Presented by the ASP History Committee

HISTORY I: Astronomy in New Mexico
Sunday, 28 June 1998, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Albuquerque, NM


Michael Zeilik, University of New Mexico
    Astronomy has deep roots in New Mexico in the traditions of the Pueblo people. They perceive a cosmos in which nature functions with the active cooperation of humankind, who must perform the proper ceremony at the proper time to ensure the regulation of order. The selection of the proper time is guided by astronomical observations that are the responsibility of a small number of religious officials, the Sun Priests, who have to schedule important religious festivals ahead of time so that the proper preparations can be carried out to insure the effectiveness of the rituals. They forecast ceremonial dates (such as the solstices) by anticipatory astronomical observations. This talk will focus on the astronomy of the historic Pueblos to understand how the sequence of ceremonies is properly scheduled. These practices involve two separate but intertwined cycles: seasonal sunwatching and lunar phase counting. The solar observations usually involve a horizon calendar, observed most often at sunrise, to forecast ceremonial dates by about two weeks. The moon watching subdivides the seasonal year, but in an irregular way that involves ten to 14 months, not all of the same length. The solar and lunar calendar are kept synchronized by the custom of counting one or more short months. In contrast to the European Gregorian calender, the Pueblo one relies on actual observations rather than a numerical model.
    Michael Zeilik is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of New Mexico, where he has been named a Presidential Lecturer, the University’s highest award to a faculty member. His research activities have focused on magnetic activity cycles of sun-like stars, starbirth, astronomy in the historic and prehistoric Pueblo world, and a cognitive approach to teaching science. In his teaching, he specializes in introductory courses for the novice, non-science major student. He is author or coauthor of Astronomy: the Evolving Universe (which won a 1997 Texty Award from the Text and Academic Authors Association), Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics, Astronomy: The Cosmic Perspective, Conceptual Astronomy, and over 100 professional articles. He has been awarded grants for innovations in astronomy education, astronomy for the general public, and astronomy workshops for in-service teachers. He has also served as the director of UNM’s Graduate Centers in Los Alamos and Santa Fe.

David DeVorkin, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
    When the U. S. Army began firing captured German V-2 missiles at White Sands, New Mexico in 1946, a number of astronomers became involved in planning and building spectrographs and other devices to examine the compositions of the Earth’s upper atmosphere and the solar atmosphere. But the V-2 proved to be a very difficult place to conduct science of any sort, and few astronomers stayed with the program for long. Nevertheless, it can be claimed that successful rocket astronomy began in New Mexico. We will retrace who got involved, what they tried to do, and the experiences astronomers encountered as they explored the prospect of doing astronomy from space.
    David DeVorkin is curator of the history of astronomy at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. He is author of Science with a Vengeance (Springer-Verlag, 1992), which deals with the origins of the space sciences in the United States. He is presently editing the centennial history of the American Astronomical Society and is completing a biography of the astronomer Henry Norris Russell.

10:30 Break

Arthur N. Cox, Los Alamos National Laboratory
    The Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (more recently named the Los Alamos National Laboratory) has participated in astrophysical research since its beginning in April 1943. Its first Director, J. Robert Oppenheimer, was interested in relativistic aspects of stellar structure, and that led the way to studies of neutron stars years later. The many accomplishments of Los Alamos employees include the calculation of accurate stellar opacities, the neutrino discovery, the first detections of the cosmic gamma ray bursts, extensive calculations of stellar evolution and stability of stars both against pulsations and explosions, observations of very fast rotating pulsars, measurements of both distant gamma ray sources and galactic soft X-rays near our Sun and with earth satellites, and most recently, detections of neutrons from ice on the moon. Highlights of a few of these will be reviewed, both from their scientific aspects and from the historical interest of how a weapons laboratory can and does contribute to modern astrophysics.
    Arthur Cox has been at Los Alamos in a number of positions since 1947. His background in astrophysics, with his PhD degree from Indiana University and many visits to other international astronomical institutions, led him to encourage part time astrophysical research by staff members at Los Alamos. This has led to the formation of several groups at Los Alamos doing both computational studies in astrophysics, using the world's largest computers, and space observations with numerous earth satellites and solar system space probes. Cox is retired, but he remains a Fellow of the Laboratory in its Theoretical Division doing research in the stability of many kinds of stars.

