Since its founding in 1891, many people have passed through the doors of the Vatican Observatory. A quick perusal of our guestbook reveals several Names, including Popes, nobel laureates, astronauts, actors, and saints. Today’s guestbook entry is from July 15, 1914, when Caroline Furness made a visit.
Next to her name, Caroline Ellen Furness (1869-1936) wrote, "Vassar College Observatory, N.Y." She was an astronomer who directed the Vassar observatory.
She was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1896. She studied there under Harold Jacoby.
At Vassar, she taught the first course on variable stars offered in any American university. She literally wrote the book on the subject, with her 1915 tome, Introduction to the Study of Variable Stars.
In 1910, she became acting director of the Vassar observatory while the previous director, Mary Whitney, was on medical leave. After Whitney's retirement in 1915, Furness formally took the director's title. She would hold the post until her death in 1936.
Since its founding in 1891, many people have passed through the doors of the Vatican Observatory. A quick perusal of our guestbook reveals several Names, including Popes, nobel laureates, astronauts, actors, and saints. Today’s guestbook entry is from July 4, 1914, when William Campbell made a visit.
Next to his name, William Wallace Campbell (1862-1938) wrote, "Lick Observatory, Calif." He was director of the Lick Observatory from 1901 to 1930.
Why did he pass through the doors of the Vatican Observatory in the summer of 1914? He was on his way to Russia, where he and a collaborator from the Berlin Observatory planned to photograph an eclipse to test Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity. Alas, politics intervened. World War I broke out, with Germany and Russia on opposite sides. Campbell's collaborator Erwin Freundlich was detained and his equipment confiscated. Campbell (an American) was permitted to continue his work, but with makeshift equipment. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and he could not observe the eclipse.
Most of Campbell's scientific work dealt with spectroscopy. He used spectroscopy to measure radial velocities of stars, as a result of which he also discovered several spectroscopic binaries.
He is also notable for his eclipse observations. In particular, he helped resolve the debate about Einstein's predictions about the deflection of starlight near a massive body, which at the time could only be tested by observing stars near the edge of the solar disk visible only during an eclipse.
The story you read in textbooks says that Sir Arthur Eddington and collaborators (which did not include Campbell) observed an eclipse in 1919 that confirmed Einstein's theory. However, what you don't generally read is that there was still some uncertainty in those results. The test was not whether starlight is deflected, but by how much. Even Newtonian physics predicts some bending of starlight. The results of the three independent measurements made in 1919 contained enough uncertainty to accommodate any of the competing theories.
Enter Campbell. In 1922 he made another attempt to observe an eclipse, this time from Australia. His eclipse data resolved the uncertainty in favor of Einstein's theory.
Campbell served as president of the University of California (Berkeley) from 1923 until 1930. He was president of the National Academy of Sciences from 1931 until 1935. He was president of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific three times.
The asteroid 2751 Campbell is named for him.
Campbell Hall at U. Cal. Berkeley is also named for him. The building, which housed the departments of astronomy, mathematics, and the computer center, was originally built with two observatory domes, but they were fairly useless in the middle of the Bay area.
He was the father of Lt. Douglas Campbell, who was the US military's first American-trained flying ace during World War I.
Two years ago, I wrote my first blog entry, entitled "Asteroids Named for Jesuits." It's time for an update.
What prompts this update is the news that the Vatican Observatory's own Fr. Christopher Corbally has been honored with the naming of asteroid 119248 Corbally. There are now six asteroids named for members of the Vatican Observatory.
For those who don't know him, Fr. Corbally is a member of the English Jesuit province. He joined the Vatican Observatory in 1983, and has played an important role in the research activities of our Tucson half of the Observatory.
His astronomical studies include multiple star systems, spectral classification of stars, 𝜆-Boötis stars, and more. He has also studied human sentience in an evolutionary context, recently co-authoring a book on the subject: The Emergence of Religion in Human Evolution.
