Harold Spencer Jones

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Sir Harold Spencer Jones
Born (1890-03-29)29 March 1890
Kensington, London, England
Died 3 November 1960(1960-11-03) (aged 70)
Citizenship United Kingdom
Nationality English
Fields Astronomy
Institutions

Royal Observatory, Greenwich

Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope
Alma mater

Latymer Upper School, Hammersmith, London

Jesus College, Cambridge
Known for Astronomer Royal

Sir Harold Spencer Jones KBE FRS[1] (29 March 1890 Kensington, London – 3 November 1960)[2] was an English astronomer.[3][4][5][6] He became renowned as an authority on positional astronomy and served as Astronomer Royal for 23 years. Although born "Jones", his surname became "Spencer Jones".[4]

Early life[edit]

Harold Spencer Jones was born in Kensington, London, on 29 March 1890. His father was an accountant and his mother had earlier worked as a school teacher. He was educated at Latymer Upper School, in Hammersmith, west London. from where he obtained a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge. He graduated there in 1911, and was awarded a postgraduate studentship. He subsequently became a Fellow of the college. [3][7]

Chief Assistant at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, 1913–1923[edit]

In 1913 he was appointed Chief Assistant at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, filling a vacancy created by the departure of Arthur Eddington to become Plumian Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge.

Spencer Jones's astronomical work extended over a range of subjects. He specialised in positional astronomy, particularly the motion and orientation of the Earth in space. He also studied the motions of stars. He travelled to Minsk in Eastern Europe in 1914 to observe a total solar eclipse, departing during peacetime but returning after the start of the First World War. [8]

His activities at the observatory were disrupted by the war, when he worked temporarily for the Ministry of Munitions, particularly on optics.[3]

In 1918 Spencer Jones married Gladys Mary Owers.[3]

He resumed his astronomical work after the war, including studying the positions of stars, the rotation of the Earth, and the brightnesses of stars. During this period he wrote his textbook General Astronomy.[9]

In 1922 he travelled to Christmas Island in an attempt to observe a total solar eclipse, intending to verify the deflection of the light of stars by the Sun that had been seen during a 1919 eclipse, but cloud defeated the attempts.[3]

His Majesty's Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope, 1923–1933[edit]

The astronomer in charge of the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope, Sydney Hough, died in 1923, and Spencer Jones was appointed Hough's successor as His Majesty's Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope. Spencer Jones and his wife sailed to South Africa, arriving in December 1923.[3]

During his nine years at the observatory, Spencer Jones set about renewing its administration and scientific work. He made efforts to improve working conditions and morale at the observatory. He led efforts by the staff to measure the properties of large numbers of stars from photographic plates exposed on the observatory's telescopes. This work included measuring the positions of stars that had been studied years earlier to determine their proper motions (their very small movements across the sky relative to distant stars). The velocities of stars along the line-of-sight were measured from their spectra. The staff members measured brightnesses of 40000 stars from their images on photographs. They also determined the distances of stars from their parallaxes – the very small apparent annual motions as the Earth orbited the Sun. Many of these results were published as star catalogues.[3]

Spencer Jones's own research concentrated on the motions of the Earth and the Moon. He refined knowledge of the Moon's orbit using observations of occultations of stars. He obtained improved measurements of the distance of the Sun from the Earth using observations of the position of Mars in the sky through its parallax, and carried out a series of observations of the minor planet 433 Eros during its close approach in 1930–1931 for the same purpose. These Eros observations later gave the best measurement of the distance of the Sun then available. He was later awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Medal of the Royal Society for this work.[3]

Astronomer Royal, 1933–1955[edit]

In 1933 Spencer Jones succeeded Sir Frank Dyson as Astronomer Royal, and consequently returned to Britain to take charge of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

Spencer Jones took up the administrative challenges, including recruiting new staff and installing new instruments. He upgraded the time service provided by the observatory. He took on overall responsibility for the Nautical Almanac Office. He obtained government agreement to move the observatory from its historic site in Greenwich, which was by then significantly affected by the light and pollution of London, to a darker location away from the city.[3]

Spencer Jones found time for his own scientific research. He analysed and published the Eros observations made in South Africa. He contributed significantly to precise measurements of the rotation of the Earth and of the motions of the planets.[3]

