S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Woods, Mr Charles Ray (astronomical photography)

Born: Date not known, Place not known.
Died: 1920, Place not known.

C. Ray Woods, an English astronomical photographer, published a paper on "Photographing the solar corona" in the London journal The Observatory in 1884. Shortly afterwards he was engaged by Dr David Gill* of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, to take photographic plates for the Cape Photographic Durchmusterung - the first photographic survey of the southern sky. He arrived at the observatory on 18 February 1885 and took the first plates for the survey on 15 April. He continued with the work on his own until October 1887, when he was joined by Henry Sawerthal*. Their work continued to December 1890, by which time the southern sky from the celestial South Pole to a declination of 18?S had been photographed twice, by means of over 2500 exposures.

After the completion of the survey Woods stayed on as photographic assistant. By 1887 he was a member of the South African Philosophical Society, but his membership lalpsed three or four years later. He was a member of the Royal Photographic Society and in 1891 chaired the first annual general meeting of the Cape Town Photographic Club (of which Gill was honorary president). In 1894 he discovered a variable star of the Algol type in the constellation Vela, by comparing plates taken in March 1893 and January 1894. Many more plates were taken to determine its period of variation (just under six days) and its light curve. Gill reported the discovery under the title "New variable star in Vela", in Astronomische Nachrichten.

In August 1897 Woods became a [human] computer at the observatory, a position he held until he resigned in 1901.

List of sources:
Bensusan, A.D. 19th Century photographers in South Africa. Africana Notes and News, June 1963, Vol. 15(6), pp. 219-252.

Bensusan, A.D. Silver images: History of photography in Africa. Cape Town: H. Timmins, 1966.

General directory and guide book to the Cape of Good Hope and its dependencies, 1886, p. 185.

Gill, D. A history and description of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. London: HMSO, 1913.

Gill, D. & Kapteyn, J.C. The Cape Photographic Durchmusterung for the equinox 1875 (Parts 1-3. Annals of the Cape Observatory, Vol. 3, 4 and 5. See introduction by Gill in Vol. 1). London: HMSO, 1896, 1897, 1900.

Glass, I.S. The beginnings of astronomical photography at the Cape. Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of South Africa (MNASSA), 1989, Vol. 48(11&12), pp. 117-122.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). . Documents relating to Woods, Charles Ray.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers[1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

South African Philosophical Society. Transactions, 1887, Vol. 4 and 1890, Vol. 6: Lists of members.

Warner, B. Astronomers at the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Cape Town: Balkema, 1979.

Compiled by: C. Plug