Richard Christopher Carrington

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Richard Christopher Carrington
Born 26 May 1826
Chelsea, London, England
Died 27 November 1875 (aged 49)
Churt, England
Nationality English
Fields Astronomy
Known for Solar observations
Notable awards Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1859

Richard Christopher Carrington (26 May 1826 – 27 November 1875) was an English amateur astronomer whose 1859 astronomical observations demonstrated the existence of solar flares as well as suggesting their electrical influence upon the Earth and its aurorae; and whose 1863 records of sunspot observations revealed the differential rotation of the Sun.

Life and work[edit]

Even though he did not discover the 11-year sunspot activity cycle, his observations of sunspot activity after he heard about Heinrich Schwabe's work led to the numbering of the cycles with Carrington's name. For example, the sunspot maximum of 2002 was Carrington Cycle No. 23.

Carrington also determined the elements of the rotation axis of the Sun, based on sunspot motions, and his results remain in use today. Carrington rotation is a system for measuring solar longitude based on his observations of the low-latitude solar rotation rate.

Carrington made the initial observations leading to the establishment of Spörer's law.

He won the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in 1859.

Carrington also won the Lalande Prize of the French Academy of Sciences in 1864, for his Observations of Spots on the Sun from 9 November 1853 to 24 March 1861, Made at Redhill. This award was not reported in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, probably due to Carrington's bitter, acrimonious and public criticism of Cambridge University over the appointment of John Couch Adams, Lowndean Professor of Astronomy and Geometry, as the non-observing Director of the Cambridge Observatory. As a measure of displeasure Carrington withdrew Observations from official considerations of the RAS for what would likely have been the book's second Gold Medal, for the year 1865.

Carrington Super Flare[edit]

Main article: Solar storm of 1859
Sunspots of 1 September 1859 as sketched by Richard Carrington

On 1 September 1859, Carrington and Richard Hodgson, another English amateur astronomer, independently made the first observations of a solar flare. Because of a simultaneous "crochet" observed in the Kew Observatory magnetometer record by Balfour Stewart and a geomagnetic storm observed the following day, Carrington suspected a solar-terrestrial connection. World wide reports on the effects of the geomagnetic storm of 1859 were compiled and published by Elias Loomis which support the observations of Carrington and Balfour Stewart.

Intrigue at RAS and Cambridge Observatory[edit]

The appointment of Adams to the directorship had been recommended by a closed special Syndicate, of which Adams was a voting member. Adams received a £250 increase in his salary, and rent-free use of the Observatory residence for the remainder of his life— altogether 31 years. He was not required to do any actual observing, and had a special, no-fault proviso of being able to quit the Observatory position altogether, should its administrative duties prove to be too much. Immediately following his appointment Adams arranged for complete renovation of the Observatory residence, at Cambridge University's expense, and costing several times the £250 annual Director's salary. On 2 May 1861, formal approval of the appointment of Adams by the Cambridge Senate coincided with Carrington's abandonment of his seven and a half-year long series of sunspot observations, and this was cited explicitly by Carrington in his book as his reason for quitting. Carrington's original intent had been to continue the observations through a complete eleven-year solar cycle.

In a letter of 15 February 1861, Adams had gone on record early in the selection process as supporting the idea, in principle, that the directorship be made an independent position, rather than continuing to be attached to a professorship which might cause time and energy conflicts due to heavy academic duties, as had seemed to be the case previously. In this same letter, Adams also clearly stipulated his objection to giving the position to a "mere" observer ("mere" was the only underlined word in his letter). This may have been a reference to Carrington, who had achieved only the 36th position as a "wrangler," in his graduating class at Cambridge. The field of potential candidates for the Directorship was extremely small. Adams had been senior wrangler in his own examination year. In a draft letter of 27 April 1861, Adams clearly addressed his attitude towards potential open competition with Carrington within the Syndicate process. Adams wrote, "As I now find that I cannot be appointed to the directorship without entering into what would at any rate have the aspect of a contest for the office, I beg to be allowed to withdraw my name and to no longer be considered a candidate..."

Selected writings[edit]

  • Carrington, Richard Christopher (1855), Results of Astronomical Observations Made at the Observatory of the University, Durham ..., Durham: W. E. Duncan and Son 
  • Carrington, Richard Christopher (1857), Catalogue of 3735 Circumpolar Stars, Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans 
  • Carrington, R. C. (1859), "Description of a Singular Appearance seen in the Sun on September 1, 1859", Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 20: 13–15, Bibcode:1859MNRAS..20...13C 
  • Carrington, Richard Christopher, Observations of the Spots on the Sun from 1853 to 1861 (1863) Williams and Norgate 


Further reading[edit]

  • Ashbrook, Joseph (1984), "Richard Carrington and a "singular appearance" on the Sun", The Astronomical Scrapbook, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Sky Publishing Corporation, pp. 340–344, ISBN 0-933346-24-7  – Originally published in the July 1960 issue of Sky & Telescope
  • Clark, Stuart (2007), The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began, Princeton: Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-12660-7 
  • Clark, Stuart (2007), "Astronomical fire: Richard Carrington and the solar flare of 1859", Endeavour (September 2007) 31 (3): 104–9, doi:10.1016/j.endeavour.2007.07.004, PMID 17764743 
  • Franzel, T. G. (1999), "The Strange and Checkered Career of Carrington's Law: A Century and a Half of Solar Modeling", Physics Essays 12 (3): 531–569, Bibcode:1999PhyEs..12..531F, doi:10.4006/1.3025412 
  • Pang, Alex Soojung (2007), "Sunspotting", American Scientist 95 (Nov–Dec): 538–540 
  • "Richard Christopher Carrington", Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 36, 1876: 137–142, Bibcode:1876MNRAS..36..137.  – an obituary
  • Charbonneau, Paul. Richard Christopher Carrington (1826–1875) (short biographical sketch), Groupe D'astrophysique de Groupe D'astrophysique de l'Université de Montréal (University of Montreal), 27 December 2001.

External links[edit]