Crowded Universe by Alan Bo

By Alan Bo

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93-meter) telescope of the Haute Provence Observatory, near Marseille, France, and this spectrograph was capable of making Doppler measurements accurate to about 30 mph (13 meters per second), similar to what Gordon Walker had achieved in Hawaii. Mayor did not adopt the potentially dangerous hydrogen fluoride gas cell that Walker had developed; he relied instead on the light emitted by a lamp containing thorium and argon, two relatively nonpoisonous gases, for his wavelength standard. Mayor had a list of 142 stars similar to the Sun that did not seem to be members of binary star systems, and he intended to see whether he could find any very-low-mass companions to these stars, and perhaps a gas giant planet or two.

The star’s speed is compared this way because Walker and Campbell planned to find planets by measuring it through the Doppler effect. Christian Johann Doppler, an Austrian physicist, hypothesized in 1842 that light waves emitted by a moving star behave exactly the same way as sound waves emitted by a moving train. When a train blows its whistle as it is moving toward you, you hear the whistle at a higher pitch, or frequency, than when the whistle is sounded while the train is stopped. When the train is traveling away from you, the whistle sounds lower in pitch than when it is at rest.

Gatewood at first refused, but after the professor repeated the suggestion several more times, Gatewood relented and started work on Barnard’s star. He did not use the 2400-odd photographic plates that van de Kamp had gathered over the decades but, rather, examined a smaller collection of 241 glass plates that had been taken at Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Observatory and at Wesleyan University’s Van Vleck Observatory. S. C. Gatewood finished his doctoral research on Barnard’s star in 1972 and published the results in the Astronomical Journal the following year.

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