Oral History Transcript — Dr. Gerard De Vaucouleurs
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Gerard De Vaucouleurs; November 23, 1991
ABSTRACT: Topics discussed include: De Vaucouleur's family background; his introduction to the French Astronomical Society; his interest in astronomy; his education and classes he took in spectroscopy; Jean Cabannes; Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin; Daniel Barbier; Henri Mineur; Nick Mayall; Bernard Lyot; Harlow Shapley; Institute of Astrophysics; E. C. Slipher; Physics Research Laboratory at the Sorbonne; G. Vakuler; Paul Couderc; Lick Observatory; Donald Menzel; Mount Stromlo Observatory; Arthur Hogg; Pierre Querin; Frank Kerr; Magellanic clouds; Colin Gum; Bill Buscombe; Ernst Opik; Vera Rubin; Lowell Observatory; Gerry Kron; Fritz Zwicky; Albert Wilson; Roger Putnam; Bart Bok; Australian National University; Ed Carpenter and V. M. Slipher.
TranscriptSession I | Session II
Doel:This is Ron Doel, and this is a continuing interview with Gérard De Vaucouleurs. We are recording this on November 23, 1991, in Austin, Texas. Let me open just by asking if there was anything, in thinking back to the items that we talked about in the last session a few days ago that you wanted to add before we move on to your other work in Australia.
De Vaucouleurs:Well, I forgot to mention that I supervised while I was still a grad student working for my dissertation, I supervised another Master’s thesis at the Physics Research Lab in the Sorbonne, Mr. Viollet, V-i-o-l-l-e-t. It was again a study of photograph effects, the fact that even though the total amount of energy determines the darkening of photographic emulsion it is not equivalent to provide it in one short burst of high intensity or one long exposure at low intensity — even though a (?) amount of energy will be the same, the darkening will be the same, and especially, well it's (?) failure, but in addition, the speed of development, the final density is not reached in the same way. We know today this is because in the high intensity short exposure this is, the image is internal to the grays, to the silver highlight grays, and therefore is not accessible to the developer immediately, while at low intensity long exposures the germs (?) form at the surface of the grains are immediately accessible to the developer.
De Vaucouleurs:And this had been noticed in the late 19th century but was really discussed first by my professor, Jean (?) Cabannes, in connection with his long exposures on (?) scattering and by a German physicist, Hoffman (?), so it's the, the thesis so really was about the Cabannes-Hoffman effect (?) paper, but that's in the last 40s. I did also some systematic studies of the sensitivity and spectral sensitivity of a number of emulsions of interest to astrophysics with a young man I had introduced in the Institute of Astrophysics. His name is Pierre Querin, (Q?)-u-e-r-i-n. He is still at the institute for all I know. So I was greatly involved in photography, and this has been an asset in later studies, because I could take the most of the instrument I had, even though they were usually small instruments. I had brought to Australia —
Doel:I wonder if I could just ask at this point, given your work in precise studies of photographic techniques, what was the reaction of other astronomers in France to that work? Was it something that you feel they appreciated?
De Vaucouleurs:Oh, in France it was —
Doel:I mean, that others commented on?
De Vaucouleurs:I don't think there was any reaction. First, most of it was published in photographic journals, such as (?) Industrie Photographique (?), and it's true I published discussion of photographic photometry of nebulae in (?) Observatory (?) Astrophysics 1948, but (?) didn't noticed. It had more effect later, in later years, and until 1970s or 80s even, until (?) replaced photography as the main tool. It had beneficial effects on those who wanted to take the time to read and study. So it has made a contribution to increasing the (?)of photographic photometry. People like (?) in Italy, Dave Bursten (?) in this country, and I think Ivan King and some of my students here, Harold Davulles (?) and most of those who have worked with me have benefitted because they had to follow the three (?) rules. So it has been useful in a number of areas. Now there are still astronomers who just can't (?) do photographic photometry, but they use CCDs (?) now. And, but although many of the errors that are (?) onto photographic photometry also are applicable to CCD photometry. Because once you have digitized the photographic (?) using a micro (?)ometer the treatment of the rest of the image is almost the same, and the CCDs have their own problems.
De Vaucouleurs:So what I did in Australia was two things. While I was waiting to have access to the 30-inch Reynold reflector which began in late 1952, I set up in my backyard (?) Stromlo a little equatorial (?) table equipped with a guider and a twin A08 (?) (?) camera, (?) lenses, (?) Kodak camera sent from England, they were very cheap then, and had them mounted in a twin camera with which I could take simultaneous (?) photographs of blue and red photographs —
Doel:That's interesting. You purchased these telescopes with your own funds.
De Vaucouleurs:Oh yes, oh yes, yes. And it was very fortunate I had this little instrument because, as I said, for one year I had no other instruments to work with at Mount Stromlo except the Odie telescope, which was not much use. And of course when you go to the south, the main attraction apart from Eta Carine was the galactic center and the Magellinic Clouds. And the Magellinic Clouds have been observed in great detail at Harvard for half a century almost, but they didn't see the forest for the trees. It was microscopic study of (?) stars (?). And so I took photographs of them. I realized that to study the clouds as galaxies — and of course they are very important, being the nearest galaxies — I had to have a camera small enough and with a field big enough that the clouds would look like ordinary photographs of galaxies and not like galactic fields full of stars.
Doel:Using the wide field.
De Vaucouleurs:Wide field and small scale.
De Vaucouleurs:So I experimented with lenses all the way from a 15 millimeter focus movie lens, which was too small — and finally I settled on 35 and 50 millimeter focus, 35 millimeter cameras are like (?) like a lens, and which I used to take calibrated photographs of the Magellinic clouds and do (?) photometry. The photometry on the Magellanic clouds is very difficult because they are so big in the sky, and there was no good determination of their total magnitude or surface brightness previously. So that was done, it took some time to be reduced, and that was published in the Astronomical Journal (?) about 1955 —
Doel:Yes. de Vaucouleurs: — and there were few other sources of photometry, although it gave an impetus to other studies in South Africa by Ezasur (?), a German astronomer, and then some photographic photometry also. And this gave us present values for the total magnitudes of the Magellinic clouds which I revised slightly during my second stay in Australia in the 80s.
Doel:Mm-hmm (affirmative). When you —
De Vaucouleurs:But then I settled on the 7-inch focus (?) camera which gave me, which diaphragm (?) to F4 (?) gave me a field of 20 degrees. Good definition. It went to the 14th magnitude in one hour exposure on 103(?) emulsion. And, because the clouds are something like 15 times closer than the Andromeda Galaxy, it was equivalent to looking at the Andromeda Galaxy or the M33 nebulae with a 36-inch reflector. So the 7-inch lens was a quality, powerful instrument, considering the clouds being so close. You know, the depths of penetration, the depths of (?) magnitude down to about minus 4 1/2 was similar to what we can get on a 36-inch on Andromeda. So, then I did extensive star counts over the region of the clouds, and immediately I discovered on this long — These were limiting exposures, what people today call "deep photography," although I don't like the expression. It's just (?) limiting exposure. The sky density is brought up to essentially the base of the linear part of the characteristic and photographic plate (?) and shows all there is to be seen. Oh, you are exposed to the dark (?) and the plate (?) show more.
De Vaucouleurs:And they immediately discovered extensive spiral structure in the large Magellanic clouds and to some extent in the small clouds, and this was a revelation. I confirmed it by studying (St?s), and this came out as a series of papers in the Astronomical Journal, 1955, '56 or so. Now this exchange of view of the Magellanic clouds, far from being irregular galaxies, they were thought to be chaotic, more or less spherical systems in those days. Although Shapley had already, without explaining why, he had already classified the (?) as an SC peculiar, (?), (?) SC peculiar. So he must have seen that there was some spiral structure, but I detected many which was much more convincing, was a very extensive loop around the large Magellanic clouds starting from one end of the (?) and going completely around the cloud and back to — And then I discovered an extensive network of relatively high latitude galactic nebulosities. Some of them are emission nebulosities; others are reflection nebulosities, things that 20 years later or so were rediscovered by several people who were using Schmidt telescopes.
Doel:Right. Did you discuss any of that with Shapley at the time, in the (?) —?
De Vaucouleurs:I was corresponding with Shapley, and we had a number of letters where I informed him of my results. I also had some correspondence with (?). Because I thought I had detected a link, a star stream between the Milky Way and the large Magellanic clouds. This has been never fully confirmed, no infirmed (?). It's very difficult, because from our position we are, we look at this link end-on, and so that it would be fairly short. The last cloud is at the galactic of minus 30 degrees. And so it would be a very steep conversion through other clouds, and (?) take a network of dark nebulae, some of which overlap the large cloud. All this was described in detail. But it took 30 years before it was freely —
De Vaucouleurs:It was only wasted in Chile (?), who was able in the 1980s to obtain photographs that confirmed what I had found. You see, it took 30 years before anyone could photograph it again and detect it. It's surprising. So this met with the usual disbelief in the early days, but after a few years studies in — So what I said was that the clouds, especially large clouds, were flat rotating systems. I detected rotation by re-analyzing a few radial velocities available from (?)Lick Observatory daytime in the solar expedition 1917.
Doel:This was published data that you had access to down in Australia.
De Vaucouleurs:Published data, and (?) rotation, and this was almost immediately confirmed when Frank Kerr (?) and Heinmann (?) made H1 (?) hydrogen, neutron (?) hydrogen observations of the Magellanic clouds. That was 1952-53, from Pottsville (?) Reservoir near Sydney. They had for a time what was the biggest radio telescope in the world, and I think it was 36 feet across, and they immediately detected the H1 in the Magellanic clouds and made maps, and Frank Kerr brought his maps of velocities to Mount Stromlo. He (?) radar technician during the war, had (?) astronomy, and so they were coming to Mount Stromlo — which was not very well accepted by the Director. In fact he once, I remember —
Doel:You mean Woolley.
De Vaucouleurs:Woolley. And he saw Joe Posé (?) and Frank Kerr working in the backyard, in the courtyard of the observatory and said, "What are these people doing here?" He just didn't like radio astronomy (?) because he was not in charge (?).
Doel:That's interesting. He did not have much contact then with Mills or any of the other radio people who came in?
De Vaucouleurs:No, no, not at all, not at all. He resented it. In fact, he gave a popular on astronomy in Melbourne in those days, and someone in the audience said, "Professor Woolley, will you say something about the radio observations at Sydney?" and he said something to the effect, "Oh, I discuss only serious astronomy."
Doel:That's quite a strong statement on his part.
De Vaucouleurs:Well, you know, when he became Astronomer (?) in England his first reaction to questions by journalists was that "Space travel is bilge, is utter bilge." And all the British astronomers and public were outraged, you know, this guy really had deteriorated going to Australia, was using language unfit for (?) (laughs). Anyway, he had strong opinions against radio —
De Vaucouleurs:It was mainly because he was not in charge. He resented the intrusion of radio people into the field of astronomy that was escaping his authority. His command was astronomy. He was a very autocratic person, but moderated by the British education.
Doel:I'm curious. How did you come in first contact with people like Mills? Was it their visiting Mount Stromlo?
De Vaucouleurs:Well, I visited Sydney very early, and they took me to show me their installations of radio astronomy. I visited the (?) —
Doel:You were well of aware of what they were doing from the time you were in Australia.
De Vaucouleurs:Oh yes. I contacted them very soon. In fact, there was a meeting of the Radio Scientific Union, URSI (?), in Sydney in 1952, which I attended. In fact Otto Struve was presented there. We attended, and it may be at that time that I contacted the radio astronomers there. But Frank Kerr came with his maps (?) Magellanic clouds at Mount Stromlo and they were still trying to interpret them as gravity and velocity fields, because that's what the establishment claimed they were (?), I immediately saw the characteristic pattern of rotating disk. And since I had already detected rotation in the old data, and then (?) this spiral structure, that was confirmation, so —
Doel:That was your joint paper then that came from that?
De Vaucouleurs:That's right. It took me about a year to convince Frank Kerr that what I was finding was more realistic than what the establishment said, because radio (?) impressed by the people who were the establishment at the time. But after a little while he was very convinced, and so we published two papers on velocities and masses of the Magellanic clouds from radio observations.
Doel:How did it work when you published the joint paper? Did you write an initial draft and he contributed parts to it?
De Vaucouleurs:Oh, we exchanged our calculations and draft back and forth for two years I think. It was — we were exploring new territory, he was very cautious, and so it went through several approximations, and then the usual refereeing system mainly at the radio physics. It was very — And then I met also Bernard Mills, because he detected radio continuum ideation (?) in the Magellanic clouds and we made comparisons of the radio and optical images. See, we wanted to find out where the radio emission was coming from. The neutral (?) hydrogen was obviously coming from the disk, the young population (?) this, but the radio continuum that was not obvious whether it was only just stellar space or a radio corona or what. And so in 1955 I went to the IAU meeting in Dublin, and there was a Radio Astronomers Symposium, perhaps the first one, and it was IAU Symposium No. 4 I think. Where it was it? Perhaps in Dublin. I don't remember.
Doel:The '55 meeting was in Dublin.
De Vaucouleurs:In Dublin, yes. Yes, the (?) House, but the Radio Symposium —
Doel:That's true. I'm not sure.
De Vaucouleurs:(?) in Dublin. Anyway,(?) another of the radio astronomers at Sydney, we made a comparison of the (?) and (?) distribution, the H1 distribution and the 3.5 meter radiation in Magellanic clouds to see where it was coming from. And that, even though the resolution was very low, I had to degrade greatly my photometry to match the 2 or 3 degree beam of the radio telescopes at the time.
De Vaucouleurs:Still one could see that there was a deficiency of hydrogen in the (?) in the center, and it was more concentrated in where we saw the, we could see the bright stars, the star formations.
De Vaucouleurs:(?) And then I published also at that time a paper which I had to publish in the Irish Astronomical Journal because EPG (?) did not want it, while Dr. Öpik, who was the editor of the Irish Astronomical Journal and of course a great astronomer immediately saw the importance. I was telling (?) the stellar population in different parts of the Magellanic clouds and so, perhaps for the first time, the distinction between population one (?) stars of different ages. I showed the (?) function is not the same in the (b?) of the Magellanic clouds, the large clouds, and in some parts of the small clouds, and in the (?), and I suggested there was not just a population one and a population two, but there were population one of different ages. And Öpik realized that was very important. But at the time it just was not well received by the establishment in this country.
Doel:Do you recall what the criticisms were of the referees for (?)?
De Vaucouleurs:No. I would have to dig into my files. I don't remember.
Doel:I'm curious. Was Shapley generally supportive of the interpretations you were bringing of the spiral structure?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. He was somewhat skeptical in the beginning, but he was supportive; he was, even if he did not believe everything, you know, he was sympathetic and supportive, you see — which (?) he was more an uncle [???].
Doel:I didn't mean to step on your words, but I'm curious: Were Hubble and Baade the ones that you considered to be central in this debate? Or were there others as well that were central?
De Vaucouleurs:Well, they carried more weight because they used a larger telescope in the minds of many people, especially abroad. But when it comes to studying Magellanic clouds, of course neither Hubble nor Baade had ever seen the Magellanic clouds, whereas Shapley had been studying them for 30 years. So he certainly was in a much better position. No, I had no correspondence essentially at the beginning, except to criticize what I was doing from Baa — Hubble never answered my letters in '48, and —
Doel:Did he later? Or did he —?
De Vaucouleurs:No, no. After he died, when Aaron Sandage went through his papers, he said that, "We were surprised to discover your letter of 1948 and to discover there was a Frenchman doing some good work in galaxy photometry in (?)." But Hubble never answered. No, I had essentially no correspondence with Baade or Menkovsky (?), although Menkovsky was a gentle person and friendly, but he was critical. If anything (?) didn't confirm that (?).
Doel:Yes. How did you come in contact with (?)?
De Vaucouleurs:Um ... I wrote to him, I think. Because I was very impressed by the discovery by Keenan (?) in 1935 of a link between two galaxies. And in the 1940s, especially just after the war, Zwicky started observing with an 18-inch (?) and discovered a great number of interacting galaxies with links between them. And it occurred to me that the Magellanic clouds being so close to earth, especially in the old distance scale, there might be also a link between the Magellanic clouds and earth and at that time both visually and photographically and even the (?) I thought I detected a stream of stars between us the large clouds — which is still a tantalizing question that needs to be resolved. There may be a tenuous stream of stars somewhere between us and the large clouds, but at the moment the evidence is not conclusive certainly. But, at any rate, I thought I detected that, and so I wrote to Zwicky to report some of my results, and he was very sympathetic and — Hubble was aware of it, because I remember that Dick Woolley (?) visited America in the early 50s, and when he came back he told me that Hubble said it was important what I was doing in Magellanic clouds; that I should continue. So he was aware of it, and had good words to (?) about it, but of course Zwicky was (?) much interested in that.
De Vaucouleurs:And we started a fairly continuous, extensive correspondence with Zwicky at the time. I also corresponded with Verner [???] at the time.
Doel:Is that right?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. Because I was the Mars expert, remember? After '54 was my book. And he wrote his book, The Mars Project.
De Vaucouleurs:And that later was translated to English, and so he sent it to me, and then I met him finally when I came to this country in '57. There was an Air Force meeting probably in '58 in San Antonio on Space Travel and (?). He was very drunk that evening and he took my wife aside and he said, pointing to me, "Stay with this guy. He will go somewhere. He is crazy like me." (laughs) But he was drunk at the time, so — But yes, (?). To come back to Australia, my little equatorial table — that is a telescope on one side of the (?) axis on the table on which, to which you can (?) French design, these equatorial tables; they are popular in France, but not very much in (?).
De Vaucouleurs:Instead of carrying tons of counterweights you use one side for a telescope, the other for your equipment so there is no excess weight.
De Vaucouleurs:And I had built a little doghouse, a little observatory building like a large doghouse —
Doel:Was this again from your own funds? It wasn't anything that —?
De Vaucouleurs:Oh yeah, oh no, it was my own money, no, at Mount Stromlo — except that the twin erector (?) camera, the camera's body was built at the physics lab, physics workshop of the ANU. There was an amusing incident. When I designed my tubes and sitometer (?) it was built in the physics shop, because I remember the Astronomy Department was part of the School of Physical Sciences of the ANU, and Dr. Oliphant was the Director at the time. So I had access to facilities in Canberra, which were very restricted at the time. And still they were beginning to build the university. I remember the library of the university was in old wooden barracks that was a converted wartime hospital in Canberra, and then the final buildings were in construction. So in the very beginning of the ANU. Um, oh yes — so the tubes and sitometer was built according to my design, and when it finally was ready to be picked up I thought I would simply go and pick it up. (?) where that's done, at the Institute of Astrophysics or the Sorbonne, but no, Woolley ordered that the instruments should be delivered to him in his office at Mount Stromlo — in order, he wanted to force me to come begging for permission to use the tubes and sitometer. See, he was a product of the old Greenwich establishment —
Doel:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:It's run by rules of the Navy, and I had been trained in a different climate, and there was a clash of cultures. I took this to be somewhat insulting to come and beg for my instruments, and he thought it would have been proper for me to do and take an instrument because he was the Director of Mount Stromlo. (laughs) So there were two different concepts of democracy.
Doel:It must have been frustrating for you at the time.
