Department of Astronomy
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Dr. Howard L. Cohen

Associate Professor Emeritus


College of Liberal Arts & Sciences  •   University of Florida
Gainesville  •   Alachua County  •   Florida
Department of Astronomy
H.L. Cohen's Home Page
Ye Stars! Which are the poetry of heaven
– Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Personal Information

Howard L. Cohen

HOWARD L. COHEN is an emeritus professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Florida where he was on the faculty for over thirty-five years. He is an accomplished public speaker. His “down-to-earth” presentations use lively computer displays, which he has perfected through years of teaching at the University of Florida.

1984 Annular Eclipse (click to enlarge)

Fig. 1. Annular Eclipse of 1984 May 24, Greenville, NC. Annularity lasted seven seconds. Left to Right: Sally Hoffman, Karla Rahman, Howard Cohen, Glenn Schneider, Don McNeil. (Photo courtesy G. Schneider). See footnote.*

Professor Cohen became engrossed with astronomy as an amateur sixty years ago when he was growing up in New York. He was in the first graduation class of The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, New York and had the honor of having the highest combined science/math average in his graduating class (1958). Here he organized his first astronomy club. (Others would come later.) He subsequently studied astronomy, physics and math at the University of Michigan where he received his B.S. degree (1962). Graduate work in astronomy at Indiana University led to Masters and Ph.D. degrees (1964, 1968).

However, Dr. Cohen also continued his interest in communicating his excitement of the heavens to others. He helped organize a small, local (Gainesville) amateur group in the 1970s (The Florida Astronomical Society) and then later (1987) became a founding member of the Alachua Astronomy Club, Inc. (AAC). He has served as the club's newsletter editor, program and publicity chair, web master, vice president, and member of the AAC's executive board.

Largely through Dr. Cohen's efforts, the AAC was able develop a design for a large, astronomical architectural feature to decorate the lobby of Eastern Federal's new (1999) Royal Park Stadium 16 Theater in Gainesville, Florida. He also designed and wrote (with the help of AAC member Pam Mydock), the dedication plaque that hangs in the theater lobby. In addition, he was instrumental in developing (1999–2003) the Gainesville Solar Walk, a four billion to one scale model of the Solar System (0.9 mile from Sun to Pluto) and one of Gainesville's most significant public art works.

As a teacher Professor Cohen has taught more than 15,000 students basic astronomy and science. And during the 1980s he was primarily responsible for renovating the Campus Teaching Observatory. Later the University appointed him Graduate Coordinator for the Department of Astronomy. He has also helped pioneer the use of multimedia for teaching astronomy at the University of Florida. Under a NASA grant during the 1990s Dr. Cohen prepared and taught workshops in Florida schools to introduce teachers to the basics of image processing.

In addition, Dr. Cohen served as his department's first webmaster for many years and was responsible for helping to design the Department's logo.

During the mid-1960s he was a visiting astronomer at Lowell Observatory doing photometric work on the Sun and binary stars. He was also active in their public outreach programs. A favorite activity was introducing visitors to Lowell's unique history and facilities.

Research interests have spanned a variety of projects including eclipsing binaries and star clusters, lunar and asteroid occultations, eclipses, detection of asteroids and comets, planetarium history and design, calendars and eclipses (see Fig. 1). At Indiana University he worked on the astronomy department's asteroid program and was a darkroom technician. His work on binary stars at Indiana University produced some of the most reliable effective temperatures for very hot (early type B) stars. In addition, he was among the first to do vigorous and complete data reduction and analysis of spectroscopic-eclipsing binary stars by computers. He also produced extensive computer programs for radial velocity reductions.

*1984 Annular Solar Eclipse. The intent of the 1984 annular eclipse expedition was to improve our knowledge about the Sun's diameter. The eclipse was photographed with a Celestron 5 telescope fitted with a full aperture density 5 chromium filter coupled to an Ariflex 35mm movie camera. A 6-1/2 in. 1/8-wave optical flat coelostat fed light into the telescope so the telescope could remain fixed. The movie camera was run at 64 frames per second. Digital time code (from a WWVB-receiver in front of coelostat) was optically encoded on each frame for an absolute time reference.

At Florida he received Graduate Research Awards in 1970 and 1980. During the 1980s Dr. Cohen was first to test a prototype of a new Air Force ground-based electro-optical deep-space surveillance system (GEODSS) for the detection of asteroids and comets, a system now used in the search for Near Earth Objects (NEOs).

