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Arthur A. Hoag (1921–1999)

Published onJan 01, 1999
Arthur A. Hoag (1921–1999)

Art Hoag was a member of several professional organizations including the IAU and the AAS. He served as an AAS Councilor from 1966 to 1969 and Vice Presiderit from 1974 to 1976. He was born January 28, 1921, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and died July 17, 1999, in Tucson, Arizona, following a brief illness. He is survived by his wife, Marge; his two children, Stefanie and Tom; his three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Art's interest in astronomy was kindled in high school and further encouraged by Charles Smiley at Brown University. He graduated from Brown in 1942 with a degree in physics. Immediately upon graduation, Art went to work at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, where he worked on various types of subsurface weapons. Following the end of WW II, Hoag spent a short stint as Smiley's assistant and then entered Harvard for graduate study. At Harvard, he was greatly influenced by Bart J. Bok, for whom he developed a life-long admiration. In 1950, Art moved to the US Naval Observatory (USNO) and worked under the tutelage of John S. Hall. He completed his dissertation research on scanning photometry of spiral galaxies at the US Naval Observatory and received his PhD from Harvard in 1952.

In 1955, Dr. Hoag moved to Arizona as the first director of the Flagstaff Station of the USNO. He oversaw the transfer of its 40-inch telescope from Washington to the new site and commenced vigorous programs of research. One was a mapping study of polarization in the Milky Way with John Hall. Another was an ambitious photometric study of open clusters on which he collaborated with his USNO colleague, Stewart Sharpless, and with Harold Johnson and others at Lowell Observatory. In the latter study, Hoag was among the first to experiment with cooled photographic emulsions. In 1966, Hoag left the USNO and took up the directorship of the stellar division of Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson. While at KPNO, Art became well known to a significant fraction of the optical astronomy community at that time. He personified the service ethic that characterized the National Observatory, and many astronomers today have fond memories of Art Hoag helpfully shepherding them through their first observing runs on Kitt Peak. At KPNO, Art also was involved in the development of instrumentation for the 4-meter Mayall Telescope and conceived the idea of a coudé feed for the 2.1-meter Telescope. On the research side, he very successfully applied grism spectroscopy to the study of quasars.

In 1977, Art Hoag succeeded his former mentor, John Hall, to become the fifth director of Lowell Observatory. He continued in this capacity until his retirement in 1986. During his tenure there, Hoag gave considerable attention to improving Lowell's observational facilities and to safeguarding the institution's financial security. Another side of Art was his sense of humor. It was legendary, and at Lowell or wherever he worked, his booming deep laugh often resonated through the hallways. Art could laugh at himself as easily as at anything else. Nat White used to perpetrate pranks just to see Art's reaction. According to Nat, you could see the light go on and a broad smile spread across Art's face just before he roared with laughter.

Art Hoag always seemed more interested in helping others succeed than in advancing his own interests. For example, shortly after Art's arrival at Lowell, Larry Wasserman, Otto Franz, and I were building up a program of solar system research based on observations of stellar occultations with portable telescopes. We were hindered in this endeavor by the lack of a high-quality astrograph at Lowell with which we could refine the predictions of these elusive events. Without a word to me, Art consulted colleagues around the country and eventually learned of a 20-inch, five-element aerial camera objective which James Baker had designed for the Air Force many years earlier. Furthermore, Hoag traced the lens system to a monastery north of Williams Bay, Wisconsin, where Father Bede Hepnar had acquired it through government surplus. Art arranged for Lowell to acquire the objective; and he and I set out by truck to collect his acquisition.

At the time, I was young, impatient, and intent on speed. Art, on the other hand, wanted to enjoy the scenery and avoid the interstate highways. We compromised by traveling to Wisconsin along an L-shaped, high-speed route, and returning along the hypotenuse on two-lane "blue highways." Off we went, dining in our favorite fast-food restaurants, grabbing a few hours sleep when we could, and discussing whatever came to mind. I don't remember which leg of this 4000-mile journey was completed most quickly, but I do remember what a pleasure it was to be in the company of this kind and thoughtful man for the four or five days it took us to get there and back. He is deeply missed by his friends throughout astronomy.

Photo courtesy of Lowell Observatory.


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