He has served as vice director of the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Tucson. He is president of National Committee for Astronomy in the Vatican City State for the International Astronomical Union, which makes him one of the Vatican City-State's voting representatives to the IAU. He served as president of the IAU's Division IV (stars) from 2009-2012.
So, without further ado, here's the updated list of Asteroids Named for Jesuits. Note that I have added several that were provided by an attentive reader. I remind everyone that the list is not exhaustive and there may be asteroids that I have missed. If you are aware of such a case, please let me know.
Named in honor of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuits.
Named in memory of Maximilian Hell (1720-1792), famous for his determination of the solar parallax from his observations of the transit of Venus in 1769. Appointed director of the Imperial Observatory in Vienna in 1755, he prepared and published an important series of astronomical ephemerides.
Jean Sonet (1908-1987), a Belgian Jesuit, was a specialist in Romance languages, professor and later rector (1953-1958) of the University of Namur. From 1958 to his death he was Vice-Rector of the Catholic University of Cordoba (Argentina), where the discoverer met him.
Through experimental petrology, Guy Consolmagno (b. 1952) studied the origins of eucritic meteorites. As the curator of the Vatican meteorite collection, Guy's more recent efforts have focused on determining the densities and porosities of meteorites and making comparisons with the densities of minor planets.
- Br. Consolmagno passed the curator's baton to me back in 2014. He is currently the director of the Vatican Observatory and the president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation.
Named in memory of Angelo Secchi (1818-1878), Italian astronomer, director of the observatory of the Collegio Romano in Rome from 1848 to 1878. Famous for his work on stellar spectroscopy, he made the first spectroscopic survey of the heavens, and his classification scheme divided the spectra of the stars into four groups. Secchi also made an extensive study of solar phenomena and was a co-founder of the Società degli Spettroscopisti Italiani, now the Società Astronomica Italiana.
- We've written several blog entries about Angelo Secchi.
Victor L. Badillo (b. 1930) has popularized astronomy in the Philippines for more than three decades, inspiring countless Filipino astronomers. Ordained in 1965, he directed the Jesuit-run Manila Observatory in Quezon City and served as president of the Philippine Astronomical Society from 1972 to 1990.
Buenaventura Suárez (1678-1750), a Jesuit and pioneer native astronomer of the Rio de la Plata, established the first observatory of the region in San Cosme y Damian, where he made observations in particular of eclipses of Jupiter's satellites. His Lunario de un Siglo included computations of eclipses and lunar phases.
Robert J. Macke SJ (b. 1974) is a research scientist and meteorite curator at the Vatican Observatory, whose fundamental contributions include studying the relationship between shock state and porosity in carbonaceous chondrites.
- Oh, hey, that's me!
Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscovich (1711-1787), Jesuit professor of mathematics and philosophy at Rome and Pavia, was for some years in Paris and later in Milan, where he founded the Brera Astronomical Observatory. He wrote on the determination of orbits of comets, mathematics and optics.
- I wrote about Boscovich for the column, "Religious Scientists."
George Coyne (b. 1933), S.J., has been an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory since 1969 and its director since 1978. He has helped with the completion of the large Vatican telescope on Mt. Graham, Arizona. His polarimetric studies have centered on cataclysmic variables, among other subjects.
- Fr. Coyne stepped down as director in 2006, and passed away this year in February. Several blog entries were written in commemoration of his passing. Here's one of them.
Christopher Clavius (1538-1612) was a German mathematician and astronomer. He figured out where to place the leap years in the Gregorian calendar. Pope Gregory XII revised the Julian calendar with the assistance of Clavius.
Jean Baptiste Kikwaya Eluo (b. 1965) is a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Staff Astronomer at the Vatican Observatory. Using optical meteor measurements, he estimates the bulk densities of smaller meteoroids through numerical ablation models.
