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In 1888, Simon Newcomb, a traditional astronomer and head of the Naval Observatory, published an article in which he claimed, "so far as astronomy is concerned, it must be confessed that we do appear to be fast approaching the limits of our knowledge." When she first read Newcomb's article, Catherine Bruce had not yet donated any money to astronomy research. However, Bruce, a wealthy philanthropist, eventually proved to be Harvard College Observatory’s best supporter. Upon reading Newcomb's commentary, Bruce was shocked and immediately contacted Alvan Graham Clark, a telescope maker in Philadelphia, to find out how she could support new research in astronomy. Clark put her in touch with Pickering at the Harvard College Observatory. She later wrote to Newcomb, the pessimistic astronomer:

"I think we are beginning else why set to work [on] Photography, Spectroscopy, Chemistry and soon but perhaps not this generation Electricity. Think of the great mechanical improvements—think of the double stars revolving around a common center, of the variable stars—of of—you laugh at being as it were lectured by me. The world is young."

--Catherine Bruce, 1892