From the Archives

Astronomy students ponder galaxies far, far away


Can you tell us more about this archival photo from 1976? Photo by BU Photography

“If we attack the Death Star from this side…” A little under a year before 1977’s Star Wars gave menacing moon-like orbs a bad name, BU astronomy students contemplated their own in room 515 at CAS.

To celebrate a CAS-led team’s announcement that it might have discovered some of the most distant galaxy clusters ever found, we sent Digital Imaging Manager Andrew Costello into the BU photography archives on an astronomy mission. With a new Star Wars movie due in cinemas soon, this photo seemed too good to ignore—even if we have little idea what’s going on.

The only description on the small brown envelope that holds the Kodak negatives for the photo shoot, which took place on October 13, 1976, is “Prof. Janes’ class—astronomy.” Kenneth Janes joined BU as an assistant professor in 1973 and chaired the astronomy department for four years in the 1980s. The biography on his BU webpage lists his primary research field as “the study of the stellar populations of the galaxy and the search for extra-solar planets.” Since 2011, he has been a professor emeritus.

But we can only guess what Janes’ class is learning about in this photo, so we need your help. Just what is that orb and what does it do? Who is in the photo? If you studied with Janes, what do you remember about his classes? Write to the editor at and let us know. And read our letters page to see what people had to say about our last photo from the archives showing the first Earth Day, in April 1970.