astronomy

Fred Whipple and the Dirty Snowballs

Fred Whipple and the Dirty Snowballs

On August 30, 2004, American astronomer Fred Lawrence Whipple passed away. Amongst his achievements, he discovered some asteroids and comets, came up with the “dirty snowball” cometary hypothesis, and designed the Whipple shield. A Thriving Astronomer Fred Whipple was born on November 5, 1906, in Red Oak, Iowa, as the son of a farmer. An early bout with polio ended his ambition of being a professional tennis player. Whipple studied at Occidental College…
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Voyager and the Exploration of Saturn

Voyager and the Exploration of Saturn

On August 25, 1981, American space probe Voyager 2 passed Saturn and transmitted stunning pictures of the ring planet. The space probe had been launched by NASA on August 20, 1977 to study the outer Solar System and eventually to push forward into interstellar space. Until today, operating for more than 30 years the spacecraft still receives routine commands and transmits data back to the Deep Space Network, a world-wide network of large…
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Pierre Mechain and the Meridian Survey Expedition

Pierre Mechain and the Meridian Survey Expedition

On August 16, 1744, French astronomer and surveyor Pierre François André Méchain was born. Together with Charles Messier, was a major contributor to the early study of deep sky objects and comets. He participated in the Meridian survey expedition in 1792 that produced measurements, which have served as the fundament of the metric system. Pierre Méchain – Civil Engineering and Astronomy Pierre Méchain was born in Laon, a medieval town in the Picardy…
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Maria Mitchell and “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”

Maria Mitchell and “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”

On August 1, 1814, American astronomer Maria Mitchell was born who, in 1847, by using a telescope, discovered a comet which as a result became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet“. „We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but is somewhat beauty and poetry.” – Maria Mitchell Maria Mitchell – Youth and Education Maria Mitchell was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, USA, among nine brothers and sisters…
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Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel and the Distances of Stars

Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel and the Distances of Stars

On July 22, 1784, German mathematician and astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel was born. He is probably best known for his works in mathematics, where he discovered the eponymous Bessel-functions, which are critical for the solution of certain differential equations. Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel – Youth and Education Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel was born in Minden, Westfalia, as the second child of a large family with six daughters and three sons. His mother Friederike Ernestine…
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Jean Picard and his Love for Accuracy

Jean Picard and his Love for Accuracy

On July 21, 1620, French astronomer, cartographer and hydraulic engineer Jean-Félix Picard was born. He is regarded as the founder of modern astronomy in France. He introduced new methods, improved the old instruments, and added new devices, such as Huygens‘ pendulum clock to record times and time intervals. Background Jean Picard Jean-Félix Picard was born as a son of a bookseller and was allowed to study at the Jesuit Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand, which…
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A. E. Douglass and the Dendrochronology

A. E. Douglass and the Dendrochronology

On July 5, 1867, American astronomer and archeologist A. E. (Andrew Ellicott) Douglass was born. He coined the name dendrochronology for tree-ring dating, a field he originated while working at the Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona, by his discovery a correlation between tree rings and the sunspot cycle. A. E. Douglass Background A. E. Douglass was not the first, who suggested that a tree’s rings could determine its age. The first known record of…
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Charles Messier and the Discovery of Nebulae

Charles Messier and the Discovery of Nebulae

On June 26, 1730, French astronomer Charles Messier was born. He is best known for his publication of an astronomical catalogue consisting of nebulae and star clusters that came to be known as the 110 “Messier objects”. The purpose of the catalogue was to help astronomical observers, in particular comet hunters such as himself, distinguish between permanent and transient visually diffuse objects in the sky. “What caused me to undertake the catalog was…
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The Discovery of Charon, Pluto’s largest Moon

The Discovery of Charon, Pluto’s largest Moon

On June 22, 1978, US astronomer James Christie discovered Charon, the largest moon of Pluto. Although there was a discussion after the reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf, Charon is not in the list of dwarf planets currently recognized by the IAU. A Bulge on Pluto On June 22, 1978,  James Christy had examined the magnified images of the former planet Pluto, taken with the 61-inch Flagstaff telescope two months prior. He noticed a…
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Gerald Hawkins and the Secret of Stonehenge

Gerald Hawkins and the Secret of Stonehenge

On June 20, 1928, English astronomer and author Gerald Stanley Hawkins was born. He is best known for his work in the field of archaeoastronomy. In 1965 he published an analysis of Stonehenge in which he was the first to propose its purpose as an ancient astronomical observatory used to predict movements of sun and stars. Background Gerald Hawkins Gerald Hawkins was born in Great Yarmouth and studied physics and mathematics at…
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