Archive for December, 2014

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“Why Spectroscopy Went South” (12/4/14)

December 4, 2014

Nora Mills Boyd

Abstract: All but forgotten, the first observatory established for astrophysical research in Chile sits atop Cerro San Cristóbal overlooking downtown Santiago. Now called the Manuel Foster Observatory and cared for by the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, the equipment was originally brought to the country by staff of the Lick Observatory in California at the outset of the 20th century under the auspices of the D. O. Mills Expedition. The present paper explores the initial motivation for the expedition. Partial insight can be gained by situating the establishment of the observatory in the context of the so-called ‘sidereal problem’—mapping the structure of the stellar system. However, the motivation for this expedition can be further elucidated by understanding the possibilities afforded by the instruments of the ‘new astronomy’. Astronomical spectroscopy opened up new observational prospects that turn of the century astronomers simply exploited opportunistically. Understanding the motivation for the observatory will not only be important background for any comprehensive history of the observatory, but also serves to illuminate the exploratory approach characteristic of American astronomers in the early days of astrophysics.

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