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Samuel L. Boothroyd looks through the recently completed Irving Porter Church Telescope, Cornell Alumni News, May 3, 1923

Irving Porter Church Telescope Dedication

The dedication of the new refractor at Fuertes Observatory was a major occasion at Cornell. An extensive writeup of the circumstances of the commissioning of the telescope and the dedicatory address which was delivered were printed in the January 1924 issue of Popular Astronomy. These are reprinted below:


The Dedication of the Irving Porter Church Memorial Telescope

by Samuel L. Boothroyd, Cornell professor of civil engineering and astronomy

Popular Astronomy, Vol. XXXII, No. 1 January, 1924 Whole No. 311

Exercises formally dedicating the Irving Porter Church Memorial Telescope of the Fuertes Observatory of Cornell University were held on the evening of June 15, 1923.

Brief addresses of presentation and acceptance by Dean Kimball and President Farrand preceded the address of the evening by Dr. Heber D. Curtis, Director of the Allegheny Observatory.

After the lecture by Dr. Curtis, the members of Professor Church's class and their friends were invited to the observatory to see the telescope and view Jupiter and Saturn and the Globular Cluster in Hercules through it. A goodly number availed themselves of the opportunity and were favored with clear skies and good "seeing." As there had been public nights at the observatory each Friday night since the Easter vacation it was deemed wise only to invite the members of the class of 1873 and their friends who came to Cornell for the celebration of their fifty year reunion, and attended the dedication exercises for the interest the occasion afforded and to do honor to their classmate who had made the occasion possible.

As just intimated, the initial impulse which has made possible the memorable occasion here recorded, an occasion which means so much to Cornell University, was given by Professor Church, Emeritus, in 1919 when he made arrangements to get for the Fuertes Observatory two discs of glass for a 12-inch objective which had been ordered from the Mantois Factory near Paris by the Yerkes Observatory. Owing to delays caused by the war, these were no longer of use to the Yerkes Observatory and so were released to Cornell University.

In March, 1919, the order was given to the John A. Brashear Co. to make these discs into a visual objective for a 12-inch equatorial for Cornell University. A little over a year later the completed objective was received by the treasurer and stored for safe keeping in the vault at the treasurer's office to be kept until such time as the necessary funds should become available for the purchase of the 12-inch equatorial mounting.

Professor Church now initiated and carried forward a movement to get contributions from Alumni of the College of Civil Engineering of Cornell University to complete a fund for the purchase of the mounting for the lens which his generosity had provided. The Cornell society of Civil Engineers gave a substantial contribution and by the fall of 1921, when the writer arrived to take charge of the work in Astronomy and Geodesy, a goodly sum had been raised, Professor Church himself contributing liberally to the project.

During the fall of 1921 the proposal of Director Barnes of the School of Civil Engineering to call the telescope the Irving Porter Church Memorial Telescope was, by common consent, approved and Alumni were appealed to again to complete the fund as a fine means of honoring one who has done so much for Cornell University, and whose interest in astronomy for its value in broadening, enlarging, and uplifting man's vision, is known to all who have the pleasure of his intimate acquaintance.

In December, 1921, owing to a happy coincidence, the firm of Warner and Swasey, through the kindly interest of Mr. E. P. Burrell, himself a Cornell graduate, and other members of the firm, was able to make the University a most generous offer for the construction of the equatorial mounting for the 12-inch lens, an offer so generous that, in spite of the fact that the full amount needed was not yet raised, the trustees gave the order for the mounting early in January, 1922. During the spring of 1922, Dean E. E. Haskell, Emeritus, who had already done much to bring the need of completing the fund for the purchase of the mounting to the attention of Alumni, came to the rescue, and through his kindly offices in further presenting the need, the fund was completed about the same time that the last payment to the Warner and Swasey Company came due. The total amount was contributed by about twenty-five alumni, all bur one whom were graduates of the College of Civil Engineering, and the one exception was a graduate of Sibley College. The contribution from the Cornell Society of Civil Engineers may be regarded as the sum of a large number of contributions from Civil Engineering graduates, the whole gift being a fine memorial to a much beloved teacher in the College of Civil Engineering.

