The Discoverers of the NGC / IC Objects
(work in progress)
Page last updated Apr 26, 2014|
This (incomplete) listing and discussion of the discoverers of the NGC/IC objects will at some point be supplemented by a history of the tremendous efforts required to create the catalogs. Primary reference for the list is Wolfgang Steinicke's tabulation of NGC/IC Observers
(for a fascinating and very thorough discussion of the history and contents of the NGC, and of the hundred or so astronomers who discovered its nebulae, refer to Wolfgang Steinicke's
book on the subject). In general, the link for a person's name is to Dr. Steinicke's tabulation, while the link for their year of death is to an obituary, usually in an astronomical journal. Additional links, if provided, are to other historical discussions. Little effort is being made to complete this list in a timely manner. As objects are added to the NGC/IC pages, if the discoverer of an object is mentioned, their name will be linked to an entry on this page. All discoverers of NGC/IC objects will eventually be shown here, but I am more interested in completing the catalog entries than this page. Those needing a more immediate reference should visit Dr. Steinicke's site. In particular, it should be noted that his site (and his book) contains photos of most of the discoverers and of the equipment they used, and where photos are shown on this site, they are used with his permission.
(Alphabetical index to be added here)
Organization of the entries: The discoverers are listed in order of their birth dates, or when those are identical, in order of their death dates, to group them according to their place in history. For a few observers birth and death dates are not available, so the years of their astronomical activity are used to place them in the timeline.
Links shown in entries: If hovering over the image of an individual (or a blank space indicating the lack of an image) shows that there is some kind of link, it is usually to a Wikipedia article, though other sources are used when necessary. The link attached to the person's name goes to Wolfgang Steinicke's page about them. The link attached to the date of their death goes to an obituary (usually this is a pdf file, and depending upon your browser settings it may be shown in your browser, or it may be downloaded to your downloads folder). Any other links include a description of what they are for.
Linking to these entries: If you would like to post a link to the entry for a given person, find one of the NGC/IC catalog entries for that individual and hover over their name to copy and paste the URL for the link (usually, http://cseligman.com/text/atlas/discoverers.htm#lastname ).
Ancient and Early Modern Observers
Aratos of Soli
(often Aratus) (315 - 245 B.C.E.), Greek astronomer. First known mention of Praesepe (the Beehive Cluster), later listed as M44
(190 - 125 B.C.E.), Greek astronomer. Among many objects mentioned in his catalog are Praesepe (previously noted by Aratos
, and the pair of clusters original known as χ Persei, but now referred to as h
and χ Persei
Claudius Ptolemaeus, or Ptolemy
(87 - 165 C.E.), Greek astronomer. (No known images exist from his lifetime; the one shown is the product of a Baroque artist's imagination.)
(often As-Sufi) (Dec 7, 903 - May 25, 986), Persian astronomer. (No certain images exist from his lifetime; the one shown is presumably a good representation of his observing technique, but not necessarily an actual picture of al-Sufi.)
(Mar 3, 1451 - Feb 22, 1512), Italian explorer, navigator and cartographer. He was the first to describe the so-called Magellanic Clouds, about twenty years prior to their "discovery" by Magellan.
(1480 - Apr 27, 1521), Portuguese explorer. Popularly thought to be the discoverer of the eponymous Magellanic clouds, though they were actually discovered by Amerigo Vespucci
Giovanni Battista Hodierna
(Apr 13, 1597 - Apr 6, 1660), Italian astronomer. A SEDS page deals with Hodierna's life and accomplishments
. Hodierna was the first to observe a number of now famous nebulae, but the 1654 publication of his work was little noticed outside Sicily, and despite a brief mention of his work by Lalande in an 1803 publication, remained essentially unknown until its rediscovery in the 1980's. As a result Messier, the Herschels, and Dreyer were unaware of Hodierna's discoveries, and he is not mentioned in their publications.
Johann Abraham Ihle
(Jun 14, 1627 - 1699?), German amateur astronomer, who was the first to discover a globular cluster (now known as M22
), although the actual nature of the object was not known until much later. Ihle was a friend of Hevelius and Gottfried Kirch
, with whom he maintained a frequent correspondence about their observations.
