Oral History Transcript — Dr. C. Stuart Bowyer
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C. Stuart Bowyer; March 10, 1978
ABSTRACT: This telephone interview deals with Bowyerís research in non-solar x-ray astronomy while he worked at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. He discusses his functions as a member of a group of scientists, directed by Herbert Friedman, who performed numerous observations of cosmic x-ray sources in 1963 and after. Bowyer relates the competitive, spirit that existed between the NRL group and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-American Science and Engineering, Inc. group that made the first conclusive observation of x-rays originating from outside the solar system.
Session I | Session II
Hirsch:When we talked on the phone way back about your early work at NRL, something that I noticed when I read through all those early papers, from Ď60 through Ď64 or so, Ď62 being Giaconniís paper, and then your papers in Ď64 -- immediately people are talking about neutron stars.
Hirsch:Of course, neutron stars were theorized years before, in 1938, Ď39. But it doesnít seem like anyone is really picking up the idea seriously until you guys come out with observations of X-ray sources. Now, could you possibly tell me what the status of neutron stars was -- the way people were thinking about them, and why, immediately after the first discoveries, people are thinking about them again?
OK. The problem with doing this is that youíll get my impressions, and itís not clear that my impressions are really whatís valid. On the other hand, -- Iíve had to say that, but I think weíve got a fair chance of being right. They were postulated -- neutron stars first came on by a guy named Zwicky, like in 1934 or something. Zwicky was marginally sane. I mean, everyone agrees heís an egomaniac, and he may have been beyond that. I mean, he really may have been just slightly bananas. The guy was -- I mean, the degree of his egomaniaism is hard to conceive of, unless Ė- people -- I hardly knew the guy, but I would call him, I called Zwicky for a piece of information once, and he said, ďI canít give you that information, because Iím going to supply the epochal -- you know the definitive work on this, very shortly.Ē I said, ďOh?Ē Then I checked around, and it turned out heíd been saying that for three years. So I thought, gee, thatís reallyÖ I called the guy back up, and he says, ďAw, those are my detractors.Ē He sort of sounded like Velikovsky or something, see. OK, so he suggested it first. But, given his personality, and also the fact that he was not a -- given his personality, he was looked at as a wild man, sort of. Some of his stuff is right but some of it was garbage. So he suggested it -- but, so what? OK? Then the next guy who did it was Oppenheimer. Now, Oppenheimer you know, outstanding guy, no one ever disputes that. On the other hand, heís a physicist. And astronomers -- certainly in the past, but even today, some of them are a little jealous or askance at physicists, OK? Thereís a difference, physicists are -- OK, so thatís what the background was. And there was no observational evidence. And in fact thereís some valid things about it.
Theory will provide lots of fascinating possibilities, of which nine-tenths arenít -- Mother Nature hasnít decided to run the world that way. So, OK, then why did neutron stars pop up in things? I think that the reason it did was a combination of two things. There was a guy named H.W. Chu, who wrote a really, it may have been his PhD thesis paper or may have been the first paper after that, in which he had a really definitive study, and put a lot of stuff together. Iím not at all sure that it was that innovative. But it is really a 100 page document saying that youíre bound to have a neutron star, youíre really going to have a neutron star. OK, and that came out, a preprint, right about the time that Ė- Oh, he also predicted that there were X-rays, that you would get X-ray emission from it. OK, now his prediction was, youíd get X-ray emission from thermal, from the fact that it formed hot and was going to radiate that. OK, now, would that have had as big a splash? Iím not sure it would have a big impact at all, but the combination of, Friedman got a preprint of that and Friedman immediately started talking about neutron stars in terms of X-rays. And Friedman is a very splashy guy, he gets in the press and all that sort of stuff, and he talks as the layman scientist -- I mean, he can talk, he can relate to the level of the layman easily. So I think it was the fact that Chu came up with this thing, and then Friedman grabbed it, and had some exciting new results, that nobody knew what the hell it was all about. And it was those two things, I think.
Hirsch:Iím about Morton, D.C. Morton? He was also -- the paper that followed your paper in NATURE, about your first discovery, right after that Morton had a paper on neutron stars also.
Bowyer:Yes. Well, Don Morton was at the Naval Research Laboratory, and he might have gone -- I guess heíd just left by then and gone to Princeton. But he is a more ďstandardĒ type of scientist, and very good. He was mainly an experimentalist, but he was good enough that he had a lot of theory capability, theoretical knowledge. And what he did was, make a computation based essentially on the core of White Dwarfs, as I recall what it was. But he was able to make a great leap forward, and get that instantaneous paper, really quite heavy, looked like a solid piece of work, based on Chuís sort of wild ass speculation in this theoretical paper, and then Friedmanís observations relating to this, then Morton saw that it was a solid paper. So then what happens is -- I think that was the beginning and a good impetus for the snowball effect, because then there were all kinds of people that said, ďLook, itís respectable to do this, in fact, itís unexplored.Ē So somehow, if you write a paper, thatís a cheap paper, itís a new area so itís not that hard -- in a new area, OK, it looks -- if thereís no reason that that new area has any standing, then nobody pays any attention to it. But if there is some reason for it, why, then it becomes quite legitimate. So there were -- guys like Salpeter was the next guy that leapt in, and heís the heavy guy that does real high powered or is capable of doing real high powered theoretical work, and so it became a legitimate area because of all this new data, so you could do something in it, and it became easy to get a huge amount of stuff done. So then it came, SPLASH. But I think the combination was, what started the thing going was Friedmanís observational data, which made it respectable. But why didnít that come out of Giaconni? Well, because Giaconni hadnít had Chuís paper, and didnít relate the thing to a neutron star. I think it was Friedmanís thing that did that. And thatís what -- fine. End.
Hirsch:Am I wrong in assuming that neutron stars were not used in theory in other fields besides?
Bowyer:They would occur. They would pop up. But very seldom, and it was all these -- you donít get that much respect for writing a paper on something that probably is ridiculous. So people donít do it. Or theyíll do it from time to time, but nobodyíll pay any attention to it. Itís only when it becomes somehow legitimized. And it takes some trigger thing to legitimatize it. Take extraterrestrial life. Thatís sort of science fiction, until -- let me see if Ö(interruption)Ö OK, extraterrestrial life was science fiction, it was garbage -- until a senior guy, Drake, Ö till Drake, whoís head of Aerocibo, professor at Cornell and head of Aerocibo, he came along and did this first listening with the Aerocibo telescope, OK. And he did it sort of -- when the telescope first became available. And that legitimatized that. And then there was a huge rash of papers. That happened in the early sixties or late fifties. He made the measurement. Then it suddenly was legitimatized. Then there was a whole bunch of papers, because it was now a legitimate field and you could write papers easily, so the big blotch of papers, all the easy papers got done Ė- and then it went away. So now people donít write that much about it any more, though theyíre still interested in it. So itís that pattern which occurs often. Thereís also a faddishness about it, like the Stock Market -- this kind of stock is hot, like vending machines and (?) stocks or somethingÖ So, to answer your question: were there neutron stars around (?)? Yes and no. They were around, but nobody was doing much, and maybe there was a paper or two, but --
Hirsch:I imagine neutron stars were also attractive because you would observe them largely in the X-ray range, emissions.
Bowyer:OK. In fact, see, what happened was that Chu, H.Y. Chu said, ďYou will observe them because of the thermal emission,Ē so it looked like thatís what it was. But in fact very rapidly it turned out that you wouldnít.
