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Papers of John Guy Porter, 1925 - 1981

Reference Code: GBR/0180/RGO 45

Scope and Contents

The collection contains a wide range of material from throughout Porter's career. The largest body of papers are copies of scripts for B.B.C. Radio, written mostly by Porter, but including some by other authors. There are many letters, many of them concerning the activity of the Computing Section of the B.A.A., particularly the preparation of ephemerides for its Handbook, but also including correspondence with mathematical astronomers, much of it reflecting Porter's interest in meteor and comet orbit calculations. There is also a wide selection of Porter's published and unpublished papers, as well as published papers he received from colleagues and other workers in his field. The collection includes discussion documents and other papers relating to the changes to computational methods at the N.A.O. and B.A.A. There are also a few items from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California (which Porter visited during 1962), concerning comets and meteors.

RGO 45/1-81: Correspondence

RGO 45/82-136: Printed and published papers, with related material

Printed and published papers by Porter (82-116); Reviews from journals and periodicals of Porter's 'Comets and Meteor Streams' (117-121); Printed and published papers of colleagues and correspondents containing a dedication to Porter (124-135); Published papers by colleagues containing a foreword by Porter (136).

RGO 45/137-157: B.A.A. and other drafts

Draft papers by Porter for the B.A.A. Computing Section (137-140); Draft papers by Porter, probably for the B.A.A. Computing Section (141-143); Miscellaneous draft papers by Porter (144-157).

RGO 45/158-174: Material relating to H.M.N.A.O.

Papers regarding methods of comet orbit calculation (158-163); Notes from Porter to D.H. Sadler (164-174).

RGO 45/175-178: Material relating to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena

Technical memoranda for internal distribution at the J.L.P. (175-177); Computer printout (178).

RGO 45/179-190: Notes

Manuscripts lecture notes by Porter (179-188); Manuscript notes by Porter (189-190).

RGO 45/191: Miscellaneous papers

RGO 45/192-194: Draft papers by colleagues

RGO 45/195-232: Numbers unassigned

RGO 45/233-431: Scripts for B.B.C. Radio broadcasts

'The Night Sky' (233-385); 'General Science' (386-404); 'Citizenship' (405); 'For Country Schools' (406); 'Science and the Community' (407-409); 'Talks for Sixth Forms' (410); Untitled scripts for B.B.C. Schools Radio (411-412); 'Talks for Sixth Forms' (413-415); 'Science and Everyday Life' (416-418); 'Science Survey' (419-420); 'Thursday Roundabout' (421); 'Woman's Hour' (422); 'Calling West Africa' (423-426); B.B.C. Radio talk (427); Various parts of scripts (428-431).

RGO 45/432-447: Other material relating to B.B.C. broadcasts

Question and answer papers (432-438); Newspaper cuttings (439-440); 'Radio Times' extracts (441-447).

RGO 45/448-451: Miscellaneous


  • Creation: 1925 - 1981


Conditions Governing Access

From the Management Group:

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

John Guy Porter (1900-1981) graduated with honours in chemistry from London University in 1922. He joined the British Astronomical Association in 1932, where he was Director of the Computing Section, 1938-1959, and served as President, 1948-1950. He was awarded a Ph.D. in 1945 for his thesis on 'An Analysis of British Meteor Data', and he collaborated with Bernard Lovell in the early days of the radar observation of meteor trails. He joined H.M. Nautical Almanac Office in 1949, and served as its Principal Scientific Officer until his retirement in 1961.

Porter was closely involved throughout his career in developing methods of computing the orbits of comets, meteors and natural satellites. Whilst at the N.A.O., he worked with Donald Sadler, then Superintendent, in the revision of the Office's methods for the computation of the orbital elements and ephemerides of comets, supervising the move away from logaritH.M.S. to using programmable electromechanical calculating machines and then early electronic computers. He helped introduce similar changes at the B.A.A., overseeing the abandonment of traditional methods of cometary calculations and the adoption of hand-held programmable electronic calculators.

Porter was noted for his contribution to the spread of knowledge and understanding about astronomy. He was involved in broadcasting, contributing monthly talks on 'The Night Sky' for the Home Service or Third Network, 1946-1961, and also broadcasting and writing for the Forces' Network, the World Service and extensively for Schools' Radio. He was Patron of the Junior Astronomical Society, and wrote works which attempted to illuminate his subject for younger enthusiasts.


3 archive box(es) (3 boxes) : paper/photograph

Language of Materials




Other Finding Aids

A handlist is kept in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The majority of the collection was presented by Mrs Eileen Porter.


This description was created by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, and amended by Dr Emma Saunders in October 2022.

Finding aid date

2007-04-13 12:16:48+00:00

Includes index.

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom