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August 14, 2017

Namesakes - Nassau Astronomical Station and Jason J. Nassau

Sixty years ago next month (9/7/1957), Case Institute of Technology (CIT) dedicated the Nassau Astronomical Station in Montville Township, Geauga County, Ohio. After 50 years of use, the university sold the Nassau Station to the Geauga Park District in 2008. The Park District renovated and refurbished the Nassau Station (retaining the original name) and it will be reopened 8/19/2017. It is a key part of Observatory Park.

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Nassau Astronomical Station in 1957 and 2017

Jason J. Nassau
Jason J. Nassau.was born 3/29/1892 in Smyrna, Asia Minor, now part of Turkey. His parents were Greek. He came to the United States to attend college. Nassau began his academic career at Columbia before transferring to Syracuse University. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Syracuse, earning the Ph.D. in 1920. He also studied at Edinburg and Cambridge. He married Laura Alice Johnson in 1920 and they had 2 sons, James and Sherwood.

Nassau served in the U. S. Army during World War I and in the U. S. Coast Guard during World War II. He began his career at Case School of Applied Science in 1921 as Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Mathematics. He was appointed Director of the Warner and Swasey Observatory in 1924, serving in that position until 1959. He became Professor of Astronomy and Head of the Department in 1930. He retired in 1962 becoming Professor Emeritus of Astronomy. According to one of his obituaries, “One of Nassau’s major contributions to the fund of knowledge in the field of astronomy was the devising of a method for determining the intrinsic brightness of stars and the discovery of some 900 stars in our stellar system which are at least 6,000 times brighter than our sun.”

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Jason J. Nassau

He was a member of many scientific societies such as the American Astronomical Society, American Association of Astronomers, Royal Astronomical Society, and American Mathematical Society. He was the founder and first president of the Cleveland Astronomical Society and held offices in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Research Council, American Association of University Professors and others. He authored over 150 articles and a widely-used textbook, Practical Astronomy. Case and Prof. Nassau served as hosts for the 67th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in 1941.

Professor Nassau was internationally known. He served on the U. S. National Committee of the International Astronomical Union. He was Secretary of the U. S. State Department Delegation to the 1952 Rome meeting of the International Astronomical Union; member of the State Department delegation to the 1955 Oslo Meeting of the International Council of Scientific Unions, also serving as member of the Executive Committee; Chairman of the State Department Delegation to the 1955 Dublin Meeting of the International Astronomical Union. Nassau was a member of the committee to organize the Conference on Stellar Evolution held at the Vatican Academy of Science in Rome, 1957. He was one of 2 Americans invited to attend the dedication of the Pulkovo Observatory in Leningrad in 1954.

He was a member of the Society of Sigma Xi, Phi Beta Keppa, and Tau Beta Pi. He received the Distinguished citizenship award from Denison University in 1956 and Nassau was the first winner of the annual Case Achievement Award (1959).

Nassau Astronomical Station
Planning for the Station began in 1953 when Maynard Murch and Jason Nassau visited several possible sites for a new observatory, identifying the property on Clay Street as a suitable site. Because of light pollution in the city, it was no longer practical to do astronomical research at the Warner & Swasey Observatory on Taylor Road.

Burrell Schmidt-type telescope at Warner & Swasey Observatory

From 1954-1958 a fundraising campaign was conducted to acquire land, construct and furnish the building, move the 24-36” Burrell Schmidt-type telescope from the Warner & Swasey Observatory, and replace that telescope with a new 36” Cassegrain telescope. Major donors included the Cleveland Astronomical Society, the Cleveland Foundation, the Warner & Swasey Company, Allan Austin, Helen B. Warner, Maynard H. Murch, the National Science Foundation, Hanna Fund, and Mrs. Wilbert J. Austin. Gifts ranging from $10 to $5,000 were received from numerous others. Total costs, exclusive of land, were approximately $300,000. CIT trustee Allan Austin donated the 10 acres on Clay Street on which the Nassau Astronomical Station was built.

Groundbreaking for the Nassau Astronomical Station

The ground-breaking ceremony was held 7/7/1956. The building was completed in 1957. The Austin Company designed and built it. The Burrell Schmidt-type telescope, used for research, was moved from Warner & Swasey Observatory to the Nassau Station. Its effectiveness was greatly enhanced by the relocation. The clarity of the sky was greater and the number of nights on which observations were possible increased. “The capacity of the telescope to penetrate into space proves to be some three times greater at the new station than in the Cleveland location.” Dedication ceremonies were held 9/9/1957.

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Dedication of the Nassau Astronomical Station and the Nassau family on the balcony

Background of the property
In February 1955 CIT obtained a 90-day option to buy roughly 170 acres on Clay Street. Allan Austin purchased the property and donated the 10 acres on which the Nassau Astronomical Station was built to CIT. In 1959 Austin gave the rest of this original acreage. In 1962 CIT purchased a little over 67 acres, which abutted the Nassau property, from Mr. and Mrs. George Phillips and just under 42 acres from the Farinacci Lumber Company.

In 1979 the Burrell Schmidt-type telescope was moved to Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona. Once again the problem of light pollution forced the move of the telescope. The following year the 36” Cassegrain parabolic reflector was moved from the Warner & Swasey Observatory to Nassau Station This telescope had been used primarily for educational purposes. It was more suitable for visual observing and public demonstrations. The optical design or ‘speed’ of the 36” reflector made it less sensitive to light pollution.

Moving the Cassegrain telescope from the Warner & Swasey Observatory

In 1998 the Cassegrain parabolic reflector became the country’s first Earth-bound robotic telescope available online to the public. When the Nassau Astronomical Station was sold to the Geauga Park District, the Cassegrain telescope was included with the sale.

Both telescopes were manufactured by the Warner & Swasey Company. The university owns 2 other Warner & Swasey telescopes: a 9 1/2” telescope in the dome atop the Albert W. Smith Building on the CWRU campus and a 10” telescope on permanent loan to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (this had been in the old WRU Physics Building). The 9 1/2” telescope was the original telescope at the Warner & Swasey Observatory on Taylor Road. It had been the personal telescope of Worcester Warner and Ambrose Swasey.

Other historical items of interest
•The site is 1,250 feet above sea level and was described at the groundbreaking as the highest spot in northern Ohio
•The building included a darkroom, workshop and living quarters for 2.
•The rotating dome is 17 feet high and 28 feet in diameter and used a 5 h.p. motor to rotate. The dome was constructed in Cleveland by the Paterson-Leitch Company.
•The research emphasis (1950s-1960s) was on galactice structure.

The CWRU Archives has the personal papers of Prof. Nassau which people are welcome to view. An appointment at least 24 hours in advance is required.

The staff of the Archives is happy to see the Nassau Astronomical Station reopen and happy to have assisted in a small way with this celebration. I personally look forward to attending the reopening and enjoying a tour of the building and seeing the refurbished Cassegrain telescope. If you cannot attend the reopening, a visit to Observatory Park anytime would be very worthwhile.

Posted by hxy2 at August 14, 2017 03:01 PM

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