George E. Hale

George E. Hale

OSA Honorary Member George Ellery Hale, a prolific contributor to astronomical science and one of the founders of the California Institute of Technology, was born 29 June 1868. Despite earning only an undergraduate degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1890, Hale became one of the leading astronomers of his day. By the time he established the Mt. Wilson Observatory in 1904, Hale’s list of accomplishments was full. He had invented the spectroheliograph, founded the Astrophysical Journal (and invented the word astrophysics), founded the Yerkes Observatory (which then housed the world's largest working telescope), and been appointed a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Through Hale's leadership and foresight, Mt. Wilson Observatory was the dominant observatory in the first half of the 20th century. The new observatory enabled astronomers and physicists to bring the study of astrophysics into a new age. They confirmed the existence of galaxies and made calculations to verify the expanding universe and to extend our understanding of the sun.

He played a key role in the founding of OSA, serving as Vice President in 2016, the year of it's founding.

Hale was as influential locally as he was globally. He played a major role in changing the Throop Polytechnic Institute into the California Institute of Technology. His considerable fundraising skills helped convince Henry Huntington to leave behind what became the Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. As a member of the Pasadena Planning Commission, Hale was largely responsible for the present Pasadena Civic Center.  He was also the force behind the founding of Palomar Observatory and the building of the 200-inch Hale telescope.

After retiring as director of the Mt. Wilson Observatory, Hale built an office, library, and solar telescope in Pasadena where he could continue work on his greatest observational interest--the sun. The building known as the Hale Solar Laboratory is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is now on private property and closed to the public.

Hale received many honors during his career including: the Paris Academy of Sciences’ Janssen Medal, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Rumford Medal, the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal, and the National Academy of Sciences’ Draper Medal. He was one of OSA’s first three honorary members and received the society’s Frederic Ives Medal.

Hale died 21 February 1938 in Pasadena, California.

Photo Credit: Hale Observatory, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives