Columbia University Computing History

Ephemerides of 783 Minor Planets for the Year 1947

Sample Pages…


Title Page

Foreword 1

Foreword 2

Page 1

Page 5

Page 30

The annual reference for the positions of selected asteroids ("small planets") throughout the year, published two years in advance. Formerly produced in Germany as Kleine Planeten, the 1947 volume was produced at the Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory at Columbia University, with Europe and the USSR in rubble, until responsibility for this publication could be transferred to Leningrad (where it is still published today) for the 1948 issue. The story is told by Herb Grosch in Computer, Bit Slices of a Life, p.81; here's an excerpt:

The question was, how to produce the 1947 volume, in just a few months. It was an ideal task for Comrie / Eckert punched card techniques; I said we'd try. We made it with a few weeks to spare. I did the planning, and printed up the final results on hectograph masters (shades of Allan Maxwell's computing forms!). … Eckert and I had talked about using the gorgeous table printing typewriter at the Naval Observatory, and sighed over how handsome the result would have been; alas, there wasn't time. The calculations would have taken many weeks on the regular machines, but we had just received our two Aberdeen machines - correct IBM nomenclature: Pluggable Sequence Relay Calculators… Lillian [Feinstein] Hausman … wired the horrific Aberdeen boards, helped run the big decks at what seemed like miraculous speed (6,000 multi-operation cards an hour, or say 0.000005 megaflops).

The pages above were scanned from the copy in the US Naval Observatory Library by Brenda Corbin, Librarian, March 2004; upon receiving the scans, Herb recalled:

After 58.4 Years!… Picture me leaning over a hot IBM 405 tabulator, just like the one then grinding away in [the USNO] Astrographics Building (the one that printed the masters for the first Air Almanacs). I am feeding individual 8.5×11.0 sheets of lightly coated paper into its long platen. There is a gummy special one-time-use ribbon and a carefully prepared spacing-control paper tape on the carriage, and a big but simple triple plugboard on the end of the huge machine. This was before copiers or word processors or e-mail. There was no way to make a mimeograph master on a 405. Unlike the card-operated typewriter then being installed at the [US]NO, there were no degree characters and such --- I was to add them with a steel pen. I made and mailed only about 15 copies, so the one I sent Clemence would have been the only one to Washington [scanned pages above]. Yale (Brouwer), Harvard (Whipple), Greenwich (Sadler), the Cape Observatory, Leningrad --- I no longer have a list. Herget, if he had gone back to Cincinnati…

Minor Planets page
Minor Planets page
The original 1947 Ephemeris produced by Herb, Lillian, et al, in Watson Lab in October-November 1946 was included in a later publication, Minor planets for 1947, elements and opposition ephemerides; published under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union by the Cincinnati Observatory, compiled by Paul Herget, 1948, 144pp. This edition, which also included material from other sources, such as the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy in Leningrad and the National Research Council of Japan, was indeed printed on the Naval Observatory Card-Operated Table Printer. CLICK HERE for other images.


Frank da Cruz / / Columbia University Computing History / 2004 / Most recent update: 5 June 2019