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James W. Christy and Robert Harrington (right) in 1978, U.S. Navy Image

Robert Sutton Harrington (October 21, 1942January 23, 1993) was an American astronomer who worked at US Naval Observatory. He should not be confused with Robert G. Harrington, who was also an astronomer, but was born earlier and worked at the Palomar Observatory.

Harrington was born near Newport News, Virginia. His father was an archaeologist. He was married to Betty-Jean Maycock in 1976, with two daughters, Amy and Ann.

Harrington worked at the US Naval Observatory. Another astronomer there, James W. Christy, consulted with him when he (Christy) found bulges in the images of Pluto which turned out to be Pluto's satellite Charon. For this reason, some consider Harrington to be a co-discoverer of Charon, although Christy usually gets sole credit. By the laws of physics, it is easy to determine the mass of a binary system based on its orbital period, so Harrington was the first to calculate the mass of the Pluto-Charon system, which was lower than even the lowest previous estimates of Pluto's mass.

Harrington became a believer in the existence of a Planet X beyond Pluto and undertook searches for it, unsuccessfully. In this he collaborated initially with T. C. (Tom) Van Flandern.

Harrington died of esophageal cancer in 1993. The asteroid 3216 Harrington was named in his honour.



* US Naval Observatory: obituary

* BAAS 25 (1993) 1496


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