Abbot was born in May in Wilton, New Hampshire, the son and grandson of farmers. He then attended MIT, where he graduated in with a thesis in chemical physics. He expected to teach, but remained at MIT, studying osmotic pressure and earning an M. Biographical Memoirs: V.
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Abbot was born in May in Wilton, New Hampshire, the son and grandson of farmers. He then attended MIT, where he graduated in with a thesis in chemical physics. He expected to teach, but remained at MIT, studying osmotic pressure and earning an M. Biographical Memoirs: V. Langley, however, was not a traditional astronomer and Abbot was just the type of assistant he wanted to aid his mapping of the infrared spectrum of the Sun, adapting bolometers for photographic recording and determining dispersion standards for rocksalt and fluorite prisms to measure fundamental wavelengths in the infrared region of the solar spectrum.
Under Langley, Abbot flourished as a creative designer and builder of delicate devices for measuring solar radiation. As Langley focussed more and more on his aeronautical experiments, Abbot, working with F. He was also a leading member of the American eclipse expedition to Sumatra in He proved to be a reliable observer and impressed many astronomers who encountered him at these places.
That mission, very much representative of the times, was to demonstrate the utility of government-supported science. Langley believed that solar radiation varied in a cyclic manner. As Smithsonian Secretary, however, Langley had other interests, but what may have been promotional rhetoric for him became a permanent and passionate conviction for his able, dutiful assistant. As under Langley, Abbot found Walcott wholly attuned to the progressive notion of useful science.
Geological Survey, and campaigned for practical research in publicly supported agencies. American astronomy was in the throes of organizing itself as a profession, and its standards and modes of conduct were in flux. Celestial mechanics and mathematical astronomy were still the strengths of the discipline, but now the photographic plate and the spectroscope were available for assessing the physical nature of the Sun and stars.
Langley had practiced the new astronomy. When Abbot retired as APO director and as Smithsonian Secretary in , setting a precedent as the first Smithsonian Secretary not to die in office, most but not all of the great cataloguing projects were gone and the discipline was undergoing profound change.
Problem-oriented research, informed by modern physical theory, dominated the discipline. Although he eschewed physical theory, Abbot was thoroughly modern in his problem-oriented approach to research. Thus, his failure to broaden the astrophysical scope of the APO during his long tenure has to be appreciated as due to a complex set of factors centered on his singular sense of mission, which transcended disciplinary lines between astronomy, geophysics, meteorology, and biology.
Determining these quantities in practice, however, was far from simple. Langley established the value 3. But others who made different assumptions about atmospheric absorption coefficients or other variables came up with values between 1. After some seven years working for Langley, Abbot knew that the Smithsonian value for the solar constant was too high, but he carefully avoided the issue until he was in charge.
Then, he quickly announced results from observations at Mount Wilson, California, that reduced the solar constant first to 2. Abbot cooperated with W. Campbell at the Lick Observatory and with the Sierra Club to build a sturdy field station on the summit of Mount Whitney. Abbot used the site sporadically in and to measure the solar constant and accompanied the Lick astronomers to study the spectrum of Mars.
Still harried by critics, however, Abbot turned to balloonsondes to reach greater heights. Aldrich, Abbot flew special pyrheliometers on balloons. He created a new type of robotic pyrheliometer out of parts from standard Weather Bureau meteorgraphs that was fully automatic and self-recording.
Automatic techniques for meteorological observations from balloons were well developed by then. But Abbot was the first to use such automata in America for astronomical measurements. This technical feat, requiring the cooperation of the Weather Bureau and the Signal Corps, quieted criticism of the Smithsonian value for the solar constant.
Even before he assumed the directorship of the APO, Abbot was among the astronomical elite. In a census by the AAAS he was listed among the top thirty astronomers by his peers. Langley was among the first rank, and both scored even higher among physicists who were polled. Clayton, the chief forecaster of Argentina and a colleague of A.
High mountains in desert regions spread over the accessible parts of the Earth became his target, and again, following a well-worn Smithsonian tradition, Abbot built these stations in the manner of field expeditions. Hale tried once to hire Abbot away from Langley, but soon accepted the Smithsonian man as an ally in Washington, where his own patron the Carnegie Institution of Washington was based. Abbot visited the station often and built a large solar cooker which his wife Lillian used to bake and roast to feed the local staff.
The Smithsonian was a welcome neighbor on that mile-high mountain top. The moving mirror sent a beam of sunlight onto a strip of moving photographic film, which recorded the varying energy of the Sun as a function of wavelength. Throughout World War I Abbot maintained the Mount Wilson station and hoped to establish a southern hemisphere site too. He also attended to various wartime activities. He patented a new way to rifle a bullet to improve accuracy and with Aldrich developed a portable searchlight, making great friends with General Electric in the process.
