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ADS:Own Your Own Astronomical Library

Peter Jenniskens


Monday, April 19, 2004, saw the 25th anniversary of the Dutch Meteor Society (DMS). During the first 24 of those years, DMS rallied around the journal "Radiant", resulting in hundreds of great accounts of meteor observing campaigns, results from observations, and discussions of ongoing work in the field of meteor science. More than that, the journal has the best contemporary pictures of meteors and fireballs anywhere, including some published in Sky & Telescope, permitting for the fact that "Radiant" was printed in black-and-white. After 24 years of editing "Radiant", Hans Betlem last year issued what appears to have been the final copy and now DMS rallies around the direct reporting of observing results on the Internet ( The modern times have doomed the printed journal, which had some 150+ copies per issue, to the fate of the Dodo. If we are lucky, some rare specimens will be preserved in some dusty library until the paper yellows and fades and there are but memories. Nobody will care about the enthusiasm of amateur astronomers at the end of the 20th century, laboring with love to pave a tiny section of the road to ethereal wisdom.

All of this may be of no interest to you, were it not that "Radiant" will soon be read by millions. That is, the fraction of those millions that does not mind that the journal's leading language is Dutch (with English abstracts provided). That is because "Radiant, the journal of the Dutch Meteor Society" will soon be accessible on-line on the NASA Astrophysics Data System. The article names have already been added, and PDF files of the articles will soon follow. Not only "Radiant" is there, but also "Sky & Telescope", professional journals like the "Astrophysical Journal", and some good oldies such as early issues of "Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society". Your own astronomical library at the tip of your hands.

Go to "Google" and search for "ADS". One of the first few entries that shows up is "NASA ADS: ADS Home Page". The first page has a big blue button that says "Search References". Click on that to get to a page that provides a few choice databases (this page is in desperate need for improvement). Choose the first database "Astronomy and Astrophysics" (which at this time has 992,809 records!) to get to the query page. This somewhat chaotic looking page has several search options. Start with typing in your name in the top left box where it says "Authors". I typed in "Betlem, H." . Then click on "Send Query". An astounding 381 publications are returned, most of those are the contributions (sweat and tears) that Hans Betlem made for the journal "Radiant." Type in "Jenniskens, P.", and you will get only 282. Hans has been an outstanding author. Try your own name to see if you took enough time to report about your observing activities. If no entries show up, then you may not have done your share, or you simply have to wait (a year or so?) until the San Jose Astronomical Society's Ephemeris Newsletter has been included in the database.

Even if you are not an author in search of a fair overview of references yourself, this library of publications can be a great asset. Most publications that are a few years old are freely accessible. A PDF file is often provided, either converted from text or from scanned documents. Once you see the query results and click on one of the references, you will see that it says on the top "Electronic Refereed Journal Article" or "Full Refereed Journal Article" or something along those lines. Click on those to get access to the paper. Recent publications are often protected by journal publishers, in which case you will have to subscribe to get more than the mere abstract of a publication. Some journals have a policy to extend this to more than just a few years back, which is a very sad state of affairs, forcing a restriction on author's chances to be fairly included in the scientific debate.

For fun, I looked for publications between 1600 and 1700 A.D. (the set of small boxes in the second row of the query page) and found 334. Sadly, many of the papers by Flamsteed, Newton, Halley, Huygens, and Kepler are in a protected database. I entered the word "meteor" in the third row box on the query page where it asks for words given in the paper's title, but got no papers found. That far back, the word "meteor" was not commonly used. I tried "shooting star". This time 14 references come up, including one from Tycho Brahe, but those refer mostly to stars, not meteors. By setting the buttons above the query box to "AND" rather than "OR", you can only select those abstracts that have both "shooting" and "star": The result: zippo. Selecting for "lights" (in a desperate attempt), I stumbled upon "Mr. Newtons Answer to the Foregoing Letter Further Explaining His Theory of Light and Colors, and Particularly That of Whiteness; together with His Continued Hopes of Perfecting Telescopes by Reflections Rather than Refractions." Those where the days.

Of course, meteor astronomy started with the meteor storm of 1833. I set the dates to go from 1800 until 1840 and looked for "meteor" to find 13 abstracts, one of the oldest by Mr. Haggard who reported "A large Meteor seen at Blackheath, October 20, 1833." That was just prior to the famous November 1833 Leonid storm. Clicking on the reference brings up the page with "Full refereed scanned article". And yes: there are the words that Mr. Haggard spoke back in 1833, as communicated by Mr. Riddle: "Mr. Haggard describes it as resembling a ball from a Roman candle in colour." I clicked on "Next page" below the scanned page as well, hoping to read more, but only found a table of transits of the Moon and an enjoyable narrative about Edmund Halley's travels to the southern hemisphere island of St. Helena.

Another use of the library is clear when leaving all query boxes open, but typing "McNeil" in the lowest box for "Abstract Words". It immediately brings up the IAU Circular announcement of the McNeil Nebula. Go and read it yourself. The next entry that pops up is at least as interesting: an abstract of meteor trail observations during the 1996 and 1998 Leonids using Lidar.

Finally, I hit "Clear" and added your president's name in the "Author" box. "Koop, M." , bringing up the important paper "On the unusual activity of the Perseid meteor shower (1989-96) and the dust trail of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle." This paper reports on results of several years of Perseid observations from Fremont Peak Observatory. It is all there. Enjoy.


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