first to describe the existence of helium
Norman Lockyer was born in
Rugby, England, on May 17, 1836, to Joseph
Hooley Lockyer, a lecturer on scientific subjects
at Rugby School, and his wife Anne. He was
educated at private schools in Switzerland and
France, and began his working career as a clerk
in the British War Office in 1857.
In 1861, Lockyer bought his first telescope, a
3.75-inch-diameter refractor made by Thomas
Cooke, who encouraged his interest in astronomy.
In 1862, Cooke lent him a 6.25-inch object glass
to build a telescope, with which Lockyer made
important observations during the next 10 years.
His first observations were on the planet Mars,
and he communicated them in 1863 to the Royal
Astronomical Society, of which he had been
elected a Fellow two years previously.
Lockyer turned his attention to the Sun after
obtaining a spectroscope in 1864, and began
spectroscopic observations of sunspots in 1866.
In 1868 he found that solar prominences are
upheavals in a layer of the Sun he named the
chromosphere. He was also able to demonstrate
that bright emission lines from prominences of
the sun could be seen at times other than during
total eclipses by using a spectoscrope. The same
technique was also demonstrated, independently,
by French astronomer Jules Janssen, and the
French Academy of Sciences commemorated the
discovery by striking a medal in honor of them
Lockyer had the idea for a regular journal to
report the latest advances in all branches of
science, and in 1869, with the support of
Macmillan & Co., he founded the journal Nature,
of which he served as editor for the rest of his
life. The journal is still published today.
In 1870, Lockyer was appointed Secretary of
the Duke of Devonshire's Royal Commission on
Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of
Science. That same year, Lockyer suggested that
the source of the strong yellow line he had first
found in a solar spectrum in 1868 was due to a
hypothetical element to which he gave the name
"Helium," for the Greek Sun god Helios.
The existence of that element was notproven,
however, until William Ramsay was ableto isolate
it from a terrestrial source in 1895.
The final report of the Royal Commission
resulted in the construction of a solar physics
laboratory in Kensington, London, of which
Lockyer was made Director. In 1875, the year the
project came to an end, Lockyer was knighted. He
was also appointed as the first professor of
Astronomical Physics at the Royal College of
Science (now Imperial College) by Prime Minister Benjamin
Lockyer retired when the solar physics
laboratory was relocated to Cambridge, in 1911,
after which he put his energies into the
establishment of the Hill Observatory at Salcombe
Regis, near Sidmouth, Devon, where his wife owned
land on which they had recently built a house. He
died at Sidmouth on August 16, 1920, and was
buried in the churchyard of St. Peter and St.
Mary. His Hill Observatory was renamed the Norman
Lockyer Observatory soon after, and is still
known by that name today.
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