William Wilson Morgan

William Wilson Morgan


Date of Birth
January 3, 1906
Date of Death
June 21, 1994

After three years of undergraduate study at Washington and Lee University Bill Morgan joined the staff of the Yerkes Observatory, where he spent his entire career, including three years as director. While at Yerkes he earned bachelor’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Chicago, the latter under Otto Struve with a thesis on the spectra of A stars. Eschewing theory, he devoted his research to morphology, the classification of objects by their form and structure. He, Philip Keenan, and Edith Kellman introduced stellar luminosity classes and the two-dimensional classification of stellar spectra strictly on the basis of the spectra themselves (the MK system). He would use the spectra combined with photoelectric color indices measured elsewhere to determine stellar distances. With Donald E. Osterbrock and Stewart Sharpless he demonstrated the existence of spiral arms in the Galaxy using precise distances of O and B stars. Morgan invented the UBV system of magnitudes and colors, and Morgan and Nicholas U. Mayall developed a spectral classification system for giant galaxies. He served as editor of the Astrophysical Journal from 1947 to 1952.

Presentation of Bruce medal

McKellar, Andrew, PASP 70, 129-32 (1958).

Other awards

American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1961.
National Academy of Sciences, Henry Draper Medal, 1980.
Royal Astronomical Society, Herschel Medal, 1983, presented by M.J. Rycroft, Observatory 103, 225-26 (1983).

Biographical materials

Morgan, W.W., “A Morphological Life,” Ann. Rev. Astr. & Astrophys. 26, 1-9 (1988).
Osterbrock, Donald E., Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 72, 288-313 (1997) [html or pdf].


Garrison, Robert F., PASP 107, 507-12 (1995).
McNally, D., QJRAS 36, 175-77 (1995).
Osterbrock, Donald E., Physics Today 47, 12, 82 (1994).
Wilford, John Noble, The New York Times, 24 June 1994, v143, pB13(N) pA25(L), col 1.
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Yerkes Observatory

Named after him

Minor planet #3180 Morgan


Papers, etc.

Many of Morgan’s papers are at the University of Chicago Archives. There is an oral history interview at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives.

Other References: Historical

Corbally, C.J.; Gray, R.O.; Garrison, Robert F. (Eds.): The MK Process at 50 years: A Powerful Tool for Astrophysical Insight. A Workshop of the Vatican Observatory, Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A., September 1993 (Astronomical Society of the Pacific, San Francisco, CA, 1994). [Part V: The history of MK classification. With contributions by D.E.Osterbrock, D.Hoffleit, M.F.McCarthy, and J. Rountree].

Evans, David S. & J. Derral Mulholland, Big and Bright: A History of the McDonald Observatory (Univ. of Texas Press, Austin, 1986).

Garrison, R.F., “The MK Process and Stellar Classification,” in R.F. Garrison, ed., The MK Process and Stellar Classification. Proceedings of the Workshop in Honor of W.W. Morgan and P.C. Keenan, held at the University of Toronto, Canada, June 1983 (U. of Toronto, 1984), pp. 3-14.

Gingerich, Owen, “The Discovery of the Spiral Arms of the Milky Way,” in H. van Woerden, R.J. Allen, & W.. Burton, eds., The Milky Way Galaxy, IAU Symposium 106 (D. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1985), pp. 59-70.

Hearnshaw, J. B., The Analysis of Starlight (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1986).

Kuiper, G.P. & W.W. Morgan, “Studies of the Stellar System,” Science 106, 201-02 (1947).

Keenan, Philip C., “Spectral Types and Their Uses,” PASP 99, 713-23 (1987).

Osterbrock, Donald E., “Fifty Years Ago: Astronomy; Yerkes Observatory; Morgan, Keenan, Kellman,” in The MK Process at 50 Years, C.J. Corbally, R. O. Gray, & R.F. Garrison, eds. (ASP Conference Series, vol. 60, 1994), 199-214.

Osterbrock, Donald E., Yerkes Observatory 1892-1950: The Birth, Near Death, and Resurrection of a Scientific Research Institution (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1997).

Sheehan, William, “W.W. Morgan and the Discovery of the Spiral Arm Structure of Our Galaxy,” Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 11, 3-21 (2008).

Wayman, P.A., “Presentation of the 1983 Herschel Medal to W.W. Morgan,” in R.F. Garrison, ed., The MK Process and Stellar Classification. Proceedings of the Workshop in Honor of W.W. Morgan and P.C. Keenan, held at the University of Toronto, Canada, June 1983 (U. of Toronto, 1984), pp. XIX-XX.