Johannes Grueber (1623-1680) was a Jesuit priest, missionary, mathematician and astronomer at the Chinese imperial court from 1659 to 1661. He returned to Europe from China by the overland route and published the very first travelogue describing Tibet.
Karel Slavíček (1678-1735), Jesuit missionary and scientist was the first Czech sinologist. Together with Ignatius Kegler he went to China in 1716. He worked on astronomy, mathematics and music and prepared maps of Beijing in 1718 and 1728.
Christopher J. Corbally S.J. (b. 1946) was ordained in the Society of Jesus and earned a PhD in astronomy. He continues a long career in astronomy where his contributions have included areas of multiple stellar systems, stellar spectral classification, galactic structure, star formation and telescope technology.
Richard Boyle (b. 1943) is an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory. His work has specialized in high-precision photometry of stars and stellar clusters, often using Vilnius system filters. His work has application ranging from asteroseismology to the discoveries of asteroids with the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope.
Honorable Mentions: These are not technically named for Jesuits, but are definitely influenced by Jesuits.
Named for the town in Spain, birthplace of Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits.
Ignatianum is the Jesuit University of Philosophy and Education in Krakow, Poland. This College is officially recognized by the state of Poland. In 1932, as the Faculty of Philosophy, it became a Catholic university.
Since its founding in 1891, many people have passed through the doors of the Vatican Observatory. A quick perusal of our guestbook reveals several Names, including Popes, nobel laureates, astronauts, actors, and saints. Today’s guestbook entry is from May 23, 1914, when Giovanni Silva made a visit.
Next to his name, Giovanni Silva (1882-1957) wrote, "R. Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova" ("Royal Astronomical Observatory of Padua"). He was an astronomer who would direct several observatories during his career.
From 1911-1921, he was an astronomer at the observatory in Padua, which was associated with the University of Padua.
In 1921, he became chair of geodesy at the University of Turin and in 1923 would become director of the Pino Torinese astronomical observatory.
In 1926 he returned to Padua to become director of the observatory there, as well as take a chair in astronomy at the university. He would remain in Padua the remainder of his life.
In 1934, he envisioned a new astrophysical observatory containing the latest instrumentation, and successfully pushed for its construction. In 1942, he became the inaugural director of this new observatory, the Asiago Astrophysical Observatory, operated by the University of Padua.
The asteroid 16906 Giovannisilva is named for him.
At this point, the column Specola Guestbook has been going for more than a year, so I thought I would take a moment to reflect on it.
First, a little background: The guestbook is not just one book; there are several. The most recent sits on a table at our entrance where new visitors can sign in. (Unfortunately, that book shall remain untouched for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown, as we are not receiving visitors.) The one beginning in 1907 sits in a nearby display cabinet, opened to a page that changes regularly. I do not know if there is a separate book covering 1891-1907, the period of the directorship of Francesco Denza C.R.S.P. (a Barnabite). It was after Denza's death in 1907 that the Observatory was restructured and entrusted to the Jesuits.
The cabinet containing the book sits right outside my office. I spent many hours leafing through its pages, and was amazed at the names I came across. It includes notable scientists, such as Georges Lemaitre, Fred Hoyle, and Harlow Shapley; religious figures such as Walter Ciszek, Augustin Bea, and every Pope from at least Pius XI (except John Paul I, who was unable to make a visit as Pope); as well as more popular celebrities like Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Sir Alec Guinness.
I would often remark on a notable find to our director, Br. Guy Consolmagno. It was he who suggested that I create this column in the Sacred Space Astronomy blog.
When I started the column, I had two purposes in mind. First, of course, was to show off the names and provide interesting content to the blog's readers. The second purpose was to make a more subtle point. The Vatican Observatory has, over the course of its almost-130-year history, received numerous distinguished visitors. These people made the effort to visit this institution because we are worth visiting. The scientists collectively provide evidence that we are respected as a scientific institution. Some of their visits are associated with major events, such as the inauguration of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences or the very first General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The religious who visit us witness to our valuable contribution to the Church. And the other visitors--celebrities as well as the myriad ordinary folk who go out of their way to come here--speak to the fact that we are of public interest as well.