Hirsch:Why is that?
Bowyer:Because they cool off too fast. They cool off fast. But that came out of that original theory stuff in a hurry, that they cool off very rapidly, and so you wouldnít see them on a thermal emission effect. I donít think anybodyís ever seen them on a thermal emission. The way you see them now is, the first suggestion as to why you might see them was advanced by Hayakawa or somebody, a Japanese guy, in the late sixties, and there were a couple of papers then, when he made this suggestion. Then that stopped, because it was a very -- thatís a very difficult problem to handle, the problem of matter streaming from one star to another and then heating up, and there was no reason to believe that that was any more valid than anything else. So the suggestion, made in Ď68 or something, there was another paper or two and that was the end of it -- until a couple of stars were observed which were binary stars, the first, second detection, which were really binary stars, and it was concluded that thatís really what it is. So then there was a huge amount of work that carried on, way way on, but it took something again to make that -- itís when youíre in research, you donít want to spend your time unless you think thereís some possibility that itís right. Oh, back on your question, werenít they supposed to be X-ray emitters? Yea. But it was very rapidly shown that they werenít. And then the true reason they came out -- I guess it was the big splash at the beginning. Thatís another thing, there was a big splash at the beginning there, due to X-ray sources, and that really produced a huge amount of theoretical work. Then, a second impetus came along, and that was the pulsars. So, Friedman thing was sort of a shot in the arm, and then it kind of, suddenly got much -- then neutron stars, then pulsars came along, then that clearly legitimatized the field of study of neutron stars. I shouldnít take away from that pulsar bit. The reason that I didnít mention it before is clear, that I was thinking X-ray astronomy. But that came a little, in the sequence of things it came a little later. It had already been raised to a -- I can remember going to a conference -- yeah, thatís right, it was Giaconni, when we were (?) pieces, ďWhat is this stuff about neutron stars?Ē He says, ďI canít believe it. Thereís no real proof that this is what it is.Ē Salpeter was saying, ďOh yes, but theyíre so much fun to doĒ and all that. So the point was that there was some legitimate reason for doing it, so theoreticians enjoyed it.
Hirsch:Now, your occultation experiment in Ď64, that was designed specifically to see, to observe the neutron star. And you didnít see a neutron star, or the evidence indicated that there was no neutron star because you had relatively diffuse X-ray emission. Why did you not see the neutron star?
Bowyer:OK, the reason is that 90 percent of the flux is a -- is diffuse, and only 10 percent is a point source, and thereís a certain amount of noise in any data. So when you looked at the whole Crab Nebula, you saw all the X-rays, neutron star plus the diffuse stuff. Then as the moon occulted more and more the diffuse stuff, why, youíd see less and less X-ray flux, until finally you get right to the center, and then at that one point, you lost, instead of just incremental amounts, you lost 10 percent. OK, OK -- because thatís what the neutron star is. So if you had perfect statistics, if you had a very large counter and had perfect statistics, we would have seen a bigger step there. We would have seen Ė weíd have seen the same step, but the noise on the curve to it and after it would have been sufficiently lower that you could have seen this big drop. OK. And really, what the paper should have been -- thereís no neutron star there that has flux more than X percent really. But it didnít have that, right? So, Friedman was the guy -- you know, he kind of averaged together chunks of the data, and it was clear that the thing fell off. So it was clear it wasnít a neutron star -- averaged along, and I know he never even thought about pulling the game of looking for the combination.
Hirsch:Was he actually doing that reduction?
Bowyer:That happened instantaneously, see. The thing flew at about 7 oíclock in the evening -- I donít know, something like that, maybe 8 or something. And there was this big long falloff. And so we really went to a room where there was a lot of table space, and just started plotting it out, right. And Friedman actually was doing most of the plotting, and I was helping him, and Brian was working at the sepia, the occult -- the (?) I think, Iím not sure, maybe he was getting the altitude data, Iíve forgotten which, but anyway, it did happen right that night. Right that night.
Hirsch:Is that unusual? To do it so quickly?
Bowyer:Right. Right. Yeah.
Hirsch:It was so exciting though.
Bowyer:Yes, thatí right. Itís unusual, itís also, on top of that, Friedman usually didnít do that either. I mean, usually Brian was the guy who would do it or Chub or sometimes me, but since I was a graduate student, why, the typical thing would be, Brian, would be Chub would do it or Brian, but that was sufficiently exciting that Friedman just did it.
Hirsch:The first time, I think it was the first time that attitude control system was used?
Bowyer:Oh no, not yet, it was the first one of those that was noticeable but in fact, I might even have told you this before, but if I didnít, they had flown about 30 of these things, and -- but they usually were done for some other, they were usually done for air glow or stuff like that, but I think they might have been done for astronomy before, but the system was very marginal. Very marginal.
Hirsch:Right. Even after that -- well, sometimes they were used, sometimes they were not, at ACS?
Bowyer:Yeah. Yeah. Thatís correct. In fact, at the beginning, see, if you wanted to make a survey of the sky, why, you left the thing alone and it would wander around. So it depended upon the group, what they were trying to do, and history of how they got their data analyzed, because if you let a rocket go up there and just wander around, why, to tell where it pointed as a function of time turned out to be a tricky thing to do. Not particularly tricky, but it was fairly time consuming and took a lot of screwing around to determine where the thing was pointing. Also, a lot of people just looked at individual sources. But clearly for X-ray astronomy, you want to look at the whole sky, so -- so they werenít used by NRL, because it had the capability of figuring out where the rocket looked at as a function of time, and they wanted to make an all-sky scan.
Hirsch:There were other mechanisms that were thought about, discussed, at that time, right?
Hirsch:Right. What was the status of the different ones? Of course it varied for each source -- you have the synchrotron radiation from the Crab Nebula, and then there was the inverse Compton effect --
Yeah. The inverse Compton effect, I donít think was thought of until later in the game. And in fact, see, when I first -- I might have told you this too, but thatís all right -- I went in to Friedman with a one page -- you have a one page thing and you go in and say, you have to fill out the school thing, ďwhat are you going to do for your PhD?Ē and you put your name down, your thesis advisor and what your topicís going to be and how thatís related to the previous work, or something like that, and I put in there, you know, each of those things, and I said, ďIím going to look for X-rays in the sky, and relate these to theories of X-ray emission in the galaxy.Ē Friedman laughed and said, ďYou canít do that, because there arenít any theories for X-ray production in the galaxy.Ē So that was the first status. But then very soon on, -- there was an initial period of confusion, OK. Then very soon on after that, why, there was one of these theoretical papers, came out, but was again a cheap theoretical paper.
By that I mean itís easy, see, in which somebody, I think it was Burbage, made the point that, in counter distinction to radio astronomy, where no one knew what the emission mechanism was, there were lots of possibilities, and there was a long period of confusion before it was determined what the emission mechanisms really were that were operative in the galaxy. In X-ray astronomy, there were only a limited number of X-ray production mechanisms, and they were already well established and well understood physically, and they were thermal emission, which is neutron star, something like that, and (?)and Ö (interruption) There were those three, (?) synchrotron emission, and thermal emission, and in fact, it wasnít until -- Iím pretty sure it was Burbage said, ďGee, thatís all there is.Ē So then inverse Compton came in later. In fact, that wasnít all there was. But still the point was good, that there were only a limited number of fundamental emission mechanisms, and they were well understood. But what was not understood was, what the models were that produced what was the actual mechanism, that produced this kind of -- but the physical process was well understood. So in terms of this initial discussion, initial thing, there was this dichotomy: whatever was the emission mechanism was understood. It was either thermal or -- it was one of these three basic mechanisms -- and it was almost assuredly -- except almost everybody thought that they were (?) from almost everything except say for example the Crab or a few things that were synchrotron emission. What the model was that was producing it was a complete puzzle.
