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Carter, William E. 1939-

CARTER, William E. 1939-

(Bill Carter)

PERSONAL: Born October 16, 1939, in Steubenville, OH; son of Donald (a business owner) and H. Virginia (a homemaker; maiden name, Martin) Carter; married Marilyn Johnson (a contract officer), January 16, 1960; children: Terri Lynn, Merri Sue, Pamela. Education: University of Pittsburgh, B.S. (civil engineering), 1961; Ohio State University, M.S. (geodetic science), 1965; University of Arizona, Ph.D. (civil engineering), 1973. Hobbies and other interests: Golfing, photography, snorkeling.

ADDRESSES: Home—5154 Medoras Ave., St. Augustine, FL 32080. Office—Dept. of Civil and Coastal Engineering, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Research geodesist, civil engineer. U.S. Air Force, 1965-72, Cheyenne, WY, geodetic officer, 1965-67, Great Falls, MT, missile launch officer; 1967-69, Tucson, AZ, research geodesist, 1969-72; University of Hawaii, Maui, research geodesist, 1972-76; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Silver Springs, MD, 1976-96, chief of geodetic research and development laboratory, 1992-96; University of Florida, Gainesville, adjunct professor of engineering, 1996—. Military service: U.S. Air Force, captain, 1961-69.

MEMBER: International Astronomical, International Association of Geodesy, International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, American Astronomical Society, American Geophysical Union.

AWARDS, HONORS: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator's award, 1984, and technology transfer award, 1994; DOC Silver Medal, 1986, and Gold Medal, 1988; National Aeronautic and Space Administration group achievement award, 1986, 1989.


(As Bill Carter; with daughter, Merri Sue Carter) Latitude: How American Astronomers Solved the Mystery of Variation, Naval Institute Press (Annapolis, MD), 2002.

Author of scientific papers and articles; contributor to journals and periodicals, including Science, Scientific American, and Nature. Corresponding editor for History, American Geophysical Union.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A book on the history of science.

SIDELIGHTS: William E. Carter is a former research geodesist with the U.S. Air Force and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He wrote Latitude: How American Astronomers Solved the Mystery of Variation with his daughter, Merri Sue Carter, an astronomer with the U.S. Naval Observatory.

The origin of Latitude dates back a quarter of a century to when a small group of geodesists and astronomers decided that the time had come to develop a modern earth orientation monitoring service to support the exploration of space, verify plate tectonic theory, and probe the inner structure of Earth. Bill Carter, one of the prime movers in that effort, was shocked to learn that many of his colleagues used the term "Chandler Wobble" in their everyday work, but had no idea who Chandler was or how he had discovered the wobble of Earth which now bears his name. Over the next decade Carter authored refereed papers for scientific journals and presented talks at scientific conferences to inform his colleagues about the remarkable work of Seth Carlo Chandler, Jr.

When Merri Sue Carter graduated from the University of Maryland and began her career at the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO), her duties included preparing and disseminating the earth orientation parameters derived from the new International Earth Rotation Service. Simon Newcomb, the astronomer who reconciled Chandler's observational findings with theory, had spent his entire career as a Navy Professor of Mathematics at the USNO and the Nautical Almanac Office. Merri Sue developed an interest in the early history of USNO, especially the contributions women had made, and began documenting their contributions in a series of talks and papers. Her research on earth rotation and the history of USNO naturally led her to an interest in the internationally acclaimed work of Simon Newcomb. In 1994 Bill and Merri Sue were invited by the National Academy of Sciences to correct nearly a century of neglect, by writing a biography of Chandler. A few years later, inspired by the success of Dava Sobel's book Longitude, Merri Sue suggested that she and her father collaborate in writing the story of the discovery and explanation of the "variation of latitude" as a popularized history of science book.

The research and writing of Latitude took approximately two years. Perhaps the greatest challenge for the first-time authors was to find the right publisher. The central role of Simon Newcomb in the story pointed them to the Naval Institute Press. The first printing of Latitude sold out in just three months, prompting a second printing.

The book is a history of how in 1891, Seth Carlo Chandler, Jr., an insurance company actuary with no formal education in astronomy, built an instrument that accurately detected the variation of latitude, dubbed the "Chandler Wobble," and how another American, Newcomb, validated Chandler's findings while working at the USNO. The authors draw on private correspondence, photographs, and other documents provided by Chandler's granddaughter that reveal not only Chandler's life within the scientific community, but also his family life.

Chandler's discovery was a defining moment in American science. When the United States gained independence from Britain, Europe was the center of the scientific community. Americans, with no funding, were far behind. In the middle of the nineteenth century Alexander Dallas Bache, a great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin and one of a group of scientists working toward raising the level of science in the States, named their group the Lazzaroni, the Italian word for beggar. Their begging failed to extract federal funds for the development of a national astronomical observatory, but they did find success when the USNO came into being, with its fine refractor telescope and the hiring of Newcomb.

European scientists had been working for more than a century to overcome latitudinal variation in their measurements, but their observations could not be repeated to better than several tenths of a second of arc. Sir George Biddle Airy, the Astronomer Royal of England, invented the Reflex Zenith Tube, which used a pool of mercury as an optical element. Its purpose was to eliminate the effects of uncorrected atmospheric refraction, gravitational loading, and temperature change, but in 1882, after thirty years of experimentation, it was declared a failure.

In 1884 Chandler began to make his observations with his instrument, the Almucantar—which cost less than seven hundred dollars to construct—which also contained mercury, not as an optical element, but as a flotation bearing. This instrument significantly advanced space exploration and led to the development of present-day global positioning systems.

Latitude is understandable to a nonspecialist audience comfortable with scientific language and provides explanations of the Earth's physical properties. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that "wading through the physics of it all, the Carters manage to convey a sense of Earth's dynamic nature—the swiftness of its transformations—and the impermanence of all things measured."



Booklist, September 1, 2002, Bryce Christensen, review of Latitude: How American Astronomers Solved the Mystery of Variation, p. 32.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of Latitude, p. 1276.

Library Journal, October 1, 2002, James Olson, review of Latitude, p. 122.

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