During the 1970s and 1980s he nearly single-handily promoted the concept of a planetarium for Gainesville. In addition, he was intimately involved helping architecture and history students develop master theses on planetarium design and history. One such thesis by Chip F. Gronauer (The Planetarium, its History, Functions and Architecture: With Applications for a Proposed Addition to the Florida State Museum, 1978) was, at the time of completion, among the largest master's theses produced at the University of Florida and contained the largest bibliography of planetariums in the world. A second master's thesis by history graduate student, Brent P. Abbatantuono, discussed the life of Armund Spitz, (Armand Neustadter Spitz and His Planetaria, With Historical Notes of the Model A at The University of Florida,1994).

During the late 1980s Dr. Cohen was also a technical consultant, speaker and regional sales manager for Meade Instruments, Inc., a world leader in the design and manufacture of telescopes and accessories for amateur astronomers. He also arranged and presented dozens of Meade telescope training workshops for store personnel and wrote the initial draft of their large, late 1980s accessory catalog.

DR. COHEN CURRENTLY SPENDS TIME PLANNING, ORGANIZING AND ESCORTING UNIQUE TOURS with his wife Marian, a travel specialist and independent travel contractor working with Continental Capers Travel Center in Gainesville, Florida. These "Voyages of Discovery Tours" are centered on astronomical themes. He has helped lead successful tours to the Caribbean, Africa, Australia, Italy and Greece, and the South Pacific Ocean for the unusual 2005 Hybrid solar eclipse. On Crete all saw the 2004 transit of Venus, never before seen by living humans. In the fall of 2005 he helped lead a very successful, unique and very special astronomy, archaeology and geology tour of Arizona. Afterwards he and his wife led a fascinating tour to Egypt to observe the 2006 March 29 total eclipse from Egypt that included an exciting Nile Cruise Tour.

In 2009 both he and his wife escorted a group to China to tour this ancient land and view the longest duration total eclipse of the 21st Century. See his article, "When the Sun goes Dark," published in Senior Times. See his eclipse composite photo of the China eclipse.

(Also see Gainesville Sun article about these unique tours.)

In March 2010 Professor Cohen helped plan a successful Norwegian Northern Lights cruise along the spectacular Norway coast to above the Arctic Circle. Some aurora borealis photos appear here.

Three major solar events kept Professor Cohen busy in 2012, two central eclipses of the Sun and the last transit of Venus until 2117. In May and June 2012 he and his wife escorted friends on a western USA tour where they successfully observed both the May 20 annular solar eclipse from the Utah shores of Lake Powell just north (0.4 mi.) of the Arizona Border and the June 5 transit of Venus from southwest Fort Worth, Texas. Then, in the fall he helped escort a tour to Australia for the 2012 November 14 total solar eclipse that had been in the planning stage for three years.

The great archipelago of Indonesia had a total solar eclipse on March 9, 2016. Professor Cohen prepared a website for a Holland America ship (ms Volendam) that had a sixteen day cruise to these diverse and exotic islands for this 2016 Indonesian Solar Eclipse. The eclipse was successfully observed.

His next eclipse is the Great American Eclipse of 2017 August 21. See his website about his next eclipse tour. Dr. Cohen was among the first to determine and realize that central Oregon,including the small city of Madras, was among the best locations in the USA to observe the 2017 eclipse. (Madras lies on the east or dry side of the Cascade Mountains giving it very good weather prospects for the August 2017 eclipse.) He will help lead a group of about 150 guests coming to Madras for this eclipse.

Star Traills

In what little spare time he has, Dr. Cohen likes to dabble in photography, especially sky photography.

More pictures here

Dr. Cohen is a member of the Alachua Astronomy Club, Inc., American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Astronomical Society, Association of Lunar & Planetary Observers, Astronomical Society of the Pacific, International Dark Sky Association, International Planetarium Society, Royal Astronomical Society of Great Britain, and Sigma Xi: The Scientific Research Society.

T-Shirts for the 2002 Australia eclipse (click to enlarge)
Dr. Cohen also designs T-shirts for his tours!
(T-Shirt Design and Logos © 2001-2017 H.L. Cohen)

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Last updated 2017 July 22