Monday, January 24, 2011

Shooting stars and the Milky Way man

E.E. Barnard, astronomer
When he was a boy, E.E. Barnard became interested in photography. He became a photographer’s assistant at the age of nine. As a teenager, he became interested in astronomy. He bought a telescope when he was 19.

So it was probably inevitable that he’d combine the two interests. He was among the first scientists to do so. He died at the age of 65 in 1923. Four years later, his photographs of various regions of the Milky Way were published. His niece, Mary R. Calvert, helped with the editing of the two-volume set, a copy of which is in the collection at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Bernard's book in two volumes.
Edward Barnard grew up poor in Nashville during and after the Civil War but he had a continuing interest in astronomy. In his 20s, he discovered his first comet. He entered a competition sponsored by patent medicine tycoon Hulbert Harrington Warner, who offered $200 for each new comet discovered. Barnard found at least five. He built a house for himself and his wife with the proceeds.

Barnard’s activities gained him the attention of amateur astronomers in the Nashville area who raised enough money to give him a fellowship to Vanderbilt University. He didn’t graduate but he received the only honorary degree ever awarded by Vanderbilt.

Barnard joined the Lick Observatory near San Jose, California. He observed the third moon of Saturn, Iapetus, as it passed behind Saturn’s rings. He discovered, Amalthea, the fifth moon of Jupiter. Galileo discovered the first four, the last one in 1609. Old records don’t stand though. Astronomers have confirmed 63 moons revolving around Jupiter.

Glossy photographs of stars are included in the atlas.
In 1895, Barnard became a professor of astronomy at the University of Chicago. During several decades working at the university’s Yerkes Observatory, he photographed various parts of the Milky Way. In 1916, he discovered a faint red dwarf star that was named for him. Barnard’s Star is in the constellation Ophluchus (the Snake-holder).

His niece, Mary Calvert, served as his assistant and computer from 1906 until his death. In astronomy, a computer was a person who performed mathematical calculations.

After Barnard’s death, Calvert worked with Edwin B. Frost, then-director of the Yerkes Observatory, to produce A Photographic Atlas of Selected Regions of the Milky Way. The set was published by Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1927.

Click on the photographs to enlarge them.

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