Seth Carlo Chandler, Jr.

Biografia estratta da

Chandler is best remembered for his re-search on the variation of latitude (i.e., the complex wobble of the Earth on its axis of rotation, now referred to as polar motion). His studies of the subject spanned nearly three decades. He published more than twenty-five technical papers characterizing the many facets of the phenomenon, including the two component 14-month (now referred to as the Chandler motion) and annual model most generally accepted today, multiple frequency models, variation of the frequency of the 14-month component, ellipticity of the annual component, and secular motion of the pole. His interests were much wider than this single subject, however, and he made substantial contributions to such diverse areas of astronomy as cataloging and monitoring variable stars, the independent discovery of the nova T Coronae, improving the estimate of the constant of aberration, and computing the orbital parameters of minor planets and comets. His publications totaled more than 200.

Chandler's achievements were well recognized by his contemporaries, as documented by the many prestigious awards he received: honorary doctor of law degree, DePauw University; recipient of the Gold Medal and foreign associate of the Royal Astronomical Society of London; life member of the Astronomische Gesellschaft; recipient of the Watson Medal and fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science; and fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Considering this prominence, one might ask why it is just now, three quarters of a century after his death, that Chandler's biographical memoir is being written. This is actually two questions: "Why was it not written many years ago by a contemporary?" and "Why write it now, so many years after his death?" Unfortunately, the answer to the first question is probably related to certain controversies in which Chandler became involved. Chandler's formal education reached only graduation from high school and he had virtually no theoretical background in astronomy or physics.

However, he was a talented observer and an extraordinarily adroit computer, and he reported his observational and computational results with total disregard for conflicting accepted theory. As associate editor and later editor of the Astronomical Journal, Chandler had little difficulty publishing and often included extensive commentaries in his technical papers. Chandler's comments undoubtedly proved particularly irritating to certain individuals simply because of his close association with Benjamin Pierce, B. A. Gould, and A. D. Bache. Just a few decades earlier these three scientists had joined forces in a highly publicized dispute over an attempt to develop a national observatory that ended in failure and left many personal animosities (James, 1987). The answer to the second question (Why now?) is more certain and pleasant. The recent development of very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) has improved the measurement of Earth orientation, including polar motion, length of day, universal time (UT1), precession, and nutation by two orders of magnitude. New information about the interior structure of the Earth, motions of the plates that form the surface of the Earth, and improved understanding of the interactions among the oceans, atmosphere, and solid Earth have been derived from the highly accurate VLBI observations (Carter and Robertson, 1986). But contemporary researchers using high-speed digital computers and analysis techniques not even known in Chandler's day have found it difficult to develop a better model of polar motion. Recognition of the sheer volume of the computations that Chandler performed by hand and the completeness with which he was able to characterize the complexities of polar motion (not to mention the vast quantities of computations in his research of variable stars, comets, and minor planets) has brought a renewed appreciation of his achievements (Mulholland and Carter, 1982; Carter, 1987). His work has clearly withstood the test of time, and the minimal documentation afforded by this biographical memoir is long overdue.


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