Halley’s Comet’s got nothing on Bauer’s asteroid

Lauren Ciallella and Lauren Ciallella

By Lauren Ciallella
City Times

With nearly 40 years of teaching at City College, professor John Bauer inspired his astronomy and physics students far beyond the classroom with his hands-on, on-site approach to astronomical observation. Although Bauer died in 2003, his memory lives on through a main belt asteroid named in his honor – 4525Johnbauer.

“I wanted to pay my little, humble tribute to him,” said former student Norman Butler (class of 1972) about suggesting Bauer’s name for the asteroid. “He was the one who inspired me to do my thing in astronomy as well as probably hundreds of other students.”

Teaching full time at City from 1965-92 (then one class a semester until 2002), Bauer’s individual support of students allowed him to become both friend and mentor, including a 35-year friendship with Butler.

Now a physics professor himself and living/teaching in Asia (Hong Kong/China) since 2001, Butler continues to credit Bauer for his success and wanted to commemorate Bauer for dedication in the field.

“In 2003 I submitted a letter to the astronomical union talking about how great it would be to honor his memory for the contribution he made for almost 40 yrs teaching astronomy and physics,” Butler noted. “The astronomical union decided that would be great.”

It wasn’t just the asteroid’s namesake that was impressive. The three astronomers who discovered this particular asteroid at Palomar Observatory in 1982- E. F. Helin, E. M. Shoemaker and P. D. Wilder- were famous in their own right for making significant astronomical discoveries (Shoemaker- Levy comet crashed into Jupiter in the 90’s).

“I have to give them credit because they recognized John’s contribution in teaching and having your asteroid named by those three individuals in John’s honor was indeed a tribute to his lifetime of teaching at City College,” explained Butler.

Another tribute to his teaching at City is the John Bauer Observatory (on top of the T Building) dedicated in 2003. Bauer’s belief system also remained implemented by his predecessor, Professor Gerald Scappaticci, who assumed Bauer’s teaching position in 1992.

“I continued on and he instilled in me that the laboratory class should be focused on astronomical observing. It should not be focused on an in-class project,” Scappaticci recalled. “He told me that, ‘Astronomy is done in the field.'”

Scappaticci also acknowledged Bauer’s ability to share his astronomical expertise.

“He was eager to help me in any way that I needed. We’d spend late nights just observing and he’d teach me everything he knew,” he explained. “He just loved being out in the field.”

Butler portrayed a similar image of Bauer. “One thing about John, he was a humble person. He wasn’t out to make discoveries himself. He just really enjoyed astronomy, teaching astronomy, and inspiring his students to enjoy it as much as he did.”

The last week in April, Butler visited City to donate and mount a new six inch F/8 refracting telescope shipped from Shenzhen, China.

“I’m just here to pay back the college a little bit with donating the new telescope and paying a little honor to John’s memory,” said Butler.

Butler’s new telescope is mounted next to an old one of Bauer’s in the observatory, lending a clearer view to Bauer’s asteroid and future students’ astronomical aspirations.

“I think John would look down and be happy about it,” Butler mentioned. “At least John’s memory will always be up there on an asteroid cruising around every year.”