer using the chart method needs no assistant in the dome while he is working. The original searches and researches, and remeasures in the same or adjacent bands, are carried out very expeditiously and conveniently by a single observer by this method. The Lamont twenty-seven-inch refractor has no installed fine circles and thus far has not seriously needed them. Only a widely scattered group of double stars to be remeasured would make fine circles more convenient than the chart method.
Since all known southern double stars are indicated on these 1,875 charts, the total file represents a location catalogue of southern pairs. Of the more than 15,000 double stars thus entered on these charts 5,650 were found at the Lamont-Hussey Observatory during the period May, 1928 — May, 1937. In addition to this chart catalogue there are two card catalogues of Lamont-Hussey Observatory double stars, one in order of right ascension for all the 5,650 pairs and the other in order of right ascension in each four-degree band. All measures are entered on both sets of cards. Since both searching and measuring is carried out by four-degree bands, the second card catalogue is most convenient for first record and for entry into the first card catalogue. The first card catalogue is most convenient for publication and for general entry or comparison with published lists or measures.
Three observers have been responsible for finding the 5,650 Lamont-Hussey Observatory pairs. Morris K. Jessup, working during the period May, 1928 — July, 1930, is credited with 854 new double stars; Henry F. Donner, May, 1928 — May, 1933, with 1,057; and Richard A. Rossiter, May, 1928 — May, 1937, with 3,739. Each observer has been held responsible for securing sufficient measures of his own double stars to form, and furnish for double-star observers, a first epoch with which later measures might be compared. Only when some orbital motion is shown by a later epoch of measures does a double star become of especial interest to double-star observers. By January, 1930, 2,550 Lamont-Hussey Observatory double stars had been thus measured for a first epoch. To May, 1937, and particularly during 1935 and 1936, an additional 2,600 pairs have had first epochal measures. The remaining 500 double stars have had measures on only one night or need more measures to give a good first epoch.
Approximately 80 per cent of the southern sky has been searched at the Lamont-Hussey Observatory during the period May, 1928 — May, 1937. By means of part-time searches during the following three years the remaining 20 per cent should be finished. Plans for the five years ending in June, 1942, call for completion of the first epochal measures of all Lamont-Hussey Observatory pairs and as many second epochal measures as possible, an estimated 80 per cent of the total final list.
Of the 5,650 new double stars, 44 per cent are not fainter than 9.1 catalogue magnitude. The discoveries of the past two years still maintain approximately that percentage of standard search doubles. The number of faint close companions is greater than that in most lists of standard new double stars, and represents pairs only observable under reasonably good conditions of transparency and steadiness.
The magnitude-separation formula, adopted as a basis for determining which apparent double stars are to be retained in the files as Lamont-Hussey Observatory pairs, is as follows: log ρ” = 2.5 – 0.2m, where ρ” is the separation in seconds of arc and m is the combined visual magnitude of the two components of the double star. This formula allows a separation of 8.”0 for an 8.0 visual magnitude pair; 5.”0 for a 9.0; and 3.”2 for a 10.0. Of the 5,650 Lamont-Hussey Observatory pairs, 94 per cent fall within the limits of separation set by this formula, and the remaining 6 per cent are borderline cases which have been retained if their separations are not greater than one-third wider than called for; 22 per cent of the 5,650 pairs are not wider than 0.”5, 15 per cent are wider than 3.”0, and the remaining 63 per cent thus have separations in the range from 0.”5 to 3.”0.
In the majority of cases the combined visual magnitudes of the Lamont-Hussey Observatory double stars have been determined by Rossiter with an iris diaphragm attached to the four-inch finder of the Lamont twenty-seven-inch refractor. The apertures used for the various magnitudes have been standardized by means of the Harvard photometric stars found in the Henry Draper Catalogue. For stars with components separated more than 3.”5 the magnitude of the primary component seems to be given by the iris diaphragm; for components closer than 2.”0 or 1.”8 the magnitude is that of the combined light of the two components. For separations ranging from 2.”0 to 3.”5 an adjusted value between the combined light and the light of the primary seems best to represent the magnitude of the components as seen in the twenty-seven-inch refractor. Difference of magnitude between the two components must of course be estimated only in the large telescope.
No complete measures of any Lamont-Hussey Observatory pairs have yet been published by the University of Michigan or by the Lamont-Hussey Observatory. Single-line announcements for each double star, including an approximate measure, have been published in the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society for 5,250 pairs, 2,232 in 1933 and 3,018 in 1936, in sections of Volume 65. Four hundred more are soon to be announced in similar manner. At the completion of the search and measuring program the University of Michigan will publish the whole list of Lamont-Hussey Observatory double stars, together with their first and second epochal measures, in a “Hussey Memorial Volume” in commemoration of one of the great double-star astronomers of the world, the late William Joseph Hussey, whose name is coupled with that of the Honorable Robert Patterson Lamont, the original donor of the Observatory and its great telescope.
The financial support of the Lamont-Hussey Observatory for the five years ending in June, 1933, came chiefly from the donor. Every assistance to the expedition was given by the government of the Union of South Africa and that of the Orange Free State, as well as by the municipality of Bloemfontein. It has been estimated that such assistance, in the form of a residence for Rossiter and low, fixed charges for electricity and other services, amounted to fully 10 per cent of the yearly expenses, and these have been cheerfully given from the beginning of the expedition until April, 1937, when an even more liberal measure of support was provided. From 1933 until April, 1937, the University of Michigan assumed the financial responsibility.
For the five-year period April, 1937 — March, 1942, the municipality of Bloemfontein furnished the total financial support for carrying on the Lamont-Hussey Observatory from a fund 80 per cent of which was furnished by the government of the Union of South Africa and 20 per cent by the municipality. By agreement the University of Michigan retained full ownership of the Observatory, of its equipment, of its observing program, and of the results secured, and has the financial responsibility of publishing the “Hussey Memorial Volume” at the completion of the observing program. Suitable acknowledgment is to be made in the final published volume for the financial support given by the municipality of Bloemfontein and the government of the Union of South Africa. The agreement thus allowed the Lamont-Hussey Observatory to carry on its program according to the plan pursued during the period May, 1928 — March, 1937, an agreement remarkable in its liberality of view and freedom from restrictions.
– W. Carl Rufus
- Curtis, Heber D.”Professor Hussey’s Dream Comes True. The Lamont-Hussey Observatory…” Mich. Alum., 38 (1932): 604-6.
- Curtiss, Ralph H. MSS. Univ. Mich.
- MS, “Hussey Memorial Volume.” Univ. Mich.
- Hussey, William J. MS, “Diary,” 1906-25. Univ. Mich.
- Hussey, William J. MS, “The Lamont-Hussey Observatory.” Univ. Mich.
- MS, “Minutes of the University Senate,” May 16, 1927. Univ. Mich.
- [News notes.] Mich. Alum., 13 (1907): 303; 17 (1911): 292, 296-98; 18 (1912): 260-62; 29 (1922): 136; 30 (1924): 453-56; 33 (1926): 40, 128; 34 (1928): 276-79, 312, 507.
- President’s Report, Univ. Mich., 1926-40.
- Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1876-1940.
1.c. The MC Math-Hulbert Observatory
The McMath-Hulbert Observatory of the University of Michigan commenced operations on July 1, 1930. Before that date lay the history of the idea and its evolution from even smaller equipment than that available at the time.
It is probable that Mr. Willard Pope (’88e) of Detroit, vice-president of the Canadian Bridge Company of Walkerville, Ontario, interested the president of the company and his business associate, Mr. Francis C. McMath (C.E. Washington University ’87, Hon.Alum. Michigan ’31, D.Eng. hon. Wayne ’37), in astronomy during the early 1920’s. McMath’s interest led to the acquisition of a series of small telescopes, the first of which was a three-inch altazimuth obtained in 1922. Since the mounting of these telescopes proved unsuitable, in 1926, after some urging on the part of his son, Robert R. McMath (’13e, A.M. hon. ’33, D.Sc. hon. Wayne ’38), president of Motors Metal Manufacturing Company of Detroit, F. C. McMath purchased a four-inch Bausch and Lomb refractor equatorially mounted and driven by a spring clock. Experience showed that this instrument could not be used satisfactorily out in the open, and, consequently, in 1927 R. R. McMath designed and built a suitable dome to house it. The spring clock was found reasonably satisfactory for short periods, but its rate was not sufficiently constant to keep the setting circle in proper position for the longer observations. It occurred to F. C. McMath that a telechron motor could be used for the clock drive instead of springs, and R. R. McMath undertook to design and build a sidereal clock with such a motor. This was installed early in 1928; it performed perfectly, and all clock troubles were at an end.
