Brian Marsden - Session I

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ORAL HISTORIES
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Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Location
Minor Planet Center, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Interview of Brian Marsden by David DeVorkin on 2005 October 12, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/32973-1

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Biographical profile of astronomer Brian Marsden, emphasizing his career at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Topics discussed include his childhood and education; contact with David Dewhirst; attending New College, Oxford; Fred Whipple; Gerald Merton; joining the British Astronomical Association; Arthur Beer; comets; Sputnik; orbit calculations; Dorothy Sayers; Olin Eggen; Cambridge University; decision to go to Yale University to study with Dirk Brouwer; Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO); Edgar Everhart and G. van Biesbroeck; Paul Herget; the Minor Planet Center; celestial mechanics; Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); Gerard Kuiper; International Astronomical Union (IAU); Harvard University; Clyde Tombaugh; Dick McCrosky; Alex Dalgarno; George Field; Charles Kowal; Eugene Shoemaker; charge-coupled device (CCD); Near-Earth Object program (NEO); National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Transcript

DeVorkin:

This is an oral history interview with Brian Marsden. The auspices are the National Science Foundation, the American Institute of Physics and the Smithsonian. NSF is primarily paying the bill. The interviewer is David DeVorkin. The date is October 12, 2005. We are in Gareth Williams’ office. So you were born in Cambridge, England on August 5th, 1937.

Marsden:

Correct. By the railway station.

DeVorkin:

And your parents are Cynthia L. and Jonathan B.

Marsden:

Those are my children.

DeVorkin:

Tell me about your parents.

Marsden:

My father was Thomas Marsden, and my mother Eileen, her maiden name was West. They both came from Yorkshire, from the West Riding of Yorkshire. In fact that’s where most of my family originated as far as I can tell. Certainly the Marsdens were there for several centuries past. Marsden is not a terribly common name in much of the world, but in Western Yorkshire and into Lancashire and in New Zealand it is a common name. The reason it’s common in New Zealand is because Samuel Marsden went there as a missionary in the late 18th, early 19th Century. The Flogging Parson they called him. I don’t know much about him, but he’s well known. You can find a biography of him. As far as I can tell he’s not related to me, but he is from the same general area.

DeVorkin:

Your area is Yorkshire.

Marsden:

The West Riding of Yorkshire, yes. Bakely, Huddersfield, Heckmondwike, places like that.

DeVorkin:

You were born, however, in Cambridge.

Marsden:

Yes, because my father was working there at the time. But my mother’s maiden name, West, isn’t from the area. The Wests came from the London area, moved up there. But all the rest of them I think were in that area. We’ve traced them back until the early part of the 18th Century.

DeVorkin:

What was your father’s occupation?

Marsden:

My father was a schoolteacher, and so was his father. My father actually got away from the area by going to do his undergraduate work at Oxford. More or less immediately after that he got a job teaching mathematics in high school in Cambridge. He was the senior mathematics teacher at one of the high schools in Cambridge.

DeVorkin:

Now given the English system, was it a public or private?

Marsden:

The school was for the county. It was what one would call a public school in the U.S. Not what one would call a public school in the U.K. After he did his undergraduate work at Oxford, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, he also got a Master of Arts degree, as I did myself. He also worked on a Bachelor of Science degree, which was akin to a graduate degree. I mean, it wasn’t done in those days to get a Ph.D. or D. Phil as they call them at Oxford or even an M. Phil, a Master’s degree. The Bachelor of Science degree still required doing a thesis. So he spent another two years getting this degree. Then immediately in 1928, he took up a position in Cambridge teaching at the Cambridge Shire High School.

DeVorkin:

What was his specialty?

Marsden:

Mathematics. As I say, he was a senior math teacher there for 40 years before he decided to retire.

DeVorkin:

So from ‘28 to ‘68.

Marsden:

He retired in ‘68, yes. Well the administration was trying to do things with the tides of modernization. They wanted to bring in some less qualified students for the sake of bureaucracy. So he decided he’d had enough. He was old enough to retire certainly, and decided that he would.

DeVorkin:

What about your mother?

Marsden:

She had a high school education. She didn’t go to college. My parents married in 1930, and that’s when she moved down to Cambridge. They came from the same general area. Obviously they’d known each other in Huddersfield, where they lived.

DeVorkin:

How about brothers and sisters?

Marsden:

I have a younger sister who was born in 1944. My parents went seven years without any children. Then of course the war came in 1939. Of course I remember it. We didn’t suffer too much in the war because there was no real reason for the Germans to try bombing us. There was really no industry in Cambridge, which of course was best known for the University, and the Germans didn’t seem to want to bomb that. Of course they did damage to the cathedral in Coventry but they were after the cars, the automobiles. That’s the automobiles center of the U.K.

DeVorkin:

What did your father do during the war?

Marsden:

His eyesight wasn’t very good, I think it was even worse than mine, and his hearing was not very good either. So I think he was just of an age where he wouldn’t be called up. He may have been, but they didn’t want him. What he did do during the war, in addition to teaching, was to aid in air raid prevention. He was an ARP warden as they called them. If you watch some British telly, “Foyle’s War” is on PBS right now or it was a few weeks ago. They showed ARP wardens in there where you wander around the town looking for extraneous light. The idea was to keep the place entirely in darkness so that the Germans didn’t know where to bomb.

DeVorkin:

You were very young. Do you have memories of that?

Marsden:

I do have memories of that. In the early part of the war, we didn’t have what they called a Morrison shelter. Those came along later. But earlier in the war I do remember on occasion during the night going a few houses down the street where they did have something, or maybe they didn’t and we just hid under the stairs. I remember air raids during the night where we would do this. There was a house bombed about 300 yards from our place. But that was the only one in the area. We presumed it was some sort of accident.

DeVorkin:

Was this from an aircraft bomb?

Marsden:

I think that one was. First there were V1s and then there were the V2s, and we were a bit worried about those.

DeVorkin:

Well, you would’ve been seven by this time.

Marsden:

Yes that’s right, I was seven, nearly eight at the end of the war. I also remember being restricted. We rarely went anywhere. The only place we did go was to visit my grandparents in Huddersfield; my mother’s parents had actually moved across Yorkshire to Scarborough after she got married, so we would go there on the train. It was a six-hour journey on the train because you had to change many times. We never had a car. Of course as I indicated my father’s eyesight was really bad. He had a lazy eye and just didn’t feel that he wanted to travel. He did cycle, and would occasionally go through a traffic light when he shouldn’t have done, but otherwise he managed pretty well.

DeVorkin:

He could do a lot less damage.

Marsden:

I remember sitting on a seat in the front of his bicycle on the handlebars. One time we fell off. I think it was because I put my foot in the spokes. I was probably four years old at the time.

DeVorkin:

And what about your sister?

Marsden:

Yes. I became quite ill in the early part of 1943. I got scarlet fever and the antibiotics weren’t treating it then. This led to a mastoid and so I had a mastoid operation on my right ear. This was my first year of school, which started in September 1942. So in April of ‘43 I had this condition. Then in the summer we went up to Yorkshire and I got conjunctivitis. When we got back to Cambridge in September, I had my tonsils removed. So I had a bad six months. And that was when I think my parents felt that they had almost lost me. And so, even though there was a war going on and it wasn’t the time to bring a new person into the world (and, of course, they were getting a bit older), they decided they wanted another child. My sister was born in July 1944.

DeVorkin:

Did you know that was the reason at the time?

Marsden:

Not at the time, no. [Laughter] It was the war. I mean, that’s why they never had a second child earlier on. They felt that they really wanted one, particularly with my being in this rather delicate condition at that time. But I recovered completely from that and never had any troubles.

DeVorkin:

I take it they weren’t disappointed, were they? [Laughter]

Marsden:

Not to my knowledge. [Laughs] No, I think not.

DeVorkin:

Well, good. I’m very interested in what your home life was like. What did you talk about around the table? After all, you were in Cambridge and I’d like to know if that made a difference.

Marsden:

In the very early years, no. Not really. One thing I do remember, which is relevant I think, was when I started school in September 1942. I came home from school the Thursday of that week to find my mother in the back garden with the old smokes glass. She was looking at the sun because there was an eclipse. I found that very interesting.

DeVorkin:

She was doing this on her own.

Marsden:

Yes. My father probably hadn’t got home from school yet. He was teaching and would have come home later. So she was out there on her own and we watched it together. We had the candle and the bit of glass, the way you’re not supposed to watch eclipses, but it worked pretty well as I recall.

DeVorkin:

You still have your eyesight.

Marsden:

Yes, I do. And so did my mother. But she’s no longer living.

DeVorkin:

So she called for you to come out and see it?

Marsden:

No, I just got home and I realized she was out in the back garden, which is where she often was. It was early September. The weather was nice. So I found her there and she was sitting down with the smoked glass. Of course, I wondered what this was all about and why we were looking at the sun. But it soon became quite apparent to me.

DeVorkin:

Well, could she explain it to you?

Marsden:

Not really, no. I did mention it to my father, who as a mathematician would know more about these things. Every Sunday my father wrote a letter to his father and around that time I also wrote to him. I could read and write and do arithmetic at a rather early age, so I would regularly write every Sunday to my grandfather, who as I said, was also a teacher. And on Thursday mornings we would receive his response. Of course, nowadays with telephones and email and stuff, it’s different. But this was a regular thing. They had done it for many years. I remember writing to my grandfather telling about the eclipse and he wrote back and said the next one would be in 1945. But I don’t remember the one in 1945. It was a bigger one, but I just don’t remember it. I remember other things around that time. It was July 1945. I remember the election that Churchill lost, which was a few days earlier.

DeVorkin:

So the one in ‘42 was a partial.

Marsden:

It was a partial eclipse, and the one in ‘45 would have been partial as well. But this event perked my interest in astronomy. You’d think with the blackout during the war that it would actually be a good time to go out and look at the stars. But we didn’t because the blackout was in effect and the slightest bit of light showing behind the curtains would bring the wardens around. So I don’t remember looking at the night sky really that early, although at one time, I had some thought that I might have seen a comet. I know the eclipse for sure. I wasn’t really familiar with the night sky until 1946 or 1947. I had some vague interest in astronomy at that time. I think what I liked about the eclipse in particular, though, wasn’t so much seeing it but the fact that you could predict it.

DeVorkin:

I was just going to ask that.

Marsden:

The things that interested me most of all were what one could predict. Of course, I can give you another example. From around 1941 to 1943, I became interested in how the busses ran — the schedule for the busses. In particular, this was true where my grandparents, my father’s parents, lived. They were on a bus route where the busses came sufficiently frequently, sometimes in the day only every eight minutes. So I would work out from the route the order of the bus (because they have numbers on them) and how many busses were on the route and this sort of thing, and the predictability of what the next bus would be, which usually worked, although occasionally busses would go out of service. So you could, if you liked, make your observations from the back yard of my grandfather’s house where these busses came. I could work it out, and I’d do this on more than one day and see sometimes the same busses reused. And making observations from this one point, I could figure out the whole system, at least that part of the system.

DeVorkin:

You had a clock?

Marsden:

Yes, I had a clock, of course, and could write down the numbers and do all this. I could also go further afield and check things out because one could travel on the bus for one penny. That was 1/240th of a pound in those days. You could get a bus ticket that would take you to the end of the line and back, a children’s return, for one penny. And I would do that on my own at a very early age. Nowadays, you wouldn’t let children do that. In this country, you wouldn’t. But it was perfectly safe then. You were on the bus, essentially, all the time. I’d even get off at the end of the line. And the conductors knew I was doing this, so it was okay. But this way, I could work out the whole routes of the city.

DeVorkin:

You did this for practical purpose.

Marsden:

As I think about it, that’s the reason. And it does sort of tie in with my interest in the eclipses — the predictability of them. Of course, on a larger scale than the local city’s busses, and of course leading to other things in astronomy that I did.

DeVorkin:

Well, you were hardly five with the first eclipse. What about the busses? When did that happen?

Marsden:

I think that had already started then. At four.

DeVorkin:

So when you were four, was anyone encouraging you to do this? Or was this something you did on your own?

Marsden:

Not really. It was just something that was there, you see. What was there to do during the war? Yes, you could read things. There also were the busses. As I say, we traveled only to my grandparents on trains. I never went to London until my ninth birthday, and we were only 50 miles away. But of course, you didn’t go to London during the war — that’s where the Blitz was.

DeVorkin:

But you mentioned that you preferred the buses when you were at your grandfather’s place.

Marsden:

Yes, I would do it particularly there. They seemed to have a better selection of busses there. We had some in Cambridge, and I did it there as well.

DeVorkin:

Was it also quieter there, maybe?

Marsden:

Maybe it was. At my grandparents’ I was also away from my normal habitat, I suppose.

DeVorkin:

Tell me about your sister.

Marsden:

Her name is Sylvia. She was born in 1944.

DeVorkin:

Did she go on to any sort of career?

Marsden:

She went to college and was thinking of being a teacher of gymnastics, more generally of physical training. But she didn’t really do that — she got married. She still lives in Cambridge and has two children. Her daughter is married, the son is not. The son still lives with them. She’s seven years younger than I am. But she actually retired at the age of 60 last year from working for CUP, Cambridge University Press. She was involved in dealing with the productions of books and things, more of an administrative kind of thing.

DeVorkin:

I just wanted to know her better.

Marsden:

Yes, right.

DeVorkin:

Okay. So you’ve identified that your interest in astronomy began with the solar eclipse, but it was quiet for a while.

Marsden:

Yes, it was quiet for a while, because we didn’t do anything outside at night, you see.

DeVorkin:

But you had an interest in prediction.

Marsden:

Yes, with the idea that one could predict things. I was going to say, the only other thing that I took some interest in was our radio. Radio programs were also something that had certain predictability. You had the Radio Times, as we called it, a TV Guide kind of thing. That was something I studied assiduously: how programs could go from one day to another and be repeated at some other time of the week. So this kind of thing I took an early interest in. Numbers generally. I mean, because they were very much involved in this.

DeVorkin:

You like numbers.

Marsden:

Very much so which is reasonable for a mathematician’s son.

DeVorkin:

Yes, you said that you learned to read very early. Was this something that was strongly encouraged by your parents?

Marsden:

I don’t know whether they strongly encouraged it. There were books around, of course, and so it was something that I did. One thing I learned very early was Roman numerals. At the age of three, I could do Roman numerals quite a long way up.

