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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Daniel Joseph Kelly O'Connell

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Interview with Dr. Daniel J. K. O'Connell
By Spencer Weart
At the University of Grenoble, France
August 31, 1976

open tab View abstract

D. J. K. O'Connell; August 31, 1976

ABSTRACT: Early interest in seismology and astronomy, training in physics; postgraduate year at Harvard Observatory with Harlow Shapley, 1931-1932; on staff of Riverview Observatory, Australia, 1933-1952; director of the Vatican Observatory, 1952-c.1970. Interest in variable stars, seismology, changes in character of international meetings over the years, popular interest in astronomy, role and attitudes of Catholics (e.g. George Lemâitre) in astronomy. Also prominently mentioned are: Bertiau, Arthur Stanley Eddington, George Lemâitre, Peter Millmann, Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin, Henry Norris Russell, Martin Ryle; International Astronomical Union, and Mount Wilson Observatory.

Transcript

Weart:

This is an interview with Father O'Connell, August 31, 1976, in Grenoble. I know that you were born in 1896, in Rugby, England.

O'Connell:

That's correct.

Weart:

Son of Daniel and Rosa Kelly O'Connell.

O'Connell:

Yes. Where did you get that?

Weart:

From the WORLD WHO'S WHO OF SCIENCE, furnished by yourself. But other than that, I don't really know anything about your background, or about your parents and so forth.

O'Connell:

Well, I was born in England and went to school there. Then I went to school in Ireland, and I went to the university in Dublin, the National University.

Weart:

In Dublin. Did you encounter astronomy already in your childhood?

O'Connell:

The first actual observations I made were in 1915, before I went to the University.

Weart:

In 1915, so you would still have been a teenager.

O'Connell:

Yes. I bought a telescope that had belonged to Lord Rosse.

Weart:

You bought one of Lord Rosse's telescopes?

O'Connell:

It was a transit instrument; I was interested in getting the time. I was working at the same time on seismology. With a friend I was building a seismograph, and we wanted accurate time. It was the time of the First World War, and we weren't allowed to have radios. They were confiscated by the police. So, to get the time, I thought the best thing to do would be to get a transit instrument, and I got the transit instrument set up —

Weart:

— there must be something behind this, because you were already familiar with science.

O'Connell:

Oh yes, of course, I'd done physics. I did physics at the University. I did physics and mathematics.

Weart:

Did you get any of this in your family? What were your parents?

O'Connell:

Officials. No, they were in languages, they spoke various languages. They traveled a lot.

Weart:

You traveled about in various countries?

O'Connell:

I didn't, as a matter of fact, because my parents died young. But they had traveled a lot.

Weart:

I see, and then you settled in Ireland, about what age?

O'Connell:

I was about 12, I suppose, when I settled in Ireland. I was in school there and as I say, went to the University.

Weart:

I see. How did you get interested in seismology? I might add that, although I'm doing this project in history of astronomy, geophysics is by no means excluded.

O'Connell:

Oh, I see. Well, it happened this way. I already had become a Jesuit at that time and was just beginning my studies. I was with a friend, a well-known expert in seismology — in fact, he invented seismographs and was one of the authorities, William O'leary S.J. Later on he was my predecessor as director of Riverview Observatory. He was building a seismograph, so he asked me to help him, and I worked with him. From that time on, I worked in seismology for a great many years.

Weart:

I see. Where was this?

O'Connell:

This was outside Dublin.

Weart:

Outside Dublin. Of course, the Jesuits have always been famous for their seismology.

O'Connell:

Yes. It was at Rathfarnham Castle, a very well-known seismological station. That one is no longer functioning, but it was good for some years. And then, as I say, I took up the astronomy. I'd been interested in it before, but I took up the practical side just for getting the time.

Weart:

I see. And how did you acquire one of lord Rosse's instruments?

O'Connell:

His chief mechanic owned it. Apparently, I suppose he'd got it from lord Rosse. Anyway, he sold it to me.

Weart:

I see. What happened to it?

O'Connell:

Oh, goodness knows what happened to it.

Weart:

It's a long time ago.

O'Connell:

That's 60 years ago.

Weart:

You were interested in astronomy already before? I'm very curious as to how a person becomes an astronomer.

O'Connell:

Well, it interested me in a general way, you know. I hadn't made any special studies at all at that time. It was only after that that I started really to study astronomy. I had previously done classics and mathematics. When I went to the National University I did experimental physics and mathematics.

Weart:

Now, let me see, was that where Fitzgerald was?

O'Connell:

Fitzgerald was at Trinity College.

Weart:

That's right, he was at Trinity College.

O'Connell:

I was at the National University.

Weart:

Who were your teachers there?

O'Connell:

Well, In mathematics, there was Arthur Conway. He was very well-known in applied mathematics, and a writer in relativity.

Weart:

Relativity, already at that time?

O'Connell:

Yes, at that time, yes. He'd brought out a book already by that time. Arthur Conway was one, and Egan and McWeeney. The mathematical side was very good.

Weart:

Did you have some mathematical astronomy already?

O'Connell:

Oh yes, we did that with Conway, and then experimental physics with McClellan. He was one of J.J. Thomson's favorites. He was a very good experimentalist.

Weart:

If I may ask, I'm quite curious about early 20th century physics education. You had practical courses, for example?

O'Connell:

In astronomy? No, no. But in physics, oh Lord, yes. Oh yes, absolutely essential. Those were the early days, of course. The electron had been discovered not so long before, and work was being done on ionization.

Weart:

Was this involved already in your practical —

O'Connell:

Oh yes, in the practical courses.

Weart:

I see, although this was Just for undergraduates.

O'Connell:

For undergraduates, yes. In my first graduate work I did pure mathematics.

Weart:

I see. So you already were doing sort of experiments?

O'Connell:

Oh yes.

Weart:

So you had pretty much what I'd call a Cavendish-style education.

O'Connell:

Very much so.

Weart:

A combination of very advanced mathematics and experiment.

O'Connell:

Yes, exactly, yes. The mathematics was really very advanced. It was good.

Weart:

Mixed mathematics.

O'Connell:

Well, they had pure mathematics, and applied mathematics. So, at the end actually, I got a traveling studentship to Cambridge University.

Weart:

Ah, so you went to Cambridge.

O'Connell:

Well, I didn't. Not for many years. What happened was, I fell ill, and the doctor said, "You can't spend another winter in the British climate." So I went to Australia.

Weart:

I see. This was somewhat later. I have it here that you got your Bachelor's at Dublin in 1919, and then your Master's in 1920. I suppose you had some examinations, a sort of tripos type examination to go through?

O'Connell:

Written examinations, yes.

Weart:

I see. Then did you go directly from Dublin to Australia?

O'Connell:

No, I was actually in a German college doing philosophy. got my doctorate in philosophy, strange to say. And then, it was after that that I went to Australia.

Weart:

And at what point did you have your religious training?

O'Connell:

Well, I was in Australia for some years, and then I came back in 1926, to study theology, and finished off then. And then I went back to spend a couple of years at Harvard.

Weart:

In the twenties.

