Building the Moon

25 11 2014
Black and white photo of jagged landscape features

Unidentified, possibly an early model of supposed lunar surface, c. 1900-25. Image courtesy: State Library of Victoria

I discovered this intriguing photograph while doing an image search for work. According to the catalogue entry at the State Library of Victoria, this may an imagined view of the Moon’s surface. Believable, with those craters and craggy mountains. But for what purpose? The image comes from a lantern slide, making me think that it’s likely a photograph of a stage or movie set. Does anyone recognize the scene?

Sunspots, 1903

14 07 2014
paper disc with handwritten notations of sunspots

Sunspot observation record, April 30-May 1, 1903. Image courtesy of Indian Institute of Astrophysics/JR

I was fortunate enough to spend some time studying the historic instruments and library collection at Kodaikanal Observatory in Tamil Nadu this past week. Run by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, the observatory was founded in 1899 to facilitate solar observing. In 1907, John Evershed arrived on the scene to (quite famously) bring his “auto-collimating spectroheliograph” online. You can imagine my excitement when Mr. Selvendran, Senior In-Charge at KO, opened the door to the spectroheliograph room and slid open the shed roof to expose the instrument’s mirror. So cool.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I spent my first day poking around KO’s fascinating library. Journals, books, catalogues, and ephemera stacked literally from floor to ceiling. So much stuff that I scarcely knew where to begin. But when I saw a stack of paper circles tucked into a corner shelf, I knew how I would spend the afternoon. I had only just read about these circles in one of C. Michie Smith’s (KO’s first director) annual reports.

Excerpt from Kodaikanal and Madras Observatories report for the year 1904.

Excerpt from Kodaikanal and Madras Observatories report for the year 1904.

Each of these 8-inch paper discs contains a record of 3-7 days of sunspot observations. Each spot was marked in pencil and assigned a letter (A, B, etc.). Every day, the observer recorded the new position and appearance of the lettered spots as they traversed the solar “surface”, i.e., the photosphere. For instance, in the following plates, sunspots A and B are shown moving from NNE to W between March 18 and 29, 1903.

Sunspot Observations, March 18-29, 1903. Image courtesy Indian Institute of Astrophysics.

Sunspot Observations, March 18-29, 1903. Image courtesy Indian Institute of Astrophysics/JR.

Sunspot Observations, March 18-29, 1903, detail. Image courtesy Indian Institute of Astrophysics.

Sunspot Observations, March 18-29, 1903, detail. Image courtesy Indian Institute of Astrophysics/JR.

The next image shows that those same spots continued westward between March 30 and April 2, 1903, breaking up as they went. You can also see a second line of spots traveling roughly parallel to the solar equator. They started out as indistinct patches at the eastern edge of the disc on the March 27-28. The March 30-April 2 disc shows how long it took for them to move half way across the Sun.


Sunspot Observations, March 30-April 2, 1903. Image courtesy Indian Institute of Astrophysics/JR.

According to C. Michie Smith, observers hand-recorded sunspots on 343 out of 365 days in 1904. What dedication, and this at a time when they didn’t really know what sunspots were. Observers just put in the hours and trusted that their efforts would one day lead to enlightenment.

Kodaikanal Observatory

2 03 2013
Kodaikanal Observatory

Kodaikanal Observatory, c. 1907.
Image courtesy IIA Archives.

I think this photo demonstrates why I’ve lost interest in my current project and wish I could start working on a new one. The only caption I’ve seen attached to this image is “John and Mary Ackworth Evershed, Kodaikanal.” The Eversheds arrived at Kodaikanal Observatory in January 1907. John had (reluctantly) accepted the position as “European Assistant” to the observatory’s director, Michie Smith, arriving in India after a productive visit to the solar observatory on Mt Wilson. Not surprisingly, most of Evershed’s time at the observatory was spent installing and then using spectroheliographs to study the spectra of sunspots. He became the observatory’s director in 1911.

All very interesting, I’m sure, but what I want to know: how can this possibly be a photo of “John and Mary Ackworth Evershed” when it includes sixteen other people, fourteen of whom are obviously not “European Assistants”? Colonial astronomy drives me crazy, it really does.

Griffith Observatory (Tony Millionaire)

18 02 2013
Griffithus vs. Gettyus, Tony Millionaire Comic.

Griffithus vs. Gettyus, Tony Millionaire Comic

Well, I can’t get behind Millionaire’s assessment of the Getty Center, but I like the idea of the two buildings having a laser fight. You can visit the image on Millionaire’s blog.

