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W.H. Pickering

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#1 Rick Woods

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Posted 15 September 2013 - 03:25 PM

The crater Messier A was formerly known as W.H. Pickering.

In Wm. Sheehan's "Epic Moon", he says that "the name was dropped by the Lunar Nomenclature Committee of the IAU at its meeting in Dublin in 1955 - not, according to Ewen Whitaker, who was one of the delegates there, out of any animus against him, but simply because there was already a Pickering on the Moon - E.C. Pickering."

This doesn't quite ring true. After all, there are three "Herschels" on the Moon, and nobody is dropping the other two (J. and C.). Sounds like typical petty IAU nonsense to me (can you say "dwarf planet"?)

Does anyone here have any additional information about this? The above is all I know; but it seems like W.H. was enough of a heavy hitter to deserve his little crater.

#2 SusanY

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Posted 15 September 2013 - 05:29 PM

John North, the British science historian, wrote that in the early 1960s E.C. Pickering lost its E.C. and became plain old Pickering. He went on to say that the IAU at some time somehow determined that the now generic Pickering is named for both brothers. Sounds like some dodgy IAU nit-pickering to me.

#3 Rick Woods

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Posted 16 September 2013 - 09:54 AM

(Nit-pickering! - :D)

I agree. Why was that applied to the Pickerings, and not the Herschels? And why abandon the name in favor of a letter attached to another crater name? I just looked at the Rukl atlas, and it is indeed just Pickering; but the gazetteer says it's named for E.C.
I suspect it was partly due to W.H.'s reputation as a loose cannon, who held a lot ideas unpopular with the astronomical establishment at the time. Maybe they just wanted to "put him in his place".

#4 SusanY

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Posted 16 September 2013 - 04:58 PM

The story gets even more weird… In the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS) I found an article, dated 1937, written by an E.P. Martz Jr. The article is a 'discussion of a trip to the Private Observatory of Professor W.H. Pickering at "Woodlawn", Mandeville, Jamaica, British West Indies, in the spring and summer of 1936.'

Halfway way through the article:

'Observations were made of the changing dark markings on the walls and floors of the twin craters Messier and W.H. Pickering. (The latter was previously known as “Messier A “, but was renamed by the lunar committee of the International Astronomical Union in 1935, in honor of Professor Pickering.)'

Pickering died in 1938, so clearly his loose cannon reputation was firmly in place when they named the crater after him. So it makes yanking the crater away from him and giving it back to A even more peculiar. (And didn't they spare a thought for poor E.C. who, although highly regarded, was also suddenly demoted when he found himself with only half a crater named in his honour?)

As an aside, I'm guessing that Pickering crater on Mars is also an honour-two-for-the-price-of-one bargain crater.

#5 Rick Woods

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Posted 16 September 2013 - 09:47 PM

I just looked it up in Blunck's "Mars and its Satellites", and you're absolutely correct. Named after both of them. Which is strange, since W.H. was an ardent student of Mars, and E.C. fired him for studying it instead of observing double stars like he was supposed to. Why is E.C. even associated with Mars?

To make it confusing, the head of JPL during the Mariner IV period was W.H. Pickering (no relation AFAIK).

I'm sensing a potential expose here. Pickering-gate!!
Bill Sheehan should write a book about this, he's great at ferreting this stuff out.

I'll look up that article in the SAO database. One of my favorite sites, along with the NASA Technical Report Server! Thanks for the tip.

#6 SusanY

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 01:47 AM

I agree Bill Sheehan should write a book about this Pickering-gate expose! The more I think about it, the more I suspect there was some very scandalous underhand stuff going on there! Makes one wonder if there was, like so many committees, someone with a personal agenda, but who also had the clout to push it through. If so, who? Why? It’s hard to believe that the IAU would otherwise have ruled that that the man who published the first photographic atlas of the Moon didn’t deserve a crater, his rather odd ideas on lunar vegetation notwithstanding. If they felt SO strongly about his odd ideas, they could have named a ghost crater in his honour! There are some nice barely visible ones that would have done the job admirably.

#7 photonovore

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Posted 19 September 2013 - 09:53 AM

I have a problem with Sheehan re; William Pickering. I wrote abt this long ago(which got a mention on LPOD) and you can read my critique of Sheehan's version here: http://cityastronomy.com/pickering.htm and also includes the facts re; the naming history of the Pickering crater.