DeVorkin:

Was your dad a hands-on father?

Marsden:

Not so much. Partly it was his deafness, and that was before he got a hearing aid. So it was a bit of a problem. I mean, he’d show me some things mathematically. But a lot of my interest stemmed from my mother who influenced me toward reading and writing. She liked to read, and I became interested in writing and this kind of thing at an early age. One system we had in the UK (I think it still exists to some extent), is what we called the 11-Plus Examination. When you’re in your primary school, around the age of 10 to 11, you take examinations in mathematics and English and intelligence tests as well to determine your future, or rather what school you would go to at the age of 11. Some would go off to what we called the Secondary Modern School or what was called a Comprehensive or something like that, and the rest of us went to grammar schools or high schools, like the one where my father taught. Because my father taught at the school most of my friends went to, that was the school most of the people who passed the 11-Plus went to. It was felt that it was not a good idea to send me there, so I went to another school in Cambridge, more of a public school. It was a mixture. It was called a Direct Grant School. This was the Perse School, founded in 1615 by Stephen Perse. Some students had paid to go there, and others passed the 11-Plus Examination and went on a scholarship.

DeVorkin:

So this was a higher quality school?

Marsden:

Yes or no. I just recently noticed a couple of years ago that it was ranked the 10th best school in the UK. I went to the Perse School for boys. There was a Perse School for girls.

DeVorkin:

Did you have any teachers before that point who were significant in your life?

Marsden:

In the elementary school, yes. I remember a couple of them who certainly did encourage me, not in any very specific way, but they recognized that I had potential to go on. The headmistress also recognized this. I remember in my last year there we had some sort of exhibit for parents. I was given a perpetual calendar by one of the teachers and demonstrated it to parents as they came by, telling them the day of the week of a particular date. But in so doing, I soon discovered how to make the calendar mentally myself. It is something that I am known to do. If you give me a date, I do tell you what day of the week it was with a certain amount of accuracy. That’s a trick I developed in primary school. It’s really quite simple if you go about it the right way.

DeVorkin:

Oh, that’s right. You can say that! Now, going to the Perse School, do you think you would have gone there even if your father hadn’t taught there?

Marsden:

Yes, that’s a good question. Probably not. I think I would have gone to the school that he taught at. Almost all of my friends went there. When I went to the Perse School, there was only one other boy in my primary school class who went as well and his parents paid for him. So I was the only scholarship person from my primary school in my year to go there.

DeVorkin:

How did you feel being separated from your friends?

Marsden:

Yes, that was a little troublesome. Of course, one does make new friends. But it was a little harder because many of them seemed to know each other already. The Perse had a preparatory department and quite a few of them had been in the Prep, as it was called. So they automatically knew each other. But I did make some friends fairly early on.

DeVorkin:

Did you go out for sports or have any extracurricular activities, hobbies?

Marsden:

[Laughs] Yes. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon we had to travel about a mile away to go to the playing fields where we played football or cricket. I preferred cricket. Later, one could do tennis. Football was soccer. But other boys did rugby, which is a little bit like American football, which I never really liked. So I instead decided to take up cross-country running. That was more fun, particularly since if you timed your four-mile run right, you could get a bus for that last part. See, as I say, I was an expert on the bus timetables! So I knew I could arrange that and still get back by the appointed hour. It was in my first year, at the Perse, that I ever looked through a telescope. A friend of ours on a neighboring street had a six-inch telescope in his backyard. His sons were actually at my school and they were a little older than I was.

DeVorkin:

I take it was a reflector.

Marsden:

It was a six-inch Calver reflector, actually. I remember going there and looking at the moon and a few things. I was, I suppose, 11 then, and that was my first real experience looking at the night sky. Well, not quite, because I had seen lunar eclipses as well. I mean it was the first time I looked through a telescope. That was before another friend of ours introduced me to the Cambridge University Observatories, four miles away from where we lived. I went there one evening and I remember to this day seeing Mars and Saturn. I saw them through a 30-inch reflector that was owned by W. H. Steavenson, who was a well-known amateur astronomer who kept his telescope at the Cambridge observatories.

DeVorkin:

He had a 30-inch?

Marsden:

It was a 30-inch reflector. It was almost the largest telescope in the UK at that time. There was a 36-inch at St. Andrews and another one, I think, at Greenwich.

DeVorkin:

Was this a Newtonian?

Marsden:

This was a Newtonian reflector. Steavenson was well known for making planetary observations. He was actually one of the few amateurs ever to become President of the Royal Astronomical Society — later in the 1950s. Somehow he made some arrangement to have his telescope at the back of the observatory site; on land they later built the building for the RGO[1] at Cambridge. When did it move there? In the ‘80s, I believe. The RGO moved from Greenwich to Herstmonceux in the 1950s, and to Cambridge in the 1990s.

DeVorkin:

What did they move? Just the offices, right?

Marsden:

Just the offices. They left the telescopes. The telescopes are still in Herstmonceux. But the offices were moved to Cambridge in the early ‘90s. It wasn’t that long ago, and it didn’t last very long, either. [Laughs] But Steavenson’s telescope was on that site. Around that same time, I became interested again in eclipses. I discovered the Canon de Finsternisse, Oppolzer’s book of eclipses. And I wanted to purchase a copy. I checked with Heffers bookstore and they located one for me. It was 15 pounds, I remember. This was before Owen did his Dover edition of it.[2] This was the original 1887 version. It cost 15 pounds, which nowadays would be a very good price, but that was a very expensive price for a 12 year-old boy. I also wanted to get the book that went with it, the Syzygientafeln fur den Mond, the sygygy tables, and how Oppolzer did the eclipse calculation. Heffers couldn’t find a copy of these tables. But they did say that the Observatory had a copy. This was more or less around that time that I was introduced to the observatory. And I also discovered that the Canon de Finsternisse was there, too, so I didn’t have to purchase a copy. And thus I became a recurring visitor at the observatory at the age of 12 or 13.

DeVorkin:

Did someone sponsor you?

Marsden:

Heffers, I believe, had contacted them to tell them that I was coming. Indeed, during my visit when I did get there, the people who befriended me most were David Dewhirst and Arthur Beer, particularly Arthur Beer. Michael Ovendon was there at that time. He was a contemporary of David Dewhirst but died quite a while ago. Now, going back to your sports question, I went to the Observatory on my bicycle. But when did I get to the Observatory? Well, as I said, we had sports on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in another part of Cambridge. I was supposed to sign in there, but I soon mastered the art of being in two places at the same time. I could sign in there and then disappear and go on my bicycle to the Observatory and do my reading of literature there. I frequently did this on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons when I should have been playing football. But the fact that I wasn’t actually playing football wasn’t really noticed - they didn’t take attendance there. So this was how I managed to do the astronomy. Another thing was that at the age of 13 (that is, the third year in school), you actually had to make a decision as to whether you wanted to follow humanities or sciences. We learned a little bit of each, but we had to choose one because there just wasn’t enough time to educate everybody in everything. It was a hard decision for me to make. During my first year in school, I took French. The students who had attended preparatory school had already learned some French, so they were put in the top set, while I was put in the second set with people who had not learned any French before. We focused mostly on reading and writing French rather than conversing in French. I was very good at the reading, and even the writing too. And I do remember, I think I got 97% on the final examination for the year. I was ahead of anybody in either set. For second year, we continued in French, but we took Latin too. One needed Latin at that time if one wanted to go to Oxford or Cambridge. Just a few weeks before the second year started, a group of us who had done rather well in French were put on exhibit at another school. It was a UK public school, the Leys school, where Latin teachers came from all over the country to watch us students who had never learned Latin before, and they taught us Latin in a new way. We were picked because we had performed well in French and they felt we had some aptitude for languages.

DeVorkin:

So this was experimental education.

Marsden:

Yes, there were a dozen of us. We were nationally recognized too. The Daily Mirror, which is not a very good newspaper, came and took a picture of us. I was saying, “Ovum.” [Laughs]

DeVorkin:

Oh, good. That’s a nice place to start.

Marsden:

Right? But we started where the teacher got up. He said, “Surgo,” and stood up and then said, “Ambulo,” and walked across the room. “Reveneo,” came back. And “Sedeo,” sat down. We were smart enough to learn what these meant. We were there each morning during the week and all the people came and watched us. It was rather fun. When we started Latin properly in school a couple of weeks later, our Latin teacher started, “Surgo!” [Chuckles] Those of us who’d been in the experimental education thought that was rather good. I’d done very well in French and Latin when I got to the end of my second year and in mathematics as well. I also took science, which focused on biology and mainly botany in the first year and I wasn’t terribly enthused by that, quite frankly. And the second year I had chemistry. I didn’t like the teacher very much. He was very, very sarcastic. Anyway, I had performed very well in French and Latin, the English language and the usual history and geography too. If I decided to choose humanities for my third year, I would have continued with the French and the Latin, and would start German or Greek. And so, because I didn’t like chemistry and because I hadn’t taken any physics, I decided to do humanities in school. And then, I made the choice of German, which actually has come in useful. My Latin teacher asked me why I didn’t do Greek, because I’d done so well in Latin and he taught Greek. I suppose it may have been because I was reading German astronomical books at the observatory library.

DeVorkin:

What kind of books?

Marsden:

Well, the Oppolzer eclipse books. Also, the Astronomische Nachnichten. By learning German I could read these books and journals. A lot of astronomical literature interested me.

DeVorkin:

Did your father have any input here? Did you talk to him?

Marsden:

Yes. Because I was going on the humanities side at school. By going into the humanities I had to make a choice between mathematics and general science. So what I did was to learn general science in the school, but have my father tutor me in mathematics at home. That’s how we got around that problem. By the time I got to the end of the fifth form, which is when students have their Ordinary Level Examinations, I took eight subjects and passed six. The six I passed were mathematics, general science, English language, French, German and Latin. I failed history and English literature.

DeVorkin:

How did you fail?

Marsden:

I never was quite sure why I failed history. I have great interest in history of astronomy, as I think you know. I suppose I wasn’t so interested in political history and the world history — the fighting, the wars that go on, things like that. Yes, I could remember the dates very well, but what went on and why I wasn’t so good at. And English literature… Richard II was our set book. Richard II isn’t one of the most prominent books of Shakespeare.

DeVorkin:

Not at all.

Marsden:

The other book we read was The Gun by C. S. Forrester. Around that same time The Pride and the Passion, starring Frank Sinatra came out, which is a film based on The Gun. It dealt with one of the many Spanish civil wars, the one in the early 19th Century. Although I was fairly up on The Gun I didn’t really like Richard II, so that’s why I failed at English literature. But I had what I needed for the sixth form to change back and go to the science area. I’d done five years of French, four years of Latin, and three years of German at this time, so I didn’t need to do anything more there. English literature wasn’t for me. English language, I was pretty good at because I liked to write. Then for the sixth form, I went into the science side so that I could do mathematics and physics. Most of the other students continued with chemistry, but since I’d had a somewhat miserable experience with chemistry earlier on and had done the general science, I did took an alternative route for the sixth form for the Advanced Level Examinations — physics and mathematics and additional mathematics. By doing this, I set myself up rather well to maximize what I could get out of the high school. When I went to Oxford I studied mathematics. I had the interest in astronomy, which was developing during this time, and had the French and German languages, which I needed later as a graduate student in astronomy. Grad students needed to have two languages then. So my decision to undertake the humanities option in school worked out well from that point of view.

DeVorkin:

Why Oxford?

Marsden:

The alternative was Cambridge, I suppose. [Laughs] I lived in Cambridge, and I thought it was a good idea to go away. You know, I think the most important thing about university is to get away from home, to get out on your own. So I did that. Only a few people from my school went to Oxford — one or two of us only — because most of the others went to Cambridge. And my father had been to Oxford.

DeVorkin:

Did you go on scholarship?

Marsden:

I had a county scholarship to Oxford.

DeVorkin:

How did you get that?

Marsden:

That sort of went with the general Certificate of Education Advanced Level, or the school exams.

DeVorkin:

Were you singled out in any way at this point as being exceptional?

Marsden:

During my high school career, the administration used to grade and place us. At some time during my career, I was top of the class in every subject except for English. I mean, English language, I could do. It was the literature that pulled me down, which is why I never made it higher than fifth place in English class. [Laughs]

DeVorkin:

But this wasn’t one of the ones you failed.

Marsden:

There were both English language and English literature exams. Of course I passed the English language. It was just the literature that got to me. You have to study the literature and see what the writers were getting at and all that kind of thing. That’s a very different thing from reading and writing in the English language!

DeVorkin:

Right. So in your life, there were two possible choices for where to go.

Marsden:

Yes. When I finished elementary school, going to The Perse, and then going to Oxford rather than Cambridge. I did go to the college my father had been at, New College Oxford, which was founded in 1379. It happens to be the college in Oxford that the professor of astronomy is connected with. Not that we ever saw much of him there. I don’t think I ever saw him in the college. When I was arrived in Oxford in 1956, the professor of astronomy was H. H. Plaskett, J. S. Plaskett’s son. He was a Canadian. Trained at Harvard.

DeVorkin:

Did you have to declare a major right away?

Marsden:

Oh, it was pretty much assumed that you would do what you said you would. Though of course, it’s not really a major. That’s the only thing you do. It’s the only thing you do academically when you’re at Oxford.

DeVorkin:

Yes, it was mathematics.

Marsden:

Yes. You go to lectures. You’re assigned a tutor in the college, and you see the tutor once a week and he recommends what lectures to go to and things like that. I should back up a little bit on the astronomy because this is relevant. You also asked about extracurricular activities in school. Since I wasn’t doing the sports, a friend of mine who was a year or so older than I was said, “We must establish an astronomical society.” So we actually had an astronomical society at the school. It just was established at The Perse, and I was immediately made the secretary, which was a good position to be because one could organize the whole thing. I organized all the speakers. Sometimes it was local people; sometimes the students themselves; and sometimes I would try to find someone from Cambridge University.

DeVorkin:

Who was that?

Marsden:

One person was Henry Rishbeth. He may not be too well known. My family knew him personally. There were one or two other people from the Observatory. I felt a little awkward about inviting them, for the most part. Most of the time, we did our own thing and gave talks ourselves. This was mainly what we did. Occasionally we’d have an expedition to the observatory, that kind of thing.