(Nov 10, 1695 - Nov 6, 1771), British astronomer.
(Apr 17, 1709 - Nov 14, 1788), French-Italian astronomer. Giovanni Domenico Maraldi was born in Perinaldo, Italy, but spent his entire career in France (1727 - 1772), before retiring to the town of his birth. Maraldi was the nephew of French-Italian astronomer Jacques Philippe Maraldi (also born in Perinaldo), who was the nephew of Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini
(also born in Perinaldo, which is proud of its illustrious sons
Jean Philippe Loys de Chéseaux
(May 4, 1718 - Nov 30, 1751), Swiss astronomer.
de Chéseaux's discoveries were presented to the French Academy of Science in 1746, only to be promptly forgotten. Le Gentil made a private note of them in 1759, but it wasn't until 1892 that Guillaume Bigourdan made them public. Even then Dreyer appears to have been unaware of their existence, as he routinely assigned their discovery to much later observers.
The Herschels and Their Contemporaries
Pierre Francois Andre Méchain
(1744 - 1804), French astronomer. Méchain was a (younger) colleague and close friend of Messier, and was the actual discoverer of many of the later additions to Messier's catalog. Like Messier, he was an avid comet hunter, and found nearly a dozen comets on his own, or as a co-discoverer, with others.
(Oct 31, 1793 - Sep 22, 1848), Scottish astronomer. Dunlop was not trained as an astronomer, but took an early interest in the field, and by a lucky chance was hired as an assistant by Sir Thomas Brisbane. When Brisbane was appointed governor of New South Wales, Dunlop accompanied his employer to Australia, and upon completion of Brisbane's Paramatta (now Parramatta) observatory, became second assistant; and when the first assistant abandoned the position, succeeded him. Dunlop was an assiduous observer of stars and double stars, and (mostly on his own initiative) nebulae; and being the first astronomer to regularly observe the southern hemisphere sky, discovered many objects. Unfortunately, his lack of training made his calculations of the objects' positions almost useless, and many of his discoveries are either "lost", or when more or less confidently identifiable, as often credited to John Herschel, who tried to observe all of Dunlop's objects during his southern hemisphere expeditions.
Edward Joshua Cooper
(May 1, 1798 - Apr 23, 1863), Irish astronomer. A recent discussion of Cooper's life and the only extant photograph of him can be viewed here
. (Note: Any use of the original image (and any commerical use of any portion of the image) may require the permission of the copyright holder.)
Francis Preserved Abbott
(Aug 12, 1799 - Feb 18, 1880), British astronomer.
(Per Steinicke) "Francis Preserved Abbott was born in Derby, England on August 12, 1799. He was a clockmaker in Derby and later in Manchaster. In 1845 he went to Hobart, Tasmania and was assistant at the Rossbank Observatory until its closure in 1854. Afterwords he made astronomical and meteorological observations in a private laboratory in Hobart. He became FRAS in 1860. Abbott died in Hobart on February 18, 1883."
(1800 - 1867
), 3rd Earl of Rosse, British astronomer. References to the fact that most of the NGC/IC objects attributed to Lord Rosse were actually found by his assistants may give the erroneous impression that the 3rd Earl was not an important observer. However, aside from having discovered the best part of a hundred nebulae himself, he left a legacy unsurpassed for the best part of a century -- a 6-foot aperture reflecting telescope (the "Leviathan" of Birr Castle), the construction of which would have been an impossible task for the best professional telescope makers of the day. Through tremendous effort, intelligence and inspiration, Parsons succeeded in creating a mirror and telescope many times larger than any in existence, so well constructed that it was as easy to use as it was large, making his and his assistants' observations uniquely successful. Even more importantly, instead of guarding the secret of how he managed the feat, he published a detailed discussion of the methods involved in the Leviathan's construction, providing an invaluable aid to astronomers everywhere. As stated in his obituary (linked above), "It may justly be urged that the maker (of an instrument) is above (its user). Eyes are common to us all, all could make discoveries if they had the means. It was the means that the Earl of Rosse supplied."
