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A Myriad of Galaxies and Cataloging Them: Harold Corwin

The subject of galaxies early attracted the attention of Harold G. Corwin, Jr. (he entered K.U. in 1961), and his M.A. thesis at K.U. (1967) would be concerned with groups of galaxies. He writes that it was his father who first introduced him to the stars by showing him the constellations, and gave him the initial encouragement to find out what the stars are really like. He found high school did not challenge him enough, but his first year at K.U. brought him down to earth with `a real thump,' and for awhile he thought to abandon astronomy. However his friends in amateur astronomy at North Kansas City High and later the Kansas City Astronomy Club kept him enthused enough to get through the bad time with math and physics. He also gives credit to Storer and me, and fellow students for teaching him astronomy in spite of himself.

It was an invitation from DeVaucouleurs (University of Texas) to spend the summer of 1965 with his galaxy research group that gave Harold an opportunity to find out what practical research was really like, and he performed so well that he was invited back for the next two summers as well. He then spent four years in the Air Force, during which he met his wife, Kathleen (Challoner) Castellini (also an Air Force officer; they were married in 1977), and returned to a permanent position at the University of Texas. Though the main project at Texas was the Second Reference Catalog of Bright Galaxies, there were other projects in progress as well, for example: obtaining basic data (especially photoelectric UBVRI photometry of large galaxies), and mapping features on Mars. The Second Catalog was published in 1976, and it seemed feasible to consider returning to graduate school.

After a decade away from formal schooling, he and his wife made the courageous decision that he should go to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland to obtain his Ph.D. The choice to go to Edinburgh was not as random a choice as it might seem. First of all, the university's Astronomy Department is attached to the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh (ROE), and shares office space with it. In the second place, the ROE was the administrative and data center for the United Kingdom Schmidt telescope in Siding Spring, Australia, so was a perfect place to study the southern sky on the then-new Southern Sky Survey plates. In addition Edinburgh is a wonderful city in which to live-- picturesque, cosmopolitan and quite lively. Corwin's thesis project was a preliminary study of a supercluster of galaxies he had found during the course of a cluster survey he was carrying out in collaboration with George Abell, who unfortunately died in 1983. The Ph.D. thesis, completed in 1981, has the title The Indus Supercluster (advisors David Emerson, Russell Cannon and Robert Stobie). Harold writes that he was able to get another collaborator, Ronald Olowin, and together they completed the Abell Catalog of Rich Clusters of Galaxies (southern portion and a revised version of the northern portion) in 1989.

After that he returned to Texas to work with DeVaucouleurs for another ten years, primarily on the Third Reference Catalog of Bright Galaxies (RC3) which included the Southern Galaxy Catalog (1985). With RC3's publication the time was ripe for another move, and he presently works at the California Institute of Technology on the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database (NED) and for the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center. In his latest e-mail to me he writes the following: "During my seven-plus years with NED it has grown tremendously: from an initial database of about 50,000 optical galaxies and 50 MB of required storage, it now encompasses nearly a million extragalactic sources observed at numerous wavelengths and takes up over a GB (billion bytes) of storage. It has over 3000 regular users from all over the world, and its World-Wide-Web interface (introduced in January 1996) has opened it up to not just professional research astronomers, but to the amateur community as well. It is now receiving over 200,000 "Web Hits" per month, as well as around 50,000 server requests from other electronic data services, and about 2000 interactive log-ins via the Internet. NED is now maintained by a staff of eight with contributions from two other scientists/programmers." For more information he suggests that the reader refer to the following web sites:

  • http://nedwww.ipac.caltech.edu (NED-site) 
  • spider.ipac.caltech.edu/staff/hgcjr (personal-site) [Ed. note: URL now defunct]
  • ngcic.com (NGC-IC site) [Ed. note: URL now defunct]