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George Ellery Hale: Solar Physics and Related Inventions, 1927

Pursuing Astrophysics

Although taught by classical astronomers, Hale pursued astrophysics, investigating the nature of the stars rather than their position and dimensions, using spectroscopy to isolate areas of the sun he chose to study. Unimpressed by standard schooling, Hale left Chicago to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1886, majoring in physics. At MIT, his most enjoyable experiences were the times spent volunteering with Professor Pickering at the Harvard College Observatory. Hale spent his summer breaks at home in his backyard "Kenwood Observatory" built by his father and containing a workshop, dark room, and the equipment he requested: a heliostat, the mirror used to reflect sunlight to a grating spectrograph. Now Hale was able to investigate solar phenomena at his leisure. During a meeting with Charles Young at Princeton, when he first saw a solar prominence, the big bright formation which spouts from sunspots at the Sun's surface, Hale (independent of others) came up with the idea of a spectroheliograph that would isolate and examine specific amounts of the Sun's rays yielding new detailed information. He built the instrument for his senior thesis at MIT.