Saturday, January 31, 2009

January 31: Joost Bürgi

Joost Bürgi
February 28, 1552 - January 31, 1632

Joost Bürgi, or Jobst Bürgi, was a Swiss clockmaker, a maker of astronomical instruments and a mathematician. He is widely considered one of the most innovative and most skillful 'mechanics' of his era. It has been suggested that he should also be counted among the leading astronomers of his time because his unprecedented ability to design and construct mechanical models of the movement of heavenly bodies proves an advanced level of insight into celestial mechanics. He worked closely with the astronomer Tycho Brahe at the court of Rudolf II. He also worked with the astronomer and cosmologist Johannes Kepler.

Bürgi became the most innovative clock and scientific instrument maker of his time. Among his major horological inventions were the cross-beat escapement, and the remontoire, two mechanisms which improved the accuracy of mechanical clocks of the time by orders of magnitude. This allowed for the first time clocks to be used as scientific instruments, with enough accuracy to time the passing of stars (and other heavenly bodies) in the crosshairs of telescopes to start accurately charting stellar positions.

Working as an instrument maker for the court of the Margraf Wilhelm in Kassel he played a pivotal role in developing the first astronomical charts. He invented logarithms as a working tool for himself for his astronomical calculations, but as a "craftsman/scholar" rather than a "book scholar" he failed to publish his invention for a long time.

The most significant artifacts designed and built by Burgi surviving in museums are:
  • Several mechanized celestial globes (now in Paris, Zuerich (Schweizerisches Landesmuseum), Stuttgart)
  • Several clocks in Kassel, Dresden (Mathematisch Physikalischer Salon) and Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum)
  • Sextants made for Keppler (at the National Technical Museum in Prag)
  • The Mond-Anomalien-Uhr (a mechanical model of the irregularities of the motion of the Moon around the Earth)
The Lunar crater Byrgius is named in his honor.

Friday, January 30, 2009

January 30: Rudolf König

Krieger's Mond-Atlas, published by König

Rudolf König
August 18, 1865 – January 30, 1927

Rudolf König was an Austrian merchant, amateur astronomer and selenographer. He was born in Vienna and received his technical education in Leipzig. After graduation he went into his father's business. As he had an interest in astronomy, in 1906 he built a private observatory in Vienna. From this observatory he carried out many observations of the Moon. His primary telescope was a Carl Zeiss 21-cm reflector in a massive equatorial mount designed for astrophotography.

König was interested in lunar mapping studies and was the editor of the second part of J. N. Krieger's Mond-Atlas (1898-1912). In 1912 he published a volume of illustrations of the Moon made by his then deceased friend. He also made extensive observations of comets and star clusters and determined the exact position of 8,000 astronomical objects.

After his death his widow sold his telescope to the Czech Astronomical Society "for the establishment of an observatory." The instrument is now operated by the Prague ObservatoryKönig's extensive technical library and other astronomical equipment went to the University Observatory of Vienna. His 6-meter wide private observatory dome still exists today, but is no longer used for observations.

The Lunar crater König is named in his honor.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

January 29: William Cranch Bond

William Cranch Bond
September 9, 1789 – January 29, 1859

William Cranch Bond was an American astronomer and the first director of Harvard College Observatory. In 1806, when he was seventeen years old, Bond saw a solar eclipse. Soon thereafter, he became an avid amateur astronomer. When he built his first house, Bond made its parlor an observatory, complete with an opening in the ceiling out of which his telescope could view the sky.

In 1839, Bond was allowed to move his personal astronomical equipment to Harvard and serve as its (unpaid) "Astronomical Observer to the University." Later, in 1843, a sun-grazing comet aroused enough public interest in astronomy that Harvard was able to raise $25,730 towards the construction of a state-of-the-art observatory. Bond designed the building and the observing chair (both of which are still in working order today), and Harvard bought a fifteen-inch German-built refracting telescope, equal in size to the largest in the world at the time. The telescope was first put to use on June 24, 1847, when it was pointed to the Moon.

Bond independently discovered the Great Comet of 1811 and he and his son, George Phillips Bond, discovered Saturn's moon Hyperion; it was independently co-discovered at the same time by William Lassell in Britain, and both are given credit. Father and son were the first to observe the then innermost ring of Saturn, termed the Crepe ring when they pointed Harvard’s telescope towards Saturn in 1850. Working with John Adams Whipple, the Bonds pioneered astrophotography, taking the first daguerreotype image of a star (Vega, in 1850) ever taken from America. In all, the threesome took between 200 and 300 photos of celestial objects.