DeVorkin:

Did you ever use the Northumberland telescope?

Marsden:

Yes, of course! The Northumberland. I forget when I first used that. My very first visit was Steavenson’s telescope, so it would have been a year or so later that I used the Northumberland when I went more regularly. But it was mostly there in the daytime.

DeVorkin:

Did you get adept with telescopes?

Marsden:

I figured I really wasn’t someone cut out to be an observer. One or two of my friends in the astronomical society would grind mirrors. I’d participate a little bit, but I was never terribly interested in doing it, although I would certainly look at things in the sky. I would never call myself an observer. I was interested in the mathematics of it, in the predictions, the eclipses. And that’s why my first introduction to the Observatory was through Oppolzer’s work. And I soon realized from the Nautical Almanac, American Ephemeris, or the Astronomical Almanac — we called it the Nautical Almanac then. The eclipses had been calculated not by Oppolzer alone. I mean, Oppolzer’s computation had been refined more recently by others at the Nautical Almanac offices in the UK and in the US. And it was around 1953, I suppose. This was around the time of Ordinary Level examination that I decided to join the British Astronomical Association.

DeVorkin:

Oh, I see that. I should have noticed that.

Marsden:

I had heard about it and read about it at the observatory. I knew the kinds of things that they did there and about their sections. I joined the Computing Section in particular, which was run by J. G. Porter who was well known for radio broadcasts on astronomy. He did that regularly. It was 15 minutes, and then they cut it down to 10. That’s the way they go on the BBC Home Service, now Radio 4. Porter also worked at the Nautical Almanac Office.

DeVorkin:

So did you have any direct contact with Porter?

Marsden:

At that time he wrote to me, and I’d sort of said I was interested in doing computations. I think he told me that, “Oh, well, yes. Everybody likes to do that sort of thing.”

DeVorkin:

Really?

Marsden:

[Laughs] He gave me a little job. I think the first job I had was to make the map showing where Titan was.

DeVorkin:

Oh, it’s a function of time. Predict the orbit around Saturn.

Marsden:

Yes, predict Titan orbiting around Saturn. Another thing he had me involved there were the series of mutual occultations and eclipses of Jupiter’s Galilean satellites that were coming up. These were not in the Nautical Almanac. There you just have the regular eclipses of Jupiter’s satellites and occultations and transits and shadow transits.

DeVorkin:

And what were these? Mutual?

Marsden:

These were the mutual ones, where every six years, the earth and the sun passed through the plane of the satellites. You can get mutual eclipses and occultations of the satellites. Regular predictions were not provided for these, so this was one of the things that the British Astronomical Association computing section did. One needed to get some initial data from the French to do this. In the Connaissance de Temps. They didn’t produce the mutual predictions either, but some of the best data were there. You could use these and Porter had a way of getting advanced information. So I was given the task of computing the mutual occultations after I’d done the plot of Titan, which was pretty straightforward. I’d also predicted some penumbral eclipses of the moon. Of course, they weren’t in the Almanac either. I realized the Almanac had certain predictions but not all, and this was where I could use my interest in predicting things. So I sent penumbral eclipse dates to him. I remember he said, “Well, what about the eclipse on November the 29th?” I wrote back immediately, “That’s a partial eclipse. It’s in the Almanac. So why did you expect me to do that one?” [Laughs] He was testing me, I think.

DeVorkin:

Oh, really?

Marsden:

I think he was. Or maybe he hadn’t noticed. I don’t know. [Laughs] I never did find the answer to that. So then I got onto these mutual occultations. For some reason, we couldn’t get the shadow information so I could not do the mutual eclipses. I did the occultations and found a nice triple one where one satellite occulted another that was occulting a third one.

DeVorkin:

Now, this is a very significant thing you say in your thesis topic.

Marsden:

Ah, yes. I had developed an interest in the satellites of Jupiter when I came to my thesis. Yes, that’s true. That comes a little later on, of course.

DeVorkin:

Let me back up to your general reading a little bit.

Marsden:

As long as it’s not literature. [Laughs]

DeVorkin:

Did you read any of Hoyle’s popular books?

Marsden:

Fred Hoyle gave on the BBC Third Programme, as it then was, Radio 3, a series of talks on The Nature of the Universe, which was his first book, in the late ‘40s. And I remember I heard them before I read his book.

DeVorkin:

Did they have an effect on your interest?

Marsden:

As an interest generally in astronomy, yes. But I was clearly interested in specialties where I could predict something very precisely. I was interested in precise prediction, whether it was what bus was going to come back or when there would be an eclipse or a mutual phenomena of Jupiter’s satellites. Cosmology, well, it was of some interest. I realized that it was very hard to make any prediction where one would be able to say, “This is so.” It was not and still isn’t conducive to making very precise predictions.

DeVorkin:

And you also have to wait for a long time.

Marsden:

You have to wait a very long time. Some things I knew we’d have to wait a long time. When I was playing around with that perpetual calendar in elementary school, showing the students, one date I knew was August the 11th, 1999, which was quite a long time in the future then, and I knew that was the next eclipse visible from England. So I did make a point going back to England around that time to experience it. I didn’t see it because it was cloudy, but we certainly experienced it because we were on a cliff in Devon, and you could see the shadow very nicely.

DeVorkin:

You could see the shadow though.

Marsden:

Yes. It was a west-facing cliff. It would be nicer to see the eclipse, but in the meantime, I had seen two other total eclipses of the sun, so I didn’t need to see this one. But I wanted to experience it, going back to those much earlier dates when I’d tried my own prediction for it. There were people at the time saying, “Well, the eclipse may not be visible in England. It may be off the coast.” I remember doing a beautiful map for my own calculations, and I wish I could find it.

DeVorkin:

Was it ‘99 or earlier than that?

Marsden:

The August 11th, 1999 eclipse. My prediction was in the early 1950s. At that time there was some uncertainty due to all the irregular rotation of the Earth, one couldn’t predict forward the ?T too well. People were very uncertain about that. And there was a rumor going around that it might not be visible unless you were right on the coast. I mean, you’d only see it if the tide was out. [Laughs]

DeVorkin:

Oh, really?

Marsden:

I remember people joking about — I think it was a joke. I did a calculation, and I wish I could find it; it obviously was destroyed long ago. I would always have liked to have compared it to what was calculated much later when we knew what the ?T was. But my recollection is that it was about right, because quite a lot of southwestern England was in that total path.

DeVorkin:

Well, let’s go back to Oxford.

Marsden:

Yes. I think we’ve finished the Astronomical Society at school.

DeVorkin:

Was there anything about your training at Oxford — the teachers, development of your interests?

Marsden:

Not so much in mathematics. You know, we both knew Fred Whipple. And I did a biography of him for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific that I think you’ve seen. And one of the things I put in it was here: “He got his mathematics undergraduate degree in 1927. Around that time, Fred began to realize that he found mathematics too boring to consider for an eventual career. It’s therefore fortunate that during his junior year at UCLA he took a course in astronomy, taught by Frederick C. Leonard, who encouraged him to pursue that field instead. There was at that time no degree program in astronomy at UCLA so Leonard used his connections to recommend Fred for a teaching fellowship that allowed him to enter the graduate program in Astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley.” And then reading on just a little bit more, “At Berkeley Fred became principally under the influence of the astronomy department’s director, Armin O. Leuschner, who soon inspired in him a lifelong interest in the computation of orbits. In those days, of course, the computation of the orbit of a new comet was a lengthy process involving several hours of works using algorithms or a mechanical calculating machine. The present writer, who followed Fred by some 30 years with a similar interest in the computation of cometary orbits by hand, together with an undergraduate degree and the rejection of a career in mathematics, understands this all too well.” I didn’t know this at the time, of course.

DeVorkin:

The rejection of mathematics — that’s your writing.

Marsden:

Fred rejected mathematics and I did, too. The way pure mathematics was going and has gone since didn’t interest me in the way the older mathematics did. Why was I interested in mathematics? Sure, to be able to predict things. Newton’s Laws and the wonderful things that one can do with those. And Fred, now I know (well, I knew it a few years ago), felt the same way. So yes, I did the mathematics at Oxford but was actually more interested in pursuing astronomy there and made friends, of course, at the observatory. I knew Plaskett and Madge Adam and the other people.

DeVorkin:

Madge Adam?

Marsden:

Madge Adam. She died only a few years ago. She was the observatory in many respects for a very, very long time. Another important influence was Gerald Merton. Gerald Merton did a lot of works on comets and had some connection with the Observatory. He was treasurer of the Royal Astronomical Society for many years. He lived on Hollywell Street in a 16th Century house that is only about 20 yards from the backdoor of New College. So many evenings a week, I would go over just before dinner. When I was in college, living in rather than out in digs. Dinner was at 7:15. Or even if I were out in digs, I’d come in for dinner at 7:15. Digs means lodgings, of course. We called them digs. So before dinner, I would go across and see Gerald Merton. I used to have to go at 6:52. I think it was 6:52, because that was when the stock market report finished on the radio. And so he had to get the stock market results. So if I arrived around 6:52, which gave me about 20 minutes before getting back to dinner in college at 7:15.

DeVorkin:

I have to interject a question I’ve been thinking of asking you. There are a lot of things you can predict in this world. Like the stock market, like the horses. Do you ever have any interest?

Marsden:

No. I didn’t because I decided they were a bit too unpredictable. We did once have somebody write to the Minor Planet Center once wanting ephemerides of selected minor planets. The reason he wanted them was indeed to predict the outcome of horse races. He paid us for these for a while. Then it all stopped. I think he lost a large amount of money. [Laughs]

DeVorkin:

This is an astrological thing?

Marsden:

I don’t know how he did it. I didn’t want to ask. We did have astrologers who wanted ephemerides as well. We actually have always been desperate for money, and that was one way to make a little bit of money for the Minor Planet Center, actually, to do predictions like that.

DeVorkin:

We’ll get to those.

Marsden:

Anyway, one reason I went to Gerald Merton was to look at the IAU Circulars and the telegrams because he received them from Copenhagen. They didn’t have them at the observatory at Oxford. It was easier to go to him and to chat with him and to talk a bit about computing orbits. By that time, I’d already joined the British Astronomical Association Computing Section and had done those mutual occultations. I told Porter I wanted to do something with the comets because I realized that predictions of the returns of short-period comets were something that needed to be done and the Nautical Almanac didn’t have them. I realized this was something that the BAA Computing Section did in a big way, actually. It just suited me that I wanted to get into that.

DeVorkin:

It’s really quite remarkable in looking at astronomy in the United States versus England (and I know less about other countries), how organized and professional the BAA actually was with sections and everything like that.

Marsden:

Yes.

DeVorkin:

Was that something you were aware of or attracted to or was it the professionalism that was attractive?

Marsden:

Yes, I think it was. When I joined, I joined the Comet Section as well as the Computing Section. Merton was the director of the Comet Section at that time. The Computing Section was interested in the predictions of the returns of periodic comets. Merton was more concerned with the new comets when they were discovered and calculating orbits for those. He issued the Circulars of the British Astronomical Association. When I was in Cambridge as a high school student, I had been befriended particularly by Arthur Beer. That continued because I’d go back to Cambridge during vacations when I was an undergraduate. Beer had agreed to translate from German into English the book Statistik und Physik der Kometen by Richter. The English edition was called The Nature of Comets. Beer did the translating, but he wanted somebody to read it who had an interest in comets. So I helped him on the book. I was acknowledged in the Foreword. Well, of course, I knew German too, but he knew German better than I did and so he did the translation, and I tidied it up a little bit. As he was doing this he had arranged for Ray Lyttleton to write an introduction to the English translation. One day Ray Lyttleton wrote that introduction and gave it to Arthur Beer who was most distressed. I don’t think Lyttleton knew German. When Lyttleton agreed to write the introduction he didn’t know that Richter was very much opposed to Lyttleton’s theories about comets - the accretion and how material collects — the sand bank model, all that accretion stuff. Lyttleton, of course, had written his book Comets and their Origin as recently as 1953. So I remember that Beer was upset seeing that Lyttleton had written “Oort and Whipple have fallen into the bottomless pit of obscurantism.” I don’t remember any more. But I do remember those words.

DeVorkin:

That sounds like Lyttleton.

Marsden:

Yes! And Beer was most distressed about this so we softened it up a bit. But that’s when I started learning about astronomers and how their theories can differ, and I thought what Whipple had done was fine. So did Beer. So we stressed that in the book, and Lyttleton’s ideas were played down. We did keep him to write the introduction.

DeVorkin:

So you were reading the literature of astronomy as an undergraduate at Oxford?

Marsden:

Well, even before. When I was in high school in Cambridge. But I read some, either the Cambridge Observatory or the Oxford Observatory or at Burlington House. I mean the British Astronomical Association or Royal Astronomical Society libraries. They were in the same building. While still in high school in 1956, I joined the RAS as a junior member.

DeVorkin:

So you were going to London by then, of course?

Marsden:

Yes, 1946 we first went to London after the war, and in 1953 I went to the BAA meeting for the first time. I became a member November 25th 1953, and I went to the meeting on December 30th. Then my last year of high school I managed to be able to get away from high school to go to many meetings of the British Astronomical Association.

DeVorkin:

So you were about 16 at that time?

Marsden:

I was just 16 when I joined.

DeVorkin:

Did you go alone to London?

Marsden:

Actually, I went with another boy from the school Astronomical Society. The two of us went to London on the train. I think he dropped out later. I remember we had to stand, because we didn’t know that you go to a meeting and you find a seat early because it fills up. But the second time, a couple of months later during the Easter vacation, when I went, I knew to get there early. You asked me about Porter. He didn’t go to too many of the meetings, and I think I didn’t actually meet him until 1956. I remember meeting him in the spring of ‘56. At that time I was doing comet prediction using logarithms, and one thing I learned (and I think there are probably very few people who know about these nowadays) was addition and subtraction logarithms. I bet you’ve never heard of addition and subtraction logarithms?

DeVorkin:

No, that wouldn’t be what I use logarithms for.

