|Early Days Gerard P. Kuiper Early Graduate Students Missions to the Moon|
1 | 2 | 3 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
George Rieke, on inventing infrared astronomy
Gerard [Kuiper] had a sort of strange attitude for something called the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, that is, he brought in people that did, I would say, slightly offbeat but very technically advanced kinds of astronomy. [Harold] Johnson left before I joined the lab, but I gather that he used to joke that he was in the stellar division of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, which was sort of true.
Because Gerard had this interest in infrared, one of the offbeat areas that flourished was infrared. So he brought Harold in, and Harold had been befriended by a young physicist named Frank Low while he was in Texas. Harold quickly became Frank’s mentor in getting into infrared astronomy. So then you had three major figures in infrared astronomy—not that there was a field of infrared astronomy, but they became major figures as time went on and people realized how much they developed it.
Harold was the premier person in photometry. He knew how to take the data so you could inter-compare stars and study them and actually make field advances in science. He really started with the first photometry measurements in 1961 or 1962, and in 1966 he published a review article with all the infrared photometry results that he had done. That review article is still cited. It’s incredible that in four years he went from a clean sheet of paper to a mature area of astronomy.
Harold had ideas of how to build [photometric] telescopes that would be cheap, they didn’t have very good optics, and they could be moved quickly around the sky, which meant you’d unclamp the telescope and move it manually, just hang on the telescope and move it. The 28-inch was the first one. Harold and Frank then developed and carried out all kinds of pioneering infrared astronomy using the 28-inch. Harold then got a 60-inch telescope built, which followed the same premise of the photometric telescope. It was getting about as big as you could move with my hand, but that’s how it worked. We shifted a lot of these efforts to the 60-inch.
Gerard had his own 61-inch, and interestingly, I found a progress report that Gerard wrote on the 61-inch about a month after it was first being used. In the progress report it said that Frank had discovered the internal energy of Jupiter—which was one of the major discoveries of infrared astronomy—within that month. It tells you something really interesting, which was that infrared astronomy was super-ready to have discoveries come out. There were things that were well within in reach of the detectors and capabilities that people had then, just sitting there, super-saturated with discoveries ready to be made.
For quite a while the 61-inch in the infrared—at least the thermal infrared, which means the wavelengths beyond two microns—was by far the most sensitive telescope in the world. We used to make observations and send them over to Caltech where there was another infrared group, and they would actually not be able to confirm the observations, but they turned out to be right. They had the 200-inch, but the fact that we had optimized the 61-inch so carefully for this application gave us a big advantage.
There were really three centers of ground-based infrared that sprang up. There’s this one, and shortly after Caltech under Gary Neugebauer, and not too long after that Ed Ney at the University of Minnesota. I think the fact that there were three was actually important. You wouldn’t tell the deep secrets of how you did something, but you would show enough that people could benefit from what you’d done. In some ways the rivalry was fiercer than at present, but in other ways it was much more gentlemanly—the way you imagine science should be done, where people pass things around and say, “What do you think?” I think that sense of community was really important to getting the field started.
|Directory | LARS | LPL Library | LPL WebMail | Webmaster|
Department of Planetary Sciences
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
1629 E. University Blvd.
Tucson AZ 85721
Copyright © 2008 Arizona Board of Regents