Adams , Walter Sydney

Adams , Walter Sydney
(1876–1956) American astronomer
Adams was born in Antioch (now in Turkey). He was the son of missionaries working in Syria, then part of the Ottoman Empire, who returned to America in 1885. Adams graduated from Dartmouth College in 1898 and obtained his AM from the University of Chicago in 1900. After a year in Munich he began his career in astronomy as assistant to George Hale in 1901 at the Yerkes Observatory. He moved with Hale to the newly established Mount Wilson Observatory in 1904 where he served as assistant director, 1913–23, and then as director from 1923 until his retirement in 1946.
At Mount Wilson Adams was able to use first the 60-inch (1.5-m) and from 1917 the 100-inch (2.5-m) reflecting telescopes in whose design and construction he had been closely associated. His early work was mainly concerned with solar spectroscopy, when he studied sunspots and solar rotation, but he gradually turned to stellar spectroscopy. In 1914 he showed how it was possible to distinguish between a dwarf and a giant star merely from their spectra. He also demonstrated that it was possible to determine the luminosity, i.e. intrinsic brightness, of a star from its spectrum. This led to Adams introducing the method of spectroscopic parallax whereby the luminosity deduced from a star's spectrum could be used to estimate its distance. The distance of many thousands of stars have been calculated by this method.
He is however better known for his work on the orbiting companion of Sirius, named Sirius B. Friedrich Bessel had first shown in 1844 that Sirius must have a companion and had worked out its mass as about the same as our Sun. The faint star was first observed telescopically by Alvan Clark in 1862. Adams succeeded in obtaining the spectrum of Sirius B in 1915 and found the star to be considerably hotter than the Sun. He realized that such a hot body, just eight light-years distant, could only remain invisible to the naked eye if it was very much smaller than the Sun, no bigger in fact than the Earth. In that case it must have an extremely high density, exceeding 100,000 times the density of water. Adams had thus discovered the first ‘white dwarf’ – a star that has collapsed into a highly compressed object after its nuclear fuel is exhausted.
If such an interpretation was correct then Sirius B should possess a very strong gravitational field. According to Einstein's general theory of relativity, this strong field should shift the wavelengths, of light waves emitted by it toward the red end of the spectrum. In 1924 Adams succeeded in making the difficult spectroscopic observations and did in fact detect the predicted red shift, which confirmed his own account of Sirius B and provided strong evidence for general relativity.

Scientists. . 2011.

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