Holders of the post of British Astronomer Royal
Notable achievements & Timelines for
Flamsteed, Halley(T), Bradley, Bliss, Nevil Maskelyne(T), Pond,
Airy, Christie, F.W. Dyson, H.S. Jones, & Wooley
1675 through 1971 *
# Name ( lifespan ) Began term Aims
1. John Flamsteed (1646-1719). 1675: Accurate astrometric
tables/data for navigation
Flamsteed catalog of ~3K stars.
2. Edmond Halley (1656-1742). 1720: Several...
Many, but which were as A.R.?
Discovering stellar proper motion by
comparison with Hipparchus, establishing
a tradition of pre-planning observations
( transits of Venus 1761 & 1769, return
of That Famous Comet... )
Timeline for Edmond Halley:
1673: entered Queen's College, Oxford.
1676: completed studies at Oxford University.
1678: elected fellow of the Royal Society;
Star catalog, equivalent to Flamsteed's,
but for southern skies, of 341 stars,
observed from St. Helena.
( - more soon! - )
3. James Bradley (1693-1762). 1742: ?
Discovered aberration of star
light c. 1729...
4. Nathaniel Bliss (1700-1764). 1762: ?? (-very brief term
- ? -
5. Nevil Maskelyne (1732-1811). 1765: Determining longitude
on ocean voyages
Was a Bachelor of Divinity, and
served as cleric in various
parishes even while A.R.! Founded
the Nautical Almanac, 1767.
Timeline for Nevil Maskelyne:
1755: ordained as a minister.
1758: member Royal Society - which, in
1761, sent him to St. Helena to observe
transit of Venus. During voyage
he worked on determination-of-
-longitude methods by observation
of the Moon, which led, in
1763, to first The British Mariner's Guide.
1765: Astronomer Royal of Britain.
1766: first vol. Nautical Almanac.
1767: Nautical Almanac based on G.M.T.*
6. John Pond (1767-1836). 1811: Improvements in
technology & routines at R.G.Observatory.
First man not to die while A.R.:
retired 1835. Introduced 'lowering
the time ball' at R.G.O. at 1 p.m.
daily, in 1833 - the first observatory-
based public time signal.
7. George Biddell Airy (1801-1892). 1835: Rigorous institutional disciplining or 'raising of standards'.
John C. Adams' work being
not up-to-spec. (or something),
Airy was notable for doing the first
major 'stuffed shirt blooper', of
letting the slightly later Le Verrier
get there first with the prediction
of ( then new ) planet Neptune's pre-discovery
position, c.1845-'6. Had a successful
( and long ) career, was the last man to
die while A.R. ( Maskelyne lasted as long... )
8. William Henry Mahoney Christie (1845-1922). 1881: Upgrading & broadening scope (& the 'scope, at R.G.O.)
Regular sunspot watch; stellar
spectroscopic studies; astrophysics
work ( as well as previously
traditional astrometry. ) Added a
28-inch telescope to the equipment.
( Second man not to die while A.R.:
retired 1910. )
9. Frank Watson Dyson (1868-1939). 1910: ?
Proper motion studies. Solar corona/
observation during eclipses; in
1919 confirmed Einstein's predicted
'gravitational bending' of light
paths. Retired 1933. ( Not to be
confused with physicist Freeman John Dyson
of 'Dyson spheres' and quantum
10. Harold Spencer Jones (1890-1960). 1933: ?
The move to Herstmonceux ( beyond
metropolitan London. ) Retired
11. Richard van der Riet Woolley (1906-1986). 1955: ?
- ? - ...Retired 1971.
The Anchor Dictionary of Astronomy, edited by Valerie Illingworth, ISBN 0-385-15936-6, LCCC# 79-6538 (1980.)
Companion To The Cosmos, by John Gribbin, ISBN 0-316-32835-9 (1996.)
The New Encyclopaedia Brittanica Micropaedia (15th Edition), Volume 7 (-& others), was the information source for Nevil Maskelyne's 'timeline'.
*since 1971 the 'Astronomer Royal' title has been
honorary ( - given to Sir Martin Ryle in '71; held by 3 others through
1994 - ), and no longer the same as the Director of the Royal Greenwich
Observatory. Margaret Burbidge is the appointed
Director of the R.G.O. in 1971... so the split is in holding with
tradition ( that the A.R. be male ), not anything more sensible.
**"G.M.T.": abbreviation for 'Greenwich Mean Time'. (...Also: my source isn't clear as to whether the Nautical Almanac that used G.M.T. was the first one or the second one.)
- since October 7 1998.
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- Web page created October 6th & 7th, 1998, & updated February 5 & 7, 2000 A.D., by Russell Hess; HTML page design & text layout by 'UpSky'.