Wednesday 10 November 2021

Sir Frank Watson Dyson, the Time Pip Man


Sir Frank Watson Dyson 1868-1939 was born near Ashby de la Zouche in Leicestershire who is largely remembered today for introducing the time signals or (pips) from Greenwich.

Although not born in Yorkshire when he was very young his family moved to Yorkshire. He attended the Heath Grammar School, Halifax. He then won a scholarship to Bradford Grammar School and then Trinity College, Cambridge where he studied astronomy and mathematics.

In 1894 he was given the post of senior assistant at Greenwich Observatory and worked on the astrographic catalogue which was a massive international project which started in the late 19th century to photograph the night sky. It was only partially success with some areas of the sky never being completed. The British section was however completed in 1905.

Frank Watson Dyson was appointed astronomer royal for Scotland from 1905-1910 and astronomer royal at the royal Greenwich observatory from 1910 to 1933. He was knighted in 1915.

Probably his most known contribution came about in 1924 when he introduced the six time pips via the BBC. While in 1928 he introduced what was at the time the most accurate clock and organised wireless transmissions from the GPO wireless station at Rugby. With all his work on clocks he was for several years the president of the British Horological Society.

Sir Frank met King George v in 1925 and took him for a tour around the Greenwich Observatory this was part of a meeting of the International Astronomical Union IAU who were meeting at Cambridge. Frank Watson Dyson would become president of the IAU between 1928-1932. Another Yorkshire Alfred Fowler was in fact the first secretary of the IAU in 1919.

Sir Frank was at Giggleswick School in 1927 for the eclipse of the Sun that was visible over North Wales and Northern England. He had a great interest in eclipses of the Sun and helped to organise the expeditions to Brazil to observe it and astronomers there confirmed Albert Einstein’s theory of the effect gravity on light.

He worked with astronomers around the world and this was appreciated with everyone who knew him. One interesting story much closer to home comes from the 1920s involved a telephone called that a clergyman from Blackheath in London took from Sir Frank. He told the clergyman there was a crack on the church tower. The clergyman asked how do you know, I can’t see anything wrong. Sir Frank replied No I daresay not but with my big telescope I can. I assume this was the 28 inch refractor at Greenwich

The crater Dyson on the Moon is named after him as is the asteroid 1241 Dysona.

Sir Frank Watson Dyson’s health was failing and sadly he died on a ship travelling from Australia back to England. He died on May 25th 1939 and was buried at sea.

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