Kenneth I. Kellermann, National Radio Astronomy Observatory
    The discovery of cosmic radio emission in 1933, by Karl Jansky at Bell Telephone Laboratories, was the first step toward expanding our view of the cosmos beyond the traditional narrow bounds of the classical optical window, and demonstrated, for the first time, the existence of powerful sources of non-thermal radiation located throughout the Universe. However, the angular resolution of these early radio observations was very limited, and due to the long wavelength of radio waves, it was widely presumed that the resolution of radio telescopes was fundamentally limited compared to that of optical instruments. Nevertheless, as a result of a variety of technical innovations, the resolution of radio telescopes has dramatically improved since Jansky’s pioneering observations. Today, the Very Large Array (VLA), located on the Plains of Saint Agustin in central New Mexico, is imaging cosmic radio sources with an angular resolution of a few tenths of an arc second, better than that achieved by any ground-based optical telescope. The Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), with its ten elements located throughout the United States from the Caribbean to Hawaii, which is operated from Socorro, New Mexico, has an angular resolution better than a thousandth of a second of arc. With the VLBA, radio astronomers are able to peer into the hearts of quasars, the nuclei of galaxies, cosmic masers, and other compact radio sources with a resolution about a hundred times better than that achieved by the Hubble Space Telescope.
    Kenneth Kellermann is a senior scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory headquarters in Charlottesville, VA. He is a frequent visitor to New Mexico in connection with the operation of the Very Large Array and the Very Long Baseline Array facilities located near Socorro. His book, Serendipitous Discoveries in Radio Astronomy, which he edited with B. Sheets, provides accounts of the dramatic growth and unexpected discoveries of radio astronomy by those who made it happen.

12:30 Break

HISTORY II: Cosmology 1948 - 1998
Sunday, 28 June 1998, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Albuquerque, NM


Helge Kragh, University of Aarhus
    During the period from 1948 to about 1965 the cosmological scene was dominated by a controversy between two rival theories, the evolutionary (Big Bang) theory and the Steady State theory. According to the Steady State theory, the universe had no beginning in time and the cosmic expansion was compensated by a spontaneous and continual creation of matter. The talk will focus on the loser in the controversy, the Steady State theory, and will include an account of the strengths and weaknesses of this theory in its historical context. Why was the Steady State theory considered a serious alternative to the evolving universe? Why was it found attractive mainly by British physicists and astronomers (and not Americans)? And why was it abandoned by most researchers in the early 1960s?
    Helge Kragh is professor of history of science at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. He obtained his master’s degree in physics and chemistry and his doctorate in the history of science at the University of Copenhagen. After 16 years as a gymnasium (secondary school) teacher he became assoc. prof. of physics and history of science at Cornell University. He has also been historian of technology and curator at the Steno Museum and taught at the University of Oslo. Kragh has written on the history of chemistry and technology, historiography of science, philosophy of science, science in the third world, and the history of cosmology. He is the author of about 140 articles and 10 books, including Cosmology and Controversy: The Historical Development of Two Theories of the Universe. He is currently writing a book on the history of physics from 1890-1990.