The Second World War disrupted the activities of the observatory. A number of staff members left temporarily to engage in war work. Spencer Jones and his support staff moved from London to the comparative safety of Abinger, Surrey.[3]

Active scientific activity resumed in Greenwich after the end of the war with the return of staff and some equipment. However, government agreement was reached to move the observatory to Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex, and the new site was purchased. Spencer Jones moved from Greenwich to Herstmonceux in 1948, but the removal of the whole institution was not completed for another ten years, because of the need to erect new buildings and a lack of funding following the war. The institution at its new location in Sussex assumed the name Royal Greenwich Observatory. Spencer Jones led major construction projects to accommodate instruments moved from Greenwich.[3]

Spencer Jones played a leading role in plans to build a large telescope at Herstmonceux. These led to the Isaac Newton Telescope which eventually opened in 1967.

One of his long-standing interests was time keeping and horology. He served as president of the British Horological Institute from 1939 to his death in 1960.[1]

He was president of the International Astronomical Union from 1945 to 1948. He served as president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1937 to 1939, and at other times as the society's secretary, treasurer and foreign secretary.[1][3]

He was knighted in 1943 and awarded the KBE in 1955.[1]

Retirement and later life[edit]

Spencer Jones retired as Astronomer Royal at the end of 1955. He continued to contribute actively to a number of scientific bodies. He died on 3 November 1960 aged 70 years.[3]

Trivia[edit]

Spencer Jones's successor as Astronomer Royal was Richard Woolley, who on taking up the position in 1956 responded to a question from the press by saying "Space travel is utter bilge".[10] Similarly, it is often stated that Spencer Jones himself had a strong disbelief in the practicalities of space flight, and that he famously said "space travel is bunk" only two weeks before the Sputnik launch in October 1957. However, there is no evidence that he did in fact say this, then or at any other time.[11] [12] [13]

Honours and awards[edit]

Awards[edit]

Named after him[edit]

Lectures[edit]

In 1944 Spencer Jones was invited to deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on Astronomy in our Daily Life.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Woolley, R. V. D. R. (1961). "Harold Spencer Jones. 1890-1960". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 7: 136–126. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1961.0011.  edit
  2. ^ GRO Register of Births: JUN 1890 1a 111 KENSINGTON - Harold Spencer Jones (forenames = Harold Spencer, surname = Jones)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Sadler, Donald (1963). "Obituary, Harold Spencer Jones". Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 4 (1): 113–125. Bibcode:1963QJRAS...4..113. 
  4. ^ a b Smart, W.M. (June 1961). "Sir Harold Spencer Jones, 1890–1960". Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 55 (3): 117. Bibcode:1961JRASC..55..117S. Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  5. ^ "Obituary, Sir Harold Spencer Jones". Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa 19 (11): 146–149. 30 November 1960. Bibcode:1960MNSSA..19..146. Bibl code:1960MNSSA..19..146. 
  6. ^ "Sir Harold Spencer Jones, K.B.E.". The Observatory 76: 15–16. February 1956. Bibcode:1956Obs....76...15J. 
  7. ^ "Harold Spencer Jones - JSTOR". jstor.org. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  8. ^ Jones, Harold Spencer; Davidson, Charles Rundle (1915). "Total Eclipse of the Sun, 1914 August 21, Preliminary Account of the Observations Made at Minsk, Russia". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 75 (3): 125–134. Bibcode:1915MNRAS..75..125S. Bibl code:1915MNRAS..75..125S. 
  9. ^ Spencer Jones, Harold (1922). General Astronomy (1st ed.). London: Edward Arnold. Bibcode:1922geas.book.....S. 
  10. ^ Morgan, C. and Langford D.: Facts and Fallacies, Webb & Bower, 1981
  11. ^ Davenhall, Clive (2008). "Bunk and Bilge". Society for the History of Astronomy Newsletter (17): 43–44. Bibcode:2008SHAN...17R..43D. Bibl code:2008SHAN...17R..43D. 
  12. ^ Jones, Roger (2009). "Bunk and Bilge". Society for the History of Astronomy Bulletin (18): 36. Bibcode:2009SHAN...18...36J. Bibl code:2009SHAN...18...36J. 
  13. ^ Griffin, Roger (2009). "Bunk and Bilge". Society for the History of Astronomy Bulletin (19): 47. Bibcode:2009SHAN...19...46G. Bibl code:2009SHAN...19...46G. 

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