That summer R. R. McMath conceived the idea that the moon should prove an interesting subject for celestial motion pictures. He took such a picture, holding his own sixteen-millimeter motion-picture camera by hand against the eyepiece at an approximation of the telescope focus. After development, a fairly clear image of the moon appeared, and the picture showed that the idea had promise.
These motion pictures came into the hands of the late Director Ralph H. Curtiss of the University of Michigan Observatory through Henry J. Colliau of the Observatory staff. As a result of the vision and energy of Professor Curtiss, Messrs. F. C. and R. R. McMath agreed to undertake the design of an instrument especially adapted for the production of celestial motion pictures. It is a matter of great regret that Curtiss did not live to see the plan come to fruition.
In 1929 Judge Henry S. Hulbert (LL.M. hon. ’14, LL.D. Wayne ’36), long interested in astronomy, joined the enterprise. At that time he was the senior Judge of Probate of Wayne County, Michigan, and has since (1935) become vice-president of the National Bank of Detroit in charge of the trust department.
The Regents of the University of Michigan, in June, 1929, appointed Messrs. R. R. McMath, F. C. McMath, and Judge Hulbert honorary curators of astronomical observation, at the request of Dr. R. H. Curtiss. This was done in order to make possible close relations between the new observatory at Lake Angelus and the University of Michigan Observatory. Later, the titles of these curators were changed.
The observatory, which commenced operations on July 1, 1930, comprised a 10 ½-inch equatorial, mounted on a very heavy Bruce-type mounting with all of the auxiliaries thought necessary at that time. This observatory was described by the three founders in the University of Michigan Observatory Publications (Vol. 4, No. 4, 1931). Shortly thereafter, Heber Doust Curtis accepted the directorship of the University of Michigan observatories, and this proved to be one of the most fortunate events in the history of the enterprise. His unbounded enthusiasm and faith in the undertaking have been a continued inspiration to the founders. Dr. Curtis suggested that the name of the new observatory at Lake Angelus be the McMath-Hulbert Observatory, and in 1931 the three founders deeded it to the University of Michigan, for it had become apparent that the work should be carried on under University auspices.
The years 1931-33 were spent in perfecting the necessary mechanical equipment with which to take successful celestial motion pictures of the planets and of the shadow changes on the moon. The purely educational value of the pictures had previously been regarded as of paramount importance, but their scientific value was becoming more and more evident as time went on. Accordingly, in 1931 it was decided to try similar photographic work with the sun as a subject. Keivin Burns of the Allegheny Observatory was consulted as to the optics involved, and F. C. McMath furnished the funds with which to acquire the optical parts of the new instrument, which was christened by Dr. Curtis the “spectroheliokinematograph.”
This instrument was attached to the eye end of the 10 1/2-inch reflector in June, 1932, after having been constructed by Messrs. Colliau and Smock in the University Observatory Shop from detailed drawings made by Curtis. Robert M. Petrie of the University staff spent the summer at Lake Angelus assisting in an effort to make the spectroheliokinematograph function. Spectroheliograms of solar prominences were secured that summer, but the first striking complete record was made of the ejection of a large eruptive-type prominence from a rather small sunspot on June 19, 1934, by Messrs. R. R. McMath and Petrie.
In the meantime, R. R. McMath had been building and discarding telescope drives and controls in an effort to secure one which would be nearly perfect. A very successful drive which utilized the method of frequency changing had been evolved by the summer of 1933. It became evident, however, that if extensive solar work were to be carried on, still further improvements were needed. The Detroit Edison Company joined with the observatory late in the summer of 1933 in an endeavor to evolve a satisfactory drive for the telescope which should be independent of the power system’s line-voltage fluctuation and frequency variations. On December 1, 1933, the final drive was installed at Lake Angelus. Its fundamental element was a synchronous motor the speed of which could be varied by means of frequency variations in the current, effected with a thermionic tube control. Worm gearing only connected the motor to the telescope. This drive proved itself to be everything that could be desired and has been adopted for other telescopes at other observatories.
Between 1930 and 1934 Director Curtis had shown the pictures taken at the McMath-Hulbert Observatory before many audiences, both scientific and popular, and through the University of Chicago Press the pictures secured a wide distribution all over the earth. The work was closely watched by the scientific world, and professional astronomers were generous in their praise. This early success was recognized by the Franklin Institute of Pennsylvania, which awarded the three founders the John Price Wetherill medal in May, 1933, “for their design and construction of novel apparatus for the making of motion pictures of astronomical subjects.”
The reception of the solar motion pictures led R. R. McMath to suggest a solar tower telescope. With the help of President Ruthven, $20,000 was secured from the Rackham Fund as an initial grant. R. R. McMath and his brother, Neil Cook McMath (C.E. Cornell ’14), then made an extended tour of inspection to other observatories, and in particular to Mount Wilson Observatory. All possible aid was given by the scientists at these observatories. It developed, however, that it would be most desirable to build an instrument which would take world rank as to size and light grasp. Soon after the McMaths’ return from their trip, the founders of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory and H. D. Curtis held a conference and decided to proceed with plans for such an instrument. It soon became obvious that the cost of the instrument would greatly overrun the initial grant. A very substantial grant was then obtained from the McGregor Fund of Detroit, and in addition a number of individuals made generous contributions.
The resources available for design and construction proved to be particularly fortunate. R. R. McMath was president of the company in whose shops the 10 ½-inch instrument, with its complicated accessories and other equipment, had been built. Neil C. McMath was vice-president of the Whitehead and Kales Company of Detroit, one of the larger steel fabricators of this section of the country. Edison Pettit, of the Mount Wilson Observatory, put his accumulated experience in solar physics and solar observation unreservedly at the disposal of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory. Every effort was made to avoid mistakes which had been made in the past.
Ground for the new tower telescope was broken on July 16, 1935, and the instrument was completed, except for temporary optical parts, on June 30, 1936. A description was published in the University of Michigan Observatory Publications(Vol. 7, No. 1, 1937). Fortunately, the founders had purchased enough optical pyrex from the Corning Glass Company late in 1934. This alone permitted the work to be undertaken as soon as it was. Nevertheless, certain parts of the optical equipment were not ready at the end of June, 1936. Director W. S. Adams, of the Mount Wilson Observatory, thereupon loaned the McMath-Hulbert Observatory sufficient optical equipment with which to begin its program. Even as late as May, 1937, the observatory had not yet received its own six-inch diffraction grating and was still using one loaned by the Mount Wilson Observatory.
Edison Pettit accepted an appointment as a research associate of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory in June, 1936. He spent July and August supervising the observational program at Lake Angelus. Although it had been hoped that the results would be unusual, no one had even imagined such results as were actually secured. Certain phenomena which the astronomer had only strongly supposed to exist he could now, for the first time in astronomical history, see as often as desired and examine minutely. The results of measurements of the first summer’s negatives are described by R. R. McMath and Edison Pettit in the Astrophysical Journal (Vol. 85, No. 4, 1937).
The light-pressure theory which has been advanced, particularly in England, in explanation of the solar prominences, appears to have been disproved by the observations of 1936. The films indicate that a source of chromospheric material exists high above the solar surface, and suggest strongly that there is a solar atmosphere, notwithstanding that all eclipse evidence seems to deny its existence.
In the winter of 1936-37 some alterations to the instrumentation and some important additions were made. The changes and additions were the result of one year’s use of the instrument and were, in the main, evolutionary in character.
Dr. Edison Pettit continued as research associate and spent June, July, and August, 1937, at the observatory assisting with the observational program. The results of the summer’s observing, together with more observations by McMath and H. E. Sawyer in the autumn, were described in Mount Wilson Contributions, No. 597. The tower performed with perfect satisfaction during its second summer, so that only minor changes in the instrumentation were made during the winter of 1937-38, the principal one being the design and construction of an auxiliary photoelectric guiding apparatus.
Dr. Pettit was again at Lake Angelus observing with the tower telescope during the summer of 1938. Measures of the records of the previous summers had made it evident that motions perpendicular to the line of sight, deducible from the customary spectroheliograms obtained with the tower telescope and the spectroheliokinematograph, could tell only a part of the story of motions on the sun. Accordingly, Sawyer and George Malesky spent the summer evolving a technique for measuring the motions of prominence material along the line of sight, using the 10 1/2-inch equatorial and its spectroheliokinematograph.