Marsden:

If you’re calculating A times B plus C times D, you take logA and logB and form log(AB), by adding them. Likewise, you take logC and logD and you get log (CD). But you will probably want to use AB + CD in further computation, so you need to logarithm too. Of course, you can get the antilog of logAB and logCD and add them together, and then get the logarithm of that. But addition and subtraction logs save you the bother XXXX? antilogging. You can go straight from the logAB and the logCD to the log of AB plus CD or minus CD. It’s a special technique that I won’t go into, mainly because I’ve forgotten it, but that’s one of the things that I learned long ago in the BAA Computing Section. That was a neat trick. My early calculations were done by logarithms. One thing the British Astronomical Association had also in line with the professionals you talked about was a collection of instruments. You could apply to the curator of the instruments and borrow an instrument. What were the instruments mostly? Firstly, telescopes, which I never bothered getting because I knew I could use a telescope at the Cambridge Observatory or the Oxford Observatory whenever I wanted to, which wasn’t terribly often. Calculating machines were another instrument; they were these marvelous Brunsviga German calculators. They were entirely mechanical; they were not electric. You wound the handle forward or back either way and shift with the other hand to multiply by 10 or divide by 10. You could multiply on the big ones 10 figures by 10 figures and get 20 figures. I liked the big ones. I did persuade J. G. Porter to get me one. Applications for the instruments normally went to the curator, but for the calculating machines you had to ask Porter for them. And so I did, and eventually he gave me one.

DeVorkin:

Where were they stored?

Marsden:

I don’t know where he stored them, but I do know that he carried this one for me to London. I think he had them at Herstmonceux, which is where he worked. So he carried one all the way to a BAA or RAS meeting, and they weren’t light. He’d go on the train to London and I picked it up there and took it on the train to Oxford or Cambridge, I’m not sure which one. There was also the time I was perhaps a little too vigorous with it and managed to break a spring in the handle, and so it had to go back to be repaired. I think that was shortly before I finished my undergraduate career and was coming over here anyway. He took it back then. It could be repaired, but I remember he had to take it to a place in London to get it repaired. He wasn’t very happy about that. He said, “I fear you must have been a little too vigorous with the thing.”

DeVorkin:

When was this?

Marsden:

I remember getting the calculating machine in the spring of 1957. I was in my first year at college. I was learning orbit computation from Merton, and it improved what I could do with calculations. Also, in the summer of 1957, I went to the RGO Herstmenceux’s summer student program. I applied for it in ‘56, saying that I wanted to work in the Nautical Almanac Office, and they said in typical bureaucratic fashion, “We don’t take students in the Nautical Almanac Office. You have to go and do time service or astrophysics,” or something like that. I persisted that I wanted to work in the Nautical Almanac Office, and I mentioned this to Porter. So it was arranged that I worked in the Nautical Almanac Office during my summer in 1957.

DeVorkin:

Wonderful. We’re getting very close to a very important date, of course.

Marsden:

Sputnik?

DeVorkin:

Yes. In preparation for that, of course, there was Moon Watch.

Marsden:

I heard of Moonwatch because I read about it in Sky and Telescope. I had Sky and Telescope delivered from March 1951 onwards.

DeVorkin:

That’s at your home?

Marsden:

At my home. They put it in an envelope with a piece of cardboard so that it didn’t get bent, but we had a mail slot in the front door, so the postman always had to knock when he had Sky and Telescope. He would come early in the morning, sometimes before we were up, so this was always a problem if my father had to go down and get it from the postman. He’d say, “It must be Sky and Telescope that’s come.”

DeVorkin:

This must have been an event for you.

Marsden:

Yes, this was. That’s where I first read about Moon Watch.

DeVorkin:

Did you participate?

Marsden:

I did not participate in it, no. As I said, I got the calculator in the spring of ‘57; I worked the first half of the summer, July and August, and Hersmonceux in the Nautical Almanac Office, and then went back to Oxford. Yes, Sputnik was soon the rage. We didn’t start until the second week of October. So Sputnik was actually while I was still in Cambridge. I had passed my driving test on October the 5th 1957 in Cambridge, having learned to drive the previous summer, but I couldn’t take my test because of Suez Crisis. The Suez Crisis had come along and they cancelled all drivers’ tests for the better part of the year, a large part of ‘57. So that was what I remember about Sputnik. I remember the examiner said, “I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.” He didn’t think I looked in my rear mirror often enough, but I did. So yes, whenever I was back in Oxford Merton was getting the Sputnik predictions through the IAU circulars. Also we would make observations of it and try and do a few calculations. Yes, I remember doing some calculations myself on Sputnik to try and predict when it would come.

DeVorkin:

I’d like to know if you have any memories of it, other than the fact that you were taking your driver’s test. Was it exciting?

Marsden:

Yes. Well, the IGY was going on. I knew about that from what I’d read in Sky and Telescope. During the summer while I was at Herstmonceux in the Nautical Almanac Office. There was a lecture every day. Someone on the staff would give the talk. I don’t remember much, related to the IGY because most of the talks were on astrophysical subjects. My first involvement with Sputnik was reading about it in the newspaper and hearing about it on the radio. We didn’t have a television until 1959. My first real involvement with Sputnik was back at Oxford as Merton had an interest in it, and he and I would try to do predictions. I did nothing too sophisticated, but I took an interest in making calculations for different latitudes.

DeVorkin:

These were real predictions?

Marsden:

Well, I didn’t publish them or anything. They were more for my own amusement. I used to attend the colloquia at the Observatory and I remember one afternoon, it must have been in November 1957, I don’t remember what the talk was but somebody, probably a graduate student, said that Sputnik 2 was coming over. Of course it was dark already by half past 4:00. So shortly before the colloquium was to start we went up onto the Observatory roof looking southwestward for Sputnik, and somebody said, “There it is.” I remember Plaskett saying, “Oh yes, there it is.” They all were excited, and I said, “That’s not Sputnik, that’s Venus.” So the students got the 12-inch telescope and looked at it and, yes, there was a crescent shape. It was Venus. That sort of disillusioned me a little bit about modern astronomers. I’m not the observer, but I knew Venus when I saw it!

DeVorkin:

Were there any local Moon Watch teams in the Oxford area?

Marsden:

Not that I knew of. There were some in the UK. The BAA did develop an Artificial Satellite Section around the time. The most active people, I think, were a group of people in Edinburgh. Bernard Lovell at Jodrell Bank was trying to do radio observations. I heard about this at the November 8th RAS meeting.

DeVorkin:

So, in a way, if I can typify this important watershed, you were already totally committed to doing orbits.

Marsden:

Doing orbits. Doing comets very much by then.

DeVorkin:

And Sputnik didn’t excite you too much?

Marsden:

Not excessively so, although I was aware of the new satellites coming, two of them by then.

DeVorkin:

Did it bother you at all that it was Russian?

Marsden:

Not really. It didn’t bother people too much in the UK. The Russians did certain things we didn’t like, but it wasn’t quite the same as it was in the U.S. And, of course, by then the nuclear weapons business had sort of gelled. There had been the British tests as well. We had decided not to use them, although we knew we could if we had to. We also knew that we were on good terms with the U.S., of course. So we weren’t too bothered. Also, in 1958 the IAU was meeting in Moscow. I even thought for a while it might be nice to go because I had been learning about the IAU from the IAU circulars and from doing the comets. I knew of minor planets as well, and I did have an interest in minor planets. But I also knew that there was a Minor Planet Center that Paul Herget had set up in Cincinnati in 1947, and I saw what they were doing. I knew that he was making some use of computers, whereas in the BAA we had to do hand calculations. You started out with logarithms and addition and subtraction logarithms. They wanted us to know how to use those. You had to be a bit more advanced to be promised a calculating machine. So I had already been working three or four years before I got one. So I was always in line. In my early days I did calculations that I knew other people had already done, but I did them for my amusement. Then I realized there wasn’t much point in continuing to do the calculations that were being done professionally by the Nautical Almanac Office in the case of the planetary positions. But I did work in the summers of 1957 and ‘58 in the Nautical Almanac Office and did do some of those calculations myself. The reason I didn’t do minor planets was that I knew Herget was doing them. I knew comets were being done in the British Astronomical Association, but I became part of that. I deliberately joined, so that I could work with the comets. I wanted to do comets right at the start, and I said that to Porter, but he put me onto these other things and he didn’t give me a calculating machine to start with. For my first comet calculation I used addition and subtraction logarithms. I did a prediction for the return of a comet.

DeVorkin:

Did it turn out to be right?

Marsden:

Oh, yes. My calculations were pretty good. Porter wanted to make sure we knew how to do predictions: we had to do them in notebooks and write the numbers down, even with a calculator. We had to do them in a proper format, using squared paper, two digits in each square. I still have got some of these.

DeVorkin:

So it was very, very regimented?

Marsden:

It was regimented and it worked. I mean, the Nautical Almanac Office had to be regimented for it to work, so he ran the BAA Computing Section in the same way, even though he recognized we were amateurs.

DeVorkin:

As you were moving along, though by the second or third year you’re hardly doing what I would call amateur work.

Marsden:

Well, it was different. Even earlier. I wrote some papers for the BAA already in 1955. I had them read at meetings and published in the journal already in ‘55/’56. I did a fairly long paper on transits of planets across the sun as seen from other planets. I had an interest again in calculations that had not been done by others. So I suppose, coming back to Sputnik, the fact that Fred Whipple was doing these calculations and he had massed a staff of people didn’t inspire me to participate because I would have been an outsider. I wasn’t here then. I was in England. So I worked with what I had there in the BAA with Merton on the new comets, and Porter with the predictions on the old returning ones, and other things that interested me. And then I was also working with Beer on this book. And there’s another thing in 1957. I suppose I should mention this. Again, it was Beer who got me into this. It was April, so I was going from an RAS meeting to Cambridge on the train with him, and he said, “Oh, we’ve received this document at the Observatory, and I wondered if you could help us with it.” And it was a five-page typewritten thing, entitled Sirius and the Solstice, and it had questions relating to the heliacal rising of Sirius, as seen from Egypt, and it had some questions about it. You know, observatories get this sort of thing. I was a student. So maybe I could look into it sort of thing. Somebody needed to look into it, why not me?

DeVorkin:

I’ve heard people called this stuff squirrel food.

Marsden:

You could call it squirrel food. We didn’t call it that in England. But that was something that was given to me, and so I could say I naïvely took it. I was supposed to answer the questions and take them somewhere on the following Monday, it being then Friday evening. It was still Easter vacation. I was to take them to the lecturer in Italian at Cambridge University. She lived opposite to Johns College. So I went there with my answers, and she thanked me, and we discussed them a bit. And then as I was leaving she said she would pass them on to the person who had asked the questions. So I said, “Fine,” and, “Who was that?” and she said, “It was Dorothy L. Sayers.”

DeVorkin:

Oh, really? Wonderful.

Marsden:

So a week later, Dorothy Sayers sent me an eight-page typewritten letter thanking me, asking more questions and discussing a couple of other things. Eight pages! It really got me.

DeVorkin:

Do you have them?

Marsden:

Yes I do. I can show them to you. Her letters to me are also in her collected letters, by the way. There are four, now I think five, volumes of her collected letters. I did send them for inclusion. Well now, you sort of see a little bit of the clue. Why did she write via the lecturer in Italian? Well, Dorothy Sayers translated Dante into English. She had done The Inferno and and Purgatorio; she was still working on the Paradiso at that time. She never finished it, and Barbara Reynolds, who was a lecturer in Italian, did. But her interest concerning the Solstice was the Roman poet Lucan. He lived in the First Century A.D. and sort of got into opposition with Nero and was forced to commit suicide in the usual way, cutting veins in the bath at the early age of 25, I think he was. He had written a book called the Pharsalia, which is about the Civil War, Pompei, and Caesar about 50 B.C. The reason Dorothy Sayers was interested in it was that she knew of a translation by A.E. Housman that was rather critical. In particular, Robert Graves had just published his translation in late 1956, and she was absolutely incensed by it. She did not like Robert Graves. She felt that Robert Graves was misinterpreting Lucan and trying to say he didn’t know his astronomy and geography. That’s what it was about. The heliacal rising of Sirius, the rising of the Nile was so important to the ancient Egyptians. So all this was in the book and that’s why she asked these questions which I answered. This continued for some time. I asked her why she was doing this. She told me that she was absolutely disgusted with Robert Graves and his treatment and she wanted to see Lucan get a fair trial. This was the essence of it. So I took the opportunity. I think I wrote a question about something involving one of the mystery novels. She was a bit ashamed of them, I think. I don’t know why, but she was, because she had stopped writing them 20 years earlier. I remember it was some calendrical problem. She wrote back, “Writers of detective fiction may use any calendrical system they wish, provided they’re consistent. i.e. you don’t have lovers in arms and a young moon and follow that up the next day with a total solar eclipse.” So that was a delightful little rebuke if you like, all in good fun, but showed what poetic license is, what you can do and what you can’t do. But I never read Unnatural Death until after she died. And if you’ve ever read to the end of that, the murder makes it clear that this is 1927. It starts with the feast of John the Baptist, which is June the 24th, and then the following Tuesday they caught the murderer in London. Lord Peter Wimsy and Inspector Parker had a whole night of it, so it was early Wednesday morning. But June. “What’s the matter this morning? It’s very dark. Is there something wrong? Are there bad clouds or something?” The last words are from Inspector Parker, “No, it’s the eclipse.” It was the eclipse of June the 29th, 1927. So she fooled me. I wish I had read that earlier. So we could have discussed it. Also, I would go to some of the Oxford Union Society debates. The last one in the term was always a light-hearted one and the June 1957 one was that the Balliol myth is merest Whimsy, Balliol being the college where Lord Wimsey was. I, of course, mentioned this to her, but she already knew because she had been invited to speak at it, but didn’t go. She said, “I’m getting too old for that sort of thing.” So I went and gave her a report of the debate. One of the debaters was speaking about a Mr. Beaumont and a Mr. Fletcher, one of whom served the other up at dinner. There was something about not being able to tell the difference between macaroni and stewed arteries. I reported this and she didn’t think they had fiestian feasts at Balliol in Lord Peter Wimsey’s time. So we carried on this correspondence. There was a nice handwritten piece she sent me about Comet Arend Roland in April about how she had a touch of lumbago, “Do I fancy going out at 1:00 in the morning to look at Comet Arend Roland? There were them new street lights in Collingwood Road.” The last letter I had from her was October the 30th, which was 25 days after Sputnik, and she went on about, “Now, the sky is filled with nasty little bits of iron mongary.”