De Vaucouleurs:Yes, and for him too. We were doing fine, had many discussions, because there was precious little staff with whom he could discuss scientific problems. In fact his own programs changed greatly as a (result) of conversation with him. He started a spectrophotometer of Mars; he started these extensive theoretical studies of the (?) galaxies. (?) had written that paper in England on (?) galaxies, it was published in 1953. And he certainly appreciated what I was doing, and I was enjoying discussions with him, because he had the classical good training of Cambridge graduates, and I in mathematics and theory, and so there was a good interaction, as long as we were talking science. But as soon as it became administrative or —
De Vaucouleurs:Then there were clashes. (laughs) So after about a year in Australia. And then it's also during this period I was sharing an office with Colin Gum, who discovered the Gum Nebulae during — You know, we had the big fire on the mountain in February, 1952, at Mount Stromlo. Part of the observatory was destroyed, especially the workshop. Fortunately the men building the library were saved, but there was a forest fire, something like (?) and pine trees burnt on the mountain, and I was in Canberra on that day and I heard on the radio calls from the police and the fire fighters for everybody to come and present themselves at the police station or fire station and go to be (?) and potato bags to try to beat down the fire, try to prevent it from spreading to the (?), the pastures around, because it could have threatened Canberra itself. So I went there with the fire fighters in a truck, but we didn't go up the mountain — the mountain was already swallowed in flames — and we tried to prevent the fire (from) spreading. Because when this happens of course it's a tragedy, because of course thousands of animals, especially the sheep, are burned to death. But it was a spectacular sight to see the Mount Stromlo (?) torch (?) glowing through the — My wife was at the observatory. She started working as an assistant to Dr. Woolley at the beginning of 1952.
De Vaucouleurs:She was reducing his spectrophotometry. Gascoigne and (?) had a program of spectral photometry of bright stars in the Southern Hemisphere; they were trying to (?) program that had been carried on at Greenwich for many years, (?) gradients, that is the gradients of the energy distribution.
De Vaucouleurs:And they were trying to do the same. One thing that struck me in those days, that no one seemed to understand they were in the Southern Hemisphere and they had better things to do than just continue work done in the north. There was a southern sky there, and they didn't have any imagination as to what to do. It is Gerry Kron who in '51, '52, by bringing his equipment to Mount Stromlo and photometry started Gascoigne on his very profitable study of clusters of stars and Magellanic clouds which showed the distinction between red clusters and blue clusters; they are two populations, differently distributed, at least in the small clouds. And then his extensive studies, meticulous studies of (?) Magellanic clouds. But it was people from the north coming to Mount Stromlo who had to tell people who were natives or at least had been there for many years that, "When you are in the south, you should study southern (?), the Magellanic clouds, and not just do more Greenwich style gradients of bright stars," which to my knowledge no one has ever even seen there (?) (laughs). So that was —
Doel:I was curious when you mentioned about, it was Colin Gum and —?
De Vaucouleurs:Colin Gum, yes.
Doel:In '53 you had published a paper with him on the ring light (?) hydrogen II regions as (?) indicated?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. Yes. He was a student from Adulade (?) and he was doing his dissertation. He had started under Clay Allen, but Allen had left Stromlo in a dispute with Woolley and was going to be the next Director at Mill Hill in the University of London Observatory. So, because he had been started by Allen, Woolley didn't take any interest in him, and after a few months I and (?) had been at Mount Stromlo. Colin said once, "Gee. In a few months of conversation with you guys, I've learned much more astronomy than I've ever learned from the professor here." He was really left alone, you know, isolated, but — And then his equipment, which was a Struve (?) style nebulae spectrograph — When Schmidt came around, then a slit on the slope of the mount (?) distance (?) nebulae spectrometer. So a copy was built first by Allen and then after the fire Colin Gum would cover the Schmidt at first when it was still in working order — he had to clean it out — and started his survey of the Southern Milky Way for which (?) emission regions, and he published an extensive dissertation and the memoirs of the RAS probably in '54, '55. So — and I was of course aware of his work, and that's when I saw him discover the Gum Nebulae.
De Vaucouleurs:He was making mosaics of his Schmidt plates by projection I think on the screen in the library, and he was projecting, assembling that, and that's where he discovered the Gum Nebulae. And of course we were aware of the (R?) Nebulae or the (L?s), and I don't remember some of the others, (?) circular (?) nebulae, and I had noticed some of these things in other galaxies. I knew about the ring HII (?) regions in NGC 6822 that are visible in even blue light, and photographs taken by Hubble in the 20s, and I was observing some Magellanic clouds and at the time I thought I had seen one also in NGC 300 and perhaps another galaxy, I don't remember exactly. But, it occurred to us that this could be a distant syndicator (?), a geometry distant syndicator, and we found that the maximum size was on the 100 parsecs or so, it's more like 200 I believe — But, so we tried to just see that if we can calibrate these things in our Milky Way — Because of course usually there is a cluster in the center so we can (?) the cluster and then (?) the nebulae, that would be a new and (?) syndicator which would have the advantage of being independent of wavelengths — because you see it or you don't; it's like a crater on the moon. The diameter of the crater is well defined by each line of the walls.
De Vaucouleurs:It's not like a nebulae like Orion (?) where there is no edge. Now that's where 20 years later we disagreed greatly with Sandage and (T?n) when they used HII region of any kind as distance indicators; they have no definite size. So the size they measure by eyeball is a complex product of the photographic and the visual properties of the eye; it has nothing much —
De Vaucouleurs:It's a (?) indicator it was no good. But this special type of HII region can — and we still use it, with caution of course. But that was the first indication.
Doel:And that was of course a very interesting time because of the questions over the Hubble Constant as the age of the Earth became better determined or at least better accepted.
De Vaucouleurs:This was not yet an active subject in the early 50s.
Doel:By the mid-50s though when (?) Patterson had his 4.6 billion year age?
De Vaucouleurs:Ah. Yes, of course. When I was a student of course the age of the universe and the age of the Earth were — at the oldest spot it was 1.8 billion years. And we were asked to (?) the agreement as proof that the expanding universe really started 1.8 billion years ago. And when the geophysicists started increasing the age of the older rocks, then the astronomers had to stretch their time scale to maintain the agreement. That's why I am sometimes doubtful of these agreements.
De Vaucouleurs:Well yes, in the late 30s and more specifically in the late 40s, Knut Lundmark in Sweden had traced (?) that the novae especially and the other distance indicators, (?) were not giving the same distance to Andromeda (as) the Cepheids. And at Mount Wilson they always believed and still believe that the Cepheids are the primarily distance indicators and (?) must be wrong. Lundmark had the good sense to realize that it wasn't necessarily so; that all the indicators except the Cepheids gave larger (?), and he had from the early days a much better value — we know now — of the (?) Andromeda than Hubble. It was not entirely Hubble's fault. He was using a zero point determined by Shapley and (H?) for the Cepheids — which was a mistake, because they, you know, they put on the same sequence (?) stars (?) the Cepheids, and this was, in the late 40s there was increasing evidence there was something wrong, probably with Cepheids. Mineur in France also during the war had done some calibration of short and long period Cepheids; that is, less than one day, more than one day as they call them, and found they have different zero points. But all this, as usual, was ignored and denied by the Mount Wilson people until they themselves had to — (laughs) I think Shapley had played also a role, because if the distance (?) Magellanic clouds that was then believed, 17.6, was covered, they should have seen (?) stars at the 18th magnitude, which the Harvard plates reached, and they were never found. So — and of course the (?) stars show up at the 19th magnitude in the Magellanic clouds.
De Vaucouleurs:So there was clearly something wrong with the distance scale, and this was finally confirmed by Baade and announced (?) in 1952 at the IAU. And that was immediately confirmed by Zachary (?) and (?) from the observation of (?) stars in the clusters of Magellanic clouds at the 19th magnitude. So that was the, as it was called at the time, the doubling of the distance scale of the universe. That was only the first doubling. There were many others to follow. But, so that in the early 50s we were still calling galaxies extragalactic nebulae and the distance scale was still that of Hubble of the 20s and 30s. And of course 526 kilometers per second (?). But it was a period of rapid change. Radio astronomy was beginning to have an impact. And so for me it was really a very exhilarating period at Mount Stromlo. There was the Southern Sky and there were new results and at that time Southern Astronomy was still a somewhat isolated branch of astronomy. In fact if you have read David Evans' book Under the Capricorn, his story of Southern Astronomy from Halley (?) to 1975, he gives something of the feeling of Southern Astronomers. They were (?) explorers isolated from the Northern Astronomers, but having the whole Southern Sky to themselves. And, although there were already observatories in Argentina and South Africa and Australia, there were really few active workers and practically none in the field of galaxies. So, anyway, I could not take radio velocities because there was no spectrograph at Mount Stromlo that I could use for galaxies, so I decided instead to use my time on the Reynold's telescope. As I mentioned, Woolley gave me a generous allocation of time, tried to make up for the lost year —
Doel:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:(?) for two years, so I took about 250 plates of Shapley's (?) Galaxy south of minus 35 (M35?). The reason I had to stop on minus 35 is because that was the zenith of Mount Stromlo, and to go even to minus 34 you were risking your life to reach the focus of the telescope (?) on the ladder.
Doel:That's a good point, yes.
De Vaucouleurs:I should have gone to minus 30, which was the southern limit of Hubble's survey of northern galaxies, but —
Doel:But practical matters were —
De Vaucouleurs:(laughs) Practical matters. Minus 35. So (?) classified the galaxies and in the process of looking at direct photographs of a large number of galaxies, I realized the Hubble system was inadequate, too simple, and that there were more forms of galaxies. I began making sketches of these galaxies and tried to extend the classification system. But before I go through that I should say also that during that period of waiting in '51-'52, '52 especially, I had started a revision of the Shapley-Ames catalog in 1949 in France, assisted by my wife and especially by (?), whose name I've mentioned, at the Paris Observatory. Because 1949, this was 17 years after the Shapley-Ames catalog, and I was already becoming aware that there was a need for revision, especially in the size (?) of course in the (?). So I had assembled a bibliography and notes, and so we produced a card index. It's still here. It's still here.
Doel:Hm. And those are the original drawers for them, the small wooden 4X6 drawers, yes.
De Vaucouleurs:It's the standard size (?), 3x5.
De Vaucouleurs:3x5. And you see we (?) showing where the information would go, and then (?) the coordinates, galaxy coordinates, and whatever information was known. (?) galaxy —
Doel:Very interesting. Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:So I —
Doel:And you had a template cut out in the (?) to fill out the information?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. But of course we knew it by heart after a while, you see.
De Vaucouleurs:This is still in (G?'s) handwriting. During the summer of 1949 we all went to Le Houga and (?). Now it's been greatly expanded since. We have added many, many objects of course, much more than Shapley, but that was how it started. And then we collected sizes of galaxies. (?) various photographic surveys. (?) at Heidelberg from various people, sketches of galaxies —
De Vaucouleurs:A little pencil sketch. And even today I still go back to this card index for information. And here's another one.
Doel:A sketch. And you also have information written on the back. Yes. And those are your sketches that —
De Vaucouleurs:Yes, yes, my sketches. Now, so — but before we go into this classification (?) was to keep me busy for quite a few years —
Doel:I just wanted to ask you very briefly —
Doel:— before we leave the Magellanic clouds completely. You were also working, at least briefly, with Bill Buscombe, William Buscombe?
De Vaucouleurs:Bill Buscombe is a Canadian astronomer, now at Northwestern.
De Vaucouleurs:And he spent a long time at Mount Stromlo. He arrived about a year after us, probably in '53, and his interest was spectral classification of stars initially, but in '53 I became so involved in Magellanic clouds and so excited about all the new findings, and Gascoigne was beginning (?) his work on Cepheids and clusters (?), that Gascoigne, Bill Buscombe and I wrote a monograph on the Magellanic clouds, Problems of (?) Magellanic clouds, which was published as a supplement of the Bulletin of the Australian and New Zealand's Association for the Advancement of Science (?), and it was — There had been previous review papers on Magellanic clouds by mainly Shapley, but they were dated, and since we had so much (?) and the radio data —
De Vaucouleurs:— that we thought it was a time to review all that was known about the Magellanic clouds and to present our new results as a guide for an encouragement for others to study Magellanic clouds. And that was quite a, very influential, publication. It was used as a reference. It was an exhaustive bibliography. And that was published at the (?) 1954. It was Bill Buscombe who especially made a study of the novae.
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. It had occurred to me at that time that it was known from (?) that the fast novae are the brightest at maximum. And therefore — and the slower novae are fainter. So it occurred to me that light (?) at some point.
De Vaucouleurs:And we determined, (?) Buscombe, we reconstructed the light curves of the known novae in the Magellanic clouds from their sources and then from galactic data I predetermined the absolute magnitudes, continuing the work or (?) the work of (Mc?)and (?) and others, and we established that all the novae, irrespective of the rate of decay, have the same absolute (?) about two weeks after maximum, and at that point they have all an absolute (?) minus 5 1/2, and practically the same visual and photography as it turns out, because they are white at that stage. So that the advantage was that in the Magellanic clouds it was difficult to measure the rate of decay because the observations were so scarce, you see. So it was very difficult especially to find — Most moving (?) Magellanic clouds cannot be observed at maximum; maximum is missed, and it comes as a flash. But, after a couple of weeks the rate of decay is slower and slower, and so that an uncertainty of a few days on the date of the maximum does not have the same effect as on the maximum itself.
De Vaucouleurs:Because the rate of decay per day is less. So we calibrated that, and that gave us the modulus for the Magellanic clouds, which turned out to have been very good.
De Vaucouleurs:And this method has been refined. I am still trying to refine it. And it gives a very good modulus, especially as we have better calibration of the galactic novae. Yes, that's right. I did this work with Bill Buscombe.
Doel:Did you also have any contact, direct contact with Öpik then? Had you met him by then?
De Vaucouleurs:I had not met him. We had correspondence — especially at the time of that paper on the populations in Magellanic clouds.
De Vaucouleurs:Had some correspondence. Well, I was aware of his work of course, but — I may have met him at the Dublin meetings. It's quite possible I met him there, yes. Just as I met Arthur Beer in Cambridge when I was in England. Yes, yes. I had some correspondence of course with Öpik. The other thing I want to talk about that started during the period I was waiting for use of the Reynold's telescope was the discovery of a local (?) super cluster. I had started this revision of Shapley-Ames catalog, and we had made — Of course, Shapley had published maps —
De Vaucouleurs:And of course we see this belt of galaxies across the northern sky which had been noticed by others before, but to my knowledge no one had made any sense of it. At that time the universe was supposed to be uniform and isotropic except for (?) plus a few odd clusters. But I've heard it repeated many times what a statistician also said, that except for a few clusters and some (?) the universe was (?) isotropic (?) on a big enough scale. The problem is that he had never specified what "big enough" is, and so that the concept for (?) depends on what the beginning of scale is. Hubble spoke of a "fair sample of the universe." The problem is how big a volume you must survey, because you get your fair sample. It's like the population of the United States. Do you just talk to your neighbors or the whole city or the whole state?
De Vaucouleurs:How big a sample do you need before you have a fair sample of the U.S.?
De Vaucouleurs:The answer is you have to patrol a whole territory of the country. And in fact some years later I wondered where the only fair sample of the universe itself is, because of this high (?) clustering. But in those days — So I looked again at this distribution, and then I stuck my neck out with the audacity of youth, and I said, "This is a phenomenon similar to the Milky Way; that is to say, we're near the edge of a flat disk of galaxies, forming a supersystem much larger than ordinary clusters [???]."
Doel:What was it in particular you feel that led you to that reasoning, that suspicion, initially?
De Vaucouleurs:Just looking at the distribution with my wife. We had made maps of these galaxies, distribution maps, and this belt struck me as being — just could not — I said, "If it is not a chance product of an accidental alignment of two or three large clusters, then it must be a physical system surrounded by a region of much lower densities. And I published first a little, very short paper in the (?) 1953. I had the nerve to do that, because in 1952 (?) had published in the (?) an abstract of her thesis, her master's thesis, where she was looking for a general rotation of the universe. Gamov, being a physicist not knowing much astronomy and with great views had suggested in 1946 there is a (?) in nature that everything is rotating in the universe — atomic nuclei, electrons, atoms, molecules, stars, planets, galaxies. So he said, "Astronomers should look for a general rotation of the universe in a (?)."
Doel:Yes, yes, yes.
De Vaucouleurs:And now, apparently — Now, Vera Rubin was in relation (?) with Gamov at the time. I'm not sure if he was (?), but she was in a (?) she was aware of Gamov's suggestion, and again, being a student in a small institution —
Doel:Of course Gamov was also in Georgetown at the time.
De Vaucouleurs:He was. Yes, I see. I've never been able to obtain from Vera exactly what started her on her dissertation, whether it was her own idea to look for difference in rotation effects in the (?) galaxies or whether she was conscious (?) of Gamov's suggestion. I suppose that he must have talked to her about this (?). She may not have read his 1946 paper, but she must have been aware of that. She herself I don't think remembers exactly how she came across that master's thesis. You'll have to ask her to — But I asked her previously, and we are not clear exactly how this started, but along the line of Gamov's suggestion she said that she thought, "Well, all I have to do is do an (?) first I'll do an analysis of radio velocities to detect differential rotation."
De Vaucouleurs:So she collected 100 redshifts that were known at the time, from (?)'s list 1936 and she did (?). And then she had to decide what is the plane of rotation. And here again it is not clear to me what she did. Either she looked at this belt of galaxies across the northern sky and said, "This must be the equator" — Because in her own recollection in this book she says that she looked for a plane about one in which she would see maxima and minima of difference of velocity. All we had as a distance indicator in those days was the magnitude of the galaxies. But anyway, from the abstract she published I thought that she had found the plane of rotation by studying radio velocities — not the distribution of the sky. And so the coincidence of her plane of or pull of rotation with the pull of this disk of galaxies gave me enough courage to publish the idea. And in retrospect she seems to have been floating from — Well, you will have to ask her, but her recollection last time I discussed this with her was not clear whether she had first notice the alignment of the (?) galaxies on the great circular sphere (?) and tried this as an experiment and as a trial orientation, or whether she had found it by actually looking at minima and maxima of radio velocities. It's the second interpretation which seemed to emerge from an abstract, short abstract in (?), and this gave me great confidence that his disk of galaxies indeed was a real physical system held together by gravitation and in a state of differential rotation. Now, it turns out — and then, as I've said, I've read a lot of the past literature, so — and I usually try read as much as I can on any subject I tackle, to avoid making discoveries that have already been discovered. I was aware that people before had noticed this belt of galaxies. At that time I was not aware of the work of Herschel on this belt of galaxies, but I was aware of the work of (?), looking for a clustering (?) of the second order, even before galaxies were fully realized as being external, or Reynolds in the 20s, of Lundmark, who all had noticed that the brightest, largest (?) line up on the great circle of the sphere. But it was usually a one sentence, noting this as an oddity — no explanation, no interpretation. So, I thought, "Well, this must be an edge (?) view of the flat system and we are near the edge of it, because in the southern sky we see very little evidence for it." This was (?) of course was (?) disbelief, and in fact further evidence I was a joker and —
Doel:I'm curious about one thing with this. Both Vera Rubin's and your paper appeared in the AJ, which was editor —
De Vaucouleurs:In '52 and '53, yes.
Doel:And Dirk Brouwer was the editor of the AJ at that time.
De Vaucouleurs:Yes, yes.
Doel:Did you have contact with him? Clearly he was willing to take on the publication of what was controversial for —
De Vaucouleurs:Well, Vera Rubin's abstract was published as an abstract of the paper at a meeting of the AAS (?).
Doel:In which case it would go in. But yours was a —
De Vaucouleurs:They had no choice. But she read her paper as the AAS meeting, that was probably in '52, and after that she was received very poorly by most astronomers except people like Ed Carpenter at Tucson and myself, but by and large she was dismissed as being a student — In fact someone a few years later told me, "Well, you know, the poor girl, she (?) didn't know much about astronomy."
