Biography of Percival Lowell

By A. Lawrence Lowell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
THE OBSERVATORY AT FLAGSTAFF

WHEN, returning from Japan late in 1893, Percival Lowell found himself quickly absorbed by astronomical research, he was by no means without immediate equipment for the task. His mathematical capacity, that in college had so impressed Professor Benjamin Peirce, had not been allowed to rust away; for, when at home, he had kept it bright in the Mathematical and Physical (commonly called the M. P.) Club, a group of men interested in the subject, mainly from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. So fresh was it that we find him using, at the outset, with apparent ease his calculus--both differential and integral--tools that have a habit of losing edge with disuse. Physically, also, he had a qualification of great importance for the special work he was to undertake, -- that of perceiving on the disks of the planets, very fine markings close to the limit of visibility; for the late Dr. Hasket Derby, then the leading practitioner in Ophthalmology in Boston, told Professor Julian Coolidge that Percival's eyesight was the keenest he had ever examined.

One essential remained, to find the best atmosphere for his purpose. In entering our air the rays of light from the stars are deflected, that is bent, and bent again when they strike a denser or less dense stratum. But these strata are continually changing with currents of warmer or colder air rising and falling above the surface of the earth, and

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