Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 75.djvu/109

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY

 

AUGUST, 1909




THE FUTURE OF ASTRONOMY[1]
By Professor EDWARD C. PICKERING

HARVARD COLLEGE OBSERVATORY

IT is claimed by astronomers that their science is not only the oldest, but that it is the most highly developed of the sciences. Indeed it should be so, since no other science has ever received such support from royalty, from the state and from the private individual. However this may be, there is no doubt that in recent years astronomers have had granted to them greater opportunities for carrying on large pieces of work than have been entrusted to men in any other department of pure science. One might expect that the practical results of a science like physics would appeal to the man who has made a vast fortune through some of its applications. The telephone, the electric transmission of power, wireless telegraphy and the submarine cable are instances of immense financial returns derived from the most abstruse principles of physics. Yet there are scarcely any physical laboratories devoted to research, or endowed with independent funds for this object, except those supported by the government. The endowment of astronomical observatories devoted to research, and not including that given for teaching, is estimated to amount to half a million dollars annually. Several of the larger observatories have an annual income of fifty thousand dollars.

I once asked the wisest man I know, what was the reason for this difference. He said that it was probably because astronomy appealed to the imagination. A practical man, who has spent all his life in his counting room or mill, is sometimes deeply impressed with the vast

  1. Commencement address at Case School of Applied Science, Cleveland, May 27, 1909.