Stone, Edward James (DNB00)

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STONE, EDWARD JAMES (1831–1897), astronomer, was born in London on 28 Feb. 1831. His father, Edward Stone, came of a Devonshire family. Having taken a studentship at King's College, London, he went up to Cambridge in 1856, was elected a scholar of Queens' College, and graduated thence as fifth wrangler in 1859, proceeding M.A. in 1862. He held a fellowship of his college 1859–72, and was readmitted as honorary fellow in 1875. Appointed in 1860 chief assistant at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, he devoted ten laborious years to the improvement of the fundamental constants of astronomy. The thoroughness of his investigations was shown by his early detection of the ‘variation of latitude.’ From observations of the opposition of Mars in 1862 he deduced a solar parallax of 8″ 94 (Monthly Notices, xxiii. 183), while an elaborate discussion of a mass of data relative to the transit of Venus in 1869 afforded him a value of 8″ 91, corresponding to a distance of the sun from the earth of 91,700,000 miles (ib. xxviii. 255). The gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society was awarded to him in 1869 for this work (ib. xxix. 175).

In 1870 Stone succeeded Sir Thomas Maclear [q. v.] as royal astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope. His energies were there mainly devoted to the preparation of the Cape Catalogue of 12,441 stars for the epoch 1880, the standard merit of which was acknowledged by the bestowal of the Lalande prize of the French Academy in 1881. He witnessed at the Cape the memorable aurora of 4 Feb. 1872 (Nature, v. 443), and observed from Klipfontein in Namaqualand the total solar eclipse of 16 April 1874, when he confirmed Young's spectroscopic discovery of the ‘reversing layer’ (Memoirs Roy. Astr. Society, xlii. 35). A series of magnetic observations made by him on the occasion were printed by the Royal Society (Proceedings, xxiii. 553). At the Cape, too, he watched the transit of Venus on 8 Dec. 1874, and, having returned to England on his nomination in 1879 to the post of Radcliffe observer at Oxford, he ably organised the government expeditions to observe the corresponding event of 1882. In his report, presented in 1887, he carefully examined the baffling phenomena of ‘contacts,’ and concluded for a solar parallax of 8″ 85. In the ‘Radcliffe Catalogue for 1890,’ published in 1894, he completed his useful survey of the southern heavens. It gives the places of 6,424 stars between the equator and -25° of declination.

Stone was a fellow of the Royal Society, and presided over the Royal Astronomical Society during the term 1882–4. He received the degree of doctor of science from the university of Padua in 1892. He made successful spectroscopic observations of the eclipsed sun at Novaya Zemlya on 8 Aug. 1896, and planned an expedition to India for the eclipse of 22 Jan. 1898. But his design was frustrated. He died suddenly at Oxford on 9 May 1897, aged 66. He married, in 1866, Grace Tuckett, who survives him with a son and three daughters.

A worthy inheritor of Airy's methods, Stone rendered very considerable services to exact astronomy; yet he fell into a strange misconception regarding mean solar time, which the reiterated arguments of Professors Newcomb and John Couch Adams failed to dissipate. The proper motions of 406 southern stars were determined by him (Memoirs Roy. Astr. Soc. xlii. 129), and, approximately, the relative masses of the components of a Centauri (Monthly Notices, xxxvi. 258). Almost simultaneously with Dr. Huggins he made in 1869 an attempt to measure stellar heat (Proc. Roy. Soc. xvii. 309, xviii. 159). His communications to the Royal Astronomical Society were very numerous, and they included a painstaking inquiry into the origin of certain errors in the tables of the sun and moon, completed one month before his death (Monthly Notices, lvii. 458). The event just preceded the issue of a new edition, revised by Professor H. H. Turner, of his ‘Tables for facilitating the Computation of Star-constants.’

[Times, 10 May 1897; Observatory, June 1897; Nature, 20 May 1897; Astronomische Nachrichten, No. 3426; Athenæum, 15 May 1897; Men of the Time, 13th edit.; Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers.]

A. M. C.