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Ernest Hurst Cherrington, Jr. (1909-1996)

Ernest H. Cherrington, Jr., a long-time member of the AAS, died in San Jose, California on 13 July 1996, following a long illness. He had a short but active career as a research astronomer at Perkins Observatory at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio before World War II, in which he served as an officer in the Army Air Force. After the war ended he turned to full-time teaching and administration at the University of Akron, and then at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland.

Ernest was born on 10 September 1909 in Westerville, Ohio, where his father, Ernest H. Cherrington, Sr., was a leader in the temperance movement and publisher of "American Issue", a Prohibitionist magazine. Ernest Jr.'s mother, Betty Clifford (née Denny) Cherrington, was a homemaker. He was an outstanding student in high school and at Ohio Wesleyan University, which he entered in 1927. The little university's Perkins Observatory with its 69-inch reflector, briefly the second largest telescope in the United States, had just been built and gone into operation. After graduating with a BA magna cum laude in astronomy in 1931, Ernest stayed on one more year and earned his MS with a thesis on the motion of material in the tail of Comet Morehouse, supervised by Nicholas T. Bobrovnikoff.

In 1932 Ernest entered the University of California at Berkeley as a graduate student, with a one-year teaching assistantship in the Astronomical Department. This was followed by a two-year Lick Observatory Fellowship. In June 1933 he married Ann McAfee Naylor, who had been a classmate at Delaware High School and Ohio Wesleyan. Ernest did his PhD thesis on spectrophotometry of the Mg I b lines in the solar spectrum, using a high-resolution grating spectrograph on the Berkeley campus, designed by C. Donald Shane, his adviser. In this thesis, Ernest tested and improved the then current theory of strong absorption lines in stellar atmospheres. He also spent several short periods at Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, working in stellar spectroscopy with Joseph H. Moore.

After earning his PhD in 1935, Ernest taught mathematics and astronomy for one year at Syracuse University, and then in 1936 returned to Ohio Wesleyan as an assistant astronomer and instructor in physics and astronomy. In 1940 he was promoted to assistant professor. He did good spectroscopic research on Be stars, especially a long study of the variations in the spectrum of γ Cas, an unusually active star of this class which he followed as it threw off several shells. It was a program well suited to the telescope, spectrograph, and site available to him. Ernest attended several meetings of the AAS, reported on his research in oral papers, and published them. However after America entered World War II he went into the Army Air Force in 1942, serving as a Captain in the Air Force Training Command. He had an important job directing ground training of officers, cadets, and enlisted men at various fields in California and New Mexico.

After the war, although he could have returned to Perkins Observatory, he realized that the future was not hopeful for astronomical research there, and decided to switch to academic administration. He was at Centenary College, Louisiana for two years, 1946--48, and then went to the University of Akron as professor of astronomy and dean of the College of Liberal Arts from 1948 to 1960, then of its Graduate Division from 1960 to 1967. He loved teaching astronomy and continued to do so while holding these deanships. Ernest was a good writer, and he published several articles on astronomy and science in the "New York Times Sunday Magazine" and other mass-circulation magazines in those years.

Ernest retired at Akron in 1967 but moved to Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, as professor of astronomy, a full-time teaching position with no administrative duties. Soon after arriving there he published "Exploring the Moon with Binoculars", a very popular book in the early days of the NASA program of lunar photography from unmanned space vehicles. All the ground-based photographs in his book came from Lick Observatory, most of them taken by Moore and Fred Chappell, with whom he had worked. About 1979 he retired from Hood College and he and his wife moved to San Jose, near the home of their surviving son, Robert N. Cherrington. Ernest was always a good family man, devoted to his wife and children. I met Ernest at his home in San Jose and interviewed him several times in preparation for the Lick centennial in 1988; he had warm memories of Lick and the Berkeley Astronomical Department. In 1984 he had updated his book to "Exploring the Moon through Binoculars and Small Telescopes", with additional photographs from lunar orbiting vehicles and one taken by Neil Armstrong of Buzz Aldrin on the moon's surface. Ernest's wife Ann died in 1988 and he followed her eight years later.

There are about one hundred letters to, from, or about Ernest, written in the years 1931 to 1948, in the Mary Lea Shane Archives of the Lick Observatory, McHenry Library, University of California. These letters, his published papers and book, and Perkins Observatory annual reports, together with information provided by Robert N. Cherrington and my own notes and memories of conversations with Ernest and Ann formed the basis of this obituary article.

Photograph courtesy of the Shane Archives of the Lick Observatory

Obituary written by: Donald E. Osterbrock (Lick Observatory, University of California, Santa Cruz)

BAAS Citation: BAAS, 2003, 35, 1458

SAO/NASA ADS Bibcode: 2003BAAS...35.1458O