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Financing a Career

October 10, 2016

The science of astronomy is influenced by the same vagaries of life as any other endeavor. A financial panic 150 years ago, for example, forced one would-be astronomer to pick up the pace of his work. That led to a successful career in research and in presenting astronomy to the public.

In 1866, Richard A. Proctor was just 29 years old. He’d written a magazine article about double stars, and a book about the planet Saturn. But he’d inherited a great deal of money, so he worked at a leisurely pace — he wrote only a few lines each day.

That spring, though, a financial panic hit London, and it quickly spread. It wiped out a bank in New Zealand in which Proctor was a major investor. That left him almost bankrupt.

Fortunately for Proctor, a magazine had just asked him to write some articles about telescopes. He agreed. And over the next few years he worked tirelessly, writing books and articles, and conducting research. He measured the length of the Martian day to an accuracy of less than a tenth of a second, and published an early map of Mars. And he made important discoveries about the distribution of stars in the Milky Way, and about star clusters. In fact, he discovered a whole new type of cluster; more about that tomorrow.

Later, Proctor became a lecturer in the United States — and in New Zealand. Those appearances helped bring financial stability for an astronomer who’d been forced to work harder by a financial panic.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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