#8 SusanY

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Posted 19 September 2013 - 01:10 PM

Thanks for posting the link to your article. It answered the question of why the IAU gave W.H.'s crater back to Messier A. (So much for underhand Pickering-gate goings–on in the IAU back then! Sigh. I was looking forward to the post-Pickering-gate television interviews, a la Frost/Nixon.) However, entirely personally, I still think W.H. should have been given his own crater at that point; both brothers deserve their own individual craters. :)

As for his “odd ideas” - you are absolutely correct when you write, “Pickering's ideas relevant to primitive forms of life upon the Moon as an explanation for anomalous changes in albedo within certain lunar craters as the lunar day progressed may seem outlandish today-- but it should be remembered that as late as the 1960's the possibility of lunar life forms was still taken seriously enough by science to result in establishment of the extensive decontamination and quarantine protocols the first returning Apollo crews were put through upon return from the Moon.”

Just recently I picked up an excellent book on the Apollo missions which, of course featured those famous photos of the Apollo 11 crew in their “biological isolation garments” aboard the USS Hornet, and talking to Nixon from their quarantine chamber. Can’t say I remember thinking NASA’a ideas about the possibility of the astronauts having been exposed to dangerous Moon pathogens (migrating Moon bugs) were odd. Just shows.

A couple of questions, though. Wasn’t Williamina Fleming E.C.’s maid? And wasn’t it E.C., as director of the Harvard Observatory, who opened the doors to women by hiring Williamina Fleming, Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, et al, as computers – the members of "Pickering's Harem"? (I’d like to read a book about them as a group. A Google search only turned up one: “Pickering's Harem” by Lawrence Goodman, but long out of print.)

As an aside, I see that Fleming crater is named jointly for Williamina and Alexander Fleming...

#9 Rick Woods

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Posted 19 September 2013 - 02:11 PM

I knew you'd weigh in here with something interesting, Mardi.

#10 brianb11213

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Posted 19 September 2013 - 05:17 PM

Just recently I picked up an excellent book on the Apollo missions which, of course featured those famous photos of the Apollo 11 crew in their “biological isolation garments” aboard the USS Hornet, and talking to Nixon from their quarantine chamber. Can’t say I remember thinking NASA’a ideas about the possibility of the astronauts having been exposed to dangerous Moon pathogens (migrating Moon bugs) were odd. Just shows.

I can remember thinking at the time that the procedure for preventing Earth from being contaminated by lunar bugs was seriously flawed - decontamination didn't start until after the hatch was opened, and any lunar bugs which might have existed could easily have got into the nice, warm, nutrient rich Pacific Ocean, despite the precautions taken. Also, as Collins pointed out, the BIGs were seriously uncomfortable, trapping heat, and the short time it took to transfer returning astronauts from the command module to the mobile quarantine facility was close to the physical limit of the time the astronauts would have been able to wear them for. "If the crew (wearing their BIGs) has to stay in the helicopter 15 or 20 minutes longer than we did, I guess the hood on the BIG would come off."

#11 photonovore

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Posted 19 September 2013 - 08:46 PM

Susan, yes it was Edward that did the hiring and whose maid was Williamina. In context with the following paragraph it is clear that I meant to write Edward and didn't. Henry, William, Edward, Charles, it's like a keeping a bunch of british kings straight, lol! Thanks for the catch! I have corrected the paragraph.

#12 azure1961p

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Posted 19 September 2013 - 09:58 PM

Just recently I picked up an excellent book on the Apollo missions which, of course featured those famous photos of the Apollo 11 crew in their “biological isolation garments” aboard the USS Hornet, and talking to Nixon from their quarantine chamber. Can’t say I remember thinking NASA’a ideas about the possibility of the astronauts having been exposed to dangerous Moon pathogens (migrating Moon bugs) were odd. Just shows.

I can remember thinking at the time that the procedure for preventing Earth from being contaminated by lunar bugs was seriously flawed - decontamination didn't start until after the hatch was opened, and any lunar bugs which might have existed could easily have got into the nice, warm, nutrient rich Pacific Ocean, despite the precautions taken. Also, as Collins pointed out, the BIGs were seriously uncomfortable, trapping heat, and the short time it took to transfer returning astronauts from the command module to the mobile quarantine facility was close to the physical limit of the time the astronauts would have been able to wear them for. "If the crew (wearing their BIGs) has to stay in the helicopter 15 or 20 minutes longer than we did, I guess the hood on the BIG would come off."


I recall reading that - once the hatch was open - all bets were off if infact something germlike or microbial were onboard. Made the whole BIGs thing kinda pointless but they followed form. Its mystifying how something so glaringly overlooked ever occurred but they had their hands full with everything else and it was another time all together.

Amazing what wouldn't fly today.

Pete






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