Astropoetry (@Tychogirl)

11 02 2013
Wanderlust #2, redacted poem by Christine Reuter, 2012.

Wanderlust #2, redacted poem by Christine Reuter, 2012

My most sincere apologies for not drawing your attention to Christine Reuter’s astropoetry before today. Like most good things in life, I discovered Reuter’s work through twitter, where she posts as @tychogirl. Once I’d started reading her poetry, I couldn’t stop. I love the tension she creates between suppressed and revealed text, past and present, science and humanities. Young Ladies’ Astronomy was one of the best poems I read in 2012, partly for its beauty, partly for its subversiveness. Aside from the literary or political merits of Reuter’s work, I find her poems very satisfying as objects (potential objects?). Even in digital form, I can appreciate the layering of media and am continually delighted by her appropriation of original form and illustrations (the globe tethered is a good example of this). This is a poetry I would love to touch.


Wallpaper Wednesday (Sydney Observatory)

28 11 2012

Sydney Observatory, Sydney, Australia. Photo credit: Andrew, HDR Cafe

Today, I’m directing you toward a nice HDR image of the Sydney Observatory. Actually, I’m directing you to something even better; the flashy, crowd-pleasing image is just a diversion. Last night, I stumbled across a small treasure trove. Scattered across the Sydney Observatory’s blog are several reproductions and transcriptions of letters written by past NSW Government Astronomers: G. R. Smalley (1864–1870); H. C. Russell (1870–1907); and H. A. Lenehan (1907–1908). My favorite was the first one I found:

Letter by H. C. Russell, 4 June 1869. Image courtesy: Sydney Observatory

June 4th [186]9


I am directed by the
Government Astronomer to inform
you that he is put to very great
inconvenience by the smoky
state of the chimney in his Computing
Room, the smoke from which
sometimes drives him out of the
Room, while at others
everything in the Room gets covered
with soot and ashes; I am further
directed to ask you to carry into
effect with as little delay as
possible the requisition dated May 18
for the performance of this work.

I have the honor to be
Your obedient servant
H C Russell
for the
Govt Astronomer

The Colonial Architect

Follow this link to read more letters, click on photograph of the observatory to go to the image download page.

Soviet Space Stamps, Part I

11 11 2012

April 12, 1986, Cosmonautics Day stamp featuring Konstantin Tsiolovsky

Here are a few examples from a collection of space-themed postage stamps that I bought during my first trip to the Soviet Union in 1988. “Cosmonautics Day” marks the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight on April 12, 1961. You might recognize the portrait of Soviet rocket theorist Konstantin Tsiolovsky (b. 1857-d. 1935) on this stamp from 1986—I’m not sure why, but in every photo I’ve seen, his mouth is open.

I’m also not sure why the 5 kopeck stamp follows a different design than the 10 and 15 kopeck stamps from the same year:

April 12, 1986, Cosmonautics Day stamp featuring Sergei Korolev

S. P. Korolev…hm…his father was Russian, his mother Ukrainian, so I’m not going to pin down his ethnicity, other than to say he spent most of his early life in Ukraine. This stamp is such a whitewash of Soviet atrocities. Korolev looked to have a promising career as an engineer ahead of him, but was arrested by the NKVD in 1938. He ended up in a gulag in Siberia. The positive: he lived to tell the tale. The negative: it ruined his life and health. Eventually, he was “rehabilitated,” i.e., the Soviet state realized it was losing the rocketry war to the Germans because they were killing all the smart people, and was forced to admit it the arrest was a mistake. Much of Soviet space and rocketry (and weaponry) success can be attributed to Korolev’s dedication. Much of Soviet space failure can be attributed to the fact he and other scientists died early deaths due to mistreatment in the gulag. Putting Korolev on a 10-kopeck stamp in 1986 = too little, too late, if you ask me.

April 12, 1986, Cosmonautics Day stamp featuring Yuri Gagarin and Vostok-1

The 15-kopeck stamp features an idealization of Yuri Gagarin on the left and a drawing of his spacecraft, Vostok-1, on the right. The text on the right say XXV Years: The World’s First Manned Space Flight. If you’ve been to VDNKh, you might recognize that rocket swoop on the left.