That didnít get squared away, as I said, until Ď68 was the first suggestion. But since there wasnít any observational evidence, why, that kind of became a possible model. I donít even know what the other possible models were. Maybe I can, maybe I canít. But it seems to me like there were nuclear reactions on the surface of stars and things like that. But it doesnít make any difference, because -- well, it does to you but not to me -- the point was that there were other ones around, but there werenít any strong -- it was sort of fumbling around. That was the whole feeling about what the model was, until there was concrete evidence that they were binary systems. And that probably didnít occur until Ď70 at a guess, considerably longer.
Hirsch:Well, I went through a lot of papers about Skullex(?) I for example. People are continuously trying to fit the data to a curve of (?) at a certain temperature.
Hirsch:So obviously (?) is a big thing.
Bowyer:Yes, and thatís because itís clearly not a synchrotron source. You can look at it, and itís not a synchrotron source. So you know it has to be (?). So then the first thing is to try to fit it, fit a model in there, fit the emission mechanism, but then, how do you get the model?
Hirsch:You know itís not synchrotron? Itís what, not polarized?
Bowyer:Well, but the thing is, it wasnít, you could never -- it would have to be measured, whether itís polarized or not, and that is a difficult measurement, and still today is only done for one source and a half. But if itís synchrotron emission, then youíre going to have cosmic, youíre going to have pretty high energy electrons zipping around, and you ought to see it as, in other parts of the spectrum. Also itís extremely difficult to get synchrotron to come from a point source, from a star, and it was really wrong but Skullux I was seen as a star, so you just canít contain the high energy electrons, so youíd see a thing like the Crab Nebula. Clearly Skull was not the Crab, so by default, it was the other guy, maybe --
Hirsch:There was a lot of problem, many problems with fitting the model to Skullex I, even though it was the first seen, the brightest -- you did some work trying to correlate radio and optical fluxes of Skullex I, and lots of other people were doing that, correlating with X-ray fluxes, and yet, models were hard to make for it.
Hirsch:Itís the most observed source, it appears, but itís not very well understood.
Bowyer:Yes. OK, thereís a whole bunch of things to say. First, as I say, even trying to fit the (?) to it turns out not to be very good, because, now itís known that itís a binary source, and what youíre seeing is, youíre seeing the main start, the optical star, the cooler temperature optical star, but what youíre seeing is the combination of heating from the X-ray star, and reflection, off of the main star. You never see the main star at all, and youíre never seeing the X-ray. Youíre seeing the X-rays all right, youíre seeing the X-ray from the X-ray star, but in the optical star, youíre never seeing the optical star. Youíre seeing the optical star as heated, and the X-rays reprocessed from it. So, that makes it extremely difficult. That makes an extraordinarily ridiculous spectrum. And the radio emission, stuff like that, is coming from someplace else altogether. I donít think there is a good model for where the radio stuff comes from, even now. So what that means is, that although the basic mechanism says, ďHey, it has to be (?)Ē, thatís coming from the X-rays -- then the optical stuff is really a mish mash, and it makes a really messy model. So thatís why.
Hirsch:So what you identified as the source, the blue star, 13th magnitude, that is Just the large companion star to the X-ray star?
Bowyer:-- thatís right, and even now, you donít know what kind of star it is.
Hirsch:What, the optical?
Bowyer:The 13th magnitude star, because of all this distortion. You never see -- and you have to get around the other side of it, and see it when itís, you really have to weigh it, or get around and see its undistorted side. Lots of other stars, optical counterparts now, you will see, theyíll be rotating, and when the X-ray source gets on the far side, youíre looking at the back side of the optical star, and you say, ďAh, itís such and such kind of star.Ē Then when the X-ray source comes on the front side, you see mish mash, you see garbage, youíre seeing this reflection. But because you get the undistorted side, you can see what it is. So there are lots of stars like that. But in the case of Skull, you never see it, so you donít know what kind of star it is really. That isnít crucial. You know, there are lots of stars that are puzzles, and usually you donít give a damn about, in the long term you donít give a damn about one individual star. What you want to do is, you want to use an individual stars to try and give you the answer to an overall puzzle, and the overall puzzle is clearly answered.
Hirsch:Speaking of Skullex I, there are lots of other people of course doing work on it, since it was the brightest.
Hirsch:And perhaps most problematical source, including the people --
Bowyer:-- first identified, too. That was, thatís what started you on the work to begin with, hoping that it would be the Rosetta Stone -- which it didnít turn out to be. But anyway, go ahead.
Hirsch:People at Lawrence Radiation Lab in Livermore were doing also lots of work determining the spectrum of Skullex-I.
Hirsch:I was over there yesterday, and I asked them, ďLook, what happened? It doesnít seem like people are really picking up your data, doing much with it,Ē and they gave me the explanation that they were not perceived as being real astronomers, and therefore though they had all this data, no one really did anything with it. Did you have any relationship with the Livermore people?
Bowyer:Yeah, in fact -- see, you made a statement I would like to make lots of comments on. The second thing is, you asked a question, which is quite different. OK, now, theyíre not doing X-ray astronomy, and so thatís why nobody has anything to do with their data now. But even more, they didnít before, itís worth discussing, have more to do with Livermore people, the guyÖ (off tape ) You made a statement I would like to make lots of comments on. The second thing is, you asked a question, which is quite different. OK. Now, theyíre not doing X-ray astronomy.
Bowyer:Itís worth discussing why they didnít have more to do with Livermore people. The guy -- when I showed up there, I was there one day, and there was a guy named -- he then became director of NASA, Hans Mark -- so I was there like one day, and Hans Mark called me up and said, he was then head of the nuclear engineering department down here, and so he said, ďIíd like to talk to you.Ē Itís a strange place, full of high powered people and all, so I went down to talk to him, and he suggested a collaboration in which I give him a bunch of equipment that I have, and then we share all the data, and he pull it off. OK? It looked to me like I was getting swamped in this thing. I came back and asked Kinsey Anderson, whoís now director here, and said, I -- I might have asked somebody else, too, I asked George Shield Ė- ďI canít tell whatís going on, Iím just a beginner here and I donít know whatís going on. What is this? Is this something I should do? And I was tipped off that Hans Mark, by all these guys, that Hans Mark is in fact a real opportunist, and that he saw me as somebody coming in that he could use to zip along. Kinsey had some experiments with him in which he, Kinsey, was much more established, but he also was -- he broke off the relationship. Mark was a real climber. You can see, he was, to start off with, I think -- Iím not sure where he was at first, but he became head of the department here, then he became full time out there, was considered the director for the state science lab here, and funny, because he wasnít that big a deal in state research, but he was making giant leaps above what you would have thought he would. He got stopped here because of some people who were concerned about what he was really interested in -- was he really interested in the laboratory or was he really interested in it as a stepping stone? Next thing you know heís director over there and now heís undersecretary to the Air Force. So Mark, -- did I have any interaction with him? My interaction was that, really, I lucked in, and then, befuddled by not knowing what to do, and then I check around and Iím told, ďLook out, heíll eat you alive.Ē So OK, that was my interaction with him.
