Oral History Transcript — Dr. Horace W. Babcock
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Horace Babcock; June 9, 1975
ABSTRACT: In this interview, Horace Babcock discusses how the field of astrophysics has changed over the course of his career. Topics discussed include: research administration; Mount Wilson Observatory; Ira S. Bowen; National Science Foundation; California Institute of Technology; stellar evolution; photomultiplier tubes; Joel Stebbins; Albert E. Whitford; Gerald Kron; Allan Sandage; Martin Schwarzschild; spectrographs; radio astronomy; x-ray astronomy; galactic evolution; stellar material; Robert McMath; societies; American Astronomical Society; International Astronomical Union; Jan Oort; Theodore Dunham Jr.; Alexander Pogo.
OK, so thatís just my way of taking notes. These things Iím taking now, Iíll probably have them transcribed for my use, but they wonít be used, except by myself, while youíre alive, except with your permission, without checking with you first.
As I say, what I want to do is get some idea of what some of the more interesting things are that have happened, not to talk about ancient history but about the things that have happened during your own career, since you first started to enter the field of astrophysics, which I guess would have been — ?
Babcock:Well, in a serious way, I guess you would say, 1940, and through the war.
Weart:Weíre really talking about the postwar period.
Weart:OK, what I wanted to ask first is, what sort of major changes do you think there have been, in the way astrophysicists do astrophysics? Or if there have been any?
Babcock:Well, there have been many changes in observational techniques and in applications of modern technology to observatory operations.
Weart:I was thinking in terms of the social environment. Letís put it this way — do you spend your time very differently than the way your professors in 1940 spent their time? Do you have more administration, less?
Babcock:Yes, I would say, administration is a much heavier load these days, and for a number of reasons. I think the whole pace of research has been accelerated. I think that observatory — well, procedures and methods and policies have changed a great deal. In the older days, observatories were integrated organizations, where the director had a fair amount of authority, and where the observatory group as such was very, very cohesive. Nowadays, things are much different, and funding research by federal agencies has been very important in making this change, I believe. I think weĎre all pretty much aware of what that means. I donít have to explain it. So that many of the decisions at least are now made not so much within the observatory, but — well, perhaps by panels, review panels in the National Science Foundation and other such, which make judgments about research.
Weart:And which didnít even exist, 30, 40 years ago.
Babcock:Right. Right. Then the whole pace of research, as I say, has accelerated, and partly this is because of the proliferation in the number of telescopes and observatories there are in the world. There was a time when Mount Wilson was greatly unique in having large, very effective instruments, and apart from the Lick Observatory and one or two others, there were very few places that were producing observational results on the same scale.
Now itís entirely different. In part this comes about through definite plan and effort by well; letís say by my predecessor here, Bowen, who realized that astronomy ought to be spread around. There ought to be more opportunity. There should be other big telescopes, to take care of the demands by astronomers not only in this country but around the world.
As a matter of fact, Dr. Bowen was quite instrumental in — well, helping, for one thing, to organize the National Science Foundation, and to organize such things as the Kitt Peak Observatory.
Weart:How much time do we have today?
Babcock:Well, I have someone else coming in in about an hour.
Weart:Ok, fine, because I donít want to take up a lot of your time when you should be doing work rather than talking about it.
Babcock:Well, I think these things are very useful, and the job youíre doing deserves attention.
In any event, the whole science of astronomy has of course expanded greatly, now our big telescopes now, here are coming into operation, and many more astronomers around the world are active, and probably itís just because the science was there waiting to be done. The frontiers are almost bound less, and whereas possibly even in the 1920ís , astronomers might have thought that they were in a Golden Age of discovering, what galaxies are and a little bit about the universe, fortunately, the wave of expansion is still going on, and maybe weíre still in the Golden Age. Certainly it hasnít begun to end.
Weart:You say it seems like the rate of progress is even faster now?
Babcock:Yes, I would say so. Well, look at the impact of radio astronomy. Look at the changing approach to — well, physics, for example. Many people who formerly worked in physics have moved into astronomy. Thereís a change in emphasis, and in one sense, physics has gone into the business of looking at subatomic particles, in a very heavy degree, but many other branches of physics — cosmic rays for example — have declined in attractiveness, and people have rather naturally moved into astronomy, high energy astrophysics, or related fields.