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Other References: Scientific

Morgan, W.W., “Observations of the Short-period Variable AK Herculis,” Popular Astronomy 35, 547-49 (1927).

Struve, O. & W.W. Morgan, “Orbit of the Spectroscopic Binary 95 ο Leonis,” Ap.J. 66, 135-38 (1927).

Morgan, W.W., “Studies in Peculiar Stellar Spectra. I. The Manganese Lines in α Andromedae,” Ap.J. 73, 104-17 (1931).

Morgan, W.W., “Studies in Peculiar Stellar Spectra. II. The Spectrum of B. D. –18°3789,” Ap.J. 74, 24-34 (1931).

Morgan, W.W., “Studies in Peculiar Stellar Spectra. III. On the Occurrence of Europium in A-Type Stars,” Ap.J. 75, 46-59 (1932).

Morgan, W.W., “On the Spectral Classification of the Stars of Types A to K,” Ap.J. 85, 380 (1937).

Morgan, W.W., “On the Determination of Color Indices of Stars from a Classification of Their Spectra,” Ap.J. 87, 460 (1938).

Morgan, W.W. & P. C. Keenan, “On the Spectral Type of the Sun,” PASP 51, 355-56 (1939).

Morgan, W.W., Philip Keenan & E. Kellman, An Atlas of Stellar Spectra (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1943).

Roman, Nancy G., W.W. Morgan, & Olin J. Eggen, “The Classification of the ‘Metallic-Line’ Stars,” Ap.J. 107, 107-109 (1948).

Morgan, W.W. & Nancy G. Roman, “Revised Standards for Supergiants on the System of the Yerkes Spectral Atlas,” Ap.J. 112 362-64 (1950).

Morgan, W.W., “Application of the Principle of Natural Groups to the Classification of Stellar Spectra, ” Pub. Univ. Michigan Obs. 10, 33 (1951).

Johnson, H.L. & W.W. Morgan, “On the Color-Magnitude Diagram of the Pleiades,” Ap.J. 114, 522-43 (1951).

Morgan, William W., Stewart Sharpless, & Donald Osterbrock, “Some Features of Galactic Structure in the Neighborhood of the Sun,” Astron. Journal 57, 3 (1951) and Sky & Telescope 11, 138 (1952).

Johnson, H.L. & W.W. Morgan, “Fundamental Stellar Photometry for Standards of Spectral Type in the Revised System of the Yerkes Spectral Atlas,” Ap.J. 117, 313-52 (1953) [reprinted in the centennial edition Ap.J. 525, 519 (1999) with a modern commentary by Sidney van den Bergh].

Morgan, W.W., D.L. Harris, & H.L. Johnson, “Some Characteristics of Color Systems, ” Ap.J. 118, 92-105 (1953).

Morgan, W.W., A.E. Whitford, & A.D. Code, “Studies in Galactic Structure I. A Preliminary Determination of the Space Distribution of the Blue Giants,” Ap.J. 118, 318-22 (1953).

Johnson, H.L. & W.W. Morgan, “A Heavily Obscured O-Association in Cygnus” Ap.J. 119, 344-45 (1954).

Blaauw, A. & W.W. Morgan, “The Space Motions of AE Aurigae and μ Columbae with Respect to the Orion Nebula,” Ap.J. 119, 625-30 (1954).

Nassau, J.J., V.M. Blanco, & W.W. Morgan, “Reddened Early M- and S-Type Stars Near the Galactic Equator,” Ap.J. 120, 478-83 (1954).

Morgan, W.W., A.D. Code, & A.E. Whitford, “Studies in Galactic Structure II. Luminosity Classification for 1270 Blue Giant Stars,” Ap.J. Supp. 2, 41-74 (1955).

Morgan, W.W., Bengt Strömgren, & Hugh L. Johnson, “A Description of Certain Galactic Nebulosities., ” Ap.J. 121, 611-15 (1955).

Johnson, H.L. & W.W. Morgan, “Photometric and Spectroscopic Observations of the Double Cluster in Perseus” Ap.J. 122, 429-33 (1955).

Morgan, W.W., “The Integrated Spectral Types of Globular Clusters,” PASP 68, 509-16 (1956).

Morgan, W.W. & N.U. Mayall, “A Spectral Classification Of Galaxies,” PASP 69, 291, (1957) [available on the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database].