O'Connell:

In the early thirties, '31 to '33. Then I went back to Australia.

Weart:

And when did you Join the Society of Jesuits?

O'Connell:

In 1913. As I said, I was a Jesuit already before I started.

Weart:

You were already, at the age of 15?

O'Connell:

17.

Weart:

I see, and you have in fact been in the Society, a practicing member —

O'Connell:

Ever since then, yes.

Weart:

All right, now, I'm not sure where to begin

O'Connell:

Well, early astronomical contacts, if you're interested, were at Dunsink Observatory. The director there at that time was HC. Plummer, who was well-known later for all his publications. He was very friendly. I used to call on him.

Weart:

This was during your student days?

O'Connell:

In my student days, the very early days. And Howard Grubb, of the family of the Grubb Telescopes, I knew him He showed me all his workshops and the telescopes he was making for Russia and various places. This was the beginning of the war, 1915 by that time.

Weart:

At what point did you — well, I suppose it wasn't until quite late that you decided between seismology and astronomy.

O'Connell:

When I went to Australia, the observatory where I was, outside Sydney, the Riverview Observatory — it was seismology and astronomy.

Weart:

One of the old sort of geophysical observatories.

O'Connell:

Actually it was seismology first, and the astronomy was taken up later. So I did seismology all the time I was in Australia, and astronomy at the same time. It was quite a heavy program, actually.

Weart:

I see. That's quite a combination. Were you attracted particularly to one or the other?

O'Connell:

Well, astronomy more, I must confess But seismology interested me very much too. But the astronomy was more -

Weart:

What was it that drew you to astronomy? That's a hard question.

O'Connell:

It's a hard question to answer, yes. Because I was intensely interested in the universe , and trying to explain I took up a specialty when I went to Holland. I specialized in variable stars. I've worked on eclipsing binaries mainly since then. I've stuck to that ever since.

Weart:

How did it happen? — Well, let's see, a bit more about Australia first, Did you build seismographs there?

O'Connell:

Well, I got them installed. There were various types, the early types of Wiechert seismograph and later Galitzin seismographs. We had a very big installation there. And since then, they have the system that the United States Naval Coast and Geodetic Survey have organized

Weart:

And Riverview College was -

O'Connell:

Outside Sydney.

Weart:

And you were teaching there as well?

O'Connell:

I was teaching only in the beginning. Later on, I had a full time job at the observatory. I was teaching a very few years there. After that, completely seismic research work.

Weart:

I see. Making regular observations.

O'Connell:

Yes.

Weart:

What sort of astronomy were you doing there?

O'Connell:

Variable stars. Photographic photometry; in those days I hadn't taken up photo-electric photometry. I was going to start it when I left Australia, but then I was suddenly called to the Vatican Observatory as director, and I went there and started working on photoelectric photometry.

Weart:

I see. All right, how did it happen that you left Australia to go to Harvard?

O'Connell:

The thing was, I was in Australia. I hadn't been ordained. I was teaching there. And I came back, as I told you, to do further theological studies. And then it was after that that I got the chance of going to Harvard, I'd missed my studentship at Cambridge [England], but finally I was to go to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Weart:

You went to Cambridge after all. Actually at that time a better place to go to do astronomy.

O'Connell:

Oh, beyond comparison. In those days, Harvard was the leading school of astronomy in the world, in my opinion.

Weart:

How did your chance come about?

O'Connell:

Well, I was interested in astronomy, and I discussed the matter with various friends, and they advised me that Harvard was the place to go. Tn fact, the then director of the Vatican Observatory especially recommended me to go to Harvard, Father Stein was the man at the time. So I wrote to Shapley, and he accepted at once. I had a very happy time at Harvard.

Weart:

The Order was entirely in agreement with this sort of thing?

O'Connell:

Oh Lord, yes!

Weart:

And they helped support you?

O'Connell:

Yes, I was the first Jesuit. A number of Jesuits have been to Harvard since, but I think I was the first to go there.

Weart:

Is that so?

O'Connell:

As far as I know, yes.

Weart:

That's interesting. Before you went to Harvard, did you know many of the leading astronomers? You mentioned Father Stein.

O'Connell:

Well, no, I didn't know many, as a matter of fact. I knew Plummer. Not many, no.

Weart:

You had been actually rather isolated in the astronomical world —

O'Connell:

Actually I started really at Harvard. Then of course, we had a great group. We had — oh, Shapley was the first class, and I had H.H. Plaskett, who was one of the professors there, and then shortly after I went there, he became professor of astronomy at Oxford University, and then Cecilia Payne and Bart Bok.

Weart:

There must have been quite a few.

O'Connell:

Fred Whipple. Oh yes. Of course it's very nice to meet them again.

Weart:

When you arrived at Harvard, it must have been quite a feeling.

O'Connell:

Oh, very, it was extremely kind and pleasant. The first man I met when I arrived was a fellow Irishman, from the North of Ireland, Eric Lindsay. We became very great friends and remained friends all our lives, He died only about a year ago. He became director of the Armagh Observatory. He was a very good astronomer and, as I say, we were very good friends. We had a very happy family in Harvard. The atmosphere of the observatory was really excellent, thanks to the Shapleys — Harlow Shapley and Mrs. Shapley. They really bred a family spirit, most friendly. They arranged all sorts of functions, you know, to bring us together.

Weart:

Weekly teas?

O'Connell:

Yes, and functions of various kinds.

Weart:

Did you attend them? Went to their house and so forth?

O'Connell:

Oh Lord, yes.

Weart:

Very often?

O'Connell:

Very often, indeed, There were a great many. I was doing postgraduate work, the others were a lot of undergraduate students, and several postgraduates too, naturally.

Weart:

You must have felt somewhat in between the two, students and professors?

O'Connell:

In a way, yes. Exactly. Shapley put me on the research staff as soon as I arrived.

Weart:

I see.

O'Connell:

I started doing research immediately.

Weart:

I had a somewhat similar experience when I first went into history of science. I left astronomy to go into history of science, and of course, I was older than the other graduate students, and yet I didn't know nearly as much as the professors — sort of in between.

O'Connell:

Exactly. Just the position, yes. Yes, that's true.

Weart:

So, I can ask you both how the professors appeared and how the undergraduates appeared, because you had a view of both. Let me ask you first what it was like to be a student there at Harvard? What were the courses like? Or perhaps I should even ask you to compare them with the sort of education that you got at Dublin?

O'Connell:

Well, of course, it was a different field. At Dublin it was mathematics, more abstract, just pure mathematics, and in Harvard, it was the practical science field I did, almost entirely.

Weart:

Observational?

O'Connell:

Observational. And of course theoretical and technical of various kinds. I remember Whipple's lectures on photographic photometry and things like that — Cecilia Payne, of course, on variable stars and the galaxy. It was just at that time of course that the expanding universe theory began.

Weart:

Ah, you were —

O'Connell:

— at the beginning, in there at the beginning. In 1932 the IAU met at Harvard. It was the first time I was at the IAU meetings. And then there was a discussion between Eddington and Lemaitre. Lemaitre, of course, originated the expanding universe theory and his original paper, the first paper, appeared in a Belgian periodical that wasn't known widely outside the country. But he was a pupil of Eddington. He'd been at Cambridge at just the time I should have been at Cambridge. He was a pupil of Eddington, with whom I had intended to study.