DeVorkin:

Really? She wrote that?

Marsden:

Yes, I’ve got the letter. I’ll show you. Alas, she didn’t see the other comet, Comet Mrkos, in August while I was at Herstmonceux, her last sentence was: “Now, another nasty set of street lights has gone up on the other side of my house. It looks as though I will never see the skies again.”

DeVorkin:

Oh, my gosh.

Marsden:

Well, she died six weeks later, suddenly. I never met her. We almost met because she was in Cambridge the weekend before she died attending the Baptism of Barbara Reynolds. That was the reason she was there. I could have been invited along, but I wasn’t. It would have been sad to have gone and then she died a few days later. But anyway, that was another thing going on in 1957. Then in ‘58 I had to concentrate a bit more on doing the mathematics.

DeVorkin:

Have you ever written about this?

Marsden:

Yes. I gave a talk in January 1985 at the HAD meeting in Tucson. So there’s an abstract. But I wrote a paper about it in a journal called VII, which is a roughly annual publication. I think it had 21 volumes, and this must have been volume 8, maybe 1987. The point is that this is an annual publication with an article about each of seven writers. Tolkien is one. G. K. Chesterton, writers in the English language. And Dorothy Sayers is one of the seven. That’s why it’s called VII. I was asked to write for if, so I wrote up this Lucan stuff and some excerpts from the letters and other things. I think it was rather a good article; I had fun with it.

DeVorkin:

Did your article include the quotes about Sputnik and things like that?

Marsden:

Maybe that one is in the article. It’s possible that one’s in there, because that was the last thing she wrote to me, so I’m pretty sure I put it. I know I ended up with what I said about the eclipse in 1927. So I think it’s a rather good article. You know it’s nice to write not only scientific articles.

DeVorkin:

So do you have a reprint of this?

Marsden:

I can make a copy. I have the volume. It’s either at the office or at home.

DeVorkin:

Okay, good.

Marsden:

Yes, as I say, the collected letters do have my letters in there.

DeVorkin:

And hers, too.

Marsden:

Sorry, her letters to me, not my letters to her. As an aside, although I am mentioned as being an astronomer, a student and this is mentioned in the letter volume because Barbara Reynolds is the one who collected the letters. Maybe we should run forward to 1958, 1959.

DeVorkin:

Well, let me ask you this question before you do that. You are an undergraduate at Oxford. When did you start thinking of a career?

Marsden:

Yes. Well that’s what I was coming to, yes. What should I do when I finish being an undergraduate? One possibility was to go to the Nautical Almanac Office. Another appealing possibility I considered was to go and work at the Central Telegram Bureau in Copenhagen. That’s where it was. Then I asked people, including Donald Sadler who headed the Nautical Almanac Office.

DeVorkin:

Tell us about that.

Marsden:

I asked Sadler because he hosted me at the Nautical Almanac Office, also Plaskett, Porter, and Beer. And the idea that seemed to develop, maybe it was Sadler’s idea, was that I should go to Yale to work with Brouwer. Dirk Brouwer was then running the astronomy department at Yale. Woolley was another one. Woolley was the Astronomer Royal at that time, ultimately in charge of the students although in reality Olin Eggen was in charge of the students [chuckles] at that time. He was the one who took us around to restaurants and things, and talked to us. Olin Eggen was there in’58. There was a parting of the ways, and he took all the Neptune stuff. We didn’t know that, of course.

DeVorkin:

That was a shock.

Marsden:

It was a shock, actually.

DeVorkin:

Were you there when he left?

Marsden:

No. He left fairly soon after that ‘57 summer.

DeVorkin:

He went to Australia.

Marsden:

That’s right.

DeVorkin:

So you had no real contact with him after that?

Marsden:

Right. It was only in the summer of ‘57 because I was there in the first part of the summer and in the second part of the summer in ‘58.

DeVorkin:

So you went around discussing your future with all of these people.

Marsden:

I suppose these were the people I talked to, a bit here, a bit there as to what would be a good thing to do.

DeVorkin:

Anything connected with your family? Did you have any need to go to work to support your family?

Marsden:

No. My father, as I say, was a senior mathematics teacher, and even though his salary wasn’t enormous, it was good for a teacher.

DeVorkin:

And it was very stable.

Marsden:

Yes, my father could always produce for us. Even during the dark days of the War we always ate. We grew vegetables and we always had meat or fish. There were deliveries of things, even in the darkest days of the War. We were never lacking. When did I tell my parents of my decision? I remember writing. I already had three contacts in the US, all comet observers. These included Hamilton Jeffers at Lick and George Van Biesbroeck at Yerkes.

DeVorkin:

So you wrote them even then.

Marsden:

I wrote to both of them in 1957 because I was calculating the orbit of a comet, Comet Harrington 1953 and there was some inconsistency between the observations at Lick and at Yerkes. The final observations were two days apart and inconsistent. So I wrote that “something is wrong.” And so I first heard back from Jeffers because the observations had actually been made by Elizabeth Roemer. She was a student of Jeffers at the time, at Lick. She had made the observations, and Jeffers assured me they were okay. He said that maybe Dr. Van Biesbroeck would have something to say. Or they knew. They knew Van Biesbroeck was a wonderful person, but he was sometimes a bit sloppy with his observations.

DeVorkin:

Oh, with his observations, okay. Did they do visual observations?

Marsden:

No, these were photographic observations.

DeVorkin:

So he was sloppy, how? You mean measuring?

Marsden:

He was a little over-enthusiastic, shall we say. The Lick people were very meticulous. Well, the Lick and Berkeley connection goes back to Fred’s time, of course. They had a tradition there, and were very meticulous. Pat Roemer was well-trained in observing there.

DeVorkin:

And they remember what Leuschner did a long time ago.

Marsden:

That’s right. Whipple did because they didn’t know what they were doing at the Lowell Observatory.

DeVorkin:

Yes, I’m afraid so.

Marsden:

But of course, I didn’t know this. And I mentioned it to Merton. This would have been October of ‘57, my second year, after Sputnik. He didn’t say anything to me about them, but told me to write to Jeffers and then to Van Biesbroeck, you see. So I did and Van Biesbroeck was a little slower to write back. And we know why.

DeVorkin:

So Van Biesbroeck was here?

Marsden:

Van Biesbroeck was here at the Smithsonian for some weeks, so I’d sent him an air letter to Williams’ Bay, which he didn’t get until he got back there. By November he was back at Yerkes and he wrote to me and sort of admitted, yes, he’d looked in the plates again, and there seemed to be something wrong. He’d re-measured them and sent me the measurements. This was very necessary for me to continue with the comet calculations that I did, and I was frequently in touch with Van B. When I told him Merton said, “Oh, that’s Van B up to his old tricks again.” So he did know, because he’d done enough orbit calculations himself, and he knew that sometimes Van B was a little sloppy. And I’ll come to that point, from personal experience. All this was to show that there were some people in this country with whom I had had astronomical correspondence.

DeVorkin:

You were now a professional.

Marsden:

Yes, exactly, relative to my own interests. And then it was suggested, as I say, originally by Sadler, and with the backing of Porter that I should go to Yale to work with Brouwer. There had been others who had gone from the UK to work with him. As this was early 1959, he was desperate to have people because of Sputnik. Of course Whipple was doing things at SAO, but Brouer was also doing celestial mechanics. That’s more fundamental to celestial mechanics than Whipple and the people here, so he was anxious to have people there. George Wilkins, for example, who was second in command in the British Nautical Almanac Office had gone there. I think Sadler thought of this idea because he knew that Wilkins had been there and gone back to the NAO.

DeVorkin:

Was there no other place comparable to Yale?

Marsden:

No, there really wasn’t. Tokyo, maybe, with Hagihara, but I don’t speak Japanese.

DeVorkin:

Okay. But not in the UK?

Marsden:

Not really. The possibilities in the UK included places like the Nautical Almanac Office. The university observatories were doing astrophysics. There weren’t any planetary groups anywhere at that time. The Nautical Almanac Office would have been the only place for me to go. And I thought of that, but they were thinking further afield in suggesting that I go to Yale. They knew that the U.S. was a great opportunity at that time, more so than U.K. It clearly was. And so I wrote to Brouwer and he immediately wrote back. As with Van Biesbroeck, I had the air letter back in a week: three days there and three days back and maybe one day for writing. “This is an offer and show it to Immigration for getting a visa and all of that, provided you come during 1959.” That’s all he said. This was May of ‘59.

DeVorkin:

But you were already in May of ‘59, of course.

Marsden:

Yes. I glided over ‘58. As I say, ‘57 seemed in many respects much more interesting. There were a lot of things going on, including the Dorothy Sayers correspondence. In ‘58, I absolutely had mathematical studies and was doing astronomy and all the calculations. I was in correspondence with Pat Roemer then, because from Jeffers, she had learned of my interest. So Pat and I had a correspondence that went back, I think, to ‘58. And a summer at Herstmonceux again, and it was ‘58 when Woolley and Sadler suggested Yale. Maybe I saw them at an RAS meeting. I don’t know what prompted me to write to Brouwer in May. It was probably because I realized that I’d better do something since my undergraduate career was coming to an end soon.

DeVorkin:

And May is already becoming late.

Marsden:

Yes, exactly.

DeVorkin:

And he wanted you by September.

Marsden:

He wanted me by December, by the end of the year.

DeVorkin:

Why?

Marsden:

Well, Sadler and Plaskett had written to him, saying I was taking my final degree; and there was a misunderstanding as to what was meant by “final degree”. We speak of finals in England as an undergraduate degree. Brouwer had thought that I was more advanced like Wilkins, or Jean Kovalesky, another one who’d come to SAO. So that’s why it was couched in this way. I was getting my final degree, which meant a PhD in Brouwer’s mind and that I would work on that. So I arranged for the visa and all of this and came over. Though the summer of ’59 was very nice and the weather was great and even though he said by December, (well after I had finished college) I decided I wanted to come at the beginning of September of ‘59. One of the reasons I wanted to come then was that on October 2nd there was a total eclipse of the sun here in Massachusetts. I figured that if I were in New Haven I would come to the eclipse that Friday morning, here at SAO.

DeVorkin:

So you were attracted to the eclipses?

Marsden:

Yes, eclipses, Transits too. I did go to see the transit of Venus in England in 2004. I happened to be around. I was at a meeting in Paris earlier.

DeVorkin:

You saw the end of the transit?

Marsden:

I know, we saw the whole thing there. It was a lovely day; 90 degrees as well, which is unusual.

DeVorkin:

Yes. I heard about that. A bunch of people went to Horrocks’ house.

Marsden:

Yes, I thought of going to that, but I couldn’t arrange for it. I was in Cambridge. I went to the observatory early in the morning. It started at 6:19, so I was there by six o’clock. I saw some students in the driveway. And there was a notice there that said, “Open to the Public at 7:30,” or something. I’m not the public, so I went with these students. They were just over the hedge there, with a telescope set up, and we watched it. Then I realized there was something going on at the Northumberland and so I went there, and Roderick Wilstrop was there. Then later in the morning I’d arranged to go and see my sister, because I knew she had a telescope that she hadn’t used in years, and she was getting it out. Her husband was at work. He came over for lunch but it was pretty much over by then. She and I sat in the back yard of her house, looking at the transit and talking about things.

DeVorkin:

It was fabulous, just fabulous.

Marsden:

It was, yes. We saw the transit. And yes, didn’t her husband just get the egress? I think he just got the egress, because that was about ten past twelve. He had just got home.

DeVorkin:

Yes, this is just off the topic, but if you can imagine how murky the Washington atmosphere was. It was a very easy visual sight, quite a safe and dramatic one.

Marsden:

And low.

DeVorkin:

Oh, it was just incredible. I had a Clark refractor from the last [1882] transit.

Marsden:

Yes, which had gone traveling. 1882, it had to go traveling because the transit wasn’t there.

DeVorkin:

This one was one of the six Naval expeditions.

Marsden:

South Africa, yes, something like that.

DeVorkin:

So you made a decision for Yale.

Marsden:

So I made a decision for Yale. I got on a boat, the Hansatic from Southampton at a cost of 83 pounds one way. I packed my belongings, such as they were, on September 4th and arrived in New York on September 11th, exactly 28 years to the day after Fred Whipple arrived in Cambridge, which is how I knew it was a Friday.

DeVorkin:

But you didn’t know that at the time?

Marsden:

No, I learned that later.

DeVorkin:

But you had heard of Fred Whipple?

Marsden:

I’d heard of him because he had fallen into the bottomless pit of obscurantism according to Lyttleton.

DeVorkin:

Did you ever think of studying here at SAO?

Marsden:

No I didn’t, because Fred didn’t do much teaching as though I didn’t come with the purpose of studying. I came with the purpose of working. And even though I had an interest in comets, I think it was felt that I had more of an interest in celestial mechanics and in orbits generally. And that’s why Yale was recommended, plus the fact that Sadler and Parker knew Brouwer. Parker knew Whipple, of course, but not as well. And it didn’t occur to me. This is what came up: my interest in celestial mechanics because of my interest in the Nautical Almanac Office?

DeVorkin:

So Yale was perfect.

Marsden:

So Yale was perfect, in that respect. And when Brouwer realized that I had just gotten an undergraduate degree, it didn’t faze him a bit. I still did the project that he wanted me to do, and then at the same time, he said, “Well, maybe we should enroll you in the graduate school.”

DeVorkin:

So you went to work.

Marsden:

I went to work at Yale. Yes.

DeVorkin:

How interesting.

Marsden:

He was in charge so he arranged for me to be a graduate student and arranged to pay me. I would work for the observatory 20 hours a week and would take the courses and work on a Ph.D. I originally came just for one year because I was working. Well, we only did one year at a time and it began some time in 1959. But now of course, I was to be a graduate student. I told my parents I was going for one year. I remember saying to my parents that I was going to America, and my father said, “I rather thought you would.” He didn’t say a great deal because he was deaf, but he was a mathematician. He knew it. My mother was probably a little more upset, but not really. I was only going for a year. So when I was here and enrolled as a graduate student, it seemed that I would be staying longer than a year, but the exchange visitor program could be extended. That wasn’t a problem.

DeVorkin:

You were an exchange visitor?

Marsden:

Yes. I was an exchange visitor. I wasn’t on a student visa because I wasn’t a student, but exchange visitors could be students. I was also working and that was allowed too. Working for the observatory took care of my graduate expenses. So my tuition was all taken care of, and I was working and lived in digs in New Haven.