Doel:Hmm. That's very interesting, that Gamov was regarded as so much of an outsider.
De Vaucouleurs:Oh, he was, yes, of course. He was not an astronomer, so — Anyway —
Doel:Where there any in your mind though besides Carpenter and yourself who did support that interpretation or who had a somewhat open mind in that discussion?
De Vaucouleurs:Well, you'll have to read her own reminisces. To my immediate recollection, she mentioned only Carpenter and myself as being open to the new idea, and especially myself because I had this vision. So my paper was published. It's after I saw her abstract that I wrote to her for a copy of the full master's thesis which she sent, and then we were in active correspondence for several years about this general subject. To reinforce this evidence I discussed then the distribution of bright (?) galaxies, and generally in my contribution to Vistas in Astronomy. Vistas in Astronomy was a 2-volume collection of essays in honor of Professor Stratton, edited by Arthur Beer, and he had — yeah, well you've seen these books.
De Vaucouleurs:So I took this opportunity to review (?) the distribution of bright galaxy magnitude by magnitude and reinforce the evidence for a flat system, and then I discussed the galaxy (?) by lights going deeper in the northern sky, and tried to sketch the disk of the system. And then I introduced a system of super galactic (?). I called this of (?) the system the super galaxy. Because in 1930 Shapley had introduced the word "super galaxy" to describe his model of our galaxy as a cluster of galaxies all in the same (?). Of course that was before, just before the discovery of interstellar extinction —
De Vaucouleurs:— and to explain the discrepancy between the size of our galaxy according to Shapley and the size of Andromeda, the distance scale was too small, and the size of our galaxy was too large, so our galaxy seemed to be ten times larger and near the spiral (?). And tried to — of course that was explained by Trumpler by his discovery of interstellar extinction.
De Vaucouleurs:But, in order to try to reconcile this distance scale, Shapley said, "Maybe our galaxy is a cluster of spirals all in the same plane," and this he called the "super galactic (?)," which was stillborn, because two years later there was no need for it. Also Andromeda was realized to be much bigger, because with microphotometer tracings people then could detect '(?) to (?), so the world was without object. And in a conservative, trying to be conservative I used the word "super galaxy" for a galaxy of the second order. Shapley did not believe this. He did not believe it, but later he said, "Well, if by any chance your super cluster exists, the super galaxy is really what you said, and remember the word was invented at Harvard." (laughs) In other words, he denied the fact, but he gave credit for — (laughs). And this caused some confusion, because then immediately people who don't read papers except to criticize them said that I was really completely silly because —
Doel:Adopting a terminology that was not —?
De Vaucouleurs:Yeah, well, no, because — Well, they seemed to imply that I was implying that there was a big system with spiral arms, (?) seemed crazy. But there have been several crazy explanations of that. But among those who seriously made a study this gained ground slowly. And the next step was in 1958. I was (?) by then, and the paper by Hubble, Mayall and Sandage on redshifts, that was the next big list, the redshift after (?). They had 800 redshifts. It was (?) 25-year program (?), 20-year program. So, that gave a larger number, and I proceeded immediately to study the distribution of radio velocities, looking for differential rotation (?). But then — See, Vera Rubin had made a first order (?) analysis, and (?) just first saw the (?) differential rotation, because the supersystem she visualized was the universe. In fact the equator of her system she called a "universal equator," which happens to be essentially the same (?) galactic equator. But she visualized this as being part of, the universe as being the whole universe. So she looked for, she said, "We have redshifts in a small range around us so we can apply first order theory." But my super galaxy was only 13 in (?) scale, (?) in size, then in the revised scale about 30 megaparsecs across, and therefore even using Shapley-Ames galaxies, which were — well, there were some galaxies (?) on the (?), but not too many, even then we could survey more than half the system, so first order expansion was not good enough so I decided to use the exact expression for differentially — And then I realized two things. The system, because it was flat, I thought it has to be in rotation. Of course we know it's not true today, but there was no collapse of pancakes in those days. So trying to be conservative, I said this must be a rotating ellipsoid, flattened by rotation. So I also — therefore it must have some rotation to curve like a galaxy. And that was (?) rotation curves of galaxies. And we had models for this. We were making models. The second though, I realized that if there is a concentration of matter — and that's what caused a lot of trouble in the beginning, because people would not believe it. Even to this day people are objecting to it. In fact they deny I said it at the time or something. But in a dense enough region of space expansion must be stopped by gravitation, as in a galaxy. So I thought that in a dense core of the system, perhaps in a (?) cluster, there are no expansions being stopped by gravitation, or it must be very small. So, I said, "(?). I assume it's zero." And then, as we go to the outside of the system, (?), we must reach the Hubble constant by uniform expansion.
De Vaucouleurs:So I assume (?) an exponential growth from zero to the Hubble ratio of the expansion rate, depending on density. So I modified galactic rotation theory by introducing differential expansion terms. It was a system rotating in differential rotation, differential expansion, and I used two simple formulas to approximate the rotational expansion curves, pulled out of a hat just for mathematical simplicity and proves ability by (?) values. And then I calculated the radio velocities that we would observe in such a system from our location, which was estimated to be what, two-thirds or three-quarters of the way out to the edge. And that (?) presented the data incredibly well. Beginner's luck, but it fitted the (?) beautifully — as precisely as the precision of the data allowed. It was neither too good a fit — I had already learned that if a model fits the data more precisely than the data that presumed (?) it then there is something wrong. Too many parameters. In this case I had only one or two free parameters, because I fixed for (?) consideration of distance through the center; the mathematical form of the law of expansion and rotation. So I had very few free parameters. I don't remember if it's one or two. The rotation rate of the galaxy and the expansion rate of the galaxy. Just one or two free parameters. All the others were fixed (?). And it fitted the data surprisingly well, so I published that paper in the AJ in 1958 as further evidence for supergalaxy as I called it at the time, showing that a flat system and differential rotation expansion would predict radio velocities in exact agreement with what we derive from the HMS list. That perhaps impressed a few people, but still the establishment was firmly against it.
Doel:When you say "the establishment," who then are you —? This is of course Lowell (?) time now that we are talking about, but who do you have mind?
De Vaucouleurs:Well, I don't have any specific reaction from Shapley on that second paper, but Oort and Sandage certainly were against it.
Doel:Did you know Oort personally by that time? Had you met him at meetings or had discussions or contact with him?
De Vaucouleurs:I think I — I don't remember. I may have seen him, met him in Paris when I was at the Institute, but I'm not sure. Possibly. Yes, probably yes. There were meetings on the constants of astronomy in 1947 or '48. I may have seen him. But I met him I think in '61 at the (B?).
De Vaucouleurs:But it was not in a textbook. It was not something that had been said by the (?) people or the Dutch, and therefore it was just not — In fact Sandage put it very — we had very nice, friendly relations with Sandage in the 50s when he visited (?), but he one day put it very bluntly to me. He said, "If it doesn't come from us, I don't believe it."
Doel:If it doesn't — I'm sorry?
De Vaucouleurs:Come from us, I don't believe it. It was very blunt. It was not —
Doel:And he was very serious about —
De Vaucouleurs:Very serious! Yes! I was shocked. I was too polite in those days to answer, "Well, there is only one true church." But this struck me as really very parochial, and in the long run stupid. But that was his firm belief. You see that if he had not — He said this in connection with the work of Arp and (?) in South Africa.
De Vaucouleurs:Which turns out it was wrong. (laughs)
De Vaucouleurs:But — And anyway, it's true this had been the center of astronomy for half a century and they were very conscious of it, they had larger telescopes. But when it comes to concepts and things that are generally available — Anyway —
Doel:One of the things that, in addition to that entire community having this belief, Hubble and others who —
De Vaucouleurs:Well, Hubble was dead because he —
Doel:He was dead of course by that time, but one of the important features that they saw in the isotropic universe was that one had a philosophical basis of —
De Vaucouleurs:Easy (?) for calculation. You could make spherical isotropic homogeneous model. The convenience for calculating models, and also the concept that on the last scale, by the Copernican principle, our vicinity must be the same as any other area in space. But the catch was that no one had or could predict how big a volume you have to sample because you have that fair sample of the universe. And very late in the 50s for example Oort was calculating the (?) from statistics of the Shapley-Ames galaxies.
Doel:That's interesting. That's very interesting.
De Vaucouleurs:You see. So, and since this calculation (?) to an order of magnitude, and the range of distance we could really use to estimate densities is not very large, so that within an order of magnitude of course the numbers agree. So that they say, "You see this volume is a fair sample," but it's not true. I'll come back to that later. I think —
Doel:It's an interesting point. Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:A big boost came from George Abell's dissertation, A Survey of Northern Clusters. Tremendous piece of work, if you come to think of it, for a grad student. It was an enormous amount. Of course he had the 48-inch parallax (?) plates to work with, but his catalog of clusters led him to the conclusion that clusters are clustered. There was an association that if there is a cluster at a certain point, there is an (?) probability that there will be another cluster within a given distance.
Doel:When did he publish that?
De Vaucouleurs:(?) dissertation was in '58. It was (?) published a year or two later.
De Vaucouleurs:But I was in touch with him had met him probably just about that time at a meeting in California — I came to this country in '57 — so he found associativity of clusters and therefore super clustering. But I insisted, I still insist, and most people still don't realize this, that the association of clusters, that super clusters are not made up of clusters of clusters. For example our own local super cluster does not have an Abell cluster. The (?) cluster is too small to be an Abell cluster. It's too (?), too small. Although it is found association between rich clusters of galaxies on super cluster scales, we cannot say, it's a mistake (?) we say that clusters of clusters make super clusters. It is not true. A super cluster is made up primarily — just as a country is not made up of a cluster of metropolises (?) or large cities. There are large cities, but there are also smaller cities and there's the countryside. So similarly, a super cluster is mainly populated by small groups, such as our local group — by clouds of galaxies, a few megaparsecs of course which are intermediate formation, and then of course there can be a super cluster, but not necessarily. A large cluster. Excuse me. A large, rich cluster. But anyway, the statistics of Abell reinforce greatly the concept of clustering on scales larger than clusters. Clusters are on the modern distance scale on the order of 2 or 3 megaparsecs of course; super clusters are scales of tens of megaparsecs.
Doel:I do want to get back at some point to your work at the Yale Southern Station. But while we're talking about your first year in the United States, who were you in most contact with in working on the galaxy problems? Who did you have the most interactions with at the time?
De Vaucouleurs:Zwicky, Mayall, Sandage, uh…I would have to look at my correspondence. Menkovski.
Doel:You haven't mentioned anyone at Lowell. I would gather that you didn't — Did you find anyone at Lowell that you could talk to about these problems with?
De Vaucouleurs:No, well, yes —
De Vaucouleurs:Albert Wilson.
Doel:Aha. That's true.
De Vaucouleurs:But he was leaving when I came. And let me get back to this —
De Vaucouleurs:Anyway, after three years as a research fellow at the ANU, I was becoming annoyed with Woolley's ways of — There was some friction. It's strange. Relations were good in some ways with Woolley and badly in others. I think just basically they were good scientifically and I had good discussions with him, but administratively there was friction. I must say that none of this touched my wife. She was always very well treated and regarded by Woolley, he was a very good boss, and in fact he gave her freedom after the first year or two, he gave her freedom to do what she wanted (?) she did some good spectral classifications, spectrophotometry of stars, and he had great regard for her work. And he had regard for my own, but he wanted always to show he was the boss and, as I think Alex Rogers (?) later said, "That was a clash of cultures."
De Vaucouleurs:Also these were very difficult years for him. And for everybody at Mount Stromlo. There was a very low — the morale was very low throughout the staff. And that was Woolley's responsibility. His way of running things, of talking to — especially people who were directly under his thumb as being part of the Commonwealth Observatory. I was never part of the Commonwealth Observatory. I was working there, but I was always just fellow of the ANU, which gave me some freedom. He could not tell me what to do and how, although often tried, while the others were very much under his thumb and, you know, people had to sign in the book when they punched in, almost a clock. They would come in and —
Doel:There was literally a logbook of when people entered?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes, yes, yes, yes. Only Woolley I think and the Assistant Director (?) were exempted I think. But conditions were difficult. We were isolated from the city, there was nothing much to do for the families, and morale was very low. Some people left. These were very difficult years for Mount Stromlo and obviously frustrating for the Director too. He wanted to develop things, he had ordered the 74-inch telescope, the 74-inch telescope was not coming, and there were constant delays. When it came it took two years to be put up because of the distance and slowness of things too in Australia, and all sorts of problems of which he didn't have full control. He was trying to rehabilitate the Melbourne 50-inch telescope, the old Melbourne telescope which he had bought for scrap for 500 pounds from the Victorian government at the end of the war, and he thought it was a great bargain, but two generations of astronomers and untold members of science and the pounds that were spent trying to fix it. And there was one meeting of the (?), the Australian-New Zealand (?) Canberra in 1954,'55,'54 I think.
De Vaucouleurs:And he wanted, Woolley wanted to make a show of the observatory for the visitors and he went to the workshop where the foreman named Belham (?) had been with Mount Stromlo from the beginning, and you know, the great trade unions are very strong in Australia. And so Woolley went to the workshop and asked Belham, said, "You told me that this thing would be ready for Christmas," and Belham replied, "I didn't tell you which year." And the communist astronomer turned around and walked out. He just could not touch the workshop. You see?
Doel:That's a good way to put it. Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:That was very frustrating for him. So he said, "Well, in any case, make this thing look like a telescope for the visitors." So these were (?) difficult (?). And then there was the sad experience of the Yale (?) Columbia Station. In 1951 I think (?) was becoming conscious of problems in South Africa, and the telescope which had been set up on the (?) of Johannesburg University (?) in 1926 (?) was (?) gone, excuse me (?) gone, and the city lights (?) were convenient, so he decided to move, and the obvious choice was Australia. (?) there was no thought of going to South America in those days. So he contacted Woolley, or Woolley contacted him, somehow they got in touch, and Hall (?) came to work with Woolley, but moving the (?) Columbia Station to Australia, and (?) of course Brouwer was a theorist, and miraculously they had two weeks of good weather at Mount Stromlo when Brouwer was there. He was very much impressed. That was very early here at Mount Stromlo, so for many years after that this was known as the "Brouwer Fortnight." And that fooled (?), and just on Woolley's good word and his own observation of a nice blue sky for two weeks led him to decide to move there, (?) Columbia Station to Australia, after which Dr. (?) was —
Doel:Was the Director of Columbia. Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:Of Columbia. Agreed to (?). And ever since Brouwer and Schilt realized they had made the mistake of their lives. Woolley, optimistic as observatory directors are usually, and perhaps fooled by the promises of the Department of the Interior — Remember the Commonwealth Observatory, that was another difficulty, was run by the Department of the Interior. That's not a very good administration for an observatory. And one great thing that Woolley did before he left Stromlo was to transfer the ownership to the National University, so that the impact, the direction would be scientific research in a university framework — not of (?) theorists.
De Vaucouleurs:And that made a great difference. So in order to boost up the observatory Woolley was very keen to invite an American institution. That's good propaganda in Australia. Prestige of the United States in those days, the, I won't say the kinship, but the links between the Australian and American way of life. Australians often feel closer to the U.S. than to Britain, although when Americans suggested in those days that Australia should become the, join the union, they rebelled, because they are British. That's very strange. They cannot stand the English, the premise (?), but Americans are not welcomed to suggest they should join the union. "We are Australian and we are British." That was the —
De Vaucouleurs:Of course with a large fraction of Irish. They don't have anything good to say about the King or the Queen. Anyway, this (?), it was locally proved that Mount Stromlo was of an international reputation, that was a good site, it was good for the observatory for the university. Anyway, so he was very keen, and he promised that he would build a dome for the telescope, and that they could come in 1952 or 1953, I don't remember exactly. Probably late '52. Because the dome was being built. It was being built by the Department of the Interior. And there was great delays. For example there was only one crane in the whole of Australia big enough to carry the segments of the dome, and that crane was not always available. So then, in 1952 or '53 again, I would have to refresh my memory, the Queen came to Australia in one of her periodic visits to the Commonwealth, and they had built in Sydney big five arches, you know, to honor the coming of the Queen, and the man that manufactured, developed a scheme of building these things cheaply by laminating plywood between aluminum sheets. And somehow he got in touch with Woolley and said, "Oh, I can build your dome. Oh, I have to curve these things, but I know how to produce sandwiches of plywood between aluminum, which makes it of course, protects it against the weather." Well, it took some time before he could do that, and then the segments like a slice of an orange, you know, it had to be fitted together, and then he would put some putty between the segments. And this dome took a long time to be built, much longer than — Delays from the manufacturer, delays from the Department of the Interior, architects and builders and so on, so it was very slow. And when it was put together it was not watertight. It was raining in the dome. Finally they had to build gutters inside the dome to collect the rainwater and spit it out of the dome.
Doel:Is that right?
De Vaucouleurs:I can't —
Doel:Let me just pause for —
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. And weather was very bad in the 50s at Mount Stromlo. Maybe I hated that period, but it was not only cloudy but rainy. When finally I became the Yale Columbia Observer in '56 I remember that in February, 1956 I had one-third of one night to try to use the telescope. And then the Department of the Interior had decided to dig a little hole about a foot or two below the good side and put a building directly on the ground. Now the ground floor, the concrete of the dome and the office attached to it was a couple of feet between surrounding terrain. So when it was raining heavily, there was a little spring through the concrete in my office. These sort of things.
De Vaucouleurs:Excuse me.
De Vaucouleurs:Then they moved the Yale Columbia, the 26-inch refractor to Mount Stromlo I think in '53, and when they tried to — and (P?) was there, and when they, the week before the crews were to come to put up the telescope, they (?) an (?) on these piers (?). Cyril Jackson, the Yale Columbia Observer who had come from South Africa and Dr. Schilt, who was visiting Mount Stromlo at the time to try to see what was going on, they discovered on the blueprints that, with the height of the piers that the engineers of the Department of the Interior had decided on, they had been given the (?) of the telescope so the piers were high enough that when the telescope was pointing in zenith there were four inches left between the eyepiece and the floor — no room for the astronomer. So they had to scream and stop everything, and eventually they obtained a couple of feet to be added to the piers, concrete piers so it's not so easy to do, before they could install the telescope. So we had about this much to spare.
Doel:That's still not very much for —
De Vaucouleurs:No, it's not very much!
Doel:Particular for an instrument (?).
De Vaucouleurs:No, it was not, but at least you could squeeze an observer between the eyepiece and the floor. And then there was very bad relations between Cyril Jackson, the Yale Columbia Observer, who was a very independent minded Englishman, and Woolley. And of course these reports he had to send, letters he had to send to Brouwer and Schilt to explain why the (?) was not progressing. So that in fact when Dr. Schilt, after spending several months at Mount Stromlo and witnessing for himself what was going on, he went back to Columbia a broken man and muttering, "I am going to resign." He realized he had made a tremendous blunder, and he said, "I am going to resign." He did not, but he was very depressed and said that, "It's my fault," and he was a very honest, very determined Dutchman. He said, "I'm going to resign." Anyway, so in 1954 my appointment with the National University as a research fellow was terminating in July, 1954, and Woolley was prepared to give me another fellowship for another three years or some scheme to let me join the staff of the observatory. He wanted to keep me. Even though we had that occasional friction, the relations were still acceptable, and of course (?) doing (?) work, and certainly contributed to attract attention to Mount Stromlo. So, but I wanted to escape his direct authority. While sometimes Cyril Jackson was determined to leave Mount Stromlo, he was becoming neurotic about it — he died just two or three years ago — and —
Doel:The pressures and the routine, the troubles of —
De Vaucouleurs:Oh, he had very constant arguments. He had to protect the interest in the Yale Columbia Station, tried to get things (?). Woolley was not always able to deliver, because he was not master of the whole situation.
