William Huggins

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Sir William Huggins, photo from 1910

Sir William Huggins (born February 7, 1824 in London , England , † May 12, 1910 ibid) was a British astronomer and physicist . He was one of the first to apply spectral analysis to celestial bodies.

Live and act

In 1856 he set up a private observatory near London and built a spectroscope for his 20 cm lens telescope . When Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen discovered in 1859 that the Fraunhofer lines in the solar spectrum are caused by chemical elements, Huggins and his wife Margaret Lindsay Huggins began to systematically observe the color spectra of stars and nebulae. His thorough investigation of emission and absorption lines made him - like Angelo Secchi  , who was also researching in Rome - a pioneer of spectral analysis .

In his diary, Huggins wrote about his motivation for entering this new territory when he heard of Kirchhoff's great discovery:

“This news filled me with great joy, as it may be felt by a thirsty wanderer who finds a well in the desert. Now the field of activity had finally been found that I had been looking for in vain for so long: the expansion of new ideas from the sun to other objects in the sky. "

Huggins was the first astronomer who could distinguish between nebulae and galaxies (?) By observing the spectral lines . For this he examined the spectra of a number of chemical elements and published his results with images of the spectra (a novelty at the time) in the Philosophical Transactions . In 1863 he showed that the same chemical elements are visible in the star spectra as on Earth.

In 1864 he found previously unknown emission lines in some planetary nebulae and suggested a hypothetical chemical element called nebulium as their source . (It was not until 1927 that these lines were elucidated by Ira S. Bowen as prohibited excited emission lines of gases at extremely low density.)

In 1866, while observing a nova in the constellation Crown ( T Coronae Borealis ) , Huggins was able to determine that its outermost, expanding shell is made of hydrogen .

Finally, Huggins also researched the movement of stars using spectral analysis. He found a redshift in the spectrum of Sirius and correctly interpreted it as a Doppler effect . From this he concluded that the star must move away from us (positive radial velocity ).

He was in the Golders Green Crematorium in London cremated , where his ashes is located.


In 1865 Huggins was elected as a member (" Fellow ") in the Royal Society , which awarded him the Royal Medal in 1866 , the Rumford Medal in 1880 and the Copley Medal in 1898 . From 1900 to 1905 he was President of the Royal Society, in 1885 Huggins was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society .

In 1897 he was raised to the nobility as Knight Commander of the Order of Bath and awarded the Bruce Medal in 1904 . From 1872 he was a corresponding member of the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome. He also belonged to the Royal Physiographical Society in Lund (since 1873), the Académie des sciences in Paris (since 1874), the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala (since 1875), the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (since 1883) and the Royal Society of Edinburgh (since 1884). In 1892 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences , in 1895 to the American Philosophical Society , 1901 to the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg and in 1904 to the National Academy of Sciences .

The moon crater Huggins , the Mars crater Huggins and the asteroid (2635) Huggins are named after the astronomer . In addition, Mount Huggins in Antarctica bears his name.

Most important works

  • 1866: Spectrum analysis, applied to the heavenly bodies
  • 1863-1868: On the spectra of some of the fixed stars and nebulae
  • 1868: Further observations on the spectra of some of the stars and nebulae
  • 1899 (with his wife): An Atlas of Representative Stellar Spectra

See also


  • Günter D. Roth: Cosmos of astronomy history: astronomers, instruments, discoveries . Kosmos-Verlag, Stuttgart 1987

Web links

Commons : William Huggins  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ JB Hearnshaw: William Huggins and the Beginnings of Astronomical Spectroscopy . In: Stars & Space , 1985, p. 140
  2. William Huggins . In: Theodor Westrin (Ed.): Nordisk familjebok konversationslexikon och realencyklopedi . 2nd Edition. tape 11 : Harrisburg – Hypereides . Nordisk familjeboks förlag, Stockholm 1909, Sp. 1244 (Swedish, runeberg.org ).
  3. ^ Member History: Sir William Huggins. American Philosophical Society, accessed October 5, 2018 .
  4. ^ Foreign members of the Russian Academy of Sciences since 1724. Sir William Huggins. Russian Academy of Sciences, accessed November 2, 2015 .