To the professor in charge of the Astronomical department of Colorado College, 2001
My dear Sir,
My colleagues who write to their successors in the departments of chemistry, physics, etc., if tempted, as they surely must be, to leave the firm grounds of narration of the past and description of the present for an excursion into the imagined future, must in this respect allow that I have an advantage on them. While they can only speculate, I can be totally certain of some of the conditions under which you will read these lines, and of a few of the events which will have more or less attracted your attention. For instance, as we are now near a minimum of the sunspot period, I suppose it is safe to predict that in 2001 a similar quiescence of the Sun's surface will prevail. On the other hand, that luminary will not have afforded you in the year 2000 such a spectacle as I enjoyed near Norfolk Va. in 1900, when the path of a total eclipse covered the southern United States from New Orleans. Had I not been as near as Philadelphia, I should hardly have gone merely for the spectacle, though American astronomers and astrophysicists are present to observe and photograph at every eclipse in the four quarters of the earth. But I pray that in your day transportation will be so much easier and scientific curiosity so much more generally diffused, that each eclipse-path, no matter where, will be thronged with gazers; for however much you may have learned to read without eclipses in the mysteries of the solar constitution, you will not, I am sure, have deprived [?] the total eclipse from its foremost place among Nature's sublimities. At the eclipse of 1900 there was one form of observation which it was thought might yield results to science, and which commended itself to me as requiring neither costly apparatus nor deprivation of the view viz. that of the "shadow - bands" which precede and follow totality. I spread a white cloth on the ground, and made estimates of the direction and rate of their motion, and of the width of the interval between them. But the outcome of observations in this line in 1900 was such as to suggest that the shadow - bands will hardly attract much attention hereafter.
Another phenomenon for the measurement of which astronomers have in the recent past made long and expensive journeys in the transit of views across the Sun's disk; and the next of these rare occurrences awaits you in 2004. But here again is already know that the problem which has given interest to the event, - that of the Sun's distance, - will have offered by your time, - has, indeed, already offered, - so many points of attack more advantageous than this, including there afforded by the new planet Eros, that the transit will perhaps hardly attract your attention, or you may regard it as scientifically less interesting than that of Mercury in 2006. My advantage on my colleagues is indeed but trifling. I can predict a few of your phenomenon but know little of the eyes with which you will look upon them.
I will not, however, attempt such a task as to present a bird's-eye view of the present condition of Astronomy in the world at large, as I know you will have for better sources of such information. I think it may interest you to know the local conditions under which the science is studied at our home institution. I am the first to handle a telescope belonging to Colorado College, - you cannot supplant me in that distinction, though I sincerely hope, and with the utmost confidence, that long before your day both my instrument and my skill will have been far surpassed by my successors, - your predecessors. I have had opportunities here at Colorado Springs of seeing all the phenomena I have named, - a total eclipse in 1878, transits of Mercury and Venus in 1881 and 1882. The apparatus which we use at present, however, has been acquired since the latest of these dates, and the building was erected in 1894. It contains, besides a lecture-room and a study, a dome-room in which a telescope of 4 inches aperture and about 56 inches focal length is equatorially mounted, and a room on the lower floor in which are a sidereal clock and a transit instrument 21 inches long and of a little less than 2 inches aperture. These last two instruments are new acquisitions, - the gift of Mr. Charles S. Blackman of Montreal about a year ago. The work of the students in Astronomy is elective. Last year a class of 25 studied the descriptive branch for half a year supplementing a text book by essays written from study in the library. The next half-year, when instrumental work was the chief feature, the number was reduced to eight. Another class of one, - Mr. L.R. Ingersoll, has worked through the year on some problems of mathematical astronomy, succeeding a year's study of the calendars.
The center for astronomical work in Colorado at present is at the Chamberlin Observatory of the University of Denver, where an instrument of 20 inches aperture, ranking 25th in a British list of "the layer refractors of the world" - 9th among the American instruments of the same list, - is in charge of a good observer and a good man, Herbert A Howe.
I conclude with a cordial wish for your success as an investigator and teacher, - for I hope you will combine both functions, - of our glorious science; and am
Very truly yours,
Frank H. Loud
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