DeVorkin:

Yes. Where did you live in New Haven?

Marsden:

As a matter of fact, I stayed with Professor Karl Deutsch, who was a well-known political scientist. I didn’t know that when I first went to his home, but I soon discovered this. It was very interesting because one would hear all his views on politics of the world.

DeVorkin:

So you had a room in his home?

Marsden:

I had a room in his home, up in the attic. There was another student. There were two students there usually. Sometimes I was the only one. I stayed there for five years.

DeVorkin:

At that time, was the observatory up in Winchester?

Marsden:

No, the observatory was at the corner of Prospect, 135 Prospect Street, opposite the Whale, the Saarinen’s skating rink. The old observatory building was at the top of the hill, on Canner Street, Prospect and Canner.

DeVorkin:

Was it still there?

Marsden:

The old building was there. Shortly before I went, Brouwer had been in Australia observing, taking plates, for the astrometric project, which he assigned me. That’s where I learned very soon to measure plates and learned all about the IBM 650 computer. Over the first when weekend I was there, I programmed orbit calculations with it.

DeVorkin:

Was that your first course programming?

Marsden:

Yes, because there wasn’t much going on in computers in England. There was some, but it was very experimental. The Nautical Almanac Office did have some primitive computers, but I hadn’t been involved with them when I was there. There were no computers at the observatory at Cambridge or at Oxford.

DeVorkin:

I was just wondering was anything happening at the Winchester site.

Marsden:

While Brouwer was in Australia, the university management arranged for the observatory and the Prospect Hill Girls’ School to change places. That had been located at 135 Prospect Street; the original observatory was in what is called the Winchester Observatory, because Oliver Winchester in the 19th century had given money for it, the nice, typical observatory building at the top of the hill there on Prospect and Canner. The university had arranged for them to swap places. But there was a small telescope in the dome at the observatory so it had been renovated and the girls’ school had moved up to the top. So here I wondered how Brouwer had all this influence in getting me enrolled as a graduate student, but didn’t have the influence in hanging on to the observatory building and was given this other place instead. But we managed. I lived with Professor Deutsch on a street just across from there on Loomis Place. It was about a mile from the observatory, but I cycled. And I did maintain some association with the Deutsches. He died in 1992. He’d been born in what was then Czechoslovakia. I remember going to a lecture by Jiri Dienskbier who was the Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution but before the Czech Republic emerged in 1992. In May of 1990, Dienskbier gave a talk here at Harvard. I remember going to it and I saw the Deutsches there; because I knew it appealed to him. That was the last time I saw him, but his widow lived into her 90s, and I ran across her again a few years ago. She died only a year or so ago, and I went to her memorial service. And I was at their older daughter’s wedding. Their older daughter married Thomas Edsall, who is a reporter for the Washington Post.

DeVorkin:

Oh, that’s right. Yes, I know that. So who was at Yale when you went?

Marsden:

Brouwer was in charge; Rupert Wildt was there; Harlan Smith was there too. Harlan had a lot to do with the students. And Dorrit Hofflieit, good old Dorrit. She hasn’t changed in the 46 years I’ve known her [chuckles]. At that time, I suppose those were the principal ones.

DeVorkin:

Wesselink wasn’t there yet.

Marsden:

Wesselink wasn’t there yet and Ludwig Oster wasn’t there either. Oster came later. Those were the four principal ones. I became friendly with Dorrit; we talked a lot. Harlan also talked with us students. I didn’t have so much to do with Rupert. He was a little more austere, you might say.

DeVorkin:

Clemence wasn’t there yet.

Marsden:

No, he wasn’t there yet.

DeVorkin:

And Danby?

Marsden:

And Danby wasn’t there yet. I told you I got to be a student at Herstmonceux in the summer of ‘57, and they didn’t normally have students in the Nautical Almanac Office. Danby was the previous person who had pulled that string, about seven years earlier.

DeVorkin:

Oh, really?

Marsden:

I don’t know whether they stopped it, because of him, but they weren’t doing it officially. So Danby came to Yale a couple of years later. My first year Morris Davis was running the computing center. The university computing center was at the observatory. One of the rooms at 135 Prospect Street had an IBM 650 in it.

DeVorkin:

And that was the university computer.

Marsden:

That was the university computer, but it was run by the astronomers, they as usual, being the first persons in need of computation. So Morris Davis taught numerical analysis for astronomers and programming. He got me very quickly into programming the 650, in machine language. There were sort of mnemonic languages. I didn’t like these. I programmed strictly in machine language, which meant you could take into account the rotation of the drum, 2,000 storage locations, 40 banks of 50. And it takes so much to retrieve something and so much to add and longer to multiply. We didn’t bother optimizing multiplication, but one optimized the retrieval of something, and the addition and the subtraction. That was the most fun I ever had programming.

DeVorkin:

The machine languages, was this the Michigan Algorithm decoder?

Marsden:

I don’t know. There was a blue pamphlet and I know there was something called SOAP, symbolic programming. But I didn’t like that. I picked the locations where I wanted the instructions to be, and where I wanted the data to be for myself. As I told you, I like numbers, like Fred Whipple liked numbers [chuckles].

DeVorkin:

Oh, yes. So you had access to the 650.

Marsden:

Yes. They even gave me a key. I could go in the middle of the night.

DeVorkin:

You had direct access. You could do your own compiling of the cards, and the whole nine yards.

Marsden:

That’s right. And why did I need the key in the middle of the night? This is where Van Biesebroeck comes in again.

DeVorkin:

Was he still at the Smithsonian, or did he go back to Yerkes?

Marsden:

He had gone back to Yerkes. I told him, Pat Roemer, and Jeffers that I was coming to Yale. Let’s back up a little bit. I mentioned the October 2nd eclipse in 1959, which was the first time that I had come to Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was on the beach at Marblehead. Sky and Telescope had cordoned off some area and there was a boat that I thought was in the way. It didn’t matter because it was cloudy and it rained anyway. Then you hear a plane go over with Harvard students in it. But anyway, later in the day I came to the observatory and that’s when I met Fred for the first time. I met him on Friday, October 2.

DeVorkin:

Where?

Marsden:

Building B was still being built then so I think we must have been in Building C. But some people were over in the Press Building, because I remember going to it to meet a couple of people down there. One of the people that I met was Yoshihide Kozai, who was visiting here at that time. I also met Frances Wright, who was doing the Harvard Announcement cards. So I was soon sending her stuff from Yale for the Harvard Announcement Cards and also sending to Copenhagen for the IAU Circulars. To be honest, I didn’t talk that much to Fred at that time. He directed me to other people I could go and talk to. I talked a little bit to him, but I knew he was busy and all that, directing this place.

DeVorkin:

What was your impression of this place? How did it differ from, let’s say, Oxford or Yale, or some other places?

Marsden:

Well, the most obvious thing was that both here and Yale were doing things that interested me more than the Oxford and Cambridge observatories. Of course, I knew people at both of them, and certainly Beer did many things. He was a very all-around astronomer, writing books. He just started doing that at the time, and I would help him with some of those manuscripts. I refereed a couple of manuscripts. Some of it was of interest to me, and I encouraged it. He was working with Robert Maxwell and the program of getting Vistas in Astronomy. My visits to the Cambridge observatory were to the library and usually to see him because he had a house on the observatory premises.

DeVorkin:

I must say; Volume I and II of this…

Marsden:

The best ones, yes.

DeVorkin:

…were just unbelievable revelations to me. But what happened?

Marsden:

I think it might have been Pergamon pressure. Yes, it got to be, “Oh, we must keep on doing this yearly,” and so on. And then of course later, his son Peter took them over. I was on the editorial board. I knew Peter, of course. Peter’s main job was a producer for BBC World Service. But he got into this, and after Arthur died, I worked with him a bit. Then Ray White took it over at the University of Arizona. And then it sort of migrated into something else, which I’m still on the editorial board. I don’t know why. [Chuckles]

DeVorkin:

Well, I have some stories about Beer, but not for here. So anyway, back to Yale. I was in the middle of asking you a question of your impression of it even though you were only there for a day. But what was your impression of the Smithsonian?

Marsden:

Well, it certainly struck me as a thriving place. Building B was going up and here were people doing celestial mechanics. But I knew that they were also doing it at Yale. In a way, maybe I was a little frightened by it here, because it was such a big place. Even then, it somehow seemed bigger. I mean it was bigger than Yale, where we all fitted in one rather small building at that time. Later, they expanded as they got some money from IBM and built a newer computer center, the Watson Center. That was 1961. So yes, I liked it here. But let’s face it, I had a job at Yale and I liked what I was starting to do there. Since I realized fairly soon I would be here for more than one year, I began to look into visits that I might do. I wanted to be a summer student at the Naval Observatory in Flagstaff. I wanted to go and work with Pat Roemer during the summer.

DeVorkin:

You wanted to go to Flagstaff, and not Washington.

Marsden:

Not Washington. I had to go to Washington to get set up to go to Flagstaff. But I got the idea from Ed Everhart. I had soon discovered the New Haven Astronomical Society, which meets on the fourth Saturday evening of the month. And Ed Everhart gave a talk there, probably in November1959.

DeVorkin:

This is the guy who was at Storrs?

Marsden:

He was then at Storrs.

DeVorkin:

He’s famous, now. He used to put his telescopes up on big towers?

Marsden:

He did that to some extent, and then of course, later he moved out to Colorado. He professionalized, shall we say. He got into astronomy. He was writing astronomical papers in the Astronomical Journal on comet distributions and things. But in 1959 he was an amateur, and so I went to the talk that he gave. What struck me about his talk was he had worked the previous summer, the summer of ‘59, at the Lowell Observatory. And so it sort of occurred to me; “Oh, that’s in Flagstaff. I could go and maybe work with Pat Roemer observing comets,” because I knew she was doing it, and so I applied to work at the Naval observatory. Clemence wrote back. I explained carefully that I wanted to go to Flagstaff. This was, I think, not what they normally did; they normally had the people in Washington. But he arranged for me to go to Flagstaff, and I went down to Washington, and met Ray Duncombe. I stayed with the Duncombes while I was there a couple of days to get oriented. I had to take a government driving test. Now I had my driver’s license in England, but I’d never driven. I did drive on the wrong side of the road to go out to the Bethany station from New Haven because I got involved with observing there. Brouwer got me involved with observing there. Brouwer did observing. Brouwer liked to take plates with telescopes.

DeVorkin:

Before we get to Flagstaff, let’s talk about Bethany just a little. That was before they had the big Boller and Chivens.

Marsden:

Yes, that came later. In fact, I saw that telescope at Boller and Chivens in California in 1963. I also wanted to go and see Van Biesebroeck. I knew the AAS, the American Astronomical Society, was having its December, 1959 meeting in Cleveland. I went to Cleveland on a bus from New York — 12 hours on a bus — and then I went with some of Yerkes people in a car, and they drove all the way to Williams Bay where I stayed with the Van B’s. They used to run, as you probably know, a hotel. They were in the process of giving up their main house and moving into the annex, which was also part of the hotel. So I helped them move paintings.

DeVorkin:

It was a kind of rooming house.

Marsden:

Well, it was a real house, but they ran it as a rooming house. Then they had a smaller place just around the corner, and they were going to move into that because they were getting on in years. It was Van B, his wife, and his sister; they all painted, at least the two women did, so there were all of these paintings. I remember coming with loads of paintings from the old place to the new place. And the New Year’s Eve at Gerard Kuiper’s house. Kuiper had people over for New Year’s Eve. We went over there and had a jolly time there. We also received a telegram about a comet, Comet Burnham, 1959k. This is how I got to observe with Van B and this question of sloppiness arose. He was amazing…

DeVorkin:

This was 1959, the “k.”

Marsden:

Yes. 1959k, discovered at the end of December. Other comets too, but this was the one that we needed to have observed immediately.

DeVorkin:

That must have been fantastic; observing with Burnham on the 40-inch reflector?

Marsden:

With Van B. No, this was on the 24-inch reflector. He did visual double star work with the 40-inch refractor, which of course I saw, but we were doing photographic work with the 24-inch, which was the other dome at Yerkes. It was a Ritchey telescope. And it was jolly cold, and I must confess, I had to go in the building. There was an icy wind blowing from the west across the prairie. He stuck it out, even though he was 79 then, going on 80. About getting the plates measured: when plates have been taken and developed, they’re wet. So he would put them on the radiator to dry.

DeVorkin:

No!

Marsden:

[Chuckles] If he were in a hurry, he’d put them on the radiator to dry.

DeVorkin:

Oh, you’re kidding!

Marsden:

No, I’m not. I saw him do it. And even then, they were still wet when he put them in the measuring engine, so steam came out. [Laughter] In my recollection I think he was in a hurry because I was leaving. This would be around the 3rd of January.

DeVorkin:

You were only going to be there for a few days.

Marsden:

I was only there for a few a days. I had to go back to Yale.

DeVorkin:

I thought you were going off to Flagstaff.

Marsden:

No, that was in the summer. This was Christmas, the December AAS meeting. I was staying a few days over New Year’s into January. I was going to go back though I hadn’t made any definitive arrangements to do so. You could do that sort of thing so beautifully casually in those days and so I arranged to fly from Midway. That was what they used in those days. Midway to New York. I got the train from Williams Bay to Chicago, and then a taxi to Midway, and then Midway to New York. Then I had to get to New Haven from Idlewild. I got a taxi into Manhattan and found that there was a train at 2:25 a.m. to New Haven, which I took. So I got to New Haven at four o’clock; I then went in a taxi to the observatory and got into the 650, turned it on and did the orbit calculation for the comet we’d just been observing. I sent a telegram here and to Copenhagen and then went home to bed. Van B got my telegram later in the morning and he was so pleased that it had worked out this way. It appealed to him, the way we had gone about this. Maybe he didn’t always put the plates on the radiator, but he was anxious to get me the observation so I could take them with the other ones that we had with the telegram and calculate the first orbit. This method appealed to him to do that.

DeVorkin:

Were you all worried about emulsion creep or anything?

