Thursday, January 29, 2009

January 29: William Cranch Bond

William Cranch Bond
September 9, 1789 – January 29, 1859

William Cranch Bond was an American astronomer and the first director of Harvard College Observatory. In 1806, when he was seventeen years old, Bond saw a solar eclipse. Soon thereafter, he became an avid amateur astronomer. When he built his first house, Bond made its parlor an observatory, complete with an opening in the ceiling out of which his telescope could view the sky.

In 1839, Bond was allowed to move his personal astronomical equipment to Harvard and serve as its (unpaid) "Astronomical Observer to the University." Later, in 1843, a sun-grazing comet aroused enough public interest in astronomy that Harvard was able to raise $25,730 towards the construction of a state-of-the-art observatory. Bond designed the building and the observing chair (both of which are still in working order today), and Harvard bought a fifteen-inch German-built refracting telescope, equal in size to the largest in the world at the time. The telescope was first put to use on June 24, 1847, when it was pointed to the Moon.

Bond independently discovered the Great Comet of 1811 and he and his son, George Phillips Bond, discovered Saturn's moon Hyperion; it was independently co-discovered at the same time by William Lassell in Britain, and both are given credit. Father and son were the first to observe the then innermost ring of Saturn, termed the Crepe ring when they pointed Harvard’s telescope towards Saturn in 1850. Working with John Adams Whipple, the Bonds pioneered astrophotography, taking the first daguerreotype image of a star (Vega, in 1850) ever taken from America. In all, the threesome took between 200 and 300 photos of celestial objects.

A number of celestial objects have been named in Bond's honor, including: The Lunar crater W. Bond, a region on Hyperion called the "Bond-Lassel Dorsum" and Asteroid (767) Bondia, jointly named after him and his son.

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