(Reverend) William Hautenville Rambaut
(1822 - 1911), Irish astronomer. An assistant (1848) to Lawrence Parsons
, he did not actually discover any nebulae, but did produce chalk drawings of some of the objects discovered at Birr Observatory (none of which were published during his lifetime). He also worked at Armagh observatory for many years.
(Jun 21, 1823 - Sep 23, 1873), French astronomer. (Note: An Internet search for images of Chacornac leads to non-English-language Wikipedia pages for him; but the image shown on those pages is not of Chacornac, but Camille Flammarion.)
(Feb 6, 1826 - Jun 11, 1875), American astronomer, and onetime director of the Harvard Observatory. Father of Anna Winlock, the first female computer
hired by Harvard, after her father's untimely death left his family destitute.
(1828 - 1897
), German astronomer (but worked in England and Ireland). Discovered 600 IC objects.
(Oct 15, 1829 - Nov 22, 1907), American astronomer.
Bindon Blood Stoney
(1829 - 1909
), Irish engineer. Worked at Birr Castle, assisting William Parsons
with the mechanical construction of his telescopes, from 1850 - 1852, and per Dreyer, the actual discoverer of some objects announced by his employer. Brother of George Stoney
Phillip Sidney Coolidge
(Aug 22, 1830 - Sep 19, 1863
), American astronomical observer. A great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson through his daughter Martha, and her daughter Ellen Wayles Randolph
, Coolidge was the only white descendant of Jefferson to fight for the Union in the Civil War. A major in the Union Army, he was one of four thousand men killed at Chickamauga, for which service he was awarded the brevet (honorary, and usually posthumous) rank of lieutenant-colonel. All of Coolidge's NGC objects proved to be stars, without any nebulosity. This was presumably due to the difficulty of distinguishing faint stars from equally faint, nearly stellar nebulosities, and the efforts of observers of the day (and today, for that matter) to exceed the limits of their instruments.
Gaspare Stanislao Ferrari (Oct 23, 1834 - Jun 20, 1903), Italian astronomer.
R. J. Mitchell
(active 1850's), Irish astronomer. An assistant to William Parsons
, 3rd Earl of Rosse, from 1852 - 1855. According to Parsons, "An eminently cautious and painstaking observer", and per Dreyer, the actual discoverer of many objects announced by his employer.
George Mary Searle
(June 27, 1839 - July 17, 1918), American astronomer and clergyman. Searle was born in London, but his family moved to America sometime thereafter, and he graduated from Harvard in 1857. He became an assistant at the Dudley Observatory, where he discovered the asteroid (55) Pandora (Sep 11, 1858). He later entered the U.S. coast survey, and was appointed an assistant professor at the U. S. Naval Academy in 1862. He returned to Harvard (as an assistant asronomer) in June 1866, remaining there until March 1868. During his time there he discovered six nebulae: NGC 548, 565, 570, 4058, 4247 and 5487. After leaving Harvard Searle joined the Paulist Order, and continued to write many articles in scientific journals, but his most popular publication (reprinted numerous times) was an attempt to reconcile scientific and Catholic religious principles, for which he was criticized by scientists (who felt that an open mind was required to find and accept new truths) and by those whom Searle called Bible Christians, who treated the Scriptures as the only true source of knowledge, and felt that any effort to reconcile faith and science was the work of the devil. In 1916 Searle retired to the Apostolic Mission House in Washington, where he died two years later, at the age of 79. His obituary was published in Nature (volume 101, page 430, 1918), but is not available online, which is why this entry (primarily based on Wolfgang Steinicke's website) is relatively thorough.
(active 1860's), Irish artist. An assistant to William Parsons
, 3rd Earl of Rosse, from 1860 - 1864. Apparently primarily assigned to produce drawings of nebulae observed with the Earl's 72" telescope (the Leviathan). According to Lord Rosse, he was an accomplished artist, and is best known for a famous drawing he did of the Orion Nebula. (Given that, you would think it easy to find a copy of the drawing; but as of this writing I have been unable to find one.)
Edward P. Austin
(1843 - 1906), American astronomer.
