William Pickering was taking his fellow astronomers to task. In a magazine article in 1921, he complained that others refused to study the surface of the Moon because it wasn't interesting enough. If only they would look, he said, they would see clouds and snows filling some of its craters, and even plants.
The article highlights two important points about Pickering. He was sometimes given to flights of fancy, but no one in his day paid more attention to the Moon.
Pickering was born 150 years ago this week at his family home on Boston's Beacon Hill. He and his brother Edward both became astronomers. Edward spent 40 years as director of Harvard College Observatory, while William was a globetrotter. He carried the Harvard banner on eclipse expeditions, and set up satellite observatories in California, Peru, and Jamaica.
Pickering was also a pioneer in the new field of astronomical photography. In fact, he published the first atlas of pictures of the Moon. And he felt his pictures of Mars showed a network of canals, although he didn't think they were built by an ancient civilization, as others did.
Still, Pickering sometimes saw other things that weren't really there, and he wasn't afraid to talk about them -- things like plants growing on the Moon.
The Moon is in good view tonight. It's high in the east at nightfall, with another of Pickering's favorite targets, Mars, to the Moon's west. Mars looks like a bright orange star.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2007
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.