De Vaucouleurs:And then the morale of the staff was very low. In fact there was an old man in the (?) service who once had gone to the sea, even though it's about 200 miles from any Pacific coast from Mount Stromlo, he had gone to the sea for the weekend and when he came back on Monday he told my wife, he said, "You know, during this weekend I was there by the sea, by the cliffs overlooking the Pacific, and I thought to myself, 'If I jump now I won't have to go back to Mount Stromlo.'" That was the level of discouragement of the regular staff, in this case the time (?) service of the observatory. It was very depressing, and there were all sorts of problems, frictions between members of the staff and so on. It was a very — and of course the isolation. Because scientifically we were a little group. There was radio physics, but the relation between the two were almost forbidden except — (laughs) —
Doel:I'm sorry. The personal, the occasional contacts you had maintained.
De Vaucouleurs:That's right. That's right. That's right. So, it was very depressing, and then things were not progressing, and you had the impression nothing was moving, when month after month, year after year you see the 74-inch was not built, it went very, very slowly. It was finally dedicated in 1956, five years after we had seen it put together and (?) looking like a telescope at London. So —
Doel:What (?) was the university coming together, the ANU? Was that also slowly coming into form?
De Vaucouleurs:Oh yes. They had the physics area, the physics building was finished by 1952. There are (?).
Doel:I'm curious. Were there contacts that you had between the —
De Vaucouleurs:I had little contact with the university. Once in a while I would visit Oliphant, who was the Director of the Physics School, and report to him on my progress, and he was satisfied. I found he had good reports from Woolley about my work. So in fact when the time came and (?) decided to move to the Yale Columbia Station, Oliphant would have (?) appointed me easily. But anyway, Jackson decided to, Brouwer and Schilt, he was going back to South Africa, without a job, back to his farm. He had brought his wife and children, but he was going back; he couldn't stand it anymore on Mount Stromlo. And he wrote at that time to Brouwer and Schilt that there was a young man who would be very able to continue and be responsible for the station and who knew Mount Stromlo and the problems and done work, and so on his recommendation they offered me the job to become the Yale Columbia Observer in 1954 when Jackson left.
De Vaucouleurs:And I accepted, as a way of being independent administratively from Woolley and still stay on Mount Stromlo to continue my work which was not finished. What little work I had done in London, at the University of London Observatory, measuring parallax plates gave me at least some previous experience (?). So certainly my experience with (?) was more than adequate to handle the adjustment of the large refractor, and so I took the job, in I think July of '54, and then it was for three years it was sweat and tears. Tried to put the telescope up, start working in spite of the continuing difficulties at Mount Stromlo. At least I was administratively independent. I moved to another house the year Columbia Station was offered a cottage, a (?) cottage was somewhat better than our (?) house.
Doel:When you accepted the position, were there any requirements or strong recommendations that you had made to Schilt and Brouwer on the terms of your —?
De Vaucouleurs:I probably submitted my Vita. They discussed it probably with Woolley, who thought that having me, he knew me at least I was a known quantity (?), I had been under him for three years, so he did not object to that. No, and he certainly preferred me to Jackson. I was not as blunt and I actually was younger too, so —
De Vaucouleurs:I think we had not so much a difference between Woolley and me, perhaps 15 years. I don't remember when he was born. But at least 10 years, probably less than 15, something on that order. But he looked older than he was; I looked younger than I was. Anyway, that's not the — while Jackson was probably about the same age, and they were both British, so they probably could fight it out more strongly than — I don't know exactly, but, it was part of just individual character of each of those men —
De Vaucouleurs:So, I took over the Yale Columbia Station July '54, and then had to fight to get an observing ladder built, organize the darkroom, but — And also Brouwer and Schilt had been running the Yale Columbia Station in South Africa on peanuts, you know, really on a very low budget. And I remember what my salary was. It was matching or a little better than what I was getting as a research fellow. It was 1774 pounds, roughly $4000 in those days. And that was a good salary for Australia at the time. Of course the cottage which we were renting for, I don't know, six pounds a month or (?) by the Department of Interior, was rented to the observatory for a negligible amount. So we were well off, and of course my wife had a salary from the observatory, so we were by and large well off. So I put the telescope together slowly, and then also delays. I have not kept copies of all my correspondence with Brouwer and Schilt during that period; it's all on file in the archives at Yale. And I wish I could go and recover some of the correspondence. I have kept some letters that were characteristic, but it was, I had to continue a long series of doleful reports to Brouwer and Schilt that progress was so slow and so on. It was very frustrating.
Doel:How did they react to that? I assume that you were asking if possible for larger increases in budget.
De Vaucouleurs:And then I told them we need more money. See, I had told them also I will need an assistant; I cannot observe 365 days a year every night for 12 hours, that's just not practical. I need an assistant. I cannot take the photographs at night and develop them during the day. You see, so they reluctantly agreed to hire an assistant and gave me money for it, but I could not find anyone that (?) locally so I finally hired a young man who was an assistant at (?) Observatory in France and told my wife (?) that he was interested in leaving (?). He was not much (?) but it turned out that his job was night assistant but he didn't like to work at night, and he was a total loss, and was more a problem than anything. There was still — The idea, see, in the U.S. was that the rest of the world is so cheap you could run it on almost nothing. And it was just not the case in Australia, even if that was true in South Africa; it was not true in Australia, and standard of living higher, salaries were higher, and it just was not practical. So they gave me some increased budget and we had what we needed to organize things, but starting that telescope was misery. For example, when finally the pole axis was put up, the telescope was attached, and remember it was an F18 26-inch refractor. It's a big (?); it's about 18 meters total length or so. It's huge. And it had a 10-inch tubeless finder attached to it for guiding. We also acquired a strong double-star camera, an automatic camera, because I thought we could — Of course you take your parallax plates in the evening and the morning, so what (?) at midnight we could take photographs of double stars, and the (?) camera was the latest device used for precise photographic astronometry [???], so we had that. Had an (?) measuring (?).
Doel:Were there any instruments that you very much wanted that you couldn't afford to get?
De Vaucouleurs:No, no, not really. There was (?) money to build up a decent darkroom. They had no conception of what a darkroom should be. It's not a darkroom now (?), so I call (?) photographer and they displaced me (?) to be processed correctly. They were large plates. And I needed to build a decent darkroom. This was provided, and built a big observing ladder and so on. But then we depend on the workshop not only to assemble the telescope but also to put the drive, the motor. Now the motor was ordered in Melbourne, couldn't get anything (?), and when it came, it had to be put in a (?) and covered, and at the workshop they managed to (?) screws that went right through the wiring. So they sent it back to Melbourne, and that (?) three weeks, three weeks to a month to have it rewired, and so they sent it back to Mount Stromlo. It went to the workshop and there was another instrument maker who put it together, and he again used screws that were too long. Twice they used screws that were too long. So the third time finally the word filtered down that they should use shorter screws. So we had three tries before we could ever (?). Finally it was installed on the (?), and the (?), the foreman called me one afternoon and said, "Are you going to work tonight?" as if I was, you know, going to slow down things, because I was complaining of slowness of things. So he called me, "Are you going to work tonight?" I said, "You bet. I've been waiting for two years for that drive." So I went up at night and started setting on a star and looking through the (?) and looked through, and the stars went zoom-zoom-zoom through the field (?). So I verified the clouds and everything, and same thing, so I went to look at the screw turning. It was turning the wrong way. They were tracking —
De Vaucouleurs:So that sort of experience you had. Everything that could go wrong would go wrong, once or several times, so it was frustrating. Finally Dr. Brouwer decided to come down and see for himself. He could not believe my reports. I must have been incapable or incompetent. The stories that Jackson and I had sent him was just unbelievable. So he came down for his academic leave, for six months I think, or six or nine months, six months I think, in 1956. And he was planning to do some work with one of the small refractors for his own, in the (?), his own catalog, at Sydney, but also to see what was going on in Mount Stromlo. And then he slowly discovered reality. He had some very sharp exchanges with Woolley, and you know, he was a very proper chairman of a department — watching his words, not losing his temper, and, you know, using always very moderate language. But one day I saw him coming from a discussion with Woolley. He came to the (?) office (?) and he was pacing back and forth, back and forth, like a lion in a cage, you know, and muttering, "I have never seen an observatory like this. I have never seen an observatory like this." I said, "Nor have I, (?)." (laughing) He was slowly beginning to realize that what Jackson and I had written to them was the truth, that it was just impossible. I don't know what kind of discussion he had with Woolley, but because he was beginning to — Well, he realized he had made the mistake of his life too, as an administrative decision, and it was very interesting to see that after that for a good many, for several years, that was never one word of (?) progress or work or lack of it at the Yale Columbia Station and in the Yale reports. Previously, you know —
Doel:It just vanished from the —
De Vaucouleurs:— so many plates had been taken, and (?) measured. For several years there was not one world about the Yale Columbia Station on Mount Stromlo in the yearly reports.
Doel:That's very interesting. Do you remember any discussions in particular with Brouwer when he was down under?
De Vaucouleurs:Oh yes, we had lots of discussions. Ah yes. And then you see I had assembled a lens and started adjusting it. Remember it's an astronometry (?) telescope. It must be just right. And then I would call him at the telescope, and you know it's not really easy, because these lenses are big and heavy and (?) whatever adjustments were available to call him at the lenses. Okay. And remember, it was a (?) telescope. This was a flint —
De Vaucouleurs:Where the front lens was the flint and the (?) was the back lens, (?) types. And I could see color and astigmatism. When I corrected him on direction (?) direction it would come in back, so I thought that that's crazy. For once you use a (?) telescope it should be (?) by construction, and then I started looking at the adjustment of the two lenses, and I realized that there was no way of collimating (?) them in a permanent fashion optically with respect to each other. And I realized what had happened. I can imagine that way back then in '25 this telescope was built very cheaply in the shop at Yale, and I can see Dr. Frezinger (?) telling his foreman, "Now you know I want to see this (?) be just right, be perpendicular," and the foreman would have said, "Yes, boss, it's going to be just right." Mechanically it was just right, but not to the optical precision. There was no way to collimate the two lenses with respect to each other and keep them put.
Doel:The mechanism of holding the lenses just wouldn't accommodate that.
De Vaucouleurs:No, no. They were just crude, a crude thing they put to allow some relative (?), but I (?) several orders of magnitude (?) mechanically than optically. So I had to explain this to Brouwer, that this telescope, which they had taken 66,000 plates since 1926 and measures parallaxes (?) had never been optically adjusted and could not be. He was very upset of course. But there was an old German astronomer at Yale in those days who spent his lifetime practically studying the systematic errors in the Yale plates, functional —
Doel:Who was this?
De Vaucouleurs:I have forgotten his name.
Doel:We'll (?) it up. Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:He was a German astronomer. He wrote papers on the systematic errors of parallaxes and studies of the Yale plates, a function of (?), and Brouwer didn't like that type of work, but I can understand where the errors came. The telescope was not collimated and could not stay collimated. So I had to have the lenses taken down, and (?) they are big, heavy, expensive, without — I didn't have optical shop facilities. This was all done in the office of the dome. And slowly Brouwer, it dawned on Brouwer that I knew what I was doing. At first after I visited him as an assistant, you know, because I had to climb on this table, using interference techniques to collimate the two lenses with — I had to modify the (?) and introduce an optical linkage mechanically engaged of optical precision with spacers between the two lenses which were several centimeters apart. And I had to line them up and collimate them in the office at the center of (?) of the different faces and then put them on the telescope again. And I explained to Brouwer how this was done, and we did it together, and then finally he wrote to Schilt that, "I am beginning to respect Dr. de Vaucouleurs' competence." Because at first he could not believe an Observer knew what he was doing, because I was not a theorist or seen as pure theorist in machinations. So he mellowed greatly during that period at Mount Stromlo, because finally he could realize for himself what the conditions were. And in fact, when at the end I asked him, I told him, "You know these long nights tracking stars at the telescope are very boring. Could I have a small radio to listen to the music when I am doing this boring work?" and he was very stern, "Well, isn't this a luxury you ask of me?" I said, "Alright, Professor, forget it." But when he left, out of his own pocket he bought me a small radio.
Doel:Is that right?
De Vaucouleurs:That's right. He could not conceive of buying a radio for the Observer out of the university funds, but he bought it out of his own pocket.
De Vaucouleurs:So he became human after six months of (?) Mount Stromlo. He was a very nice man. (?) for Dr. Brouwer, but he was a celestial machanician (?) and the world has to work according to theory and mathematics and mechanics and he knew of course no practical astronomy. So, but when he left finally he was a broken man. He said — he didn't say, "I am going to resign," but he said, "If I had sent an assistant instead of coming myself, and if he had gone back to Yale with so little I would have fired him." He could not have conceived the difficulty of the conditions. So finally, finally we began to take parallax plates in 1956 after probably mid-1956, we began to take morning and evening plates. But it was really a struggle. But when I left the Yale to (?) Columbia telescope was in working order and taking plates, and this was continued for a good many years.
Doel:Were you already beginning to look then for alternate positions through the —?
De Vaucouleurs:I must tell you about that. In 1954 — First about the Yale Columbia Station I must also say that Brouwer and Schilt were very good bosses and very pleased with my (?) with them. Schilt was perhaps more human than Brouwer, because he was an Observer more — closer to (?) than Brouwer perhaps, but both were very satisfactory. I asked them for permission to combine my annual leave of '54 and '55 end to end so that I could go back to — I had been invited to spend a month at Lick Observatory in '55. I wanted to do in the north two things: one is to take plates of M33 with a 20-inch (?) ograph to compare with my plates on Magellanic clouds with a small camera.
De Vaucouleurs:(?) because I realized that M33 and large clouds are very similar in population and (?) they are different under (?) conditions.
Doel:Who was it at Lick who had given you the invitation?
De Vaucouleurs:I contacted Nick Mayall through Gerry Kron. I had become very friendly with Gerry Kron and Katherine (?) Kron, and I told them that really I wanted to go to the U.S. as soon as possible and especially I was keen to do that, and also had developed a concept at the time that perhaps if there was a link between the large clouds and the galaxy there might be a counter tide on the opposite side which would then be projected in (?).
De Vaucouleurs:And it turned out that there were maxima of extinctions in that, along the (?) I had calculated a symmetry for that counter tide, there were a line of deficient counts in the Hubble counts of galaxies there. (?), therefore perhaps (?), and there was an excess also of radio continual (?) emission (?) in the (?) scans of (?). So there was some evidence that suggested that there was some formation outside the galactic (?) north and I wanted to photograph that with my small camera.
De Vaucouleurs:So (?) had this program, and I could do it in the months before going on to the Dublin meeting, because I had not been to — I was (?) in '52 at home, but I was in Australia at the time, so that would have been the first opportunity to go to an IAU meeting and (?) facilitate this. So I explained to (?) essentially in California at that time. That's when I met (?) in '55. He was still a young staff member, he was 26 at the time, just (?) of Hubble — E. C. Slipher had retired as Director of Lowell Observatory probably in 1953 or so, '52 or '53. He was still working (?), but had retired, and Albert Wilson had been, he was a young astronomer at Palomar. He took many of the plates of the Palomar survey —
De Vaucouleurs:— and he had been appointed Director at Lowell. Yes, he left Palomar because there was friction with Baade and Hubble. These senior people were of the opinion that young assistants who were taking the survey plates should stay with that job and not start doing some astronomy, especially on galaxies. Now Albert Wilson was very much interested in galaxies, and I still have from him four volumes of bound reprints on galaxies that he gave me later when (?) astronomy. And he wanted to do studies of clusters. I still have in fact some plates that he took at (?) of the coma (?) cluster. And Baade and Hubble — especially Baade, because Hubble died — were very much against it. So he was not going to be just a plate taker for a survey; he wanted to do some astronomy. So he was open to suggestion, and being Director at Lowell Observatory was very attractive for him. He was very young at the time. He must have be what, 35 or so.
De Vaucouleurs:And so they were losing their principal Mars observer, and they wanted to continue the tradition of being the center for planetary, especially Mars, research. In 1954 my book, Physics of the Planet Mars, appeared in English, and they knew it at Lowell of course, and I had some correspondence — They established a Mars studies committee, and I was a member and was in touch with them. I was planning and dealing in fact to take some photographs in blue light with the Yale Columbia telescope in '56, and of course I was, well, I had this reputation of being a Mars observer.
Doel:When you are at Lick, did you visit Lowell Observatory?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. I was going to say that.
De Vaucouleurs:So, I'm trying to remember, it was in '53 or '54, perhaps '54, they wrote to me and then Albert Wilson wanted to modernize Lowell Observatory to go beyond Mars studies but study galaxies. So they tried to find someone who was an expert both on the planet Mars and the galaxies. Now that's a very strange character, and there was only one astronomer in the world to meet these requirements, was a Frenchman in Australia. So I think he, as far as (?), he knew my papers of 1948, and also he was friendly with Fritz Zwicky, and it's possible that — and I was actively corresponding with Zwicky at the time, so it's possible that Fritz Zwicky recommended me to Albert Wilson. But exactly how this happened or exactly — Or perhaps Albert Wilson spoke to her former colleagues at Palomar to find the information. So in I think it was '54, they wrote to me asking me whether I could come to Flagstaff and talk to them, and that they had a new position, a vacant position, and that the observatory was going to be modernized and of course a young man, 35, going to (?) he wanted to modernize the observatory and keep it competitive. That's about the time they had hired Harold Johnson from —
Doel:Mm-hmm (affirmative). (?).
De Vaucouleurs:— from Wisconsin I think he was at the time.
Doel:I think he was a Stebbins (?) — yes.
De Vaucouleurs:He worked with Stebbins and Redford (?) but —
De Vaucouleurs:And then Whitford [???] offered him a job in — gosh, I should remember, because I am writing the biography of Harold Johnson for the (?) now. It's somewhere here.
Doel:Right. If it's easier, we can always add that later on.
De Vaucouleurs:Yeah, yeah. Anyway, that had hired Harold Johnson, who began work on of course photographic photometry, and using the good skies at Flagstaff, and what I told them, I couldn't, you know, there was not a (?) from Australia, I could not come next week and visit them, but since I was going to be in California and then go on to Dublin in '55, I said, "I can visit you next year." So that's what I did. So during my stay in California, I went to visit the Lowell Observatory, and I spoke to Albert Wilson, I met Henry Giclas, and Harold Johnson, and V. M. Slipher —
Doel:Was Lampland there yet?
De Vaucouleurs:No. Lampland died in '53 I think.
De Vaucouleurs:But then, so they made me an offer.
Doel:Did you also meet Roger Putnam at that meeting?
De Vaucouleurs:No. I met Putnam after I was on his staff, if my recollection is correct. I don't think (?) at that time. It was only in '57. So, but I told them that I wanted first to finish my appointment at the Yale Columbia Station, I didn't want to leave the station with a half-built telescope, I had some commitment; I couldn't drop the ball and (?) like that, and the appointment was for three years with renewable 3-year periods. So I said I have this job to finish and that I must do it first, so — Oh, coming back to Yale Columbia, when first Brouwer came he wanted this telescope to take parallax plates. He kept telling me, "But we have taken parallax plates without all these first by adjusting the telescope." So I said, "Dr. Brouwer, I am an astronomer, and I will not take astronomic plates with a telescope which is not collimated and stays and collimated. You can have my resignation if you want to." At first he just could not understand that they had taken 66,000 plates with a telescope that had never been adjusted or adjustable. And it took some doing to convince him, because of course communication between observer or experimental physicist and theorists is difficult, but (?) of course he realized the need. But it was difficult in many ways, because I had very impatient Directors who were in great trouble with their own administration for having all these expenses and producing no results. So, again, don't take this as anything against Dr. Brouwer. I have a great respect for him, and after we became acquainted both my bosses were very friendly, but it was a struggle. So as I say, the Yale Columbia Station was sweat and tears for three years. But when I left the station was operating properly. And in fact the parallax plates I took then were finally measured at Yale in the 70s or late 70s and were published in the AJ in nineteen eighty-something.
