Tuesday, November 18, 2008

working at Hale Observatories

My next experience with computers was at Hale Observatories in Pasadena, CA. as a summer student. I had worked the previous summer at NASA in Mountain View, CA. and decided to transfer to U.C. Santa Cruz for my second bachelor's degree in physics.

At Hale I was in the solar astronomy department, headed by Bob Howard, with post-doc Barry LaBonte. They gave me responsibility for programming on a project to measure the historic sun's radius from data collected at Big Bear solar observatory. I used a Ratheon computer and worked from punched cards and mag tape.

The observatory offices where I worked were right in Pasadena. The 200-inch Hale Reflector was up in the mountains.

The library at the offices was very nice. The librarian gave me a book to read about the observatory's founder, George Ellery Hale. He was a Chicagoan. The reason she gave me that book was that she knew I was mentally ill and Hale had been mentally ill and really struggled with it. He kept seeing this little man who would torment him--a complete phantasm.

When the scientific paper came out on my project, written by Bob and Barry, I got mentioned in a footnote on the first page that said I did competent work. This was actually a nice compliment.

I enjoyed the historic setting at Hale and the people were very congenial. I went to lunch most days with a foursome of Barry, a programmer, and a tech. We would eat at the diner around the corner and had really friendly conversation.

Once a week there was a lunchtime colloquium given by various persons on different astronomical topics. One was given by Allen Sandage, an internationally noted astronomer.