1984 Twenty-Five Years of Space Television

This 5-kopeck stamps celebrates the 25th anniversary of Luna-3, the USSR’s third lunar probe. Luna-3 deserves a stamp, since it sent back the first ever photos of the far side of the moon. This stamp reminds me how easy it is to get caught up in the early 21st-century narrative of U.S. dominance in space. Dark Side of the Moon, first brought to you by the Soviet Union, only second by Pink Floyd.

That brings me to the next stamp, which I can’t decipher just yet. It also celebrates the 25th anniversary of Luna-3, but seems to be doing it with an image of a space walk for repairs on solar panels. This is a 50-kopeck stamp, which is an incredible amount to pay for postage in 1984. This isn’t a stamp that would ever be used by Soviet citizens (most commemorative stamps weren’t, no matter what country printed them), so maybe it didn’t need to make sense, it only needed look cool so foreigners with hard currency would buy it.

1984, Twenty-Five Years of Space Television

Let me follow that with a set of stamps that has some relevance for current events:

1987 stamp celebrating Joint Soviet-Syrian Space Flight

In 1985, two Syrian astronauts began training for a mission to the Soviet space station Mir (МИР). In July 1987, Colonel Muhammad Ahmad Faris became the first Syrian in space, spending seven days aboard the space station. If that names sounds familiar, it may be because it was in the news recently. This past August, Faris defected to Turkey, declaring himself a member of the opposition. You’d think the Russian government would take that as a suggestion to reconsider its support for the Assad regime…

1987 International Space Flight, USSR-Syria

Probably only interesting to me: the red-and-gold circle in front of the Soviet-Syrian flags in the upper left of the 5-kopeck stamp (above) was also produced as a lapel pin. I know this because I own one. Only after looking at these stamps did I realize the “Intercosmos” symbol was part of the Soviet-Syrian love fest in space.

1987 International Space Flight, USSR-Syria

Without the flags, I wouldn’t have understood the 15-kopeck stamp (above). Nowhere does it say, “Syrians! With us!” but the astronaut on the right has a Syrian flag on his sleeve. I’m not sure whom the statue on the left represents. It looks more like Andrei Gromyko than Konstantin Chernenko, but it’s probably a Soviet rocket scientist, not a politician. I thought possibly cosmonaut Valery Ryumin, since he was the flight director for the joint mission, but the hair isn’t big enough.

1987 International Space Flight, USSR-Syria

This is my favorite Soviet-Syrian stamp. Five astronauts are hanging out on Mir, looking at a high-def image of architecture that looks like cross between the Umayyad Masjid and the Al Madraj building at Damascus University. Just in case you missed the purpose of the mission, arrows direct your attention from small likeness of Mir in the upper right corner to the locations of the USSR and Syria on a map.

I scanned the entire collection, so expect Part II sometime soon.


5 11 2012

The “Cosmos” Pavilion, VDNKh, Moscow, USSR/”Космос” павииьон, ВДНХ, Москва, СССР, 1988

A few months ago, while looking for something else, my partner came across a set of postcards I bought in the Soviet Union in 1988. They’ve been sitting on my desk ever since, waiting to be scanned, uploaded, and explained. I bought them on the penultimate day of my trip, when I made a solo journey out to VDNKh, or the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy (ВДНХ, Выставка Достижений Народного Хозяйства), in the northern suburbs of Moscow. At the time, VDNKh was a massive exhibition grounds dedicated to celebrating the technological and economic of accomplishments of the Soviet government and states. Anyone who has been to a World Expo would have no difficult recognizing the purpose and organization of the grounds—dramatic vistas, state pavilions subsumed into a national narrative, folk music and costumes at every corner, heavy emphasis progress in science and technology. It would’ve been a nice lesson in state propaganda had I not already been immersed in it for weeks. I spent my afternoon in the Cosmos Pavilion (except when I was outside listening to music and eating bubliki, which for some reason weren’t available in Leningrad). I was practically pulsating with energy, a far cry from my usual state of melancholy that summer. It was my first opportunity to see real spacecraft and I was going to do it even if it meant navigating the Metro solo. That the spacecraft happened to be Soviet didn’t matter at all to me. At least, I don’t remember sorting out the exhibits in the Space Pavilion in terms of US vs. USSR, Us vs. Them. I was just excited to see real satellites and a bit awed by their size. A few of the postcards and their captions (click on the images for a larger view):

A citizen of the USSR Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit the earth in a space flight/The carrier rocket of the “Vostok” space ship//Первый космонавт–гражданин СССР Ю. А. Гагарин. Ракета космического корабеля “Восток”

