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Lewis Rutherfurd was a picture of early American aristocracy. Various ancestors had served as the first governor of New Jersey, signed the Declaration of Independence, and served in the U.S. Senate. Rutherfurd went to law school with a future Secretary of State, and set up practice with the son of the first Chief Justice.
Yet Rutherfurd turned away from law and politics to pursue an even higher ambition: astronomy. He was an early pioneer in the field of astrophotography, and in studying the composition of the stars.
Rutherfurd was born 200 years ago today in what is now the Bronx. He studied science at college before earning his law degree, and soon turned to astronomy. In 1856, he built a private observatory at his house in New York, where he soon snapped his first pictures of the Moon.
Rutherfurd was an inventive thinker, and he designed his own telescope — one that served as a camera lens. That allowed him to take some impressive photos of the Moon, star clusters, and other objects.
Before long, Rutherfurd applied his talents to spectroscopy, which reveals important details about astronomical objects. He created instruments that allowed him to make highly detailed observations, and used them to devise a way to classify stars.
Rutherfurd’s work made him part of the American scientific aristocracy. He was a founding member of the National Academy of Sciences, for example — an honor earned through his valuable contributions to astronomy.
Script by Damond Benningfield