Once I started this project, it evolved somewhat. Rather than just highlight a few names that stood out on first perusal, I started going line-by-line through the entries. This involved spending quite a bit of time on internet search engines, but I think the effort has paid off. I should note that I am not an historian; neither do I have access to the kind of resources that would help this project.
As a result of this process, I have learned about so many people who were completely unknown to me before. I hope that if you have regularly read this column you have also learned about someone new. Just to highlight a few, there's Dorothea Klumpke, the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in the sciences; Guido Horn d'Arturo, who developed the first segmented telescope mirror; and just last week I wrote about Walter Gale, for whom Gale Crater on Mars is named. The book is full of such surprises, and it is the joy of discovery that keeps me going through it line by line.
If you have had the chance to visit the Vatican Observatory, you probably also signed the book. Your name became part of the same history, the same legacy, as all those others: Hendrik Lorentz, Margaret and Geoffrey Burbidge, Frank Borman, Henry Norris Russell, Peter Debye, etc. If you have not yet had the chance to sign it, hopefully you will do so in the future (sometime after the coronavirus crisis is over, of course).
Here are a couple small requests if you do sign the book (not just our book, but any): First, please do sign as you ordinarily would, but if your signature is hard to read, also print your name. Many of the signatures in the guest book are completely illegible. Second, provide some affiliation or useful information. I have been able to get past several illegible signatures because the person wrote something like, "Director of the X observatory," which was then separately searchable. It also helps distinguish people with common names, like John Smith: professor of mathematics at Smartypants University vs. John Smith: hedge fund manager from Peoria. Future historians (or enthusiasts) will thank you for it.
Since its founding in 1891, many people have passed through the doors of the Vatican Observatory. A quick perusal of our guestbook reveals several Names, including Popes, nobel laureates, astronauts, actors, and saints. Today’s guestbook entry is from May 18, 1914, when Walter Gale made a visit.
Next to his name, Walter Frederick Gale (1865-1945) wrote, "Sydney, Australia." He was an Australian banker and astronomer.
His banking career eventually culminated in becoming manager and chief inspector at the head office of the Bank of New South Wales. On the side, he developed an avid interest in astronomy after the appearance of a comet in 1882.
Technically an amateur astronomer, he was founder and organizing secretary (and eventually president) of the New South Wales branch of the British Astronomical Association.
He built an observatory in Sydney, which he used every clear night to search for comets. He discovered seven, of which three bear his name. He also discovered a ring nebula and a few double stars (also bearing his name).
He also turned his telescope to Mars, mapping the surface. He is credited with priority for a few of the Red Planet's features.
Gale Crater on Mars is named for him. You might recognize the name; it is the crater that is currently being explored by the Curiosity rover.
Since its founding in 1891, many people have passed through the doors of the Vatican Observatory. A quick perusal of our guestbook reveals several Names, including Popes, nobel laureates, astronauts, actors, and saints. Today’s guestbook entry is from March 27, 1914, when Radó von Kövesligethy made a visit.
Next to his name, Prof. Radó von Kövesligethy (1862-1934) wrote simply, "Budapest." He was a Hungarian astronomer, physicist, and geophysicist.
This was the first of at least two visits to the Specola. He made a return visit ten years later, on May 27, 1924.
He is most notable for his work in blackbody radiation. He formulated a theory of blackbody radiation in 1886, 15 years before Max Planck.
He also formulated a theory of the inverse relationship between the luminosity of a source and the peak wavelength in its blackbody spectrum (known as Wien's Law). This was done in 1885, 8 years before Wilhelm Wien. Wien received a Nobel prize in 1911, while Kövesligethy's contribution remained unrecognized.
