Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/October 1881/Biographical Notice of Prof. C. A. Young

PSM V19 D740 Charles Augustus Young.jpg



AMONG the original cultivators of astronomy who give honor alike to the American name and to the science of the age, a distinguished place must be assigned to Charles Augustus Young, the present Professor of Astronomical Science in the College of New Jersey, at Princeton. He was born at Hanover, New Hampshire, December 15, 1834, and may be said to have had astronomy in his blood, being descended from professors of that science on both sides for two generations. His father. Professor Ira Young, occupied the chair of Natural Philosphy and Astronomy in Dartmouth College; and his mother's father. Professor Ebenezer Adams, held the same position in that institution still earlier. He fitted for college at home, and graduated at Dartmouth at the head of his class in 1853.

After graduation he was for three years a teacher of classics in Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts. In 1856 he accepted the appointment of Professor of Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Astronomy in Western Reserve College at Hudson, Ohio, and the next year he married Miss Augusta J. Mixer, of Concord. He remained at Hudson till 1805, and during the time of his connection with the Western Reserve College his vacations were spent in astronomical work for the survey of the Western and Northwestern lakes. At the same time he deviated from his peaceful college occupations into the profession of war. He became a military captain, and commanded a company of one-hundred-days men, mostly composed of the students of the college, who had volunteered at the call of Governor Tod, of Ohio, in 1862. The company was ordered to Vicksburg as escorts to a cartel of exchanged prisoners, and Professor Young's health received injuries during the expedition from which he has never entirely recovered.

He returned to his native town of Hanover in 1865, to take the professorship of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy in Dartmouth College, the same which had been held by his grandfather, and his father, who died in 1858. He was connected with this institution until 1877. During this time he was actively engaged on several astronomical expeditions. He was a member of the party which, under the charge of Professor J. H. C. Coffin, observed the eclipse of August 7, 1869, at Burlington, Iowa. Professor Young had devoted himself with great assiduity to spectroscopic investigations, and he had charge of the spectroscopic observations of the party. It was there that he discovered the green line of the corona spectrum, and identified it with the "1.474" line of the solar spectrum. It may be observed that Professor Harkness also discovered the same line on the same occasion, at Des Moines, though, on account of the inferior power of his instrument, he did not identify it correctly. In the winter of 1870-'71 Professor Young was a member of the Coast Survey party which, under the charge of Professor Winlock, observed the eclipse of December 22d at Jerez in Spain. It was on this occasion that Professor Young made his interesting discovery of what is called the "reversing layer" of the solar atmosphere, giving a bright-line spectrum correlative to that of the ordinary dark-line spectrum of sunlight. This remarkable effect is thus described by Professor Young, in his new work on the sun: "At a total eclipse of the sun, at the moment when the advancing moon has just covered the sun's disk, the solar atmosphere of course projects somewhat at the point where the last ray of sunlight has disappeared. If the spectroscope be then adjusted with its slit tangent to the sun's image at the point of contact, a most beautiful phenomenon is seen. As the moon advances, making narrower and narrower the remaining sickle of the solar disk, the dark lines of the spectrum for the most part remain sensibly unchanged, though becoming somewhat more intense. A few, however, begin to fade out, and some even turn palely bright a minute or two before the totality begins. But the moment the sun is hidden, through the whole length of the spectrum, in the red, the green, the violet, the bright lines flash out by hundreds and thousands, almost startlingly; as suddenly as stars from a bursting rocket-head, and as evanescent, for the whole thing is over within two or three seconds. The layer seems to be only something under a thousand miles in thickness, and the moon's motion covers it very quickly."

In August, 1872, Professor Young was stationed at Sherman, Wyoming Territory, the summit of the Pacific Railroad, to make solar spectroscopic observations in connection with the Coast Survey party. While there he made out a catalogue of 273 lines reversed in the chromosphere spectrum, and 104 lines modified in the spectrum of sunspots. In 1874 he went to Peking, China, as assistant astronomer in the party of Professor Watson, which observed the transit of Venus.

While at Hanover Professor Young devoted most of the time which could be spared from college duties to astronomical and spectroscopic observations, and he devised a form of automatic spectroscope which has been very generally adopted, and a description of which was formerly given in "The Popular Science Monthly." He also made a great number of new and instructive observations on the phenomena of solar prominences, and observed some remarkable explosions in the stupendous masses of vapor which are shot out hundreds of thousands of miles from the solar surface. Professor Young also, at this time, established what is known as Doppler's principle as applied to light experimentally, and was enabled to measure the sun's rotation by the displacement of lines in the spectrum.

But, notwithstanding his multifarious labors in the observatory, and at distant places which he visited for observation. Professor Young has also been active as a writer of scientific papers, and as an astronomic teacher. Besides his elaborate courses of instruction to college classes, he has also given courses of popular lectures at Peabody Institute, of Baltimore, and Lowell Institute, at Boston. He has also delivered occasional scientific lectures in different cities, and regular educational courses at Mount Holyoke Seminary, Williams College, St. Paul's School, and several other places. It must be added that he has also found time, within the last few years, to write an excellent popular treatise on "The Sun" for the "International Scientific Series," which is now just issued.

The vigorous movement in the College of New Jersey, at Princeton, for enlarged scientific teaching, which was inspired and directed by President McCosh, led to the choice of Professor Young to take the chair of Astronomy in that institution, and he accepted the invitation in 1877. In 1878 he was in charge of the astronomical expedition organized by the college to observe the eclipse of July 29th of that year, at Denver, Colorado, and in which the party had excellent success. During his residence at Princeton he has maintained his customary activity in pursuing spectroscopic observations in solar physics.

Professor Young has been honored by many recognitions of eminence in his department. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow and ex-Vice-President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston, an Honorary Member of the New York Academy of Sciences, and of the Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, and a Foreign Associate of the Royal Astronomical Society of Great Britain.