Hirsch:How about the other people?
Bowyer:Well, they were all in that group, see. After that, they had -- after that there were some good guys there. They werenít, they didnít have a reputation as being really out -- being really -- in the in-group, what they typically did was had -- they would report observations. And they wouldnít go much beyond that. They were one of the few groups in X-ray astronomy, but they werenít ones that were really pace setters or something, and theyíd done solo things, but when you would go talk to them, the leaders in the group -- there was Hans Mark, OK, and in fact, some of the data they got were influential in a crucial area. In fact, he would go around and give talks, and emphasize how influential they were, and Iíll give you an example of a talk, and I was told by one of the members in our department who doesnít such care for, who didnít want to hire me in the first place and really would just as soon have gotten rid of me -- still, now heís happy that Iím here and all that, except that in his mind, he still doesnít understand why we got into X-ray astronomy, OK? A very influential guy in the department here.
His name? Bayer: Naw, too touchy. But anyway, he considered me a (?) except that as recently as three or four years ago, he got drunk at a party and was telling me, like he didnít even know he was talking to me, because he says, ďGeorge Field got here, he insisted we get in X-ray astronomy, and itís ridiculous.Ē Something like that. You could tell, he must not have been thinking he was talking to me, but there it is, it tells you, gives you the mental set of the guy, see. OK, he went and heard Hans Mark. Hans Mark was talking at (?) over here and said, ďLook, we were the first people to measure the temperature, the thermal temperature of Skullex I, and you can extrapolate the thermal (?) back, and you get a 13th magnitude star, and this was the key element when Giaconni and Sandage and that group -- Giaconni got the position, then Sandage looked at the sky and found these two stars and one of them was 13th magnitude, so thatís the identification.Ē This guy is saying ďLook how good Hans Mark is,Ē which was half, a compliment to Hans Mark, and half: ďWhy arenít you doing something, Bower?Ē Well, in fact, I just gave you a talk about what Hans Mark looked at. It had nothing to do with this 13th magnitude star. Just a star.
It happened to be there were two stars in the airbox, the other star was excluded because it looked like a very normal star -- it was like 15th magnitude, as I recall -- but why was this one 13th magnitude? Well, it was like 13th magnitude because it happened to be putting out an optical radiation, and because itís getting all this reflection and reprocessing, see. And he isnít looking at the (?) at all, heís getting this reprocessed stuff. Itís really -- So anyway, what is Hans Mark doing? Hans Mark -- but it still is true that he did have this influence, saying, ďLook, this ties in with the Livermore groupís stuff.Ē So that was an influence. OK, then after Mark became more supervisory and stuff like that, why, it would -- the subsequent work they did was, they built these very thin window detectors, and they would go off and fly, and they would look for soft X-ray mirrors, and they would find things like the remnants of supernova radiation, OK? Well, itís good work and all. But after the Crab Nebula and stuff like this, you knew, and with a little bit of theory which had already been done, you knew that X-ray sources, are going to be, I mean, supernova remnants are going to be X-ray sources. So what they did was, found some of these, and thatís good work, but somehow it isnít a pace setter thing. It isnít a new, wow, fantastic -- eye opener. In addition, these guys are not particularly, their personalities -- there were some guys there that were very -- it ranged from very unimpressive. You go talk to them and they had a number of people in their group who were professionals, and shared in the professional level, but whose only thing was -- capable of building these very thin windows. Well, an astronomer or theoretician would go talk to them -- you know, like talking to one of the crew of -- intellectually -- a technician. Some other guys, their personalities just werenít very strong and dominant. So they werenít pace setters either in the work they did, or in their personalities. OK? Thatís two -- two responses to your question.
Hirsch:Right, one question and a statement. How about your relations with NRL after you came here in Ď67?
OK. When I -- first I left NRL, went to Catholic U, OK, and immediately, there was a problem, in that Friedman doesnít like competition. I might have made some comment about Giaconni, and Giaconni is a pretty Machiavellian guy. I mean, heís very good, and outstanding guy, knows what to do in organizing, but the guy is pretty Machiavellian, you canít get around that. So itís easy, if youíre competing with him, to -- Friedman is not quite as Machiavellian, but heís extraordinarily competitive, and although you donít think so if you talk to the guy -- OK, when I went to Catholic U, see, I was going to stay at NRL, and he would have preferred that I stay at NRL, OK. But I went to Catholic U, and immediately became competition. I wasnít very much competition, but any competition he doesnít care for, OK. Next thing he did was, I got some guys who were buddies there to help me, as consultants, OK. It seemed fine to me, like the mechanical engineer I got had six consulting businesses on the side, and another guy I went and asked, a very nice guy whoís a close personal friend, and he was heavy on the electronics.
Now, Friedman felt somehow that was terrible, that I was using his people, and I canít -- see, I canít tell you why. See, heís very competitive and heís not, he wasnít in the tradition of being an academician. Academician isnít a good word. Professorial. For instance, somebody comes out of here with a PhD, and I want to make sure, I have a bias, I want him to succeed, because in the bigger scale things, it reflects on me favorably, both in the Great Book in the Sky, and also emotionally, if they do well. Friedman -- and itís because, thatís what a universityís supposed to do, itís supposed to turnout good students, see. But Friedman, see, didnít have that attitude, maybe because he was in a research lab or maybe because he was just competitive. But he was incensed that Iíd done this, OK? So our relations were extraordinarily poor. Not extraordinarily poor, but they were quite strained. He also, interestingly enough, was not that supportive of me getting a job out here. I mean, his letter of recommendation was weak. Letters of recommendation are supposed to be confidential. In fact they are. But again, youíll be at a party, and somebody will get drunk, and theyíll say, ďItís funny that Friedman wrote such a weak letter on your behalf.Ē See? So anyway, that was -- I canít tell you all Friedmanís motivations, but I can tell you that they were -- The next thing that happened was, there, up on the wall there, you see that? The entire (?) A -- OK -- NG 51 28 -- I made a rocket flight and discovered X-rays from there.
Hirsch:Thatís while you were here?
Bowyer:Yes. I think the flight occurred before -- yes, it was while I was here. So that ticked Friedman off, because he had discovered X-rays from there. He also discovered X-rays from 3T 2 73, OK, except that, his measurement was consistent with noise. It was a one sigma detection, but he had a mistake in his air analysis. Heíd done a couple of double smoothings, and he thought it was a big detection. This one there, he thought heíd detected but didnít publish it. OK? I detected them from this thing. I detected them from 3 T 273, also from this, and published it, OK? That Iím sure didnít sit well with him. In fact, on 3 T 273, his one sigma detection was a valid detection. But that doesnít count in the big -- although he thinks it counts -- in fact, on their preprint pages, they have 3 C 273, a picture of that, but in fact, in the intellectual community, that doesnít count. A one sigma detection. Sometimes in the references, youíll see 3 C 273 in a reference, Friedman and Bowyer, Friedmanís paper and Bowyerís Paper, but more often, just mine, because you have to know -- you have to be someone who knew that Friedmanís was a spurious detection. This one here, he got if from the lows, not from the center, and see, they come from the center. In fact, they come from the galaxy, in the inside there, and this thing from the lows was action, inalterably spurious. Again, he made a statistical error, in which he had scanned across the thing, and then, he had processed his data in so many different combinations that if you added them all up, it looked like 100 or so, and then one of them turned out to be a 3 sigma bump. But the likelihood of getting a 3 sigma bump out of a 100 different permutations is finite. You have one chance in three of getting a bump, and he did, and it was off one of the lows, not off the center. Anyway, all that -- there was a thing which could be interpreted -- I was real competition at that point, and got an answer that was wrong or wasnít giving his answer due respect, see, I donít know which you prefer -- Anyway, at this stage of the game, where the relationship is again good, I mean, Iíd been on the block long enough, and Ö
Hirsch:Now the relationship is better?