De Vaucouleurs:So astronomy takes patience.
De Vaucouleurs:Okay. So, I went back to Stromlo, we had correspondence, and finally we — Now before I left Stromlo they had made me an offer to come as soon as I could, and Brouwer and Schilt agreed to shorten my — to let me go not exactly after three years, but after two years and nine months. So they agreed that I could leave the Yale Columbia Station in March, 1957, and to their surprise I thought, "Well, who is going to run Yale Columbia Station after I go?" and after looking around I decided Cyril Jackson was still the best man. Because now he had a working telescope, Woolley was leaving Stromlo anyway, Bob Burke (?) would be the next Director — that was already known in '56 —
De Vaucouleurs:And the condition had changed. And I said to Dr. Brouwer and Schilt, "Don't think I am joking or I'm crazy, but the best man, and you'll never find a man as devoted to Yale Columbia Station as Cyril Jackson, and conditions have changed sufficiently." I wrote to Jackson, you know, "Things are shaping up at Mount Stromlo, becoming different, and you can come back and you will not have the problems we had in the past." And this was done, so Cyril Jackson agreed to go back to Australia again, first alone, to take over the Yale Columbia Station. Oh yes. Then when Spencer Jones (?) had to quit as Astronomer Royal because he was 65 I suppose, but was of retirement age in the Navy for Greenwich. That was a time we were in the process of transferring Greenwich to (?) and he had asked the admiralty (?) to let him stay on for another year or two to finish the transferring of the Greenwich Observatory. Now, it was generally known in the British astronomical circles that Woolley would be the next Astronomer Royal; he was the strongest candidate, he had been First Assistant in Greenwich 20 years earlier, he was the son of an admiral, so anyway, and he had built Mount Stromlo — as seen from England. They didn't know about all the troubles. So, I knew that — because early in '56 Woolley started discussing with me plans to modernize Greenwich, so that was my first indication that he was to be the next Astronomer Royal.
De Vaucouleurs:He even told me that Spencer Jones had asked the admiralty for permission to stay on beyond his limit for a year or two to finish that undertaking, and I remember Woolley, who certainly had connections through — I don't know, friends of his father or whatever with the Navy — he said, "I'm not going to let the old bastard stay on one minute longer." Because he was anxious to become the Astronomer Royal! (laughs) He was being brutal. Well Spencer Jones was an outstanding astronomer of course; he's one of the great astronomers of this century, and he certainly contributed more than Woolley as far as his own personal work I think. He certainly was prominent in many fields, and parallaxes (?) the Sun and the irregularities of the rotation of the Earth and whatnot, circular acceleration of the Moon —
De Vaucouleurs:So he was a great classical astronomer, and greatly respected. I know that Danjon admired him greatly. If there had been an Astronomer of the Republic, Danjon (?) like the title, because Astronomer Royal was very impressive to (?). (?) admired Spencer Jones, (?) was deserved. Anyway, so the next several months there were many discussions of Woolley's project for Greenwich, to modernize Greenwich and general direction, as he had indeed — As I said, Woolley did something very important in convincing the university, and I think it took an act of parliament to transfer the Commonwealth Observatory to the Australian National University. That was a great relief to all and a change in direction of the observatory and made it a full scale astrophysical observatory, so that's been of permanent value to Australian astronomy. Some of the people on the staff were not very happy, were more bureaucratic and they felt, you know, not pressed to produce research or things. They were not too happy and they tried to sabotage this transfer. But it didn't come.
Doel:What were their interests in that, why they did not want to —?
De Vaucouleurs:They wanted to stay in the quiet bureaucratic routine of doing administrative work; not having to publish research to survive. You see, well a transfer to the Australian National University which in those days were only research. It was later that they incorporated Australia Community College, or whatever they call it, to become a teaching college.
Doel:That's interesting. So the initial design was not to include students in that (?).
De Vaucouleurs:No no. Graduate students for dissertations.
De Vaucouleurs:Only research and (?), but not teaching of astronomy.
De Vaucouleurs:And so during the spring and summer — well, (?) I should have said the summer and fall of 1956 in the Southern Hemisphere —
De Vaucouleurs:The ANU had searched (?) for a new Director, and since Dr. Brouwer was there as a visitor, and Yale Columbia (?) they asked him, invited him to be part of a search committee, which of course included Woolley and probably Oliphant and (?) I suppose, the physics professor there, nuclear physicist, Joe Posey from radio physics, for the next Officer of Astronomy — who would no longer be called a (?) Astronomer then. And Woolley had a very definite idea. He wanted Olin Eggen (?). Olin Eggen was his boy, they had been getting along very well, and Olin had come twice to Mount Stromlo, first in '51-'52, and then again in, well, '55-'56. And Joe Posey was determined not to have anybody who was Woolley's boy. The relations were so bad between radio physics, the radio astronomers and Woolley, that Posey was determined that no one who was under Woolley in any form would be or at least was a candidate proposed by Woolley would be — And he had a very definite idea. He wanted Bart Bok. Bok had started radio astronomy at Harvard. He had been instrumental in putting up the — what is it, 60-foot, what's the telescope, 60-foot?
Doel:I think it is 60. I'll check on that.
De Vaucouleurs:And in having the first HI observation made at that time. He had started radio astronomy at the (?) Station. And very enterprising, active, and Bok wanted to leave Harvard, because after Shapley retired — probably '53 or '54 —
De Vaucouleurs:'53 — Shapley wanted Bok to be his successor. They shared the same politics. But the Harvard trustees were not at all happy with Shapley's politics. You know, he was questioned by the House on American (?) Activities, and he was friendly to progressive people or liberals, and that is to say communists in the view of the committee, so he was treated a little like Oppenheimer (?), you know?
De Vaucouleurs:And so anybody who was Shapley's boy was not going to be approved by the Harvard trustees. Also (?) Donald Menzel, Fred Whipple from (?) strongly opposed to consideration of the Shapley tradition, and they wanted to do more astrophysics and to find a new direction for the observatory. So Donald Menzel was selected as the next Director and Whipple was made Director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and Bok wanted to be a Director of something. That was real offensive to him, because they were more or less on the same level, and instead of being Director of Harvard he found himself being Director of nothing, and that offended him very much, and he didn't want to stay at the observatory. Well, he was a professor (?), he didn't want to stay with Menzel in charge, so he was prepared to take almost — In fact he resigned before he had any other job, totally himself.
De Vaucouleurs:And he resigned. He said, "I was prepared to go back to a college and teach at a small college," he said. Bok himself told me that he resigned before he had any job.
De Vaucouleurs:So, he was very open to suggestion, and so there was some debate and a deadlocked committee, Posey insisting that he wanted Bok, who had credentials as (?) astronomer, and had also an interest in radio astronomy, and Woolley, who insisted he wanted Eggen. He didn't want an American — Eggen was an American, but he had been to Australia several times and —
Doel:I'm just curious. I understand what you've said, but did Olin Eggen actually have a good relationship with the radio astronomers or had he not really interacted at all either?
De Vaucouleurs:No, no, no. There was no relation. No, no. Olin was working on such different things. As far as I know he's never had any contact with the radio physics people.
De Vaucouleurs:So I knew a little of what was going on in the search committee because Dr. Brouwer would tell me.
De Vaucouleurs:And one day he said, "You should apply for the job." Because theoretically it was open, and anyone could apply. In fact Bill Buscombe applied.
De Vaucouleurs:And I had not applied, because as I said, in those days one thing I wanted (?) strongest to get out in those days. (laughs) But Brouwer said, and for a Director it was very generous, and he (?) said, "You should apply, because Dr. Woolley suggested to break the deadlock." I had good relations with the radio physics people, and of course he knew me, I probably was a problem for him, but at least he knew me, I was a known quantity and I was manageable, so he said, "You should apply for the job, because Dr. Woolley suggested, since neither Eggen nor Bok seem to be (?) a consensus in the committee. You should apply and probably you would have a good chance." So I called Posey that night and discussed the situation with him, and I said, "I understand what's going on," and Posey said, "Yes," he said, "You're a good astronomer, we'd love to be working with you, but we think that Bok would be better for the observatory," and I said, "Yes, Bok is older, has more experience in managing things, and personally I want to leave Mount Stromlo. I don't want to stay even as a Director." So I did not apply for the job. But this is to show that Woolley, in spite of our friction, had a good opinion of me, and it had not reached the bitter stage that developed between Jackson and Woolley. He was civilized and British, I was civilized and French, and we could manage. And (?) there was no problem. In fact, socially Woolley and Mrs. Woolley were always charming. When he had a party at his house, you know, he was very friendly with us, my wife and I, and, but in the relations at the observatory it was another matter.
De Vaucouleurs:Also, as I said, I had an extensive knowledge of astronomy, mainly acquired through my readings, and Woolley wanted always to show that he was the (?), and I kept bringing up things he did not know. Or, I remember one day we were discussing something or other. Obviously he didn't know, so I tried to explain to him what the problem or the question was, and he became very irritated, he said, "Oh yes, but I could tell you something about (?) numbers you don't know what it is." It turns out I had had enough spectroscopy to know what it is, you see, but it was the sort of thing he would say. I remember when I first showed him the photographs of the Magellanic clouds showing the outer loop that I could see, he looked at this for a while. Apparently he could not see it. It was obvious to me, but he couldn't. And he uttered only one word: hoyle (?). That means "wild speculation." Hoyle, he said. That was a great insult. (laughs) Later of course —
Doel:That's interesting. Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:And that's why I published my work on Magellanic clouds only after I joined the Yale Columbia Station, you see? Dole: That's interesting. Yes, yes.
De Vaucouleurs:(?) it took time to reduce and publish the data, but I could resolve — As soon as I knew I was going to take over the Yale Columbia Station I decided to wait to avoid further friction with Woolley.
Doel:That's interesting. Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:Also it was work done in my backyard with my old private telescope and did not credit too good to the (?) observatory which had been (?) too long. Anyway, (?) will see that I published very, very little from the Mount Stromlo when I was with the (?), just my survey of galaxies, (?) survey which was published in '56, because again it takes time to reduce the data. And that was well published in the memoirs of the (?) observatory. Yes. So there was this (?) about the succession at —
De Vaucouleurs:So I was not a candidate, and I agreed with Posey that Bok would be a better man, and somehow, I don't know exactly how, but somehow the committee made the offer to Bok rather than Olin Eggen, much to the disgust of Dick Woolley. Bob came in September or October 1956 and raised the spirits of everybody with one of his pep talks, you know. I remember him climbing on my first steps of the ladder of the 50-inch, the unfinished 50-inch where the staff had, scientists had not (?) making a speech what a great future there would be; there would be fantastic things at Mount Stromlo, and things are going to change, and so on. And he had the prestige of coming from a great American institution, plus his personality was bubbly and friendly and (?), and then when he came I was — of course all the arrangements were already made for my departure in '57, so the first thing Bok told me, he said, "Yeah, what can I do to make you stay, change your mind and stay?" I said, "Frankly, I am trying to leave Mount Stromlo." So he said, "I would make you a very good offer. I need people like you to stir up things at the observatory," because he realized he had a very poor staff, some (?) staff, and he wanted to bring new blood, and I told him that I had a very good offer from Flagstaff and that, also that even in spite of his goodwill he did not have a telescope. He had many requirements, they had to be spectral, they had to rehabilitate this and that; I said, "You will have plenty on your hands for a year or two. If I were to stay or come back, I would want guaranteed observing time on 74-inch. On the other telescope I've spent some four, five frustrating years on Mount Stromlo this time, so I would be pressing you too." In fact he told the staff — Oh yes. One of the astronomers, that was I think Shabilski (?), the Polish astronomer, he had come under the immigration program after the war, and for fun he was calculating definitive orbits of comets on his own time after five, he had a Marshall (?) calculator, and Woolley was furious. Woolley, it was typical of his way of administrating. Shabilski was a junior astronomer on the staff; he was to do what Woolley told him, which was calculating stellar atmospheres, and nothing else. He was furious that Shabilski was calculating orbits for fun! So I told Dr. Woolley, "Look, it's not my idea of fun, but there's nothing wrong with calculating definitive orbits of comets. Astronomers have done that for a long time. What's wrong with it?" And he said, "He's doing it after hours, so I cannot stop him." And he was furious that he could not stop Shabilski of doing this work, because it was after hours so Woolley didn't have the authority to forbid to do it. And I said, "But there's nothing wrong with calculating it. Let him. It's good." That sort of thing. He wanted to —
Doel:And these were orbits that were later published I would assume?
De Vaucouleurs:Oh, they have been published. Yeah, these were definitive orbits of comets.
De Vaucouleurs:He had, Shabilski had taken a Doctor's degree in Astronomy and Celestial Mechanics in Poland before the war. During the war he was just picked up by Germans off the street and sent to Germany for forced labor. And again, as a theorist, and somewhat very innocent of practical things, why, he told me one day he had enough of working — I don't know, in industry or something — for the Germans; he just took the train to the Swiss border. He was speaking good German, and somehow he crossed the border — he never told me exactly how he managed, but in 1943 I think he just took the train to the Swiss border and just walked into Switzerland. He was interned, and during his internment he was of course allowed to take classes in I think chemistry or physical chemistry at the Politick [???] in Zurich, and he took a degree in chemistry or physical chemistry in the Politick (?) just for —
De Vaucouleurs:That's remarkable. But, after the war he took advantage of the Australian immigration program to have an assisted passage to Australia. If you agreed to work for three years on any job that the Australian government felt was of national interest, then they would pay your passage to Australia. It would cost you five pounds to go to Australia. They paid the way (?).
De Vaucouleurs:And so he was put in a crew by the post office that would string telephone lines, and Woolley heard somehow that there was a Polish astronomer who had immigrated and doing the immigration program, and he located him, and then he went to the place to — Now his name Shabilski is completely impossible for Australians, so everybody called him Bill Smith. And even to the end, when I was corresponding with him from here, I would write "Dear Bill," because he was Bill Smith. We tried to explain to the Australians that even for the French Shabilski is not so easy to pronounce, but it's manageable — oh no, it was too much. Anyway, so Woolley went to the —
De Vaucouleurs:— to the place where the crew was working. He spoke to the foreman and asked him if had a man called Bill Smith or Shabilski, whatever, and so the foreman called up and — You see, he was really the Pole on the pole. He was on top of a telegraph pole, stringing. So he said, "Hey, Bill, there is joker (?) of an astronomer wants to talk to you," in formality of the Australian working man. The joker of course was the Commonwealth astronomer.
De Vaucouleurs:So Woolley asked him, "Do you want to come to the Mount Stromlo Observatory?" Of course he was only too happy to leave the post (?). So that's how he came to Mount Stromlo in the late 40s.
De Vaucouleurs:Shortly after him a German physicist, Heinz Gollnow, G-o-l-l-n-o-w, immigrated to Australia. He had been of course in Germany during the war. He was not mobilized because he was doing some works in physics and (?) had some physical impairment, I don't know, but he did not serve as a soldier during the war, but for some reason I think — Oh yes. He was in Berlin, so probably his home or his people were in East Germany, and he left and he came to Australia just a little before us, perhaps in 1949 or 1950, with his wife, Ilsa (?), and they are both living retirement in Eastern and New South (?) Wales, a beautiful place in the Pacific.
Doel:I'm wondering. When you were in your discussions with the people at Lowell Observatory for that position —
De Vaucouleurs:Oh yes. Let's go on back to that.
Doel:Did you ask any conditions for your employment, things that you wanted the observatory to do as a condition of your coming there?
De Vaucouleurs:No. We discussed our problem. I mean, they knew already I was working on galaxies and Mars, and that's just what they wanted. Now (?) made a technical mistake. As he put it, he wanted me to come and take over the work on Mars from E. C. Slipher. Now (?), he was in no mood to have his work taken over by a younger man —
De Vaucouleurs:— I was 40 at the time, not quite 40. And very quickly there was friction between the trustee. He wanted to continue the line of planetary work, and the trustee obviously trusted E. C. Slipher as the former Director and the direct collaborator of Lowell, and why and how they hired Al Wilson (?), I don't know. I just don't know. It was probably, he was probably appointed in 1953 or '54, but so nothing came of the Mount Stromlo position; I did not even apply. In 24 hours I decided no. I discussed this with my wife, we said, "No. We have been sweating here for five years. It's moving too slow. Bok doesn't know what he's getting into. It's going to take years, and he cannot guarantee me observing time in sufficient quantity. I have a good offer in the U.S., I've made contact with the Lick and Mount Wilson people," and that's where we wanted to go anyway, so we were not going to stay in Australia. But we kept this option open while we were in Flagstaff. What did I want to tell you? Oh yes. Before I left — Another indication that even though there had been friction, there was friction with Woolley, he was very good to me, because I remember the last thing he did before leaving Mount Stromlo was to come to tell the Australian National University they should give me a D.Sc., you know, for my —
De Vaucouleurs:You know, the British D.Sc. was not in those days was not an exam you take based on a dissertation; it was based on the balance of your scientific works since your Bachelor's degree. In fact (?) my French Ph.D. So usually it's given after ten years of research work. So he proposed that to the ANU, and that was very significant, because they had only one previous. They awarded a D.Sc. to Surgeon (?) Cockov(??), the British atomic scientist. It was an honorary in his case.
De Vaucouleurs:So I was the first you might say earned D.Sc., and Woolley did this a little or so for the prestige of his observatory. Because Shabilski received the first Ph.D. — You see, he was furious about Shabilski computing on, but nevertheless he could recognize his work, and so he took therefore his third Doctor's degree in Australia. He had a Ph.D. in Astronomy, and then he thought, "Well, he's the first D.Sc. in Astronomy, (?) also to the observatory and the Astronomy Department, that will increase the prestige of the institution relative to the university."
De Vaucouleurs:So in part for me, in part for himself or for the institution, he — So a committee was appointed of three people. I think there was Woolley, there was a French physicist who was at the physics research lab when I was a student, J. P. Mathieu, M-a-t-h-i-e-u, of some renown. Of course Cabannes was dead by then, so J. P. Mathieu was the second examiner, and the third one — maybe it was Bart Bok, (?) it was Bart Bok I suppose. Because that was, that came late in the Woolley directorship and Bart Bok had already been selected. So there was Woolley and Bok and this French physicist, and so I said (?) my publications. I had probably already 150 or 200, and in due course they awarded me the D.Sc. in March, 1957, just a few days before I left for this country. It was very nicely done, in British style, with a ceremony of (?) of the Chancellor of the University — who was also the Comptroller of the money I think, you know, so he was the man who was (?) bank notes. I have forgotten his name, a very influential scientist and politician and then Sir Mark Oliphant (?) gave us the speech, a very nice speech, about the work of the observatory and this young man from a friendly country. All of Australians love France, you know, the older Australians love France, because that's where they were when they were young, during the First World War, you know, they've never forgotten Mademoiselle (?) —
Doel:It just seemed (?).
