Of all the natural sciences, probably the most oblivious to temporal vicissitudes is the ancient study of the heavens. But it is untrue that modern technological developments have gone unnoticed by the enduring astronomer and these developments of recent years have not left the University's observatory facilities untouched. Installation of more effective devices seems a never-ending project.
Most striking of the incorporation of new and old is at the Garden Street headquarters of the Observatory, centered around a recently revitalized 51 inch telescope, the focus of the Observatory facilities since 1843. Despite electrical panels installed a year ago, the telescope is obsolete for modern research. But is is useful for demonstrations at Observatory open houses and Astronomy I classes. Two other smaller telescopes of seven-and-half and nine inches complement the Garden Street equipment. A brick administration and office building stands in contrast to the weather-worn observatory dome.
Technological development has had another effect on the Observatory through the years. Greater Boston's extensive industrial haze--as well as fogs perhaps as old as the Milky Way--forced removal two decades ago of the serious research equipment to a "purer," rural site. To the Agassiz Station in Harvard, Massa- chusetts, 26 miles east of Cambridge, the Observatory has committed the major portion of its reserves, including the latest of its purchases. Radio telescopes have the obvious advantage of not requiring a clear path of vision. The observatory already possesses a 25-foot instrument and is in the process of installing one with a 60-foot dish. Radio telescopes in other parts of the country have encountered difficulty with commercial television signals though happily these have failed to affect the Observatory's as yet. The riddle of the heavens is apparently a more crucial $64,000 question.
The old-fashioned squinting method is still a back-bone of current research, however, and to assert this view, the Observatory has invested in a completely redesigned 61-inch reflector telescope, originally built at Harvard in 1933.
Donald H. Menzel, director of the Observatory and an expert in solar astronomy, has enlarged the collection of photographic slides, tracing stellar and solar movements, to the point that the graduate and undergraduate can pick from thousands of combinations for study.
As a vital part of the broadening sphere of the Observatory, it now participates in a cooperative plan with five other institutions to share the expense of maintaining an outpost in Bloemfontein, South Africa, one of the prize viewing locations in the Southern Hemisphere.