Saturday, September 26, 2009

September 26: Christopher Hansteen

Christopher Hansteen
September 26, 1784 – April 11, 1873

Christopher Hansteen was a Norwegian geophysicist, astronomer and physicist.

In 1807 Hansteen began the inquiries in terrestrial magnetism with which his name is especially associated. His first scientific publication was printed in Journal de Physique, following a contest on magnetic axes created in 1811 by the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. In 1813 he was given a research scholarship by the recently established (in 1811) Royal Frederick University in Christiania, with a promise of a future academic position.

Working as a lecturer from 1814, in 1816 Hansteen was promoted to professor of astronomy and applied mathematics. He was the editor of the official Norwegian almanac from 1815, manager of the city astronomical observatory from the same year and co-director of the Norwegian Mapping and Cadastre Authority from 1817. In 1819 he published a volume of researches on terrestrial magnetism, which was translated into German under the title of Untersuchungen über den Magnetismus der Erde, with a supplement containing Beobachtungen der Abweichung und Neigung der Magnetnadel and an atlas. By the rules there framed for the observation of magnetical phenomena Hansteen hoped to accumulate analyses for determining the number and position of the magnetic poles of the Earth. In 1822 he co-founded Norway's first journal on natural sciences, Magazin for Naturvidenskaberne. He sat as editor-in-chief for eight years.

In the course of his research he travelled over Finland and the greater part of his own country; and from 1828 to 1830 he undertook, in company with Georg Adolf Erman and with the cooperation of Russia, a government-funded mission to Western Siberia. Shortly after the return of the mission, in 1833 Hansteen moved with his family into the observatory, which was created from drawings by the architect Christian Heinrich Grosch. A magnetic observatory was added in 1839.

From 1835 to 1838 he published textbooks on geometry and mechanics, largely a reaction to his former research assistant Bernt Michael Holmboe's textbooks. In 1842 Hansteen wrote his Disquisitiones de mutationibus, quas patitur momentum acus magneticae. He also contributed various papers to different scientific journals, especially Magazin for Naturvidenskaberne.

Hansteen was a member of the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters from 1818 and of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters from 1857, as well as several learned societies in other countries, including the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1822). He was a member of the board of the Royal Norwegian Society for Development for many years, and also chaired the board of the Norwegian National Academy of Craft and Art Industry.

The crater Hansteen and the mountain Mons Hansteen on the Moon are named in his honor.

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