It was found that the velocities at all points of an area under observation could be determined by giving a suitable motion to the slits of an orthodox spectroheliograph. The necessary motions were obtainable only in an instrument of special construction, and Mr. Julius F. Stone of Columbus, Ohio, made a grant of $10,000 to the observatory for the design and construction of the new radial velocity spectroheliograph.
The Stone radial velocity spectroheliograph was built in the winter of 1938-39, and its installation in the tower telescope just to the north and above the main spectroheliograph was completed by November, 1939. A complete optical system, using the existing driving and controlling mechanisms, was added to the fifty-foot tower for directing and focusing sunlight on the Stone spectroheliograph.
At the close of the summer of 1938 Dr. Pettit felt that he had accomplished his work at the observatory, and he accordingly did not participate in the observing in the summer of 1939. During the 1939 observing season the first strictly simultaneous records of the motions of solar prominences in light from two different elements, calcium and hydrogen, were obtained; and also in this observing season the first pictures of the actual beginnings of two prominences were made.
For some time past, Judge Hulbert, Director R. R. McMath, and his father, Francis C. McMath, had discussed plans for the general enlargement of the observatory. Inasmuch as the tower telescope had become a proved success, the field for the spectroheliokinematograph, mounted as it was on the 10 1/2-inch equatorial, was very limited. Upon the death of F. C. McMath on February 13, 1938, it was decided that the 10 1/2-inch should be replaced with a memorial twenty-four-inch equatorial telescope. The work on the design and manufacture of the Francis C. McMath twenty-four-inch reflecting telescope was started early in 1939, and the instrument was practically completed by June 30, 1940. It has been described in the Publications of the University of Michigan Observatory (Vol. 8, No. 6).
Throughout the regime of Heber D. Curtis the curators, who at his request were newly designated honorary curators of the astronomical observatories of the University of Michigan, have served as an advisory board. Neil C. McMath took his father’s place as a curator in March, 1938. Before the end of the year R. R. McMath accepted the directorship of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory, and Willard Pope soon afterward replaced him as an honorary curator.
The simultaneous recording of prominence motions in three dimensions and in the light of different elements showed the great desirability of adding still another simultaneous record, that of the energy changes in prominences and other solar features. Preliminary designs by Director McMath for a new instrument indicated that at least a seventy-foot tower telescope would be needed, and tentative plans for a new telescope and an office building to house the staff, provide a library, darkrooms, laboratory facilities, and, probably most important of all, a suitably equipped instrument shop, were drawn up. In September, 1939, the McGregor Fund made a grant to the University of Michigan of $100,000 and Mr. and Mrs. R. R. McMath deeded the necessary land to carry out these plans. The new building was dedicated on May 25, 1940, together with the tower telescope structure (without instrumentation). Work was immediately started on the new McGregor instrument, and the new tower telescope was in service by the end of 1941.
The completion of the McGregor Tower perfects the Lake Angelus equipment to the point where concurrent observations of space motion and of the energy in solar activity can be made with ease and precision. Experience gained in making the simultaneous records in hydrogen and calcium light and the simultaneous radial velocity records indicates that such concurrent observation has many times the value of an isolated record.
Although the new concurrent observations will supersede, in many ways, the original “one-variable” observations, several important results have emerged from the early motion pictures of solar prominences. For the first time, astronomers have been able to see the motions of prominences projected on the disk of the sun, and these pictures, as well as the pictures of prominences projected on the sky, show conclusively that 95 per cent of the material in prominences is moving downward to the sun.
The beginnings of simultaneous observations have enabled us to demonstrate pictorially, and by measurement, that the gases which compose a solar prominence are perfectly mixed and in some instances to derive the geometrical relations of the prominences to definite points on the surface of the sun. Based on these first results of the method of concurrent observations, new instruments have been evolved, a staff of astronomers has been organized to do cooperative research, and a novel program for continued investigation and observation of the sun has been developed.
The phenomenal growth of the observatory to an “institution responsible for one of the greatest developments of the decade — the continuous record of the motions of the solar atmosphere” has required the close and enthusiastic cooperation of many individuals.
H. E. Sawyer and O. C. Mohler, assistant astronomers, together with J. T. Brodie, assistant, comprise the present scientific staff. Messrs. Sawyer and Brodie have been at Lake Angelus since late in 1933. Dr. Mohler, after a close association with the observatory which began in 1933, joined the staff permanently in 1940. C. W. Guenther, instrument maker, and two machinists, under the supervision of engineer George Malesky, are engaged in completing the instruments for the McGregor Tower at Lake Angelus.
The three founders of the observatory — R. R. McMath, Judge H. S. Hulbert, and F. C. McMath — have been completely responsible for the organization of the observatory. Judge Hulbert has been an invaluable aid to the observatory whenever his many duties would permit his participation in its activities; and until his death Mr. F. C. McMath contributed from his long engineering experience freely and generously in the design of buildings and new instruments. His advice and counsel in all matters pertaining to the observatory have been greatly missed during the last three years. From the earliest beginnings of the observatory, Dr. R. R. McMath has been directly responsible for the design and construction of all of the instruments and buildings and has, in addition, initiated and supervised the research of the observatory.
– Robert R. McMath, Francis C. McMath, and Henry S. Hulbert
[Much of the above history was written by the late Francis C. McMath. It has been brought up to date by Messrs. R. R. McMath and H. S. Hulbert.]
- Curtis, Heber D. “Observatory Is Gift to University.” Mich. Alum., 38 (1932): 347-48.
- Curtis, Heber D. “The New Solar Tower of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory.” Mich. Alum. Quart. Rev., 42 (1936): 128-32.
- McMath, Francis C., Henry S. Hulbert, and Robert R. McMath. “Preliminary Results on the Application of the Motion Picture Camera to Celestial Photography.” Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc., 70 (1931), No. 4: 371-79.
- McMath, Robert R. “The McMath-Hulbert Telechron Driving Clock.” Pop. Astron., 38 (1930): 460-66.
- McMath, Robert R. “The Surface of the Nearest Star.” Sci. Mo., 47 (1938): 411-20.
- McMath, Robert R. “Recent Studies in Solar Phenomena.” Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc., 79 (1938), No. 4: 475-98.
- McMath, Robert R., and Edison Pettit. “Prominences of the Active and Sunspot Types Compared.” Astrophys. Journ., 85 (1937): 279-303.
- McMath, Robert R., and Edison Pettit. “Prominence Studies.” Astrophys. Journ., (Mount Wilson Contrib., No. 597), 88 (1938): 244-77.
- McMath, Robert R., and Edison Pettit. “Some New Prominence Phenomena.” Publ. Astron. Soc. Pac., 49 (1937): 240-64.
- McMath, Robert R., and Edison Pettit. “Motions in the Loops of Prominences of the Sunspot Type, Class IIIb.” Publ. Astron. Soc. Pac., 50 (1938): 56-57.
- McMath, Robert R., and Edison Pettit. “A Quasi-Eruptive Prominence Observed in Hydrogen.” Publ. Astron. Soc. Pac., pp. 240-42.
- McMath, Robert R., and Edison Pettit. “The Doppler Effect in an Eruptive Prominence.” Publ. Astron. Soc. Pac., 51 (1939): 154-57.
- McMath, Robert R., Edison Pettit, Harold E. Sawyer, and John T. Brodie. “An Eruptive Prominence of Record Height and Velocity.” Publ. Astron. Soc. Pac., 49 (1937): 305-8.
- McMath, Robert R., and Harold E. Sawyer. “Location of Velocity Changes in a Class IIIb Prominence.” Publ. Astron. Soc. Pac., 51 (1939): 165-68.
- The Michigan Daily, May 16, 24, and 25, 1940.
- [News notes.] Mich. Alum., 40 (1933): 92-93; 40 (1934): 486.
- President’s Report, Univ. Mich., 1926-40.
- Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1929-40.
- Publications of the Observatory of the University of Michigan, Vols. 4-8 (1931-40).
1.d. Meteorological Instruments and the Teaching of Meteorology
The Regents’ report to the superintendent of public instruction in 1849 incorporated a statement by the Board of Visitors regarding the lack of “philosophical apparatus.” The importance placed on meteorology is evident from the following excerpt:
… Not an instrument, even, for Meteorological purposes, is to be found in their [the Regents’] inventory, notwithstanding the subject is becoming every year one of increasing interest to the scholar and poetical [practical?] man, and awakens the attention of our national and other Legislatures.
(R.S.P.I., 1849, p. 45.)
