Setting the Standard

Arlo Landolt

One of my duties at Kitt Peak National Observatory is to help astronomers start their observing runs at the 2.1-meter telescope. One of the astronomers I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years is Arlo Landolt. As it turns out, Arlo was none other than Kitt Peak’s very first observer and his first observing run was 55 years ago this week. On Monday, I helped Arlo start what will likely be his last run on the 2.1-meter telescope. Yesterday, we held a celebration in appreciation of Arlo’s work at the observatory.

The reason this will likely be Arlo’s last run at the 2.1-meter is that the National Science Foundation has determined it can no longer provide financial support for the telescope. The National Optical Astronomy Observatory is currently soliciting proposals from institutions interested in running the facility.

The 2.1-meter telescope had not even been built when Arlo started observing at Kitt Peak. There were only a pair of 16-inch telescopes on the mountain. A photo from Arlo’s first observing run was scanned and became the frosting layer for yesterday’s celebration cake.

Arlo's Cake

Arlo’s primary contribution to the field of astronomy has been determining the standard stars against which other stars are measured. These are stars that don’t vary in brightness. He makes very careful measurements of the stars’ brightness as measured through calibrated filters. When an astronomer observes a new object, they can also observe a series of Landolt Standards and determine the brightness and color of the new object. Because the Earth rotates and revolves around the sun, Arlo has had to find these stars all around the sky. This is very important and very meticulous work.

Not only has Arlo provided long-standing service to the astronomical community, he is a gentleman and I’ve enjoyed his company. Not only do we talk about astronomy on the mountain, but he always asks about my books and stories. Last spring, I had the pleasure of visiting him at his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and meeting his wife. They made a point of taking me out to the back yard to hear the owl in their trees. They had, as it turns out, read Owl Dance and told me how much they enjoyed it. What fun!

Arlo clearly sets a standard both as a scientist and a person. I hope things work out so that he can get more observing time at Kitt Peak in the years to come.

Before I close out today’s post, I want to mention that I’m restarting my newsletter. Subscribing is a great way to make sure you keep up with all my books and stories. You can sign up by visiting: http://eepurl.com/XEWqn

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4 comments on “Setting the Standard

  1. It just goes to show that people can make contributions over time without glitz or becoming media darlings. It sounds like he’s a good man.

    • Absolutely. I neglected to mention that he also served many years as secretary of the American Astronomical Association. That in itself is an important contribution to the field. He really is a good man.

    • Eunice Landolt says:

      Thank you for writing it up, David. Arlo was so pleased and surprised. What a nice send-off although I can hardly believe the end has come!!

      • I’m glad you enjoyed the write-up Eunice! I wish the photo of Arlo was a little clearer, but I was using my older camera and the auto focus doesn’t work as well as it once did. I did get two clearer ones, but I liked Arlo’s smile in the one I used. Best to you both and hope there’s a chance to see you again sometime.

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