A number of celestial objects have been named in Bond's honor, including: The Lunar crater W. Bond, a region on Hyperion called the "Bond-Lassel Dorsum" and Asteroid (767) Bondia, jointly named after him and his son.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 28: Johannes Hevelius

Johannes Hevelius
January 28, 1611 – January 28, 1687

Johannes Hevelius (Latin), also called Jan Heweliusz (in Polish), was a Polish astronomer. He gained the reputation of "the founder of lunar topography" and invented ten new constellations, seven of which are still recognized by astronomers (Canes Venatici, Lacerta, Leo Minor, Lynx, Scutum, Sextans and Vulpecula).

In 1641 he built an observatory on the roofs of his three connected houses, equipping it with splendid instruments, including ultimately a tubeless telescope of 45 m (150 ft) focal length, constructed by himself.

In May 1679, the young Englishman Edmund Halley visited Hevelius as emissary of the Royal Society. Halley had been instructed by Robert Hooke and John Flamsteed to persuade Hevelius to use telescopes, yet Hevelius demonstrated that he could do well with only quadrant and alidade. He is thus considered the last astronomer to do major work without lenses.

Hevelius made observations of sunspots, 1642–1645, devoted four years to charting the lunar surface, discovered the Moon's libration in longitude, and published his results in Selenographia, sive Lunae descriptio (1647), a work which entitles him to be called "the founder of lunar topography."

He discovered four comets, in 1652, 1661 (probably Ikeya-Zhang), 1672 and 1677. These discoveries led to his thesis that such bodies revolve around the Sun in parabolic paths.

Katharine, his first wife, died in 1662, and a year later Hevelius married Elisabeth Koopmann, the young daughter of a merchant family. The couple had four children. Elisabeth supported him, published two of his works after his death, and is considered the first female astronomer and called "the mother of moon charts". Her life was recently novelized as The Star Huntress (2006).

The Lunar crater Hevelius is named in his honor.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

January 27: Issac Roberts

Isaac Roberts
January 27, 1829-July 17, 1904

Isaac Roberts was a Welsh astronomer who was a pioneer in photography of nebulae. He was a member of the Liverpool Astronomical Society in England and was a fellow of the Royal Geological Society. Roberts was also awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1895.

In 1883, Roberts began experimenting with stellar photography and by 1885 he had built an observatory with a 20-inch reflector. This allowed him to make significant progress in the then-developing field of astronomical photography.

Some deep space objects were too faint to be viewed by a normal telescope. However, these could be revealed using a photographic plate if the exposure was long enough. However, because the Earth rotates, the longer the exposure time was, the blurrier the image would be. On the other hand, if the exposure time was too short, then an image could not be produced due to the faint nature of these deep space objects. Isaac Roberts's solution to this dilemma was to develop a telescope/camera combination that would track the subject, allowing for a long exposure time as well as a clear image.

Some of his notable works include photographs of the Orion Nebula and Pleiades. Most consider Roberts's magnum opus to be a photograph showing the spiral structure of the Great Nebula in Andromeda, taken on December 29, 1888. His long exposure of the Andromeda Nebula revealed that it was actually a spiral nebula, which was quite unexpected at the time. Photographs such as this changed astronomy by revealing the true form of nebulae and clusters.

In addition to his considerable advancements in the field of astro-photography, Roberts also invented a machine called the Stellar Pantograver that could engrave stellar positions on copper plates.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

January 26: Leo Goldberg

Leo Goldberg
January 26, 1913 – November 1, 1987

Leo Goldberg was one of the most distinguished leaders of the astronomical community in this century. He achieved outstanding success in the application of atomic physics to astrophysical problems, and is best known for pioneering efforts in the study of the sun from space. He is also known for his contributions to our understanding of gaseous nebulae, and to solar and stellar physics.  

Goldberg was director of three important observatories: University of Michigan (1946-60), Harvard (1960-71), where he was responsible for recruiting a number of outstanding young astronomers and nurturing a number of new research programs, and Kitt Peak National Observatory (1971-77), where he oversaw the commissioning and initial instrumentation of the Mayall and Blanco 4-meter telescopes. 