Weart:

Ah, you had intended to study under Eddington?

O'Connell:

Under Eddington, yes, I'd met him. Anyway, Eddington made Lemaitre's work known, of course, immediately. In fact, the first publication, if I remember rightly, Eddington had a review of a book published in NATURE, and in that he put a long account of Lemaitre's work. Then, of course, he published reports on it in standard places. Then there was a discussion at the IAU meeting. It was a big meeting, where both Eddington and Lemaitre spoke, giving their views on the whole thing. It was really the first public exposition of the whole question.

Weart:

I see. And how was that received at Harvard?

O'Connell:

Oh, with tremendous interest, of course. Tremendous interest.

Weart:

I would have thought that it would be such a radical notion that there would have been resistance to accepting it.

O'Connell:

Oh, maybe there was some, but all the younger people certainly were most enthusiastic about it. I don't remember anybody who wasn't, actually. People like Henry Norris Russell, of course, one of the greatest astronomers of this century - he was a man of very broad views. He was extremely interested in the whole thing. Shapley himself, of course was. Those two, Russell and Shapley, alone would have been enough to—

Weart:

— would have been enough to get it accepted.

O'Connell:

Yes. It was accepted at once.

Weart:

I see.

O'Connell:

I don't remember anybody who would have been opposed to it. Except, of course, there were different views. You had some people more or less for the De Sitter universe and so on, but the general feeling then, and since, was for the expanding universe.

Weart:

Did you know Lemaitre, by the way?

O'Connell:

Oh, extremely well, Oh yes, personally.

Weart:

What sort of a person was he?

O'Connell:

A most delightful person. A most delightful companion. We were at Harvard together, and when I was at Harvard, he was at MIT, and we used to meet very frequently.

Weart:

He would have been — in fact, he was exactly of your generation.

O'Connell:

My generation. Somewhat older — a few years older.

Weart:

He was a religious, of course?

O'Connell:

No, no, he was a priest, a diocesan priest. And he was a professor at the University of Louvain and a very good mathematician. Mathematics was his specialty, of course. He approached astronomy from the mathematical side. Then, some years ago, he became president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. An international academy, purely international academy. And he was my predecessor, I succeeded him as president when he died.

Weart:

Let me ask you now a question which has always been of personal interest to me, ana that's the question, what connection — we were talking about Lemaitre — did you ever have any discussions with him about what the religious implications might have been, of the sort of work that he did?

O'Connell:

Well, I suppose we did, you know. I can't remember anything specific — except we had the same general ideas about the whole question of the expansion of the universe, the origin of the universe and so on. We knew very little about it but we were interested in the whole question. Kept open minds. He was very open-minded.

Weart:

What do you make of that? Here now is the first real feeling from astronomy that the universe had a definite origin, a distinct point of origin.

O'Connell:

Well, that was his idea, of course, the Big Bang theory. Of course, philosophically, you could say it's not essential. You could say it could have had no origin, it could have always been there. There's no a priori reason why it shouldn't be, I suppose. From the point of view of creation it could be continuous creation, I can see nothing against it. It's a question of fact — what actually happened? That's of course where the observations are still lacking. They're still trying to distinguish between a temporal origin, in fact the Big Bang theory, and, say, the continuous creation theory of Hoyle and Bondi and the rest.

Weart:

It's clear that it doesn't need to have any creation backed upon religion.

O'Connell:

No, no. That's the point. As a matter of fact, from the very first I remember very well, how when Lemaitre gave us his talk, with Eddington, about the whole question, we discussed the matter. We agreed that as regards the religious point of view, there was no question at all of any conflict. Eddington preferred a sort of gradual beginning. He liked to think of the beginning as simply a state of chaos. He didn't like the idea of a definite start. It was rather amusing, the two different points of view. But either was acceptable.

Weart:

Right. I was thinking perhaps more in terms of simply one's feelings. You know, it's one thing to discuss it from a point of view of theology, shall we say, and it's another thing in terms of a person's inner feelings.

O'Connell:

Ah, yes. Well, that, of course, is a different question altogether. And temperaments I suppose differ that way.

Weart:

Just as Eddington had a preference for —

O'Connell:

— a sort of vague beginning, that was his idea. It's a question of temperament, I suppose.

Weart:

What was Lemaitre's temperament?

O'Connell:

Oh, he was very lively. And, as I say, he was a great companion. I remember the lAU meeting in Zurich, the first one after the last war. One day — it was a day they were going on an excursion, so we decided we wouldn't go, and he said, "Let's come to the zoo." So we went to the zoo, he and my friend Lindsay I mentioned, and another friend of ours, the three of us went to the zoo and had a great time chitchatting away, making jokes and so on, He was very cheerful.

Weart:

And of course he was intellectually extremely keen.

O'Connell:

Oh, extremely keen.

Weart:

Do you suppose that, in contrast to Eddington, he had feelings that he wanted a precise point of beginning or a precise origin?

O'Connell:

I don't know. Eddington of course was sort of mystical, in a way. Some of his ideas were extremely difficult to follow, you know.

Weart:

Yes, I've tried to look at it myself and I know.

O'Connell:

It's not easy at all. He was a very, very deep thinker. And as I say, different from Lemaitre. Lemaitre was very precise, a precise mathematician.

Weart:

By the way, how were Eddington's ideas received at Harvard?

O'Connell:

I don't remember hearing them discussed, because the general impression, the general acceptance was of Lemattre's idea, a sudden origin — the Big Bang.

Weart:

I'm thinking particularly for example of Eddington's fundamental theory.

O'Connell:

Of course, that came later. That was after I left Harvard.

Weart:

Of course.

O'Connell:

Oh yes. Eddington of course was a great thinker, undoubtedly. A very fine person.

Weart:

You mentioned that you knew him.

O'Connell:

I knew him, of course, oh yes.

Weart:

From meetings and so forth?

O'Connell:

From meetings, yes. As I say, I had intended to work with him originally. And then it didn't turn out.

Weart:

Now, at Harvard again, you mentioned Shapley; Shapley's personality is pretty well known. What about, for example, Cecilia Payne? What sort of teacher was she?

O'Connell:

Very good. Excellent. Very clear always.

Weart:

She must have been about your age?

O'Connell:

I suppose she would be. She must be. She came from Cambridge, of course, Cambridge, England. She was always very clear — like her writings, her books.

Weart:

Women have always represented a very small minority in astronomy.

O'Connell:

But at Harvard, oh, they were very strong there. You had Miss Cannon, Annie Cannon, and before her Miss Maury, who did very early work on spectral classification, very important work.

Weart:

It was almost a Harvard tradition.

O'Connell:

A Harvard tradition, oh yes.

Weart:

Why should that have been?

O'Connell:

I don't know; because it was more open, I suppose. There were some universities of course wouldn't accept women at all. But at least Harvard was certainly very open that way.

Weart:

I get the feeling from you that the whole place was extremely open intellectually.