The mounting was finished and ready for shipment in July, 1922, but, owing to repairs and improvements to be made on the building and dome of the Fuertes Observatory, it was not shipped until late in September and its erection in the dome was completed on October 16, 1922.

The telescope is provided with a photographic correcting lens and with two cameras, one for taking photographs at the principal focus and one for use with amplifying lenses. The focal length of the objective is 180 inches and the two amplifying lenses give equivalent focal lengths of 5 and 10 times as great.

The instrument is provided with the usual coarse circles for setting the hour angle and declination, and a disc on the N. face of the pedestal and driven by the clock makes it possible to set right ascensions direct, being read by a vernier to single minutes of right ascension. There are also fine circles, graduated on silver, for reading the declination and hour angle and reading to ten seconds of arc and one second of time respectively.

The pedestal rests on two pairs of 18-inch I-beams which are 30 feet long, the ends being built into the main walls of the central part of the building. To increase the stiffness of the I-beams the upper north and south pair are bolted and braced to the east and west pair at their centers, just under the pedestal.

Adjusting screws for the fine adjustment of the polar axis in altitude and azimuth are provided on the base of the pedestal.

A small bifilar micrometer, which was originally provided for the original 4-inch equatorial telescope of the observatory, has been fitted with an adapter which makes it possible to use it on the 12-inch until such time as funds become available to purchase a more suitable one.

A fine assortment of eye-pieces and a polarizing helioscope have been provided by the generosity of Director Barnes of the School of Civil Engineering and it is hoped that other generous Alumni will, before long, supply the necessary funds for the purchase of a spectrograph and perhaps later an objective prism.

Tests of the objective on double stars show that it readily resolves stars of approximately equal brightness which are one-half second apart and when the seeing is unusually good the writer has recognized even closer pairs as double. These and other tests have shown that the objective is up to the usual standard of excellence attained by Brashear lenses.

The driving clock, the worm and worm wheel, as well as the mounting generally, are up to the usual standard of incomparable excellence for which the work of Warner and Swasey has won such deserved distinction.

The addition of this fine equatorial to the very complete equipment for teaching geodetic astronomy marks a noteworthy epoch in the history of astronomy at Cornell University.


The Influence of Astronomy upon Modern Thought

by Heber D. Curtis, Director, Allegheny Observatory

Popular Astronomy, Vol. XXXII, No. 1 January, 1924 Whole No. 311

(An address delivered June 15, 1923, at Cornell University, on the occasion of the dedication of the Irving Porter Church Memorial Telescope of the Fuertes Observatory. The address was illustrated with numerous lantern slides, inexpedient to reproduce in its published form.)

We humans are so much a part of our environment, as well as a product of it, that there are few factors in that complex which we call modern civilization which, though created by us, are not also operating to create in us a new mentality. Nearly every factor of our mental or spiritual activity, nearly every material product of our present life, has been taken at one time or another as an index of the height of the civilization of the community or race producing it. The standard of progress of a nation has more than once been measured by the amount it produces of such widely different substances as sulphuric acid, steel billets, or wheat. Forms and peculiarities of governmental mechanisms, and fashions of religious belief, have been employed to the same end. Within certain limits and with proper precautions, such indices, of material progress at least, are legitimate and apparently trustworthy.

But it is more difficult to appraise the present effect, and well-nigh impossible to foretell the future influence upon our mass intellect and mass bodily mechanism of even minor inventions, discoveries, or concepts.