He played an important role in founding the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Kitt Peak National Observatory, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. He contributed real leadership as president of the American Astronomical Society (1964-66) and the International Astronomical Union (1971-76). From 1967-70, he served as Chair of NASA’s Astronomy Missions Board, and helped develop a strategic vision that led to a suite of ground-breaking missions that revolutionized solar physics and astrophysics during the ensuing decades. NOAO named their five-year fellowship in memory and honor of Leo Goldberg.

January 25: Joseph Louis Lagrange

Joseph-Louis Lagrange
January 25, 1736 – April 10, 1813 

Joseph-Louis, Comte de Lagrange was an Italian-French mathematician and astronomer who made important contributions to classical and celestial mechanics and to number theory as arguably the greatest mathematician of the 18th century.

Before the age of 20 Legrange was professor of geometry at the royal artillery school at Turin. By his mid-twenties he was recognized as one of the greatest living mathematicians because of his papers on wave propagation and the maxima and minima of curves. His greatest work, Mecanique Analytique (Analytical Mechanics) was a mathematical masterpiece and the basis for all later work in this field. It offered the most comprehensive treatment of classical mechanics since Newton and formed a basis for the development of mathematical physics in the nineteenth century.

He studied the three-body problem for the Earth, Sun, and Moon (1764) and the movement of Jupiter’s satellites (1766), and in 1772 found the special-case solutions to this problem that are now known as Lagrangian points. But above all he impressed on mechanics, having transformed Newtonian mechanics into a branch of analysis, Lagrangian mechanics as it is now called, and exhibited the so-called mechanical "principles" as simple results of the variational calculus.

Lagrange wrote numerous papers on problems in astronomy. Of these the most important are the following:
  • Attempting to solve the three-body problem resulting in the discovery of Lagrangian points, 1772
  • On the attraction of ellipsoids, 1773: this is founded on Maclaurin's work.
  • On the secular equation of the Moon, 1773; also noticeable for the earliest introduction of the idea of the potential. The potential of a body at any point is the sum of the mass of every element of the body when divided by its distance from the point. Lagrange showed that if the potential of a body at an external point were known, the attraction in any direction could be at once found. The theory of the potential was elaborated in a paper sent to Berlin in 1777.
  • On the motion of the nodes of a planet's orbit, 1774.
  • On the stability of the planetary orbits, 1776.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1790, and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1791. The Lunar crater Lagrange is named in his honor.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 24: Harold Delos Babcock

Harold Delos Babcock
January 24, 1882 – April 8, 1968

Harold Babcock was an American astronomer. Educated at the University of California, Berkeley, he was one of the first staff workers at the Mount Wilson Observatory. He worked there from 1909 until 1948 and he specialized in solar spectroscopy and mapped the distribution of magnetic fields over the Sun's surface. In the early years he made precision measurements of spectra in the laboratory and participated in solar research with George E. Hale. With his son he revealed the existence of strong magnetic fields in certain stars. Babcock’s precise laboratory studies of atomic spectra allowed others to identify the first “forbidden” lines in the laboratory and to discover the rare isotopes of oxygen. 

In 1953 he won the Bruce Medal. The Lunar crater Babcock is named in his honor, as is asteroid 3167 Babcock (jointly named after him and his son).

Friday, January 23, 2009

January 23: Ernst Karl Abbe

Ernst Karl Abbe 
January 23, 1840 – January 14, 1905

Ernst Karl Abbe was a German physicist at the University of Jena. Abbe was one of the foremost optical engineers of all time. During his 40 year association with the Carl Zeiss Optical Works in Jena (of which he eventually became owner), he made important contributions to things as diverse as the production of technical glass, the mathematical theory of aberrations in optical instruments, and workplace reform. Although Abbe's personal work concentrated on the perfection of the microscope, during his tenure Zeiss was a leading producer of precision optical instruments of all sorts, including telescopes. 

He designed the first refractometer, which he described in a booklet published in 1874. The Lunar crater Abbe is named in his honor.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 22: Pierre Gassendi

Pierre Gassendi
January 22, 1592 – October 24, 1655

Pierre Gassendi was a French philosopher, priest, scientist, astronomer, and mathematician. With a church position in south-east France, he also spent much time in Paris, where he was a leader of a group of free-thinking intellectuals. 