O'Connell:

Extremely.

Weart:

Any sort of ideas could circulate?

O'Connell:

Oh yes. They were extremely friendly, and we were all on very good terms.

Weart:

That must have been a lot of fun.

O'Connell:

Oh yes. It was quite an exciting and very interesting time.

Weart:

Now, you had already been working on variable stars when you went there?

O'Connell:

Well, very little, just beginning, really. I really started my work there.

Weart:

I see. And what sort of work did you do?

O'Connell:

I was doing photographic photometry, working on their plates. You see, Harvard has a collection of half a million plates.

Weart:

Yes.

O'Connell:

And so I was let loose in the stacks there, simply picked out the stars I was interested in and worked on them, and wrote several papers while I was there.

Weart:

I see. Under anyone in particular?

O'Connell:

No. I recall I used to discuss things with Cecilia Payne and Annie Cannon and Leon Campbell who was a very good variable star man. We used to discuss matters together. And, of course, I discussed always a good bit with Shapley.

Weart:

My goodness, you discussed things with everybody there, didn't you?

O'Connell:

Well, we did, yes. I dealt more directly with Shapley, I suppose — there would be more assistance he'd make to me.

Weart:

But it wasn't the sort of place where one student or one professor goes off with a student in a corner?

O'Connell:

No. I've never found that, I must say.

Weart:

Complete interaction.

O'Connell:

Yes. And then, of course, there were all the visiting astronomers. You see, Hertzsprung was there frequently. I got to know Hertzsprung quite well. He was another great man. And Henry Norris Russell was a research associate. He used to come by very frequently. I got to know him well too.

Weart:

Oh, did you?

O'Connell:

Oh yes.

Weart:

He was —

O'Connell:

Princeton.

Weart:

I was trying to think about how old he would have been at the time. He'd have been about in his fifties, perhaps?

O'Connell:

Or more. Fifties, at least that.* He was already very well known, of course.

Weart:

Did he interact with the students? You say you got to know him well?

O'Connell:

Oh yes, we used to have - he used to have seminars, you know, and he'd come along, and it would all be extremely interesting and informal. And pleasant.

Weart:

You're giving me a very good picture of why Harvard was the sort of a place that it was.

O'Connell:

It really was a great center. I had a long talk a couple of days ago with Peter Nillman, I really got Millman to know him. He's from

*[Russell, born 1877, would have been in his mid-fifties. S.W.]

he's the expert on meteors. We was working on meteors even at Harvard. We were both together working there. He was working on meteors then, and he's been working on them all his life. Hess the president of the commission, the expert on the meteor question.

Weart:

I see.

O'Connell:

Meteors and meteorites. We were talking about the old days at Harvard, how very pleasant they were — talking about old friends.

Weart:

And you were there for how long?

O'Connell:

Two years.

Weart:

Two years. And as you say, a lot of visitors were coming through?

O'Connell:

Any number of visitors. It was a great center. And, of course, at the time of the IAU, we had all the leading astronomers of the world there.

Weart:

Thats right. And then after that you went back to Australia?

O'Connell:

After that I went back. Oh, I spent some time in Mt. Wilson and Lick, just to get some further experience. I rode across the States to Australia, you see, and took the opportunity of doing some work in the California observatories.

Weart:

I see. Did they let you observe, or were you -

O'Connell:

I did some observing with Alfred Joy. Just to get to work with the 100 inch.

Weart:

How were you received at these places?

O'Connell:

Oh, they were most friendly. Couldn't have been friendlier.

Weart:

I see. How long did you spend?

O'Connell:

Oh, that was only a question of a couple of months, I was working at Harvard. I was just passing through, just to have the opportunity. Of course, coming from Harvard they made me welcome. At Mt. Wilson they never quite forgave Harlow Shapley for leaving there.

Weart:

Yes, as a matter of fact, there was always a little bad feeling about it. OConnell: Well, hardly bad feeling. But they thought somehow that it was a come-down for him to leave Mt. Wilson and become the director of Harvard Observatory. But of course, he built up Harvard Observatory.

Weart:

Absolutely.

O'Connell:

It's his work.

Weart:

Absolutely. You never found any place that you were — well, I was going to say that because you came from Harvard, that people took a particular viewpoint towards you?

O'Connell:

No, they were just friendly. Oh no.

Weart:

And then you went back to Australia?

O'Connell:

Yes.

Weart:

And then you were in Australia for a number of years?

O'Connell:

I did some work on the way too — I went across the Pacific for a short time in Japan and China, and then on to Java. I spent some months in Java, in the observatory there, because we were collaborating with the Dutch Observatory in Lembang. They had a very good observatory there.

Weart:

I see. Was this an astronomical observatory?

O'Connell:

An astronomical observatory, a very fine one. It's still working. It wasn't damaged during the war, and fortunately it's been able to carry on, at Lembang. The director was a very good friend of mine, and I spent some months living with him there and a couple of others. Then we arranged cooperative programs, which we carried on for some years.

Weart:

You were doing setsmology at the time as well?

O'Connell:

In Australia, oh yes. I was director of the observatory, both the seismalogical and the astronomical.

Weart:

I see. Were you involved in seismological, or shall we say, geophysical or geological organizations?

O'Connell:

Well, of course I was a member of the International Union of Geology and Geophysics.

Weart:

So you went to their meetings as well?

O'Connell:

Yes.

Weart:

Tell me now, please, how would you compare and contrast the two during that era?

O'Connell:

Well, let me see now — After the war, 1948, the first IAU meeting was in Zurich, and I came over from Australia for that. And then the first lAU meeting after the war was in Oslo ininediately afterwards. So that in between, I had to fly from Zurich to Oslo to the other meeting. Of course, the astronomy was more my interest. The other interested me naturally too. They were both very interesting.

Weart:

Were there any distinct differences between how they were organized, how the meetings went?

O'Connell:

I wouldn't like to say — to tell you the honest truth, really, my memory is a bit vague. The next Geophysical meeting was Rome, '54. They were very big meetings, actually. In those days, they were bigger than the astronomical meetings. And, of course, that meant that they weren't so pleasant, in a way, as the astronomical meetings. Because in the old days the astronomical meetings — until the Rome meeting, as a matter of fact, in '52 — their numbers were comparatively small.

Weart:

That's right. A number of people have mentioned to me what a difference it is — now here we are in Grenoble with over 3000 people —

O'Connell:

Yes.

Weart:

At Harvard I suppose there were 300?

O'Connell:

About 300, altogether. And at Rome '52, the second Rome meeting the first Rome meeting was '22, which I wasn't at - at the '52 meeting there were about 300, I suppose, perhaps a little more, not much more.

Weart:

Then you must have attended most of the IAU meetings.

O'Connell:

Well, most of them, I suppose, yes.

Weart:

In fact, they must have been particularly important to you, because of your being in Australia.

O'Connell:

Exactly, yes. I missed some. When I went to Australia, of course, I missed the first — let's see, the '35 was the Paris meeting, the '38 the Cambridge, England meeting. I missed those two. But after that..

Weart:

Did you have other opportunities to have contacts with foreign astronomers?