Let us take a concrete illustration in the persons of Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, average citizens, grading not too high in the Army Intelligence Tests, and thus fairly representative, interested, let us say, only in the retail clothing trade. It is quite possible that the ancestors of this pair, certainly the feminine half, have for several thousand years had an amount of mechanical ability sufficient to permit their comprehension of no mechanical device more complicated than a door-hinge or a pair of scissors, Today, stern necessity caused by an occasional break-down, and the inevitable grooming required by the gasoline horse, forces them both to an understanding of the purpose of a castellated nut, and enables them to speak with some authority of ignition systems and differential gear assemblies. Ten million people of these United States have thus secured a vastly increased coordination of swift and certain muscular action, a necessity in driving a two-ton machine at thirty miles per hour, not to mention a tremendous increase in the knowledge of mechanisms formerly familiar only to machinists and engineers. Daimler certainly never anticipated such intellectual adaptations and re-adjustments as the result of his invention of the internal combustion engine. Thrice as many millions weekly obtain a large part of their reading matter, most of such propaganda as they can absorb, much of their quota of emotional excitement, and all of their drama, from sixteen photographs per second imprinted upon a long celluloid film. Who can predict the effect of Hollywood upon the mentality and particularly upon the spiritual natures of our great-grand-children a century hence?

That man, having created certain tools, has himself been made over as scarcely to require repeating. Some of this adaptation to changed environment has been purely physical, from the mechanical use of such tools, though for the most part our muscular coordination has simply been changed in the character of its application, rather than in its absolute amount. Though we can not throw a boomerang, nor easily chip out an arrow-head from flint, we can write, and we can steer an auto.

But the effect of our mental and spiritual tools has been enormous, all-embracing, cataclysmically subversive; revolutionary in leaving atrophied the abandoned concepts; evolutionary in its creation of new mental attitudes towards our environment.

In the influence of astronomy upon modern thought we encounter no such sudden and explosive effect as that which we find when we consider the recent birth and rapid rise of the theory of evolution, only a theory seventy-five years ago, now the foundation of every thesis of scientific or philosophical thought, and the universal cementing liaison which binds all such together. The growth of the influence of astronomy has been most leisurely, but the total effect of these slowly acquired concepts has nevertheless been of very great weight. Though the extent of the visible universe was absolutely unknown, and though the true mechanism of even our solar system was but imperfectly understood, the wonders of the heavens have for centuries been the inspiration of philosophical speculations, or even of religious systems.

Five centuries ago, with but rudimentary and fragmentary knowledge of the universe without, science, philosophy, and religion alike were anthropocentric and geocentric. We shall perhaps never, as men, come to any other viewpoint that that which holds that the noblest study of mankind is man, but we can today scarcely realize the change in philosophical thought which has come with the abandonment of our earth as the center of the universe. Even in the short span of our own lives we have seen a host of new concepts and discoveries; these we have had no trouble in assimilating gradually, one by one. Our children have these all thrust upon them as completed products. They must accept in toto, and with none of the preparation given by development and growth, such marvels as the moving picture, the automobile, radio, the X-ray. It is perhaps not surprising that our children seem to us a bit blase, and that it takes a new wonder of extraordinary character to arouse a thrill in them. We, like them, accept our sun-centered solar system ready made, and can not easily realize the mental troubles of our ancestors when they were forced to give up the convenient and logical idea that the earth was the center of the universe, with the sun, moon, and stars so placed around it as to give mankind light, life, and spiritual pleasure. In place of the rather vague and indefinite knowledge of two centuries ago, when astronomical science furnished little certain knowledge of any space realms outside the narrow confines of our own solar system, we today have a fairly definite body of theory as to the size and shape of that agglomeration of stars to which we belong as a minor and inconspicuous unit, and which we call our galaxy, or Milky Way. This increased knowledge is reacting, and will long continue to react powerfully upon our mental attitude toward the universe in which we find ourselves placed.