Lectures on meteorology and climate were announced in the Catalogue for 1852-53 under the heading, Chemistry, as follows: “During the Third Term a special course will be given to the Agricultural Class — also Lectures upon the subjects of Meteorology and Climate.” An unfilled professorship of theoretical and practical agriculture was also listed. In 1853-54, under Agricultural Course, the following course was announced: “Lectures on Chemistry, Chemistry applied to the Arts, Meteorology and Climate.” These were evidently given by the Reverend Charles Fox (A.B. and A.M. Oxford), Lecturer on Theoretical and Practical Agriculture, who was appointed Professor for 1854-55. His death, which was recorded in the Catalogue of 1854-55, occurred in July, 1854, and caused a suspension of the lectures which was then considered only temporary. The prospect of finding an immediate successor was apparently given up in 1861-62, when the unfilled professorship was canceled from the faculty list, but, to judge from the statement in the Catalogue, the hope of providing a complete agricultural course survived until 1863.
The interest in meteorology did not fail, however, because of its association with the ill-fated agricultural course. Meteorological instruments were included in the purchases made with the Regents’ approval in 1854 by Alexander Winchell, Professor of Physics and Civil Engineering. His account for instruments in June of that year totaled $500. An additional sum of $500 was appropriated, which he exceeded by $135.75. The following action was recorded in October:
A memorial was received from Professor Winchell stating that the University is now in possession of a complete suite of Meteorological Instruments and recommending that some provision be made for the keeping of a regular record of Meteorological Observations at the University. Whereupon, it was ordered that Professor Winchell procure a bound blank book ruled according to the forms issued by the Smithsonian Institution and keep therein a record of regular Meteorological Observations at the University.
(R.P., 1837-64, p. 575.)
In accordance with this action, records were made by Winchell from 1854 to 1857 and were sent to the Smithsonian Institution for publication. In 1852 Dr. H. R. Schetterly made meteorological records at Ann Arbor; also, from 1852 to 1856, Lum Woodruff made such records three and one-half miles east of Ann Arbor. According to Winchell, the records by these observers were published by the Smithsonian Institution. The Winchell Papers in the University archives contain a large amount of meteorological data from other stations in Michigan, some for dates as early as 1823, as well as records from distant parts of the United States, both east and west. These records include temperature, rainfall, barometric pressure, wind, clouds, and humidity. Meteorological tables for several stations in Michigan give means by months during several years for the chief meteorological elements.
In Regent Hubbard’s compilation of bylaws (Bylaws, 1922, p. 67) is contained the statement: “The Director of the Observatory shall have charge of the Observatory and of the astronomical and meteorological instruments and apparatus.”
Mark Walrod Harrington, third Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory, 1879-91, gave much attention to meteorology, including the teaching of the subject, the securing of instruments, and the keeping of records. In the University Calendar for 1879-80 a two-hour course designated as General Meteorology was announced. Later the course was called Modern Meteorology and an elementary course in physics was made a prerequisite. Eight students enrolled in meteorology for the first semester of 1880-81. Some conception of the importance assigned to meteorology is conveyed by the heading, “Astronomy and Meteorology,” in the University Calendar of 1885-86, above the description of courses in the Department of Astronomy.
In response to Harrington’s request soon after his arrival, $850 was appropriated for meteorological instruments. He secured a Hough’s barograph, a Hough’s thermograph and an anemograph of St. Gibbon’s pattern for wind velocity and direction. From the United States Signal Service he obtained a standard thermometer, a psychrometer, a terrestrial-radiation thermometer, and a solar-radiation thermometer. Tridaily records of the barograph, thermograph, and anemograph were reported to the State Board of Health at Lansing. Harrington stated in his report to the Regents for the period October 1, 1879 — January 1, 1881, that continuous records of the three most important meteorological elements had never before been made at Ann Arbor, and, excepting a record of the velocity of the wind, never before in Michigan, so far as he knew. The report was composed of detailed observations, grouped under the three headings indicated in the following summary:
1. The climate of Ann Arbor (temperature, relative humidity, barometer, clouds, ozone, precipitation, and direction and velocity of wind). The rainfall for 1880 reached forty-four inches, which was unusually large, as the yearly average for Ann Arbor was about thirty-six inches. In the special table, “Gales at Ann Arbor during 1880,” the wind direction, duration, and maximum velocity were correlated with the change of temperature, with barometric pressure, and also with the relative humidity, cloudiness, and kind of clouds. The relationship between the conditions at Ann Arbor and the weather of the United States in general was shown in an interesting column, in which was noted especially the association with low-pressure areas in different parts of the country.
2. The diurnal fluctuation of the meteorological elements. It was found that the wind velocity fluctuates very much as the temperature does, that, on the average, the wind is lightest at about sunrise, increases rapidly in velocity till noon or soon after, and then falls rapidly until sunset, and after that slowly through the night until it reaches its minimum at about sunrise.
3. The character of local storms. Thunderstorms, hailstorms, and squalls of brief duration were here described, and correlated with the chief meteorological elements. In a special analysis of a sudden thunderstorm the following conclusion was reached:
… The squall accompanied a small high pressure center, the upper part of which — represented by the cloud — was a little in advance of the lower. This column of heavier air was accompanied by heavy rain and vivid electric discharges, which extended out from it but a short distance. From the base of the column the air was pouring out radially in all directions.
(Harrington, p. 19.)
Meteorological records that Harrington began in January, 1880, and continued until the end of his administration, were copied by William J. Hussey in a volume now kept at the Observatory. Harrington added to the equipment two small seismoscopes which indicated only the time of occurrence of seismic disturbances. In 1884 he established the American Meteorological Journal. He made many contributions to this journal, and served as its editor until 1892.
Harrington was granted a leave of absence from the University in June, 1891, for the first semester of the following year. He went to Washington, D.C., to reorganize the meteorological work of the Federal Government, and on July 1, 1891, became first Chief of the Weather Bureau. The course Modern Meteorology was bracketed (to be omitted) in the Calendar for 1891-92 because of his absence, and since that time has not been offered in the Department of Astronomy.
In 1909-10 Elementary Meteorology, a two-hour course developed by Irving Day Scott (Oberlin ’00, Ph.D. Michigan ’12), Instructor in Physiographical Geology, was first taught in the Department of Geology. It was an elementary treatment of the dynamics of the atmosphere, including properties and movements of the atmosphere, weather and its variations, and some account of weather prediction, and was designed for prospective teachers of physical geography in the high schools. Physiography 3 was a prerequisite. In 1920-21 one of the two elementary geology courses was “strongly advised” for students entering Physiography 3, and a year later three preliminary courses were required, making a sequence of four prerequisite to Elementary Meteorology. By 1923-24, however, this long sequence of prerequisites ceased to appear in the Catalogue.
The beginning, growth, and separation of courses in geography by the side of courses in geology from 1914 to 1923 had little or no effect on Elementary Meteorology except a change in course numbering. In the high school, however, physical geography has been displaced to a large extent by other subjects, and consequently, although the course in meteorology continues to be offered at the present in the Department of Geology, the demand for it has undergone a slight decline. The subject has recently been taken over by Ralph Leroy Belknap (’23e, Sc.D. ’29), Assistant Professor of Geology, who has worked two seasons in Greenland on upper-air circulation.
During the directorship of Asaph Hall, Jr., 1892-1905, meteorological records were continued, and were sent to the Michigan State Board of Health. In 1905 this board discontinued its meteorological work. William Joseph Hussey, Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory from 1905 to 1926, adopted the system of meteorological observations of the United States Weather Bureau, and in 1907, upon his recommendation to the Regents, President Angell took up the question and secured the establishment of a United States Weather Bureau station at the Observatory. Some of the old meteorological instruments needed repair — for example, a heavy wind had carried off the anemometer balls and had broken the shaft. New instruments were also purchased to complete the equipment necessary to make records in accordance with the government requirements. The work of the station has continued to the present time.
Necessary changes have been made in the time and method of recording the observations. To 1905 they were made at 7:00 A.M., 2:00 P.M., and 9:00 P.M., in accordance with the method adopted by the Michigan State Board of Health. The Weather Bureau observations, made twice a day, at 7:00 A.M. and 7:00 P.M., include barometric pressure, air temperature, relative humidity, direction and velocity of the wind, precipitation, and cloudiness. Records are also kept of the daily maximum and minimum temperatures and of such extraordinary phenomena as severe thunder and lightning, dense fogs, heavy frosts, ice storms, dust storms, auroras, and seismic disturbances.
Regarding meteorological equipment, Hussey stated in 1912:
Continuous instrumental records are also obtained of the velocity of the wind, as recorded by the anemometer; of the air temperature by a Richard thermograph; of the relative humidity by a Richard hygrograph and of the atmospheric pressure by a Richard aneroid barograph.
