Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer (17 May 1836 – 16 August 1920) – British astronomer

Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer born in Rugby, England, was one of the pioneers of astronomical spectroscopy and became one of the most influential astronomers of his time. His father, Joseph Hooley Lockyer, was a surgeon-apothecary with broad scientific interests, and his mother, Anne Norman, was a daughter of Edward Norman, the squire of Cosford, Warwickshire.

His earliest employment was as a civil servant in the English War Office, which he entered in 1857. He pursued his interest in astronomy on an amateur basis. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on March 14, 1862, and his rising reputation as a solar physicist led him to be appointed in 1885 Director of the Solar Physics Observatory in South Kensington.

In the 1860s he became fascinated by electromagnetic spectroscopy as an analytical tool for determining the gas composition of heavenly bodies.

On October 20, 1868, Lockyer succeeded in observing the solar prominences in broad daylight. Lockyer identified a yellow strip in the spectrum of the sun that conventional scientific opinion of the time held as a known element under extraordinary circumstances. This suggested to him the existence in the sun of an unknown element, which he named helium after Hēlios, the Greek name for the Sun and the Sun god.

His paper detailing those observations arrived at the French Academy of Sciences on the same day as French astronomer Pierre Janssen’s paper. The French government commemorated the event by striking a medal bearing the portraits of the two astronomers for the discovery of helium.

To facilitate the transmission of ideas between scientific disciplines, Lockyer established the general science journal Nature in 1869. He remained its editor until shortly before his death. He died in Salcombe Regis, Devonshire.
Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer (17 May 1836 – 16 August 1920) – British astronomer

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