Bowyer:Iíd say, yea.
Hirsch:How about this debate you had in the literature, about the diffuse background, soft X-ray background, 40, 46 angstroms -- changes --
Yea. OK; there was another one, in which he won, just by dint of his power as a senior scientist. What they had done, was, they had made a measurement -- The question is, hereís this background. Do you want to ask this question, what is its intensity? Thatís the first thing you want to ask. Then having measured it, then you want to say: where does it come from? OK. They looked at one part of the sky, one place, that was maybe three-fourths of the way from the galactic plane, the galactic pole. They made a measurement at this one spot. Then they said, ďAh, since thereís more hydrogen on the plane than there is at the pole, it must be attenuated,Ē so they made a correction based on this one spot that they had, to the pole, and then said, ďThis is what it is outside our galaxy.Ē And they said, ďLook, this is much higher than an extrapolation of the flux that is seen at higher energies, so this must be some cosmological background, and in fact it must beĒ -- then the next step after that was, ďItís probably thermal emission from an intergalactic medium, then there is this much intergalactic medium, and thatís enough intergalactic medium to close the universe.Ē Fantastic result Ė hereís your result -- just amazing. OK. Youíve got to go clear back to the beginning, and you find that they looked at one spot in the sky, and made this extrapolation to the pole. OK, just about the same time, I made an all sky map, found out that you couldnít make an extrapolation like that, that it wasnít -- although there was more at the poles than there was down a ways, that it didnít go as the hydrogen con density.
It went as a fraction of the hydrogen con density, which is very puzzling -- which then, if you made -- I actually measured it at the pole, and the number was less than what Friedman had Ė OK, and I made -- OK, I made a judgmental error. I made several, but one of them was, that, it looked marginally like it could be consistent with the high energy stuff. OK. Now, what happened eventually was that mine was a factor of, my measurement actually was, I had a number, plus or minus one sigma air bars. And the true number that eventually evolved, as coming near the poles, where I measured it, is within my air bars, one sigma air bars. Itís a factor of four below Friedmanís actual measurement, or three below Friedmanís actual measurement, and itís ten below his extrapolation. OK? However, -- and all the subsequent things, in Friedmanís chain, are wrong. Mine was wrong in that the number that I had is marginally above what you would see if you extrapolated up from the higher, the lower, energies, although itís very close. Iím just too conservative. I should have taken my number exactly. But the number wasnít that good, see. The only reason Friedmanís was so good is because he got a number that was a factor of 3 too high. I donít know why he got the number too high. And then he made this extrapolation, so, another factor of 3, so itís an order of magnitude too high, so clearly it was this big number. So, I had the solid measurement. I had the solid measurement and an extensive measurement -- you know, I covered the whole sky. Friedman had this one source, and then one direction, OK. So then, -- but Friedman got all the -- he was getting all the -- in fact, Iím not sure, we might even have gotten ours off first, Iím not sure, but he didnít reference ours, with nothing else like that. So there was a lot of -- I canít remember for sure, but itís very conceivable we sent him a preprint and they published theirs and didnít mention ours, or something.
I canít -- historically what happened was that our number turned out to be right. It turns out that itís still argued, whether thereís any extragalactic or not, that itís, whether the correlation that Friedman used, which was hydrogen con density, is not a valid correlation -- the correlation we measured is valid for where we measured it, but it turned out, thatís just chance, and when you look in the Southern Hemisphere, it doesnít occur there. OK, so all that those steps that Friedman had were wrong. My measurement is still right, OK, but what was upsetting to me, and the question of controversy, was that we werenít getting our just due out of this, see OK, without a doubt. There were also some other things. Field, whoís a -- you may have known George Field?
Hirsch:Iíve met him, read the papers.
Bowyer:OK, well, heís now head of Harvard Smithsonian, and heís an outstanding theoretician. He did the theoretical analysis part. Also heís conservative, and he doesnít want to Ė heís not conservative as an individual, but he wants to be sure heís right, so, I couldnít get him to say that maybe even the stuff is extragalactic, which is what you guys were saying, plus many more things beyond that, see. It turns out he also made a mistake in one part of the -- by a factor of 1 over the square root of 3 or something -- and so, when we made a rebuttal to their paper, why, then they came back and pointed out that we were wrong by -- our analysis was wrong. Well, numerically, it was nothing, but if you have anything wrong, why, that makes you suspect. So we lost a little there. Yeah, that one was -- it was the second thing weíd -- the things Iíd done were, Ď62, Ď73, and (?) and then the background, those were the big -- I think the background was first. And I was busy trying to establish myself, and I wound up in this, that my results were insignificant in comparison with the master bit, see -- so,
Hirsch:How about your relationship with Lockheed? I remember in the early sixties, there was some dispute over --
Bowyer:-- oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Hirsch:Can you tell us something about --?
Bowyer:Yeah, sure. Phil Fisher, fascinating, fascinating situation, Phil Fisher was -- itís fascinating what makes a success in the scientific community. Giaconni goes off, gets money for a hairbrained, absolutely ridiculous experiment, does -- what? C-rays reflected from the moon. Yes. Ridiculous experiment. You know, you could only sell it to the Air Force, because only they would be stupid enough to do it. You know, get outstanding results -- the guyís clever enough, he runs with the ball and does outstanding stuff. OK. Fine. Friedman, sharp enough that he sees Giaconni doing this, you know, makes the measurement -- he immediately leaps on, marshals his forces, becomes -- itís a real fight between the two of them, as to who is Mr. X-ray Astronomy, see. Now Iíd say no doubt Giaconni has the upper hand, but for a long while, it was not clear. Even so, both of them are very senior high powered scientists. Only, we havenít mentioned Phil Fisher -- Phil Fisher, the only bastard that really said, ďHereís an unexplored band of the spectrum. Maybe we ought to do something. Weíll go build a bunch of detectors, and do this.Ē So he had that idea. He went hard to work. He went and sold it to NASA. NASA was very reluctant to do it, God knows why -- but anyway, here was a guy that started on the ground floor, and did it the way a scientist is supposed to do it -- did about three things wrong and fucked up completely. What he did wrong was he put three or four detectors, five or six detectors, little tiny ones, then the next thing, even though they were little tiny, one of them was big enough that if he happened to fly six months when he didnít fly, Skull would have been up, he would have seen it, OK. If heíd have flown on time, heíd have been vindicated, he was vindicated. But there he was, he had the wrong -- you know, he didnít do the right thing on a number of -- size of detectors -- didnít do the obvious thing of trying to get maximum sensitivity. Then he flew at the wrong time. He couldnít help that, you know, pure chance. Then he got negative answers. Instead of saying, fly it the other six months, he felt he had to justify his answers. He had to get positive results. So he came up with a paper that says, ďIíve seen all these sources.Ē And OK, it was -- there was the guy, and it was garbage. And it was clear to almost everybody that it was garbage.
Hirsch:Why was that?
