Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/95

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85
ASTRONOMY IN AMERICA.

matters straight, but differences have arisen which have marred their efforts. In the mean time, Mr. S. W. Burnham, of Chicago, has shown admirable zeal and skill in the systematic observation of double stars, having discovered and measured more than 450 of these objects (all of a delicate and difficult nature).

But, indeed, it would be hopeless to attempt, in the short space available to me here, to give any sufficient account of the labors of American astronomers, whether attached to Government or State observatories, or working independently. Of the latter, and in my opinion not the least important class, I need cite only Drs. Rutherfurd and H. Draper, the former of whom, besides making other extremely important contributions to astronomy and physics, has produced celestial photographs admittedly better than any obtained on this side of the Atlantic; while the latter at an earlier period achieved results in celestial photography which were far superior to any obtained at that time, or for many subsequent years. The advice and assistance rendered by Dr. H. Draper to the astronomers to whom were intrusted the preparations for the recent transit, were most deservedly commemorated in a medal which the American Government honored itself by awarding to him.

The most striking feature in the contributions made by Americans to astronomy appears to me to be the skill shown in noting the essential points to be aimed at, and the fertility and readiness of resource exhibited as the work proceeds. In England, students of astronomy are too much in the habit of following conventional rules, and wasting time over unnecessary preliminaries. An American astronomer notes that some particular observation is wanted, and directs his efforts to making that observation, not considering it necessary in the first place to go over ground already repeatedly traversed by others.

I have been sometimes asked whether officialism is as rampant in America as in England in matters scientific. American scientific officials have assured me that it is, or rather (for they have not worded the matter precisely in that way) they hold that official science is properly (as they consider) paramount in their country. I was gravely assured in Washington, for instance, that the course which I had pursued in England, with reference to the suggested official schemes for observing the transit of Venus in 1874, would never have been tolerated in America, despite the fact that the course actually followed by American official science was precisely that which I had advised. It was the principle, so an eminent American official scientist assured me, which was in question, and no American would have been suffered to oppose as I did the course advised by the chief official astronomer. What would have happened to such an unfortunate was not clearly indicated; and I must confess that all I heard outside official scientific circles in America suggested to me that any mistake made by official science would be commented upon even more freely