See, Thomas Jefferson Jackson

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(b. near Montogomery City, Missouri, 19 February 1866; d. Oakland, California, 4 July 1962)


See graduated from the University of Missouri in 1889 ad received from the doctorate from Berlin in 1892. After three year at the University of Chicago, he spent two years directing the Lowell survey of southern double stars. In 1899 See was appointed U.S. Navy professor of mathematics. He spent three years at the Naval Observatory and one year at the Naval Academy before becoming director of the observatory at Mare Island, California, where he remained until his retirement in 1930.

See’s early investments of double stars led him to study stellar evolution and the evolution of the earth and of the solar system. He was the first to postulate that matter was expelled from stars by repulsive forces, the material condensing into multiple stars or, frequently, solar systems, and that the orbits of the planets become circular because of a resting medium. Satellites, including the moon, were small planets a captured by their primaries. He also believed that planets without dense atmospheres preserved evidence o their formation in their cratered surfaces. See was the first to perform an experimental study of craters formed by high-velocity projectiles. He noted the evidence for lunar erosion by impact and melting, blanketing by dust, and subsidence.

See did not accept the prevalent belief that mountains and ocean trenches resulted from cooling and shrinkage of the earth, postulating instead a dynamic relationship between these features that involved an exchange of material from beneath the continents.

He also formulated the wave theory of gravitation and suggested that the red shift of galaxies was due not to an expanding universe but to the interaction of light and gravity waves.

See’s numerous publications were considered unorthodox and were dismissed by scientists by scientists of his time. Many of his ideas, however, are in striking agreement with current theories.


I. Original Works. See’s voluminous publications may best be sampled in Researches on the Evolution of Steller Systems, 2 vols. (Lynn, Mass.,1896–1910),esp. vol. II, The Capture Theory of Cosmical Evolution. A number of his earlier papers are reprinted by William Larkin Webb in his Brief Biography and Popular Account of the Unparalleled Discoveries of T. J. J. See (Lynn, Mass.,1913). See’s “New Theory of the Aether” is presented in Astronomische Nachrichten, 211 (1920), 49–86, 137–190; 212 (1920), 233–302, 385–454; 214 (1921), 281–359; 215 (1922), 49–138; 217 (1922), 193–284; and 226 (1926), 401–497 (special ed.). See also Wave Theory!, 3 vols. (Lynn, Mass., 1941–1950).

II. Secondary Literature. Obituary notices are by J. Ashbrook, in Sky and Telescope, 24 (1962). The only biography of See is that by W. L. Webb (above), which, however, deals only with See’s life before 1913. A classic demolition of See’s “capture theory” is F. R. Moulton, “Capture Theory and Capture Practice,” in Popular Astronomy, in 20 (1912), 67–82. Moulton had previously shown that See’s “discovery” an invisible body in the system of 70 Ophiuchi was impossible in “The Limits of Temporary Stability of Satellite Motion, With an Application to the Question of the Existence of an Unseen Body in the Binary System F. 70 Ophiuchi,” in Astronomical Journal, 20 (1899), 33 – 37. See’s reply, and his dismissal from that journal, are ibid., 56.

R. A. J. Schorn
L. D. G. Young