Local Scientists Pace Nation in IGY Work
But Fear Public Ignores Lesson: Progress Through Cooperation
"Scientists in general are not competent to transmit either the results of their work, or the motives behind their work to the public. They are pictured by cartoonists as isolated individuals, working alone, above or beyond humanity. And it is important today to have the whole public--not only the thinking and reading public--aware of science and the motivations of scientists.
"I claim it is the role of the press to take the technical matters of science and translate them into ordinary lay language, and to present the scientist as a person. The press has been completely negligent in its duty."
According to M. Stanley Livingston, Director of the Harvard-M.I.T. joint Cambridge Electron Accelerator, the magnificent scientific achievements of the past International Geophysical Year have failed miserably in the field of international public relations. The key lesson of the world-wide experiment--that in science as in politics, trade or health, cooperation is far better than competition--went largely unnoticed in the face of the propagandistic race for satellites.
But there was a calmer, less spectacular side to IGY. In fields of oceanography, meteorology and glaciology, for example, the East and the West worked together for the first time, and large amounts of data flowed into World Data Centers from both sides of the Iron Curtain. Scientists at the University and at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, who played a key role in IGY projects, agreed almost unanimously that when several nations tackled a problem, enough raw information was provided to last for years of analysis. "IGY was a sure way of demonstrating that science is international, and is strong only when carried on with a disregard for national boundaries," one physicist said.
This aspect of Geophysical Year work went unpublished outside scientific circles. The masses of the world and the politicians remember the competitive side--the Sputnik arrogantly displayed in the Russian colossus at the Brussels World's Fair, and the voice of President Eisenhower beamed from the edge of space. Even the highly literate peoples of the United States and Western Europe were swept up in the satellite race, to the neglect of other aspects of IGY. Rockets which carried instruments last year were visualized as carrying thermonuclear payloads next year.
Scientists' lack of communication with the public, and with the politicians who voted IGY funds, was emphasized last summer in Moscow. Because of its unwillingness to allocate extra funds the United States became identified with the group opposed to extending IGY, while the Soviet scientists, by backing the extension of IGY, identified themselves with continued freedom of intercourse. The Soviets suppression of data from their own satellites belies the latter position.
("The U.S.S.R.," reported the Comite Special pour l'Annee Geophysique Internationale, "provided no guarantee whatsoever that the rest of the world will ever see any of the desired data; the Soviets say that they intend to negotiate each request for information with the requestor.")
Even in the Cambridge community, including the University, few people know even the nature of the spectacular IGY work being done by Harvard and Smithsonian personnel. The scientists have neither the time nor the resources to act as press agents; it's all they can do to keep up with the data that comes in. What is distressing, Livingston noted, is that even in this center of intellectual achievement a major gap still exists between the scientists and the non-scientists. Few of the latter care to burden themselves with the technical implications of rocketry, bomb testing or ocean turnover, for example, although vital interests--weather control, contamination of the atmosphere, and disposal of radioactive waste--are at stake. And yet the leading scientists of the country have been working on and occasionally lecturing about these important concerns of the IGY without significant communication with the University or Cambridge public.
As headquarters for the world-wide satellite optical tracking program Smithsonian attracted a great concentration of top scientists and mathematicians to its scattered facilities on Garden Street. Its growth has been so phenomenal that plans have been made by the University to construct and rent to Smithsonian a large center on Observatory Hill. The Harvard College Observatory itself has more personnel engaged in IGY work than any astronomical observatory in the country. The Observatory, with its special stations in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, is the greatest single producer of solar data, vital to IGY research in solar-terrestrial phenomena, such as aurorae and magnetic and radio-transmitting effects. In addition, University and Smithsonian personnel made significant contributions to the IGY in the fields of oceanography (the Geology Department and graduate students), meteor work (the Astronomy Department and Smithsonian), and upper atmosphere studies (mainly Smithsonian).
One of the reasons for choosing 1957-58 as as Geophysical Year was the anticipation of great solar activity--sunspots, flares and "plages" many times the size of the earth--which occurs in roughly eleven year cycles. As long ago as 1946, scientists were looking forward to last year as another peak in the sun-spot cycle; they were amply rewarded, for both 1946-47 and 1957-58 turned in high sunspot peaks. Donald H. Menzel, Director of the Harvard College Observatory, and long a specialist in solar research, agreed that the Sun cooperated beautifully during its intensive examination. In fact the sun could not wait for IGY to begin on July 1, 1957. On June 28 a huge flare erupted on the Sun's surface and hurled gas many thousands of miles into space. Two days later the Earth's magnetic field jumped erratically, radio waves blacked out over both poles, and northern and southern lights illuminated the skies.