O'Connell:

When I was in Australia and until, let me see, until after the war — of course all the war years were out completely, but as soon as the war was over, I was able to get away — but until then, no.

Weart:

So you were aware of what was happening through publications?

O'Connell:

Publications, yes. I took exchange of publications always. I had very good contacts with other observatories.

Weart:

Occasional correspondence?

O'Connell:

Carried on quite a heavy correspondence, actually. So —

Weart:

And you continued your work on variable stars?

O'Connell:

On variable stars, oh yes, my publications were all on variable stars.

Weart:

Then you became involved in eclipsing binaries also?

O'Connell:

Eclipsing binaries, I started that actually at Harvard.

Weart:

Oh, already, when you were at Harvard?

O'Connell:

Yes. I found a few of them there, and some of them proved particularly interesting. In fact, the first two I found proved to be cases of apsidal motion. There are not many known, and they're all extremely interesting. So I naturally continued working and studying those.

Weart:

I see. Of course, being in the Southern Hemisphere you had particular opportunities.

O'Connell:

Particular opportunities, exactly. Exactly. Of course at Harvard, we had good plates for the Southern Hemisphere too, so I was working on some of those. Naturally I was working on stars that I would observe in the Southern Hemisphere, so I was working particularly on the Southern plates.

Weart:

I see. And seismology, again — you were continuing to operate?

O'Connell:

Continuing to operate. I had regular seismological bulletins, and communication with all the other observatories, of course. Then, during the war, of course, I was in touch with the United States representative there. The consul and so on asked me to keep a lookout for explosions and so on — submarine explosions. Submarines got into Sydney Harbor and things of that kind.

Weart:

I see. Did you detect any such things?

O'Connell:

Oh yes.

Weart:

An early example of what's become a very important concern In seismology.

O'Connell:

Of course. Exactly, yes.

Weart:

I don't know whether you've been involved in seismology since you went to the Vatican Observatory?

O'Connell:

No, not at all. But my successor did. He was concerned with observing atomic explosions in the Pacific. He wrote on that.

Weart:

I see. Well, let me think — before we get into when you became Director of the Vatican Observatory, is there anything else you'd like to comnent on? There were tremendous developments in astronomy during those years.

O'Connell:

Well, yes, there have been. As I say, the war years — well, during the war years, of course, in California, when the lights were out, Baade was able to do a great deal of work that he couldn't have done otherwise at Mt. Wilson. So some very important work was done actually during those years.

Weart:

I don't suppose you heard about that till after the war.

O'Connell:

We didn't, no, that's right.

Weart:

Now, tell me, how did you become Director of the Vatican Observatory? It was 1952?

O'Connell:

'52. I was appointed by the Pope — he appoints them. I suppose he made inquiries around.

Weart:

You didn't hear anything about it beforehand?

O'Connell:

Well, I did, as a matter of fact. I was asked whether I'd care to go, and I was very doubtful about it. However, I was appointed all the same. It's a question of simply being appointed and going. It's not a question of refusing.

Weart:

You knew you were being considered at any rate. So you arrived there in Rome, and what did you find?

O'Connell:

I found, first of all, just the IAU meeting there. I arrived just in time for that.

Weart:

Ah, just at that time. This was the IAU meeting at which you suddenly noticed that it was larger?

O'Connell:

Yes. It had increased somewhat, but not much. It was still very pleasant.

Weart:

It was still possible to meet everybody —

O'Connell:

— oh yes, oh yes —

Weart:

— just by standing and watching —

O'Connell:

Pretty well. Oh yes. I met a lot of my old friends there — Shapley and many others. It was very pleasant indeed, a good meeting. Now, getting back to the Vatican Observatory. Actually, it had been, of course, in the Vatican itself. I noticed that Paris claims to be the oldest observatory in the world still functioning. Well, the Vatican Observatory started 100 years previously, before the days of telescopes even, and the old observatory is still there in the Vatican. I've been there, we've brought astronomers to show it to them. It was actually built about 1577 or '78, the present buildings, and it was built for a study to prepare the reform of the calendar, our present calendar, which was published in 1582.

Weart:

In a way related to your own first interest, then, the time.

O'Connell:

Exactly, yes. It's a question of simply a meridian line — the change that should be made in the calendar to bring it in line with the seasons. The astronomical work was carried on from then on in Rome itself, in Papal Rome in those days. The Roman College, the Collegio Romano, was run by the Jesuits. The chief man for the reform of the calendar was Christopher Clavius who was professor of mathematics at the university, which became the Gregorian University; he, remember, was doing astronomy there. And then afterwards, Schemer and various others carried on until the Jesuits were suppressed in 1773.

Weart:

Yes, in fact you mentioned that after the reorganization [Risorgimento] of Italy, all of those records became transferred to the Italian government National Archives.

O'Connell:

Yes, that's right.

Weart:

So you had to go look in the National Archives for the records?

O'Connell:

Yes, and in the observatory, that's true.

Weart:

But the observatory itself, you were saying earlier -

O'Connell:

Well, first of all I'll tell you something about 1773, a century earlier, when the Jesuits were suppressed, The observatory was continued by people who had been working there. Students of the Jesuits carried it on until the Jesuits came back in the early 19th century and started it again. Then you had people like de Vico and Secchi; of course Secchi is very well known.

Weart:

Very well known. OConnell: He was director there for many years, and in 1870, when the Italian government took Rome from the Pope, he was director. Well, they tell me he had such a high reputation that the Italian government let him stay on until he died, in fact, next year it'll be the centennial of his death. And, in fact, he was made a senator of the new Italian kingdom. Which was somewhat unusual for cleric.

Weart:

For a Jesuit, yes.

O'Connell:

For a Jesuit especially, yes. However, he was, arid he stayed there until he died. Then, as I say, the observatory was carried on by the Italian state and has been ever since — first in its old site, which is in the Collegio Romano, right in the middle of Rome, and then it moved out to Monte Mario. In the meantime, the Vatican Observatory was restarted in the Vatican itself, in the old building —

Weart:

The original building.

O'Connell:

The original building, with telescopes. There were some of these massive 9th century towers built for defense against the Saracens, enormous things, and two of those were arranged to carry telescopes, with domes.

Weart:

I see, it must have given you quite a feeling, to carry on astronomy in this sort of surroundings.

O'Connell:

Well, of course, this was before my time, in the Vatican. The observatory was shifted from the Vatican, you see. It was in the Vatican until the early 1930s, before I came there, about '33 or '34. And then the lights of Rome were too troublesome, so it was shifted to Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer palace outside Rome, where, of course, conditions were very much superior. Higher up to begin with, and the air was much clearer. Well, it was shifted there. We still had, as I said, some of the old towers in the Vatican until my time We had to vacate them finally. We used them for various purposes. Anyway, the observatory was shifted to Castel Gandolfo, The Pope, Pius XI, decided — of course, this was the time of the Lateran Treaty between the Italian government and the Vatican — Pius XI got back his summer palace, Castel Gandolfo, which, of course, he'd never been to, you see, he'd been cut off from it all these years.