Bowyer:Well, because -- thereís a whole series of things. One is, that he said, ďLook, Iíve seen themĒ -- he shook some data. That was a mistake, -- but youíve got to, no, it wasnít a mistake -- youíve gotta do that -- he wouldnít have gotten it by a referee anyway. Anyway, showed the data, it had all these jiggly lines, OK, and then heíd say, ďHere, this jiggly point here, thatísĒ -- you know -- ďsuch and such a star,Ē which youíd look up and say, itís an M, an F Giant, OK? And you go look and you find out, thatís the only F giant he saw, he saw four more F giants but didnít see them from then, and you go through and ďOh, thatís a so and so star he says he saw,Ē and you go look, and you find he didnít see any of those, so -- It was just a totally inconstructive data set. On top of that, you could just take his data, and run along and make a mean of it, and then say, ďWhat is the one standard deviation?Ē and find out that it was, that these things were all statistical variations. He had done, on a most crude level, heíd done the analysis wrong. And in Cleveland when I saw him, he made the comment that Friedman did the analysis wrong. (Or: Friedman, when I saw him, I made the comment that Friedman did the analysis wrong.) It was subtler. He had slewed the data twice, in essence, and youíre allowed, thatís a clever thing, youíre not allowed youíre supposed to do just standard statistical tests, which keep you from getting in trouble. But Friedman in fact had slewed the data. You can smooth the data once, and not get in too much trouble, but he had unknowingly smoothed it twice, so -- but what Friedman did that got him in trouble on these other things, was a trap sort of thing.
Hirsch:This is on Friedman, now.
Bowyer:Friedman. But Fisher just absolutely, just violated the whole basic rules of data analysts. He went along and said, ďHereís all these jagged lines, letís take all the bottom ones here and call that the background.Ē You just donít do that. I mean, you know, anybody -- it wasnít a trap, it was stupid. OK, and everybody realized that it was garbage, OK, except that, there was Bowyer busy saying, ďGee, Iíve got to get ahead in the world, Iíll write down all the reasons that itís garbage, and then Iíll get that published.Ē So I did. OK. So that was that one. Since then, I think I told you but maybe not, Phil Fisher has gone bananas. Nuts. Zonked. He started off, you know, almost being -- he could have been king of X-ray astronomy, see, THE originator, X-ray astronomy. Instead, he made some mistakes. Then, after that, he almost won another one. He was one of the first keyholes with a great big detector. He would have done a thing like, he would have done a third of a (?). The thing fell in the sea.
Hirsch:When was that?
Bowyer:That was like the second or third -- no, the thing was like the Copernicus, it was like the second or first one, probably the first one, I guess it was the second one -- just dumped in the ocean. And then the thing after that, he lost -- really, I guess the guy -- well, itís hard to tell how clever he was. Maybe he wasnít that clever and thatís why he got in these traps. The next thing he did, he apparently -- I donít know. Well, anyway. Maybe the fact that he was mentally unstable also prevented him from being successful earlier on. But then, I donít know, about five years ago, he went completely bananas, went off to a mental institution, is now, I think last I heard he was head of his own company doing consulting, and they would put in proposals to NASA, which were bananas proposals, bizarre proposals -- still at this stage, marginal, in and out of sanity -- So, what about Phil Fisher? Yes. Amazing.
Hirsch:Did you have anything to do with the other people at Lockheed?
Bowyer:Oh yes, yes. The, Warren Afton(?) is a guy he hired, and has now taken over when Fisher went away, and we have talked about joint proposals. We have I think put in joint proposals. You know, a normal working -- as you would with any other scientific community. Itís not a close, itís not -- well, they almost hired one of my students. In fact they offered one of my students a job two weeks ago. SoÖ
Hirsch:Let me finish off this line of questioning about relationships with other groups. How aboutÖ How about AS and E, Cambridge or Smithsonian group?
Yes. You know, I donít really have -- in terms of collaboration, collaborating with them is sort of like collaborating with a shark. Theyíre happy to do it, but you always support their work, itís clear. The second thing beyond that is, early on, I probably wasnít in great odeur with Giaconni. But Iím not sure the basis of why, other than, I was at NRL, because after NRL I came out here. I didnít have anything to do with Giaconni and that bunch. OK then later on, why, we started -- we had -- one of my students, Bruce (?) is very extremely aggressive, and he found theyíd made an error in some of their stuff, and pointed it out in a very aggressive way, and that didnít set too well with American Science and Engineering. We also didnít toe the line on, we were always openly skeptical of Cygnus X-I being a black hole, and that doesnít set well with -- Giaconni wants it to be a black hole for a whole bunch of reasons, and -- You know, we didnít have many relations with them. But other than this criticism of Margonís(?) of this thing, and some of our open -- and that we werenít part of the in-group following along, OK -- Then it got, sort of reached a peak of hostility, when we claimed that their data, that the statistics they were using, and everybody else was using for that matter, but it most grossly affected them -- that the statistics were all wrong. And that -- but Giaconni wasnít that pleased with me even before that point, but that one, I know, was really extraordinarily -- It turned out we were right on that one. So, there are people there at AS and E -- it depends very much on the people. For example, Gersky, I get along fine with Gersky. I think that Gersky thinks weíre doing fine and that sort of thing. Thereís a general -- Giaconni really doesnít like us, but itís funny, I canít tell you -- oh, I know a father reason now. Iíd forgotten. Iíve gotten very sensitive to Giaconni now. Itís that he wants an X-ray Institute. Have you read about an X-ray Institute? OK. Itís part of the way the world goes, is that after you become king of a field, what do you then do next? You then want to become enthroned. So he wants to be an X-ray Institute.
The X-ray Institute he has envisioned, as supported by NASA, has 200 people in it, things like that -- visions of giant, Bureau of Standards, something -- and he would be the director of this. He never mentions this but in fact he will be, OK? So he will call, couple of years back, called a meeting, everybody come and discuss this at Cambridge. I didnít go. And I was the only guy that opposes this verbally. OK. Outspokenly, OK. Other people will oppose it tremendously, but not in public to him. They will call me up, say, ďGee, you ought to -- this is really terrible, what shall we do? you ought to do something.Ē Then they will go and tell Giaconni that itís a great idea. So this probably is THE single biggest sore point between us at this point, that I openly oppose his X-ray Astronomy Institute. Anyway, what about AS and E? It depends on the people. Giaconni has been, for a long time, my only relation with Giaconni was prior to NRL, and Giaconni and Friedman were very antagonistic, but on a very subtle level. And I was just part of the NRL team, thatís all. And I came out here, and then, whereas Friedman, we were having a very direct controversy with Friedman on the background and on 3C 273 and the others, Giaconni was Ö didnít pay any attention, didnít know whatÖ But then, there was this thing with Margon first, aggressively pointing out that he had something wrong, which in fact he did, and then, the statistics thing, then the X-ray Institute story. Giaconni and I, I would say -- Giaconni doesnít care for me at all. But other guys there, like Gerky, get along fine. Itís a funny game. Another one, Gorenstein(?) I happen to know, thinks we stole one of his pieces of data. He took an X-ray detector, heís going to establish Ė heís building a very good piece of X-ray, a new piece of equipment -- one that took a picture of Perseus cluster. Well, we had already -- OK, simultaneously (?), we had gotten data, with a cruder instrument, which, if you use proper computer analysis, you can get a picture, you can build a picture, and itís equally valid, itís just not a taken picture, itís a doped picture, OK? Gorenstein gave a talk, but didnít publish his data. He sat on his data for like two years. But he gave a talk about it.