Weart:Do you think this influx of physicists has made a big difference in the way astrophysicists do things? Do their work?
Babcock:Well, yes, I would say so. There are many very competent physicists or astrophysicists or astronomers around, who were extremely good at interpreting work, many of them very good at theory, and many of us in the observational field have the impression that weíre in the minority, and that really thereís a great demand for good observation, and weíre doing our best to try to fulfill that demand.
We sometimes feel that people are there ready to grab the first shreds of new information that come out of the office, even before thereís been much chance to, letís say, to arrive at the validity, or to check things out, or to — and certainly there are many cases where the observer has very little chance to interpret his work, before itís snapped up by somebody else.
Weart:And it didnít used to be that way.
Babcock:I think this is quite a difference, yes.
Weart:Thereís sort of a pack of theorists out there waiting to pounce upon it?
Babcock:Well, thatís exaggerating a little, but thereís some truth to it. Yes. And Iím sure the science advances more and more rapidlyÖ And also, I think that that situation has been responsible for the fact that we have new telescopes now coming into use, and we see this around the world. Itís a very, very impressive thing.
Weart:Do you think the balance between the observational types and the theoretical types has changed since the war?
Babcock:Well, Iím not sure that Iím answering your question. I think that the competition for, letĎs say, positions as observational astronomers has become more and more intense, and to get a good job at an observatory now, one has to be perhaps better qualified than might have been the case, 30, 40, 50 years ago. Thereís more competition for interesting jobs. And in many cases, it turns out that people who are very productive observers really get a start in theory and then moved over more into observing.
But the rather close association of very talented theoretical people with observers is fine and tends to make the whole situation I think more productive. And I think thatís one reason why, the large centers are very valuable — Caltech, for example, where you have grouping of theoretical people and professors, teacherís aide observers, all in close association, and I include there the radio astronomers of course as well as optical.
Weart:You mentioned several different types of people. Do you think thereís been any change in the amount of specialization?
Babcock:Well, observational astronomers have often tended to be specialists, and well, thinking back now, it may have been fully a few years ago, possibly even more a few years ago, than it is now. Take people who work on proper motion or something theyíve had to make a lifetime career of it, and there are perhaps fewer nowadays who want to do that sort of thing.
As people, really able astronomers I think tend to follow more than one trail, to keep several interests open. They may have concentrated in one field for quite a while, but I think there is now a greater tendency for people to — well, whatís the word Iím seeking for? To be more and adaptive to the changing development of science, and to move from one specialty to another, perhaps.
Weart:I see. I see.
Babcock:I think thereís more dependence now; Iíd say more awareness of the advantages of applying the new technology. People, observers pretty actively tend to at least keep in touch with what are the possibilities for new instruments, for improvements, for adapting new ideas, to make them productive.
This is partly a matter of degree, but thereís more awareness now of the need for open ended programs of instrumental development, for auxiliary instruments for telescopes.
Weart:Yes. Iíve been told that sometimes people were quite conservative about these things in the earlier days.
Babcock:Thatís right. Yes. Well, when thereís pressure from (or) outside the observatory to get out new results, there are often suggestions, or there is the notion that interpreters of science or even theoreticians may move in and become observers — it keeps things a little more lively. It keeps people, letís say, on their toes, to a degree.
Weart:Yes. Yes. I wonder If we could go back and sort of look over the postwar era, I Ďd be very interested in what you thought were the most interesting developments, most interesting discoveries, and ideas and so on, and particularly if you could sort of name people, as you mention these things. The point is that I want to note the intellectual developments, through the main part of the history, and also what people should be looked into, what people — well, in particular, Iíd like to make a list of more important people. If one of them dies, we can try and find out where their papers are, make sure that theyíre preserved, things like that. And also, thatís for everybody, including those who are dead, but also whom I ..... (break in interview...) gets noisier all the time. So if we could just sort of start back in the 1950ís, and what you think the main discoveries have been since then, in the whole field of astrophysics.
