Lewis Morris Rutherfurd

Lewis Morris Rutherfurd bigraphy, stories - American astronomer

Lewis Morris Rutherfurd : biography

November 25, 1816 – May 30, 1892

Lewis Morris Rutherfurd (November 25, 1816 – May 30, 1892) was an American lawyer and astronomer, and a pioneering astrophotographer.

Awards and honors

Moon, New York, 6 March 1865 – Lewis M. Rutherfurd

  • The lunar crater Rutherfurd is named after him.
  • A professorship in Columbia University’s astronomy department is named in his honor, as is the astronomical observatory atop Columbia’s famed Pupin Hall.

Astronomy and astrophotography

Lewis Rutherfurd abandoned his study of law in 1849 to dedicate his leisure to science, particularly astronomy. He performed pioneering work in spectral analysis, and experimented with celestial photography. He invented instruments for his studies, including the micrometer for measuring photographs, a machine for producing improved ruled diffraction gratings, and the first telescope designed specifically for astrophotography.

Using his instrumentation, Rutherfurd produced a quality collection of photographs of the Sun, Moon, and planets, as well as star clusters and stars down to the fifth magnitude. In 1862 he began making spectroscopic studies using his new diffraction grating. He noticed distinct categories of spectral classes of stars, which Angelo Secchi expanded upon in 1867 to list a set of four stellar classes.

Rutherfurd served as a trustee of the Columbia University from 1858 until 1884, and donated his photographs to that institution. In 1884 he was named as one of the delegates to the International Meridian Conference. He was one of the original members of the National Academy of Sciences created in 1863, and was an associate of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In 1887 his health began to fail.

Richard Proctor, the greatest popularizer of astronomy in the nineteenth century, called Rutherfurd "the greatest lunar photographer of the age."

Early life and work

Rutherfurd was born in Morrisania, New York to Robert Walter Rutherfurd and Sabina Morris, and was the grandson of U.S. Senator John Rutherfurd and great-grandson of Lewis Morris, the Signer of the Declaration of Independence. He graduated from Williams College, Massachusetts in 1834, then practiced law after being admitted to the bar in 1837 with William H. Steward in Auburn, New York. On July 22, 1841 he married Margaret Chanler. Their son Stuyvesant Rutherford was born in 1842.