Why did Planck and Wien not reference Kövesligethy in their work, when evidence suggests that they were probably aware of him? Balacz et al. (2008, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 11:124-133) suggests that there was a reluctance at least on the part of Wien to cite foreign research in the period leading up to and during World War I.
Kövesligethy made use of his spectral theory to estimate the surface temperature of several stars, including the Sun.
He also developed a theory to explain the Balmer lines in the spectrum of hydrogen.
In geophysics, he developed a technique for determining the epicenter of earthquakes. He founded the first seismological station in Hungary.
He was a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and served as first general secretary of the International Association of Seismology
Before I start this entry, I should reassure any concerned readers out there: everybody at the Vatican Observatory is in good health.
Quarantine Log, Day 7: The same walls. I have eaten half a colomba by myself. The Fanta supply is running low (but miraculously new cans appear). Thankfully there's still about 100 coffee packets. That should last a couple more days. Toilet paper supply is sufficient. Is there anybody out there?
Just kidding. (Sort of.) But let's go back to the beginning....
This past year, I was away from the Specola Vaticana, doing the last stage of Jesuit formation called "Tertianship." I spent several months with ten other Jesuit Tertians from around the world, each quite accomplished in their own areas of work. The program revisits many of the things Jesuits do at the very beginning of formation in the novitiate. We repeated the 30-day silent retreat known as the Spiritual Exercises. We studied the Jesuit Constitutions and General Congregations. (This time, after 18 years in the Company, the documents carried a lot more meaning.) We shared our lives and stories.
The program culminates in an Experiment, which generally means some time spent in a Jesuit work that (usually) differs in tone or context from the work that one has done in the past. In my case, since I have done very little work in a high school setting and was interested in learning about the issues, priorities, and concerns of today's youth, I thought that would be a good area to explore.
So, I was assigned to San Jose, California, where I would be working with Bellarmine College Preparatory School as well as Cristo Rey San Jose (two Jesuit schools that operate on very different models). It was supposed to be a ten-week experience, from the first of February until after Easter, after which I would return to Portland, Oregon (where Tertianship is based) for some sharing and a short retreat to finish off the program.
Then the coronavirus came to California.
Santa Clara county was an early epicenter of the outbreak in the state. On March 11, I was assisting with a Kairos retreat when Bellarmine Prep decided to close the school, shifting to online learning. (This was several days before the county schools made the same decision.) What struck me most was the reaction of the students. I would have imagined them ecstatic at the idea of sleeping in, attending class in their pjs, etc. Instead, their first reaction was, "What about sports? / What about the school play? / What about robotics club?" (The BCP robotics club is nationally ranked and was preparing to go to a major competition.) "What about prom?"
In that moment I realized just how much their lives were intertwined with the activity of the school. At any given moment (even on weekends) the campus quad would be crawling with students, and now suddenly that stopped. Online learning can make up for some of the intellectual content, but it does not support community in the same way.
And what about me? It was not long before the Tertian masters decided to formally end the year's program rather than having us risk further unnecessary travel back to Portland. I had nowhere to go. Given the state of the outbreak in Italy at the time, returning there was not an option. The Specola community in Tucson was understandably reluctant to have me travel there, since there are several men who might be at higher risk should I somehow communicate the virus to them. So, I extended my stay in San Jose. Thankfully, the Jesuit community there was quite understanding and made me feel at home for the duration.
Most of my fellow Tertians also had difficulty returning home, whether in the US or abroad, and were at least temporarily stuck in their experiment locations. A few are still there. One has been having trouble booking a flight back to his native Sri Lanka, and two Americans are still stuck in San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively.