Babcock:Well, certainly one of the big developments was in the field of stellar evolution. It seems to me this got its start because of the availability of the electron-multiplier photo tube, which permitted astronomers to do precise photometry, colorimetry, and on reasonably faint objects. This opened up a tremendous field. And it was photometry of globular cluster stars and the like that brought people to the point where they could really develop very important new ideas about stellar evolution. And this, combined with the theory that was coming along, at the same time, and in part because of the availability of computers, brought together people who made these great advances in stellar evolution.
Well, this has had many important ramifications. And — well, I mean — I mentioned the instruments first. One could perhaps say the Wisconsin group, people like Stebbins, Whitford, And Kron, who had to do with making photometers, making modern photometry possible.
Weart:How is that spelled?
Babcock:K-R-O-N. They laid the foundations for precise stellar photometry. And then the photomultiplier tubes, produced first by RCA, really made it possible, and the first experimental tubes were tested right here at Mount Wilson by ENGSTROM from RCA. And then these were applied generally by observers almost everywhere, and photometry of clusters became the thing to do and was very effective in advancing ideas about evolution of stars.
Among the observers were Sandage, and among the theoreticians of course Martine Schwarzschild was outstanding. In fact, Schwarzschild and Sandage had a joint paper in the early days of this subject. Sandage and collaborators and others very soon began to produce these semi-empirical evolutionary tracts on the H-R diagram, which did give a great understanding. Many aspects of stellar evolution of course are still being followed up, and at the ends of the process we have a lot of unknowns, but the middle part is pretty well sketched out. At least. And not as a result of that, but as a subsequent development, you can think of Greenstein and his work on white dwarfs and stars near the end of their evolutionary tracks.
Of course, photoelectric photometry has other applications, and one of the important ones was photometry of the galaxies, and the use of this technique to develop distance scales and so forth. This has been most importance with cosmology.
Along in that same field has been the evolution of spectrographs that are necessary for getting red shifts of faint objects, and here I would say was evolution, at least up to the time when people began to apply image tubes, and then things came very, very rapidly, but we havenít really been using yet the ideal instruments f or recording spectra of faint objects , and we Ďre only beginning to get to a point where we can subtract sky from star spectrum, and get quickly and reliably the red shifts of distant objects.
We think of Wampler here. He put together one of the first successful devices for that. But there have been many people in the field, and currently, one thinks of the SIT Vidicon systems, and of the fact that there is a great deal of work going on. We are still trying to develop what youíd call the ideal userís instrument for doing digital photometry of spectra, and digital photometry of images, at the telescope focal point.
Weart:I think you mentioned the development of spectrographs coming out of the actual optical system.
Babcock:Well, yes. I mean, in that connection there was the application of the Schmidt camera, for example, which did make — it was a great advantage. And later the applications of image tubes and of what people call TV type receivers.
Well, weíve already referred, to radio astronomy, and itís quite obvious that the cataloguing of sources, by radio astronomers had a great deal to do with the whole business of quasars, their identification, and the subsequent developments in that field. So the interaction between radio and optical astronomy obviously is of enormous importance.
Apparently, everybodyís watching results of x-ray observations. Itís a new thing, weíre still finding out whatís going on.
Weart:Thatís interesting, you say radio astronomy — Iíve heard several other people use the term, when they say radio astronomy, they seem to include a lot of things like quasars and so forth in which thereís also a large optical component. Itís as if itís sort of become one separate field of its own.
Babcock:You mean, radio astronomy has become a separate field of its own?
Weart:In terms of, when people use the term, the advance of radio astronomy, they seem to include things like quasars, in which the optical astronomers have also played an important part. This is just an impression Iíve got from talking to people. I wondered whether you think thatís correct.
Babcock:Well, Iíd say, for advancing our knowledge of quasars, the radio astronomical observations were indispensable and so were the optical observations. I mean, it came about from the fact that radio astronomers finally developed means of pinpointing positions with real precision. I guess, first lunar occultation, and then from radio interferometry, and they got to that point where they could determine that some radio sources are very small in angular extent, and they could pinpoint the positions. It then became possible to turn optical telescopes to these positions, and look for peculiar objects, and in this way quasars were identified.
So Matthews at Owens Valley determined precise radio positions, and he had a program with Alan Sandage to investigate these things, and Sandage turned the 200-inch to some of these, and found star-like sources that turned out to have very unusual spectra. Well, we all know how things developed after that.
