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Richard Woolley

        Science | Astronomers

Woolley, Richard (1906-1986) was the United Kingdom's astronomer royal from 1956 to 1971. His work included observational and theoretical astrophysics.

Richard Van Der Riet Woolley was born on April 24, 1906, at Weymouth, in Dorset, England, the son of a naval officer. He was educated at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and at Cambridge University. At Cambridge, he studied under British astronomer Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington. He was the chief assistant to the astronomer royal at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, from 1933 to 1937. Woolley then was the John Couch Adams astronomer at Cambridge University from 1937 to 1939.

Woolley then became astronomer and director of the Commonwealth Solar Observatory (now Mount Stromlo Observatory), at Mount Stromlo, Canberra. Australia, where he remained until 1955. Woolley changed the direction of the observatory's research from solar physics to astrophysics. There Woolley studied photospheric convection, heat transfer through the photosphere (the inner layer of the sun's atmosphere). He also studied the emission spectrum (color lines that correspond to wavelengths and can show what elements are present in the light source) of the chromosphere, the layer of the sun's atmosphere between the photosphere and the corona. The corona is the outer layer of the sun's atmosphere.

He also made observations of monochromatic magnitudes, the measure of a star's brightness through a narrow band filter allowing only a very small range of wavelengths through. He constructed color magnitude arrays (magnitude measured through a color filter) for globular clusters.

Woolley helped to make the observatory at Mount Stromlo an important institution for observations of the southern skies. During World War II (1939–1945), he worked on the optical design of military instruments.

In 1956, Woolley became the 11th astronomer royal of the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Herstmonceux, Sussex, England. He served until 1971, supervising the completion of the Isaac Newton telescope. He was knighted in 1963.