John Flamsteed

John Flamsteed

Discussion
Ask a question about 'John Flamsteed'
Start a new discussion about 'John Flamsteed'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Sir John Flamsteed FRS (19 August 1646 – 31 December 1719) was an English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 astronomer
Astronomer
An astronomer is a scientist who studies celestial bodies such as planets, stars and galaxies.Historically, astronomy was more concerned with the classification and description of phenomena in the sky, while astrophysics attempted to explain these phenomena and the differences between them using...

 and the first Astronomer Royal
Astronomer Royal
Astronomer Royal is a senior post in the Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. There are two officers, the senior being the Astronomer Royal dating from 22 June 1675; the second is the Astronomer Royal for Scotland dating from 1834....

. He catalogued over 3000 stars.

Life


Flamsteed was born in Denby
Denby
Denby is a village in the English county of Derbyshire that is notable as the birthplace of John Flamsteed, England's first Royal Astronomer, and the location of the Denby Pottery Company....

, Derbyshire
Derbyshire
Derbyshire is a county in the East Midlands of England. A substantial portion of the Peak District National Park lies within Derbyshire. The northern part of Derbyshire overlaps with the Pennines, a famous chain of hills and mountains. The county contains within its boundary of approx...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, the only son of Stephen Flamsteed. He was educated at the free school of Derby, and was educated at Derby School
Derby School
Derby School was a school in Derby in the English Midlands from 1160 to 1989. It had an almost continuous history of education of over eight centuries. For most of that time it was a grammar school for boys. The school became co-educational and comprehensive in 1974 and was closed in 1989...

, in St Peter's Churchyard, Derby
Derby
Derby , is a city and unitary authority in the East Midlands region of England. It lies upon the banks of the River Derwent and is located in the south of the ceremonial county of Derbyshire. In the 2001 census, the population of the city was 233,700, whilst that of the Derby Urban Area was 229,407...

, near where his father carried on a malting business
Malt
Malt is germinated cereal grains that have been dried in a process known as "malting". The grains are made to germinate by soaking in water, and are then halted from germinating further by drying with hot air...

. At that time, most masters of the school were Puritan
Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

s. Flamsteed had a solid knowledge of Latin, essential for reading the literature of the day, and a love of history
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

, leaving the school in May, 1662.

His progress to Jesus College, Cambridge
Jesus College, Cambridge
Jesus College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.The College was founded in 1496 on the site of a Benedictine nunnery by John Alcock, then Bishop of Ely...

, recommended by the Master of Derby School, was delayed by some years of chronic ill health. During those years, Flamsteed gave his father some help in his business, and from his father learnt arithmetic
Arithmetic
Arithmetic or arithmetics is the oldest and most elementary branch of mathematics, used by almost everyone, for tasks ranging from simple day-to-day counting to advanced science and business calculations. It involves the study of quantity, especially as the result of combining numbers...

 and the use of fractions
Fraction (mathematics)
A fraction represents a part of a whole or, more generally, any number of equal parts. When spoken in everyday English, we specify how many parts of a certain size there are, for example, one-half, five-eighths and three-quarters.A common or "vulgar" fraction, such as 1/2, 5/8, 3/4, etc., consists...

, but he also used those years to develop a keen interest in mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 and astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

. In July 1662, he was fascinated by the thirteenth century work of Johannes de Sacrobosco
Johannes de Sacrobosco
Johannes de Sacrobosco or Sacro Bosco was a scholar, monk, and astronomer who taught at the University of Paris and wrote the authoritative mediaeval astronomy text Tractatus de Sphaera.-Origins:Although described as English, his birthplace is unknown because Sacrobosco is...

, De sphaera mundi
De sphaera mundi
De sphaera mundi is a medieval introduction to the basic elements of astronomy written by Johannes de Sacrobosco c. 1230...

, and on 12 September 1662 observed his first partial solar eclipse
Solar eclipse
As seen from the Earth, a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, and the Moon fully or partially blocks the Sun as viewed from a location on Earth. This can happen only during a new moon, when the Sun and the Moon are in conjunction as seen from Earth. At least...

. Early in 1663, he read Thomas Fale
Thomas Fale
-Life:Fale matriculated as a sizar of Caius College, Cambridge, in November 1578, removed to Corpus Christi College in 1582, went out B.A. in 1582–3, commenced M.A. in 1586, proceeded B.D. in 1597, and in 1604 had a license from the university to practise medicine....

's The Art of Dialling, which set off an interest in sundial
Sundial
A sundial is a device that measures time by the position of the Sun. In common designs such as the horizontal sundial, the sun casts a shadow from its style onto a surface marked with lines indicating the hours of the day. The style is the time-telling edge of the gnomon, often a thin rod or a...

s. In the summer of 1663, he read Wingate's Canon, William Oughtred
William Oughtred
William Oughtred was an English mathematician.After John Napier invented logarithms, and Edmund Gunter created the logarithmic scales upon which slide rules are based, it was Oughtred who first used two such scales sliding by one another to perform direct multiplication and division; and he is...

