History of Science and Technology
Fact Sheet

Astronomy, 1787-1887

Improved mathematical and instrumental techniques allowed astronomers to make many fundamental discoveries during the 19th century. All of the major planets and satellites in the solar system were discovered, binary star systems and stellar parallax were detected for the first time, and the invention of the spectroscope allowed astronomers to identify the chemical composition of the sun and stars. Astrophysics began to develop as a distinct branch of astronomy.

Important discoveries and inventions:

star catalog
binary star

Important persons:

Joseph-Jerome de Lalande (1732-1807) France
William Herschel (1738-1822) England
Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre (1749-1822) France
Giuseppe Piazzi (1746-1826) Italy
Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827) France
Heinrich Olbers (1758-1840) Germany
William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828) England
Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) Germany
Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel (1784-1846) Germany
Joseph Fauenhofer (1787-1826) Germany
John Friedrich William Herschel (1792-1871) England
Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve (1793-1864) Germany, Russia
Karl Ludwig Henke (1793-1866) Germany
Thomas Henderson (1798-1844) England
Friedrich Wilhelm August Argelander (1799-1875) Germany
George Biddell Airy (1801-1892) England
John William Draper (1811-1882) England
Urbain Jean Joseph Leverrier (1811-1877) France
Robert W. Bunsen (1811-1899) Germany
John Couch Adams (1819-1892) England
Gustave Robert Kirchoff (1824-1887) Germany
William Huggins (1824-1910) England
Eduard Schonfeld (1828-1891) Germany
Norman Robert Pogson (1829-1891)
Johann Karl Friedrich Zollner (1834-1882) Germany
Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli (1835-1910) Italy

Important events and publications:

1796 Laplace's Explanation of the system of the worldstates his "nebular hypothesis"
1799 Laplace beings publishing his 5-volume Traite de mecanique celeste (it is finished in 1825)
1801 Piazzi discovers Ceres
1801 Lalande's Bibliographie astronomiquecatalogs the positions of 47,000 stars
1802 Wollaston observes dark lines in the solar spectrum
1803 Hershel shows that Castor is a binary star
1809 Gauss, Theoria motus corporum coelestium
1814 Frauenhofer begins his study of the solar spectrum
1823 Frauenhofer observes the spectra of fixed stars
1826 Heinrich Olbers formulates "Olber's paradox"
1830 A 15-inch refractor is installed at Polkova, Russia
1830 John Herschel invents the astrometer
1838 Bessel measures the parallax of 61 Cygni
1839 Henderson measures the parallax of Alpha Centauri
1840 Draper takes the first photograph of the moon
1844 Lord Rosse builds a 72-inch reflector
1845 Henke begins his discoveries of the asteroids
1845 Adams predicts the position of Neptune
1846 Leverrier independently predicts the position of Neptune, where it is discovered by Johann Galle
1859 Kirchoff and Bunsen develop spectral analysis
1859 Pogson devises the magnitude scale
1859 Argelander begins publishing the Bonner Durchmusterung
1861 Zollner invents the modern photometer
1868 Huggins uses the Doppler effect to measure the radial velocity of Sirius
1873 A 26-inch refractor is installed at the Naval Observatory
1875 Schonfeld begins publishing the Bonn catalog of southern stars
1876 Huggins takes the first photograph of a star
1877 Schiaparelli observes "canali" on Mars
1887 Joseph Lockyer, Chemistry of the Sun