Well, we after wards published our data, and had this first picture in. Well, he was incensed over this. Someone I know, one of my students, went there, and he says, ďGorenstein is incensed with you, and he blamed meĒ -- the student, his name is Pat Henry, Gorenstein blamed Henry, saying that Henry told us that he had this picture and then we went and did it. In fact, he gave a public talk. But the point is, what it amounts to is, when you get very clever people competing on very high levels, most of what theyíre doing are clearly the next level at which you can -- you can always -- the next step is pretty close to see, for most of the club. It wasnít for Phil Fisher. So he went away. But for all these other people, the next step -- like me doing 3 C 273 and Centauris A -- it was clear, that was the thing to do, so it was a question -- actually, for various reasons, that hung around, and nobody did any more like that until (?) came along, for a good long period of time -- but it was clear, that was a good move to make, see. So anyway -- but then, it happens you get a guy that so stands out that heís way -- you know, there are people that make things that are four years ahead of the crowd, OK? But on all these little ones, itís pretty clear that, this is the next step. So then you get a whole lot of competitive and tense feelings. And it means a great deal to people. You know -- it adds to the excitement of the world. Iím also aggressive. And Iíve had a couple of, one student in particularly, Bruce Margon, whoís extraordinarily aggressive. To quote Pat Henry, my student whoís now at NRS, at AS and E, he feels that I should leave, that I lost by having Bruce Margon, because he did nothing but set us up as the perennial enemy. But I donít know -- I might have been the perennial enemy anyway.
Hirsch:When you came here, did you have a well defined research project?
Bowyer:Iím not sure what you mean by ďwell defined.Ē I had a NASA rocket grant. But about, what was I going to do with it? -- the X-ray astronomy --
Hirsch:Nothing, no real program of studying one, or the diffuse background --
Bowyer:-- no, no, no, no -- it was opportunistic. In fact, the thing I did was, I had -- I said I was going to look for 2C 273, the entire (?) -- the extragalactic ones. So yes, it was just opportunistic, the thing that could be done that would have potential, would potentially be -- well, you know, maybe 3C 273 wouldnít have been an X-ray source, but what looks good and try and do that.
Hirsch:Right. What do you think the major developments were, the most significant developments in the sixties for X-ray astronomy? Major discoveries, theoretical developments?
In the sixties? Well, -- OK, letís say the discovery of a number X-ray sources. The identification of some with stars, OK, that important. The fact that supernova remnants, some delineation of supernova remnants as being Xóray sources, and I guess the soft X-ray background had a bigger impact than the hard X-ray background. The hard X-ray background, itís coming from out there, nobody knows where itís coming from, that ends it. But the soft X-ray background has more controversy with it, still does. And I guess the discovery that there were actually extragalactic X-ray sources, which were at a sensitivity level consistent with current technology. I mean, thereís always -- the trouble really with that stuff is that you know that thereís going to be a few X-rays coming from everything. Thereís one every, time scale longer than the age of the universe, thereís an X-ray comes from that wall. Itís just not significant. So that you know that X-ray, extragalactic X-ray sources exist, the question is: are they significant at the level of technology that exists at any time, so theyíre something that can be argued about, studied, controversies can arise over, and so on. Letís see. Those are experimental observations.
See, in the sixties, I think theory didnít have that big an impact -- you know, although the suggestion of an underlying source mechanism came up in the late sixties, it really didnít start to blossom until the seventies, and then the X-ray holds this possibility, thatís clearly -- the fact that Cygnus X-1 is, it depends on your bias and how you view it, and really it depends, itís like religion, it depends on your emotions more than anything, but if anything we know as an X-ray source is a black hole, thatís the best one, OK? But the fact that there was concrete evidence that made that a legitimate study -- there was another one, see. What about black holes and all that? Well, they existed in theory, but nobody messed with them, until there was something, some experimental data that, even if itís -- the strongest skeptics would say, ďLook, itís overblown, it can be explained other waysĒ -- the point is that it is strong indication that this is a possibility. You can say at least that, OK? Some people would say, ďItís guaranteed that itís a black hole.Ē So thatís the range of opinion. But the point is that there is now data, so now you can say itís a legitimate field for theoretical work, so -- but that didnít come up until, I think, in the seventies. If it came up in the sixties, then it was one of the biggest things in the sixties, because what it did was then, legitimatize the X-ray, the black hole game -- which then brought in a huge number of the worldís outstanding theorists. It was so exciting that that focusedÖ them on it, and any time you move the worldís outstanding geniuses into an area, thatís clearly an extraordinarily significant event.
Hirsch:Well, the Russian theorists --
Bowyer:Yes, thereís Gersky, thereís (?) and (?). So -- every time you move those guys into any of those, that has to be Ė- And actually, Giaconni was to Cygnus X-1 as a black hole, as Friedman was to neutron stars. Things that happened -- but in Friedmanís case the theoretical justification went away, as we discussed before. But then it got reintroduced, the neutron star got reintroduced by the pulsars. But in Giaconni and Cygnus X-1, itís never gone away. The ultimate theory has continued to look good. Giaconni -- on that basis, then, Giaconniís discovery of or pushing on that is a huge event, and -- in science -- because it brought all these people in. It gave a basis for bringing in the highest powered minds. Every time you focus the highest powered minds on something, itís clearly a noteworthy event. Giaconni, the previous comment about him wanting to be a black hole -- rumor has it, you know, that thatís his mental, he wants, he envisions himself getting the Nobel Prize, some possibility of that, on the basis of it really being a black hole. Well, maybe it is or maybe it isnít.
Hirsch:Do you have a copy of that picture, extra ones?
Bowyer:No. Iíll give it to you if you want to make a copy. Youíve got to be sure and send it back, thatís all.
Hirsch:Well, I was thinking, the Smithsonian, itís very easy to get copies of pictures made.
Bowyer:Yes. Well, I could give it to a guy here, heíd make a copy, then I would send you one. Or I can give it to you and you can take it down to a drugstore and make a copy and then send it to me. Either way. If you want a copy, we can arrange a copy.
Hirsch:I would like that, right.
Bowyer:You have to give me your address.
Hirsch:OK. In RussiaÖ Moscow, 1974Ö
Bowyer:A variable star symposium, is what it was.
Hirsch:Let me ask a general question thatís a flashback. The last paragraph of your dissertation, you write: ďThe field of X-ray astronomy is new and results are unexpected, perhaps even startling. A great deal of knowledge can be expected to be gained from research in this field. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the work, this knowledge will not come quickly nor will it be obtained at a cheap price.Ē Thirteen years later, how do you feel about that statement?
Well, it came a lot easier than I thought, and the reason -- in terms of my own -- the reason was that it got to be such hot stuff that, it got to be such hot stuff that there were a number of groups that did work in it, and then, the second thing that happened was that there were enough startling things that all the, that the theorists, these high powered people Iím talking about, moved into that field. See, in previous years, they said, ďLook at the history of X-ray astronomy in solar work.Ē That was exciting, but it wasnít quite as startling, and it didnít turn the world on end, and you didnít have -- also, the sun is so well understood, so much about the sun, you canít start making huge new discoveries in it like you can, like you could in X-ray astronomy. So it didnít turn the world upside down. One had huge advances in knowledge. There had more, been more advances in knowledge of the sun, but -- So the point is that, there were some answers in X-ray astronomy because of all the excitement and all the outside people who came into it and were doing things. Now, from my own point of view, my own personal point of view, it was as hard as I thought it was when I was in there. I mean, there were all these -- it was hard as hell to get a grant out of NASA. When I finally got an outstanding discovery, why, NRL swiped it away, with spurious results, and here I was, part of the people in the department thinking I wasnít going to get tenure.