Thatís why I say I think itís very true to say that this is a collaborative area, where you canít separate the radio and the optical contributions.
Weart:Letís see, weíve mentioned quasars, stellar evolution, something about galactic evolution, x-ray results, what else?
Babcock:Well, Looking at fields I guess weíd include in astronomy, there certainly is planetary science, which is a tremendous development.
Weart: But I donít know whether we ought to inc1ude that.
It doesnít relate too much to ground-based telescopes. Thereís — well, I would say, since weíve mentioned radio astronomy, the identification of molecules in space, and in fact perhaps one could say inter-stellar material. This is tremendous field, and of course has advanced very very greatly and is moving very fast. Weíve all been astonished at these organic molecules and the like that have been turning up out there.
I would suppose that another very important field is that study of novae and supernovae especially, which all relate to what is going on in the galaxy, and to the recycle of material, and first, second and more generations of stars, and all the related possibilities for observation of supernovae remnants, and —
— what names would you inc1ude; in that field?
Babcock:Well, the name Minkowski of course is very big. Involved in foundations of the study of supernovae. And Baade and Zwicky. Well, when one gets into the more modern aspect of it, itís much more well-populated area.
Babcock:Well, Iíd say that a great many people are involved more recently. But one thinks first of the pioneers.
Weart:Have you noticed a tendency letís say for things to become more group efforts, or efforts in which a lot of people are involved, rather than for one person to dominate a subject?
Babcock:Oh yes, of course. I think thatís pretty widely recognized. Group activities certainly are far more pronounced than formerly. Perhaps in part this arises because instruments such as photometers and spectrographs are more elaborate, and one has to think again of these specialties that we referred to earlier, but there are people who are very good at letís say devising photometers and sometimes they collaborate with people who are straight observing but for one reason or another, instruments are much more sophisticated. They do require sometimes more attention than one may give. So itís certainly true that much observing is carried on, on a group basis.
One sees this in almost every aspect of serving, and it is quite, I might say incidentally, has quite an impact on observatory operations and expenses and budgets.
I havenít referred yet to infra-red astronomy. Of course thatís a very important field thatís developing tremendously, and one thinks of that as often involving group effort, partly because the equipment is a little more than one man can handle, and sometimes requires more than two or three.
Weart:Speaking of these big telescopes and things like that, I expect youíd be better than anyone else to tell me, who do you think the most important people have been for things like fund raising, getting the big new telescopes funded, getting the new observatories funded and so on?
Babcock:Well , I referred to Bowen as one who understood the need for getting more big telescopes, and made efforts to get things moving in that direction. One of the men that I think he influenced, he did influence, and who certainly became very active in that was Robert McMath, who first got interested in solar astronomy, and founded the McMath-Hulbert Observatory, and then in later years of his life, became really an organizer and planner, and did have a great deal to do with — well, the National Science Foundation, and particularly with getting the Kitt Peak Observatory organized.
Now, in a more general sense, of course, one can go on back to Vannevar Bush, but he wasnít so much concerned with astronomy as with the National Science Foundation and really on a generalistic scale. It depends a bit on who did the planning and fund raising and so forth for astronomy — well, I think weĎre not confining this to ground-based observatories?
Babcock:So it was quite obvious that so-called space astronomy, space research had a tremendous impact. First of all, it brought a lot of young people into the field, and it immediately seemed to provide some very attractive opportunities, and many, many astronomers went into that field, and became busy in getting grants and setting up planning committees and all the rest, all of which has been very, very productive, and —
Weart:Space work was one of the things that originally attracted me to the field.
Babcock:Yes. So thereís been somewhat of a separation of the ways, so to speak. If one looks at many that went in for space research, and others that were more inclined to stick with ground-based astronomy. But there have been many I guess where youíd say thereís some sort of interaction, who keep active in both fields.
Well, if one wants to look at the organizers of space research, space astronomy — well, of course, there are numerous names that come to mind there. One would only have to refer to the advisory panels and so forth in NASA and NSF.
Weart:Are there perhaps a few people who seem to stand out?
