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He was born in Denby, Derbyshire, England. He was ordained deacon and was preparing to take up a living in Derbyshire, when he was invited to London. On March 4, 1675, he was appointed by royal warrant "The King's Astronomical Observator" — the first British Astronomer Royal, with an allowance of £100 a year. In June 1675, another royal warrant provided for the founding of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, and Flamsteed laid the foundation stone in August. In February 1676, he was admitted a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in July, he moved into the Observatory where he lived until 1684, when he was finally appointed priest to the parish of Burstow , Surrey. He held that office, as well as that of Astronomer Royal, until his death. In 1720 he is buried at Burstow , Surrey.
Flamsteed accurately calculated the solar eclipses of 1666 and 1668. He is responsible for one of the earliest recorded sightings of the planet Uranus, which he mistook for a star and catalogued as 34 Tauri.
On August 16, 1680, Flamsteed catalogued a star, 3 Cassiopeiae, that later astronomers were unable to corroborate. Three hundred years later, the American astronomy historian William Ashworth suggested that what Flamsteed may have seen was the most recent supernova in this galaxy's history, an event which would leave as its remnant the strongest radio source in the sky, known in the third Cambridge catalog as 3C 461. Because the position of "3 Cassiopeiae" does not precisely match that of the visual object associated with 3C 461, and because the expansion wave associated with the explosion has been worked backward to the year 1667 and not 1680, some historians feel that all Flamsteed may have done was incorrectly note the position of a star already known.
Flamsteed is also remembered for his conflicts with Isaac Newton, then President of the Royal Society, who attempted to steal some of Flamsteed's findings for his own work. Newton tricked Flamsteed into doing so through an edict from the King, and produced the findings without crediting Flamsteed. Some years later, Flamsteed managed to buy most copies of the books back, and publicly burnt them in front of the Royal Observatory.
In 1725, the Historia Coelestis Britannica was published. This contained Flamsteed's observations, and included a catalogue of almost 3,000 stars to much greater accuracy than any prior work. This was considered the first significant contribution of the Greenwich Observatory.
- The correspondence of John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal compiled and edited by Eric G. Forbes, ... Lesley Murdin and Frances Willmoth. Bristol: Institute of Physics Publishing, 1995-2002 ISBN -7503-0147-3 (v. 1); ISBN 0-7503-0391-3 (v. 2) ; ISBN 0-7503-0763-3 (v.3)
- The Gresham lectures of John Flamsteed, edited and introduced by Eric G. Forbes. London: Mansell, 1975 ISBN 0-7201-0518-8
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