De Vaucouleurs:And anyway there has never been a conflict between France and Australia to (?). So —
Doel:When you arrived at Lowell, what was your impression of the community? Who seemed to be the most interesting and active of the —?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. So, let me finish. There is my wife resigned her assistantship as of the first of January, 1957, because that was the formula to transfer to the ANU, and she was not going to be appointed for three months, and we were busy preparing our move, so — Also I had brought my mother to Australia from France during the Suez crisis in October '56. We all panicked somehow. The prospect of war in the Middle East and my mother in France. We just panicked. We thought — so, and she was alone anyway then, so I brought her to Australia, bought her a house and everything, so early '57 we were very, very busy. Had to finish the affairs of the Yale Columbia Station. After five and a half years you have some roots you see in the country, so we decided to go, and she went back to France, so we went from Australia to the U.S. this way. She went back through the East and to France for a vacation with her family, and I flew directly across the Pacific. In those days crossing the Pacific on the (?) line was so, (?) were very nice, because there are little traffic, few people, a few people in a big double decker, you know, the big (?) cruisers, and well treated. Air travel in the 50s, even though it was still with propellers, was very pleasant, because we didn't have this sort of subway crowds you have today in airports. All expenses paid by Lowell Observatory, including our moving expenses, which essentially were only a thousand dollars; to bring all our stuff from Australia to Arizona was a thousand dollars.
Doel:That is quite remarkable, even for the time.
De Vaucouleurs:Today. Of course we sold all our furniture all over the community in Australia. I have liquidated my things several times in my life to start essentially from scratch again. In England — or in France first essentially, then in England, then in Australia, then in this country. So, but what I moved before, I discard the furniture gladly, but what I moved was my books and publications. These went around the world. In fact Bok bought a lot of my furniture, my record player, my radios, (?) things. Because he was moving in — He came to Mount Stromlo, he visited as I said, and then went back to Harvard to pack up on things, and then he arrived in Australia about two weeks before I left, in March '57, and that's again when the (?) wanted to discuss (?) he wanted me to come back. And then with Bok at Mount Stromlo the duplicating machine started working (?) having people write reports on this, on that, and meetings and symposiums, (?) and reports to this and that, trying to keep people moving.
Doel:Part of the old Harvard tradition.
De Vaucouleurs:That's right. Keep people moving, and for several years he kept me informed what was going on. So I arrived in — I stopped for a day or two in Pasadena to visit with Sandage, and in fact Sandage gave me a ride to Flagstaff at the time —
Doel:Is that right?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. And, yes, he wanted to visit Harold Johnson on some joint paper they were working on clusters and, (?) he said, "You see, I'm going (?) to pick his brain," because Johnson was such a genius with electronics and photometry. And I had driven on the left side of the road in Australia for five years, so our (?) ride with the (?) driving from Pasadena on (?) 66 for Flagstaff, I said, "Well, why don't you take the wheel?" But it turned out that we were driving on the right side of the road with a new car, it was a little shaky after I had ridden on the other side for (?). It took (?). Anyway, when I arrived I was alone therefore, because Antoinette was coming the other way, and I met with of course everybody, and I was shown a house that was intended for us, and I really had the shock of my life.
Doel:How's that? No, go ahead.
De Vaucouleurs:Because that was still the old Lowell houses, that date back to the foundation of the observatory, essentially 1890s, and Henry Giclas who was the administrator, or the Associate Director (?) manager of the observatory, said, "We will arrange to fix it for you." But when I saw the primitive conditions, I was almost in tears. I told Henry, I said, "Look, I have lived in the Australian bush so to speak, but we have never had such primitive conditions. I cannot accept to live in." I said, "Give me a house in town if you want, but I cannot live in that house. My wife would never live in that house." So, they were a little surprised, but they realized that it was not fit, so they started the work of repainting the house and doing things to make it acceptable. Fortunately it was done (?) before my wife had arrived. She came a month later, in April of '57, and she had therefore spent one month in Paris and had become a Parisian again and was dressed accordingly, and a few days later she was invited by a friend to visit the Indian Hopi reservation, I think it was for the Fourth of July or on the Fourth of July. It was for some Hopi rain dance or whatever, some local — and she had to pinch herself to believe this was true, because a few weeks before she was in Paris, France, and here she was among the Indians. And there are practically no tourists, just a few friends, and that she was in the middle of these Indians dancing. The contrast was incredible for a Parisian. But we liked our stay in Flagstaff. We liked it very much. We developed good friends with Henry Giclas and — Now, I had a bad surprise that when I arrived I discovered that Al Wilson had just been fired by the trustees. So I was in the observatory — it was on a one year sort of probation period —
De Vaucouleurs:A trial period. And the Director who had hired me had been fired. Now, that by itself was not a catastrophe, but because they partly objected to the direction in which Al Wilson wanted to move the observatory —
Doel:Was that on the basis of what you and Al Wilson talked about? Did you have a sense of that?
De Vaucouleurs:No. No, it was probably his ideas about developing the observatory, moving away from planetary research, moving into extragalactic astronomy, or bringing new — I don't know exactly what went on between the trustees, but I think E. C. Slipher was resenting the fact that he had to relinquish his Director's position. At that time Wilson wanted to bring in new fancy (?) things that were not of his interest and then —
Doel:Did you feel that V. M. Slipher was playing any role in (?) —?
De Vaucouleurs:Not very much, no. He was living in the house (?) next to us, we were a few yards away, and he and Mrs. V. M. were always very friendly with us and my wife. In fact I have some copies here I made with V. M.'s permission, of his early spectral M31 and the sombrero (?) nebulae which showed the rotation and the broadening of the line. But we had few discussions. V. M. would come to the observatory, and he occasionally, mainly when he received visitors from town or from other places in Arizona, with people practically begging on their knees, "Dr. V. M., will you not please sell us this piece of property?" You see, he bought a lot of Arizona property —
De Vaucouleurs:— in the early 1900s when it was very cheap, so he was the owner of very precious land, and apparently developers and (?) were coming to him to beg him to please sell his property to them.
De Vaucouleurs:It was probably worth a fortune by then. No, he was no longer active. He was in his late eighties I would imagine. So we had only a few occasional talks about galaxies, reminisces about his work — which I knew very well of course on galaxies. He was a better astronomer than E. C. of course, much greater astronomer. He discovered the (?) sky, and there was apparently an unpublished letter or a draft of the paper in the Lowell archives from V. M. to Lowell about 1914, where he discussed the possibility that the galaxies were all moving away from us; that (?) velocities, and apparently Lowell, who was so bold in speculating about Mars, suddenly became very conservative and told him not to extrapolate too much, just report his observations. V. M. essentially discovered the expansion of the universe in 1914.
Doel:That's very interesting.
De Vaucouleurs:Or came close to it.
Doel:Have you seen that (?)?
De Vaucouleurs:No. But Mr. Hoyt (?) —
De Vaucouleurs:(?) Lowell and planet, and Mars, and then wrote — He was working, I don't know if he's publishing a biography of V. M. Slipher, but Mr. Hoyt told me about this unpublished paper of V. M. and Lowell's reaction to it.
Doel:Yes. That's very interesting.
De Vaucouleurs:So without Lowell's suddenly cautious reaction, V. M. would be credited with the discovery of the expansion of the universe. Of course he is credited with (?) the first 40 redshifts. His work on the night sky and on the redshifts, all this spectroscopy of the (?) shows he was a more studied astronomer and then E. C. was just a Mars observer — very skilled, but unfortunately well brainwashed by Lowell. To the bitter end he insisted the canals were there. I remember having discussions with E. C. He showed me very briefly some of his sketches of the 1920s that have never been published. They were (?) to the end in his books on Mars, (?) he insisted that there were linear canals.
Doel:Yes. Do you remember discussions with other astronomers in the United States about E. C.'s continued belief in the existence of the canals, concerns on the part of others?
De Vaucouleurs:Oh, perhaps I had some discussions with Kuiper probably, but he was dismissed as beyond salvation. He mistook a (?). You see, when you take hundreds of pictures of Mars of succession, there will be a few there the grain alignments — especially in the old coarse grain plates — will draw a fine line.
De Vaucouleurs:But it does not record this on the next one. So yes, you can see lines, but you can see lines on any photographs of galaxies (?) microscope you see straight lines of grains. There are also occasional emulsion shifts. He never understood that these lines were too narrow to be photographs; they were much, much narrower than the (?). They could not possibly have been recorded. But he didn't know enough optics and physics to understand that this was impossible, and he always believed that canals were there to the bitter end. At the telescope he still had a remarkable eyesight. In 1958, after I joined Harvard I went back to Lowell to observe and see what the photographs (?) I would observe (?) in 1958 a position discussing some minor details on Mars that had not been (?) previously. We could see (?). I could realize he could see them. I know it was not drawing —
Doel:That's interesting. Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:See, we agreed on the spot some things that were on the planet. He still had a good eyesight in '58, I know that. But he never — he always believed in the canals though. So, I was in a difficult situation because the director who had hired me to work on galaxies was fired — only for, we had a few months (?), was not positively kicked out; he was given all facilities to move.
De Vaucouleurs:He moved to the Rand Corporation. And in fact he admired the photograph — He was divorced, and he remarried with the lady who was a staff photographer, (?), I don't remember —
Doel:A staff photographer at Lowell.
De Vaucouleurs:At Lowell. And I remember her first name, it was Donna, and she was divorced too, had a child I think, so they married after they both left Lowell and went to live in that canyon north of Santa Monica, where all the artists and crazies live, you know —
Doel:It's one of the — we can add in that later.
De Vaucouleurs:That canyon that's north of Santa Monica. Anyway, so he joined the Rand Corporation where I had some contact with him later. But he was disgusted with astronomers, and in fact he had burned (?) in astronomy, and as I say, he gave me all his bound books on galaxies, on (?) galaxies, four of them. He also gave me his plates — the plates he had taken with the (?), the 48-inch of the coma-cluster.
De Vaucouleurs:I think I should return them to Mount Wilson someday, although they are certainly obsolete.
De Vaucouleurs:But, fortunately I met Harold Johnson, who was then a young astronomer. He was what, in '57 he was 36, and he and his wife Mary, his second wife Mary — His first marriage with a Lick Observatory secretary did not turn out well, and she did not want to give him (?) in Flagstaff. Anyway, he was married to Mary, and they had a young child there, August, who was very bright. And we became friends, and I had really a good scientific contact at Lowell. It is thanks to Harold Johnson that I could begin steady (?) photometry of galaxies. I had been able to do very little at Stromlo, because I didn't have (?). I had to beg (?) to let me use his photometer a few times for experiments, but with Harold Johnson I really learned how to do photoelectric photometry, he let me use his photometer. That was attached to the 20-inch reflector, the sliding (?) (?) —
Doel:Was it his instrument that you used particularly?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. It was his instrument. In fact it was (?). I don't know if it was the (?) the UBV system was established, whether in his work or with Morgan at McDonald —
De Vaucouleurs:But it was his own photometer. That was also a time when he was building the first two-channel photometers to do some pulse-counting photometry and where he could measure 21st magnitude stars with the 42-inch refractor at Lowell. He and Bill Baum (?) developed about the same time the first counting techniques to measure photoelectric current, while Gerry Kron was still using a (?) recorder and showing that, which scale you can produce the same results.
De Vaucouleurs:So I was able to start almost immediately his program of UBV photometry. Of course UBV photometry was established for stars. It occurred to me that the next thing to do was to get rid of visual and photographic (?) of galaxies and measure (?) apertures photometric UBV magnitudes, and this we published — My wife would reduce the observation the next day. It was very quick. Johnson had developed standard forms. And this was published in the Lowell Observatory Bulletin No. 92 in 1958 or '59, and that's when my wife detected for the first time the viability of nuclear cepheid galaxies. And I told her it was nonsense; that she should know better, that galaxies don't vary over time scales of months but millions of years. But that was one of my bigger mistakes in astronomy, that I deprived her of the full credit for discovering the amplitude of fluctuations was greater from V to B to U, and I just told her, "That must be due to atmospheric fluctuations that are greater in (?) than in (?)." But that shows that even though I've been accused to be a revolutionary and somewhat dangerous in astronomy, in fact I was very conservative and would repeat the establishment "party line." And we knew that galaxies were millions or billions of years (?). The concept that the galaxy could change the magnitude of one month by 10 percent was just not acceptable to anyone. So she dutifully accepted my expert opinion, which was stupid, and I am very sorry that — I have tried to repay her (?) this stupidity by each time making (?) —
Doel:That's an interesting point.
De Vaucouleurs:And we have several. (?) NGC 4151, NGC 3516, possibly (?). We had several cepheid galaxies that had varied perceptibly, especially 4151, in one month, and she noticed it because she, having reduced thousands of data, she knew what our errors were, which (?) two or three hundredths, very much smaller. Two studies of significance that I made while at Flagstaff was the photometry of M31 and M33. I had done the photographic photometry of the Magellanic clouds, and as you know, the larger the galaxy, the more difficult measuring its total magnitude, so you must — the brightest galaxies have often the poorest magnitudes. So I did some scans with Johnson's photometer every 10 minutes (?) Andromeda, and then I did a very careful reduction, and did photometry that has been confirmed several times since, very precise photometry of total magnitude and (?), and that was published in APG (?) in '58, and then I did the same thing for M33, and that gave (?) definitive values for the total magnitude and colors of these two systems.
De Vaucouleurs:(?) was used by many people since. Ron
De Vaucouleurs:And it was fortunately confirmed by the more recent work.
Doel:Did you find that you had sufficient telescope time when you at Lowell, or was that a problem for the observer?
De Vaucouleurs:No. No. Of course in '57 I didn't (?) have use of the refractor. I used the 20-inch reflector.
Doel:Did you use the 42-inch for any of your work?
De Vaucouleurs:No. The 42-inch was the telescope that had no building; you know, it was a dome, a canvas-covered dome in the ground. They had dug a hole in the ground, so they had put it in a place which we (?) would be a worst possible place, because you had all the turbulence of the dome.
De Vaucouleurs:But Johnson used it with his photoelectric photometer to go somewhat deeper than of course with a 20-inch, and this instrument was very old, it had been built 1909, and it was, the (?) was a little erratic. It was a belt-driven (?) and sometimes would slip. So Johnson would fix it by taking a little dirt from the ground — it was in the ground, the earth, you see, and throw it into the machinery so that the belt would have some —
Doel:Would have some friction again. (laughs)
De Vaucouleurs:Some friction. (laughs) So on the one hand he was doing exquisite photometry with advanced equipment, and he was making a telescope work throwing dirt into it.
Doel:That's quite a (?).
De Vaucouleurs:And of course Sandage relied very much on Johnson's photometry for his calibration of star clusters and things. That was the time where they collaborated closely on photometry of open clusters and did the basic work on — That was the time when Johnson was developing the (?) sequence concept and drawing the main (?) sequence of (?) clusters are different ages. This was perhaps the most (?), the most fundamental work he's done, in the 50s, of the basis of observational stellar (?). Of course later (?) also (?) work in (?) spectrophotometry (?), especially when he was in Mexico.
De Vaucouleurs:This was also the time when I prepared with my wife the paper on the rotation expansion of the local super cluster. That's when we developed the rotating expanded model and my wife did most of the calculations, but as all too often she would refuse co-authorship saying —
Doel:Is that right?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. She has contributed much more than appears in her own publications because she was very modest and was content to me in my shadow you might say, and I wish I could have had more joint papers with her. Although later we had more, but she was satisfied with helping me. She did all the reduction on the photoelectric photometry we did at Flagstaff; most of the calculations for the model of the rotating expanding supergalaxy, and that was published in the AJ (?) in 1958, as further evidence that there was really a physical gravitationally bound system.
Doel:Were there any further reactions among the community that were engaged in (?)?
De Vaucouleurs:We were visited then fairly often by Dr. Carpenter, Ed Carpenter, who was the chairman of the Astronomy Department (?) Arizona in Tucson, when Tucson was still a little oasis in the desert, and the (?) observatory was just a tower with a 36-inch dome on top at the far east end of the campus, just across the street from where the big offices are now.
De Vaucouleurs:He was a very gentleman and we became friendly, and he was perhaps uniquely in the position to appreciate what I was doing because he had done work on clusters in the 30s. He was a good extragalactic astronomer. I think he built the first (?) spectrograph for galaxy work, and in fact he liked me so much that when he retired — I think it was in 1960, and I was already at Harvard — he suggested to the university I should be his successor at Tucson. And the administration were agreed, so there seemed to be no obstacle, until they discovered that there was an Arizona state law prohibiting foreign-born people, foreigners to be state employees. And there was two instances — (?) and there were two instances. The university had essentially selected the next professor or chairman of the English Department. Apparently he was an Englishman, and they essentially agreed that I would assisting Dr. Carpenter at the observatory, and I was still a Frenchman then, and that was a state law. That law that had been originally introduced in the constitution to prevent wetbacks from — very silly, but the idea was to avoid the state being invaded by Mexicans from Mexico. And so the state employees, and that included university professors. And so because of this law, then they realized how stupid it was, and it was repealed by (?) in 1962 I believe. (?) the next Presidential elections. Anyway, it was rejected shortly after that, but if it had not been for this administrative problem I would have succeeded him as (?) and —
Doel:That's very interesting.
De Vaucouleurs:But perhaps it's just as well I did not, although we loved Arizona. We really left Arizona with a heavy heart. We really liked Arizona, especially in those days Arizona, which is half as big as France, had only 700,000 (?) inhabitants, a good fraction the Indians.
De Vaucouleurs:So really there was room, you know. After Australia we felt at home in Arizona, because it's the same type of low density (?) of course. But we had become — although we were both at Paris and then London, we loved the space and the quiet isolation, the low density. I discovered a new type of living which is difficult probably for some Parisians, but to us it was wonderful. Especially when Canberra was a small town. Flagstaff was about the same size then, about 30,000 people. It was growing unfortunately, there was U.S. 66, but the city lights were still brightening the sky about at the zenith of the (?) by about three-tenths of a magnitude. And there was a big gradient from east to west, but that did not prevent me from making faint observations of — I also looked for intergalactic matter in the coma-cluster then. I took scans, repeated scans (?). But I was too ambitious. Instead of doing my scanner right through the center of the coma-cluster, it was done (?) Zwicky was (?) discussing intergalactic matter, and in fact I published in 1960 a paper on the masses and densities of clusters of galaxies, problems of (?).
Doel:That's right. That was the ABJ (?) publication that you (?) —?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes, that's right. And so to try — And there was this (?) discrepancy, so to try and see whether this was due to faint stars, because according to the (?)extend forever practically.
De Vaucouleurs:So I considered they could overlap and there would be a (?) of intergalactic stars in the cluster. So I took scans, but I was too ambitious. Instead of going through the center of the cluster, too avoid having too many signals from the galaxies themselves, I moved one effective radius from the center, 45 minutes, and there I could not detect any excess light. Twelve years later we did detect intergalactic light in the coma-cluster at McDonald with a (?) photometer, but then we scanned through the center.
De Vaucouleurs:(?) moves the stars and the galaxies and then you can see the background light very clearly, and at the distance of the effective radius (?) detected. So intergalactic lighting coma was first detected photographically by Zwicky, but he never produced the evidence. He just said in his book, Morphological Astronomy, that he could see a haze between the galaxies on his Schmidt plates. But he never produced —
Doel:No quantitative —
De Vaucouleurs:No quantitative. Just — Many times he was satisfied. He says, one day he told me, "You don't know, but I know." He has a chapter in his book discussing communicable and non-communicable knowledge.
Doel:This is also in Morphological Astronomy, isn't it?
