Henry Draper Memorial. First Annual Report

Dr. Henry Draper, in 1872, was the first to photograph the lines of a stellar spectrum. His investigation, pursued for many years with great skill and ingenuity, was most unfortunately interrupted in 1882 by his death.

The recent advances in dry-plate photography have vastly increased our powers of dealing with this subject. Early in 1886, accordingly, Mrs. Draper made a liberal provision for carrying on this investigation at the Harvard College Observatory, as a memorial to her husband. The results attained are described below, and show that an opportunity is open for a very important and extensive investigation in this branch of astronomical physics. Mrs. Draper has accordingly decided greatly to extend the original plan of work, and to have it conducted on a scale suited to its importance. The attempt will be made to include all portions of the subject, so that the final results shall form a complete discussion of the constitution and conditions of the stars, as revealed by their spectra, so far as present scientific methods permit. It is hoped that a greater advance will thus be made than if the subject was divided among several institutions, or than if a broader range of astronomical study was attempted.

It is expected that a station to be established in the southern hemisphere will permit the work to be extended so that a similar method of study may be applied to stars in all parts of the sky. The investigations already undertaken, and described below more in detail, include a catalogue of the spectra of all stars north of--24° of the sixth magnitude and brighter, a more extensive catalogue of spectra of stars brighter than the eighth magnitude, and a detailed study of the spectra of the bright stars.

This last will include a classification of the spectra, a determination of the wave lengths of the lines, a comparison with terrestrial spectra, and an application of the results to the measurement of the approach and recession of the stars. A special photographic investigation will also be undertaken of the spectra of the banded stars, and of the ends of the spectra of the bright stars.

The instruments employed are an eight inch Voigtlander photographic lens, reground by Alvan Clark & Sons, and Dr. Draper's 11 inch photographic lens, for which Mrs. Draper has provided a new mounting and observatory. The 15 inch refractor belonging to the Harvard College Observatory has also been employed in various experiments with a slit spectroscope, and is again being used as described below. Mrs. Draper has decided to send to Cambridge a 28 inch reflector and its mountings, and a 15 inch mirror, which is one of the most perfect reflectors constructed by Dr. Draper, and with which his photograph of the moon was taken. The first two instruments mentioned above have been kept at work during the first part of every clear night for several months. It is now intended that at least three telescopes shall be used during the whole night, until the work is interrupted by daylight.

The spectra have been produced by placing in front of the telescope a large prism, thus returning to the method originally employed by Fraunhofer in the first study of stellar spectra. Four 15° prisms have been constructed, the three largest having clear apertures of nearly eleven inches, and the fourth being somewhat smaller. The entire weight of these prisms exceeds a hundred pounds, and they fill a brass cubical box a foot on each side. The spectrum of a star formed by this apparatus is extremely narrow when the telescope is driven by clockwork in the usual way. A motion is accordingly given to the telescope slightly differing from that of the earth by means of a secondary clock controlling it electrically. The spectrum is thus spread into a band, having a width proportional to the time of exposure and to the rate of the controlling clock.

This band is generally not uniformly dense. It exhibits lines perpendicular to the refracting edge of the prism, such as are produced in the field of an ordinary spectroscope by particles of dust upon the slit. In the present case, these lines may be due to variations in the transparency of the air during the time of exposure, or to instrumental causes, such as irregular running of the driving clock, or slight changes in the motion of the telescope, resulting from the manner in which its polar axis is supported.

These instrumental defects may be too small to be detected in ordinary micrometric or photographic observations, and still sufficient to affect the photographs just described.

A method of enlargement has been tried which gives very satisfactory results, and removes the lines above mentioned as defects in the negatives. A cylindrical lens is placed close to the enlarging lens, with its axis parallel to the length of the spectrum. In the apparatus actually employed, the length of the spectrum, and with it the dispersion, is increased five times, while the breadth is made in all cases about four inches. The advantage of this arrangement is that it greatly reduces the difficulty arising from the feeble light of the star. Until very lately, the spectra in the original negatives were made very narrow, since otherwise the intensity of the starlight would have been insufficient to produce the proper decomposition of the silver particles. The enlargement being made by daylight, the vast amount of energy then available is controlled by the original negative, the action of which may be compared to that of a telegraphic relay. The copies therefore represent many hundred times the original energy received from the stars.

If care is not taken, the dust and irregularities of the film will give trouble, each foreign particle appearing as a fine spectral line.

Our methods of enlargement have been considered, and some of them tried, with the object of removing the irregularities of the original spectra without introducing new defects. For instance, the sensitive plate may be moved during the enlargement in the direction of the spectral lines; a slit parallel to the lines may be used as the source of light, and the original negative separated by a small interval from the plate used for the copy; or two cylindrical lenses may be used, with their axes perpendicular to each other. In some of these ways the lines due to dust might either be avoided or so much reduced in length as not to resemble the true lines of the spectrum.