Menzel, who had pioneered in constructing H.C.O. solar observation stations in the west, found the facilities in great demand by the IGY Solar Activity Committee. Ordinary observations were increased in number, and special attention was given to a study of cosmic rays, solar flares and radio reception. Involved in the project were three stations built by the Observatory--at Climax, Colorado; Sunspot, New Mexico; and Ft. Davis, Texas. The first station has been turned over to the University of Colorado; the Sacramento Peak Observatory at Sunspot is owned and operated by the H.C.O. under contracts from the Air Force; and the Ft. Davis Station is also supported by Air Force funds. The latter is devoted to recording the radio noise emitted by the sun, and operates the fastest sweeping radio receiver in the world, covering the frequency range from 100 to 600 megacycles in one-twentieth of a second.
The most exiting test of the Observatory's Sacramento Peak staff came during one of the granddaddies of all magnetic storms on February 10 and 11, 1958. The first hint that something out of the ordinary was happening to the sun came early in the afternoon of the ninth, when an observer, looking through an instrument called a monochromatic heliograph, spotted a flare of breathtaking brilliance leaping out from the Sun's surface. Almost before he could notify the World Data Center on Solar Activity at Boulder, Colorado, confirmation came from the Radio Astronomy Station at Ft. Davis. Bursts of static at 448 megacycles were so loud that the listener called it "Magnitude Major Plus."
So great was the radio noise that Alan Max well, director of the Harvard station at Ft. Davis considered sending a bulletin to the IGY World Warning Center at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, to recommend the declaration of a special World Interval, an alert to scientists to keep an especially sharp watch for unusual occurances. It was unfortunate that he did not consider the evidence strong enough for such a step, because the next day one of the greatest of all magnetic storms struck the Earth.
Now, scientists have known for some time that flares generally occur where there is a large concentration of sunspots, thought by Menzel to be "islands of intense calm floating in the otherwise turbulent sea of the Sun's atmosphere." Accordingly, the staff at Sacramento Peak had been watching a large cluster of sunspots covering over three billion square miles of the Sun's surface. Before the giant flare was seen, seven smaller flares had been observed, like rumblings before a storm. When a flare breaks out it spews a large number of electrically charged particles out into space; the bombardment of the Earth's atmosphere by these particles is thought to be the cause of aurorae, magnetic disturbances, freakish radio reception or blackout, and even the generation of unusual electrical currents in telephone wires and power lines.
The average person was scarcely aware that any kind of storm had struck the earth. A Minnesota family probably was unaware that the same phenomenon that produced the spectacular northern lights the evening of the tenth also permitted them to pick up BBC telecasts from London. A ham radio operator in Rhode Island with a normal range of fifty miles was startled to pick up a station from Texas, but a Trans World Airlines pilot had to fly thousands of miles over the North Pole without radio contact anywhere. As soon as the Sun set on the evening of the tenth, aurorae were seen around the world, even in some latitudes where they had not appeared within memory. The display was so bright that it was seen in New York City, whose smoke and lights make it one of the world's worst observation points. Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin, Chairman of the Astronomy Department said next morning that it was the brightest aurora that she could recall.
Various attempts had been made over the years to correlate magnetic storms with various terrestrial phenomena, and it was to this task that many IGY personnel devoted themselves. A few years ago, a Harvard meteorologist, the late H.H. Clayton, tried to establish a connection between earthly weather and solar activity. It appeared that during peaks of sunspot activity there tended to be more icebergs in northern latitudes, while in the Temperate Zone temperatures were subnormal and precipitation abnormal. It might be pointed out that during the great magnetic storm of February 10 the eastern and central parts of the United States were suffering from the worst cold waves of the winter.
Astronomers tend to ignore such seemingly unscientific efforts, but there is some degree of evidence that the sunspot cycle is connected with all sorts of things. Measurements of the growth rings of Arizona trees reveal that they grew faster during sunspot peaks, and such things as Canadian rabbits, Atlantic salmon and meningitis cases in the United States have all been found to go through cycles roughly equal in length to the sunspot cycle. Even in the stock market has been connected with sunspots. High and lows for both occurred in 1928, 1933, 1937, 1946, and 1958, but to say the least, it would be hard to prove any connection between them.
The most startling new connection between solar activity and terrestrial phenomena was made by men not officially under IGY organization, but working closely with IGY personnel at the Smithsonian. It was typical of a number of important finds; for many of IGY's most distinguished and valuable contributions have come from scientists not working under the Geophysical Year grants from the National Science Foundation. The whole concept of setting aside a year or eighteen months for special cooperation in the sundry fields of science was so broad a project that it touched people whose whole lives have been dedicated to research in specific areas--oceanography, meteor study, or sunspot work, for example.
Many of these individuals were singled out of IGY grants. Some of them shifted the emphasis of their work, or moved into allied fields; others continued working in their specialties, cooperating with foreign scientists in the same project. But the large majority were not singled out to work under the auspices of the IGY funds voted by Congress. To create a distinction between IGY scientists and non-IGY scientists would, of course, be artificial for on most projects the source of the funds was merely an idle afterthought. In fact, the basic contribution to the satellite program--the on-the-spot recording of data--was made by thousands of unpaid amateurs organized into "Moonwatch" teams.