At the present time, as the hygrograph is not in use, the relative humidity is determined twice a day with the use of a wet- and dry-bulb sling psychrometer. The other instrumental records have been continued to the present time.The regular meteorological observations are sent each month to the Lansing station of the United States Weather Bureau. From April 1 to September 30 each year the daily observations are telegraphed each morning to the Chicago station for the use of the Corn and Wheat Section. During the winter season a weekly report of the average depth of snow is sent to Lansing. Each morning a weather report is telephoned for publication in the Ann Arbor Daily News. The Observatory is thus continuing to contribute valuable public services through the use of its meteorological equipment.
The meteorological work at the Observatory is now conducted on the basis of a volunteer station. Because of the nearness of two primary Government Weather Bureau stations the relative value of the local work is not as great as it was in the time of Harrington.
– W. Carl Rufus
- American Journal of Meteorology, 1884-92.
- Calendar, Univ. Mich., 1879-1914.
- Catalogue …, Univ. Mich., 1856-57, 1914-23.
- Catalogue and Register, Univ. Mich., 1923-27.
- General Register Issue, Univ. Mich., 1927-40.
- Harrington, Mark W. Report of the Director of the Detroit Observatory … for the Period Beginning October 1, 1879, and Ending January 1, 1881. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1881. (Observatory Report, 1879-81.)
- Hinsdale, Burke A. History of the University of Michigan. Ed. by Isaac N. Demmon. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1906.
- Hussey, William J. MS, “Diary,” 1906-25. Univ. Mich.
- “Mark Walrod Harrington …” Mich. Alum., 34 (1928): 343.
- New York Times, Jan. 8, 1909.
- Organization and Aims of the University of Michigan as Reflected in Its By-Laws …, 1922. Comp. by Lucius L. Hubbard. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1923. (Bylaws, 1922).
- President’s Report, Univ. Mich., 1880-1909.
- Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1879-1940. (R.P.)
- Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Michigan, 1849-1940. (R.S.P.I.)
- University of Michigan Regents’ Proceedings …, 1837-1864. Ed. by Isaac N. Demmon. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1915. (R.P., 1837-64.)
2. Astronomy (1975)
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.
Allan 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 in 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 for 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 observations 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.
The 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 Observatory 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. William 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.
3. Astronomy (2016)
Astronomy at the University of Michigan: 1975 – 2016
A Storied Department
Astronomy at the University of Michigan traces its history back to the founding of the Detroit Observatory in 1854 by the first president of U-M, Henry Philip Tappan. It was the first research laboratory on campus, one of the first observatories in the Midwest, and was named to honor the major donors who were from Detroit. Starting with only one astronomer and a few students, “by 1915, Michigan graduates made up a quarter of the leading American astronomers”.
By 1975, the Department of Astronomy had grown to include 12 professors, 8 research scientists, engineers, and postdocs, and 16 graduate students. With a rich and celebrated history as one of the early centers of astronomy in the United States, the University of Michigan Astronomy Department has always been grounded by its observatories. In 1975, the Department was in a rebuilding phase after the death or departure of legendary giants like Robert McMath, Leo Goldberg and Lawrence Aller around 1960. U-M alumnus W. A. “Al” Hiltner was hired as Chair in 1970 from the University of Chicago, where he had been Director of Yerkes Observatory. Based on his personal scientific collaborations, Hiltner formed a consortium with MIT and Dartmouth to rent a site at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), west of Tucson, AZ, to relocate the existing 1.3-meter telescope from Dexter, MI. It saw first light on May 4, 1975, and was named the McGraw-Hill Observatory, in recognition of funding support. This would later anchor the Michigan-Dartmouth-MIT (MDM) Observatory, and Michigan received a 50% share of telescope time.
While the optical astronomers were regrouping in the mid-1970’s, the University of Michigan Radio Astronomy Observatory (UMRAO) was thriving, led by Fred Haddock and Hugh Aller, who operated the 26-meter radio telescope near Dexter, MI. In 1965, Bill Dent had made the ground-breaking discovery with this facility that extragalactic radio sources had variable emission. Using monitoring data of this variability, the radio team, also including Research Scientists Margo Aller and Philip Hughes, showed that this variability is explained by relativistic shocks in the jets, originating from accretion disks of supermassive black holes in the cores of galaxies. These came to be known as active galactic nuclei (AGN). In later decades, their work was especially known for exploiting variability in polarization to determine jet flow properties and shock attributes. Haddock also provided supporting observations for the Voyager space missions to Jupiter and Saturn, and his research group was so large that it occupied the entire 9th floor of the Dennison Building. Among them was research engineer Ted Seling, who had revolutionized radio astronomy with the development of low-noise receivers.
The University of Michigan also owned the McMath-Hulbert Solar Observatory near Pontiac, MI. The Department had been a leader in solar astronomy in previous decades, for example, Richard Sears had been a co-author of the classic 1963 paper by Bahcall, Fowler, Iben, and Sears that identified one of the most important problems in solar physics: the unexpectedly low flux of solar neutrinos, a result that later led to the fundamental discovery that neutrinos oscillate between different states. But by the late 1970s, solar astronomy had branched into a distinctly separate discipline, and the active solar astronomers at U-M were also turning elsewhere for their data. At that time, the Pontiac facility was used primarily by Helen Dodson Prince for monitoring solar flares. Much larger, national facilities were now available, notably the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at KPNO, initiated in the 1950s by Michigan astronomers Robert McMath and Keith Pierce. Guenter Elste focused on Kitt Peak data in his studies of solar limb darkening, while Dick Teske now used space-based data from Skylab for his studies of solar flares. His group had also built an X-ray detector which was one of the first scientific instruments flown in space, aboard the third Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO-III). The end of an era came with the retirement of Orren Mohler, in 1979. Mohler was an eminent figure and had been a long-time Director of the observatory, as well as a former department chair and leader in the national community who helped to establish and develop the national observatories. Following the retirement of Prince in 1976, and Mohler in 1979, the McMath-Hulbert Observatory was closed and returned to the McMath heirs. Eventually the Observatory was acquired by Energy Conversion Devices, a solar energy company founded by Stanford Ovshinsky.
A smaller telescope that continued operations was the 0.6-m Curtis Schmidt wide-field telescope on Cerro Tololo in Chile. This telescope was built in 1950 at the initiative of Freeman Miller, who used it to study comets. Miller went on to serve in several administrative positions at U-M, including Associate Dean of Rackham Graduate School from 1958 to 1966. The Schmidt telescope was named after the legendary Professor H. D. Curtis, and was moved from Portage Lake, MI to the much clearer skies of north-central Chile in 1966. Remaining the property of U-M, it was operated by Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), the southern sister observatory of KPNO, under an agreement that gave the US national astronomical community 2/3rds of the observing time, and astronomers from the U-M 1/3rd of the time. Miller retired in 1977, but continued his work on comets. In later years, the telescope was primarily used by Gordon MacAlpine’s group for extensive surveys of emission-line galaxies, allowing his team to make fundamental characterizations of AGN and starbursts, elucidating their ionization processes. The Schmidt was also heavily used by Research Scientist Nancy Houk and collaborators, including Anne Cowley and generations of Michigan students, to produce the Michigan Catalogue of Two-Dimensional Spectral Types for the HD Stars, a 5-volume reference work for essentially all southern-hemisphere stars down to 9th-10th magnitude, based on objective prism spectra.
Bob Kirshner and the Hiltner Telescope
The initiation of the MDM Observatory enabled Hiltner in 1976 to recruit a rising star, Bob Kirshner, who subsequently served as Director of the observatory. Postdoctoral researcher Steve Schectman built a state-of-the-art, digital photon-counting spectrometer, which was used to great advantage by Kirshner’s prolific group. Their extensive work on supernova remnants clarified the shock emission mechanism and physical processes in exploding stars, while other group members identified fundamental scaling relations in galaxies, determining basic correlations between luminosity and dark matter content. In 1981, Kirshner led the discovery of the Boötes Void, a nearby region in the universe devoid of galaxies. This was a paradigm-shifting result, the first clear indicator that galaxies are not uniformly distributed in the universe and that cosmic structure would turn out to be filamentary.