(Per Steinicke) "There is very little known about Austin. He was an assistant observer at Harvard College Observatory from 1869-71 (under the directorship of Joseph Winlock
). Together with Langley
and Winlock he observed nebulae with the 15" f/18 Merz refractor installed in June 1847 (see picture). The results are published in Ann. Harv. Obs. 13, 62 (1882). Austin discovered 3 objects: NGC 3097
(HN 177), NGC 3315
(HN 207), and NGC 3317
(HN 210); all observed on March 24, 1870. While NGC 3097 is lost and NGC 3317 is a triple star, NGC 3315 is the only "real" object, a galaxy in Hydra. After his short career at Harvard he worked in a geographical survey in Arizona and Nevada. "HN" stands for "Harvard Nebula", given in Pickering
, E. C., Detection of Nebulae by Photography, Ann. Harv. Obs. 18, 113-117 (1890)."
Carl Frederick Pechüle
(Jun 8, 1843 - May 28, 1914
), Danish astronomer.
(The following is based on the (German) Astronomische Nachrichten
obituary of 1914, and the discussion in Steinicke's book.) Frederick Pechüle was born in Copenhagen. His father, Christian, was a needlemaker. His early studies were at home, and at the Collegium Propaganda in Rome. After graduating (in 1865), he became a student at the Copenhagen Observatory under the supervision of Heinrich d'Arrest
. While there he began the observations of asteroids and comets which remained the center of his interest for the rest of his life. He discovered three comets (in 1877, 1880 and 1886), and made countless observations of asteroids over the course of a nearly fifty year long career. From 1870 to '72 he was an assistant to George Rümker
at the Hamburg Observatory; his work there concentrated on observations of nebulae and star clusters. Pechüle received his M.A. from Copenhagen University in 1873. The following year he took part in an expedition to Mauritius to observe the 1874 transit of Venus; he was also a member of the Danish expedition which observed the 1882 transit of Venus from St. Croix, in the West Indies. He was permanently employed at the Copenhagen Observatory from 1875 on, succeeding Hans Schjellerup
as assistant in 1885. Among other duties he served as timekeeper for the Observatory, and was responsible for the calculations for the Danish astronomical almanac from that time until his death, after a long illness, just shy of his 71st birthday.
Aaron Nichols Skinner
(Aug 10, 1845 - Aug 14, 1918), American astronomer. Skinner was born in Boston, MA, the son of Benjamin Hill Skinner (Jr.) and Mercy (Burgess) Skinner. He married 9 Feb 1874 Sarah Elizabeth Gibbs of Framingham, MA. They had two children, Melville Gibbs and Helen Augusta Skinner. He was educated at Boston Latin School, at Beloit (Wisconsin) College and the University of Chicago, where between 1866 and 1868 he was an assistant of Truman Safford
at the Dearborn Observatory, and in 1867 discovered 3 IC objects (published in 1887, too late for Dreyer to enter in the NGC). In 1870 he became assistant astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory, and in 1898 was appointed professor of mathematics at the observatory with the rank of Lieutenant. He retired in 1907 with the rank of Commander. He died in Framingham, MA.
(Apr 15, 1847 - May 12, 1912), Latvian-Ukrainian astronomer. (Per Steinicke) "Block was born at Baldonu, Latvia on April 15, 1847. He studied astronomy at Dorpat and became an assistant there in 1868 (see W. Struve
). He changed to Pulkovo Observatory in 1871 (see O. Struve
). After two years he went to the Odessa Observatory (Ukraine), where he worked as an astronomer from 1873. He used a 4" comet seeker for visual observations of comets and nebulae. With this instrument he found NGC 1398
on October 18, 1879, published in AN #2287 (1879). But the object was first seen by Winnecke
on Dec. 17, 1868 at Karlsruhe (see AN #2293). NGC 1398 is a galaxy in Fornax (in Block's times the area belongs to Eridanus). On the same night Block found the planetary NGC 1360
(first discovered by Lewis Swift
1857 and in Jan. 1868 by Winnecke). He died on May 12, 1912."
Adolphus Albert Le Sueur
(Dec 8, 1849 - Apr 25, 1906
), British-Australian astronomer. Involved with the construction of and early observations with the 48-inch Great Melbourne Telescope, which for twenty-some years was the largest telescope in the world, Lord Rosse's 72-inch Leviathan having fallen into disrepair. (For anything else refer to the obituary linked from Le Sueur's date of death.)