What has proven to be one of the most important single discoveries in all of the IGY work was formulated chiefly by a man not directly associated with IGY, but working closely with IGY personnel in Cambridge, and a German working in the same field. The discovery--a startling correlation between the movements of five earth satellites and radio wave emission of the sun--is the most marked relation between solar and terrestrial phenomena ever found. The man behind this important find is a good-natured, gray-haired man named Luigi G. Jacchia. A meteor expert by trade, Jacchia may be found more often than not hunched over a drawing board plotting graphs in a small corner office at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory building on Garden St. Fittingly, it was his drafting work which led to his discovery of the correspondence of the two phenomena, by noting that the peaks and through of the two plots coincided.
"I was basking in the sun of my native Italy when the first satellite went up," Jacchia recalled. "I came back ten days after Sputnik I was launched. Everything was in a state of confusion. People were sleeping in my former offices. There was such general despair on people's faces that I decided to help." With his proficiency in upper atmosphere dynamics from his work on meteors, his help was not insignificant.
The first problem that had to be met was the inability of the computer programs to keep up with the satellite in calculating the orbit. Preliminary plans expected the satellite to be higher up than it was and so did not account for the rapid changes in the orbit's elements, caused by its encounter with the earth's atmosphere. These variations in velocity nearly drove the mathematicians crazy, for they showed no apparent regularity. Now it is know that if a satellite encounters atmosphere its angular momentum is decreased, and this produces a decrease altitude and a decrease in period. At first it was thought that the variations were due to the differing area presented by the satellite as it turned over and over in orbit. Jacchia wrote in the Smithsonian's "Special Report No. 9," issued February 21, 1958:
"An interesting feature...is the erratic fluctuation in the orbital acceleration. A simple explanation of these changes may lie in a systematic variation of the effective presentation area of the satellite, although variations in the density of the upper atmosphere cannot be dicounted as a possible cause."
The latter eventuality, added almost as an afterthought, turned out to be the critical factor. During the summer it was determined in that spherical satellites also behaved in the same peculiar fashion as the cylindrical satellites. By late September Jacchia had discovered some periodicity in the acceleration of Sputnik II and ruled out change in presentation area of the satellite as a factor. He wrote:
"It appears that the acceleration varies rhythmically, with cycles of duration of 24 to 37 days...Of particular interest is the sharp rise in the acceleration in the second half of August, when it increased by a factor of 4 in just over two weeks.
"The fluctuations in 1958 Beta Two ... seem to suggest ... semi-regular changes in the atmospheric density such as could be caused by variable solar radiation--for which one would expect to find occasional periodicities of the order of 27 days and possibly a correlation with geomagnetic activity."
Evidence which would seem to back up this theory was that the 27-day period of rotation of the sun (with its spots and flares thought to emit charged particles) corresponded roughly with the periods indicated by the satellites, and that the sharp increase in acceleration at the end of August was also two weeks of strong geomagnetic activity. The problem that remained was to find some traceable phenomenon of the sun that could be compared with the daily fluctuations in the acceleration of the satellites (by this time all five satellites showed the same acceleration characteristics, which occurred simultaneously).
At first Jacchia sought some connection between solar flares and the acceleration of the satellites. When the flares proved too erratic he turned to geomagnetic data. Again the correlation was poor.
The big break-through came when Dr. Priester of the Bonn Observatory called Jacchia's attention to the connection between solar radio wave data and the satellites' acceration. The very first hint Jacchia saw was that two peaks in an otherwise calm period occurred at the same time on both the satellite graph and the graph of 20 cm. solar radiation. With observations of 10.7 cm radiation transmitted daily from the National Research Council at Ottawa, Canada, he took a longer look, and found the amazing correspondence between solar emission and satellite acceleration reproduced above. This one-for-one relationship led him to form in December the daring conclusion that some sort of particle emission, or wave emission, from the Sun was responsible for the variations of the satellites. This would mean, he said, that the density of the upper reaches of the atmosphere was increased during periods of high solar activity. Not only had it been thought that the upper atmosphere was ten times less dense than the satellites proved it to be, but it was never suspected that the density varied with radiation. An IGY publication pointed out that these discoveries "will have a farreaching effect on interplanetary travel." They certainly will be important to the new X-15 rocket plane, projected to fly 400 miles above the Earth's surface.
Unlike many of the IGY projects, the satellite program continued after the end of the Geophysical Year, and grows more complicated daily. It is only now that studies such as Jacchia's are being implemented.
The job of interpreting the six billion calculations made each week by the IBM 704 computer is carried on by a small number of mathematicians and upper-atmosphere specialists at Smithsonian, many of whom also lecture at the University. Fred L. Whipple, Director of the Smithsonian Observatory, is an expert on meteors and meteoric risk to satellites as well as optical tracking; Theodore E. Sterne, Associate