De Vaucouleurs:That's right, Morphological Astronomy. That's right. So, he knew so many things that he didn't feel he had to spend time you know convincing others, and that led to endless fights with Hubble and Sandage. He was really a great man. Of the astronomers of the 20th century he is perhaps one of the very few, if not the only one, to which the word "genius" can apply. This one was a genius, and he was very impatient with those not quite up to his measure. He really was a genius. He was a great humanitarian in addition, you know, he took upon himself to send tons of books to China after the war to rebuild their libraries during the struggle in the Japanese-Chinese war, and he was I think supporting foundations for children (?). He was a great mind. He was of course one of the founders of the Aero jet Corporation and (?) jet propulsion lab, and he had of course these crazy ideas about building jet propelled subterranean tanks and all sorts of things. Some of his ideas were crazy, but he was really a genius and a great man. There is a Fritz Zwicky Foundation now in (?), Switzerland, his hometown.
De Vaucouleurs:And they have published several volumes. Well you should know then, because that's important for the (?) astronomy. There is volume 2 or 3 I think of the series is biography of Fritz Zwicky by a Swiss journalist who had access to the files. There is essentially a Fritz Zwicky Library and Foundation there.
Doel:That's very good to know. Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:And (?) in the book (?) at home now. I've moved many of my —
Doel:That's fine. We can add a citation, which we should do. Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:It's in German. It's Lieben [???].
De Vaucouleurs:But he was a man well worth knowing. After I came here, after he retired from Palomar, I think it was '63 or so, I invited him as a visiting professor. I was the acting chairman of —
Doel:Here in Texas.
De Vaucouleurs:Here in Texas at the time. So I invited him. He had just retired, and I said, "We must not let this man (?)." I wanted the students to see that man. So he was invited for a semester to teach not really a course but seminars, and I remember some of the students, they had lunch with him, and some were coming after that lunch with him, eyes like this, "The guy's fantastic!" I said, "Yes, that's why I brought him here." Always full of ideas and things. In fact so many he could not really pursue them and develop them and convince everybody. He was (?) some occasions, for reasons totally (?) he was against the concept of super cluster and hierarchical clustering. He insisted there are clusters of various sizes, but there are no super clusters to the bitter end. And I remember we had him for lunch when we were at Flagstaff one day, my wife, and so we chatted amicably, and after lunch we discussed again, and I said, "But Dr. Zwicky, what do you mean by a cluster? How big can a cluster be in your nomenclature?" and he said, "30 megaparsecs," and I said, "But that's the size of a super cluster, and there is a difference between New York City and a small town. They are all towns, it's true, but it's not the same structure, they don't have the same properties, you see? And a super cluster is not just a big cluster." And this he and his collaborator (?) in Poland for a long, long time insisted there is super clustering.
De Vaucouleurs:In fact in the 50s there was such a — first silence, then ridicule, and then denial of the establishment. I have some quotations, when I have my office next door, I have on my blackboard some quotations which I photographed —
Doel:Yes. We're looking at a photograph now of that. Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:And you should look at it. You see some quotations that I wrote. Baade in 1956, in a book where he was interviewed by — I don't remember the name of the author — he said, "We have no evidence for the existence of a local supergalaxy."
De Vaucouleurs:Then Zwicky, in the (?) in 1959 (?) said, "Super clustering, nonexistent." I had also another quotation, one by Final (?), (?), "Nature does not care for analytical difficulties." And then of course the later confirmation. But there was a total disbelief for the super cluster. And I think things began to change because I kept hammering at — each time someone came up with an objection, I would look at it, analyze it, and show it was not valid. There were objections by (?) at the 1961 IAU Symposium 15. He said, "Well, (?) may be, which mathematically is possible, but physically is not. It can be in an isotrope in the absolute magnitude of the galaxies around us — not of the redshift." Then so I dismissed that by looking at Fundenberg's [???] classification, and with my wife in 1964 we published a paper where we analyzed the (?) classification of Fundenberg as a function of super galactic coordinates. I showed there is no systematic dependence of absolute magnitude versus direction, so — Although mathematically the Fundenberg objection could have been valid, physically we cannot support it.
De Vaucouleurs:So I went after each objection, when it was just a subjective denial, but was quantitative. Sandage was very upset by this, because he said — it was probably in '57 when I visited him in California — he said, "But if what you said is correct," he said, "How am I going to measure the Hubble Constant?" I said, "Well, I know, but don't blame (?). I am the (?)." I remember —
Doel:So you felt that that was the principle concern on Sandage's part, the investment that he had in (?)?
De Vaucouleurs:He did not believe in it because of course it didn't come from Mount Wilson, Palomar. There was this tradition of homogeneity, and also it was complicating his life. To measure the Hubble Constant, if he depended on, his (?) distance relation depended on direction, of course that was complicating it. So I remember telling him at the time, I said, "Well, in principle I would look for a coma-type cluster; a large, rich cluster like coma at about the same distance but near the (?) galactic pole, and then I would try to measure our distance to the coma-cluster as the anti-coma-cluster (?), and then probably the relative redshift between the two. They are far enough that it would free of the interference of another super cluster." Of course that was easy to say but difficult to do. I don't know if to this day we have a rich coma-type cluster in the (?) galactic pole.
De Vaucouleurs:But that was one thing that complicated his life. Obviously if you had — You see, without being brought up in the concept of an homogeneous isotropic expansion of a uniform fluid except for a lot of granulation. So, because of a very large scale (?) of density and consequently in the redshift was very shocking to many people. And in fact some people just tried to heap ridicule on the concept. There was this British cosmologist — The British cosmologists are the worst, you know, because they have the sky (?) in England, so they can never see the sky, so —
Doel:So it's all theoretical and — ?
De Vaucouleurs:— they (?) to cosmologize. I'm always nervous when people put (?) cosmologists. It's not a good name, not a compliment for the — (laughs). I think it was Bonnor. Is there one? Yes, there is a cosmologist called Bonnor, B-o-n-n-o-r, of some repute in England. But he said — of course these people don't read the papers; they just look at the title and jump to a conclusion — he said that I was claiming that the galaxy was at the center of the universe. Oh yes. One thing I did at Lowell and also continued at Harvard, published it when I was at Harvard in 1960, was a rediscovery of what I like to call the "Carpenter Relation." This is a relation between the density and the radius of stellar aggregates. In the 1930s Ed Carpenter published two prescient papers that nobody understood at the time, in part because he published it under a funny title. The title was "Density Restriction in the Meta Galaxy" (?). I remember reading it at the time, a student, and I did not really understand what he was saying, and nobody paid any attention to it, but what he had found was very important, and it's still neglected by too many people today. He used counts of galaxies in 25 clusters published by Shapley and he calculated the mean, he calculated all of the distances with some Hubble Constant, probably 530 or so, and he counted the density and number of galaxies per cubic megaparsec in these clusters, and he found that the larger the cluster the lower the density — and that there was an upper limit, and that's what he called the "density restriction." And he discussed it at length. He perceived that this was due to some kind of balance between potential and kinetic energy, but why would nature fix this upper limit, it was not clear. Now I came across the same result from a different direction in 1960, and strangely I did not discuss it with Carpenter at the time. Probably because the work was finished when I was at Harvard. I calculated, you see in the search for missing mass, I had calculated the mean density of clusters. I actually in 1948 (?) rich clusters of galaxies counted by Zwicky with the 18-inch, coma, perses (?), hydra, big gases (?), that they followed the r1/4 beautifully (?). Instead of (?) as most people do, the density was just a (?), why, in making a (?) fit, which is what Zwicky did, one finds that if one (?) density within successive (?). If one calculates the density in successive rings (?) versus r1/4, one gets a perfect straight line, having the same slope as in (?) and later, when I was at Stromlo I verified but did not publish the fact that the 48-inch counts follow also the same r1/4 law. So they have the same structure as elliptical galaxies. Very strange. We know today, we think we know, that this is due to the rapid relaxation mechanism between them (?) at the time of formation, a collapse of collisionless particles. But at the time it was very surprising that stars in an elliptical galaxy (?) spirals like Andromeda, then (?) themselves in a cluster, in a rich cluster, and then they should follow this law. I kept saying, "Look, this must be significant." Of course I was told first it was impossible; that theoretically it must be as a thermal (?) in the center. And I believed it too, because that was the only show in town. But evidence showed that no, in the center there is a density spike in excess of (?) thermal and the (?) the more spike it is, and far out densities in excess of these isothermal (?). Which by itself is nonsense, because the isothermal is infinite; has infinite mass. So we cannot have an isothermal distribution with a cut-off. That's just (?). First Hubble and I made density cut-offs. Then Woolley became interested in the subject, made a more plausible cut-off due to a velocity cut-off, because there is an (?) velocity. It turns out that the real reason is just the (?). But anyway it was a fact, and that's been my approach as an experimental physicist observer. Later (?) (?) never mind the theory, what cannot be. Just think a little more, better. If it's a fact, someone will come sooner or later — As I pointed out to people who objected, I said, "Keppler's (?) laws were just as good in 1620 as in 1680. Newton wasn't born, but Keppler's laws were just as true, even though there was no theory or explanation. So if it's a fact, it's a fact." Because it has to be firmly established, which means as many (?) as you can, and the large names.
Doel:Given that some of that work came during the time you were at Harvard, it may be appropriate to ask how the transfer came about from —
De Vaucouleurs:Yes, yes.
Doel:Were you considering to stay at Lowell?
De Vaucouleurs:It was a difficult period. No. We knew from the beginning I think that Lowell could be only a transition, especially after I hoped to do this type of work. See, I was at Lowell to do Mars work and I could not, because E. C. was sitting on his photographs. He would be always ambiguous. I said, "Could I use a photograph to make this?" and I was studying the blue clearings they were called in those days, and he would say, "Well, the photographs are in the stacks," but he wouldn't say, "Yes, you are welcome to use my photograph," or even offer to make a joint study. And it was not — He was resenting, he was not prepared to relinquish his position, and that's understandable, and so I was hampered. I could not study Mars, although after I left for Harvard and asked to come back to observe Mars (?) I was welcomed at Flagstaff. The other people had been good to me, but I just didn't fit in the thing too well.
Doel:Yes. John Hall had already been appointed before you left, hadn't he?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. John Hall had been appointed. In fact I visited him at the Naval Observatory in Washington, probably, I don't know exactly, probably in the spring of '58, and he was very pleasant, and in fact we stayed with him and his first wife, at the Naval Observatory, and we discussed things. But I don't think I was invited by Mr. Putnum at — what was his place in Massachusetts? I've forgotten. I have nice photographs of Mr. Putnam and his wife at the time —
Doel:You visited him at his —?
De Vaucouleurs:At his home, yes. And we discussed. But somehow I was not the type of astronomer they used to have at Lowell. Apparently Harold Johnson also had trouble fitting. I think the Lowell tradition was too strong, and they were not prepared — V. M. was still there, E. C. was still, and of course when — Ah yes. When Al Wilson resigned and left, he was appointed acting director for the transition period until John Hall could come, which he did probably in late '58 or early '59.
Doel:About that, yes.
De Vaucouleurs:It must have been early '59, because I think in October or November '58 (?) was back in Flagstaff, E. C. was still the acting director. So that was a transition. And then the second thing of course, if I could find a position where one could study galaxies better. You could be a photometer of galaxies at Flagstaff, but nothing else, nothing else.
De Vaucouleurs:And then I was in active correspondence with Bart Bok, who made me a firm offer of — No, what was it? Some university position at Mount Stromlo. I will have to find the exact title. I don't know if it was —
Doel:Okay. But you knew you had that other option at the same —
De Vaucouleurs:Oh yes. I was — because I knew that things were not running smoothly, and Bok was very pressing and more promising, you know, and actually demonstrating that things would be better at Stromlo, that I should give it another try. But after we moved — there is another consideration — after we moved to distantly from Australia, I was broke! I was broke when I came to this country. I had $500 to my name. So, at Lowell I was paid $6000 a year plus free accommodation, which was significant. But it — and my wife had stopped working. She was working free, as a volunteer assistant at Lowell. Although when we left Lowell in August '58 probably, or July '58, summer of '58 —
De Vaucouleurs:When we left the Lowell (?), E. C. Slipher was kind enough to give I think $500 to my wife as a recognition that she had worked for more than a year for free. And so we left on good terms, but I was not the kind of astronomer they were looking for. They were in a transition period themselves, not quite reconciled to move to new ways and new subjects —
De Vaucouleurs:During that first year at Flagstaff, especially in '57, I travelled a lot. When I look at my schedule in the early months in Flagstaff I feel really tired. I hardly there, and I went to the IAU Symposium in Cambridge on Cosmic (?) —
Doel:Gastronomics (?), yeah.
De Vaucouleurs:Gastronomics. I gave lectures, gosh, all over the place, in Indiana at Bloomington, John Irwin (?) had invited me. Well, I was already known, I was known as something of a character — although I had never tried to be a character, somehow I proposed a number of things that were not in the textbook, and so people wanted to look at me. And so I was invited many places by, I don't remember, I would have to look at my records. However, I travelled a lot, I attended meetings right and left, was full of the — I had been constrained in Australia for five years, and almost six years, and so I wanted to see the world and contact American astronomy, and was invited right and left.
Doel:Yes. How did the Harvard opportunity come about?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. Then it was clear I was not going to stay at Lowell. In fact, you might say Lowell Observatory is the only place from which I was fired. The word is a little strong, and they made a mistake, obviously. Not from my point of view; I did better at Harvard and here than when I was at Flagstaff, but they made a mistake of judgment, because I was a good astronomer, I was productive, and I would have brought a new line of work. First I could have continued the Mars work and get some support for the observatory. They just misjudged. The old spirit was still too much there, and they could not — And of course Johnson left shortly after I did, for whatever reason. He went to, let's see, did he go back to Chicago, or did he come directly to —
Doel:He came directly to Texas.
De Vaucouleurs:To Texas, yes, but at Kuiper's invitation. That must be '59.
De Vaucouleurs:So he left a year later. So, we loved the countryside, and frankly I could not bring myself to leaving Arizona. It's too beautiful, and we had such a pleasant life. We travelled. We travelled to Los Alamos I remember to give lectures, where we met the Polish mathematician, Dr. Uhlman was it?
De Vaucouleurs:Uhlman, and his wife was French in fact, and I remember visiting with the Uhlmans, having a good time. And I met some of the others in Los Alamos — (?), oh, we travelled a lot. And I was still negotiating with Bart Bok, who made his very best offer, but finally I said, "Look, can you guarantee me so much observing time on this and this telescope?" and this he could not. He said, "Well, you have to apply for time like the others. I cannot do this." And I told him, "Look, you have a lot of work to do at Stromlo. You cannot have someone who will be very impatient to get on with what he wants to do after waiting for so long," and so I decided finally to decline the offer — which was good, and also the prospect of moving back to Australia after having liquidated all our furniture and everything, it was just too much. So I looked around, and I contacted Allen Hienrich (?), who was then the Secretary of the AAS (?), and there was a dismissal in the Harvard situation, and I was becoming known through the (?) work on artificial satellites, and I said, "I am looking for a position in astronomy," and I knew that AAS was keeping a record, or he knew as secretary of the openings in American astronomy, so he spoke to Menzel. He knew that Menzel was just still recently appointed — not quite, but still building up his staff, and Menzel wanted to move into space, planetary astronomy. First he had done some planetary work himself in the 20s, and he knew how to get money out of the (?) Cambridge research labs from the Air Force, and he wanted a young (?) astronomer with a genuine background in —
De Vaucouleurs:So that was very — So as soon as he heard of this interest, he offered me a position. He said, "I am starting a new program with the AFCRL (?), but I don't have anywhere to run it." So I visited Cambridge in July of — was it July? Well, when the symposium — July '57 probably it was? No.
Doel:It was somewhere back around —
De Vaucouleurs:July '58 it must have been.
Doel:It may be. We'll check.
De Vaucouleurs:Anyway. No no. It was July '57. No, I was not discouraged with the Flagstaff situation yet. But I went to Cambridge and contact —
Doel:I think it could have been in —
De Vaucouleurs:No, it's not at that — no, I remember: I met Menzel during one of his trips to Alamogordo, to White Sands. I went there and met him, and he was his own bubbling self again. He was with his guitar, and we got along fine, and in fact I found myself pretending to play on Menzel's guitar. (laughs) Anyway, it was very friendly, and he described to me what his projects were at Harvard (?) astronomy, I told him I wanted to work on galaxies, but he said that's no objection —
Doel:What did he discuss with you? There was the balloon observation project.
De Vaucouleurs:Later. Later, yes.
Doel:What was it at the time that he had (?)?
De Vaucouleurs:I don't remember why he visited White Sands then, but I know that's where we met, in Alamogordo, in early '58 maybe. Yes. That — This is getting a little too confused. No. The Air Force Symposium in San Antonio was in '58. Because I remember I stopped my observation of Mars at Flagstaff for a few days from Flagstaff in October or November '58 to drive to San Antonio and attend that Space Symposium and then came back. No, I don't know why he was in White Sands, but they had so many projects.
De Vaucouleurs:Anyway, he told me that he was anxious to begin, that he was going to have funds from the Air Force to do planetary work at Cambridge. Of course I could not deny I had done work on the planets, and I was at Lowell, so — but I told him I was going to work on galaxies. Well, that was no problem, and I told him I would do this after hours. I knew Antoinette was working with me. So he made me a good offer, I don't remember — substantially better than Flagstaff. I think they offered me $10,000 a year as a research associate plus they would pay my retirement contribution to the TIA. I had started TIA fortunately when I was still in Australia. Dr. Brouwer had explained to me that I had a super (?) (?) as they call the scheme in Australia, but Brouwer informed me, as a Director would, that they had this retirement scheme for the staff, it was TIA, and since I knew I wanted to come sooner or later, that's why I enrolled in TIA back in '54. So Harvard would pay my, something like a thousand dollars, towards my retirement. So that was (?) salary, it was good in those days.
Doel:Did you and Menzel discuss the particular projects that he had in mind to develop? Clearly he was interested in trying to develop instrumentation that would work above the ground.
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. When I came he was interested in evapography (?) as a means of studying (?) radiation (?), and I tried, not very successfully, to make a (?) work at Harvard after I joined, taking pictures of the Moon for example, but then I shifted just as soon as I could. I realized it was not a very good technique (?) an assistant that Menzel had hired, Mr. Ilgrao, I-l-g-r-a-o, who was an immigrant from Argentina, and he was not an astronomer. I don't know exactly what background he had, more perhaps engineering than anything else, and then I was very glad to let him take over the experiments with (?)graph. Essentially Menzel was open to suggestion as to what we wanted to do, so I told him that what I wanted to do, was prepared to do, was to do a massive project of measuring aerial (?) graphic (?) coordinates of spots on Mars to make reliable maps. Because we knew that space exploration of Mars would be coming, and I knew very well there were no good recent maps of Mars with precise code (?). All had been left to the amateur, the landscape artist, I think (?) disparagingly, and that we needed a scientifically rigorous coordinate system on Mars, and he agreed that this would be our main project.
De Vaucouleurs:So I started this Mars map project that kept going for about 15 years after I came here. We hired assistants, a photographer, we had lots of Air Force money (?), so I made it at Harvard (?) Lowell. I was working on my own, just with my wife's help, and at Harvard I immediately had a secretary, I had several assistants, and facilities to do things, and then I obtained a grant from NSF to continue my galaxy work and from the American Philosophical Society. [???] I suppose. Let's see. Yes. So he was agreeable, and we put a lot of effort in this Mars mapping project, first collecting all published observations of coordinates; I reduced them to a homogenous system, and the first results were reported at the (?) meeting on planetary astronomy in 1962 I believe, and of course in reports to the Air Force. I have several big volumes of reports to the Air Force. I was also helped by the Rand Corporation. They appointed me as a consultant and they supported this and published some of this mapping work.