It is far from the purpose of this address to attempt to justify the study of astronomy by stressing same of its practical applications; it is of value for its own sake. There are, it is true, numerous such applications, even though the bearing of some of them upon our daily life may be more or less indirect. We furnish the world with its science of time; without astronomy, there would be no navigation; the laboratories of the stars, through spectrum analysis, have here and there important points of contact with our terrestrial laboratories of physics and chemistry; the civil engineer uses our results in all his more accurate surveying and geodetic operations. But, aside from the needs of instruction, it is probable that one large observatory could accumulate all the data needed for these practical ends, and the pure research of a modern observatory has but few and remote contacts with the norms of bills rendered and cash receivable.

While we render services to the engineer, it is probable that the engineer gives us in return more than he receives from us, for our great modern telescopes with their domes, rising floors, and other accessories, have come to be essentially engineering problems. It is now about thirty years since modern engineering practice, aided by the genius of Warner and Swasey, was first applied to a giant telescope. The success of their work may best be judged by the fact that most refractors built since that time have been practically exact copies of that first fruit of their skill, the 36-inch telescope at Lick Observatory. It may be affirmed without exaggeration that modern astronomy would have been impossible without the contributing skill of the engineer.

A very brief survey of certain results of recent astronomical research will serve to form a foundation for some points in the influence of astronomy upon present concepts which I desire to emphasize later. In selecting such isolated facts from the great mass of results given us by the astronomical research of the past half-century I must necessarily pass over without mention a great majority of the more interesting celestial phenomena, each of which might well exhaust the time available for this presentation; such subjects as eclipses, the comets, the nebulae, the planets, and especially Mars, so perennially alluring to the newspaper reporter and space-writer.

The journey which we shall make in spirit tonight is one of tremendous extent, but we shall break this journey for a moment's consideration of our sun, for one very important reason. Of the roughly two billion stars which form our galaxy we know the distances of only a few thousand. However, for a number of cogent reasons, we feel certain that these few thousand are quite representative in character. The vast majority of the two billion stars are quite surely not very different, on the average, from these our nearer neighbors whose distances we have been able to determine. These distances give us then, a mass of information as to the average intrinsic brightness, mass temperature, etc., which must be approximately true for the stars in general. The spectroscope tells us, as well, that most of the stars can be grouped as to constitution in an astonishingly small number of general classes, perhaps not more more than ten principal sorts. The spectroscope gives at the same time rather definite evidence to the effect that there is no break in the continuity of matter and energy, and it seems improbable that there exists anywhere among this host of stars any sort of stuff other than the ninety-two kinds of matter known to us.

Now perhaps the most important deduction to be made from our present knowledge of the stars is this -- we find that our sun is a fair average of the stars in general. There are numerous stars brighter than our sun; there are very many which are fainter. As we admire a photograph of the dense star clouds of the Milky Way, we shall need to keep constantly in mind a single very simple equation, namely, every star is a sun, and our sun is an average star. It is an equation which is correct, not for individual units, but in the general average; far the greater portion of the hundreds of thousands of minute points in a Milky Way photograph are suns of roughly the same mass, size, and brightness as our sun. To repeat, pick out any point of light in such a picture at random, and the chances are quite good that it is somewhere near the brightness of our sun; quite probably it is of the same order of size, that is -- averaging perhaps one million miles in diameter, quite probably also, its mass will average in the neighborhood of that of the sun, which, expressed in tons, is the figure two followed by twenty-seven ciphers. Blot out one point of light in such a photograph and you have destroyed a sun. Move our entire solar system out to this distance and we have but added one more dot to the bewildering complex.