He got that back, and he decided that the observatory was to go there, and would get entirely new equipment. So Zeiss provided entirely new telescopes, excellent telescopes. Two, one visual one for double star work, a reflector, and then a photographic refractor. So the equipment was very good.

For those days, as good as you could get. That would have been in the thirties — Then, of course, the war came, and soon after the war I was called there. Well, by the time I arrived, they decided they wanted a new telescope, it had already been started, so I carried on and finished the construction of a Schmidt telescope, which is the biggest one they have. It's an excellent telescope, with very fine objective prisms. It's very powerful, actually. Not the biggest, but one of the most powerful of its kind.

Weart:

Have you tried to direct the observatory's scientific program in any particular direction, or do you find its sort of determined — ?

O'Connell:

— well, of course, remember I'm retired —

Weart:

I'm talking about while you were director.

O'Connell:

Well, the general line, I continued work on variable stars, which I'd been doing already. And continued work which had been started many years before, the Carte du Ciel — the astrographic catalog. You remember, in the 1880's it was decided to make a catalog of all the stars down to about the 15th magnitude, and at the same time, a chart covering the whole sky. And the whole sky, North and South, was divided between about 18 observatories.

So the Vatican Observatory took one of the sections, Greenwich was the one at the North Pole, and then next came the Vatican, the next zone. When I came on, all the catalog had been completed, a quarter of a million stars, that had been completed and published some years previously. But the atlas, the charts had not been finished. So I got all those finished off and distributed. We were among the comparatively few observatories that really did finish the work. A lot of them have never finished it at all. And they never will. However, there were other means of course, you've got the Mount Palomar atlas now. Still, for the particular epoch, these things give you the state of the —

Weart:

— tell you where everything was —

O'Connell:

Oh yes, so it's quite important. As I say, we completed that work. That was one part of the work done, a fairly small part. Then, with the new telescope, the Schmidt, we decided to do mainly spectroscopic work because we had objective prisms.

Weart:

You're always saying "we" now. "We" means—

O'Connell:

Well, I mean my staff and myself. Yes.

Weart:

Was this set in consultation?

O'Connell:

Oh yes. Well, to tell you the truth, it was easy because I selected the staff. When I came, I was told to select a staff They had some there already, but they wanted more.

Weart:

Because it was going to be enlarged?

O'Connell:

Yes, so I got new people. You've seen Father McCarthy. He was one of them.

Weart:

That's right

O'Connell:

He came later. There was Father Treanor, and others.

Weart:

Did you know all of these people personally already?

O'Connell:

I knew them personally already, yes.

Weart:

Where did you meet them?

O'Connell:

Well, I met them in various travels. Treanor at Oxford — in fact, I met him first at Zurich, that 1948 meeting, he and Bertiau. He was a very good mathematician, a computer. I got both of those to join the staff. McCarthy I met in the States when I visited over there, where he was studying.

Weart:

Before you became director?

O'Connell:

Oh, no, when I was director. When I was director, I went over there.

Weart:

I see, you had much more opportunity to travel, I suppose.

O'Connell:

Yes, I was able to travel. I was able to pick and choose, and persuade the local authorities to let them go. Which wasn't often easy because they were all good men.

Weart:

That's right, they needed them for their own purposes too.

O'Connell:

Right. As I say, we developed — I've told you about the rest of the staff — mainly spectroscopic work. It fitted in with work done in the astrophysical laboratory of the observatory, which is fitted up with large spectroscopes, for producing atlases of laboratory spectra. So the other work fitted in well with that. My own work was photoelectric photometry, I concentrated on that.

Weart:

Again, with the variable stars?

O'Connell:

The variable stars, yes.

Weart:

But photoelectrically.

O'Connell:

Photoelectrically. The eclipsing binaries particularly.

Weart:

Of course there was whole photo-electric revolution.

O'Connell:

Yes. It was just about that time, I came in early on it.

Weart:

How did you pick up your photoelectric techniques?

O'Connell:

Well, let me see. I was working with Eggen. At one time, I was in the States, when was it? In '48 after the IAU meeting I went to spend some time in the States, went to Harvard again, and then I went to Lick. And there Eggen and I did some photo-electric work. I started actually over there.

Weart:

I see, he showed you what he was using.

O'Connell:

Yes. Matter of fact, I was planning then to start it in Australia. But then shortly after that I went to Rome, and I started it there. I had a very good electronics man on the staff, who died, unfortunately, rather young, only a couple of months ago.

Weart:

You must have been one of the early observatories to add an electronics expert.

O'Connell:

Yes, I suppose we were, really. In fact, he was actually there when I arrived.

Weart:

Oh. he was?

O'Connell:

He hadn't finished his doctorate at the time, but he was actually working at the observatory.

Weart:

Oh, he was getting a doctorate, in fact. In what?

O'Connell:

He was getting a doctorate in astronomy.

Weart:

In astronomy? Oh, I see, but he was —

O'Connell:

— but he was working at the observatory, he was working, he was very good. Salpeter was his name. But he died, as I say, early this year.

Weart:

He was also an electronics expert?

O'Connell:

Yes.

Weart:

What did you use, the old 1P21 [photoniltiplier]?

O'Connell:

The 1P21, yes.

Weart:

I used that myself.

O'Connell:

Very good — refrigerated?

Weart:

No, I used refrigerated once, but not the 1P21. Did you refrigerate?

O'Connell:

Oh yes, oh Lord, yes.

Weart:

Did you have any trouble getting things? This was still in 1951, 1952?

O'Connell:

Oh no, no difficulty, it was all right. First of all, I used dry ice, but I found that rather troublesome. And I gave that up, and took to the thermoelectric.

Weart:

Yes, well, when it came out it was a great boon.

O'Connell:

Yes, I used that then. As I say, we had a good electronics man to look after all these things for us. Then we started — got a computer, an IBM computer, which of course was a tremendous asset.

Weart:

Around what time was that?

O'Connell:

That computer arrived about '64, I think it was. One of the early "1620"s.

Weart:

This was not to drive the telescope?

O'Connell:

Oh no, this was for all sorts of calculations. All the photoelectric reductions. I had the programs for all those, all that work, and worked on the analysis of light curves. All that was done on the computer.

Weart:

I see. Did you have arty theorists around?

O'Connell:

Yes, indeed. That Belgian I spoke of, Bertiau, he's a real expert.

Weart:

I see. Did you go out deliberately and say, "We need some theorists here?"

O'Connell:

Oh no, he was a man I picked very early on. As I say, in '48, as far back as that, I picked him.

Weart:

You couldn't have picked him in '48, because —

O'Connell:

— I picked him, indeed. But he didn't come till later. But I had my eye on him from that time on.

Weart:

I see. Did you know that early that you might become director of the observatory?

O'Connell:

No, I didn't, as a matter of fact. I didn't, of course.

Weart:

But you knew that he would be —

O'Connell:

When I became director, I knew that he was one of the men I wanted. I'd already made acquaintance with him.

Weart:

Good, I see. I'm interested because of course your work has been chiefly observational, and I think the Vatican Observatory is known for its observational work.

O'Connell:

Oh yes, observation, it's not theoretical.

Weart:

So why did you add a theorist?

