Saturday, February 7, 2009

February 7: Johann Friedrich Julius Schmidt

Johann Friedrich Julius Schmidt
October 25, 1825 – February 7, 1884

Johann Schmidt was a German astronomer. When he was 14, he came into the possession of a copy of Selenotopographische Fragmente by Johann Hieronymus Schröter, and this influenced a lifelong interest in selenography, the study of the Moon. He went to school in Hamburg and visited Altona Observatory, where he became acquainted with the well-known map of the Moon made by Wilhelm Beer and Johann Heinrich Mädler.

In 1845 he obtained a position as an assistant at an observatory in Düsseldorf, but a year later joined the Bonn Observatory under Friedrich Wilhelm Argelander. In 1853 he became director of Baron von Unkrechtsberg's private observatory at Olmütz (today Olomouc, Czech Republic). In 1858 he became director of Athens Observatory, where he spent the rest of his career.

He spent most of his career since his youth making drawings of the Moon, preparing a map of it. In 1866 he made the astonishing claim that Linné crater had considerably changed its appearance, which began a controversy that continued for many decades. Coming from such a careful lifelong observer, the claim carried some weight; however, the claim is generally considered unproven.

By 1868 his map of the Moon was almost ready, although he did not put the finishing touches to it until 1874. This was the first map of the Moon to surpass the celebrated map of Beer and Mädler.

In 1878, Schmidt also edited and published all 25 sections of a moon map by Wilhelm Gotthelf Lohrmann. Lohrmann had completed his map in 1836 but had died in 1840; only the first four sections of the map had been published in 1824.

In addition to his study of the Moon, he also made many other observations of all kinds. He also discovered Nova Cygni 1876, also known as Q Cygni, on November 24, 1876.

When he died, the King and Queen of Greece attended the funeral oration at his observatory. The crater Schmidt on the Moon is jointly named for him and two other people of the same last name.

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