William Pikering

William Pikering

American physicist, engineer who led the creation of the first American artificial Earth satellite.
Date of Birth: 24.12.1910
Country: USA

  1. William Pickering: American Physicist and Engineer
  2. Education and Academic Career
  3. Contributions to Astronomy
  4. Later Life and Legacy

William Pickering: American Physicist and Engineer

William Pickering was an American physicist and engineer who played a crucial role in the creation of the first American artificial satellite, known as the Explorer 1. Born on February 15, 1858, in Boston, Massachusetts, Pickering developed a deep passion for astronomy and space exploration from an early age.

Education and Academic Career

In 1879, Pickering graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a degree in physics. Following his graduation, he embarked on a career in academia and joined Harvard University as a professor of astronomy in 1887. He worked at the Harvard Observatory, where his brother, astronomer Edward Pickering, served as the director.

During his tenure at Harvard, Pickering focused on the visual and photographic study of planets and other celestial bodies within the Solar System. He was particularly fascinated with Mars, conducting extensive observations that disproved the theory that the planet's dark areas were vast seas. Additionally, Pickering conducted prolonged observations of the Moon's surface, confirming the existence of landscape changes noted by other astronomers. His findings were documented in his work "The Moon" published in 1903.

Contributions to Astronomy

Pickering's contributions to the field of astronomy extended beyond the study of planets and the Moon. He discovered the ninth moon of Saturn, named Phoebe, and determined that it moved in a retrograde direction compared to other moons. Moreover, Pickering proposed the use of a rotating mirror method for measuring the speed of meteors.

Similar to Percival Lowell, Pickering was a proponent of the existence of a trans-Neptunian planet. In 1907, he published calculated data on the hypothetical planet's position. Pickering's calculations were eventually proven correct when Pluto was discovered in 1930 at the Lowell Observatory. It was later discovered that Pickering's image of Pluto had been captured in photographs taken as early as 1919, although the planet's faintness prevented its recognition at the time.

Additionally, Pickering played a crucial role in organizing observation stations worldwide. These stations were established by the Harvard Observatory in various locations, including Southern California, Peru, South Africa, and Jamaica. Furthermore, he oversaw the installation of a telescope at the Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Later Life and Legacy

Pickering retired from Harvard University in 1924 but continued his astronomical observations from Jamaica. His dedication and contributions to the field of astronomy earned him numerous accolades and honors throughout his career.

William Pickering passed away on January 17, 1938, leaving behind a lasting legacy in the field of astronomy. His groundbreaking research and discoveries continue to inspire future generations of scientists and space explorers, shaping our understanding of the universe.