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Edward Soth Jackson (1930-2022)

Jackson was an expert on classical astrometry and a member of the last generation of transit circle observers.

Published onFeb 22, 2023
Edward Soth Jackson (1930-2022)

Photo credit: U. S. Naval Observatory

Edward Soth Jackson, an expert on classical astrometry using transit circle telescopes, died in Woodbine, Maryland on Sunday July 3, 2022 at the age of 92.

Ed was born to Edward Archibald Jackson and Helen Halson Jackson on March 1, 1930 in Merced, California. His interest in astronomy dated back to grammar school, when he read books on the subject.

Ed entered the University of California, Berkeley as an undergraduate in 1946, earning his Bachelor’s degree in 1950. He worked as a night assistant at Lick Observatory in 1950-51, and served in the U. S. Army for two years. From 1953 to1957 he continued in graduate school at Berkeley in astronomy, receiving his PhD in 1957. The astronomy department at the time was chaired by Otto Struve, and included Leland Cunningham in celestial mechanics, Louis Henyey in astrophysics, and Harold Weaver in radio astronomy. Ed had taken a course in “practical astronomy” from Robert Trumpler as an undergrad, but was especially influenced by Cunningham due to his interest in celestial mechanics. Cunningham became the advisor for his thesis, which researched whether or not one could determine the equinox and equator from meridian observations of minor planets. He concluded it could be done with a minimum of four minor planets.

Ed was hired at the U.S. Naval Observatory in 1957, entering the Seven-Inch Transit Circle Division under F. P. Scott. He was immediately put to work observing the AGK3R program, the reference stars for the photographic AGK3 catalog, led by Otto Heckmann and Wilhelm Dieckvoss of the Hamburg-Bergedorf Observatory in Germany. Many observatories were involved in the AGK3R observations, but the Naval Observatory played a leading role, not only in observing its share of the AGK3R, but also in compiling the entire list of reference stars to be observed by all observatories, reducing from apparent to mean place the positions of all observations as requested by participating observatories, and coordinating the observations and preparing the catalog. This catalog in turn would be tied to the fundamental reference frame, which was still being put out by the Germans. Ed was also involved in analyzing and reducing the observations using the newly arrived IBM 650 computer. Throughout his career he worked on several other observing programs with the Seven-Inch, successively programming the IBM 1410, IBM 360, 4341 and 4382 for analysis and reduction of the observations. He retired in 1995, about the same time that the European Hipparcos satellite was superseding transit circles due to greater positional accuracy.

In retirement Ed became a farmer with sheep, draft horses, rabbits, cats, dogs, and a llama. He was active with the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival and with the Blacksmiths' Guild of the Potomac, receiving an award for his chocolate chip cookies. He also won many prizes for his tablet weaving. A lifelong train buff, Ed never lived outside of earshot of a train whistle. He was a devoted father, never missing a swim meet, concert, or field hockey game.

Ed was predeceased by his wife of 59 years, Mary Ann Jackson, and is survived by his three daughters, Evelyn Burgy, Barbara Jackson, and Carol Jackson, as well as nine grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild.

An oral history interview with Ed, dated January 23, 1991, is available at the U.S. Naval Observatory Library

Jackson’s AstroGen entry

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