O'Connell:

For the computing. He does the computing. He' s a very good programner and so on.

Weart:

I see.

O'Connell:

He's a professor of mathematics and celestial mechanics at the University of Louvain. He was only one semester with us and one semester in Louvain.

Weart:

I see, I see.

O'Connell:

He's still there. He's actually in Louvain at the moment. He's here at this meeting, but I mean, he's going back to Louvain. But he's a real expert on that. We needed somebody who could run it, it was no use getting into computers unless you got somebody who was really able to handle it.

Weart:

And the obvious person, of course, is a theoretical person.

O'Connell:

Yes, He's a mathematician, a very good mathematician.

Weart:

OK, Now, I haven't asked you yet about the Green Flash, how you got interested in that.

O'Connell:

Well, that's a pure hobby. I tell you what it was. I suppose you wouldn't remember, but there was quite a hot controversy among astronomers as to whether the Green Flash was objective, or was it all in your eye?

Weart:

Right.

O'Connell:

We had some very distinguished men, like Lord Kelvin, who'd seen it very clearly in the Alps one day, and he was convinced it was all in your eye. All subjective. I remember another well-known astronomer, L.J. Comrie, in England, and he had been to New Zealand. He was a New Zealander, and when he came back from New Zealand — he'd seen it at sea - he wrote an article for NATURE where it was purely subjective.

Well, that annoyed me, because looking from my study window in Castel Gondolfo across the Mediterranean, I could see it any time I wanted to. So I said, "Why not try and photograph it in color?" So, we had two very good photographers there, one especially, and he said, "Well, we'll try it" So we started a program very carefully chosen to make sure there were no spurious effects of the spectrum.

We started off with a reflector, a Cassegrain, pretty long focus, and at once we got some very pretty things in color. Then later on, once we established that there were no spurious effects introduced, we worked with the refractor.

Weart:

Ah, I see, this is why you started with a reflector, to guarantee that it was —

O'Connell:

Yes. With the refractor I had a longer focal length, it gave us a bigger image. It was useful from that point of view So most of the later observations were taken with the refractor, The conditions were very good then. It would be impossible now.

Weart:

Oh, has it changed so much?

O'Connell:

Oh, the atmosphere now near Rome is appalling.

Weart:

Because of industrial pollution?

O'Connell:

Industrial pollution, and oil heating and petrol and fumes.

Weart:

What's going to become of the observatory?

O'Connell:

Oh, the observatory's not so bad. It's not as good as it was when I went there first, but, of course, we look down on the smog.

Weart:

Yes, it's one thing to look towards the horizon —

O'Connell:

— that was out to sea, you see, and you don't get the clear atmosphere you used to get.

Weart:

I remember reading the article in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN* on the Green Flash. In fact, I've watched for it ever since. I've seen it twice.

O'Connell:

I tell you, that's good

Weart:

Only twice, and then only because I've watched for it.

O'Connell:

You have to watch for it, because if you don't know what to look for, it's not so easy. Because its almost instantaneous, very rapid.

Weart:

That must have been a lot of fun for you.

O'Connell:

A lot of fun. It was a pure hobby, but I thought it would be a nice thing to give a definite proof. It was the first definite proof.

Weart:

Yes, people were surprised by it.

O'Connell:

Yes.

Weart:

Let me ask you now about some of your international activities. You've been, I have here you were president of the Commission on Photometric Double Stars in the IAU —

O'Connell:

— which means eclipsing binaries. Photometric double stars means eclipsing binaries. The French chose that title, but it was changed to Eclipsing Binary Commission.

Weart:

Right. And you've been various other things, what — a member of all sorts of societies and so forth — I don't know what exactly to ask about it, except that I find this whole rather complex international organization interesting. Has it grown more complex over the years, by the way?

O'Connell:

Oh yes, it's more complex. Of course, the number of commissions have increased very considerably since the early days of the IAU. And the numbers of members on the comissions of course have increased very much.

Weart:

Has the character of the commissions changed, do you think? *January 1960.

O'Connell:

Well, I don't know — let's see. I was president of that commission from '55 to '61. And I was a member of the organizing commnittee for another six years.

Weart:

And you were a member of the commission before for a long time.

O'Connell:

Oh yes, I've been a member of the commission for about 30 years. Anyway, since the beginning of the commission — it actually started in '48, I think, if I remember rightly, at the time of the Zurich meeting. I was the second president. It's changed to this extent, that on account of all the new discoveries - take the X-ray stars and so on. Of course, there are X-ray binaries coming in for a great deal of discussion.

This would be the first meeting, I suppose, when these things would be discussed, but those have become important parts of the commission now, whereas before, of course, they were never deamt of. We had no idea there were X-ray emissions from the stars at all until we got the satellites.

Weart:

So the scientific content, the subject, has changed.

O'Connell:

The subject has changed, yes.

Weart:

Almost under your feet, so to speak.

O'Connell:

And to some extent, also, in the beginning, it was mainly observational. A lot of photoelectric work was really largely organized by the conmtission, in general. And the theoretical work has developed more since the early days, the evolution of binaries. It's extremely complex. And of course, stellar models and all, all those things come in. And so it has developed on those lines very considerably.

Weart:

Has the character of the meetings changed? There must be many more people now sitting in on them.

O'Connell:

Many more, oh yes. That makes a difference in itself — the fact that you don't meet everybody makes quite a difference in itself.

Weart:

Do you suppose that the discussion is no longer as free as it used to be?

O'Connell:

Well, the discussions are free, all right, but of course, it's not quite as intimate, you might say, in a way. From that point of view, I had a long talk just this afternoon with D.H. Menzel on the question of the magnetic field of the moon.

We had a long discussion about various things, just between ourselves. But of course, that's the thing — in private discussions you can get a whole lot of ground covered, whereas in a large meeting it's not so easy at all.

Weart:

At one time, the two functions would almost have been combined?

O'Connell:

Exactly, yes. And nowadays, with the commission so big, it does make a difference. Oh yes, it's a definite change.

Weart:

I see. Now, here's one thing I picked up, just as an example — you wrote in the introduction to the book you edited, on Study Week on Nuclei of Galaxies, that at Prague in 1967 at the IAU you met with Morgan, Ryle and Sandage, and decided to organize one of these study weeks of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. I'm a little curious how you got involved in nuclei of galaxies, and what were the circumstances?

O'Connell:

Well, the point is this. We had a previous study week which I organized — it was on stellar populations. There was so much interest taken in that that a lot of people said to me, why not run some other study meetings? Actually, if I remember right, they suggested first the question of nuclei of galaxies.

It wasn't a thing I specialized in myself at all, but it was a very good question. I could organize it all right, and we decided that it would be very interesting. It was a timely topic, just as the stellar population was - just at the right time actually.

Weart:

I see, so you were sort of looking for a topic and the topic was looking for a meeting.

O'Connell:

I was looking for a topic that was very actual, and this time — I had my discussions with Morgan and Ryle and Sandage — it turned out to be really very actual. We laid out a general plan there. Unfortunately, Ryle wasn't able to come. His health's not good at all. I don't think he's been to any meetings since then, so far as I know.

