George Ellery Hale

  • The Legacy of George Ellery Hale

    Evolution of Astronomy and Scientific Institutions, in Pictures and Documents

    George Ellery Hale, Helen Wright, Joan N. Warnow, and Charles Weiner

    George Ellery Hale, who has been called America's greatest astronomer, had a far-reaching influence on astrophysics and on the overall growth of science and scientific institutions in the twentieth century. The inventor of the spectroheliography and discoverer of magnetic fields in sunspots, he contributed to out understanding of that typical star – our sun. As founder of the Yerkes and Mount Wilson Observatories and initiator of the great Palomar project, he created those giant telescopes that have made astronomical history: the 40-inch refractor and the 60-, 100-, and 200-inch reflectors. From the 1890s to his death in 1938 Hale demonstrated his outstanding ability to conceive, plan, finance, and build a new type of research institution linking astronomical telescopes of unprecedented size with modern physical laboratories. As a result, man's senses have been expanded to the far reaches of the heavens, making possible revolutionary advances in our comprehension of the nature, evolution, and size of the universe. Hale's vision of the role of research extended also to the organization of science and its relation to society. National and international organizations and leading educational institutions in the sciences and humanities today reflect his original conceptions.

    This legacy of George Ellery Hale is documented and explored here through a wealth of historical illustrations – including nearly 200 photographs, letters, and newspaper clippings – which lend rich emphasis to the book, especially to Helen Wright's account of Hale's life and work in the first section.

    Selections from Hale's writings included are his hitherto unpublished thesis for the B.S. degree at M.I.T. in 1890, his classic paper on the discovery of magnetic fields in sunspots, his impassioned plea for the need to build large telescopes, his argument for the introduction of the humanities into technical education, and his proposals for the reform of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

    Authoritative reviews of the development of large telescopes and auxiliary instruments are presented by Ira S. Bowen, who played a key role in the completion of the 200-inch telescope and who, from 1948 to 1964, directed the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories (renamed the Hale Observatories in 1970), and C. Donald Shane, who developed the 120-inch telescope at the Lick Observatory and headed that institution from 1945 to 1958. Robert Howard, whose research on solar physics is at the newest frontiers of the field pioneered by Hale, reviews the growth of the subject to date; and historian of science Daniel Kelves analyzes Hale's vision of the role of organized science in American society.

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