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Walter S. Adams

AKA Walter Sydney Adams

Born: 20-Dec-1876
Birthplace: Kassab, Syria
Died: 11-May-1956
Location of death: Pasadena, CA
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Astronomer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Long-time director of Mt. Wilson Observatory

Born in Syria, where his parents were Christian missionaries, Walter S. Adams saw heaven in a different light and became one of his time's leading astronomers. He worked at the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin, then accompanied his mentor George Ellery Hale to Mt. Wilson Observatory in California, where he succeeded Hale as the Observatory's director. An expert on stellar spectroscopy, he was one of few scientists with a knack for explaining astronomical news in terms a layman could understand, and as such he was for decades quoted whenever space made the news. He described his direct work with spectrograms as "the only fun I have."

He identified Sirius B as the first known white dwarf star, and his measurements of gravitational redshift helped confirm the Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity. With Arnold Kohlschütter, Adams showed that the absolute magnitudes of stars could be determined by the relative intensities of their spectral lines. With Hale, he discovered magnetic fields in sunspots, and measured the differential rotation of the sun. With Theodore Dunham Jr., he discovered carbon dioxide in Venus's atmosphere, and discerned several elements in interstellar gas clouds. His 1941 analysis of the atmosphere of Mars made headlines for its skeptical conclusion that finding life on Mars was extremely unlikely.

Though he "retired" in 1946, Adams continued working at the Hale Solar Laboratory until his death ten years later, and conducted some of his most important work during this time. He was also deeply involved in the planning of the Palomar Observatory, and he served for forty years on his local library board.

Father: Lucian Harper Adams (missionary)
Mother: Dora Francis Adams (missionary)
Brother: Edward Adams
Wife: Lilliam Wickham (m. 1910, d. 1920)
Wife: Adeline Miller (m. 1922, two children)
Son: Edmund M. Adams
Son: John F. Adams

    High School: St. Johnsbury Academy, St. Johnsbury, VT
    High School: Phillips Academy Andover (1894)
    University: BS Astronomy, Dartmouth College (1898)
    University: MS Astronomy, University of Chicago (1900)
    Scholar: Astronomy, University of Munich (1900-01)
    Scholar: Yerkes Observatory, University of Chicago (1901-04)
    Scholar: Mount Wilson Observatory (1904-56)
    Administrator: Director, Mount Wilson Observatory (1923-46)

    Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal 1917
    Henry Draper Medal 1918
    Bruce Medal 1928
    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    American Astronomical Society President (1931-34)
    American Philosophical Society
    Carnegie Institution for Science President (1904-49)
    International Astronomical Union Executive Secretary (1941-48)
    National Academy of Sciences
    Royal Astronomical Society
    Royal Society

Author of books:
Systematic Displacements of Lines in the Spectra of Certain Bright Stars (1935)
The Structure of Interstellar H and K Lines in Fifty Stars (1943)


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