He was also an active observational scientist. In 1631, Gassendi became the first person to observe the transit of a planet across the Sun, viewing the transit of Mercury that Kepler had predicted. He was then the first to publish data on the transit. In December of the same year, he watched for the transit of Venus, but this event occurred when it was night time in Paris. 

He wrote numerous philosophical works, and some of the positions he worked out are considered significant, finding a way between scepticism and dogmatism. Richard Popkin indicates that Gassendi was one of the first thinkers to formulate the modern "scientific outlook", of moderated scepticism and empiricism. He clashed with his contemporary Descartes on the possibility of certain knowledge. His best known intellectual project attempted to reconcile Epicurean atomism with Christianity. (In natural philosophy, atomism is the theory that all the objects in the universe are composed of very small, indestructible building blocks – atoms.)

In 1653 he published works on the lives of Copernicus and of Tycho Brahe. The Lunar crater Gassendi is named after him.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January 21: John Couch Adams

John Couch Adams 
June 5, 1819 – January 21, 1892

John Couch Adams was a British mathematician and astronomer. His most famous achievement was predicting the existence and position of Neptune, using only mathematics. The calculations were made to explain discrepancies with Uranus's orbit and the laws of Kepler and Newton. At the same time, but unknown to each other, the same calculations were made by Urbain Le Verrier. Le Verrier would assist Galle in locating the planet on September 23, 1846, which was found within 1° of its predicted location, a point in Aquarius. There was, and to some extent still is, some controversy over the apportionment of credit for the discovery.

Although he was not an active lunar observer, he was (as Wilkins and Moore point out) an outstanding mathematician and greatly improved the "lunar theory" (i.e., our understanding of the Moon's orbit).

The Lunar crater Adams is jointly named after him, Walter Sydney Adams and Charles Hitchcock Adams. Neptune's outermost known ring and the asteroid 1996 Adams are also named after him. The Adams Prize, presented by the University of Cambridge, commemorates his prediction of the position of Neptune. His personal library is now in the care of Cambridge University Library.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Janaury 20: Agnes Mary Clerke

Agnes Mary Clerke
February 10, 1842 – January 20, 1907

Agnes Mary Clerke was an astronomer and writer, mainly in the field of astronomy. She was interested in astronomy from an early age, and had begun to write about it before the age of 15. Her first important article, Copernicus in Italy, was published in the Edinburgh Review in October 1877. She achieved a world-wide reputation in 1885, on the appearance of her exhaustive treatise, A Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century. Clerke was not a practical astronomer, instead collating, interpreting and summarising the results of astronomical research. In 1888 she spent three months at the Cape Observatory as the guest of the director, Sir David Gill, and his wife, and there became sufficiently familiar with spectroscopic work to be enabled to write about this newer branch of the science with increased clearness and confidence.

As a member of the British Astronomical Association she attended its meetings regularly, as well as those of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1903, with Lady Huggins, she was elected an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society, a rank previously held only by two other women, Caroline Herschel and Mary Somerville.

Her sister, Ellen Mary Clerke (1840–1906), also wrote about astronomy. The Lunar crater Clerke is named in her honor.

Monday, January 19, 2009

January 19: Johann Elert Bode

Johann Elert Bode 
January 19, 1747 – November 23, 1826 

Johann Elert Bode was a German astronomer known for his reformulation and popularization of the Titius-Bode law. Bode determined the orbit of Uranus and suggested the planet's name. Bode was the director of the Berlin Observatory, where he published the Uranographia in 1801, a celestial atlas that aimed both at scientific accuracy in showing the positions of stars and other astronomical objects, as well as the artistic interpretation of the stellar constellation figures. The Uranographia marks the climax of an epoch of artistic representation of the constellations. Later atlases showed fewer and fewer elaborate figures until they were no longer printed on such tables. 

Bode also published an astronomical yearbook, another small star atlas, intended for astronomical amateurs (Vorstellung der Gestirne), and an introductory book on the constellations and their tales, which was reprinted more than ten times. 

He is credited with the discovery of Bode's Galaxy (M81). Comet Bode (C/1779 A1) and the Lunar crater Bode are named in his honor.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

January 18: Warren De la Rue

Warren De la Rue 
January 18, 1815 – April 19, 1889

Warren De la Rue was a British astronomer and chemist, most famous for his pioneering work in the application of the art of photography to astronomical research.