's Canon, and Thomas Stirrup's Art of Dialling. At about the same time, he acquired Thomas Street
Thomas Street
Thomas Street was an English astronomer. In 1661, he published Astronomia Carolina, a new theorie of Coelestial Motions. An Appendix to Astronomia Carolina followed in 1664....

's Astronomia Carolina, or A New Theory of the Celestial Motions (Caroline Tables). He associated himself with local gentlemen interested in astronomy, including William Litchford, whose library included the work of the astrologer
Astrologer
An astrologer practices one or more forms of astrology. Typically an astrologer draws a horoscope for the time of an event, such as a person's birth, and interprets celestial points and their placements at the time of the event to better understand someone, determine the auspiciousness of an...

 John Gadbury
John Gadbury
John Gadbury was an English astrologer, and a prolific writer of almanacs and on other related topics. Initially a follower or disciple, and a defender in the 1650s, of William Lilly, he eventually turned against Lilly and denounced him in 1675 as fraudulent.His 1652 Philastrogus Knavery...

 which included astronomical tables by Jeremiah Horrocks
Jeremiah Horrocks
Jeremiah Horrocks , sometimes given as Jeremiah Horrox , was an English astronomer who was the only person to predict, and one of only two people to observe and record, the transit of Venus of 1639.- Life and work :Horrocks was born in Lower Lodge, in...

, who had died in 1641 at the age of twenty-three. Flamsteed was greatly impressed (as Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

 had been) by the work of Horrocks.

In August 1665, at the age of nineteen and as a gift for his friend Litchford, Flamsteed wrote his first paper on astronomy, entitled Mathematical Essays, concerning the design, use and construction of an astronomer's quadrant
Quadrant (instrument)
A quadrant is an instrument that is used to measure angles up to 90°. It was originally proposed by Ptolemy as a better kind of astrolabe. Several different variations of the instrument were later produced by medieval Muslim astronomers.-Types of quadrants:...

, including tables for the latitude
Latitude
In geography, the latitude of a location on the Earth is the angular distance of that location south or north of the Equator. The latitude is an angle, and is usually measured in degrees . The equator has a latitude of 0°, the North pole has a latitude of 90° north , and the South pole has a...

 of Derby.

In September 1670, Flamsteed visited Cambridge and entered his name as an undergraduate at Jesus College
Jesus College, Cambridge
Jesus College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.The College was founded in 1496 on the site of a Benedictine nunnery by John Alcock, then Bishop of Ely...

. While it seems he never took up full residence, he was there for two months in 1674, and had the opportunity to hear Isaac Newton's Lucasian Lectures.

Ordained a deacon, he was preparing to take up a living in Derbyshire when he was invited to London. On 4 March 1675 he was appointed by royal warrant "The King's Astronomical Observator" — the first British Astronomer Royal
Astronomer Royal
Astronomer Royal is a senior post in the Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. There are two officers, the senior being the Astronomer Royal dating from 22 June 1675; the second is the Astronomer Royal for Scotland dating from 1834....

, 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
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

, and in July, he moved into the Observatory where he lived until 1684, when he was finally appointed priest to the parish of Burstow
Burstow
Burstow is a parish in Tandridge, Surrey, England. It is one of the largest parishes in the local government district of Tandridge and its principal settlement is the village of Smallfield...

, Surrey
Surrey
Surrey is a county in the South East of England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders Greater London, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. The historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits at Kingston upon Thames, although this has been part of...

. He held that office, as well as that of Astronomer Royal, until his death. He is buried at Burstow.

Scientific work


Flamsteed accurately calculated the solar eclipse
Solar eclipse
As seen from the Earth, a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, and the Moon fully or partially blocks the Sun as viewed from a location on Earth. This can happen only during a new moon, when the Sun and the Moon are in conjunction as seen from Earth. At least...

s of 1666 and 1668. He was responsible for several of the earliest recorded sightings of the planet
Planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

 Uranus
Uranus
Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun. It has the third-largest planetary radius and fourth-largest planetary mass in the Solar System. It is named after the ancient Greek deity of the sky Uranus , the father of Cronus and grandfather of Zeus...

, which he mistook for a star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

 and catalogued as '34 Tauri'. The first of these was in December 1690, which remains the earliest known sighting of Uranus by an astronomer.

On 16 August 1680 Flamsteed catalogued a star, 3 Cassiopeiae
Cassiopeia (constellation)
Cassiopeia is a constellation in the northern sky, named after the vain queen Cassiopeia in Greek mythology, who boasted about her unrivalled beauty. Cassiopea was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century Greek astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations today...

