Submitted by EBriggs on Mon, 2012-06-04 15:52
Edward Charles Pickering (July 19, 1846–February 3, 1919) was an American astronomer and physicist, brother of William Henry Pickering. Along with Carl Vogel, Pickering discovered the first spectroscopic binary stars.
Pickering attended Boston Latin School, and received his B.S. from Harvard in 1865. Soon after graduating from Harvard, Pickering taught physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Later, he served as director of Harvard College Observatory from 1877 to his death in 1919, where he made great leaps forward in the gathering of stellar spectra through the use of photography.
At Harvard, he recruited many women to work for him, including Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, and Antonia Maury. These women, who came to be known as "Pickering's Harem" by the scientific community, made several important discoveries at HCO. Leavitt's discovery of the period-luminosity relationship for Cepheids, published by Pickering, would prove the foundation for the modern understanding of cosmological distances.
In 1882, Pickering developed a method to photograph the spectra of multiple stars simultaneously by putting a large prism in front of the photographic plate. He also, along with Williamina Fleming designed a stellar classification system based on an alphabetic system for spectral classes that was first known as the Harvard Stellar Classification and became the basis for the Henry Draper Catalog.
Pickering is credited for making the Harvard College Observatory known and respected around the world, and it continues today to be a well-respected observatory and program.
Prof. Pickering was elected an honorary member of the Astronomical and Physical Society of Toronto at the annual meeting of 1894-01-09, at the conclusion of a year in which the Society was indebted to him for forwarding elements of the bright new Rordame's Comet in July 1893. Pickering, "...who had always taken a kindly interest in the Society and had laid it under obligations not only by donating the publications of his great Observatory but by promptly answering various questions submitted to him, said “Your letter asking if I should be willing to accept Honourary Membership in The Astronomical and Physical Society of Toronto is duly received. In reply, if I should be elected, I should accept with pleasure. With regards and pleasant reminiscences for Mr. Carpmael, I remain yours faithfully,” and, later, after notice of election, “Please convey to the Society my sincere thanks for this honour.” (TAPST 1894)