Ralph A. Alpher Union College and Dudley Observatory
    The current Big Bang Model had its origin in Einstein’s attempt to model a static cosmos, based on his general theory of relativity. Friedmann and Lemaître, as well as deSitter, further developed the model to include other options, including nonstatic behavior. Lemaître in the 1930s and Gamow in 1946 first put physics into the nonstatic model. By 1946 there had been significant developments in the mathematics of the model due to Robertson, Walker, Tolman and many others. The Hubble law had given an essential observational handle to the Big Bang, as did the attribution of cosmic significance to element abundances by Goldschmidt. The first attempt to explain nucleosynthesis in a hot, dense, early universe was done by Alpher, Bethe and Gamow in 1948, a paper whose principal importance was that it suggested that the early universe was in fact hot and dense, and that helium and perhaps other light elements were primeval. In that same year Alpher and Herman first predicted a cosmic background radiation at 5 kelvin as an essential feature of the model. The calculation involves a knowledge of the current density of baryonic matter in the universe, as well as its expansion rate. The parameters current in the late 1940s and early 1950s led to an absurdly short age of the universe, which was one of the stumbling blocks in the acceptance of the model vis-à-vis the steady state model. The situation today is much improved, but much remains to be done. The Hubble expansion rate, the primordial and stellar abundances of the elements, and the cosmic microwave background are major pillars today for the Big Bang model.
    Ralph A. Alpher is Distinguished Research Professor of Physics at Union College, and Administrator of Dudley Observatory. Dudley is now operating as a foundation, using its limited endowment income to support research in astronomy (its Fullam Award), and in the history of astronomy (its Pollock Award), as well as supporting other astronomy educational activities of a more local nature. Prior to these positions, he served as a staff physicist at the General Electric Research and Development Center, as well as The Applied Physics Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins University. During WWII he served as a civilian scientist with several Navy organizations. His fields of research include cosmology, physics of fluids, and operations research. He has over 100 publications, a book translation, and chapters in a number of books, primarily in cosmology. Among other awards, he and the late Robert Herman shared the Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, for their early work on the Big Bang model, nucleosynthesis, and the prediction of the cosmic microwave background radiation. [Dr. Alpher's paper will be read in his absence]

3:30 Break

Allan Sandage, Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington
    The 200-inch Hale telescope was dedicated June 3, 1948, during a joint meeting of the ASP and the American Astronomical Society. The resulting revolution in astronomy, which changed the subject from descriptions of what is in the sky to analyses of origins and physical processes, brought about as great an enlargement of cosmic thought as did the concept of evolution in geology and biology and the discoveries of atomic and nuclear structure, relativity, and quantum mechanics in physics. The study of how and when stars evolve from the main sequence to the red giant stage provided the method to age-date star clusters, the Galactic disk, and the Galactic halo, and the discovery of chemical evolution of stellar populations was an important element in understanding the formation of the elements. The Palomar cosmological program helped provide proof of the linearity and isotropy of the velocity-distance relation for galaxies and of the isotropy and quietness of the Hubble flow. The recalibration of the cosmological distance scale began with improved distances to nearby galaxies using Cepheids and brightest stars. By the early 1970s it became evident that Hubble’s 1936 distance scale must be increased by a factor of 10, extending the cosmic time scale to about 17 Gyr, removing the earlier failure of the time-scale test for Big Bang cosmology. The first optical identifications of radio sources led to the discovery of quasars and opened the field of high energy astrophysics.
    Allan Sandage is Astronomer Emeritus at the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. His research has been in observational cosmology: he has determined ages and evolution of globular clusters in order to obtain the ages of the oldest objects known. He has calibrated all of the "standard candles" to determine distances of remote galaxies and has several times presented (often with Gustav Tammann) revised estimates of the value of the Hubble parameter. He has been awarded the Crafoord Prize, the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship of the American Astronomical Society, and the ASP’s Bruce Medal. Although he currently observes with orbiting telescopes, he was a regular user of the Hale Telescope from the 1940s to the ’90s.

Virginia Trimble, University of California, Irvine and University of Maryland, College Park
    In which the speaker and audience attempt to bring themselves up to date on what is known or thought about the reality of cosmic expansion, the Big Bang, dark matter, primordial perturbations, inflation, and various other solutions to what may or may not be problems.
      Virginia Trimble oscillates at 31.7 nHz between the University of California, Irvine and the University of Maryland. In recent years, she has written review articles on the history and current status of dark matter, the extragalactic distance scale, and the origin of the elements. She currently serves as Vice President of the American Astronomical Society and of the International Astronomical Union, as one of the editors of the Astrophysical Journal, and in several other positions of very little power but remarkable temporal absorptive capacity. She is the author of Visit to a Small Universe.


Presented by the ASP History Committee
Katherine Bracher, Whitman College
Roy Garstang, University of Colorado
Kevin Krisciunas, University of Washington
E.C. Krupp, Griffith Observatory
Donald E. Osterbrock, University of California, Santa Cruz
Joseph S. Tenn, Sonoma State University (chair)
Craig B. Waff, Macmillan General Reference USA
Barbara Welther, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Thomas R. Williams, Rice University