Zdenĕk Kopal made a number of crucial discoveries in astrophysics which locate him in history as one of the founding fathers of modern astrophysics. His work around the study of the development of closely neighbouring stars, known as close binaries, ranks with the most important developments in astrophysics of the 20th century.
Kopal's personal archive provides detailed information about his lifetime of research and his various roles within and contributions to the international astronomy community. His papers cover almost the entire span of his professional career from the 1940s until his death. However, relatively few papers survive from the earlier part of his life in Czechoslovakia; his period at Harvard and MIT is mostly represented by his research notebooks.
The majority of the collection comprises Kopal's correspondence and subject files (KOP/1), which he accumulated from his time as professor of astronomy at the University of Manchester. It is evident that Kopal and his secretary took some care to create and preserve files which documented his diverse activities. These files will typically include some major projects and research work, but there are also many files relating to his publications, his editorship of scientific journals, and his involvement with professional bodies such as the International Astronomical Union. The content of these files usually comprehensively covers the subjects in question.
The correspondence files are in nearly all cases organised either as general correspondence or by subject, and there are virtually no files organised by individual correspondents. There are often several files organised chronologically relating to professional and research bodies such as the International Astronomical Union, International Academy of Astronautics, and International Astronomical Federation, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Society, COSPAR, and NASA. In addition, there are files concerning specific projects Kopal was involved with, primarily the Manchester Lunar Programme: Pic-Du-Midi Observatory, US Air Force, European Office for Aerospace Research and Development. and the American Chart and Information Center, but also the Jet Propulsion laboratory, Pasadena, the Lunar Planetary Institute, Houston, Boeing Scientific Research Laboratories, and the Jungfraujoch High Alpine Research Station, Switzerland,
Kopal also kept detailed records of various conferences attended and lectures delivered, as well as his correspondence with publishers concerning his books. There are individual files relating to the publishers, Academic Press, Reidel, Elsevier, Adam Hilger, Pergamon, McGraw Hill, Faber and Faber an North Holland Publishing oc. amongst others. These provide interesting sidelights on the relations between academic scientists and publishers in this period. There are also numerous files relating to Kopal's editorship of Earth, Moon and Planets andAstrophysics and Space Science, dating from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. These contain a wealth of detail about astronomical and astrophysical research published in these publications, as well as more generally about opinions and ideas within these research communities.
There are a number of individual files relating to conferences and seminars which Kopal spoke at including those of the IAU. Other files relate to more particular connections of Kopal, including his long-standing links with observatories at Helwan, Egypt, Assiago,Italy, Nizamia, India and Kwasan, Kyoto, Japan.
Kopal also organised his professional correspondence into files of general correspondence, and these are less straightforward to interpret. Files were maintained for a period of several years and organised alphabetically; this seems to have been his preferred method of arranging academic and professional correspondence from the early 1950s until his retirement in 1981. However, it also appears that Kopal kept chronologically overlapping files of correspondence, with no clear demarcation to indicate why some correspondence was kept in particular files covering the same period. Hence correspondence with the same individual may occur in different 'general' files as well as subject-specific files. Some of these 'general' files relate more to his work as head of department at Manchester, but they are not confined to this subject matter.
Kopal's research notebooks (KOP/2) focus on his US research and work on eclipsing binaries during the 1950s; there is comparatively little information on the lunar mapping programme, probably because he did not conduct this research in the same manner. Much of the content of the notebooks is highly technical and mathematical in nature.
Kopal was a prolific author, co-author, editor or co-editor of more than 30 books and 400 journal articles. The archive therefore includes many draft copies of articles and book chapters. (KOP/3)> these are mostly typed, with occasional comments and amendments in holograph by Kopal. Most of these drafts date from the 1960s to the 1980s. In addition, Kopal kept a collection of his article offprints. This is not complete, and probably contains less than half of his published output (KOP/4); again, some of these offprints have been annotated by Kopal.
The series of USAF contracts (KOP/5) relates primarily to the lunar mapping map, and is essential to understanding how the project was conducted. Apart from the formal contracts for different aspects of the project
Kopal's pears contain relatively few personal or family items. He appears to have accumulated only a modest collection of cuttings, mostly relating to his publication (KOP/6). The archive contains a small number of Kopal's own photographs, many of which show astronomical observatories, an area of interest to Kopal; this can be found in KOP/7.
The Kopal archive also includes glass negative and print photographs taken as part of the Manchester Lunar Programme, as well as various research data from this project; this material is uncatalogued, and there is currently no inventory of contents. In these circumstances, this uncatalogued material will not normally be made available for consultation.