At the end of the war, Abbot reactivated his site search, looking for a place that would have clear weather during the poorer winter season in California. The new "place" had to be clear weather when his California site experienced cloudy weather.
He had hoped to gain the cooperation of the Australian government, but eventually Wolcott approved the use of Hodgkins Fund income to build a station in South America, where the United States was building a strong mining base. The Guggenheims operated a huge copper mine at Chuquicamata, and were happy to host a U. Manned by Alfred Moore and an assistant, it was a most desolate place, but it was not far from the Guggenheim operations and a small mining town where many Americans lived.
By expenses were rising at both the Mt. Wilson and Calama stations and Abbot, through Walcott, secured a modest increase in federal appropriation for the APO. More important were private gifts from John A. Roebling, heir to the designers and builders of large suspension bridges, including the Brooklyn Bridge. As Abbot campaigned to keep his stations running, he found that the data coming from them were influenced by local weather. Wilson suffered from maritime air and local dust, and Calama was compromised by the dust from the huge open-pit mines.
Marvin, chief of the Weather Bureau, believed was a better site; it was clearer, had less dust, and was dryer than Mount Wilson. The Calama station was also closed and moved to 9,foot Mount Montezuma, about 12 miles from its original site. Among many logistical problems Abbot faced, seeking out the best sites was to keep members of his field staff willing to sacrifice their lives in these terribly isolated spots.
One major problem was thermal stabilization for his spectrobolometers, which he solved by mounting them inside tunnels at Mount Montezuma and Table Mountain, what he later heralded as the "Smithsonian observing tunnel," a new form of observatory.
The Montezuma station remained active for several decades. They soon found that the variations Abbot had found in the solar constant were just as easily accounted for by the "diminishing amplitude of scatter as stations and methods of observations were improved.
He appealed to cooperation and loyalty between kindred government bureaus and tried to convince Marvin not to reveal his conclusions, assuring him that better data were now at hand. Marvin, however, was not convinced and, since Abbot was unable to face his statistics square on, did deliver his conclusions at a meeting of meteorologists in Washington.
This was only the first of many clashes between Abbot and traditional meteorologists. But Abbot knew how to play on the hopes of the day and was even able to keep Marvin as an ally, capitalizing on his suggestion that more observations were needed. In the s, cycles were a fascination to students of nature. Turning any criticism into a challenge for support of a noble cause, Abbot found the means to improve his instruments and to establish a third outstation, since he knew that three independent stations were the minimum number he required for a definitive synoptic monitoring network.
They built another Smithsonian observing tunnel to thermally stabilize the most delicate instruments, and Abbot displayed a scale model of it in the Smithsonian castle. Abbot knew how to keep Smithsonian science in the news. By , however, wind-blown dust at Brukharos caused Abbot to search for a better site.
With Roebling and National Geographic Society support he closed Brukharos and mounted an elaborate expedition to build a new station above the monastery at the base of Mount St. Katherine on the Sinai Peninsula.
By the summer of they had settled on a site 10 miles from the monastery on Zebil Gebir, a spur of the mountain in sight of Mount Sinai.
By , however, the St. Katherine station had serious logistical and supply problems. Abbot was still able to secure gifts, but funds were harder to come by. Abbot decided to close St. Katherine in December in favor of a continental spot that would cover the months December through February, when his other two stations were usually clouded out.
He eventually selected Burro Mountain in New Mexico, and sent the Gebir instruments and staff to what was the Tyrone station, where another Smithsonian tunnel was excavated into the mountain. Up to the APO staff grew steadily, and maintained itself throughout the s. All three stations plus the home station on the Mall in Washington, D.
Abbot maintained a trustworthy and highly capable staff able to build instruments, use them, and reduce their data according to the systematic procedures Abbot created. Over the years the staff developed five distinct types of pyrheliometers, including the silver disk, water flow, water stir, improved Angstrom, and the automatic balloon device, all of which Kramer built. Abbot introduced time-saving methods and new computational devices whenever he could.
His solar heaters were reminders of the power of the Sun. By the mids, while continuing to make claims before patrons and public that the means for weather prediction were at hand, Abbot realized that he needed more support to prove his contentions. Katherine observations and felt that three stations were not enough. The Smithsonian had been in the business so long, Robert A. Millikan, K. Compton, and Isaiah Bowman argued, it would be a pity to stop.
It was, after all, where solar constant studies had their longest history and their greatest advocate. Abbot therefore had to retrench for the first time. He closed the expensive St. Katherine station. In Abbot was designated Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian under Walcott with responsibilities for the Smithsonian library and the venerable International Exchange Service.
The latter was a world-wide clearinghouse for the diffusion of scientific literature, which had been set in motion by Joseph Henry and fostered by Congress to keep open lines of communication between governments.
The Abbot silver-disk pyrheliometer (with one plate)
ABBOT SILVER DISK PYRHELIOMETER PDF