Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 1: Charles Edward Adams

Dr Charles Edward Adams (left) reading an anemometer.

Charles Edward Adams
October 1, 1870 - October 31, 1945

Charles Edward Adams was a University lecturer, surveyor, astronomer and seismologist. He was born at Lawrence, Otago, New Zealand.

Adams was awarded an MSc from the University of New Zealand in 1909 and by 1910 was chief computer at the head office of the Lands and Survey Department. The techniques he devised during this period for the prediction of tides were, with few modifications, employed in New Zealand until 1924. In 1911, while continuing to discharge his duties in the department, he was appointed astronomical observer at Wellington. Early the following year he became government astronomer. He spent 1915 as Martin Kellogg fellow at the Lick Observatory, California, then returned to a full-time position as government astronomer in the Internal Affairs Department. He was awarded a DSc from the University of New Zealand in 1915 for a thesis entitled Harmonic analysis of tidal observations and predictions of tides.

It was Adams's work in astronomy that identifies him as one of New Zealand's important scientists. He developed methods of computation of planetary ephemerides and cometary orbits and made observations of sunspots, variable stars, planets and auroras. In 1922 he accompanied the Lick Observatory solar eclipse expedition to Western Australia and in 1930 led an eclipse expedition to Niuafo'ou, in the Tongan group. He pioneered the use of cinematography for astronomical timing. The camera he devised for photographing the Moon against its background stars, so that accurate longitudes and lunar positions could be gauged, forms the basis of the standard modern instrument.

As government astronomer Adams was in charge of the Hector Observatory and responsible for maintaining accurate time for scientific and civil purposes such as navigation.

He was the founder and president of the New Zealand Astronomical Society (now the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand), an associate in astronomy at Yale University and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, London. He was also very active in the establishment of the Carter Observatory, believing that the capital city was entitled to an up-to-date observatory and telescope.

An asteroid discovered in 1985 by astronomers at the Mt John University Observatory, Lake Tekapo, was named 3305 Ceadams in his honour.

Smith, Warwick D. 'Adams, Charles Edward 1870 - 1945'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007

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