E. Farie MacGeorge
(active early 1870's), Australian observer. One of the principal observers for the Great Melbourne Telescope; no NGC/IC objects discovered due to the poor quality of the GMT (see Albert Le Sueur
), and listed here only because of his connection to that observatory.
Later Observers (born after 1850)
(Aug 3, 1854 - Sep 23, 1922), Czech astronomer.
Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming
(May 15, 1857 - May 21, 1911
), Scottish-American astronomer. Abandoned by her husband, she was reduced to working as a maid. Her employer, a professor of astronomy at Harvard, was so dissatisfied with the work of his assistants that he claimed "My maid could do a better job." And she did, becoming one of the most famous female astronomers of the 19th century, and an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society.
(1857 - 1928), Austrian astronomer. (Photo from Scientific Web, no original attribution provided; however, based on the appearance of its subject, it must have been taken in the 1800's, and is therefore almost certainly in the public domain.)
(1862 - 1917), American astronomer. Credited with the discovery of nearly a hundred NGC / IC objects.
N. M. Parrish
(? - ?), American astronomer. An observer (assistant?) at the Leander McCormick Observatory of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, from 1887 - 1890, when Ormond Stone
was director of the observatory.
Maximilian (Max) Franz Josef Cornelius Wolf
(Jun 21, 1863 - Oct 3, 1932
), German astronomer. Wolf was one of the first to fully realize the utility of astrophotography, and discovered 248 asteroids, and nearly 6 thousand nebulae, of which more than a thousand are IC objects. His name is most famously connected, however, with his measurements of the proper motions of more than 1500 faint stars, many of which, such as Wolf 359, are exceptionally close to the Sun (Wolf 359 being closer than any other known stars, save for Rigel Kentaurus and Barnard's Star).
Frank Arthur Bellamy
(Oct 17, 1863 - Feb 15, 1936
), British astronomer.
Bellamy discovered only one NGC/IC object (IC 4996
), measuring the positions of over 100 stars in the open cluster; but after publishing his observations he discovered that it had already been observed (though not in as much detail) by Hugo Clemens
, so though credited with the discovery by Dreyer
, Bellamy was not the original discoverer.
(Nov 16, 1864 - Aug 3, 1917
), French astronomer. Discovered over 1400 IC objects, more than any other observer, using the 30" refractor at the Nice Observatory.
Walter Frederick Gale
(Nov 27, 1865 - Jun 1, 1945
), Australian astronomer. Due to his assiduous observations of Mars, one of its craters is named after him, namely the one currently being explored by the Curiosity rover.
(Jul 6, 1866 - 1940), British - South African astronomer.
Vsevolod Viktorovich Stratonov
(Apr 4, 1869 - Jul 6, 1938), Russian astronomer. After the Russian Revolution Stratonov became a political refugee. He was a professor of astronomy at Prague University when he committed suicide. His one IC discovery (IC 1990) was made at the Tashkent Observatory in Uzbekistan.
(1871 - 1945), American astronomer. Son of Lewis Swift
and his second wife Caroline, Swift worked with his father on an occasional basis while between the ages of 13 and 20, discovering 46 nebulae and one comet.
Royal Harwood Frost
(Feb 25, 1879 - May 11, 1950), American astronomer. Frost worked as an astronomical assistant at Harvard College Observatory under Edward Pickering
, but did his most productive astronomical work at the Arequipa observatory, in Peru. During the dozen years he did astronomical observations he discovered 454 IC objects, and an asteroid (505 Cava).
(1900 - June 26, 1932
, American astronomer. Ames was not involved in the original discovery of NGC/IC objects, but is mentioned in a number of entries on this site as a result of her confirmation or refutation of discoveries by earlier Harvard observers. In her unfortunately short life she became a well-respected astronomer and research assistant, and was Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin's closest friend at Harvard. She was Harlow Shapley's assistant from 1924 to her death, the chief contributor of the data on which his theories were based (she discovered over 3000 galaxies in a hundred square degree region in Coma Berenices and Virgo), and the Shapley-Ames Catalog is named after her. (The source of the thumbnail image can be viewed here. Any commercial use of the original image may require the permission of the copyright holder.)