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The Early Development of Astronomy in California

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Introduction

Astronomy is considered to be one of the branches of science that explore celestial bodies to comprehend their composition, origin and the processes involved in their formation outside the earth realm. The science comprises several other branches such as the planet science and solar astronomy, galactic astronomy and stellar astronomy which study celestial objects and bodies more profoundly. Formerly, the scientists in astronomy sphere were only involved in the investigation of already established theories through calculations as well as identifying characteristics.

In the United States, California as a state made a significant contribution to the development of the branch. The early development of this field was attributed to the groups of greater minds that observed the existing celestial bodies identified by other scholars earlier and also made new discoveries in the same field (Lowen and Goodstein 154-159). Moreover, California was among the first states in the country that had institutions where the study of celestial bodies was conducted. The opportunity provided many of the known scholars with the research in astronomy which was called to convey to people the key principles of different astronomy elements. This paper discusses and analyzes several aspects that promoted such development in California, its positive impact, and challenges that particular scholars in this area had to face. The early development of astronomy in the state had a huge influence on the modern world; particularly, it contributed to various other scientific fields not only in California but also in America in general as well as in other parts of the world.

The development of astronomy in the region was founded by the then California Institute of Technology that started vocational and preparatory school in 1891 by Amos Throop (Lowen and Goodstein 160). The institution was initially referred to as Throop College of Technology and attracted different scholars in the field across the country, for example Arthur Amos Noyes, George Ellery Hale, and Robert Andrews Millikan who became famous for their achievements in different areas from the twentieth century till nowadays.

When the institution faced challenges, the vocational and preparatory section turned into a separate affiliate and was disbanded in 1910. However, the institution was reopened again in 1924 and given the status of a college in which astronomy as a course of study was on a high level. Later, it changed its name to the current California Institute of Technology, abbreviated as Caltech. In 1934, it was further elevated and received a chance to be elected as a member of the Association of American Universities (Lowen and Goodstein 167-170). This position provided the Institute with the opportunity to be an antecedent of one of the NASA programs as a laboratory to test its jets propulsion. Due to specific programs, the institution started to be devoted to the field of applied sciences and technical arts, mainly astronomy. Besides, when George Ellery Hale joined the institution as one of the administrators, he committed himself to transforming the institution into a scientific centre in the various science branches.

Furthermore, when the California Legislation was introduced a year earlier in 1910, the development of astronomy in the state received even greater support (Lowen and Goodstein 173). The bill was intended to call for the creation of a publicly funded astronomy institution. Thus, the California Institute of Technology was to be the first establishment which received financial support directly from the public. Although the politicians were involved in the World War I and did not lobby for finances, the college still received national recognition and was supported by the National Research Council that lobbied for more funds. This helped to establish a particular physics department aimed at conducting serious scientific researches. Besides, due to the considerable funding, the Norman Bridge Laboratory was developed.

As mentioned earlier, three scholars in different physics branches related to astronomy, namely Millikan, Noyes, and Hale, made a significant impact on the institution and the field in general. Their participation in the activities of California Institute of Technology especially assisted in establishing policies that stipulated the need for the college to focus mainly on the purest form of education and studies that revolved around chemistry, mathematics, and physics. (Lowen and Goodstein 183-186). Such approach was primarily used with the purpose to encourage investigations in astronomy. Thus, this initiated the first attempts in conducting specific experiments and profound studies of the past principles in this branch of science in the California history.

Astronomy was only in its initial steps of establishment and development when Theodore von Kármán was appointed a chairman in the college. He pioneered the Jet Propulsion Laboratory which became the centre among the leading institutions in the world for rocket science studies. The new laboratories encouraged other famous scientists like Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac, Hendrik Lorentz, Erwin Schrödinger, Niels Bohr, and Albert Einstein to advance in the investigations and improve von Kármán’s works on Theory of General Relativity. After the war, such scholars as Murray Gell-Mann and Richards Feynman stayed in the Institute to offer their expertise in astronomy and established the Standard Model principle in physics for a particle (Lowen and Goodstein, 188).

 In general, the institution has changed different aspects of both the American and global community. In the discussion above, there are several sectors of the country that have been involved in the promotion of the activities and growth of Caltech. Particularly, NASA has been the greatest beneficiary of the investigations involving celestial objects. The scientists from the school managed to improve the previously established principles and developed new theories that have been used for space exploration. The calculations and data received from the researches about space debris have ensured that NASA operates its activities based on informed choices (Sargent 34-39). Moreover, the Department of Defence as well as the Department of Energy and the Department of Health have also obtained sufficient amount of information concerning various aspects of intended investments. Being major donors of the institution, the government agencies acquire the necessary recommendations in the social and economic spheres that can be used to make important decisions. Finally, one more impact ascertained by the institution is the improvement of other national sectors that need applications from the researches conducted by the University.

Apart from the motivating factors and benefits from the early development of astronomy in California, there were also challenges that occurred on the way of the institution. To begin with, the first problem was the political interference from different governmental and corporate bodies (Sargent 40). This could be observed during the World War II when the government mandated the institution to assist in some of the technological advancement programs to win the war. The issue of gender also affected the institution: at that time, there were very few female astronomy scholars, and this led to the minimal admission of ladies. Therefore, the tutors were mostly men (Sargent, 43). The other challenge occurred when the president of National Oil Company cancelled the contribution to the college as a reaction to the students’ demonstrations.

The World War I also posed a challenge to the early development of the institution. Thus, it was closed in 1910 due to the risks connected with the war period, which stopped the progress made till that time. The insufficient number of experts working in the field also affected the school in promoting astronomy as a course of study to the majority of students (Kohlstedt 155-156). Taking into consideration that such career path requires self-determination and proper tutor assistance, the limited number of places discouraged high intake of the student to the institution. Further, other experts in the field were also engaged in their personal researchers in other parts of the country and only visited the institution when they were invited. Finally, the last problem that the college in the state faced was the availability of advanced instruments needed in studying and verifying some of the theories (Kohlstedt 157). Hence, the scholars had to possess the necessary resources to facilitate their investigations in order to avoid the inconclusive data collected.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the early development of astronomy in California was an important stage in the field. During that time, scholars needed to improve some of the already established theories and principles set by the scientists formerly; they also had to suggest the new policies in the new field. The establishment of the California Institute of Technology played a significant role in such development. The institution that started as a vocational centre later upgraded to the full-fledged college that contributed to the development of astronomy as the branch of science. Additionally, the establishment of such institution brought benefits to the country and the world in general. The advancements in various sectors of the application of astronomy field has significantly changed the approach to different aspects of the space study by NASA as well as other social and economic factors in the health, food and military branches of the government. The last part of the paper has discussed  the challenges that the state faced in the process of developing its astronomy department. Some of the identified factors were political and corporate interference, the World War I, a limited number of tutors in the field and inadequate facilities to work on the scientific theories and principles. The early development of astronomy has remained a crucial reminder to the current system that shows why the program was launched, and that it should be developing to contribute to various other fields further.

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