Marsden:

Well, the scale is pretty good. It didn’t make any difference. As I mentioned earlier, usually his measurements were good. Well, sometimes he would measure a galaxy instead of a comet. That was frequently the problem. In his haste, he didn’t identify the comet properly when he was measuring it. Don’t get me wrong. A large number of his observations were correct. He was an amazingly productive observer. I have never seen an observer, in the old days, produce as much as he did. They did not use CCDs. You had to do long exposures on these things. With the micrometric observations of double stars, it was just the same. He was an observer, pure and simple. Well, he did all the calculations as well. He got me doing a double star and he said, “You must do a double star orbit.” It was a rather difficult double star, and I did do it. I never published it, but I did do the calculation from the observations he gave me. He seemed to think that I should broaden out a bit and do double stars. I looked at Aikens’ book. I started doing that, but he was trying to tell me this. “You don’t use a method. You just draw an ellipse.” That’s how he did them. He did them by some graphical procedure, just drawing the ellipse through his observations.

DeVorkin:

Not with fires?

Marsden:

Not so much fires. He had his own procedure. And I used the same kind of technique, except I used the computer to program to adjust things. You make a slight difference. You adjust an element and see what it does, and then you can see if you need to over-correct and all that. So it was a primitive differential correction procedure, which is actually the way we do comet orbits, ultimately, after we have our initial results. I do differential corrections by approximating the partial derivatives by differences and calculating the least square solution. I didn’t do least squares on this double star. There wasn’t any point. It was more just a question of adjustments. Least squares is sort of a meaningless kind of thing to do under those circumstances and that’s always the danger — that people go about full solutions, trying least squares, when you’ve got rather limited data.

DeVorkin:

Yes. Russell said the same thing.

Marsden:

Yes, I know Russell said the same thing. Russell was right! And this is what you see nowadays. People nowadays go straight to computers and realize they can write very complex sophisticated programs that do things very rigorously. And sometimes, there isn’t any point on many problems. You can find simpler ways of doing the solution. You should think about what you’re doing, rather than just take somebody’s computer program to run it. I’ve always tried to think about what I’m doing.

DeVorkin:

When you say that you think about what you’re doing, do you mean that you have some physical intuition as to what’s going on?

Marsden:

Yes, some physical intuition is important. I learned that from Merton in the early days. I learned a lot from him about calculating preliminary orbits. One thing he told me was not to use his method, which was published in 1925, in the Monthly Notices.

DeVorkin:

He told you not to use his method?

Marsden:

Right. He said to use instead some work that Väisälä had done in Finland. Väisälä was a remarkable person. The observing program that he set up for minor planets in 1935 was way ahead of anything that Heidelberg had done, because he went about it with the realization, “I’m going to follow this thing up the best I can,” which is why he developed the methods that would allow you to do that. And so that had come along since Merton had written his 1925 paper. So that’s what he told me to do. And when I got here in Cambridge, I discovered that Leland Cunningham’s thesis was here. Leland would never publish things, but his thesis was here. So I looked at it, and could see some resemblance to what Väisälä had done. There were similarities. I wrote a paper in 1985 that discusses it actually.

DeVorkin:

Was it at Berkeley?

Marsden:

Cunningham eventually went to Berkeley, but he was here earlier. He was here before Fred Whipple came. I think he came here already as early as 1930. He and Whipple worked together quite a bit on the plates. But Whipple was in charge, and Cunningham always wanted to discover a comet. So Fred discovered six comets, and Cunningham discovered one, and made a lot of fuss about it: a nice, bright comet in 1940 or ‘41. Since Whipple was in charge, so it was only when Whipple was away for two months that Cunningham got to do this in the summer. That’s why he got one and Fred got six [chuckles]. But they were good friends; it was all rather light banter. I got to know Cunningham actually quite well when I visited him on a couple of occasions out west. There were many fascinating people in this era and in this kind of astronomy at that time. I was happy to be able to meet them, both here and in the U.K. as well.

DeVorkin:

You’re still at Yale, and I want to keep you at Yale for a while because you did quite a bit of work, there. There are many different lines of questioning that I’m going to pursue, at Yale. But I’m interested in the growth of your perception of where you fit into astronomy at that time. Did you have one?

Marsden:

[Chuckles] Did I fit? Yes. I was doing celestial mechanics. I was taking the courses. I was doing and learning about the orbit work as I had done at Oxford, but doing it now on electronic computer at the 650, writing some other programs, doing the astrometric work. I took some plates at Yale. And then when it came to doing a thesis, in 1961, after being there almost two years. Two years into grad school is when Brouwer would ask people what they wanted to do for a thesis. So I thought sure, I could probably do some kind of thesis along the lines of things I’d already worked with, with the comets.

DeVorkin:

Right.

Marsden:

I had also met Herget by then. That was another thing I did that first year. At the Cleveland meeting of the AAS I met Herget, and he invited me to Cincinnati. Peter Musen had worked with him in Cincinnati and left suddenly in the summer of ‘59. Herget needed people to work at the Minor Planet Center and he had written to the IAU about it. He had written to Oort, who was then the president, who had asked Brouwer. And Brouwer mentioned it to me. Brouwer said, would I like to go to Cincinnati to work for the Minor Planet Center? Brouwer had asked me that, because Herget was a good friend of his, and he knew Herget was desperate in Cincinnati. I ran into Herget at the Cleveland meeting and we arranged for me to go, actually during the Easter vacation. I went there at the end of March in 1960 so I wouldn’t miss coursework. I went there for three weeks, and I went there as a triple agent. That’s the only time I’ve ever been a triple agent. I went there because Herget wanted me to show me how to use computers so that I could show the British Astronomical Association. I could already do that if I really wanted to. But in addition to the minor planets, he was also interested in doing some comet work as well. And Musen had done some comet calculations, which had also been published by the BAA Computing Section in its handbook. Of course, Porter knew that Musen had done that. He knew that Musen had left Cincinnati So Porter wondered how he would get the calculations on those comets. I was going as a spy for Porter to get those comets done. So I carefully made punch cards with the observations and took them with me to Cincinnati. Herget wanted me to bring them so that I could show the BAA how they were done. And also, Brouwer wanted me to go to find out if Herget really wanted to continue to run the Minor Planet Center in Cincinnati. It was rather fun. I met Conrad Bardwell at that time, and when Cincinnati finally closed up in 1978 when Herget was 70 and had to retire and the observatory was closed. I’d been asked to take over the Minor Planet Center here, and I’d brought Conrad here. I mean that was the obvious thing for me to do at that time. But we’ve jumped ahead many, many years.

DeVorkin:

Going back to your first meeting with him, how did he strike you?

Marsden:

I had heard about him from Mike Lecar actually, who was a graduate student at Yale and is now here at SAO. Mike had met him on the Vanguard Project.

DeVorkin:

Was he a Yale graduate?

Marsden:

Mike was a year ahead of me. He’d been in Physics, and he moved over to Astronomy in the year I went there. So I’ve known Mike a long time. Mike knew Herget and they’d worked on the Vanguard Project. So Mike had told me a few things about him.

DeVorkin:

So Mike Lecar worked on Vanguard on the orbit stuff.

Marsden:

Yes, you should talk to Mike.

DeVorkin:

Yes. I will do that. I saw him when I got my coffee. I didn’t say hello, but I recognized him. He looked really tired. So I was asking you where you saw your kind of astronomy fitting into what astronomy?

Marsden:

Yes. Well, why I’m mentioning this business of going to Cincinnati, because the Minor Planet Center at this state had come up as a possibility. We thought: “Is Herget serious? Did he really want to give it up?” When I was there in March, I ascertained quite definitely that he didn’t. He enjoyed running those cards through the computer.

DeVorkin:

What kind of computer did you have?

Marsden:

It was a 650. The same as here. We didn’t finish the work on the comets and so he asked me to finish that at Yale. So I did, and I eventually wrote a paper on Comet Oterma, which was the one that Musen had been doing and that he wanted me to do. She was a Finnish astronomer who worked with Väisälä, and had written this pamphlet with Väisälä that Merton had given me a copy of and drawn my attention to. So it was all these connections like that. I did meet her eventually, and I knew her quite well.

DeVorkin:

Was the computer in the old transit room?

Marsden:

The computer at Cincinnati was at the university. The university was six miles away from the observatory. During my trip there in 1960, I only went to the observatory once, just to see the place and the telescope. Of course, one of the telescopes they’d sent on loan to Indiana. Herget knew of me specifically, already by December 1959 because I had observed some minor planets with the catalog camera at Yale. Mike Lecar had been involved as well, and some of the students, we’d gone out there to do the observing. I had measured them and sent the measurements at Brouwer’s request. Brouwer was one of the observers. In fact, there were more observers than there were of observations. So that naturally brought a remark from Herget, when I mentioned that I’d been involved with this. But of course, he wasn’t going to say anything against Brouwer. But one of the things that Brouwer wanted to encourage us students to do was to observe, me in particular perhaps. Brouwer took me to Bethany himself. There was one occasion when Dorrit came. The first time just Brouwer and I went. I’d been at Yale about a week or ten days. We went out to Bethany and observed some minor planets. The first time, he kept looking through the telescope from the lower end, and he was puzzled. We’d taken some plates. And then as we were closing up, I found out what was puzzling him though he hadn’t said anything. When we’re closing up, we noticed that there was a piece of cardboard over the end of the telescope, with a one-inch hole. The operations manager, Mr. Disco, at the observatory.

DeVorkin:

Oh, yes. Disco. Was his first name Andy?

Marsden:

I can’t remember. I believe it was Andy. Mr. Disco, we all called him. Brouwer said, “Oh, this is mean. Now, this is mean.” Disco must have been observing sunspots, and he forgot to take the thing off, and we hadn’t noticed it when we’d opened up. We’d taken several plates. And then Brouwer being the frugal person he was, having realized this, decided we had to re-take those plates with the full aperture of the same fields that we had done.

DeVorkin:

You used the same?

Marsden:

We used the same plates. Oh, yes, Brouwer was a very frugal person. He would come around the observatory at night, sometimes, and we students may have had lights on all over the place. We got chewed out. He was saying, “Those lights on all those…” [chuckles].

DeVorkin:

So these would be double exposures.

Marsden:

They were double exposures; this was a regular thing that they did. They re-used plates. You had to. When I measured them, I had to work out which were the old stars, because the bright ones would still show.

DeVorkin:

They weren’t developed in between, of course.

Marsden:

That’s right. They weren’t developed in between.

DeVorkin:

I’ve never heard of such a thing! What’s the use?

Marsden:

I think that they weren’t the only plates that were re-used. They were expensive. They were eight by tens, and at that time, were three dollars apiece. The 10A30, were they? Or 2A0, or something.

DeVorkin:

But they had even larger formats.

Marsden:

Yes, they did. For some telescopes, one needed that.

DeVorkin:

What is the significance of that particular catalog camera by the way?

Marsden:

Brouwer had a project dating back to the 1930s, where he wanted to use a dozen minor planets to determine various astronomical constants. Herget knew of these minor planets and had collected some of these observations as well. One of the things he had me doing, was to measure some of those and to work with the measurements. Some of them had been measured, and clearly there were problems with the measurements. So they used the Method of Dependences, because Schlesinger, Brouwer’s predecessor, had devised that method. I remember using the method of dependences on these, and I felt that this was part of the problem. So one little thing I did was a least square solution. It’s linear. It’s basically three stars in a triangle. You can use more stars, but they tended to concentrate on just three stars. So with the new plates I got, I wanted to measure more stars. I developed a method that I call quadratic dependences, but I never bothered publishing it. It was just something I played around with to see how it worked in comparison to the linear dependencies, because we weren’t allowed to use plate constants due to Schlesinger’s invention. Brouwer didn’t want people at that time to use plate constants. Brouwer was loyal to Schlesinger. Brouwer was loyal to E. W. Brown.

DeVorkin:

Oh, yes.

Marsden:

[Laughter] So I didn’t get to do plates with plate constants until I went to Flagstaff. Even there, Jeffers had his own method that Pat Roemer used, as well. So I used that too and eventually got into a full least squares plate constants method, with quadratic and finally some cubic terms. So that’s what we used for reductions, here, a ten-constant solution.

DeVorkin:

And this was classical astronomy.

Marsden:

It was very classical, yes.

DeVorkin:

Did it still feel like it was the center of astronomy for you, as a graduate student at Yale?

Marsden:

From the observational point of view, I felt it was a little primitive compared to Flagstaff, for example. As Van B was finishing up, Pat Roemer was the new generation of comet observers at that time. She was the leading comet observer in the 1960s, from the much of the ‘50s and into the ‘60s. In ‘65, of course, she went to Tucson.

DeVorkin:

I hate to ask this, but is she still alive?

Marsden:

Yes. Pat is 76. I had some contact with her a few months ago.

DeVorkin:

I should be interviewing her.

Marsden:

You should get Pat on this if you can though she might be reluctant to do it/ Observationally I think Yale left a little bit to be desired although they were still doing the Yale Zones. There was a whole group of people there, Louise Jenkins doing the parallax catalogue. Ida Barney doing the Yale Zones. One of the things I found that I didn’t like too much was that the same star would appear in different zones, but it had a different proper motion.

DeVorkin:

Oops.

Marsden:

Well, because it was done in the context of one zone and not the overlapping zone.

DeVorkin:

Each was its own frame of reference.

Marsden:

Yes. I didn’t like that too much, and that’s the way they did things then. Brouwer, of course, understood this, but the Yale Zones were done that way. And then to see the development of the SAO Star Catalogue going on here. We needed something for the Baker Nunn films for the satellites, so Whipple developed the SAO catalog. Though the SAO catalogue might not be great astometrically and it has its problems too, it is a fairly consistent whole, whereas the Yale Zones were much more spotty things. Some of the southern hemisphere zones had been done with the CAPE telescope, the one that was moved later to Stromlo and was killed in the fire at Stromlo.

DeVorkin:

So the zones weren’t linked to the FK4?

Marsden:

Not really. There was some effort to do that to some catalogues, including the FK3. I think it never was done to the FK4. My feeling was that it wasn’t as complete a job as Brouwer would have liked to have done. That’s my feeling. Ask Dorrit Hoffleit about it, she was much more involved. Or Arnold Klemala, who came to work there in 1961, specifically with regard to the astrometric project. He of course came from Lick, where they did astrometry in a much bigger way. So although Brouwer was interested in it, the reason I went to Yale was to study theoretical and practical celestial mechanics. How one calculated the motions of the planets. Clemence came along a little later as well and started giving courses in Hansen’s method, and Brouwer in Newcomb operators. There was some work on artificial satellites. So that’s what I was really learning at Yale: how someone like Simon Newcomb could go through what he did. I felt that maybe I could do a thesis on comet orbits or a minor planet or something involving this project which Brouwer had me working on with these 12 asteroids to get these constants.