My time was not spent idly. The director of the BCP Maker Lab, David Dutton, organized a project to produce personal protective equipment (PPE)--which was in short supply--for medical personnel and other workers who needed such equipment. The participants include BCP students, alumni, parents, and others who are in some way associated with the school or its people. (This includes two MIT students who returned to California after the 'Tute closed its campus.) A fellow Jesuit (Joe Dickan) and I had access to the Maker Lab since we lived on campus, so we used its 3d printers to produce parts for face shields. Joe and I produced probably about 200 head supports and countless small parts that provide structure to the bottom of the face shield.
I also spoke to online classes about the Vatican Observatory, faith and science, and my own research. I spent two full days on Teams speaking to every freshman physics class at Bellarmine Prep. [If any educators are reading this and if you want me to speak to your classes, please let me know. I am happy to do it.]
Oh, and I cannot forget the science. Even though I haven't been able to do any research since the start of Tertianship, there are several papers in various stages of completion that I have been picking away at.
Eventually, the situation in Italy calmed down a bit. (In fact, the current situation is far better than the US in terms of per-capita cases and spread rates.) So, my superior and the vice-director of the Observatory, Paul Mueller, advised me to return to our headquarters in Italy. After an epic 24 hours in transit on three different flights, I landed in Rome one week ago.
Italy mandates a two-week quarantine period for anyone arriving from out of the country. Fortunately, there is a perfect facility right here in the Specola headquarters. We have a guest apartment that is normally reserved for visiting scientists, but has sat unoccupied since the beginning of the pandemic. It boasts two bedrooms, each with its own bathroom; a sitting room; a dining room; and a small kitchen. It also opens onto a small secluded garden that provides an opportunity to see the Sun and to get outside. This has been my home for the past week.
How have I been keeping occupied during this period of isolation? For one, I have been working on some new entries for the Specola Guestbook column for this blog. Keep an eye out for some interesting characters in the next few weeks, including a person who developed a theory of blackbody radiation several years before Planck or Wien, but never got recognition; and have you ever wondered who Gale Crater on Mars is named after?
I am still involved in the BCP PPE project, albeit remotely. The project has shifted its focus from production to developing designs and support for people who need PPE or want to improve comfort and functionality of existing PPE. I am still able to contribute ideas and feedback from afar.
I have also spent some time constructing little metal models, from the Metal Earth series.
Oh, and there is one other thing that helps pass the time. Nobody else uses either my office or the meteorite lab, so after normal work hours (when the staff have gone home and the corridors are empty) I can access those facilities. This gives me access to my own tiny maker space and 3d printer, as well as the possibility of working with the meteorite collection (though there isn't much to do with it right now).
Normally, the office door is decorated with an image from The Lord of the Rings depicting the entrance to the mines of Moria, with the inscription (in Elvish) saying "Speak [say] 'friend' and enter." Well, we can't be having people entering into a quarantine zone! So, I changed the decoration accordingly.
Just one more week of quarantine.
Since its founding in 1891, many people have passed through the doors of the Vatican Observatory. A quick perusal of our guestbook reveals several Names, including Popes, nobel laureates, astronauts, actors, and saints. Today’s guestbook entry is from January 19, 1914, when Frank H. Bigelow made a visit.
Next to his name, Frank Hagar Bigelow (1851-1924) wrote, "Oficina Meteorologica Argentina, Cordoba, Argentina" (Argentine Office of Meteorology, Cordoba, Argentina). He was a meteorologist and astronomer, as well as an Episcopal minister.
He had served in the United States Weather Bureau before moving to Argentina to work in the office of meteorology there. In 1915, he became director of the Solar Physics and Magnetic Observatory in Cordoba.
He was the editor of the Monthly Weather Review from 1909-1910.
His astronomical research included studying transits of stars as well as the connection between magnetic phenomena on the Sun (in particular its corona) with variations of the Earth's magnetic field and aurorae.
Since its founding in 1891, many people have passed through the doors of the Vatican Observatory. A quick perusal of our guestbook reveals several Names, including Popes, nobel laureates, astronauts, actors, and saints. Today’s guestbook entry is from November 29, 1913, when John Parkhurst made a visit.
