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5 - Spectral classification at Harvard

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2014

John B. Hearnshaw
Affiliation:
University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
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Summary

Edward Pickering at Harvard College Observatory

So far only occasional reference has been made to the work in stellar spectroscopy at Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. However, the developments that took place there from 1885 are so important that they merit a separate chapter. The action took place over a period of four decades from this date, and five actors filled the leading roles. Four of these were women. The part played by Professor Edward C. Pickering in the development of Harvard stellar spectroscopy was, however, the most significant.

Pickering (Fig. 5.1) came from a prominent New England family, and his brother (William Pickering (1858–1938)) was also a physicist and astronomer of some note (he was an assistant professor in astronomy at Harvard from 1887). The fact that Edward Pickering was appointed to a chair as Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at the age of only 22 shows that his scientific abilities were already manifest in comparative youth. His research at MIT was mainly in the field of optics, although astronomy was also an interest, as he took part in solar eclipse expeditions in both 1869 and 1870.

After nine years as an MIT professor, Pickering was appointed director of Harvard College Observatory, where he took up his duties in February 1877. Apparently the appointment of a physicist provoked some criticism, as several able astronomers were also candidates.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Analysis of Starlight
Two Centuries of Astronomical Spectroscopy
, pp. 63 - 85
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2014

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References

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