In those days, with 4-m telescopes operating at the national observatories and a 5-m telescope owned by Caltech, Hiltner and Kirshner saw a strong need for a larger U-M facility and started the process to obtain a 2.4-m for the MDM Observatory. A telescope of this size had been a dream of the department’s since the 1930s, when the illustrious H. D. Curtis obtained a 2.4-m mirror and drew up plans for a telescope. This telescope was never built, due to the Depression, World War II and Curtis’ death. Fifty years later, though, the dream was realized when the Australian National University split a thick, 2.4-m mirror blank and sold one slice to the MDM consortium. With additional funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the 2.4-m W. A. Hiltner telescope was commissioned at MDM Observatory in September, 1986. Al Hiltner had retired the previous year, and the dedication served as a big celebration party in his honor. At this point, the MDM time allocation was changed so that all three universities became equal partners, each with one-third of the telescope time.
Bob Kirshner was named department chair in 1983 but was lured to Harvard in 1986, having successfully launched the Hiltner Telescope. He was starting to develop the idea of using supernova brightnesses as distance indicators to galaxies across the universe, which was the technique that ultimately led to the discovery that cosmic expansion is accelerating and thus, the existence of dark energy. The Nobel Prize was later awarded in 2011 to two of Kirshner’s former Harvard students for this fundamental discovery.
The Road to Magellan
Upon Kirshner’s departure, associate professor Doug Richstone took over as chair. The new telescope enabled him to recruit Todd Boroson and Greg Bothun as assistant professors. However, the MDM Observatory was still somewhat limited in its instrumentation and functionality, and both of these young faculty members left by 1990. However, they had launched a cadre of optical observers among their students, most of whom completed their degrees at Michigan. Among these was David Silva, currently Director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories (NOAO) since 2008, succeeding his former advisor, Boroson, who had served as interim NOAO director the preceding year. NOAO was formed in 1982 to operate jointly KPNO, CTIO, and NSO, and Boroson spent 24 years there. He is now Director of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope, a network of robotic telescopes specializing in time-domain observations. Richstone also hired Joel Bregman, who enhanced the spectral expertise at Michigan in the X-ray regime. He was in the forefront of developing understanding of what is now known as the circumgalactic medium of star-forming galaxies, and later went on to elucidate the apparent problem of “missing” luminous matter in the universe.
Hugh Aller, son of the renowned Lawrence Aller, served as chair over the decade 1990 to 2000. In a move unusual for those days, he requested an external review, which resulted in authorization to grow the department. At MIT, Paul Schechter initiated a major upgrade of the MDM instrumentation, and the observatory’s functionality increased dramatically. Among other improvements, he led the development of a modern, multi-mode spectrograph. Doug Richstone and Dick Teske contracted with Contraves USA of Pittsburgh to repolish the 2.4-m mirror, improving its image quality. These upgrades enabled Aller to hire Mario Mateo in 1993, whose startup package included funds to further install a multi-object echelle spectrograph. Mateo helped with MDM improvements, introducing improved imaging capabilities. It was a new era of productivity for MDM Observatory. However, a 2.4-m telescope was looking rather small compared to the 10-m telescope that Caltech and the University of California were building on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. And these universities would go on to build a second 10-m on the same site.
Mateo came to Michigan directly from the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Pasadena, where there was much activity around a project to build twin 6.5-m telescopes at Las Campañas Observatory in Chile. Indeed, Al Hiltner had served as project manager for this Magellan Project after he retired from U-M. Funding for one of the telescopes was largely in hand from Carnegie and the University of Arizona, but they were seeking consortium partners for the second telescope. Doug Richstone had also spent time at Carnegie and knew of the project. Together, Mateo and Richstone launched a movement within the department to have Michigan join the Magellan consortium. Richstone and Aller persuaded LSA dean Edie Goldenberg to approach President James Duderstadt. Vice President for Research Homer Neal contributed $2M. Among various plans, the most promising seemed to be to collaborate with Michigan State University and seek new funding from the State of Michigan. The Magellan proposal was kept alive until it was clear that the consortium was about to gel. Since there were more interested parties than open slots in the collaboration, Carnegie Institution president Maxine Singer adopted a policy of filling the project on a first-come, first-served basis. The race was on. Word got out that MIT was in, Australia was reportedly interested, and Ohio State was almost there. At a U-M football game, President Duderstadt asked Governor John Engler for support for the joint UM-MSU plan but was turned down. After a final attempt to work with MSU, Duderstadt, Neal, and Provost Bernie Machen committed the funds and Michigan became the fourth of five partners in the Magellan Project in February 1996. The first telescope was named after the Carnegie astronomer Walter Baade and was inaugurated on December 9, 2000, and the second telescope, named after Harvard donor Landon Clay, started operations in 2002. The University of Michigan owns 10% of the entire project, and these two telescopes are now U-M’s primary research telescopes. The first science paper to result using data from these telescopes was by U-M graduate student Robbie Dohm-Palmer, Mateo’s student, on a dwarf galaxy shredded by tides of the Milky Way.
Part of the price for Michigan to join the Magellan project was to scale back Michigan’s participation in the 2.4-m and 1.3-m telescopes at Michigan-Dartmouth-MIT Observatory from one-third to one-sixth. MIT dropped out, to be replaced by Columbia University, Ohio State, and Ohio University. The observatory was renamed to simply MDM Observatory, retaining the acronym for continuity. Interestingly, the Magellan Project manager was Matt Johns, who had led the technical development of the 2.4-m telescope at MDM as a research associate at Michigan. He had moved on to become project manager at a new technology project, the 3.5-m Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-NOAO (WIYN) Telescope in 1988, and he subsequently took the same position at Magellan.
Although the Magellan telescopes were not yet built in the late 1990s, science and instrumentation initiatives within the department were now thriving. When not advocating for the new telescopes, Doug Richstone was leading a long-term campaign using the Hubble Space Telescope to probe the nuclei of massive galaxies. This work revolutionized understanding of supermassive black holes, revealing their ubiquity and their tight correlation with host galaxy mass. The findings imply that supermassive black holes must somehow play a major role in galaxy formation and evolution. Today, this link is the subject of active exploration by, among others, theorist and research professor Monica Valluri. Meanwhile, Mario Mateo revealed the stellar populations and structure of dwarf galaxies, showing that they are dominated by dark matter and are intimately linked to the evolution of massive galaxies. Mateo’s planned multi-object echelle spectrograph was deferred from MDM to Magellan and later materialized as the Michigan/MIKE Fiber System, a precursor to the present-day Michigan-Magellan Fiber System (M2FS). With Tony Tyson (Bell Labs), Gary Bernstein, who joined the faculty in 1994, built the earliest wide-field CCD imager on a 4-m class telescope, the Big Throughput Camera at CTIO. He used this instrument to reveal the demographics of the newly discovered Kuiper Belt Objects beyond the orbit of Neptune, which ultimately contributed to Pluto being reclassified as one of these bodies. This camera was also the instrument used for the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of dark energy mentioned earlier. And, it served as a predecessor for Tyson’s Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a $500M next-generation, international facility of the 2020’s.
The New Millennium
Once the Magellan Telescopes became a reality, the Astronomy Department blossomed in growth, almost doubling in size in the new millennium. With new faculty members came more postdoctoral fellows, research scientists, and students. In 2000, Richstone again became chair and would serve for a decade. With facilities front and center at the time of Magellan commissioning, the department continued its interest in instrumentalists. In 2001, Rebecca Bernstein was hired from Carnegie, where she led construction of the Magellan Inamori Kyocera Echelle (MIKE) high-resolution spectrograph on the Magellan Clay telescope. This instrument continues to be actively used today. Bernstein has since returned to Pasadena as project scientist for the Giant Magellan Telescope. In the northern hemisphere, John Monnier, hired in 2002, developed the Michigan Infrared Combiner (MIRC), a device to interferometrically combine light from the 6-telescope CHARA array on Mt. Wilson, CA, allowing exquisite spatial resolution on the order of milliarcseconds at optical wavelengths. This technically challenging project succeeded spectacularly in 2007, when Monnier’s team obtained the first spatially resolved image of a normal, unevolved star (other than the sun), the star Altair. They went on to obtain stunning images of an interacting binary system and are working toward direct detection of exoplanets. In 2014, Monnier won the prestigious Michelson Prize of the Mt. Wilson Institute for this work.
