Which astronomer helped to build both the largest refractor and the largest reflector of the first half of the 20th century?
His name was George Ellery Hale, not to be confused with Alan Hale, the co-discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp.
This first of a 3-part series will examine the life and times of astronomy in the U.S. in the 1st half of the 20th century as seen through the eyes of the one individual who most influenced the creation of large telescopes that would expand our view of the universe. Before his brilliant career would end, George Hale would have personally made it possible for the U.S. to have the world's largest refracting and reflecting telescope. How could one man's professional career span such diverse accomplishments?
It all started with Hale's interest in spectroscopy. Ignite any element and pass the emitted light through a prism and the element will show up as a distinct line in the spectrum. Pass the light of the sun through such an instrument and the spectral lines will show what elements exist in the sun.
Why is the Hubble Space Telescope named after a lawyer who competitively boxed?
Of interest back then in solar spectroscopy was measuring the content of solar flares. While still in his 20's, Hale invented a way to measure these solar prominences even when there was NOT a total eclipse of the sun to cover the sun's glare and competing spectral lines.
This discovery and consequent invention made Hale world famous in astronomy and paved the way for him to be a major influence in the construction of large telescopes.