A Brief History of Astronomy at KU to 1968 by N. Wyman Storer

Astronomy has been taught at the University for more than 80 years. The 6-inch Alvin Clark refractor, which is still in use for classes and occasional public nights, was purchased new for $1,000 and arrived on the campus on October 20, 1885. It was in use two nights later, according to the student paper.

The earliest University catalog available, that for 1887-88, lists two courses that were offered: Descriptive Astronomy and Practical Astronomy, the latter primarily for engineers. These were taught for three years by Mr. M. S. Franklin, an Assistant in Physics and Astronomy. In 1890 these were taken over by Prof. Ephraim Miller of the Department of Mathematics, which the next year became the Department of Mathematics and Astronomy and so remained until 1910. During this period Celestial Mechanics was added as a graduate course also taught by Prof. Miller. In 1910, a year after the arrival of Dr. F.E. Kester as chairman of the Physics Department, this became the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and during the first year the above three courses plus an Introduction to Astrophysics were taught by Prof. M.E. Rice. The next year they were offered by an unnamed instructor. In 1912 the curriculum was expanded considerably under the guidance of Dr. R.K. Young to include a semester of the Observational Astronomy, two semesters of General Astronomy, a course in Theoretical Astronomy and one in Practical Computing. For the next two years these were taken over by a Dr. Cornelius and then, from 1915 to 1917, they were taught by Dr. Ellis B. Stouffer.

In the fall of 1917, Dr. Dinsmore Alter was appointed to the faculty at KU but was granted leave of absence for two years of military service with the rank of colonel. On his return, the number of courses offered was further expanded to include the History of Astronomy, Method of Least Squares, Theory of Interpolation, Vector Analysis and Vector Mechanics, and the Calculation of Orbits and Perturbations - all apparently offered by Alter. These remained substantially unchanged until his leave-of-absence in 1935 and resignation in 1936 to become director of the Griffith Observatory and Planetariums in Los Angeles.

The facilities for Astronomy were greatly improved during Dr. Alter's regime. The 6-inch refractor, which up to this time had to be carried out-of-doors and set up on a tripod to be used, was now given a permanently based equatorial mounting in a separate building with a rotating conical roof over it. In the same building were a sizable classroom, an office, a library and a transit room housing both 3-in. and 2-in. transit instruments. A spectroscope was also acquired to be attached to the 6-in. telescope. The frame structure holding all these was originally on the spot were Hoch Auditorium now stands but, in 1926, it was moved bodily to a position west of Marvin Hall but east of the present position of Lindley Hall, not built until 1941 or '42. That observatory building was taken down in the fall of 1944 when the observatory was moved to the roof of Lindley Hall.

In the late 1920's, Dr. Alter had enlisted the cooperation of several persons in the design and construction of a 27-inch reflecting telescope, originally planned for the photographic following of the motions of asteroids. Mr. William Pitt of Kansas city with Dr. Alter's help did all of the work of grinding and polishing the mirror to a high degree of excellence. The mechanical parts were designed and the construction supervised by a few of the staff and advanced students in the School of Engineering and Architecture, notably Prof. George Hood and his son Manley. The older observatory building was enlarged to include a housing for this telescope, for some years the largest in the mid-west.

In 1935, Dr. N.W. Storer was given a temporary appointment during Dr. Alter's leave, and this was made permanent upon the latter's resignation. At this time, the curriculum was modified only to the extent of a few changes in the courses in which various topics were to be covered and the dropping of those (except Least Squares) which were not directly related to astronomy. The operation of the Pitt telescope was improved by the construction, at the base of the rotating conical roof, of a floor that gave ready access to the upper business end of the telescope. This made it possible, in 1938-39, for the first graduate student to earn his M.A. degree using the William Pitt Telescope as it was named on the occasion of its formal dedication on February 17, 1939.

But within two years after this it became necessary for Dr. Storer to devote much of his time to the teaching of Physics, Trigonometry, and Celestial Navigation to various military units. Upon the demolition of the old observatory building in the fall of 1944, the 6-inch refractor was moved to a new structure on the roof of Lindley Hall, and the Pitt Telescope was placed in storage. Storer designed the new structure so that housing for the transit instrument and the Pitt Telescope could be added to it later. These additions were finally completed in 1951-52 and included, beside the transit room and circular room for the Pitt Telescope, two small offices for the use of advanced students, a small shop and a photographic dark-room. Shortly after the war, Storer was asked to organize and teach a course called The Principles of Physical Science, a 5-hour course that was then taught by him every semester from the fall of 1948 to thee spring of 1967. It was soon clear that he could not handle that and at the same time teach the courses in Astronomy needed for both an undergraduate major and a master's program.