Weart:

I didn't know.

O'Connell:

No, I don't think he was at the Brighton meeting. He certainly didn't come to the Sydney meeting, and he's not here now. So he's not been well at all. He had to be careful.

Weart:

I see.

O'Connell:

But he's a first class man, of course. He's one of three — Morgan, Ryle, Sandage — three very good ones. Then I added to those to form a committee, you see. I added the various others you see in the book there.

Weart:

Right, you went on to mention other people.

O'Connell:

Yes, Fred Hoyle.

Weart:

Have you been following these things yourself - nuclei of galaxies, quasars and so forth?

O'Connell:

Oh yes. I'm not doing any observing, of course, but from the point of view of interest, oh Lord, yes.

Weart:

Great fascination —

O'Connell:

Great interest indeed. Yes.

Weart:

Well, let me shift ground again now to another question. I'm interested in the popular attitudes toward astronomy and so forth, and I would think that at the Vatican Observatory you would have had more contact with that than most — all sorts of letters being received and so forth.

O'Connell:

Well, to some extent But there's no teaching done there, you see.

Weart:

I mean interest of the public.

O'Connell:

Yes — well, there are a number of visitors, of course, and schools come along. You get a certain number of visitors of that kind. But public interest in astronomy, what would be more important would be a planetarium in a public observatory. A planetarium, that's the real way of getting people to learn something about astronomy. For instance, my friend Lindsay at Armagh Observatory. With great pains and devotion, he managed to get started a planetarium besides the observatory at Armagh, in Northern Ireland of all places, and besides that, it's a public.. I agree with it. It's extremely important that the general public should be informed about the general developments.

Weart:

Have you been aware of any change in the public? For example, do you feel that a schoolboy today would have the same feeling about astronomy that you had?

O'Connell:

I think more so. There's so much talk about it, and especially since the first Sputnik went up and the first satellites. There's so much general interest today, I think they're bound to be more interested.

Weart:

It seems more exciting now?

O'Connell:

Oh yes. I think any youngster that shows any interest at all, that gets hold of a book on astronomy, is going to be very moved by the whole thing.

Weart:

For you, I suppose going into astronomy was so closely tied up with becoming a Jesuit; for example, you didn't need to worry about what your career would be.

O'Connell:

Yes, that's true. I didn't, and I didn't aim directly at becoming an astronomer. I was working at it, and I didn't know whether I'd be excluded from that. I mean, I was a teacher for a time. So that's true.

Weart:

What did you imagine you would be doing when you were studying in school?

O'Connell:

I don't know. I was teaching mathematics and physics.

Weart:

I see. Perhaps you've thought about this yourself: it's well known that Jesuits have always specialized in seismology and astronomy and some related fields, and they still seem to be doing so.

O'Connell:

Well, yes. Seismology, I think not so much as they did. The Jesuits Seismology Association in the United States was very strong, but I dont think they're as active now as they were. I don't think there are so many active observatories as there were.

Weart:

But you do find some.

O'Connell:

Oh, definitely, in different parts. This one I spoke of in Australia was the leading observatory in the whole Southern Hemisphere for many years. It was outstanding. Of course there have been consider- able developments, others have started up, but for many years it was the leading one. But in astronomy, of course, the work of the Jesuits goes back very much further.

Weart:

Yes.

O'Connell:

Very much further. That goes back to about 1600.

Weart:

Yes, connected, of course, with their missionary work

O'Connell:

- Their missionary work in China. For instance, now, I mentioned Clavius, the professor at the Gregorian University. His students went out as missionaries to China, and they brought with them their astronomical knowledge in fact, they were the first to bring Copernicanism to China, in spite of the differences they had with - Galileo

Weart:

— right, yes —

O'Connell:

— if they were to challenge the calendar in China, of the Emperor, and things of that kind. It gave them an entree into the country which they couldn't have had otherwise They had tremendous activities, really amazing. You go back over their letters - everywhere they went, they were making maps of the countries they were in, unknown countries. And observations of all sorts, astronomical observations.

Weart:

Do you find that this is continuing with the new generation?

O'Connell:

It is. But of course, on a lesser scale. The number of astronomical observatories that's run by Jesuits now is less than it was some years ago.

Weart:

Why do you suppose?

O'Connell:

Well, I suppose it's a matter of getting people who are really interested to take on the work. It's not a sort of work that everybody would undertake. It requires a special type of mind, I suppose. You see, you take an ordinary working priest - he might not want to devote himself to this highly intellectual pastime.

Weart:

I suppose it takes someone who, like yourself, was curious about the universe.

O'Connell:

Oh yes.

Weart:

The composition of the universe.

O'Connell:

Exactly. I mean, if you haven't got that interest, it's really a waste of time and energy. So I think that would be the explanation. But as I say, they were extraordinarily active for many years. In fact, a friend who interrupted our talk when we were down below getting coffee made this very point. Dr. Fleckenstein and Dr. Pecker, the former Secretary General, they're both extremely interested, and Professor Gingerich who's president of the History of Astronomy Commission, they're all very interested in the astronomical work done by the Jesuits in their missions.

Weart:

Oh, yes.

O'Connell:

And they're saying, "How are we going to get the documents?" Well, they come to me. They're not in the Vatican, but in the archives of the Order, I can fix that up for them quickly. They're extremely interested.

Weart:

Yes, I should say so.

O'Connell:

There's a Chinese friend of mine at the moment who's working in the archives, he's worked for a couple of years cataloging all the Chinese documents. There's a tremendous amount of stuff in Chinese. He's able to do this — of course, others wouldn't — to catalog all the reports and so on.

Weart:

I was talking about the younger Jesuits — do you find that within the order, let's say within the leaders of the order and so forth, there's the same interest in science that there once was?

O'Connell:

I think so, yes, in general among the top leaders—

Weart:

— that is regarded one of the important missions —

O'Connell:

— oh definitely, most definitely. But as I say, the other question is whether the individuals will appear. It depends very much — We had some very good ones at the Vatican Observatory, Treanor and so forth.

Weart:

What about in the church as a whole? I was asking you earlier about changes in public attitudes toward astronomy and so forth. But I wonder — of course, when you were a student you were only in one corner of the Catholic world — but I wonder whether you had noticed any change in the attitude toward astronomy?

O'Connell:

That's a hard question to answer. I can say this, there's so much general interest in astronomy now that any educated person could not avoid becoming interested. And I'd say that holds for the church, too — generally, the leaders of the church and the intelligent laity, generally. I think that's true, a very definite interest.

Weart:

But without any particular separate viewpoint?

O'Connell:

Yes, exactly.

Weart:

That follows, I suppose, what you indicated about your own views, that you feel that being a Catholic or being a Jesuit is perhaps not directly connected with your being an astronomer?

O'Connell:

No. They're distinct. I mean, there's no opposition between them.

Weart:

Exactly. And, of course, the one encourages the other.

O'Connell:

Yes, exactly.

Weart:

Well, I suppose that would be a good place to stop. I don't know. Is there something we've missed?

O'Connell:

I think we've covered a great deal of ground, if you ask me.

Weart:

OK.