The most casual glance at the Milky Way on a clear, moon-less night leaves the impression that the stars must be very much more numerous in that faint band of light than is general over the rest of the sky and our photographs and star counts more than confirm this impression. Photographs have been taken of dense star clouds in the Milky Way which show at least 80,000 stars in an area the size of the full moon, while there may be visible but a few hundred in a similar area some distance from the Milky Way. Combining thus the results of studies of stellar distribution with our knowledge of the characteristics of the average star, it has been possible to learn the more salient features of our galaxy. We find that it probably contains two billion suns, and that it is a rather flat, round structure, much like a reading-glass or a thin pocket watch in shape. As to the size of this lenticular space in which are located the two billion brothers of the sun, and in the approximate center of which is floating our insignificant solar system, there is a difference of opinion. While no accurate dimensions can be given, many astronomers believe that our Milky Way is somewhere about 30,000 to 50,000 light-years in diameter, and perhaps 6,000 light-years in thickness (the distance which light traverses in one year, nearly six trillion miles, forms a convenient unit of stellar distance). We find further that one of the most remarkable characteristics of this galaxy is its essential simplicity. Unlike the millions of species catalogued in our terrestrial flora and fauna, there are only some four or five main classes of celestial objects - the stars; the star clusters; the diffuse nebulae, which many believe to be the primordial stuff from which the stars have been formed; the small and rather exceptional planetary nebulae; and the spirals.

In a star cluster we are beholding a closely packed mass of from fifty to one hundred thousand suns, and its distance is of the order of ten thousand light-years. Modern magic! As youngsters we used to read of Aladdin and his wonderful lamp, which when rubbed would summon a djinn to perform any task demanded by the old-time magic. How insignificant seems the magic of fancy in comparison with the magic of a photograph of distant star-clouds, or a beautiful cluster. Waves of light, and precisely what they are we do not yet know, making trillions of oscillations per second, started on their long journey across space towards us ten thousand years ago. Just what is the medium, it there be one, which carried them across this expanse we do not know. Much diminished in strength, but still perceptible, an infinitesimal portion of these vibrations finish their ten-thousand-year journey in the direction of our telescope, enter it, and, so far as we know, with just as many oscillations per second as when they started, beat for several hours upon the silver grains imprisoned in the film of our photographic plate. Here, too, we do not know the precise mechanism of the countless blows they inflict upon the silver grain, but we finally, after some simple chemical manipulation, obtain the autograph of unnumbered suns quadrillions of miles away. Modern magic!

The epoch at which we observe such suns is roughly seven thousand years before Tut-ankh-kamen's time. In one way of viewing this fact, we are effectively ten thousand years old as we view such a star cluster. But there is another interesting phenomenon involved here which, so far as I know, has not been emphasized hitherto. The remote past is dead to us in every other domain of human thought. Though every phenomenon of the physical world belongs to the immediate past by the time we perceive it, we have here a unique experience, without parallel in the physical sciences. It is true that the brain of a Newton or of a Shakespeare still lives for us in the printed page; the hand of Guido Reni, and the beautiful girl he painted in the portrait of Beatrice Cenci, will live till his colors and canvas disintegrate. "Non omnis moriar," wrote Horace, truly. But still these are Fixed, lifeless, unchanging memorials; the skeleton of the dinosaur can never move again, nor Reni add a stroke to the portrait; we see no process of the distant past actually going on -- except in such photographs of distant stellar realms. Here we have temperature, light, energy, of the remote past functioning before our eyes; flames thrice as old as those which played on Abraham's altar leap, living, before our living eyes. The past is brought to the present, the present of such distant stars is in our future ten thousand years hence; perhaps those who believe in relativity may draw comfort from such truths!

It is possible that we may thus penetrate much further into past aeons. There is some evidence for the theory that our Milky Way may have its stars arranged in spiral whorls. Certainly its general structure seems closely similar to that of the spirals, and there are many who believe that these beautiful objects are separate galaxies of stars, other Milky Ways, quite certainly much like our own in shape and size, and, like it, composed of billions of suns, but so far away that we cannot distinguish the individual stars. In that case the spirals are at distances of the order of a million light-years, and it is possible that phenomena coeval with our remoter geological epochs are here displayed for us, in the present tense.

In treating of the tremendous extent of the accessible portion of this universe of which we form so insignificant an atom, I have indirectly referred to enormous intervals of time as well. It is impossible to go into details, but the fact should here be emphasized that the time element of our universe is probably no less vast than its spatial features. It seems fairly certain that the life of a star like our sun must be a matter of billions, perhaps trillions of years.

