The American astronomer George Hale founded the Yerkes, Mount Wilson, and Palomar observatories in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
He designed the first spectroheliograph, a device used to study the Sun's chemical make-up. (French astrophysicist Henri Deslandres independently designed a similar device at the same time.)
Hale showed that sunspots are cooler than the areas of the Sun that surround them and are linked to strong magnetic fields.
Hale suffered from poor health for much of his life and died in 1938.
Photo: George Hale (Royal Astronomical Society/Science Photo Library)
A founder of observatories studies the Sun.
George Hale discovers sunspots' magnetic origins.
Through careful spectrographic study, early 20th century American astronomer George Hale discovered that sunspots are caused by distortions in the Sun's powerful magnetic field.
Patrick Moore's guest reviews the world's large observatories.
Sir Patrick Moore's guest Professor Richard Ellis from the University of Oxford reviews the world's large observatories and explains their importance. [The black and white images of Edwin Hubble, George Hale, Mount Wilson, the 200-inch telescope and mirror making in this clip are copyright Palomar Observatories/Caltech]
George Ellery Hale (June 29, 1868 – February 21, 1938) was an American solar astronomer.
Hale was born in Chicago, Illinois. He was educated at MIT, at the Observatory of Harvard College, (1889–90), and at Berlin (1893–94). As an undergraduate at MIT, he is known for inventing the spectrohelioscope, with which he made his discovery of solar vortices. In 1908, he used the Zeeman effect with a modified spectrohelioscope to establish that sunspots were magnetic. Subsequent work demonstrated a strong tendency for east-west alignment of magnetic polarities in sunspots, with mirror symmetry across the solar equator; and that the polarity in each hemisphere switched orientation from one sunspot cycle to the next. This systematic property of sunspot magnetic fields is now commonly referred to as the "Hale-Nicholson law," or in many cases simply "Hale's law."
In 1890, he was appointed director of the Kenwood Astrophysical Observatory; he was professor of Astrophysics at Beloit College (1891–93); associate professor at the University of Chicago until 1897, and full professor (1897–1905). He was coeditor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 1892–95, and after 1895 editor of the Astrophysical Journal. He also served on the board of trustees for Science Service, now known as Society for Science & the Public, from 1921-1923.
Hale was a driven individual, who worked to found a number of significant astronomical observatories, including Yerkes Observatory, Mount Wilson Observatory, Palomar Observatory, and the Hale Solar Laboratory. At Mount Wilson, he hired and encouraged Harlow Shapley and Edwin Hubble toward some of the most significant discoveries of the time. He was a prolific organizer who helped create a number of astronomical institutions, societies and journals. Hale also played a central role in developing the California Institute of Technology into a leading research university. After retiring as director at Mount Wilson, he built the Hale Solar Laboratory in Pasadena, California, as his office and workshop, pursuing his interest in the sun.
Hale suffered from neurological and psychological problems, including insomnia, frequent headaches, and schizophrenia, claiming to have regular visits from an elf who acted as his advisor. He used to take time off to spend a few months at a sanatorium in Maine. These problems forced him to resign as director of Mount Wilson.