Articles | Volume 3, issue 1
07 Mar 2012
 | 07 Mar 2012

Sophus Peter Tromholt: an outstanding pioneer in auroral research

K. Moss and P. Stauning

Abstract. The Danish school teacher Sophus Peter Tromholt (1851–1896) was self-taught in physics, astronomy, and auroral sciences. Still, he was one of the brightest auroral researchers of the 19th century. He was the first scientist ever to organize and analyse correlated auroral observations over a wide area (entire Scandinavia) moving away from incomplete localized observations. Tromholt documented the relation between auroras and sunspots and demonstrated the daily, seasonal and solar cycle-related variations in high-latitude auroral occurrence frequencies. Thus, Tromholt was the first ever to deduce from auroral observations the variations associated with what is now known as the auroral oval termed so by Khorosheva (1962) and Feldstein (1963) more than 80 yr later. He made reliable and accurate estimates of the heights of auroras several decades before this important issue was finally settled through Størmer's brilliant photographic technique. In addition to his three major scientific works (Tromholt, 1880a, 1882a, and 1885a), he wrote numerous short science notes and made huge efforts to collect historical auroral observations (Tromholt, 1898). Furthermore, Tromholt wrote a large number of popular science articles in newspapers and journals and made lecture tours all over Scandinavia and Germany, contributing to enhance the public educational level and awareness. He devoted most of his life to auroral research but as a self-taught scientist, he received little acclaim within the contemporary academic scientific society. With his non-academic background, trained at a college of education – not a university – he was never offered a position at a university or a research institution. However, Sophus Tromholt was an outstanding pioneer in auroral research.