The American Meteor Society was founded in 1911 by the late Dr. Charles P. Olivier, as an offshoot from the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Dr. Olivier’s goal was to organize a collaborative effort between amateur and professional astronomers, for the purpose of conducting visual observations of both meteor showers and meteors appearing at random (sporadic meteors). Over his 65-year career, Dr. Olivier attracted a wide variety of observers who helped him explore a number of areas within “classical” meteoric astronomy.

Dr. Olivier’s work revolved around the single visual meteor observer, usually an amateur astronomer, who joined the AMS with the understanding that he (or she) would, as occasion permitted, submit observations on meteors and related phenomena. During the visual program’s heyday, the AMS consisted of hundreds of such amateur observers, directed by volunteer regional coordinators, and often organized into state wide affiliate groups. Over the years, the observations submitted by these affiliate members served as the basis for hundreds of short scientific papers, along with a score of long, important works, printed in various astronomical journals, AMS bulletins, and parts of several observatory publications. Dr. Olivier’s 1925 professional text, “Meteors,” has become one of the classic reference sources for this field.

During the 1950’s, the advent of more sophisticated techniques and a shift in emphasis in the professional community to photographic and radar techniques led Dr. Olivier to shift the research emphasis of the AMS to a long term statistical study of the sporadic meteor flux. Containing many years of previous observations, the AMS Visual Database formed the basis for four catalogs giving the average visual meteor rates seen for each hour of the night during the year (Olivier, 1960, 1965, 1974a, and 1974b). Three of these catalogs were for the northern hemisphere and one for the southern hemisphere. The northern hemisphere catalogs were average rates over the years 1901-1958, 1959-1963, and 1964-1972. Dr. Olivier continued this work throughout his retirement, and was completing the manuscript for a fifth catalogue at the time of his death in 1976.

Only 10 days before his death, Dr. Olivier passed the leadership of the AMS over to Dr. David D. Meisel. Dr. Meisel had literally grown up within the AMS, conducting amateur observations as a teenager and moving on to pursue a professional career in astronomy. Following the receipt of his Ph.D from Ohio State University, Dr. Meisel had continued to collaborate with Dr. Olivier in the area of comet and meteor studies, and the two had developed a close working relationship and friendship.

Upon receiving the mantle, Dr. Meisel’s first challenge was to secure a suitable home and headquarters for the AMS. Dr. Meisel’s institution, the State University of New York, College at Geneseo graciously accepted the organization, and since 1976, the AMS headquarters have been located in the Department of Physics and Astronomy there. For some 17 years, the public service and scientific activities of the AMS were supported in part by SUNY – Geneseo as a part of the astronomy program at the College.

These first years of Dr. Meisel’s leadership were difficult ones for the AMS. The professional community was turning away from meteor work of any sort, and given the meager funds then available, the organization was only able to continue a few of Dr. Olivier’s original goals. Nonetheless, the AMS continued to have a dedicated staff of amateur coordinators to help with its various modest research programs. The expenses for these programs often were paid by the coordinators themselves with no help from the society, and it was this volunteer effort which kept the AMS going during this rough transition period.

One such effort, the “AMS Radio Scatter Program,” was founded in 1977. The Kansas Meteor Group of the AMS led by Walter Scott Houston had conducted pioneering radiometeor experiments in the late 1950’s. Much work was done in the professional community on radio- and radar- meteor observation, and by the late 1970’s, advances in technology made sensitive receiving equipment practical for amateur use. The formal AMS program began to explore a new avenue in which amateur scientists could contribute to meteor astronomy beyond traditional visual observations. Many promising experiments were conducted in this area throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s, with a working automated station developed by 1993.

Also in 1993, the organization was able to become the American Meteor Society, Ltd., thanks to a generous permanent endowment from the estate of Dr. Clinton B. Ford. In the United States, Dr. Ford was a well-known supporter of amateur astronomy with particular interest in variable stars. Throughout his life-time, he was a member of the AMS, having started observing meteors as a boy. His generosity has made possible the reorganization and modernization of the AMS along the lines described in this bulletin. Our new structure will enable the society to further the cause of meteor science for many years to come, while continuing the tradition of amateur-professional collaboration.

More History of the AMS