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Nothing But The Facts About George Hale

written by: •edited by: RC Davison•updated: 12/12/2009

George Ellery Hale was the father of modern astronomy. It was his vision and efforts that from the late nineteenth century to the mid-20th built the world’s largest telescopes of the time. And along the way he became mentor to one of the world’s greatest astrophysicists—Edwin Hubble.

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    Born: June 29, 1868, Chicago, IL

    University: MIT: Entered 1886; Graduated 1890George Hale with his Spectroheliograph 

    Astronomy Studies: Harvard 1889-1890

    Appointed Director of Lick Observatory: 1892

    Attended University of Berlin: 1893

    Founded The Astrophysical Journal: 1895

    Appointed Director of Yerkes Observatory: May, 1897

    Founded Mt. Wilson Observatory: 1904

    Completed the 60-inch at Mt Wilson: 1908

    Completed the 100-inch at Mt Wilson: 1918

    Hale secures Rockefeller Foundation grant for a giant 200-inch telescope: 1928

    Selects Mt. Palomar as the site for the new observatory: 1934

    Hale passes away: Feb. 21, 1938

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    Notable Achievements of George Hale

    Hale invented a device to view solar prominences in daylight while still at MIT. Called a spectroheliograph, it moved two slits across the solar image to develop a spectrograph of the makeup of the prominences.

    In conjunction with the spectroheliograph, he developed a coelostat—a new type of telescope in which the mirror moved to follow the sun. The coelostat was positioned horizontally, not vertically.Hale's first coelostat 

    With these instruments, Hale also discovered the magnetic fields of sunspots, and the phenomenon of the reversal of magnetic polarity among sunspot pairs over a 22 year cycle, now called the Hale Effect. The instruments remain in use today in solar astronomy.

    In 1919, Hale, then Director at Mt. Wilson, came across the work of a young astronomer and was highly impressed. He offered the young man a staff position. It was a move as shrewd as any Hale ever made. With the 100-inch, Edwin Hubble would change the face of Astronomy forever, and the 200-inch, when finally completed after WWII, was named the Hale telescope.


    • The 1894 Janssen Medal from the Paris Academy of Sciences.

    • The 1902 Benjamin Count Rumford Medal from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

    • The 1904 Henry Draper Medal from the National Academy of Sciences

    • The 1904 Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society

    • The 1916 Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific

    • In 1919 he was elected an associate of Academie des Sciences, Institut de France

    • The 1920 Galileo Medal from the University of Florence

    • The 1921 Actonian Prize from Royal Institution of London

    • The 1926 Elliott Cresson Medal in Physics from the The Franklin Institute of Philadelphia

    • The 1926 Arthur Noble Medal from the City of Pasadena.

    • The 1927 Franklin Gold Medal from The Franklin Institute of Philadelphia.

    • The 1932 Sir Godfrey Copley Medal from the Royal Society of Great Britain.

    • The 1935 Frederic Ives Medal from the Optical Society of America


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    Amazing Facts About George Hale

    George Hale obtained a spectrum of the sun at the age of 16 using a small reflector and spectroscope his father bought him.

    While at MIT, he independently studied spectroscopy and astronomy, and built his own observatory behind his house. It was at this observatory that he developed and first used his spectroheliograph.

    Although Hale intended to complete his Ph.D. at the University of Berlin, he never did, and never obtained his doctorate.

    When the mirror for the 200-inch was being ground, the glass blank got too hot and warped. Hale realized glass could not be used for such a large mirror. He approached Corning Glass Works about a new material they had developed—Pyrex. The Hale mirror was made of Pyrex, the first ever.

    Hale suffered from severe nuerological and psychological problems. He suffered from insomnia, headaches, and schizophrenia. He even claimed an elf helped him with his work, and spent time in sanitariums.

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    Hale: The Archives, California Institute of Technology

    Coelostat: Yerkes Observatory

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