Doel:Was that the principal involvement that you had with Rand, was the mapping project?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. It was no, there was no classified work, and in fact there was something amusing. It was in the early 60s, and even after I came here each time I had to go to the washroom I had to be accompanied by a secretary — because apparently washroom was in a restricted area. This became annoying, so after a while he said, "Look, you should have a security clearance so that you can go to the washroom all by yourself." So I agreed to this. In due course I was given a security clearance, and then for good measure a few months later they gave me a top security clearance, so I could really go to the washroom like a big boy, on my own.
Doel:Did you find that the support from the Air Force was sufficiently stable to allow you to develop the research programs as you wanted, or were there problems with that kind of (?)?
De Vaucouleurs:No. Menzel was a very good connection with the SCRL (?), and he seemed, we seemed to have no problem with financing. Now remember, this was when inflation was young and the sky was the limit.
Doel:I remember he mentioned at one point that he was discouraged when the money for the ballooning project had gotten cut off.
De Vaucouleurs:He was very keen to start observations from stratospheric balloons, and he sent me (?) to Minneapolis to the Raven — was it Raven Industries? Or whatever.
Doel:I believe so. We'll check up on that.
De Vaucouleurs:They were publishing those —
Doel:The balloon (?). Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:Publishing (?) that were flown from Texas, from (?) Texas, I think (?) places, and we met them. There I met Colonel — the Air Force colonel who flew up in those balloons to great altitudes, testing equipment for space travel I think. Remember what his name was?
De Vaucouleurs:Simon. Colonel Simon.
De Vaucouleurs:That's right. And I remember meeting him there, but then he started asking me to fly to such and such a place to visit these industries and I told him I was an astronomer, not an errand boy for the Air Force. That I — I did not like that at all. Also I could not see much future in his balloon things, although I did write a couple of papers on design of, on the condition of defraction (?) limited observations from balloons or satellites —
De Vaucouleurs:And on the design (?) also of (?) spectrograph for observations. This is in the Harvard reports, or perhaps were never published. But anyway, I did give the basics of high resolution photography and spectrography on the balloons. At that time I was also a consultant to the Air Force. I would spend the summer of 1959 and 1960 at Alamogordo, as a consultant to the missile development center.
De Vaucouleurs:They had the — the man in charge there, a big, fat man, I forgot his name —
Doel:We can put that in later.
De Vaucouleurs:Anyway, he was running the scientific branch of, or astronomy branch of the (?), and so we spent two summers with my wife there, paid by the Air Force then, to write reports. I remember one was a report by John Strong, Fritz Zwicky and myself, three reports in one volume on astronomy from satellite substitute vehicles.
Doel:Right, right. In 1960 that had come out.
De Vaucouleurs:That's right, that's right. And the other one, I don't remember, was the previous year. Anyway, so, in fact we, I remarked with my wife how loose security was in the U.S. compared with European countries. You could drive into that White Sands proving grounds just by essentially waving to the sentry. One day my wife was invited by the wife of the commanding general I think to tea or something, so she drove there and the sentry stopped her and said, "Where are you going?" and she said, "I'm going to the tea of the general," and that was it. One day I had to find something in the scientific library that was in a restricted area. I was on the base of course, but I drove there, and came to the lab. It was restricted, you had to show your passes to go in, but there was no one to man the place. I could have gone there and stolen any volume of classified information. But, it was really ridiculous, because when I was still at Harvard Menzel had also scientific connections with the Geophysics Corporation of America, GCA, a fairly big outfit, at least in those days. I think they were on the stock market, had a (?) Wall Street. And I wrote a number of reports on properties of the planets, you see. In those days anyone who could tell a star from a planet was an astronomer for all these people knew. There was very little preparation for a space program. So I was one of the rare astronomers (?) experts on planets, because the race (?) had practically vanished in those days. No self-respecting astronomer would dare to study the planets because of —
Doel:I thought one of the things —
De Vaucouleurs:Lowell (?) had destroyed the good name of planetary astronomy. So it was many physicists who would occasionally look at it, not knowing it was not a respectable subject. So except for Lowell Observatory, there was essentially no planetary astronomy.
Doel:One of the things I was curious about, when you say that — there were of course other people who were working on solar system topics: meteors or on asteroids, comets.
Doel:Did it seem to so much of —?
De Vaucouleurs:Harvard Smithsonian. Yes.
Doel:Was clearly one of them. Yerkes had a group, some of the asteroid —
De Vaucouleurs:Kuiper was working.
Doel:Kuiper and his student.
De Vaucouleurs:Now that did not give him a good name with his staff, you see. He had to quit, in fact, he had to quit Chicago because there was a revolt on the staff. He was spending too much time looking at the Moon with the 82-inch.
Doel:Right. But did it seem to you that those who were working in meteors and comets were not part of that same community of planetary people?
De Vaucouleurs:No. No. No.
De Vaucouleurs:Planets — Comets you can take spectra, study. So there was a respectable comet (?) country as well as in other countries, meteors was a favorite subject at Harvard for many years, and Whipple and then Öpik of course made expeditions in the Arizona desert to study meteors, and that had an impact on the Air Force interest in the upper atmosphere —
De Vaucouleurs:So that was different. But studies of the planets was a subject wise astronomers would avoid. Of course I didn't know that when I started as an amateur looking at Mars.
Doel:Also, had people like —?
De Vaucouleurs:You should read in this aspect, "Planetary Studies and New Space Program."
Doel:Yes. I've seen that. This is Andrew T. Young's summary in A Life in Astronomy.
De Vaucouleurs:Yes, who is (?), and really describes the situation in the U.S. as far as — As he says, the planetary astronomy was left to amateurs and Frenchmen. (laughs)
Doel:Did people like Vilt (?) and DeMarcus, his students seem to be part of that same group when they were working in —?
De Vaucouleurs:Vilt was respectable because he was doing very important spectroscopic studies identifying molecules of course, not only in the planets but interstellar space, so spectroscopy was different. And of course that's where Kuiper did most of his work, because he really did not publish too much of his planetary or lunar observing; he published his discoveries of spectra of the planets and satellites, discovering methane of course on Titan (?), and — So, there was some exceptions, but it had been neglected. In part because there was nothing much else one could do.
Doel:When it reached instrumental at best?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. You don't need a very big instrument to see all you can see on Mars, because of the (?). Atmospheric turbulence also limits you to what you can see with a 20-inch refractor. The higher resolving power — First, large reflectors usually are poorly adjusted. Even without an atmosphere they would not give the resolution limit, because they, they have too many residual aberrations or are not properly adjusted, except when special efforts were made. So when there was little to be gained by using larger instruments, they were mainly light collectors, by and large when it comes to details that was left to amateurs, because good amateurs have sizeable telescopes, about 12-inch or so, and it is seldom that the atmosphere is good enough, at least at ground levels. There were a few exceptions. (?) of course was one. While the seeing is good enough, that he used the full resolution of a 15-inch refractor first and then a 24-inch, but that's rare.
Doel:Did people like Brouwer and Cunningham — those were doing more in celestial mechanics of asteroids — also seem to be part of a different tradition (?)?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. Celestial mechanics was okay if they want to study (?) problem they are welcome, which was respectable. It is the physical study of the planets, excluding spectroscopy — Because there was only so much one could do. And there were certainly very, very few Ph.D.s in Planetary Astronomy in the 40s and 50s and it was probably almost dying. I think Andy Young described the situation pretty well.
Doel:One of the things that that raises is an interesting point too. Yourself, Öpik, Kuiper were among the people who moved across very wide fields of astronomy in the course of the career —
De Vaucouleurs:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Doel:And of those, none of you were born in America. Was there any — When you think back on that, was there anything in your training that you feel may have contributed to that or — ?
De Vaucouleurs:My training was in physics. I educated myself in astronomy, and that's why unfortunately I became interested in Mars, tried to do something that had a physical basis, like photometry. I didn't (?) realize that surely one should not just look at the planet in most cases, but get precise positions for rotation studies, and in the case of Mars (?) changes and do some photometry, but it's very difficult to build a photometer that will be tiny enough that would enable you to measure such small spots. And photographs usually were too fuzzy. Because the exposure time had to be some seconds, and they were too blurred. So you could see much more visually and you could photograph with a (?) telescope.
Doel:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.
De Vaucouleurs:So photographically there was some very poor work done by the Russians, and but there was nothing done in Europe or America. There (?) photographs essentially, because they showed so much less than one could visually, and unfortunately visually there were very few good observers.
Doel:And visually was also tied into the controversy over the canals.
De Vaucouleurs:That's right, that's right. I think Lowell made a great contribution in destroying the respectability of planetary astronomy in the world for half a century, because of this controversy, and you know the Martian (?) and all this, that was not serious. But fortunately I had grown up in (?) planetary astronomy where (?) had destroyed the belief in the canals long ago, and it was possible to do some things, I thought, without looking at canals forever. And then (?) never saw one except the broad ones which are permanent, well defined features. No, it was not a respectable subject for most people, and it was not taught or in any way organized. Note also that there was a dearth of astronomers graduating during the Depression, or being educated during the Depression, and then the war. So there was really a dearth of astronomers of any kind in —
Doel:It was quite a problem in the U.S.
De Vaucouleurs:— the 50s, and in Europe too. So —
Doel:Do you feel that the controversy between Kuiper and Urey (?), could you see effects of that in any of the work being done at Harvard? Those were two main actors in different —
De Vaucouleurs:No. I was not interested in lunar studies. As Urey told me once, the "Moon" is a bad word to you, because it obscures the sky half the time you see. So no, I was not interested in lunar studies.
Doel:This is what you had mentioned when you had spoken with Urey about that.
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. Yes. And I was not really aware of the controversy about the origin of the Moon or its composition, so all I know is, or remember is, that Whipple told me that Urey was nutty as a fruitcake. (laughs) But I really had no knowledge, except for looking at the Moon as many amateurs would in the 30s on my small telescope and making sketches, but that's — I was conscious and — I did spend a little time in the 30s, and perhaps again in the 40s, looking for changes in the Moon. The Moon section of the French Astronomical Society was headed by Mr. Delmotte, D-e-l-m-o-t-t-e, he was a (?), he was deputy of the law department (?), but he was an amateur astronomer and he had drawn up a program of observing some features at different illuminations to whether there were real changes beyond shadows. I remember that (?) Pickering (?) was speaking about insects or bisons moving on the Moon, and he was looking at (?) the shadows and talked of them as being tracks of animals. (?) Pickering did also a lot of harm to planetary astronomy, because he was almost as bad as Percival on this respect. So these people became so enthusiastic about canals and things (?) really spoiled. Although they did keep a record of Mars during the (?), as did Gerry Desloges (?) and his people in France. So we do have records thanks to them, but they have to be interpreted and used carefully.
Doel:Right. One of the things I did wanted to ask you about was the Regulus occultation of, the Venus occultation of Regulus that you had organized in the late 50s while at Harvard.
De Vaucouleurs:Yes, yes. In early 1959, just reading the literature, I tried to keep up with the literature, I came across a paper in I think the journal of the British Astronomical Association I think it was, indicating that there would be an occultation of Regulus by Venus on was it the 7th of July, 1959, some such time, and I had been interested in planetary occultations because of my work on Mars. I was aware of the fact that Mars had occulted some stars. There had been some interesting fluctuations of light that had been observed, especially in 1918 in Australia. And I had learned, I had read about the theory of the atmospheric occultation from a paper by Fabry publishing (?) observatory in 1929 or '30. I was not aware at that time of the work of (?) Cook (?) on the same topic, but the Fabry presentation, being by a physicist, and since I had known Fabry I was in my own (?) tradition of French optics — Fabry did in France what Mike Elsin (?) did in this country for optics. So I had read that paper, probably in the 1940s, so I understood the significance, but could not find any observation of occultation by Mars that could be, what had been observed well enough to be used. I was aware of the paper by Bill Baum on the occultation of whatever it was, Sigma Scorpia (?) was it by Jupiter —?
De Vaucouleurs:— in 1953 I think it was, so that it was the first photoelectrically recorded occultation that's been analyzed. So when this came across, I immediately saw this was the opportunity of a lifetime, and bright star like Regulus was the opportunity of a century or a millennium. So I went to Menzel and told him this is coming, we should do something, it's very important, and he immediately understood the importance of it. I said, "Alright, I am going to get money from the Air Force to support an expedition." And then he and I, mainly I, organized the program, the teams, and we managed to enroll a large body of observers, mainly from Harvard and the Smithsonian, and to man an expedition to something like a dozen stations. We design and built quickly, very quickly, some photometers. They were built by, in part by Perkin Elmer (?). And —
Doel:And was this done as part of a grant funding, to have that constructed?
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. The grant was from the Air Force. We obtained from the Air Force, through the FCI's (?) some machine gun cameras. Most of them jammed anyway.
De Vaucouleurs:They were not good. Maybe that's why they gave them to us so easily. To try to take movies, with the hope that perhaps we could obtain better timing, or perhaps even measuring brightness from the movies. That was a failure, except maybe some pictures. And then we built two regular photoelectric photometers: one for the Péridier Observatory at (?), I knew I could have (?) Péridier, and he was very happy to reopen the observatory for us, where I knew I had the first class equipment, I had the twin refractor so I could take photographs, photoelectric observation and visual guiding, and then we had also a 12-inch to take photographs. So — and we decided quickly that — in fact that's what I think Andromeda had already done for Jupiter, (?) use a (?) filter to reduce the scatter of light from the blue sky which was the solar spectrum, and the (?) is absent in Regulus, which is an (?) type star. To increase the contrast we also had a small aperture one-tenth of a millimeter in diameter precisely cut and ground by Perkin Elmer. This must have been the most expensive one-tenth of a millimeter (?) made in the world (laughs) that would isolate a very small fraction of the sky. And fortunately the entrance was on the dark side of Venus, so we [???] of the crescent, which will make the observation of the, the photoelectric observation of the exit practically impossible and useless. So all the conditions were favorable, and Venus would be high in the sky, the occultation would take place in the early afternoon for South Africa and the Boyden Station and at Péridier. So we were to have two photoelectric observations at Boyden with the 60-inch, and at Péridier with the 18-inch (?) — but in fact the 18-inch gave much better results than the 60-inch as it turned out. The (?) happened to be good, and I went to Le Houga with my wife. Paul Griboval (?) was still in France, but travelled — he has travelled from Grenoble where he was then to Le Houga to help us. I had a Harvard student, Rick Levy (?), who came with us. That was it I think. So in the space of three months we assembled a team, trained them, explained the (?) instructions, and we had lectures, I gave a number of talks to the team, various teams, to train them so that we would be following the uniform scheme —
De Vaucouleurs:Menzel himself went to Sicily, Palomar I believe. Gingerich went to Lebanon, because he had links with the American university. I think he had been a student there.
De Vaucouleurs:Yes. Heinich (?) went to Spain to one of the satellite tracking stations. And then I've forgotten who was sent to the Boy — oh, probably the local staff at the Boyden Station was to work there. That was the Harvard effort, and everything went smoothly at Le Houga. We had a lot of work, we arrived there about ten days early, and then we put the instrument back in operation, adjusted the clocks, our recorders and everything. We had to obtain some high speed recorders. And there was a haze in the morning of the day, but by the early afternoon the sky was clear and the seeing was good. And so we had — I remember that something you could not do with most telescopes today. I could drift the image of Regulus across that one-tenth of a millimeter pinhole across and have a square recording.
Doel:Mmmm. Yes, yes.
De Vaucouleurs:There was no (?). I think it was a square top. It was boxcar tracing. And to do that with a tenth of a millimeter pinhole you wouldn't do (?) —
De Vaucouleurs:Because most telescopes in the world are certainly not reflectors.
De Vaucouleurs:So I had positive proof that everything was in good shape. I had a little trouble getting the time, because we could get it by telephone from the Paris Observatory clock, and we had a little trouble getting the switchboard woman in the post office to understand that we wanted to listen to the clock for more than just once. She thought — When the clock had given the time, she would disconnect. She thought, "Well, they have the time." We explained to her, "We want to listen to that clock for several minutes. We love that." (laughs) So, anyway, all this was solved, and we used the observatory clocks, we had the double mean time (?) clock developed by (?) before the war, and we had the (?) clock, so everything was in good order. We practiced and repeated so when the time came and I could give signals that were —
De Vaucouleurs:— recorded on the short (?) recorder. We had the tracing, we had the beeps from the clock, and we had the visual seeing also to record different phases.
De Vaucouleurs:So all this went very well, and back in Cambridge we collected all these observations plus those that had been published in the (?) from many places, from oh, I don't know, from Finland to South Africa. So we had a lot of good data which I analyzed in great detail from the point of view of geometry and also the theory of occultation —
De Vaucouleurs:— and we extracted very precise differential coordinates between Venus and Regulus at a well-known time. And that should — I don't know if it has been used in the astronometry (?) of the orbit of Venus or whether conversely we can just know a better position (?), but it was very precise and hundredths of a (?) second. Differential coordinate at a known time. And then we derived the pressure and gradient of the pressure and temperature at the occultation level.
De Vaucouleurs:It was well above the clouds of course.
Doel:Right. I was curious if in doing that, did you have contact with the people who were growing interested in the matter of the atmosphere of Venus? Sagan of course was developing some of his doctoral work, but maybe (?) that, Kuiper and —
De Vaucouleurs:No. I was in contact with Sagan. We had exchanged letters, but mainly about Mars. I don't remember corresponding with Sagan or Viverka (?) about the Regulus occultation. I don't remember that.
De Vaucouleurs:I did not correspond with Bill Baum. No, we had all the elements to do the complete reduction. And that was published in full in a big Air Force report and in abstract — well, in a fairly large abstract — in Nature where the main results were given —
De Vaucouleurs:And then from that I developed a speculative model of the Venus atmosphere, which gave me too low a pressure at the surface, but that was the fault of my model. (?) and Carl Sagan was more right.
Doel:What had your model included?
De Vaucouleurs:Well, it included some — I included pressure we measured at some level. The main unknown was the elevation of the occultation above the ground. Because the ground was derived from existing radar observations. The level of the occultation, this I could get fairly precisely from the photoelectric and visual observation of the ingress and the visual observation of the egress.
De Vaucouleurs:And the big question was what is the temperature gradient down (?) clouds, and this I could only guess at.
De Vaucouleurs:I was wrong. So my surface pressure was something like four atmospheres, which was way off.
Doel:Was that something that you were discussing with Whipple and Menzel as well, that the interpretation —?
De Vaucouleurs:Menzel took an active part in the — Well, I don't remember discussing it with Whipple. (?) Menzel read my manuscript, and then of course contributed a report of his own observations, and also he calculated the cyclical returns of the occultations with the (?). There will be another occultation of Regulus by Venus in two thousand and something like 44 (2044). We used to joke that by then we would be the only team to be able to claim to have had previous experience in occultation —
Doel:(laughs) That's good.
De Vaucouleurs:Because the younger people of the team may be — maybe Gingerich (?). But it's a very rare occasion when we have two occultations of Regulus by Venus within one century. And then after you have to wait for a thousand years or so.
De Vaucouleurs:And that's the sort of thing that Menzel calculated.
De Vaucouleurs:(?) our reports, and of course (?) reports by Ingrall (?), she was in Spain with Anek (?) I think. So we each — I don't seem to have the reports here, although —
Doel:We can add that perhaps to the record later.
De Vaucouleurs:But (?) the references you see.
Doel:And we have at a future time much to discuss about other aspects of your Harvard work and certainly your work here at The University of Texas. But for the moment, I'd like to thank you very much for this long session. And we will of course, and this should go on the tape, not make this tape available to anyone or its transcript without your express knowledge and your approval as defined in the permission forms that we will giving you with the edited transcript.
That will be fine, because I'm sure I have been talking nonsense and have reported things that should not be div —
Session I | Session II