The anniversary of one of the most important events in American history is coming up this weekend -- the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It plunged the U.S. into World War II, and shook up the fabric of American life.
Astronomical research slowed to a trickle during the war years. Many facilities were mothballed, while others were pressed into the war effort. And astronomers became valuable resources in many areas.
In California, construction was halted on the new 200-inch telescope at Palomar Mountain. Opticians had been working on the giant mirror for six years. But they were forced to pack it in a crate and store it in a warehouse until the war's end. And several observatories made plans to remove the mirrors from their telescopes in case of enemy attack.
To support the war effort -- and to keep their staffs intact -- several facilities established new defense-related labs -- usually related to optics, ballistics, or rockets.
And astronomers around the country rallied to the cause, including Europeans who were working at American universities. While many astronomers signed up for active duty, others taught courses in celestial navigation, built rockets, and developed radar and other technologies. And because of their language skills and contacts on the Continent, many Europeans helped with intelligence operations.
Like millions of others, they made vital contributions to Allied victory in World War II.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.