Next to his name, John Adelbert Parkhurst FRAS (1861-1925) wrote, "Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay Wis. U.S.A." He was an astronomer who had been at Yerkes Observatory since 1898.
Parkhurst's astronomical specialty was stellar photometry. Bear in mind that this was an era before C.C.D.'s or even photomultiplier tubes--you had to determine brightness based on the image of a star on a photographic plate.
He published more than 100 papers over his career.
In 1912, he published the "Yerkes Actinometry" in the Astrophysical Journal. This was a catalog of the magnitudes, color indices, and spectral classification of every star brighter than magnitude 7.5 between declination 73 degrees and the celestial north pole. [Author's note: the paper itself is a fascinating read if you are interested in how photometry was done in the era of photographic plates. Plus, it has pictures of the instruments used.]
There is a crater on the Moon that bears his name.
Since its founding in 1891, many people have passed through the doors of the Vatican Observatory. A quick perusal of our guestbook reveals several Names, including Popes, nobel laureates, astronauts, actors, and saints. Today’s guestbook entry is from November 14, 1913, when William J. Maxwell made a visit.
Next to his name, William John Maxwell (1859-1934) wrote, "Captain U.S. Navy, comdg [commanding] U.S.S. Florida, c/o Navy Department, Washington D.C." He was a career naval officer.
He was an inaugural member of the General Board of the U.S. Navy.
He captained two vessels: the battleships USS Mississippi (from 1911-1912) and USS Florida (1913).
From 1914 until 1916, he served as the 18th Naval Governor of Guam. During his term, he established the Bank of Guam and the Guam Insular Patrol Force. He petitioned Franklin D. Roosevelt to grant U.S. citizenship status for Guam islanders, which was rejected. (Citizenship for Guamanians was finally granted in 1950.)
Since its founding in 1891, many people have passed through the doors of the Vatican Observatory. A quick perusal of our guestbook reveals several Names, including Popes, nobel laureates, astronauts, actors, and saints. Today’s guestbook entry is from August 31, 1913, when Edward Pickering made a visit.
Next to his name, Edward Charles Pickering FMRS HFRSE (1846-1919) wrote "Director of Harvard College Observatory, Cambridge Mass, USA." He was director of the Harvard College Observatory from 1877 until 1919.
Pickering made significant advances in stellar spectroscopy. Building on early work by Fr. Angelo Secchi, he and his team of astronomers and computers (including Annie Jump Cannon) developed the Harvard Stellar Classification scheme that is still widely used today. (This is the "O.B.A.F.G.K.M." sequence that you may have had to memorize if you ever took an introductory astronomy course.)
The team produced the Henry Draper Catalog, a stellar catalog with spectroscopic classifications for more than 200,000 stars.
Pickering also discovered the first spectroscopic binary stars. These are binaries that are not resolved in the telescope (that is, you cannot see them as two separate stars) but when you study the spectrum of the system it is evident that there are two different stars present.
Pickering was also the first to observe a new series of absorption lines in stellar spectra, known as the Pickering-Fowler series. Though he thought the series resulted from hydrogen, Neils Bohr determined that they result from ionized helium.
His brother, William Henry Pickering (1858-1938), was also a notable astronomer who established several prominent observatories and made other significant contributions (including speculation of an unknown Planet X that ultimately led to the discovery of Pluto).
The two share honors for the crater Pickering on the moon, the crater Pickering on Mars, and the asteroid 784 Pickeringia.
[Author's personal note: Before he came to the Harvard College Observatory, Pickering was a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, my alma mater. While there, he introduced a laboratory course to be required of all physics students. This was the antecedent of the modern Physics Junior Lab course, of which I have many fond memories. I recall my instructor, Rainer Weiss, telling me of one of the experiments I was conducting: "This experiment earned X a Nobel prize, so I expect Nobel work out of you!"]