William Huggins

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William Huggins

Sir William Huggins by John Collier.jpg
Portrait by John Collier, 1905
Born(1824-02-07)7 February 1824
Died12 May 1910(1910-05-12) (aged 86)
Tulse Hill, London, England
Known forAstronomical spectroscopy
SpouseMargaret Lindsay Huggins
AwardsRoyal Medal (1866)
Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1867)
Lalande Prize (1870)
Rumford Medal (1880)
Valz Prize (1882)
Janssen Medal (1888)
Copley Medal (1898)
Actonian Prize (1990)
Henry Draper Medal (1901)
Bruce Medal (1904)
Scientific career

Sir William Huggins OM KCB PRS (7 February 1824 – 12 May 1910) was a British astronomer best known for his pioneering work in astronomical spectroscopy together with his wife, Margaret.[1]


William Huggins (1910)

William Huggins was born at Cornhill, Middlesex, in 1824. In 1875, he married Margaret Lindsay, daughter of John Murray of Dublin, who also had an interest in astronomy and scientific research.[2]

She encouraged her husband's photography and helped to put their research on a systematic footing.[citation needed]

Huggins built a private observatory at 90 Upper Tulse Hill, London, from where he and his wife carried out extensive observations of the spectral emission lines and absorption lines of various celestial objects.[citation needed]

On 29 August 1864, Huggins was the first to take the spectrum of a planetary nebula when he analysed NGC 6543.[3][4]

He was also the first to distinguish between nebulae and galaxies by showing that some (like the Orion Nebula) had pure emission spectra characteristic of gas, while others like the Andromeda Galaxy had the spectral characteristics of stars.[citation needed]

Huggins was assisted in the analysis of spectra by his neighbour, the chemist William Allen Miller. Huggins was also the first to adopt dry plate photography in imaging astronomical objects.[2]

With observations of Sirius showing a redshift in 1868, Huggins hypothesized that a radial velocity of the star could be computed.[5]

Huggins won the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1867, jointly with William Allen Miller. He later served as President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1876-78, and received the Gold Medal again (this time alone) in 1885. He served as an officer of the Royal Astronomical Society for a total of 37 years, more than any other person.[6]

Huggins was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 1865, was awarded their Royal Medal (1866), Rumford Medal (1880) and Copley Medal (1898) and delivered their Bakerian Lecture in 1885.

He then served as President of the Royal Society from 1900 to 1905. For example, his Presidential Address in 1904 praised the fallen Fellows and distributed the prizes of that year.[7]

He died at his home in Tulse Hill, London, after an operation for a hernia in 1910 and was buried at Golders Green Crematorium.


In 1856 Huggins acquired a 5-inch diameter aperture telescope by Dollond.[8][9] In 1858 an 8-inch telescope by Clark was added.[9][8] These were both refracting telescopes.[9] (glass objectives)

Huggins also established an 18-inch diameter reflecting telescope in 1870.[9]

Honours and awards[edit]



Named after him


Caricature of Huggins by Leslie Ward in Vanity Fair
  • 1870: Spectrum analysis in its application to the heavenly bodies. Manchester, (Science lectures for the work

people; series 2, no. 3)

  • 1872: (editor) Spectrum analysis in its application to terrestrial substances and the physical constitution of heavenly bodies by H. Schellen, translated by Jane and Caroline Lassell, link from HathiTrust.
  • 1899: (with Lady Huggins): An Atlas of Representative Stellar Spectra from 4870 to 3300, together with a discussion of the evolution order of the stars, and the interpretation of their spectra; preceded by a short history of the observatory. London, (Publications of Sir William Huggins's Observatory; v. 1)
  • 1906: The Royal Society, or, Science in the state and in the schools. London.
  • 1909: The Scientific Papers of Sir William Huggins; edited by Sir William and Lady Huggins. London, (Publications of Sir William Huggins's Observatory; v. 2)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Henry Park Hollis (1912). "Huggins, William" . Dictionary of National Biography (2nd supplement). London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  2. ^ a b Becker, Barbara J., "Ch 4—1 – Margaret Huggins: The Myth of the 'able assistant'", Eclecticism, Opportunism, and the Evolution of a New Research Agenda: William and Margaret Huggins and the Origins of Astrophysics
  3. ^ Huggins, William; Miller, W.A. (1864). "On the spectra of some of the nebulae". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 154: 437–444. Bibcode:1864RSPT..154..437H. doi:10.1098/rstl.1864.0013. See p. 438, "No. 4373".
  4. ^ Kwok, Sun (2000), "Chapter1: History and overview", The origin and evolution of planetary nebulae, Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–7, ISBN 0-521-62313-8
  5. ^ Huggins, W. (1868). "Further observations on the spectra of some of the stars and nebulae, with an attempt to determine therefrom whether these bodies are moving towards or from the Earth, also observations on the spectra of the Sun and of Comet II". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 158: 529–564. Bibcode:1868RSPT..158..529H. doi:10.1098/rstl.1868.0022.
  6. ^ Dreyer, John L. E.; Turner, Herbert H. (1923). History of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1820–1920. Vol. 1. London: Royal Astronomical Society. p. 250.
  7. ^ Wm Huggins (30 November 1904) Huggins Presidential Address, link from Internet Archive
  8. ^ a b Sciences (U.S.), National Academy of (1902). Report of the National Academy of Sciences for the Year ... U.S. Government Printing Office.
  9. ^ a b c d Hale, George E. (1913). "1913ApJ....37..145H Page 145". The Astrophysical Journal. 37: 145. Bibcode:1913ApJ....37..145H. doi:10.1086/141983.
  10. ^ Addison, Henry Robert; Lawson, William John; Oakes, Charles Henry; Sladen, Douglas Brooke Wheelton (1907). "HUGGINS, Sir Wm., K.C.B. cr. 1897". Who's Who. 59: 889–890.
  11. ^ "The Coronation Honours". The Times. No. 36804. London. 26 June 1902. p. 5.
  12. ^ "Court Circular". The Times. No. 36842. London. 9 August 1902. p. 6.
  13. ^ "No. 27470". The London Gazette. 2 September 1902. p. 5679.
  14. ^ "Henry Draper Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 19 February 2011.

External links[edit]

Professional and academic associations
Preceded by 38th President of the Royal Society
Succeeded by