03 February 2010

Mystery Man Revealed

Here's an answer to my blog entry of 7 January 2010. Thanks to John Grula, librarian for the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the mystery man in the cover photo of my latest book, The Day We Found the Universe, is now identified. (He is the white-haired gentleman standing behind Lick Observatory director William Campbell, who stiffly presides at the far right in the picture, hat perched precisely on his head. The others from left to right are Einstein, his assistant Walther Meyer, with Edwin Hubble right behind Meyer, and Mount Wilson director Walter Adams in the center.)

According to Grula, the man in question is Arthur S. King, a staff member at Mount Wilson from 1908 to 1943. He headed the observatory’s physics laboratory, where he specialized in divining the spectral lines of elements at various temperatures (important in discerning the chemistry of the heavens). He also showed how magnetic fields can affect the spectral line patterns, which helped scientists reveal the strength of magnetic fields in sunspots. He died in 1957 at the age of 81.

Grula even has a guess as to who “Mr. Forehead” is, the man seen peeking behind King. The “rimmed glasses,” “healthy shock of combed-back dark hair,” and “short stature,” according to Grula, suggest it might be Milton Humason, Hubble’s observing partner in surveying the expanding universe in the 1930s. The problem is that Humason is not seen in any other pictures taken that day, January 29, 1931, when Einstein visited the mountaintop. And in another picture of Humason and Hubble that I have seen, Humason is not that short; the top of his head comes up to about Hubble’s eye level. This man appears far smaller. So, one mystery remains.


  1. Excellent! It is always nice to put a name with a face, especially in such a wonderful photo as this one.

  2. Hello,great blog and book cover.
    I suppose you are aware of the story of the little remark Frau Einstein made to Mrs Hubble? Is it true?
    Regards, Cormac

  3. Hi, Cormac.

    I know that Mrs. Hubble once drove Einstein to an appointment when he was visiting California, whereupon he told her that "your husband's work is beautiful--and he has a beautiful spirit." But I'm not sure what Frau Einstein told Grace. Do tell....

    Best, Marcia

  4. My father had an old story that when Mrs Hubble remarked "My husband studies the universe through that telescope" to Frau Einstein during her visit to Mount Wilson, Frau Einstein primly responded "Oh really? My husband does that on the back of an old envelope!"