Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sir Frank Watson Dyson

Frank Watson Dyson was born on January 8, 1868 in Measham, England.  His father, Watson Dyson, was a baptist minister.  He spent his youth in Yorkshire and attended Bradford Grammar School. Dyson was elected to a scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge where he studied astronomy and mathematics, earning the Sheepshanks Exhibition in Astronomy in 1888 and second wrangler the following year. As a fellow at Cambridge he began researching problems in gravitational attraction and in 1891 he was awarded the Smith's Prize.  In 1892 he became the second Isaac Newton student.

In 1894 at the age of 26 he was appointed to be the chief assistant at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.  The appointment of such a young man to this lofty position gave rise to some criticism, but time showed that Dyson was up to the task.  At the time Dyson started at Greenwich work on the Astrographic Catalogue was already underway and Dyson played an important part in this research measuring the movements of stars.  Dyson remained at the Greenwich Observatory until 1905 when he was appointed Astronomer Royal for Scotland.  In Edinburgh he worked on observing polar double stars, that were not observable from Greenwich.

In 1910 Dyson was appointed Astronomer Royal, and he returned to Greenwich, where he remained until his retirement in 1933.  During his time as Astronomer Royal Dyson devoted himself to the advancement of practical astronomy, stressing the importance of having observations made with the greatest possible care. Innovations attributed to Dyson include the "six pips", the six tones broadcast by many BBC stations to signal the start of each hour.  Dyson is also responsible for organizing the expeditions to observe the 1919 solar eclipse which demonstrated the effect of gravity on light, providing proof of Einstein's theory of relativity.  With the sun's light blocked out by the moon, the stars in the region behind the sun were observed to have moved, caused by the effect of the sun's gravitational field on their light.

Honors won by Dyson during his career include election to the Royal Society in 1901, the Royal Medal from the Royal Society in 1921, the Bruce Medal from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 1922 and a knighthood in 1915.  He served as the president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1911 to 1913 and president of the British Astronomical Society from 1916-1918.  He has a crater on the moon and a asteroid named after him.

Dyson died on May 25, 1939, while traveling back to England from Australia, and was buried at sea.


Aitken, R.G.;"Frank Watson Dyson 1868-1939"; Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific(1939)51:336-338

Jackson, J., Obituary: Frank Watson Dyson; Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Frank Watson Dyson Wikipedia Entry

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