In mid-April 2018, alumni, friends, researchers, and faculty celebrated the 50th anniversary of the MIT Planetary Astronomy Laboratory (MIT PAL).
Read the original full story by Tim Brothers here:
In April 2018, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the MIT Planetary Astronomy Laboratory (PAL), founded by Tom McCord in 1968 during an exciting era of space exploration and astronomical science. McCord also conceived of and oversaw the creation of MIT’s Wallace Astrophysical Observatory (WAO) that was built in Westford, Massachusetts in 1971.
At the event, PAL alumni reflected upon signature successes of the 1960s-70s including inventing the first digital imaging camera, establishing initial composition estimates of the Moon, revealing Saturn’s ring composition to be water ice, discovering water ice on two of Jupiter’s moons, and publishing the first papers on asteroid mining. Students had also helped to develop advanced computer-controlled telescope systems and automated analysis of astronomical images. After MIT, many alums continued on to participate in landmark achievements such as the development of nuclear test detection, the XWindows system, the Mars Pathfinder mission, and remote sensing equipment used to detect pollution following 9/11 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The reunion, organized by McCord and EAPS Research Scientist Jason Soderblom, brought together PAL alumni to share memories and to
be updated on current work. Alumni speakers at the event included:
Bonnie Buratti, Clark Chapman, Roger Clark, Jim Gettys, Bob Huguenin, Torrence Johnson, Jay Kunin, Andy Lazarewicz, Tom and Carol McCord,
Lucy McFadden, Jessica Mink, Carle Pieters, Ron Prinn, Bob Singer, and Faith Vilas. Several visited the WAO to pour over the original logbook,
still used by undergraduates today, to find where they made their first mark in astronomical history.
McCord led the Planetary Astronomy Lab until 1977 when Professor Jim Elliot (1943-2011) took over as director of the WAO. Michael Person, the current director, described recent work observing bodies throughout our solar system, specializing in observing stellar occultations of distant bodies such as Pluto, Triton, and Kuiper Belt objects.
The planetary sciences program continues to thrive, with classes in observational astronomy in demand and many students seeking research projects at the WAO through the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunity
Program. And over the years, gifts from alumni have helped the Westford facility keep pace with advancing technology, including a new 24-inch telescope, an automated dome and shed roof, and remote observation capabilities from the Green Building.
To make a gift to support the WAO, or the James Elliot Graduate Student Support Fund, please visit: http://bit.ly/eaps-giving
Story Image: Front Row: Tom McCord; Second Row: Carol McCord, Mike Person, Torrence Johnson, Tim Brothers, Karen Lazarewicz; Back Row: Jessica Mink, George Silvis, Jim Gettys, Andrew Lazarewicz, Mark and Linda Rognstadt, Andy Howell
In this issue
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