Additional faculty lines were requested to meet teaching needs, as well as to target major, growing science areas without eroding the existing strength in extragalactic astronomy. Dean Shirley Newman agreed to support recruiting in the areas of star formation and high-energy astrophysics. Over the next decade, eleven of the current faculty were hired. Most of these hires addressed the two growth areas, which now dominate the department. The star formation group coalesced with the hire of astrochemist Ted Bergin in 2003, who quickly recruited his collaborators, Lee Hartmann and Nuria Calvet as senior hires. The two were already established luminaries, well-known for their paradigm-setting work on protostellar collapse and disk accretion processes. Calvet was a leading authority on the remnant accretion disks around newly formed stars and her models set the standard for understanding their emission. Hartmann literally “wrote the book” on accretion processes in star formation and his ideas have laid the groundwork in several areas, for understanding the role of accretion disks in the birth of stars. Bergin’s work laid the foundations for understanding the physical and chemical processes that most directly lead to star formation. He has also elucidated the occurrence of water in astrophysical environments, informing speculation about conditions for life in the universe. The high-energy astrophysics group was anchored with the arrival of Jon Miller in 2005, an outstanding young authority on relativistic black hole physics. Miller has led the field in exploiting jets and outflows from black hole accretion disks to probe the astrophysics of black hole feeding and spin. Joining this group are Mateusz Ruszkowski, hired in 2007, a leading theorist on magneto-hydrodynamics, heating, and cooling processes in galaxy clusters. Elena Gallo, a top expert in understanding the active and quiescent states of black holes joined the faculty in 2010. The most recent addition to this group is Kayhan Gultekin, a well-known scholar on supermassive black hole demographics, hired in 2015.
Extragalactic and galactic astronomy also continues as a significant theme in the department, with appointments continuing in this area as well. Among these was Sally Oey, hired in 2004, an award-winning expert on massive stars and their effects on the host galaxies. In 2006, Oleg Gnedin arrived, a gifted theorist focusing on the processes by which cosmic matter condenses to form star clusters, galaxies, and galaxy clusters. More recently, this group was fortified with the senior hire of Eric Bell, an established master in the field of galaxy evolution, in 2009. The department growth spurt was also facilitated by attrition. A notable retirement in this period was Chuck Cowley, a prolific stellar spectroscopist whose work enabled the determination of rare element and isotope abundances in stars, leading to revised interpretations of stellar evolution. He continues his work with emeritus status.
The 0.6-m Curtis-Schmidt telescope in Chile was used by the department’s Dean McLaughlin Postdoctoral Fellow, Chris Smith, for a deep survey of the nearby Magellanic Clouds using narrow-band filters that reveal nebulae and supernova remnants. These data, obtained in the early 2000s, continue to form the basis for new studies to the present day. Smith later became director of CTIO. When NSF instructed CTIO in the late 1990s to prioritize larger telescopes, the then-director of CTIO, Malcolm Smith, paid a visit to Michigan to discuss the future of the Curtis-Schmidt. The original agreement between CTIO and Michigan called for the telescope to be re-erected in Michigan at CTIO’s expense should CTIO end the agreement. At this meeting it was decided that in return for CTIO not returning the telescope to its original home, a decaying, tree-covered dome in the Stinchfield Woods, Michigan would have exclusive use of the telescope for one year with operating expenses paid by CTIO. Thus responsibility for the 0.6-m Curtis Schmidt reverted to Michigan in 2001. Now U-M was responsible for all expenses, which had to be covered by external funds. This was the start of optical surveys of space debris at geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) for NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office. From 2001 onward, research professor Patrick Seitzer has operated the Michigan Orbital Debris Survey Telescope (MODEST) program, which has been NASA’s principal source of information on the increasing population of space debris at GEO.
As technology improves, advances in astronomy continue to be driven by ever larger telescope facilities, since detecting light is essentially the only way to observe the cosmos. As the Magellan telescopes came on-line, there were already national and international plans to build 30-m class telescopes. The Carnegie Institution was leading one of these projects, named the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), with direct competition from the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) project led by Caltech and the University of California. Doug Richstone, as chair, initiated Michigan participation in GMT. Coincidentally, Matt Johns, who had started his telescope building career at Michigan, was again project manager for this new-generation project. Richstone contributed seed money from the Department budget and garnered support from Dean Terry McDonald, who also committed funding. Over a period of about four years, U-M had paid in about $1.3M toward the project, when President Mary Sue Coleman heard about the initiative. With Vice President for Research Steve Forrest, she cancelled U-M participation in 2006. Nonetheless, the Michigan investment corresponds to about 1 night per year on GMT. In the meantime, committed consortium members for this next-generation facility include Harvard, the University of Arizona, the University of Texas, and Texas A&M University.
New Wavelengths, New Horizons
Joel Bregman was named department chair in 2010, marking the start of access to observational capabilities in new wavelength regimes. Closing the door on GMT, at least for now, opened the possibility of access to other, less expensive, observing facilities. Furthermore, UMRAO and the 26-m radio telescope closed in 2012 due to budgetary constraints. It had been operational since 1958, and left a large, legacy database of 3-frequency polarization and flux data for AGN that formed the basis for hundreds of studies around the world. The facility was transferred to the Department of Aerospace Engineering for satellite tracking.
Bregman solicted input from the faculty on other, smaller-scale facilities to which Michigan might consider gaining access. Jon Miller led an initiative for Michigan to purchase proprietary time on NASA’s Swift gamma-ray burst mission. The spacecraft observes light that is more energetic than optical light: the UV, X-rays and soft gamma-rays bands, which are particularly well suited to observations of black holes, and explosive phenomena such as supernovae. Since 2014, Michigan has 1 million seconds, or about 278 hours, annually. Ted Bergin led a similar effort to obtain proprietary time on the Northern Extended Millimeter Array (NOEMA), a state-of-the-art, radio array in France. NOEMA operates between wavelengths of 0.8 and 3 mm, much less energetic than optical light. The array will ultimately have 12 antennae, and Michigan has 500 hours over a 5 year period starting in 2015. There are many areas of active research that will benefit from this unique access, including learning about the chemistry and physics of planet formation, measuring the gas content of galaxies in the distant Universe, and unlocking the secrets of how matter flows towards and also gets blown away from around black holes.
On the Magellan Clay Telescope, Mario Mateo completed his long-term goal of constructing the M2FS multi-object, fiber-fed spectrograph in 2013. This is one of the most powerful instruments of its class on the planet because of its ability to simultaneously observe up to 256 objects at high spectral resolution. It is in great demand and has enabled science on topics ranging from protoplanetary disks to stellar element abundances to kinematics of high-redshift galaxy clusters.
With budgetary constraints limiting faculty hiring within LSA, the department benefited from broader U-M initiatives. For example, Chris Miller, a leader in the new field of astroinformatics, was hired from CTIO in 2010 through an interdisciplinary U-M initiative in data mining. Collaborating with faculty at Ohio State, Dartmouth, and Columbia University, he promoted and supported multiple improvements to the MDM telescopes, including queue-based observing at the 2.4-m Hiltner telescope and remote observing capabilities at the 1.3-m McGraw-Hill telescope. These new observing modes, facilitated by the hire of a dedicated part-time observer, greatly improve observing efficiency, reduce travel costs, and make long-term, data-intensive programs feasible as of 2016. The first Michigan team to seize the opportunity is led by Elena Gallo and research scientist Edmund Hodges-Kluck, who are carrying out a new black hole monitoring campaign.
Another U-M hiring initiative is the President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship program, which targets rising stars from underrepresented demographics by offering a prize postdoctoral position with the intention of subsequently considering these fellows for tenure-track positions. Joel Bregman successfully hired two faculty through this program: Keren Sharon, widely known for her work on galaxy clusters and gravitational lensing using the Hubble Space Telescope, joined the faculty in 2013; and Emily Rauscher, a prominent young theorist specializing in the interaction of host star radiation with gaseous planets, joined in 2015. Rauscher’s hire addressed the fact that perhaps the fastest growing field in astronomy now is the study of exoplanets. The idea of worlds, and possibly life, beyond our own sun universally captures the imagination. As a critical extension of the department strength in star formation, this field had been targeted for expansion. Bregman also made the senior hire of Michael Meyer, an eminent observer and authority on star and planet formation. Meyer arrived in 2016.
Astrophysics is an increasingly interdisciplinary science: for example, the study of dark matter and cosmology straddles fundamental physics and astronomy. During the previous decade, funding to support the hosting of international workshops and visitors was available through the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics (MCTP). Theorists Oleg Gnedin and Mateusz Ruszkowski had exploited this opportunity by organizing three such workshops. But MCTP was reorganizing, and the time was right for a broader coalition focused on astrophysics. To foster such collaboration between different units, Jon Miller and Eric Bell led the organization of the Michigan Institute for Research in Astrophysics (MIRA), which launched in 2014 with funding from LSA. It brings together the departments of Astronomy and Physics in LSA and Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering. Bell serves as its first director. MIRA’s main goals are to enrich the intellectual climate for astrophysics, foster interdepartmental collaboration, build partnerships between UM astrophysicists and others from around the globe, and to foster an inclusive atmosphere in astrophysics. One particularly impactful and timely MIRA activity has been the “Conversations on Inclusion and Equity,” initiated by research professor Monica Valluri. These seminars feature presentations and discussions led by members of underrepresented groups in astronomy to raise awareness of the often-difficult circumstances that they face. In its first two years, MIRA has also sponsored a variety of scientific activities, including meetings on topics ranging from planet formation to cosmology, and from astrostatistics to connections between solar physics and stellar astrophysics. It has additionally hosted informal mixers building collaborations between UM astrophysicists, and meetings to spur awareness and collaboration on astrophysics-relevant instrumentation.