Morgan, W.W., “A Preliminary Classification of the Forms of Galaxies According to their Stellar Population. I.,” PASP 70, 364-91 (1958). [available on the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database].

Morgan, W.W., “The Integrated Spectra of Globular Clusters,” Astronomical Journal 64, 432-36 (1959).

Morgan, W.W., “A Preliminary Classification of the Forms of Galaxies According to their Stellar Population. II.,” PASP 71, 394-411 (1959).

Matthews, Thomas A, William W. Morgan, & Maarten Schmidt, “A Discussion of Galaxies Indentified with Radio Sources,” Ap.J. 140, 35-49 (1964).

Morgan, W.W. & W.A. Hiltner, “Studies in Spectral Classification. I. The HR Diagram of the Hyades,” Ap.J. 141, 177-82 (1965).

Hiltner, W.A., W.W. Morgan, & J.S. Neff, “Studies in Spectral Classification. II. The HR Diagram of NGC 6530.,” Ap.J. 141, 183-86 (1965).

Morgan, W.W., W.A. Hiltner, J.S. Neff, R. Garrison, & D.E. Osterbrock, “Studies in Spectral Classification. III. The H-R Diagrams of NGC 2244 and NGC 2264.,” Ap.J. 142, 974-78 (1965).

Morgan, W.W. & Janet Rountree Lesh, “The Supergiant Galaxies,” Ap.J. 142, 1364-65 (1965).

Morgan, W.W., “Introductory Paper,” IAU Symp. 24, 3-5 (1966).

Abt, H.A., A.B. Meinel, W.W. Morgan, & J.W. Tapscott, An Atlas of Low-Dispersion Grating Stellar Spectra (1968).

W. W. Morgan & D.E. Osterbrock, “On the Classification of the Forms and the Stellar Content of Galaxies,” Astron. Journal 74, 515 (1969).

Abt, H.A. & W.W. Morgan, “The H-R diagram of NGC 2516,” Astronomical Journal 74, 813-15 (1969.

L.P. Bautz & Morgan, W.W., “On the Classification of the Forms of Clusters of Galaxies,” Ap.J. 162L, 149-53 (1970).

Morgan, W.W., “Classification of Compact Objects: QSS, QSOs, N-Type and Compact Galaxies, Seyfert and Galactic Nuclei,” in David Stanley Evans, Derek Wills, and Beverly J. Wills, eds., External Galaxies and Quasi-Stellar Objects, Proceedings from IAU Symposium no. 44 held in Uppsala, Sweden, 10-14 August 1970. (Reidel, Dordrecht, 1972), pp. 97-103.

Morgan, W.W. & P.C. Keenan. “Spectral Classification,” Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 11, 29-50 (1973).

Morgan, W.W., Susan Kayser, & Richard A. White, “cD Galaxies in Poor Clusters,” Ap.J. 199, 545-48 (1975).

Morgan, W.W., “Remarks on Some Aspects of Spectral Classification,” IAU Symp. 72, 219-21 (1976).

Albert, C.E., Richard A. White & W.W. Morgan, “cD galaxies in poor clusters. II,” Ap.J. 211, 309-10 (1977).

Morgan, W.W., H.A. Abt, & J.W. Tapschott, Revised MK Spectral Atlas for Stars Earlier than the Sun (Yerkes Obs. & Kitt Peak Nat. Obs., Williams Bay, WI & Tucson, AZ, 1978) [available on the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database].

Morgan, W.W., “Remarks on the MK System,” in M. F. McCarthy, A. G. D. Philip, and G. V. Coyne, eds., Spectral Classification of the Future, Proceedings of the IAU Colloq. 47, held in Vatican City, July 11-15, 1978 (Vatican Observatory, 1979), p. 59-61.

Morgan, W.W., “The MK System and the MK Process,” in R.F. Garrison, ed., The MK Process and Stellar Classification, Proceedings of the Workshop in Honour of W.W. Morgan and P.C. Keenan, Held at the University of Toronto, Canada, June 1983 (University of Toronto, Toronto, 1984), p. 18ff (1984) [available on the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database].

Morgan, W.W. & Richard D. Dreiser, “Morphology of Optical Forms of N Galaxies,” Ap.J. 269, 438-39 (1983).

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Other Works: Popularizations, Fiction, etc.

Morgan, W.W., “Some Vistas of Astronomical Discovery,” PASP 72, 153-58 (1960). [Address delivered at dedication of Kitt Peak National Observatory, 15 March 1959]