All this leads up to, and leaves but little space for, the theme of this address. I make no attempt to treat of the separate details in the remarkable march of astronomical discovery during the past three centuries, nor pretend to deduce the effect of each upon the totality of modern thought and belief. Even should I try to do so, those who follow other lines of scientific endeavor might object with reason that the progress achieved in other sciences has had equal or greater effect in forming that complex which we may term the modern view-point.

But I think that it may safely be said that astronomy, more than any other science, has operated, especially in its more recent aspects, to change man's ideals from the geocentric and anthropocentric, and to force upon him a proper conception of his true place in the universe.

That this place, so far as present knowledge goes, is apparently a very subordinate one need cause us no concern. It is futile at present to speculate on the interesting question as to whether or not there may exist at some other point in this vast cosmos conditions of light, warmth, moisture, and material, adequate to permit the birth of life as we know it, and the development of that intelligence which we think we possess. It is certainly not impossible that such life may exist elsewhere, we do not, perhaps can never, know. On the other hand, that wonderful reaction we call life is apparently an absolutely unique phenomenon; it has perhaps started but once in the billion or more years that mark the span of life of our planet; it seems equally possible that there may have never arisen elsewhere that precise and wonderful concatenation of conditions sufficient to give the start to a living cell.

In the latter case we are the only structures of our sort, somewhat puzzled at our loneliness in it all, and still not too certain as to the precise role we are destined to play in the Great Plan. The influence of astronomy upon modern thought is thus not without its element of humility, of the self-abasement proper to seventeen hundred million microbes living, loving, and hating upon that mote in the sunbeam we call the earth.

But the influence of astronomy upon modern thought is full of elements of exaltation as well as of humility, of enlargement of soul as well as of pessimistic indifferentism. We leave behind the earth and man as the centers of the universe. A new philosophy takes its place, and there are few of us who are not made bigger and better of soul through the conviction of participation in so mighty a structure as is that given by modern astronomy's picture of the visible universe. Religion, philosophy, and science alike have been enriched by the indispensable element of a vast and all-embracing continuity. Instead of reasoning from man and the earth to the universe without, we are approaching the truer view-point which shall eventually explain infinitesimal man in terms of and in accordance with the laws of the universe.

More important even than this more accurate and universal new view-point in scientific thought is its spiritual effect; I use the phrase with design and offer no objections if some prefer to connote it by the term-religious influence. Many men, many minds. To some the tremendous interplay of physical forces in our visible universe may seem like purely materialistic phenomena or, at best, as a manifestation of a blind and impersonal theism. Mere size is not necessarily a concomitant of the wonderful, that which is vast may be, as we have seen, relatively simple, I think it was Whitman who said, "The hair on the back of my hand is miracle enough for me." There are doubtless more wonders, pretty certainly greater complexity, in the sub-structure of the atom or in the chemistry of the living cell, than in the Milky Way. My own deliberately formed judgment, purely personal, not susceptible of proof perhaps, nor requiring the assent of the reader thereto, is that so tremendous a cosmos must have divinity in it or over it; my reason rebels at the assumption that it is purely materialistic, the result of the chance concatenation of self-created physical forces.

But, whatever our view-point, the influence of astronomical knowledge is certainly toward an exaltation of soul. Whatever our place and purpose in this universe, whatever may be our school of belief, all modern thought has been tempered, changed, and enriched through the knowledge that we are all members of an organization so wonderful, so unthinkably greater, that we can not go far wrong in applying to it the adjective divine.

Cornell University and its Department of Engineering are to be congratulated on the acquisition of a fine instrument which is being dedicated tonight as a memorial to a great teacher, and as a tool for instruction and further research. May this fine tool have a long and useful life, and may it, like other tools created by man's brain, react upon that brain to the further inspiration of our souls through service in extending the present limits of the science of astronomy.

-- DonBarry - 2014-10-16