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Walter Sydney Adams (1876-1956), American astronomer

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  • Walter Sydney Adams (1876-1956), American astronomer

    Walter Sydney Adams (1876-1956), American astronomer, born in Antioch, Syria (now Antakya, Turkey). His chief work was in stellar spectroscopy, a method of studying the light and matter of stars and other celestial objects. He was educated at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, at the Universities of Chicago and Munich, and at Columbia University in New York City. He taught astronomy at the University of Chicago and spent from 1901 to 1904 at the university’s Yerkes Observatory. He was assistant astronomer at Mount Wilson Observatory in California from 1904 to 1909 and director of that observatory from 1923 to 1946.
    Adams did foundation work for the investigation of stellar parallaxes (apparent changes in the location of a star when viewed from opposite sides of the earth’s orbit) and the criteria of absolute magnitude, or brightness, of stars. He also aided in the discovery that a star's intrinsic brightness could be found from its spectrum. Adams made notable spectroscopic observations on planets, identifying carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Venus and analyzing the oxygen and water-vapor content of Mars. By spectroscopic means he determined the differential rotation period of the sun, identified the chemical elements in gases of interstellar space, and did considerable research on the motion of stars in the line of sight. He also played a part in the design of the Palomar Observatory in California.