The “Cosmos-1514” specialised biological satellite for the comprehensive study of animals and plants//Специализированный биологический спутник “Космос-1514” для комплексного исследования животных и растений

The “Lunakhod-2” remote-controlled lunar exploration vehicle transmitted 80,000 pictures of the lunar surface to the Earth//Автоматический самоходный аппарат “Луноход-2” передал на Землю 80 тысяч изображений луной поверхности

The Salyut long-term orbital station, docked with a “Soyuz” spaceship and a Progress cargo spacecraft, in flight//Долповременная орбитальная станция “Салют”, состыкованная с кораблем “Союз” и грузовозом “Прогресс” в полете

The “Cosmos-1500” artificial satellite of the earth for studying the World Ocean and the land surface; the “Luna-24” automatic interplanetary station delivered samples of moon rock to the Earth//Иссуственный спутник Земли “Космос-1500” для исследования Мирового океана и поверхности суши; Автоматическая межпланетная станция “Луна-24” обеспечала доставку образцов лунного грунта

Roger Hayward’s Moon (Griffith Observatory)

29 08 2012

Sculpting the moon’s surface, Griffith Observatory, 1939.

As I was sifting through images of the moon this morning, I found this photo taken at Griffith Observatory in 1939. Shown is Roger Hayward, the artist commissioned in 1934 to create a model of a section of the moon for the observatory. Hayward was trained as an architect, earning his degree from MIT before relocating to Pasadena to pursue a career as a designer. He served as chief designer for the Los Angeles Stock Exchange (1929), designed by his MIT classmate, Sam Lunden, and also contributed to Lunden’s design for the Doheny Library at USC (1930). If you recognize his name, however, I doubt it’s because you’ve been studying his architectural designs. It’s more likely you remember the illustrations he did for the “Amateur Scientist” column in Scientific American magazine between 1949 and 1974, or even more likely, the drawings he did to illustrate Linus Pauling’s research.

How does one make the leap from architect to illustrator of science? In Hayward’s case, it involved a brief stop at the moon. Moving to Pasadena worked out well for him, even though the Great Depression shut down his career as an architect almost as soon as it had begun. When the Stock Market crash put an end to large-scale design projects in southern California, Hayward kept himself busy with painting, puppetry, and physics. Pasadena sits just below Mount Wilson, so when Hayward’s interests expanded to include astronomy and mathematics, he was able to take advantage of the Caltech minds at work at the Mount Wilson Observatory. Various Caltech associates tutored him in atomic theory and he built a few smaller instruments—a 6-inch reflector telescope, a quartz spectograph—by way of educating himself in the field.

The various strands of his formal and self-education came together in 1934, when the Griffith Observatory and Planetarium commissioned him to design “the world’s largest” model of a section of the moon (more images here). As reported in The Literary Digest the next year,

“Most spectacular of the exhibits [at Griffith Observatory and Planetarium] will be in the south gallery—a thirty-eight-foot plaster model of the moon, made to scale from Mt. Wilson Observatory photographs by Roger Hayward, of Los Angeles, an architect by profession and an astronomer by preference, and Caspar Gruenfeld, a sculptor. It will be illuminated by moving lights to produce the effect of sunlight.”[1]

Hayward was given access to the 100-inch telescope on Mount Wilson so he could supplement the observatory’s photographs with first-hand observation of the moon. His design (and Gruenfeld’s sculpting work, Gruenfeld is always left out of the story) was apparently well-received, as the observatory commissioned him to design and build models of Oregon’s Crater Lake and Arizona’s Meteor Crater as soon as he finished the moon section.[2] Adler Planetarium was eager to get in on the action and hired Hayward to design a scale moon model with a 6-foot diameter. Walt Disney eventually saw the financial potential in the projects and commissioned Hayward to duplicate his moons for the “Man in Space” television show and Tomorrowland exhibits.

Although he worked in other fields after finishing the models (he designed a commercial nutcracker, for god’s sake), Hayward continued to advance his studies in astronomy and physics. He partnered with a Caltech associate to design a movie projection screen and write a physics textbook. He must have thought he’d died and gone to heaven when he was offered a position as an optical engineer at Mount Wilson Observatory in 1941. Much top secret stuff in support of the war effort ensued.

