Robert (Bob) Harrington
died on Jan. 23, 1993 after a short, but determined, battle
against esophageal cancer. He left his wife, Betty, two
daughters, a sister, and his parents.
Bob was born near Newport News, VA. His father was an
archeologist, and Bob often recounted going on "digs" with his
family in the States. He attended schools in Richmond, VA, and
graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School there in 1960.
Afterwards, he went to Swarthmore College, (previously attended
by his mother and aunt and uncle). Bob stated that he was
interested in astronomy from such an early age that he couldn't
remember the onset.
Discovered 1980 Sept. 4 by E. Bowell at the
Anderson Mesa Station of the Lowell Observatory.
Named in honor of Robert S. Harrington,
astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory in
Washington and director of the program to determine
parallaxes and proper motions of faint nearby stars.
A leading investigator on the orbital
characteristics of Pluto's satellite and the mass of
Pluto, he has made observational and theoretical
studies of the motions of the planets and satellites
and likely evolutions leading to the current
distribution of the planets. He has also
investigated the possible existence of another
principal planet in the solar system.
Minor Planet Circular (1986 Sept. 18): 11160
At Swarthmore he naturally came
under the influence of Peter van de Kamp and Sara
Lippincott of Sproul Observatory, and consequently was
well-schooled in the classical techniques of photographic
astrometry, including observing with the 60cm refractor, as well
as measuring and reducing the results. His first published
scientific paper (jointly with van de Kamp) was a study of the
quintuple system Xi Scorpii.
In 1962 Bob accompanied van de Kamp to a summer institute at
Wesleyan University, where he performed the duties of a teaching
assistant, and where he met W.H. Jeffreys, then a
graduate student, who was soon to become Bob's thesis advisor.
Following his 1964 graduation from Swarthmore with a B.A. in
Physics, Bob enrolled in the graduate program in astronomy at
the University of Texas in Austin. There his interests quickly
turned to theoretical dynamical astronomy under the tutelage of
Jeffreys. While Bob retained a strong interest in this subject
throughout his entire career, he made many contributions to
other astronomical fields, and, in addition to Jefferys, was
especially influenced at Texas by H. Smith and D.
Following the award of his doctorate in 1967, Bob applied for a
job with the Nautical Almanac Office of the U.S. Naval
Observatory, because, as he explained, that organization
represented interests closest to his own. Unfortunately, the
Nautical Almanac Office had no positions available, but V.M.
Blanco, then director of the Astrometry and Astrophysics
Division, quickly offered him a position. He remained in this
organization and its successors throughout the rest of his
career. Bob initially took part in the routine photographic
double star program, and also observed asteroids with the 38cm
Bob was married in 1976 to Betty-Jean Maycock, who holds a
doctorate from the University of Maryland, as well as being an
Olympic gymnast (Rome, 1960), and a gold medalist in the
goodwill competition in Moscow in 1961. Two daughters, Amy and
Ann, were born of the union.
Undoubtedly, if asked, Bob would point to his work in dynamical
astronomy as being not only his most significant contribution,
but also as being the most fun. Beginning with his very first
paper, and continuing until nearly his last, Bob was concerned
with the dynamical interactions in multiple star systems. The
extensive numerical integrations required by this work entailed
use of a great amount of computer time on the slow machines then
available. Consequently, Bob often was found loading programs or
retrieving results at all hours of the night or day, as well as
on weekends and holidays.
Within a few years of his arrival, Bob was put in charge of the
plate measurements and reductions for the extensive parallax
program being carried out with the 155cm reflector in Flagstaff,
and therefore was a coauthor of many series of publications
dealing with parallaxes and proper motions of faint stars. Today
this effort largely defines both the lower main and white dwarf
sequences of the HR diagram. An important by-product of this
work was the detection of a number of unseen companions through
their perturbations of the visible stars.
Considerations on the stability of the solar system led Bob to
collaborate with T.C. Van Flandern in studies of the
dynamical evolution of its satellites, and to an eventual search
for "Planet X", conjectured to lie beyond Pluto and to be
responsible for small, unexplained, residuals in the orbits of
Uranus and Neptune. Late in his career Bob seemed quite
skeptical of such an object, however.
Nevertheless, the program instituted
at Flagstaff to photograph the outer planets and their
satellites led to the spectacular discovery in 1978, by J.W.
Christy, of Pluto's satellite. Bob's inspired guess that the
period of revolution matched the already known period of light
variation resulted in rapid determination of the orbital
elements, and hence the mass of both planet and satellite.
Bob's eclectic astronomical interests led to papers on:
distribution of comet
positions of minor
and even the geodetic
coordinates of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American
He served as a joint editor of four
books, was a member of the AAS, the IAU (where he served on four
commissions), the Planetary Society, and the Society of Sigma
Xi. He also served on the astrometry team for the International
Halley Watch, and on the local organizing committee for the 20th
General Assembly of the IAU.
Although he accepted administrative duties in his later years,
Bob was not very comfortable doing bureaucratic work. He was
much happier doing science, and was always a cheerful and
helpful influence on his colleagues. He was a popular speaker
about astronomy in his local school system, as evinced by the
many teachers from there that attended his funeral.
Those of us who worked with him know
we were privileged, and we shall miss him.
Charles E. Worley
U. S. Naval Observatory