Frank Watson Dyson



Date of Birth
January 8, 1868
Date of Death
May 25, 1939

Frank W. Dyson, the son of a minister, won scholarships to secondary school and Cambridge University, where he studied mathematics and astronomy. Dyson spent his entire career, except for five years in Edinburgh, at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, where he was Director and Astronomer Royal from 1910 to 1933. At Greenwich he directed measurements of terrestrial magnetism, latitude, and time, and he initiated the radio broadcast of time. He determined proper motions of northern stars and completed his portion of the international Carte du Ciel project of photographing the entire sky. Dyson is best known for directing (with Arthur Stanley Eddington) the 1919 eclipse expedition which confirmed the bending of starlight by the sun's gravity, as predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Cushing, Charles S., PASP 34, 2-10 (1922).

Other awards

Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1925, presented by J.H. Jeans, MNRAS 85, 672 (1925).
Royal Society, Royal medal, 1921.

Some offices held

International Astronomical Union, President, 1928-32.
Royal Astronomical Society, President, 1911-13.
United Kingdom, Astronomer Royal, 1910-33.

Biographical materials

Bitterman, Jay, Lake County Astronomical Society
Steiner, Robert, Biography accompanying index to papers, Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives, University of Cambridge
Tenn, Joseph S., “Frank Dyson: The Seventeenth Bruce Medalist,” Mercury 22, 2, 49 (1993).
Wilson, Margaret Dyson [daughter], Ninth Astronomer Royal; the Life of Frank Watson Dyson (Published for the Dyson family by W. Heffer, Cambridge, UK, 1951).


Aitken, R.G., PASP 51, 336-38 (1939).
Eddington, A.S., Obituary Notices of the Royal Society of London 3, 159-72 (1939-41).
Jackson, J., MNRAS 100, 238-46 (1940).
Schlesinger, Frank, Popular Astronomy 47, 523-25 (1939).
Spencer Jones, H., Observatory 62, 179-87 (1939).


AIP Center for History of Physics
British Pathé, Dyson opening University of London Observatory, 1929 (silent movie)
National Portrait Gallery, photo, 1927
University of Chicago Photographic Archive, photo, 1923

Named after him

Lunar crater Dyson
Minor Planet #1241 Dysona


Papers, etc.

Dyson’s papers are in the Royal Greenwich Observatory archives at Cambridge University. Dyson’s correspondence with G.E. Hale is in the Hale microfilms.

Other References: Historical


Search ADS for works about Dyson

BBC News, “Six Pip Salute,” 5 February 1999

Guardian Unlimited, Special Reports: “With the Astronomer Royal” 30 June 1927

Brück, Herman A., The Story of Astronomy in Edinburgh (Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, UK, 1983).

Chandrasekhar, S., “Verifying the Theory of Relativity,” Bull. Atomic Sci. (1976); reprinted in Notes and Records of the Royal Society 30, 249–60 (1976).

Crelinsten, Jeffrey, Einstein’s Jury: The Race to Test Relativity (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ, 2006).

Dyson, F.W., “The Work of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich,” Observatory, 55, 221-24 (1932).

Earman, John & Clark Glymour, “Relativity and Eclipses: The British Eclipse Expeditions of 1919 and Their Predecessors,” Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 11, 49-85 (1980).

Forbes, E. G. , A.J. Meadows, & H.D. Howse, Greenwich Observatory: the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and Herstmonceux 1675-1975, volumes 1-3, (Taylor and Francis, London, 1975).

Higgitt, Rebekah, “Cosmic Diary: Greenwich 1894

Johnson, Peter Jeffrey, The History of the Royal Observatory and Royal Greenwich Observatory (Royal Greenwich Observatory, Herstmonceux, 1987).

Maunder, E. Walter, The Royal Observatory, Greenwich: A Glance at its History and Work (The Religious tract Society, London, 1900).

McCrea, William Hunter, Royal Greenwich Observatory: An Historical Review issued on the occasion of its Tercentenary (HMSO, London, 1975).

McCrea, W.H., “The Royal Observatory and the Study of Gravitation,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 30, 133–40 (1976).

Meadows, A.J., Greenwich Observatory: The Royal Observatory at Greenwich and Herstmonceux, vol. 2: Recent History 1836-1975 (Taylor & Francis, London, 1975).

Spencer Jones, Harold, The Royal Observatory, Greenwich (Longmans Green & Co., London, etc., 1944).

Other References: Scientific


Search ADS for works by Dyson

Dyson, F.W. & W.G. Thackeray, “A Determination of the Constant of Precession and the Direction of the Solar Motion from a Comparison of Groombridge’s Catalogue (1810) with Modern Greenwich Observations,” MNRAS 65, 428-57 (1905).

Dyson, F.W., “Wireless Time Signals,” Observatory 36, 467-71 (1913).

Dyson, Frank Watson, “On the Opportunity Afforded by the Eclipse of 1919 May 29 of Verifying Einstein’s Theory of Gravitation,” MNRAS 77, 445-47 (1917).

Dyson, Frank Watson, Arthur Stanley Eddington, & Charles Davidson, “A Determination of the Deflection of Light by the Sun’s Gravitational Field, from Observations Made at the Total Eclipse of May 29, 1919,” Phil. Trans. of the Royal Society 220, 291-333 (1920).

Dyson, Frank Watson, Greenwich Catalogue of Stars for 1910.0. Part I. Fundamental Stars. Part II. Stars in the Zone +24°.0 to +32°.0. From Observations with the Transit Circle Made at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, 1903-1914, under the Direction of Sir Frank Watson Dyson, Astronomer Royal (Neill, Edinburgh, 1920).

Dyson, F.W., “Greenwich Mean Time,” Observatory, 44, 158-59 (1921).

Dyson, Frank Watson, Observations Made with the Cookson floating Zenith Telescope in the Years 1911-1918 at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, for the Determination of the Variation of Latitude and the constant of Aberration under the Direction of Sir Frank Dyson ... astronomer royal (Neill, Edinburgh, 1921).

Dyson, Frank Watson, Observations of Stellar Parallax from Photographs taken and Measured at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, vol. 1 and vol. 2, (H.M. Stationery Off., London, 1925 and 1934).

Dyson, F.W. & R.T. Cullen, “Greenwich Observations of the Sun and the Four Outer Planets, from 1901-1928,” MNRAS 89, 256 (1929).

Dyson, Frank Watson, Photographic Magnitudes of Stars Brighter than 14m.0 in 40 of Kapteyn’s Selected Areas, Determined at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, under the Direction of Sir Frank Dyson (H.M. Stationery Off., London, 1931).

Dyson, F.W. & R.v.d.R. Wooley, Eclipses of the Sun and Moon (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1937).

Other Works: Popularizations, Textbooks, History, etc.

Dyson, Frank W., “Measurement of the Distances of the Stars,” Observatory 38, 249-54 (1915) and 38, 292-99 (1915) [Halley lecture].

Dyson, F.W., “The Commencement of the Astronomical Day,” Observatory 40, 301-02 (1917).

Dyson, Frank Watson, Astronomy, a Handy Manual for Students and Others (J.M. Dent & Sons, London, 1910 and E.P. Dutton & Co., New York, 1918).

Dyson, Frank, “The Determination of Stellar Distances,” JRASC 12, 195-201 (1918) [reprinted from Scientia].

Dyson, F.W., “Sixty years of Meridian Astronomy,” Observatory 60, 95-99 (1937).

Dyson, Frank, “Sir William Herschel, 1738-1822,” JRASC 32, 441-46 (1938) [reprinted from Nature].