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
 Notable achievements:
 Flamsteed catalog of ~3K stars.

 2.  Edmond Halley                  (1656-1742).     1720:     Several...        
 Notable achievements:
 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:     ?                    
 Notable achievements:
 Discovered aberration of star 
 light c. 1729...

 4.  Nathaniel Bliss                (1700-1764).     1762:     ?? (-very brief term 
                                                               as A.R.)       
 Notable achievements:
 - ? -

 5.  Nevil Maskelyne                (1732-1811).     1765:     Determining longitude 
                                                               on ocean voyages
 Notable achievements:
 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.
 Notable achievements:
 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'.

 Notable achievements:
 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.)

 Notable achievements:
 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:     ?

 Notable achievements:
 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 
 theory. )

 10. Harold Spencer Jones           (1890-1960).     1933:     ?

 Notable achievements:
 The move to Herstmonceux ( beyond
 metropolitan London. )  Retired

 11. Richard van der Riet Woolley   (1906-1986).     1955:     ?

 Notable achievements:
 - ? -  ...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.)

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