First Astronomer

StarDate: October 6, 2009

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McDonald Observatory's first big telescope wouldn't be ready for several years, but that didn't deter the Observatory's director. Otto Struve dispatched a recent graduate to help oversee work on the telescope, and to do a little research. Franklin Roach became McDonald's first resident astronomer when he arrived in West Texas on October 6th, 1934 -- 75 years ago today.

Roach recalled those early days at the Observatory in this 1989 interview:

ROACH: In 1934, the Depression was keeping the spirits of many people down. And believe me, it took some nerve to start on a big project like the McDonald Observatory.

In the group that came with me was my wife, Eloise; my young son, about four years old, John; my brother, Richard, and an engineer, Mr. Theodore Immega.

There was no electricity, there was no running water, so we had to bring the water up every day, and use ordinary lamps at night.

Prof. Struve was very insistent upon continuing with scientific work immediately, even though we didn't have a big telescope. So I brought with me from the University of Chicago, from the Yerkes Observatory, a rather small telescope, but one with which I could cover the whole sky in the course of about a half an hour or so.

Franklin Roach used that small telescope to study a subtle glow in the sky -- a study that led to one of the first scientific papers based on research conducted at McDonald Observatory.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

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