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Astronomy in South Africa

    Naturevolume 92page435 (1913) | Download Citation



    A VERY interestirg address was given by Dr. A. W. Roberts, as president of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science, at Lourengo Marques on July 7. Dr. Roberts dwelt for the main part on the progress made in astronomy by South African workers during the past century, but he claims pardon for omissions when such a large scope of work has to be considered. He sums up the work of astronomical science in late years as circling round three great problems, namely the distance of the stars, the movements of the stars, and the structure and evolution of the stars. These three lines, he points out, all converge in one great question, namely the constitution, history, and cosmography of the universe as a whole. In reading his address, which is published in The South African Journal of Science (vol. x., No. 2, October) one is struck by the great part that has been played by astronomers in South Africa. To use the president's own words:—“It was at the Cape that a sounding line was first thrown across the stellar space. It was at the Cape that the idea of stellar photography wras born, grew up, and reached maturity. It was at the Cape, or perhaps by the results obtained at the Cape, that the first vision was got of those wonderful streams of stars that sweep majestically through our universe. It was at the Cape that the classical distance of the sun was reached … that the first accurate parallax of the moon, and, later on, its weight, was determined … that the most refined measures of stellar distance have been secured.” Dr. Roberts tells the story of how—twenty years ago—he had in purpose the determination of the position of the solar apex from the proper motions in Stone's catalogue. “I went,” he said, “over my postulates with Gill, and was vehemently assured I was basing my equations on wrong premises. How do you know that the stars move haphazard? he demanded. I did not know! ‘They may be moving in streams; the whole universe may be a big whirlpool!’” The record of the past work of South Africa in astronomy is great, and a high standard has been set for the present and future astronomers there.

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