Consequently, Dr. Henry Horak, who had graduated here in 1940 and after service in the war had received his M.A. here in 1947, followed by a Ph.D. from Chicago in 1950, was added to the astronomy section of the department. With this more recent training in Astrophysics, he has guided most of the master's candidates up to the present time. In addition he was instrumental in procuring for the Pitt Telescope a double-slide plate-holder for use in direct photography and a measuring engine for the extremely precise measurement of photographs and spectrograms. He later had built a photoelectric photometer and a replica-grating spectrograph for use with the Pitt Telescope. In addition he added various more up-to-date features to the driving mechanism of the telescope. Mention should be made of the facilities in the main building - on the roof level with ready access to the telescopes. There are two small but adequate offices and a classroom in which small advanced classes are held. This room also serves as the main part of our library. The equipment kept in it consists of two marine chronometers and a chronograph and sidereal clock, the last two being connected electrically to all three of the telescopes.

An exact count of those who have majored in Astronomy as undergraduates would be difficult to compile. (A major in Astronomy was first mentioned in the catalog of 1912-13.) But since most of those who have majored as undergraduates have remained to earn M.A. degrees, a list of these will give a fair idea of the types of work done here. (Updated 2004)

1922 Bibliography of Sun-Spots - L.C. Bagby

1923 Orbit of Spectroscopic Binary, 12 Monocertis - C.T. Elvey

1927 Orbit of Asteroid, Y.O. 24 - Dolores Poland

1933 Periodogram Analysis of Rainfall - D.P. Johnson

1933 Periodogram Analysis of Rainfall - (Dr.) E.J. Prouse

1937 Orbit of Asteroid 1935 - P.A. Virginia Brenton

1938 Some Studies in Planetary Photography - James B. Edson

1939 Observational Performance of the Pitt Telescope - Clyde W. Tombaugh

1947 Vector Methods Applied to the Theory of Orbits - Henry G. Horak

1951 Study of R V Tauri Type Variables - Robert R. Brownlee

1956 A Study of Eclipsing Variable Stars - Robert L. Talley

1957 Study of the Motion of an Artificial Earth-satellite - Robert S. Sprague

1962 Direction of Time and the Equivalence of Expanding and Contracting World Models - Donald L. Schumacher

1964 Calculation of Reflection from Planetary Atmospheres - Stephen J. Little

1964 The Machine Computation of Spectroscopic Binary Orbits – Robert H. Wolfe, Jr.

1965 The Study of the Grating Spectrograph on the 27-inch William Pitt Telescope - Edwin S. Barker

1965 Atlas of Different Types of Stellar Spectra Compiled with KU Spectrograph - Paul Frank Younger

1965 The Design and Application of a Hybrid Multicolor Photometer System - William G. Galinaitis

1966 Photoelectric Photometry of the Lunar Surface - Theodore V. Smith

1967 A Study of Galaxy Groups and of Their Member Galaxies – Harold G. Corwin

1967 Multiple Periodicities of the Delta Scuti Stars - Louis Wayne Fullerton

1967 Stellar Structure and Evolution - Mark A. Stull

1968 A Study of the Probabilities of Encounters of Stars in Clusters - Jack G. Hills

1968 On Hansen's Methods for Absolute Perturbations - Maxwell T. Sandford, II

1968 Woodman, Jerry H.

1970 Sion, Edward M.

1989 Broad-Band CCD Photometry of the Open Cluster, NGC 3293 – Tamara (Whitacre) Payne (Computational Physics & Astronomy)

1989 CCD Stromgren Photometry of the Main Sequence Of Omega Cen – Krishna Mukherjee (Physics)

2004 Delora Tanner (Computational Physics & Astronomy)

2004 Misty Cracraft (Computational Physics & Astronomy)

1954 Dr. Horak chaired the committee in charge of the work toward a Ph.D. of Charles Arthur Lundquist. Thesis subject: "Application of the Invariance Principle Method to Layers Containing Sources"

1962 Dr. Horak chaired the committee in charge of the work toward a Ph.D. of John Joseph Walton. Thesis subject: "The Capillary Instability of Fluid Cylinders"

In 1935, when I first came to KU, the enrollment was usually around 40 or 50 in the elementary course and rarely more than two or three in the more advanced courses when they were offered. There were few semesters at first when I did not teach four courses. The enrollments have grown, recently with explosive speed, to the point where the enrollment in the elementary course has averaged about 200 during the last four semesters. The second semester course, Astronomy 192 had about 35 students last spring - 50% larger than ever before. Likewise, the first semester of Practical Astronomy, course 181, started out with 17 students - nearly twice what it ever was before. The same is true of course 188 that is now being taught to two graduate students, six senior majors and two junior majors. These, along with the number of Master's degrees awarded last summer, are all records.

N. Wyman Storer, Professor

Spring of 1968


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