Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/November 1873/Sketch of Mr. J. N. Lockyer, F.R.S.

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PSM V04 D008 Joseph Norman Lockyer.jpg



THE subject of this notice, Mr. joseph norman lockyer, is a young astronomer who has cultivated his science assiduously, and made his mark as an investigator in the field of solar physics. He was born on the 17th of May, 1836, at Rugby, in Warwickshire, England. He inherited from his father a predilection for scientific studies; for, if the elder Lockyer had not the honor of being the first, he was one of the first who contrived methods of telegraphing by electricity.

At a very early age, young Lockyer was deprived of his parents, and, after attending one or two private schools in England, where he picked up the first rudiments of his education, the orphan boy went abroad, and there continued his studies for several years. Upon his return to England, he obtained a position under government, in the War-office, the duties of which have occupied him regularly for the past sixteen years; his astronomical and literary work having been performed in the intervals of time snatched from the government service. In 1858, he married an accomplished and intelligent lady, who not only sympathized with him in his scientific pursuits, but has also shared his work and rendered the most valuable assistance in various of his undertakings.

In 1862, he contributed a very important paper to the memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society, on the planet Mars, giving the results of his telescopic observations on the physical conditions and configuration of its surface. In 1865, in conjunction with Thomas Hughes, the popular author of "Tom Brown at Rugby," he was appointed editor of the army regulations, and placed upon an improved basis the system of War-office legislation. In 1865, in recognition of his services as an astronomical observer, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Solar observations had for some time attracted much of Mr. Lockyer's attention, and in that year he propounded his method for observing the grand solar phenomena of the red flames with the spectroscope at any time when the sun is visible, whereas previously it had been impossible to see them except under the obscuration of a total or annular eclipse. A more powerful spectroscope than any then available was needed to solve this problem, and, at Mr. Lockyer's solicitation, the Royal Society made a grant for this purpose. Vexatious delays occurred in the construction of the instrument, and he did not get it until two years later. The idea, however, proved successful, and Mr. Lockyer made the brilliant discovery in which he had been so long baffled for lack of means. He sent the account of it to the French Academy, and his note had been hardly read, when news came that the French astronomer Janssen, then in India, had made the same observation two months before. The independence of these discoveries was recognized, and the French Academy struck a joint medal in honor of them.

Mr. Lockyer has prosecuted his spectroscopic researches on the sun with great industry and fruitful results, and, in conjunction with Prof. Frankland of the Royal School of Chemistry, has made a series of interesting experiments on the relation of gases under pressure to the spectrum lines, thus throwing important light on the changes taking place in the solar atmosphere.

Mr. Lockyer's contributions to scientific literature, as an author of books, a periodical writer, and a scientific editor, have been numerous. In 1862, he had editorial charge of the scientific department of The Reader, and subsequently edited the English edition of "The Heavens," by Guillemin. In 1868, he published his excellent school treatise on "Elementary Astronomy," and in 1869 became the editor of Nature, when that able scientific paper was established by Macmillan & Co. Last year "The Forces of Nature," an elaborate work, by the author of "The Heavens," appeared, with amendments and additions from his pen. He has published, during the present year, an excellent little volume on "Spectrum Analysis," being a course of lectures delivered in 1869, and revised to date. It is beautifully illustrated, and forms the first of Macmillan's "Nature Series."

In 1870, he was appointed by the English Government chief of the expedition sent out to Sicily for the purpose of observing the solar eclipse, and, in addition to his other work, accepted the secretaryship of the Royal Commission on Scientific Institutions and the Advancement of Science. In 1871, having been named assistant commissioner, he was requested to draw up a report on science-teaching in English and Continental schools, and the same year he received the honorable appointment of Rede Lecturer at Cambridge.

Mr. Lockyer is a gentleman of courteous and affable manners, a vivacious conversationist, and a ready and fluent public speaker. Like many other scientific Englishmen, he recognizes that he owes a duty to this country, and hopes to be able to discharge it when he can get release from his multifarious engagements. He has been invited by the Lowell Institute to give a course of astronomical lectures in Boston, and, when he comes to deliver them, he will probably repeat the series in some of the other cities of the country.