After the conclusion of the war, Hayward partnered with Sam Lunden once again, forming the firm of Lunden, Hayward & O’Connor. For architectural historians, Hayward’s story tends to end here: the firm designed the Los Angeles City Health Building, the Mira Costa High School, a VA  hospital in Arizona, the Temple Israel of Hollywood, and several other mid- to high-profile projects in the LA basin. However, although the partnership looked successful from the outside, from the inside, it was obvious that it was flawed almost as soon as the papers were signed by the trio. Hayward and O’Connor in particular didn’t get along and the partnership was dissolved in 1957.[2]

The tension between Hayward and O’Connor probably had something to do with the fact that Hayward’s attention was always directed elsewhere. Specifically, he was more concerned with his delineating work for Scientific American than he was with the success of Lunden, Hayward & O’Connor. He had completed his first job for the magazine in 1948, illustrating George Beadle’s “The Genes of Men and Molds”. The quality of Hayward’s drawings pleased the magazine, the paycheck pleased Hayward. Although he worked on many projects throughout the rest of his career—collaborating with Linus Pauling, for instance—Hayward continued to draw for Scientific American until his health and vision failed him.

The burning question of the day: what happened to the lunar section Hayward and Gruenfeld built at Griffith Observatory? Many (mistaken) bloggers attribute the moon currently on display at the observatory to the hand of Hayward, but that’s a much more recently produced object and at any rate, not a section model, but a smallish moon (there’s no way Hayward could perch on top of it and sculpt the Mare Imbrium region). According to a comment that appears to have been written by someone associated with Griffith Observatory, the Crater Lake and Meteor Crater models are in storage.[3] But where’s the lunar section? Contacting the observatory is on my list of things to do, but in two days, I’m moving halfway across the country, so that list is going to have to wait awhile. If you know, drop me an e-mail and I’ll update this with the information.

ETA: Here’s a link to a few construction photos of Griffith Observatory and Planetarium. You’re welcome.


Most of the information included here about Roger Hayward comes from on material held in the Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries. See Roger Hayward: Renaissance Man for a glimpse into the archive.

[1] “An Observatory for the Public,” The Literary Digest (April 20, 1935): 28.

[2] Ben H. O’Connor, “Letter from Ben H. O’Connor to Samuel E. Lunden and Roger Hayward, 1957,” in Special Collections, Item #2356,  (accessed August 29, 2012).

[3] See “Comment on Kevin Kidney: Mr. Hayward’s Moon Model.”

These are mine.

14 08 2012

Saturday Evening Post, July/August 1976

LIFE, August 22, 1969

On Saturday, I managed ten minutes of shopping at the local antique mall before getting sick. Luckily, they were ten very productive minutes. In the first booth I stopped at (okay, at which I stopped), I found two bits of space history: a 1976 edition of The Saturday Evening Post with an article promoting the Shuttle program and a 1969 issue of LIFE magazine with an article following up on the first lunar landing.

I planned to scan the articles but soon realized I’d have to break the spines to get the magazines to lie flat on the scanner bed. The article on the Space Shuttle is particularly intriguing, so I may transcribe it at a later date. The illustrations capture the essence of the Shuttle program—the solid rocket boosters, external tank, Canadarm, are all there—yet everything looks just slightly off.

The Saturday Evening Post, July/August 1976, pp. 60-1

The most interesting part of the LIFE article is the appended editorial agitating for “a sensible post-Apollo 11 program.” The unnamed author argues that Nixon should decline to sign “the sort of blank check for an all-out manned Mars landing that vocal space agency partisans are urging on him.” Rather than set our sights on Mars, we should focus on higher priorities: completion of the Apollo program; unmanned probes in space; development of new scientific earth satellites; and a manned orbiting laboratory. The completion of these projects “would gather basic scientific knowledge of space. Our main business now should be to consolidate Apollo 11’s ‘giant leap for mankind’ by harvesting and adding to the knowledge it has unlocked. This goal is consistent with a reasonable NASA budget, and with the existing challenge set by John Kennedy: to learn “to sail on this new ocean.” (p. 30)

I’m guessing that LIFE‘s call for a “reasonable NASA budget” has something to do with U.S. military expenditures in 1969.[1] However, that would mean the editorial board didn’t consider the military potential for those “new scientific earth satellites.” Or, it could be that they understood the military applications of a satellite quite well, but hoped to either squelch the program with a reduction of funding or slide it by the reading public in the guise of “seeking scientific knowledge.” I’m just speculating, of course, but the editorial seems rather lukewarm about the space program, given that only two months had passed since the first lunar landing.


[1] See the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency’s report World Military Expenditures 1969 for some shocking figures on North American military spending in the 1960s.


Observatories and Instruments