Yerkes Observatory, 1892-1950: The Birth, near Death, and Resurrection of a Scientific Research Institution

By Donald E. Osterbrock | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
Golden Years, 1945--1950

As World War II came to an end, most of the Yerkes astronomers who had gone on leave to weapons development projects came back to their peacetime research positions just as quickly as they could. Only a few left for greener pastures. Horace W. Babcock took a coveted job at Mount Wilson Observatory, the first staff member hired by its new director, Ira S. Bowen, who replaced Walter S. Adams, well past the normal retirement age by the war's end. Philip C. Keenan accepted a position at Perkins Observatory of Ohio Wesleyan University, where he could devote himself to spectral classification with its sixty-nine-inch reflector. Working on naval ordnance during the war, he had kept in touch with astronomical research and had come back to Yerkes during one brief vacation in 1943 to measure a few spectrograms and write up a paper. Otto Struve admired Keenan's astrophysical research and his work ethic and tried to keep him at Yerkes with a promotion to assistant professor and a raise, but he had decided to move on.1

George Van Biesbroeck reached the mandatory retirement age of sixty-five in 1945, and although Struve tried to get his appointment extended, Chancellor Robert M. Hutchins would not permit any exceptions to this policy. Van Biesbroeck stayed at Yerkes as an emeritus professor, observing double stars, comets, and asteroids with the old twenty-four-inch reflector George Willis Ritchey had built. Within a few years Van Biesbroeck and his wife converted their home, where their children had grown up, into a boardinghouse for graduate students, young instructors, research associates, and visiting astronomers. Informal discussions on astronomical research raged at every meal, moderated by the kindly old double-star observer, his wife Julia,

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