Share Your LPL Memory

John Spencer

Graduate student at LPL from 1980 - 1987, has shared pictures of his time here. See John Spencer's LPL photos.

Clark Chapman

Though I spent decades in Tucson, few people associate me with LPL. But I worked at LPL for 3 summers and one autumn semester, beginning just after I graduated from high school. I flew out to Tucson in late June 1962, stayed in the old Pioneer Hotel downtown, then put on my suit (I came from the east!) and walked to campus, all the way to Steward Observatory on the far east side of campus, past all the empty fields. After all, an observatory is where you would expect planetary research to be done.

I was sent back to the PMM building as the day grew hotter. (It would tie the then-all-time record high for Tucson of 110 degrees, and I was certainly not dressed appropriately.) Up on the top floor, I met Chuck Wood, who quickly introduced me to Dai Arthur and the lunar crater catalog project that I would work on during the next three summers. (Amzazingly, even in 2010, this obsolete catalog of frontside craters remains the best lunar crater catalog, though efforts based on Kaguya and LROC will soon change that.)

It was a memorable first summer in the cramped quarters, before the Lab's move downstairs. Ewen Whitaker tossed paper airplanes about as Alika Herring drew pictures of rectified views of the lunar limb regions. We measured craters from the Photographic Lunar Atlas and used huge, clunky calculating machines for our arithmetic. Dai Arthur would wander around, look over our shoulders, and say "that's a class 2!".

The next summers were heady times as Ranger 7 hit the Moon and the Lab expanded. I recall a visit and lecture by Audouin Dollfus, who drew a circle on the blackboard by picking up a stick of chalk, snapping it in two, and drawing half circles with both hands, starting at the top.

Stephen J. Shawl

My association with LPL is a peripheral one, but one that tells of an organization, and a person, who made a significant difference in the life of a graduate student.

I was a graduate student at the University of Texas in Austin. As a part of my preliminary exams, I chose to do a project studying the effects polarized light had on the output of end-on photomultiplier tubes. For the experimental set-up, I needed a Lyot depolarizer. With trepidation, I approach Professor Gerard deVaucouleurs, who was the one UT faculty member with drawers full of optics. He did not have a depolarizer but suggested I write to Tom Gehrels at LPL. I did so, and some two weeks later, the depolarizer arrived! The project took longer than originally expected(!), and a year and a half later, I returned the depolarizer after the successful completion of the project. That meant I was through with the prelims and ready to begin a dissertation.

I had become interested in astronomical polarimetry as an undergraduate and decided I wanted to do a dissertation in the field. I wrote Gehrels in late 1968 and after a short time received a letter in which he, along with visiting astronomer Andrzej Kruszewski, suggested a follow-up to their recently published work on polarization of red variable stars. I jumped at the chance, in which I would do (nearly) simultaneous polarimetry, photometry, and spectroscopy of a few selected objects over a period of about a year and a half. Gehrels, and LPL, would provide the telescope time on the 61-inch Catalina telescope; time would be requested at Kitt Peak to do the spectroscopy either before or after the 61-inch run. Not only that, but Tom said he would pay me for the nights I observed! What an incredible offer that was given to a grad student at another institution and someone he had never even met! I am forever indebted to Tom for that, and to LPL for allowing it to happen. Observa! tions began in February 1969 when I was taken to the telescope by George Coyne and taught how to use the telescope and polarimeter. (Needless to say, I was unprepared for the February temperatures in the Catalinas!) One can never forget the order of manually rotating the cold box to positions of 180-270-150-240-120-210 degrees!! And, the data came out on strip charts and punched paper tape.

For the year and a half of observations, I traveled back and forth between Austin and Tucson before moving to Tucson in 1970 to complete my degree, which I did in 1972 while working at Kitt Peak.

The polarimetry observations went well. We were all surprised when, during my second observing run, I discovered what was then the most highly polarized star ever observed: VY Canis Majoris at 18% in the blue. Unfortunately, we slightly delayed publication, and Krzysztof Serkowski, then at Siding Springs, published first although his data were obtained after mine. Serkowski, in future papers, and being the true gentleman that he was, made it clear that I had found it first. Having Serkowksi then come to work at LPL was fortuitous, too. A few months later, I observed the infrared source IRC+10216 to have 20% polarization in the I filter---thus exceeding the polarization of VY CMa. When in Tucson, I had a desk in a tiny room across the hall from Tom's office. After my observation of IRC+10216, I heard him tell someone in his office, "He did it again!" in referring to my finding another high polarization object. My hope was always that finding these somewhat repaid Tom for the ! kindness he paid me.

Then graduate student Ben Zellner played an important role in the modeling I was able to do of circumstellar dust envelopes.

Tom, and LPL, were my hosts for my 1978-1979 year-long sabbatical leave from the University of Kansas, where I had taken a faculty position in 1972. At that time I was in an office with those working on asteroids, and it was then that I finally began to appreciate the importance of these objects. The kindness of Tom Gehrels and LPL during my sabbatical provided the opportunity for me to meet and talk with Ray White at Steward about globular clusters; our collaborations over many years resulted in a number of fundamental papers on clusters.

I should also mention that during that sabbatical year, two of my ex-undergraduate astronomy majors from the University of Kansas were new graduate students in the Department of Planetary Science: Humberto Campins and David Tholen! (They are only two of a number of highly successful Kansas undergraduate students I was fortunate enough to teach and advise.)

Finally, another sabbatical in spring 2001, which was hosted by George Coyne in the Vatican Observatory offices, resulted in publication all the polarimetric observations of red variables that Serkowski had left with me before his all-too-early death some 20 years earlier. Again LPL showed what a quality place it is when Mike Drake offered to help pay the page charges for what was to become Serkowski?s final paper.

So, hats off to LPL for the people and the institution on its 50th anniversary! I am so indebted to all.