Welcome to the new version of CaltechAUTHORS. Login is currently restricted to library staff. If you notice any issues, please email coda@library.caltech.edu
Published September 1984 | public
Journal Article

An Astronomical Life


People write history although never certain what the future could learn from the past. Professional historians recreate a possible past with emphasis on what documentary evidence exists; they reimage it, conditioned by their own world view. Events remembered by participants may differ from history so much as to be nearly unrecognizable. My prefatory chapter will be quite personal and anecdotal; it is only one possible account of institutions and events of the over 50 years through which I have lived as a scientist. The mental landscape recreated is in part memory, in part illusion, but not necessarily deceptive. It naturally puts me too much at the center of events. Another landscape could be found in the roughly 600 pages of transcribed, personal oral history, and in many shelves of archives. Which is the true picture? I would have liked, sometime, to describe objectively the growth and maturity of the institutions where I have been and to help document the explosive growth of the knowledge and funding of astronomy in the United States. But a personal approach should give readers a feeling for the startling change in style of research, dramatic even though spread over 50 years. Ten or more years spent for an experiment in space, multiauthor papers, and computer-generated theory are quite alien to me. Here I limit myself to my own activities and interests, involvements with government, and the characteristics of a few of those leaders in astronomy with whom I have worked. By chance I am the first US-born astronomer to write a prefatory chapter for this series. My work is rooted in personality; my public activities reflect my private world. I was born in the Year of the Comet (1909), a comet that appears again on a Palomar CCD image (1982); 1909 is not a lost world, for me.

Additional Information

© 1984 Annual Reviews.

Additional details

August 19, 2023
October 23, 2023