Babcock:Well, sure, I suppose you would say that Spitzer and Goldberg are certainly among the names at the forefront of all that. Schwarzschilds as well, and — well, there are a great many others who were associated, who still are associated with all those efforts.
I think at the same time, thereíve been many who felt that space astronomy was going to very importantly supplement the work of ground-based observatories, but that there would still be, for an indefinite time, great demands, even increased demands, for the output of ground-based telescopes. And I guess this has been true.
So again, itís a field of science where thereís very important interaction, collaborative efforts.
Weart:Have there been some people who may not have been important for the things weíve talked about so far, but perhaps for their work as teachers? Had a lot of good students, or maybe people who were important in professional societies or journals?
Well, yes, of course. You mentioned journals and one thinks immediately of Chandrasekhar, whoís been such a leader — and leader in mathematical, theoretical astrophysics, and at the same time, one who was willing to devote so much time to astrophysical journals.
Of course, among teachers — well, Jesse Greenstein around here, and the reputation that the division has for teaching. And — well, there are others as well, one canít — one can come up with similar examples, I suppose.
You — there was another aspect?
Weart:Well, professional societies.
Weart:Has anybody played an unusual role in them? Have there been important changes in professional societies?
Babcock:Well, certainly — yes, thereís been tremendous growth. The number of people in the American Astronomical Society I suppose has increased by a factor of ten. And the way in which the societies function probably has changed a good deal. I think itís probably much more important now for the younger astronomers, because the meetings of the societies give them a chance or, letís say, early recognition or exposure. This has always been the case, but possibly itís a little more important now than at one time.
Then, the societies have become so large, when one thinks of the IAU, that — so large as to have become unwieldy. And I guess many of us have the impression that those very large meetings are not particularly fruitful scientifically, that the scientific progress is much more likely to come from smaller symposia that are organized for a particular subject, and where the number of attendees is quite limited.
Weart:And thatís a fairly new development, isnít it?
Babcock:This has come about in recent years, but I think very largely as a result of observation and planning and initiative of people who were concerned about what the IAU was doing and how it could do it better. And here of course Jan Oort has been at the forefront. I have of course tremendous respect for him. Iíve known him since 1926. And he of course is undoubtedly one of the greatest astronomers of the age.
Back in the 1930ís, when I was a student, the fountain of theoretical astronomy was in England, and there were the big names, such as Eddington and Jeands and a few others.
Well, that situation is rather different, I suppose, and perhaps the rather general growth of the subject has had a good deal to do with changing that.
Weart:Speaking of different countries and so on, have there been any real changes in the relative positions of countries since the war? Have some countries come up, some declined, do you think?
Babcock:Well, sure. Thereíve been a number of such changes. And perhaps the most impressive one is the general observation that observational astronomy in Europe has come up greatly — witness the European Southern Observatory, and the effort that has brought it about, which makes it really a viable thing.
Weart:Is this all very recent or is it part of a whole trend since the war?
Babcock:Well, Iíd say itís certainly a trend that began in the 1950ís at least. Itís postwar.
Well, we referred once to radio astronomy, which had its roots in wartime technology and grew out of that. But the expansion of optical astronomy certainly had this tremendous boost from aerospace, and from space research. At the same time that very, very slowly seemed to bring along a much smaller amount of support for ground based astronomy, which now is turning out to be quite important, I think extremely welcome.
So as a result of that, you have not only European Southern Observatory, but you see real efforts now in observational astronomy in England, sponsored by British and of course in Australia, West Germany, Italy and so forth.
Weart:What about specific institutions? Among good American institutions too — have there been some that have spectacularly grown or spectacularly declined?
Babcock:Well, I suppose if you think of spectacular growth, that Kitt Peak would come to mind first. And of course Kitt Peak has developed into an unprecedented operating facility. And to some degree, it must fulfill the aims of its organizers, as it gave opportunities to a great many astronomers associated with universities.
One of course would perhaps remark on the fact that there are very few privately endowed observatories still in a highly productive condition, that theyíre facing serious problems, and that because the federally funded national centers are so strongly supported, that itís perhaps even more important to see at some efforts are maintained by privately funded observatories — so that we donít — the best all go federal.
But itís perfectly clear that privately endowed observatories have had pretty hard going, and the numbers are really diminishing, and theyíre having to scramble harder and harder for support.