, that later astronomers were unable to corroborate. Three hundred years later, the American astronomical historian William Ashworth suggested that what Flamsteed may have seen was the most recent supernova in the galaxy's history, an event which would leave as its remnant the strongest radio source outside of the solar system, known in the third Cambridge (3C) catalogue
Third Cambridge Catalogue of Radio Sources
The Third Cambridge Catalogue of Radio Sources is an astronomical catalogue of celestial radio sources detected originally at 159 MHz, and subsequently at 178 MHz. It was published in 1959 by members of the Radio Astronomy Group of the University of Cambridge...

 as 3C 461 and commonly called Cassiopeia A
Cassiopeia A
Cassiopeia A is a supernova remnant in the constellation Cassiopeia and the brightest astronomical radio source in the sky, with a flux density of 2720 Jy at 1 GHz. The supernova occurred approximately away in the Milky Way. The expanding cloud of material left over from the supernova is now...

 by astronomers. Because the position of "3 Cassiopeiae" does not precisely match that of Cassiopeia A, 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.

As Astronomer Royal, Flamsteed spent some forty years observing and making meticulous records for his star catalogue, which would eventually triple the number of entries in Tycho Brahe
Tycho Brahe
Tycho Brahe , born Tyge Ottesen Brahe, was a Danish nobleman known for his accurate and comprehensive astronomical and planetary observations...

's sky atlas. Unwilling to risk his reputation by releasing unverified data, he kept the incomplete records under seal at Greenwich. In 1712, Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

, then President of the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

, and Edmund Halley obtained the data and published a pirated star catalogue. Flamsteed managed to gather three hundred of the four hundred printings and burned them. "If Sir I.N. would be sensible of it, I have done both him and Dr. Halley a great kindness," he wrote to his assistant Abraham Sharp
Abraham Sharp
Abraham Sharp was an English mathematician and astronomer.-Biography:Sharp was born in Horton Hall in Little Horton, Bradford, the son of well-to-do merchant John Sharp and Mary Sharp and was educated at Bradford Grammar School.In 1669 he became a merchant's apprentice before becoming a...

.

In 1725 Flamsteed's own version of Historia Coelestis Britannica was published posthumously, edited by his wife, Margaret. This contained Flamsteed's observations, and included a catalogue of 2,935 stars to much greater accuracy than any prior work. It was considered the first significant contribution of the Greenwich Observatory, and the numerical Flamsteed designations for stars that were added subsequently to a French edition are still in use. In 1729 his wife published his Atlas Coelestis
Atlas Coelestis
The Atlas Coelestis is a star atlas published posthumously in 1729, based on observations made by the First Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed.The Atlas - the largest that ever had been published - contains 26 maps of the major constellations visible from Greenwich, with drawings made in the Rococo...

, assisted by Joseph Crosthwait and Abraham Sharp, who were responsible for the technical side.

Honours

  • Fellow of the Royal Society
    Royal Society
    The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

     (1676)
  • The crater Flamsteed
    Flamsteed (crater)
    Flamsteed is a small lunar crater located on the Oceanus Procellarum. It lies almost due east of the dark-hued Grimaldi, and north-northwest of the flooded Letronne bay on the south edge of the mare....

     on the Moon
    Moon
    The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

     is named after him.
  • The asteroid (4987) Flamsteed is named in his honour.
  • Numerous schools and colleges in Derbyshire
    Derbyshire
    Derbyshire is a county in the East Midlands of England. A substantial portion of the Peak District National Park lies within Derbyshire. The northern part of Derbyshire overlaps with the Pennines, a famous chain of hills and mountains. The county contains within its boundary of approx...

     have been named after him. The science block at John Port School
    John Port School
    John Port Specialist Technology, Mathematics and Computing College is a very large academy in the village of Etwall, Derbyshire, England.-Admissions:...

     is named Flamsteed in recognition of his work for science. John Flamsteed Community School
    John Flamsteed Community School
    John Flamsteed Community School is a comprehensive secondary, or high school, in the village of Denby, Derbyshire, England named after Sir John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, who was a native of Denby and made early and accurate predictions of a solar eclipse in 1666.-History:There is...

     in Denby
    Denby
    Denby is a village in the English county of Derbyshire that is notable as the birthplace of John Flamsteed, England's first Royal Astronomer, and the location of the Denby Pottery Company....

     carries his name. Flamsteed House at the Ecclesbourne School in Duffield is also named after him.

Further reading

  • 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 0750301473 (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
  • Newton's Tyranny: The Suppressed Scientific Discoveries of Stephen Gray
    Stephen Gray (scientist)
    Stephen Gray was an English dyer and amateur astronomer, who was the first to systematically experiment with electrical conduction, rather than simple generation of static charges and investigations of the static phenomena....

     and John Flamsteed
    , David H. Clark & Stephen H.P. Clark. W. H. Freeman, 2001 ISBN 0-7167-4701-4

External links