With Ted Bergin starting as chair in 2015, the faculty and students of the Michigan Astronomy Department have dedicated access to telescopes on three continents and in space, and spanning the electromagnetic spectrum from the millimeter range to gamma rays. The end of an era was marked when in 2014, the entire department moved from its longtime home on the top three floors of the Dennison Building (now called Weiser Hall) to a renovated wing of West Hall. The move experienced a number of teething pains, but the College continues to mitigate the issues with additional renovations which are almost complete.
The Next Generation
Graduate student training at Michigan continues to launch outstanding young scientists. Within the last decade, Matt Walker’s (Ph.D. 2007, advisor Mateo) thesis on the kinematics of the galactic halo and the form of dark matter in local dwarf galaxies remains a cornerstone in understanding the formation of our Milky Way and its neighbors in the context of cosmic evolution. Catherine Espaillat (Ph.D. 2009, advisor Calvet) found that protostellar disks show gaps attributed to clearing by planet formation, an exciting and critical discovery providing a probe linking planet and host star formation. In the race to find analogs of primordial galaxies that reionized the infant universe, Anne Jaskot (Ph.D. 2014, advisor Oey) finally made a big breakthrough, identifying compact galaxies with extreme radiation fields, known as “Green Pea” galaxies. They are now being pursued by many teams around the world. Ashley King (Ph.D. 2014, advisor J. Miller) identified a universal relation between accretion disk winds and host black hole mass that applies across both stellar-mass black holes and supermassive, AGN black holes, thus unifying understanding of these winds for the entire mass spectrum; she won the 2016 Dissertation Prize of the High Energy Astrophysics Divison of the American Astronomical Society. There are many other Michigan graduates who are equally successful, as evidenced by the number of prestigious postdoctoral prize fellowships and faculty positions obtained by our alumni. Among them is Monique Aller (Ph.D. 2007, advisor Richstone), the daughter of Hugh and Margo Aller, and granddaughter of Lawrence Aller. Her expertise is on supermassive black holes and intergalactic dust; she is now on the faculty at Georgia Southern University.
Besides the 1.3-m McGraw-Hill Telescope at MDM and the 0.6-m Curtis Schmidt at CTIO, there is another U-M observatory that has been in continuous operation during the entire period since 1975: the Angell Hall Student Observatory on Central Campus. It has served as a vital training facility for undergraduate majors and as a teaching tool serving hundreds of introductory-level students every semester. The Angell Hall Observatory was renovated in 1993-1994. Thanks to Pat Seitzer, a new 0.4-m Ritchey-Chretien telescope by DFM Engineering replaced two 1920’s era manual telescopes: a 10-inch Warner & Swasey refractor, and a 15-inch reflector that was built locally. These two telescopes were placed into storage, and in 2016, went on long-term loan to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum for use in a new astronomy and space science program.
The department’s planetarium on the third floor of Angell Hall is a heavily used instructional facility, required by several of the 100-level courses. In 2004, Seitzer arranged to have it completely renovated and a Zeiss ZKP 3/B projector replaced the 1950’s manual Spitz projector. The Zeiss remains a conventional “starball” projector, complementing the digital projector in the U-M Museum of Natural History. There is also a long tradition of free public open houses at Angell Hall dating from well before 1975 continuously to the present day. These are hosted by the undergraduate Student Astronomical Society (SAS) and coordinated by laboratory services technician Shannon Murphy, and feature both the Student Observatory and the Planetarium.
A third teaching and outreach facility is the 1854 Detroit Observatory, named for its Detroit financiers, located on Observatory Drive. It was the original home of Michigan’s astronomers until the Dennison Building was built in 1965. The building and 12-inch Fitz refractor from 1858 were restored in 1998, with guidance from Pat Seitzer, among others. The facility was transferred to the Bentley Historical Library in 2005, which hosted afternoon open houses twice a month. In 2008, the 1854 Meridian Circle Telescope was restored and soon after, public viewing nights organized through the Astronomy Department began. Today, it continues as a popular venue for undergraduate education and public outreach, with several 100-level courses making use of the facility.
In the 1990s, the undergraduate curriculum was updated at the initiative of Dick Teske and Joel Bregman. A new introductory gateway course for majors was introduced, “Introduction to Astrophysics,” and topical courses were introduced to supplement the core courses, including “High-Energy Astrophysics,” “Astrophysics of the Interstellar Medium,” and “Solar System Astrophysics.” New scientific horizons required further updating of the curriculum in the new millennium. Astrobiology was incorporated into the Astro 101 core course, retitled “The Solar System and the Search for Life Beyond Earth,” an effort led by Ted Bergin and John Monnier. Bergin also introduced a new introductory course, “Introduction to Astrobiology,” and with Eric Bell, created a hugely popular 1-credit course, “Aliens.” The latest addition on this topic, an upper-level course titled, “Exoplanets,” is currently being developed by Emily Rauscher. Similarly, a 200-level course in high-energy astrophysics, “Exploring the X-Ray Universe,” was developed by Elena Gallo. Updates to upper-level instruction in astronomical techniques include both theoretical and observational tools: Oleg Gnedin developed “Computational Astrophysics” and Chris Miller and John Monnier upgraded the instrumentation course “Astronomical Techniques” to include more computing.
This period also saw efforts to revise the curriculum with more creative and varied course structure and content. Mario Mateo reformatted standard introductory overview material into “Alien Skies: A Tour Through the Universe.” Exploiting unique Michigan facilities, Sally Oey’s course, “The Cosmos Through the Constellations,” features the Angell Hall Planetarium, Detroit Observatory, and extraordinary historical astronomy collection in the University Library.
For 200-level courses, Mateo and Oey incorporated speakers discussing active research projects into two courses, “The Universe Through the Eyes of Magellan” and “New Discoveries in Astronomy.” Reviving an offering from the 1970s, Oey developed a course for majors taught over four weeks in residence at MDM and Kitt Peak National Observatory, called “Ground-Based Observatories,” in which students carry out research projects in addition to learning the fundamentals of telescopes, instrumentation, and observatory operations. Astronomy is among the most proactive LSA departments addressing curriculum upgrades as a coherent, department-wide effort.
In the 2009 winter semester, the Astronomy Department and the Exhibit Museum of Natural History (now the Museum of Natural History) sponsored an LSA Theme Semester in conjunction with the International Year of Astronomy, “The Universe: Yours to Discover.” It was organized by Sally Oey and Amy Harris, the museum director. Numerous exhibitions, lectures, and courses were offered around campus, thanks to participation from many other units including the University Library, Residential College, and School of Art and Design. Community groups also participated, including the Antique Telescope Society and University Lowbrow Astronomers.
The 1854 Detroit Observatory was the University of Michigan’s first research facility, housing one of the best telescopes in the world at that time. It was meant to attract world-class researchers to what was then a hinterland. The success of this strategy demonstrated President Henry Philip Tappan’s vision for a public research university, a model that has thrived across the nation. Thus the University benefited from hosting one of the earliest astronomy departments in the U.S. and establishing astronomy as a high-profile endeavor at U-M. As one example of our resulting national profile, Robert McMath and Leo Goldberg played leading roles in the founding of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) in Ann Arbor in 1957. This consortium of universities now includes 42 institutions and operates the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which is the science center for the Hubble Space Telescope. The national observatories have operated large aperture, state-of-the-art telescope facilities as federal facilities since the early 1960s. Michigan’s astronomers have had important ties to these organizations; for example, McMath was the founding President of AURA, and later Chair of the AURA Board. Michigan also joined other consortia, leading telescope technology development through the years. Access to these private facilities has been at the core of the vibrant and energetic scientific environment that continues to attract top scientists, both observers and theorists, to Michigan. Astronomy at the University of Michigan is truly a privilege of the Leaders and the Best.
The authors wish to thank many of their colleagues in the Department of Astronomy for their contributions and comments: Hugh Aller, Margo Aller, Eric Bell, Joel Bregman, Chuck Cowley, Mario Mateo, and Doug Richstone.