I mean, itís clear also that — well, the National Science Foundation is recognition of this, and some degree of concern and wonderment as to what should be done. I donít think anybody has an answer.
Of course, one can point to some efforts by private institutions to build new facilities and Harvard has done some, Mount Hopkins and the like. MIT developed some plans, but apparently has not been able to obtain funding that was desired.
Here, we felt the need, 10 or 12 years ago, for a 60 inch at Palomar, and this was put into existence with the grant from the National Science Foundation.
More importantly was the effort of the Carnegie Institution to build the 200 inch themselves. As you know, Carnegie was unsuccessful in funding the 200 inch, but they are completing the 100 inch now. This is one of the very few privately funded telescopes coming into use nowadays.
Weart:Thatís because it costs so much more these days? Or private funds are less?
Well, perhaps it has been more difficult to find private funds. Maybe thereíve been too many demands on possible donors. Maybe the impact of the federal funding was very obvious. And certainly theyíre a lot more costly. For example, Palomar Observatory cost some seven million dollars in the 1930ís. To replace it now would cost five times as much. And indeed, operating costs of observatories are a matter of much concern, because expenses are up — weíve referred to team research and the sophisticated instrumentation. These factors indeed tend to make it much more costly.
Weart:One final question on this and that is, whether thereís any real change in the journals, or means of publication or what happens when you publish things?
Babcock:Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that there are things like the Astrophysical Journal Letters, things that come out promptly. And this sort of thing was designed to fill a real need, and it is I think quite important.
Well, one can think also of the Xerox machines — with so many papers that get circulated among the knowledgeable people in Xerox form before they ever get printed. Thatís a very significant sort of change.
Weart:Of course, one used to get preprints I suppose from people even 20, 30 years ago. They would send you an offprint. Do you get many more things in the mail of that kind now?
Babcock:Well, when you say an offprint, that would be more like a reprint.
Babcock:Well, those were important, and maybe still are to some extent, but more important I think is true preprints, which are Xerox copies of a typescript that are distributed to the authorís numerous friends or colleagues long before the journal comes out with the printed form.
Weart: I understand. Much faster, in other words,
Babcock:Yes. And thatís the way the people at the forefront keep in touch with whatís going on, I think, by circulating their Xerox copies of typescripts.
Well, there are the sheer bulk of the journals, as they appear now, and the fact that itís certainly very difficult to keep up with the literature and someone has to specialize to a fair degree for that reason. But I guess a lot of pages never get read, frankly, by the people.
Around here, at least, microfilm, microfiche and so on donít seem to have cut much of a figure. We worry about space library needs, but we donít do much about it.
Weart:Letís see. I think those were about my main questions that youíve answered very thoroughly. Is there anything Iíve missed, anything important thatís changed? Thatís come up in the field of astrophysics? Or have we pretty well covered it? It would take many hours to cover everything.
Babcock:Well, yes. Well, I guess weíve sort of hit a few things with a broad brush. Weíve skipped over a number.
Weart:If you do have some names of people that I ought to see, Iíd like to write those down.
Babcock:Well, one name did occur to me, and thatís Theodore Dunham Jr.
Babcock:Yes. He was on the staff here from some time in the late twenties, up until about 1945. Or say till World War II. Then he left. Heís nevertheless been active in astrophysics, and in recent years, first in Australia, then in Tasmania, and I think right now his health must have declined, because I really havenít heard much of him, and the last Christmas card was returned. Iím not sure where he is. But nonetheless if you could locate him, he might have some very interesting recollections of Mount Wilson in the 1930ís. He worked closely with Adams, and Dunham had a good deal to do with introducing the Schmidt camera. He recognized the possibilities of it, and built Schmidts and got them and used them around here.
And then he was a hard worker in spectroscopy, got terribly involved in details of doing things on a monumental scale, and had difficulty letís say in producing useful things, but nevertheless he was a very or is a very important figure in the whole picture.
Weart:You know, in interviewing people, we donít necessarily pick the most important people. We try to find somebody who knew everybody, has a good memory, is willing to talk— are there some other people you might suggest, not necessarily very old people but people whoíve been around and know a lot of what was going on?
