Astronomical Society Celebrates Greenbelt 75th Anniversary
The Astronomical Society of Greenbelt (ASG) is an organization of people interested in astronomy in and around Greenbelt. The group started in 1992 and holds regular meetings on the last Thursday of the month at Owens Science Center and star parties on selected Saturday nights at Northway Field and Observatory. To celebrate Greenbelt’s 75th anniversary, the ASG’s February meeting is devoted astronomy in 1937, the year of Greenbelt’s founding.
The meeting is held at the Howard B. Owens Science Center which is a facility operated by Prince George’s County Public Schools. The planetarium dome is the largest in Maryland and in the center is a Minolta Viewlex Series IV star projector.
Ray Stevens, a former ASG president, talks about Howard B. Owens (1909-1971) after whom the science center is named. He says that Owens was his biology teacher at Hyattsville High School. Owens later taught at Northwestern High School and then became Supervisor of Secondary Science Education in Prince George’s County. In 1949 he started the first Prince George’s County Science Fair which is still going strong 63 years later.
Craig Levin talks about Robert Goddard (1882-1945) after whom NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which is across the street from Owens Center, is named. He starts with Goddard’s first liquid-fueled rocket launch in 1926 in Massachusetts and tells that Goddard later befriended Charles Lindbergh and with Lindbergh’s help, he received funding from the Guggenheim family and moved to Roswell, New Mexico to work. Goddard held more than 200 patents and the U.S. Government paid a million dollars for them.
Doug Love, one of the founders of ASG and director of Greenbelt Municipal Observatory, talks about stars 75 light years away, “The light left those stars when the first residents of Greenbelt were moving into their homes.” These include stars in the Big Dipper, Alpha Coronae Borealis, and the brown dwarf CFBDS J005910.83-011401.3.
Martha Gay talks about the discovery of nuclear fission. She starts with Chadwick’s discovery of neutron in 1932 and Fermi using neutron bombardment to create new elements. In 1938, “people started to work with uranium,” and here she shows photos of Otto Hahn (1879-1968), Fritz Strassmann (1902-1980), and Lise Meitner (1878-1968), three scientists who first recognized that the uranium atom splits when bombarded by neutrons.
Cleton Henry, secretary of ASG, tells about the 200-inch Hale Telescope in Palomar, California, the world’s largest effective telescope from 1948 to 1993. He talks about 13 years spent on making the mirror and someone in the audience mentions that its dome is bigger than St. Peter’s dome in Rome.
Sue Bassett: “1937 marks the birth of radio astronomy.” Here she shows a photo of Grote Reber, an amateur astronomer who built his radio telescope in his backyard in 1937. Bassett tells that this telescope can now be found at the National radio Astronomy Observatory in Greenbank, West Virginia.
Doug Love talks about “one of the most shocking things that happened in 1937.” “One day in October 1937, Karl Reinmuth of the Heidelberg Observatory took this discovery photo of a new asteroid, and it was moving pretty fast so he named it Hermes, after the herald of the gods. And he calculated its orbit, and he found out that, unlike most asteroids that stay between Mars and Jupiter, this one came inside the orbits of earth and Mercury and in fact was going to come close to the distance of the moon from the earth.” Hermes did not crash into the earth in 1937 but it came close.
Wayne Warren talks about Benjamin Boss (1880-1970) and his General Catalogue of 1937, with 33,342 stars.
Doug Love shows a letter addressed to “Dear Mr. Claus” in the December 22, 1937 Greenbelt Cooperator: “We have been petitioned by the citizens to write you a few words of advice preparatory to your Christmas Eve deliveries in Greenbelt… It would be wise for your to enlist Professor Moon in your services inasmuch as we have no street lights. If he fails to COOPERATE, better stop at the CO-OP store and pick up a good flashlight as this is a mighty dark place. If you can find time in your hectic life to study Einstein’s theory, you will find it as confusing as figuring out the numbering system of our houses. We suggest that if ‘you take a number from one to ten, double it’, add Einstein’s theory, subtract all logic and then throw away the results, you will still have a time finding a specific house number.”
Doug Love wishes Greenbelt “Happy 75th” and quotes Ray Stevens, ASG vice president, “Paradise is a place that’s almost perfect, but where we can work together to make it even better.”
This event is on the official calendar of the Greenbelt 75th Anniversary Committee, and here several members of the committee are in attendance including Betty Timer (front right), Lois Rosado (front center), and Barbara Havekost (back, second from left).
After the presentations, Michael Chesnes, who is a contractor at NASA/Goddard, shows Cleton Henry a copy of the first volume of Benjamin Boss’s 1937 General Catalogue from Goddard’s library.