DeVorkin:

I wanted to just get your thoughts, and then we’ll put it to rest for now. You were talking about the kind of theoretical celestial mechanics that you were getting at Yale. You knew that you were using very classical methods. There was this issue of the Yale Zones, that they were peculiar into themselves, and that there were other ways to do things. Not as a consequence, but you were telling me was how you were coming to choose your thesis, and that it wasn’t going to be a minor planet. Is that a fair recap?

Marsden:

Yes. I very much was aware that I went to Yale to learn celestial mechanics because Brouwer was a leading exponent of that. This was after all, now what I’d done at the Nautical Almanac Office. The comets you know, maybe in a sideline I could do something on that very easily. I wanted to do for my thesis a meaty problem. One thing that I could have done, involved the artificial satellites, as we discussed. Fred was doing that here, and Brouwer was taking an interest in that at Yale: using artificial satellites to get the figure of the Earth, and also studying drag in the atmosphere. That was a big thing that was going on. When we discussed who was at Yale earlier, I neglected to mention one important person, Genichiro Hori.

DeVorkin:

Yes.

Marsden:

Genichiro Hori and I shared an office for a couple of years.

DeVorkin:

Garfinkel was not there yet.

Marsden:

Garfinkel was not there yet, but I met him fairly soon. He came on a visit, because he’d been a student there in the ‘40s. He’d done a thesis on refraction, around about 1941. So what was happening was trying to do celestial mechanics entirely analytically, if one possibly could to develop a way of working with drag in the atmosphere. Of course, the people here were interested in that, too, maybe in a slightly more practical manner, tuned to getting observations, whereas the Yale effort was more theoretical.

DeVorkin:

The drag was a big deal.

Marsden:

They were looking into ways of doing things analytically. The type of celestial mechanics Laplace had done wasn’t so easily extendable. Laplace was an adept person at doing this, but you could only go so far. Then in the 19th century, other things were coming along. Hansen’s method for doing planetary work involved some numerical work as well as analytical work. And this was a rather complex way of looking at things. What most celestial mechanicians felt was the most elegant thing that had been done in the 19th century was Delaunay’s development for the motion of the moon as being completely analytical, and using the elegance of canonical variables, which had only just been invented by Hamilton in the 1840s. This was work going on in the 1860s and 1870s by Delaunay in Paris. Delaunay developed the first method to use canonical variables to develop things in celestial mechanics, specifically the motion of the moon. It’s a beautifully elegant piece of work, but it’s very hard work to do it.

DeVorkin:

Yes. I’ve never approached it. That goes way beyond my celestial mechanics.

Marsden:

[Chuckles] Right. Well, this is the kind of thing we actually learned about at Yale. But Brouwer, I think, felt that there were better ways of doing it. He developed a way of dealing with canonical variables which would work very nicely in the realm of artificial satellites, both for the oblateness perturbations and conceivably also, for the “drag.” It was a method that he developed independently, but it had been discovered before by a man called Von Zeipel who had written a paper around 1916 on some work on orbits of minor planets. But what Brouwer had developed was much the same kind of thing, the way of eliminating variables and the short period terms so you could concentrate on the long period terms. This is what Delaunay does as well, but that’s what use of canonical variables will do for you.

DeVorkin:

They only have that descriptive background, what they’re good for.

Marsden:

Yes, what they’re good for. It was a very elegant procedure so this was all the rage. I said to Brouwer when he asked me one day what I would like to do my thesis on, probably in February of 1961 that I would like to work on the Galilean satellites of Jupiter. It’s true; I had some interest in them. I felt they were a more meaty problem. I didn’t want to do something involving artificial satellites. When it really came down it, I preferred natural bodies, which it may seem strange for one who also trying to predict when buses would arrive. Artificial satellites — they’re artificial. Astronomy deals with natural objects, and I was more interested in them. And I felt, “Okay. I would like to work on the Galilean satellites of Jupiter.” Of course, I know that Brouwer’s own thesis was on the Galilean satellites of Jupiter. He’d worked with DeSitter and with Ludwig Woltjer’s father in Lieden. So when I mentioned this, Brouwer immediately said, “Ah, yes. That would be good. You should use the Von Zeipel method.” Since I’d been learning about that, “Yes, of course. That’s the way to go.” And so my thesis involved as much use of the Von Zeipel method as I could, for the elimination of the short period terms and some of the longer period terms. Ultimately, you’re left with some messiness and you sort of have to use more numerical methods. You have to start putting numbers in some cases to do that. That’s what my thesis was on. You have to use a special coordinate system, and of course, this is what I developed: where the motion of Io the innermost satellite, is counted with respect to the center of Jupiter; Europa, with respect to the center of mass of Jupiter and Io; Ganymede and Calisto with respect to Jupiter and the three inner satellites. You also have to consider the figure of Jupiter as well, but the next perturbated body would be the Sun. And the sun is naturally measured with respect to the center of mass of Jupiter and its satellites because they go in ellipses into and about the sun. And then Saturn would involve Jupiter and the Sun, and that’s logical, too. You can ignore the inner planets.

DeVorkin:

What a neat way to start looking at the entire spaghetti structure of the solar system.

Marsden:

Yes, indeed. Well, Jacobi had mentioned this coordinate system in the 19th century, but that’s what you do. So that’s the way I did it. I put in the oblateness as well, and developed what I would need for the Galilean satellites. Eventually I did get a final solution. I didn’t link it to observations, but I did develop something that was reasonably workable to try and resolve some of the problems. There were some problems involving the masses of the satellites, and things like that.

DeVorkin:

Did you carry it as far as the perturbations by Saturn?

Marsden:

I certainly discussed it.

DeVorkin:

Yes. I haven’t looked at your thesis yet.

Marsden:

You can look at it. The first part of the thesis is historical, a thing going back to Galileo.

DeVorkin:

It’s actually on an ADS, I think.

Marsden:

I think it probably is. The University microfilms certainly had it. In those days it was typed and I wrote the equations by hand. There are lots of equations, the kind of extensive celestial mechanics equations that one uses. So that is what I wrote my thesis on, because I felt it was good for me. I had already, from course work, got some exposure. This was, after all, what I was at Yale for. This was the opportunity I had in working with Brouwer.

DeVorkin:

It’s also something more fundamental, I think, about the whole structure, stability, questions of the solar system and everything. I mean, that was what Newcomb’s big problem was.

Marsden:

Yes, it was, rather. Well, Newcomb’s task was to get numbers. He wanted to get constants, and so on. And he did it the best he could and did a remarkable job. Mars required fixing up a little bit, and then Hill worked on Uranus and Neptune. Brouwer had done such a wonderful job on the Moon, which one couldn’t compete there. But with the Galilean satellites and Jupiter, DeSitter had worked on it. And Brouwer praised DeSitter as a fellow Lieden person, and had me read DeSitter’s works. But the general working theory was Sampson’s tables of the satellites of Jupiter, and Brouwer didn’t think much of Sampson. I knew a number of British Nautical Almanac people didn’t think of Sampson, when it really came down to it. So it had occurred to me that this was something that was useful to do, but I did a lot — enough to get a thesis out of it though I didn’t finish the job. Then the time was moving by. I married. My wife is from Trumbull, Connecticut. Her father was involved with the New Haven Astronomical Society, so I met her through that.

DeVorkin:

Oh. What’s her maiden name?

Marsden:

Nancy Zissell is her maiden name. Her brother is also an astronomer. Ron Zissel is at the Five Colleges. He’s younger. In fact, that’s how we met. At one New Haven Astronomical Society meeting, her father introduced her brother to me as someone interested in astronomy; he was still at college then.

DeVorkin:

What’s he doing at the Five Colleges?

Marsden:

He’s always been there. He likes instrumentation.

DeVorkin:

Yes. He was the observer when I was a graduate student at Yale.

Marsden:

Yes. I got him a job! That’s right.

DeVorkin:

It was Zissell and the other guy. He later on went to Argentina.

Marsden:

Oh, Jim Gibson. Ah, Jim. Yes. I actually got on with Jim quite well.

DeVorkin:

I could see that. I can see how one could. But my role as a graduate student was, you know, “Okay, Jim. Where’s your shoe? I want to put my face under it.”

Marsden:

[Laughter]. Jim had been a student of Jeffers also, so he had a good pedigree. And Klemola was there as well. That’s how I met Klemola. Jim introduced me to Arnold Klemola at the IAU meeting at Berkeley in 1961. I’d run into Jim in the Flagstaff Public Library, because he worked for Pat Roemer, or worked for Art Hoag in Flagstaff after I was there. So he was a year there and he wasn’t very happy in Flagstaff, but made the acquaintance of the librarian at the Flagstaff Public Library, as had I the previous year. So I went to the library, and he happened to be there at the time, and the librarian introduced us. Then there was the IAU meeting shortly afterwards, and that’s where we met Klemola and he said he was going to Yale. Then Jim went there and then eventually both went to Argentina. Klemola went to Argentina first.

DeVorkin:

I want to put a cap on this session. Now, you had chosen not to do the artificial satellites. I think it’s very clear why you chose the Galilean satellites. I think that’s a wonderful thing. I have just one final question about not so much choices, but who was in Celestial Mechanics at that time. At that time, at UCLA, there was Herrick and Baker, and I’m wondering if anything that they did was of interest to you.

Marsden:

I knew Herrick. The Celestial Mechanics was really Brouwer at Yale; Clemence and Duncombe at the Naval Observatory; Herget in Cincinnati; Cunningham a hermit at Berkeley; and Sam Herrick at UCLA. Also during this time JPL was coming along. One of the things that I got into before I got much work on my thesis, a whole new thing in 1962, 1963, was radar observations starting in 1961 here. The ‘61 observations from Lincoln Labs were wrong; the ‘62 were okay. Goldstone was doing it as well in ‘62. And a meeting was coming up — an IAU colloquium of some kind, a symposium in Paris in April of 1963. Brouwer was trying to do the work which interested him, on the astronomical constants. So Brouwer put me to work, even though my thesis had been settled to be on Jupiter satellites. He put me onto some work involving the determination of the astronomical unit.

DeVorkin:

Right and you published on that.

Marsden:

I did publish on that, in connection with that meeting. And I disagreed with Rabe. Eugene Rabe was in Cincinnati, also working with the Minor Planet Center. Rabe was from Germany. Herget had brought him over after the War to work with the minor planets, but he’d also done work on Eros, the dynamical determination of the astronomical unit from Eros. Spencer Jones had done a geometrical determination and the big problem was: was the solar parallax 8.790 second or 8.798 seconds? There was a general feeling that the dynamical method should give you a better result than the geometrical method. So I was put to work, trying to link in the radar data on Venus with the dynamical work on Eros to try to get a solution. I had to fake it in order to get something to work and I said as much. And Rabe criticized me. He gave a paper that same meeting. He’d seen my paper. I wasn’t there. Brouwer said afterwards that maybe I should have gone, but he hadn’t thought to send me. Rabe never discussed his critique with me, but I read his paper. I was actually on friendly terms with Rabe, but he said I had violated the method of least squares. Well, it was a desperate situation. We knew by then, that Rabe’s value for the solar parallax was wrong. Really it was 8.794, midway in between the geometrical in his dynamical. Then later Rabe realized that there was something wrong with his work. His equations were not all entirely independent. He did have the goodness to write a paper about this. I knew something was wrong, but Brouwer had told me to do this. But to criticize me for trying to use his data — that was wrong. What else could I do other than try and get something out of that? So then the whole problem was solved when we were using the radar. So these were the problems that I would get into. Brouwer involved me in that.

DeVorkin:

This was a very exciting time.

Marsden:

It was exciting in so many different ways, really it was.

DeVorkin:

I have to close. Where should we pick up?

Marsden:

Well, this is probably a good time. We then discuss the end of my graduate work and my making preparations to come here.

DeVorkin:

Right. And other options.

Marsden:

There were quite a few at that time. [Chuckles] Yes, that was the great thing in those days. There were jobs to be found. There was money from the ONR and NASA coming along, and so on. Whipple was getting it, and Brouwer was getting it. Brouwer formed an Institute in Celestial Mechanics.

DeVorkin:

I wanted to ask about, was that the summer school?

Marsden:

They did have a summer institute in dynamical astronomy in 1959. Before I went there, that’s when Musen left Cincinnati. He daren’t leave, when Herget was there. But he wrote a letter to Herget saying, “Good-bye. I’m leaving.” He daren’t confront Herget in Cincinnati to say, “I want to leave.” He already was a fait accomplit. He wrote from Silver Spring, Maryland. That’s why Herget was wild about this and wrote to the IAU president, “We’ve got to do something about the Minor Planet Center,” and so on. Oort got Brouwer involved, who got me involved. And so that’s how that all worked.

DeVorkin:

But you didn’t stay with Herget then?

Marsden:

No, I only went on a three-week visit. That was the plan.

DeVorkin:

You got the extension?

Marsden:

Not on that visit, certainly not. I knew I was a graduate student and I wanted to continue to be. I knew I had a secure position for a while at Yale, and while there were obviously uncertainties in getting into a thesis and all that, I knew by then, that was what I wanted to do. I was interested though in the minor planets and understanding Herget’s problem. I should also say that in the year 1959, there were four of us graduate students: Mike Lecar who moved over from Physics, and one other student in celestial mechanics, and Jim Rodman. Jim Rodman was more into astrophysics.

DeVorkin:

Who was the fourth one?

Marsden:

You wouldn’t know him. Steve Gross, who was at high school with my wife, as we found out later, and served as the best man at our wedding. He is in Providence, now. He got out of astronomy. Then more students started coming in successive years.

DeVorkin:

I’d like to talk about that, a bit.

Marsden:

We can talk a bit about that, yes. Okay. That’s a good place to stop.

DeVorkin:

Okay. Thanks so much for the first session.

[1] Royal Greenwich Observatory.

[2] Ref Oppolzer: Cannon de Finsternisse, Dover 1962. Gingerich, Translator; Menzel, Preface.