Dr. Kenneth L. Franklin Ph.D.


by Joe Rao

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of astronomer, Kenneth L. Franklin.

This afternoon, I received an E-mail from his daughter, Julie, who said that Ken passed away last night in Colorado. Two weeks ago he underwent heart surgery and was in intensive care ever since. Last night his systems just shut down completely and there was little they could do for him except make him comfortable and without pain. His wife, Charlotte was at his bedside. He was 84.

Dr. Franklin obtained his Ph.D. degree in Astronomy in 1953 at the University of California, Berkeley, California. He was a Research Fellow in Radio Astronomy at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D. C., from 1954 to 1956. While there, staff member Bernard F. Burke and Ken discovered radio emissions from the planet Jupiter, announcing their discovery on April 6, 1955 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

In 1956, Dr. Franklin joined the staff of the American Museum-Hayden Planetarium as Assistant Astronomer. Ken later became Chairman of the Hayden Planetarium and Department of Astronomy of the American Museum of Natural History from 1972 to 1974. From 1956 to the time of his retirement as the Planetarium’s Chief Scientist at the end of 1985, Ken’s duties included presenting, and often writing, innumerable sky shows for the planetarium sky theater, teaching popular and technical courses in astronomy several times each year, and answering questions from the public. Ken was frequently consulted by local industries engaged in the space program, and by the news media and publishers. As the Planetarium’s Chief Scientist, he was often interviewed on local and national radio and television. During the 1960’s and ’70s, Ken was highly regarded by the New York news media as “The Man” to go to whenever a celestial event of special interest was due to occur.

From 1973 to 1979, Ken was the Public Affairs Officer of the American Astronomical Society. For two decades, Ken also served in the Society’s Harlow Shapley Visiting Lecturer Program, visiting one or two colleges each year. Ken was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of the Royal Astronomical Society, and the Explorers Club. He was also a member of the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the New York Academy of Sciences, Sigma Xi, and the Trap-Door Spiders.

Dr. Franklin served as the Astronomy Editor of the World Almanac from 1970 to 1995, and, from 1980 to 1992, he provided all of the astronomical calculations for the Farmers’ Almanac, and others, through his association with the Hart Wright Company, Lewiston, Maine.

Dr. Franklin contributed daily almanac information to the New York Times from 1975 to 1997. As a columnist from 1983 to 1997, Ken originated and wrote the weekly “Sky Watch” feature that appeared in the science section of the New York Times.

Asteroid Number 2845 is named FRANKLINKEN in his honor.

Since 2004, Ken and his wife, Charlotte, have resided in Loveland, Colorado. Ken is survived by his wife, Charlotte, and his daughters Kathleen Williams, Christine Redding, and Julie Jones.

On a personal note, I first met Ken in 1966. One of Ken’s astronomy students at the Planetarium asked him if he would be interested in meeting a 10-year kid who had a budding interest in astronomy. It probably would have been easy enough for Ken to say no; that he couldn’t fit it into his busy schedule. Instead, Ken extended the invitation to me to come down — late on a Friday afternoon, no less — where, in the confines of his private office, we chatted about astronomy for some 45 minutes! I’ll never forget that day; that was the start of a friendship that lasted for over four decades.