Reference Work Entry

Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

pp 904-905


Harkness, William

BornEcclefechan, (Dumfries and Galloway), Scotland, 17 December 1837

DiedJersey City, New Jersey, USA, 28 February 1903

Harkness, William. Courtesy of United States Naval Observatory

At the United States Naval Observatory [USNO], William Harkness reduced the USNO photographic observations of the nineteenth-century transits of Venus, producing the only valid solar parallax based on that technique. He carried out research in positional astronomy, photography, spectroscopy, and instrumentation design.

Harkness was the son of Reverend Dr. James Harkness, physician and Presbyterian minister, and Jane (née Weild) Harkness. The family immigrated to the United States from Scotland in May 1839, settling in New York City, then in Fishkill, New York. Harkness attended the Chelsea Collegiate Institute in New York City and private schools in Fishkill Landing and Newburgh. He entered Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, in 1854, but transferred to Rochester University in 1856 when his family moved t ...

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