Babcock:Well, Jerry Kron. He knows a lot of what went on, especially in the Wisconsin-California group, and as regards to photoelectric photometry. He was a student of Stebbens, and he knew Huffer and Whitford and all the rest, and heís been a little independent, working over there at the Naval Observatory in Flagstaff; heís still been very productive in his kind of science.
Well, of a course, certainly Whitford, whoís older than Jerry Kron and has very much the same sort of background. And Osterbrock was there at Lick. You certainly want to go to the text of a paper that had something to do with the Wisconsin-California axis in American astronomy. It just delved into the history on a casual basis, personalities.
Weart:Where was that published?
Babcock:It hasnít been published yet. Heís working on it. Itís kind of a review of astronomersí and reminiscences about astronomers who worked in Wisconsin and in California. It shows that Osterbrock is interested in this sort of thing.
Well, thereís Olin Wilson upstairs. Heís semi-retired now, but he joined the staff here about 1929, or thereabouts, so he was very familiar with all of the Ė well say the first generation of Mount Wilson astronomers.
I have a few recollections of him too, because my father was on the staff here, and as a boy, I was around here. I remember Van Maanen when I was three years old.
Weart:Is that so?
Babcock:And I think I can remember Kapteyn. Iím not sure.
Weart:Van Maanen must have made an impression on you, if you remember him since you were three.
Babcock:The folks invited him to our house for supper one night, and before supper he got me out into the dining room, where there was a dish of olives on the table. And before my mother knew it, I had consumed 22 olives.
Weart:What about the Eastern scene? Who should I talk to about that, I wonder? Harvard, Princeton?
Babcock:Well, of course, I know a few of the more prominent people who were in Princeton, but as for Harvard, Iím not very well acquainted. I know a few people but pretty casually.
Weart:You donít know whoíd be likely to be a good talker. What about some of the younger people, letís say around here, who know about developments since the war? Who do you think would be the best people to cover?
Babcock:Sandage has a bigger grasp of the whole subject than anybody. Whether you could get some time from him and pin him down, I donít know. But heís got more awareness of whatís been going on than most anybody.
And I should get back to mention one of the other older people — that is Alexander Pogo. Do you know him? You must know him?
Weart:No, I donít. Howís that spelled?
Pogo Alexander. Now, letís see if I can recall something there. He got a PhD in astronomy at Yerkes. But going back a little further he was born in some satellite of Russia or in Russia, came to this country as a young man, went to Yerkes, got his PhD in astronomy, and then he merged over into history of science and philosophy and stuff, and he was right hand man to SARTON who was the —
Weart:Oh yes, Sarton.
Babcock:Sarton. Well, POGO worked with him for many years. They got out ISIS, as I recall. I donít know much about it.
Weart:Oh yes, I do recall the name.
Babcock:And then later that thing sort of folded, and Pogo came here to be a librarian. He was a librarian for perhaps seven or eight years, until he reached retirement age. But he has stayed on. He retired, I donít know, much more than 12 years ago, but he still —heís pretty feeble, but heís got a keen intellect. He used to be extremely talkative, and one almost avoided talking to him because you could never turn him off. But still, itís all interesting and valuable, and I think he would still be very glad to talk to you and he has a tremendous background of knowledge.
He speaks, reads and writes about seven or eight languages, and heís got an acquaintance with the history of science — a whole lot of trivia and personalities, almost beyond anybody I ever ran across. I think once you get him started, even now, he can just talk on for hours and hours. He used to do a lot of research down at the Huntington, and heís now — as I say, heís getting pretty well a long, and exists very much to himself, but heís around here every day, and he looks after the comings and goings of the postman on Saturday and so on.
Weart:I wonder does he know very well whatís in your attic here, so to speak. Papers?
Babcock:He might. He might have a pretty good idea of that. Heís tremendously up on old and valuable books. He really knows. He was a real scholar of that subject and he knows about the books in the Hale Collection. How much he was really connected with the papers upstairs, I donít know. He knows something about it.
Weart:If I have time on another visit, Iíll see if I can talk to him about that.
Babcock:You really should talk to Pogo, yes. As I say, heís around every day, and he has a little office in the back building over here.
Weart:All right. You know whatíll be interesting some day is the NSF Grant.