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Frank Watson Dyson (1868–1939)

Frank Watson Dyson
Sir Frank Watson Dyson

Frank Watson Dyson was born at Measham, south of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire. During his childhood, his family moved to Yorkshire. He attended Trinity College, Cambridge, and 1892 was awarded the Isaac Newton studentship for astronomical research.

In 1894 he became chief assistant at the Royal Greenwich Observatory where he worked on stellar motions. In 1906 he became Astronomer Royal for Scotland and Regis Professor of Astronomy at Edinburgh University. In 1910 he became Astronomer Royal. At Greenwich he worked on determining stellar parallaxes and therefore distance. He was involved with the International Astrographic Catalogue, an international project to measure star positions.

Image from: Wikimedia Commons.

Solar Eclipses

Dyson travelled to observe six solar eclipses, and had good weather for all of them. The first was in Portugal in 1900. He photographed the spectra of the solar chromosphere and corono during an expedition to Sumatra. In 1905 he published the results from three expeditions: details of 1200 emission lines in the solar chromosphere.

Although he did not go himself, he was involved in organising the 1919 expeditions to Brazil and Principe (the latter was observed by Eddington) to measure the deflection of starlight by the Sun's gravity as predicted by Einstein.

Time Measurement

Dyson was involved in measuring time at Greenwich. In the 1920s, John Reith, of the BBC, requested that the corporation's time signal come from Greenwich. Dyson devised the six pips still used today.


(Not a complete list)

Dyson, F. W., Astronomy - A Handy Guide for Students and Others, Den, 1910.

Dyson, F. W.; Eddington, A. S.; Davidson, C., "A Determination of the Deflection of Light by the Sun's Gravitational Field, from Observations Made at the Total Eclipse of May 29, 1919". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 220 pp571-581, 1920.

Woolley, Sir Richard Van der Riet and Dyson, Sir Frank W., Eclipses of the Sun and Moon, 1937


During his lifetime Dyson was:
Fellow of the Royal Society in 1901 and awarded its Royal Medal in 1921.
Astronomer Royal for Scotland, 1905-10
Astronomer Royal, 1910-1933
President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1911-1913 and awarded its Gold Medal in 1925.
President of Section A of the British Association in 1915.
Knighted in 1915.
Awarded the Bruce Gold Medal by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 1922.
Gold medal of British Horological Institute, 1928
president of the International Astronomical Union from 1928-1932.

The crater Dyson on the Moon and asteroid 1241 Dysona are named after him.


Eddington, A. S., "Sir Frank Watson Dyson. 1868-1939", Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, January 1, 1940, 3, 159-172.

Frank Watson Dyson (Wikipedia)

Meadows, A. J. 'Dyson, Sir Frank Watson (1868–1939)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 12 Aug 2013]

National Portrait Gallery: photograph.

The Bruce Medalists: Frank Watson Dyson [Department of Physics and Astronomy, Sonoma State University, California]
Tenn, Joseph S., Bruce Medalist Profiles: Frank W. Dyson: The Seventeenth Bruce Medalist. Mercury, March/April 1993 pp 49-50 (+ one more) [pdf]


Last updated 12th August, 2013.

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