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THIS IS AMERICA - Naval Observatory in Washington - 2002-09-20


Broadcast: September 23, 2002

VOICE ONE:

The United States Naval Observatory performs an important scientific duty for the United States, the Navy, and the Department of Defense. This job helps keep America secure. I’m Mary Tillotson.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Steve Ember. The United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D-C, is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

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VOICE ONE:

The purpose of the United States Naval Observatory is to discover the exact position and motion of the Earth, sun, moon, planets, stars and other space objects. In addition, the observatory establishes exact time, measures the turning of the Earth, and keeps the Master Clock for the United States.

These astronomical and timing records are very important for the American Navy and Department of Defense. The Navy uses the information to help boats find their direction through navigation. The Defense Department needs the information to support communication on Earth and in space. Also, scientists use the astronomical and timing records to carry out research linked to the purpose of the Observatory.

VOICE TWO:

People who visit the Naval Observatory can see some surprising things. For example, there are more than eighty-thousand books related to time and space in the Observatory library. This is one of the most complete collections of historic and current scientific publications.

The library also serves as a storage area for many rare books and publications dating back to the fifteenth century. They include works by British mathematician Sir Isaac Newton, who developed the theory of gravitation. This theory says gravity pulls all objects in the Earth’s atmosphere toward the center of the Earth.

VOICE ONE:

Works written by the Italian scientist Galileo are also stored in the Observatory library. Galileo discovered the four large moons of Jupiter in the early sixteen-hundreds. The moons are named Ganymede, Io, Europa and Callisto. They are also sometimes called the Galilean moons or the Galilean satellites.

Several works written by other famous scientists are also stored at the Naval Observatory. These include works by German astronomer Johannes Kepler and Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. The library mostly serves the needs of scientists who work at the observatory. However, private researchers are also welcome to use the books.

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VOICE TWO:

There are several interesting telescopes at the Naval Observatory. The largest telescope at the Observatory has a glass lens that measures sixty-six centimeters across. This telescope has an interesting history. It was completed in eighteen-seventy-three at a cost of fifty-thousand dollars. At that time, it was the largest refracting telescope in the world. Refracting astronomical telescopes need two lenses to examine images in space.

Alvan Clark made the large lens and a support system for the telescope. He and his two sons owned a lens building company in the eastern state of Massachusetts.

Visitors to the Naval Observatory can hear how Mister Clark had the glass specially made for the sixty-six centimeter lens. For two years, he rejected several pieces of glass because they were not perfect. Finally, he decided on one piece made with two different kinds of glass. Mister Clark used his hands to rub down and shine the glass into its current shape.

VOICE ONE:

In eighteen-seventy-seven, just four years after the telescope was in place, astronomer Asaph Hall discovered the two moons of Mars. This discovery of Phobos and Deimos made the Naval Observatory famous. Mister Hall was honored by many of the world’s leading scientific organizations.

In eighteen-seventy-nine, the astronomer received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Great Britain. Members of the Hall family gave the medal to the Naval Observatory as a gift six years ago.

VOICE TWO:

The family also gave the Observatory a special award given to Mister Hall by President Abraham Lincoln in eighteen-sixty-four. Visitors can see these two awards and several others given to Mister Hall in the Observatory library.

Today, Naval Observatory astronomers still use the telescope that Asaph Hall used to make his famous discovery. They use it to measure stars and the position of the moons of the furthest planets.

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VOICE ONE:

The Naval Observatory is one of the oldest scientific agencies in the country. It was first built in eighteen-thirty in the area of Washington, D-C called Foggy Bottom. At that time, the agency was called the Depot of Charts and Instruments. It was responsible for the care of all maps, sea documents and other navigational equipment used by the United States Navy. In eighteen-forty-four, the responsibilities of the organization increased and it was renamed the United States Naval Observatory.

The ground at Foggy Bottom was often wet because of flooding along the Potomac River. The conditions were unhealthy. So in eighteen-ninety-three, the Observatory moved north to its current area. Richard Morris Hunt designed several of the main buildings on the new Observatory grounds. He was a famous nineteenth-century American architect.

VOICE TWO:

Today, the most famous building on the grounds of the Observatory is the home of the American vice president. The house had been built in eighteen-ninety-three for the supervisor of the Observatory. In nineteen-seventy-four, Congress selected the house to be the home for all future vice presidents. Before this time, vice presidents either bought a temporary house in Washington or stayed at hotels.

Vice President Gerald Ford and his wife Betty were the first people permitted to live in the house. However, the resignation of President Richard Nixon came before repairs on the house were completed. Instead, the Fords moved into the White House when Gerald Ford became President.

VOICE ONE:

Mister Ford’s vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, was a wealthy man who had his own home in Washington. Mister Rockefeller did not live in the National Observatory home. Instead, he used the house mainly as a place to meet special guests. The house finally got its first family in nineteen-seventy-seven. Walter Mondale and his wife Joan moved in at the beginning of the administration of President Jimmy Carter. Every vice president since then has lived in the home on the grounds of the Naval Observatory.

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VOICE TWO:

The Naval Observatory has many important responsibilities. For example, one main duty is to declare official time used in the United States. This exact timekeeping is performed with atomic clocks known as master clocks. The time is correct to within one nanosecond a day. That is one-thousand-millionth of a second. The United States military uses this exact time to help with communications and navigation.

VOICE ONE:

The Observatory also produces three very important publications each year. They are The Astronomical Almanac, The Nautical Almanac and The Air Almanac. These three publications include exact information about the position of the sun, moon, planets and stars in relation to air, space and water navigation.

In several years, the Observatory hopes to launch a new satellite space telescope. The United States space agency, NASA, will take part in the project. The space telescope will be used to find the position, distance, motion, brightness and color of about forty-million stars in space. By studying these stars, the Naval Observatory hopes to improve the world’s knowledge of the universe and its size.

VOICE TWO:

People can visit the United States Naval Observatory every other Monday. Visits begin at night and include a presentation of the history and purpose of the organization. Visitors can see several historic buildings and the Observatory library. Also, if the weather is clear, visitors can use the Observatory’s smaller thirty-centimeter telescope to look at the stars in space.

((THEME))

VOICE ONE:

This program was written by Jill Moss. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Mary Tillotson.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

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