Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Princeton University. Dept. of Astrophysical Sciences.
Astrophysical Sciences Department Records
Princeton University Archives
Permanent URL:
1835-2017 (mostly 1867-1966)
40 boxes and 1 websites
Storage Note:
Mudd Manuscript Library (mudd): Box 1-40


The papers of the Astrophysical Sciences Department represent the original observation records, correspondence, and teaching documents of Princeton astrophysicists from 1835 to 1990.

Collection Description & Creator Information


Consists of correspondence, observational record books, astrophysical texts, oversized telescopic observations, glass plates, and a small number of photographs. The collection documents both the scientific achievements and academic program of the Astrophysical Sciences Department, formerly the Astronomy Department, and its faculty. Included is the departmental correspondence of such notable faculty members as Raymond S. Dugan, Lyman Spitzer, Jr., John Q. Stewart and Charles A. Young. Some correspondence pertains to the department's relationship with the U.S. Navy during World War I. The collection also contains observational records of physical phenomena including the Eros asteroid and the Transit of Venus (1882). Observations of the Princetonia asteroid, Total Lunar Eclipse of 1891, and various comets and satellites are also recorded here.

Collection Creator Biography:

Princeton University. Dept. of Astrophysical Sciences.

This collection documents the scientific achievements and academic program of the Astrophysical Sciences Department, formerly the Astronomy Department, from 1835 to 1988. Although astronomy was studied at Princeton beginning in 1787, it was grouped with mathematics and natural philosophy. In 1840, astronomy became its own discipline when Stephen Alexander became Princeton's first Professor of Astronomy and Chairman of the Astronomy Department. The Department increased the scope of its research when the Halsted Observatory opened in 1872. Charles A. Young succeeded Alexander as Chairman in 1877. Young is primarily known for his observations of stars, especially using solar spectroscopy to determine the elements that compose the sun. In 1905, Young retired and Henry Norris Russell assumed the chair. Russell is most noted for his theories on solar atmospheric composition and stellar evolution, as well as his analysis of eclipses with Professor Raymond S. Dugan. In 1927, Russell, Dugan, and Professor John Q. Stewart published a two-volume book that became the major text in American astronomy classes. Research endeavors improved with the opening of the FitzRandolph Observatory in 1934, which replaced the Halsted Observatory.

In 1947 Lyman Spitzer, Jr. succeeded Russell as Department Chairman. Spitzer focused on expanding Princeton astronomical research into theoretical astrophysics and space astronomy with the help of government, military, and scientific foundation grants. He also organized the Forrestal Research Campus (called Project Matterhorn and eventually the Plasma Physics Laboratory) in 1951 to study plasma physics and nuclear power. In 1962 the Astronomy Department officially changed its name to Astrophysical Sciences to signify its expanded programs in plasma physics, atomic and molecular physics, and astrophysics. Under the continued leadership of Chairman Spitzer, the Department took vivid photographs of the sun via telescopic cameras on balloons, helped NASA's satellite program to study the gases and dust in space, and launched telescope-carrying rockets into earth's atmosphere to observe stars. In 1966, the Department enjoyed improved facilities with the installation of a 36-inch telescope in Fitz Randolph Observatory and the opening of Peyton Hall.

Collection History


The majority of the materials in Series 4: Photographs Additions, circa 1945-1973 were among the unprocessed materials in the University Archives as of 2012. Their origins prior to this date are unknown, but they appear to be related to the Princeton University Astrophysical Sciences Department. The folder of photographs of the Aerobee 170 A Rocket project in Series 4 were found among the papers of Donald C. Long, an electrical engineer who worked in the department circa 1965-1983. They were gifted to the University Archives in 2018 by David B. Long.


Appraisal information was not recorded at the time of processing.


These papers were processed with the generous support of American Institute of Physics.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Meghan Glass '01 and Gena Bursan Fall in Fall 2000 and Spring 2001. Finding aid written by Meghan Glass '01 and Gena Bursan Fall in Fall 2000 and Spring 2001. The Halstead Observatory Manuscript in Box 32 and Series 4 were added by Christie Peterson in June 2012. Additional folder in Series 4 processed by Annalise Berdini in May 2018.

During a survey of library collections in December of 2019, undescribed charts were found in the collection and added as Series 6 by Kimberly McCauley. Series 7 was added by Phoebe Nobles in 2022.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. For quotations that are fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. The Trustees of Princeton University hold copyright to all materials generated by Princeton University employees in the course of their work. If copyright is held by Princeton University, researchers will not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with non-commercial use of materials from the Mudd Library. For materials where the copyright is not held by the University, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold the copyright and obtaining approval from them. If you have a question about who owns the copyright for an item, you may request clarification by contacting us through the Ask Us! form.

Credit this material:

Astrophysical Sciences Department Records; Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
Mudd Manuscript Library (mudd): Box 1-40