In 1851 his attention was drawn to a daguerreotype of the Moon by G. P. Bond, shown at the great exhibition of that year. Excited to emulation and employing the more rapid wet-collodion process, he succeeded before long in obtaining exquisitely defined lunar pictures, which remained unsurpassed until the appearance of the Lewis Morris Rutherfurd photographs in 1865.

He was twice president of the Chemical Society, and also of the Royal Astronomical Society (1864–1866). In 1862 he received the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, and in 1864 a Royal medal from the Royal Society, for his observations on the total eclipse of the sun in 1860, and for his improvements in astronomical photography.

The crater De La Rue on the Moon is named in his honor.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 17: Clyde Tombaugh

Clyde William Tombaugh 
February 4, 1906 – January 17, 1997

Clyde Tombaugh was an American astronomer. Tombaugh is best known for discovering the dwarf planet Pluto in 1930, but also discovered many asteroids.

While a young researcher working for the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, Tombaugh was given the job to perform a systematic search for a trans-Neptunian planet (also called Planet X), which had been predicted by Percival Lowell and William Pickering.

Tombaugh used the observatory's 13-inch astrograph to take photographs of the same section of sky several nights apart. He then used a blink comparator to compare the different images. When he shifted between the two images, a moving object, such as a planet, would appear to jump from one position to another, while the more distant objects such as stars would appear stationary. Tombaugh noticed such a moving object in his search, and subsequent observations showed it to be the object we call Pluto. The discovery was made on Tuesday, February 18, 1930, using images taken in January of the same year.

Tombaugh discovered a total of 14 asteroids, during his search for Pluto and years of follow-up searches looking for another candidate for the postulated Planet X. Tombaugh is also credited with the discovery of comet C/1931 AN, though its orbit is currently unknown. The asteroid 1604 Tombaugh, discovered in 1931, is named after him.

Friday, January 16, 2009

January 16: First Women Astronauts Selected by NASA

Sally Ride - 1st American Woman in Space


January 16 - NASA Group 8 - TFNG (Thirty-Five New Guys) - USA

Pilots: Daniel BrandensteinMichael CoatsRichard CoveyJohn CreightonRobert GibsonFrederick D. GregoryFrederick HauckJon McBrideFrancis "Dick" ScobeeBrewster ShawLoren ShriverDavid WalkerDonald Williams
Mission specialists: Guion BlufordJames BuchliJohn FabianAnna FisherDale GardnerS. David GriggsTerry HartSteven HawleyJeffrey HoffmanShannon LucidRonald McNairRichard MullaneSteven NagelGeorge NelsonEllison OnizukaJudith ResnikSally RideRhea SeddonRobert StewartKathryn D. SullivanNorman ThagardJames van Hoften
Due to the long delay between the last Apollo mission and the first flight of the Space Shuttle in 1981, few astronauts from the older groups stayed with NASA. Thus in 1978 a new group of 35 astronauts was selected after 9 years without new astronauts, including the first female astronauts, and also the first black astronauts Guion Bluford and Frederick D. Gregory. Since then, a new group has been selected roughly every two years.
Two different astronaut groups were formed: pilots and mission specialists. Additionally the shuttle program has payload specialists who are selected for a single mission and are not part of the astronaut corps - among them were mostly scientists, also a few politicians and many international astronauts.
Of the first of the post-Apollo group, Sally Ride would become the first American woman in space (STS-7). Later, she would fly with Kathryn Sullivan on a Shuttle flight, in which Sullivan would become the first American woman to perform an EVA. Dr. Thagard, who flew with Ride on STS-7, would later become the first American to be launched on a Russian rocket (Soyuz TM-18 or "Mir-18") to the Mir space station, while Shannon Lucid would serve on the Mir for slightly over 6 months, breaking all American space duration records (both theSkylab 4 record and Thagard's) in 1996-97 until Sunita Williams (who was selected 20 years later) broke Lucid's record. Of this group, Scobee, Resnik, Onizuka, and McNair would perish in the Challenger Disaster. Of the astronauts chosen, only Anna Fisher still remains on active duty (although her tenure included an extended leave of absence from 1989 to 1996), while Robert Gibson and Rhea Seddon became the first active duty astronauts to marry (both are now retired). Although classed as inactive, Shannon Lucid continues to serve as CAPCOM to shuttle missions in 2008. After the Challenger Disaster, Sally Ride would serve on both the Rogers Commission and the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.