It was very close, whether I got tenure or not. For a while, there were people thinking I was going to get dumped. You know, sort of a Ė- Looking back on it, if I had to start over again, now at this age, -- you know, say that for some reason or other right now I got transported back to then -Ė I donít know if Iíd do it. I might go off and quit the university and go to work in business, or something. Because Iím not Ė- Iím tireder now than I was then, you know? To me, it was traumatic. Personally. I was lucky that it all worked, you know. There were X-rays from 3C 273, and -- and yeah. So, fascinating chapter. Weíll read that and think of it nostalgically, Iím sure, in 20 years. But for the whole community, it was easier than Iíd thought, for that stage of the game, for me personally, and I didnít realize, the difficulties for some of us. Now, now itís easy. I mean, I sit here with sufficient support. I mean, you canít tell this to NASA, because the only way to get sufficient support is if you go and tell them you donít have. I mean, Giaconni, with his program, moans that he doesnít get support, but the guyís got unbelievable amounts of money, yet he goes on, ďI donít have any money,Ē you know, and does all kinds of things to get more, you know. At this stage of the game, I have enough so I can really be -- you know, Iíve got clever students that are working like mad, and weíre, couple of places weíre really king of, and not so much X-ray astronomy, weíre just one of the groups in X-ray astronomy, but weíre acknowledged to be doing really good work, I think, in X-ray astronomy now, and we -- in the field of soft X-ray astronomy, extreme ultraviolet astronomy, weíre the only group in the world. I mean, you havenít studied anything about that? (crosstalk) See, but here -- here, this is a NASA planning document. Every time you go and you get some master -- I was just in this X-ray meeting, OK, yesterday. I just came up, you see and here, what do we have here? Thrusts inÖ This is what NASA is doing in astrophysics, you see (Thrusts in astrophysics) and hereís the approach, fields of study, just some areas that -- first cut, crude survey, details, nature -- all right, look, X-rays, field of study, neutron stars, black holes. See? OK, you know -- what can NASA think of as the splashiest thing? First cut. Rocket. Crude Survey, Uhuro, Hurray, OK, detailed study, Huro B, then hereís 1.2 meters, see, OK? OK, soft X-ray, OK Ė hereís a new one, extreme ultraviolet. OK. First cut, ASTP, that was my -- Iím the only guy whoís doing it.
My group is the only one thatís doing this. We argued that on. One -- What about this one? Crude survey, thatís us, thatís our satellite. So you look at these other ones. Here all these people are, you know, all these people around and stuff in these fields. Here Iíve got one that I invented -- my own. Now, itís not as exciting as X-rays, if you want to know the truth. But in the end -- well, there arenít that many fields left to invent. On top of that, there arenít many fields on here where thereís, one guy and his group fill that block, then Iím going to fill this block, and Iím going to have a hell of a lot to do with that block. So, weíre also, weíre not giving up in X-ray astronomy, but anyway, the point is, that weíve got enough things going that, itís now a ball, OK. I mean, itís --
Hirsch:What would you say that Giaconni is now worth? You can see now that Giaconni really was the big person in X-ray astronomy. You said at the time there was --
Bowyer:-- this tie struggle between Giaconni and -- it started off when Giaconni made the discovery. Then Friedman dominated for a while. Then Giaconni now is clearly -- Friedman has peaked and gone.
Hirsch:When did Giaconni take the lead, do you think? Or how?
How it is, I think he is -- I think heís brighter. Not that Friedman is dumb or anything, but I think Giaconni is brighter, and he is even more clever than Friedman in figuring out, what is the best thing to do. And most important is that he is a better benevolent dictator than Friedman. Friedman, as a benevolent -- how do you get a group of scientists to work together and direct them and all? Friedman doesnít provide that much direction, and tolerates guys that are really pretty incompetent. And Giaconni absolutely does not. I mean, the people that he has supporting him are all -- now, some are weaker than others, but itís still on a level that, all of his Giaconni clearly dominates that group, and he wonít let anybody else even -- you know, they all have to pay homage on a weekly basis, OK. His next level down are all very sharp guys. And Friedmanís next level down is very spotty. Some of them are really poor. OK, then in concrete things, Giaconni started pushing on X-ray telescopes.
I can remember Friedman telling me that this was garbage, that these little tiny things with no collecting area, just garbage. It wasnít going to get him anywhere. And so, that is why Giaconni dominates. Now, on top of that, Friedman gets tripped up with some of his -- his approach was more, ďGet a bulldozer, get big detectors,Ē and his highest point was Heeo-A(?) where he has these seven detectors on, seven giant detectors; that was planned five years ago, but that was the statement that ďWeíre going to give this to Friedman as his due.Ē ďHeeo, B -- weíre going to give this to Giaconni as his due.Ē OK -- what is the difference between the two? Heeo-B is going to have unbelievably higher impact on the field than Heeo-A. Heeo-A even, and much more innovative and everything else, Heeo-A is Friedmanís, not only is it just more of what was done before, it also was a technical disaster. He gave it to a guy and that guy fucked it up. The counters were breaking right and left. Heís down to two now, I think, out of the seven. Within -- immediately when they were launched, they were off one. (They lost one) You donít hear this, it was, you know, ďThere were some problems. Weíre still getting good data.Ē That means, ďwe can still see that there are some photons in this shit, but weíre not going to analyze the data because itís garbage.Ē Within a month they lost another one, and they lost another one and stabilized, and they lost another one now. The things are just falling apart.
So now theyíve got two, out of the seven. So, you donít know that because itís not something NASA talks about, because you donít want to say to Congress, ďWE gave this to this group, and the main experiment fell apart on us.Ē And in fact theyíll still get good data out of the thing, but they havenít processed it yet. Theyíre way behind on that, way behind, and in fact, weíre the only bunch that are getting real papers out. Weíre way ahead of everybody else, an -- on that one -- from a smaller experiment. But Iíll also tell you that it seems to me inescapable that Friedman will never get a major experiment from NASA again. I mean, not like Heeo-A. He may get experiments, but nothing like Heeo-A, because if youíre at NASA, if you give somebody that thing, and you came that close to disaster, you canít afford that. But Giaconni, his Heeo-B will work. Iíll tell you.
Hirsch:Right. With the telescope.
Bowyer:Yes. It will work.
Hirsch:Iím not at NASA any more. I notice that I have this sticker on which says NASA.
Bowyer:Oh yeah, donít worry about it, thatís right.
Hirsch:No. Iím not going to report that.
Bowyer:Right. Well, NASA knows. Itís Congress that doesnít know, see. Congress and the public. I mean, NASA is a little worried about things -- and as I say -- at the managing level in NASA headquarters, why, theyíre very, theyíre sharp people. I donít know, who did you deal with there?
Hirsch:Well, I was in the history office, but I talked to Nancy Roman and --
Bowyer:Yeah, sheís a sharp gal. Those are all sharp people. In fact itís amazing how both Friedan and Giaconni really put them down. Itís because they donít like somebody tell them what to do. And choosing one of them over the other one. They canít stand it. And, they might make some mistakes here and there, but theyíre sharp people. Yes.
Hirsch:Well, I could go on for hours, but --
Oh yes, yes,Ö
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