Royal Greenwich observatory

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Airy (1801-1892) was the seventh Astronomer Royal. Born in Alnwick, Northumberland and educated in Ipswich and at Trinity College, Cambridge, Airy became Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, then Plumian Professor of Astronomy in the University, before being appointed Astronomer Royal in 1835. He remained at Greenwich for the remainder of his working life, retiring at the age of 80 in 1881. Even then, as a member of the Board of visitors, he maintained a direct link with the Observatory, which only ended with his death in 1892.

From the description of George Biddell Airy Papers, 1819-1890. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82631007

Christie (1845-1922) was Eighth Astronomer Royal, in office 1881-1910; Chief Assistant 1870-1881. Born in Woolwich, London, in 1845, Christie graduated amongst the finest mathematicians of his year at the University of Cambridge (1868). In 1970 he was appointed Chief Assistant to G.B. Airy, Astonomer Royal on Airy's retirement, though Airy's presence on the Board of Visitors to the Royal Observatory meant that Christie was not always free of his influence. Nonetheless, Christie was much more interested than Airy in the astrophysical side of his science, and during his tenure of office several modern instrumnts were erected at Greenwich. He retired at the age of 65 in 1910 and died at sea Near Gibraltar in 1922.

From the description of William Henry Mahoney Christie Papers, 1878-1940. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82862818

Dyson (1868-1939) was Ninth Astronomer Royal, in office 1910-1933. Chief Assistant 1894-1906. Born in 1868 near Ashby de la Zouche, Dyson was educated at Brandford and at the University of Cambridge, from whence, after a period of research, he was appointed as Chief Assistant at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, by W.H.M. Christie in 1894. Proving to be a most diligent astronomer, in 1906 Dyson was appointed Astronomer Royal for Scotland, returning to Greenwich in 1910 on Christie's retirement as Astronomer Royal. He retired from his office in 1933 and, as his predecessor had done, died at sea, in 1939.

From the description of Frank Watson Dyson Papers, 1875-1950. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 81062519

Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, 1981-[ongoing]. Boksenberg (1936- ) was educated at the Stationers' Company's School and at University College, London, where he graduated B.Sc. in 1957 and Ph. D. in 1960, Boksenberg was a Science Research Council Research Student at University College, London from 1960-1965. He was appoinated Lecturer in Physics there in 1965 and Reader in Physics in 1975. Boksenberg was head of the Optical and Ultraviolet Astronomy Research Group from 1969-1981, a Science Research Council Senior Fellow from 1976-1981 and from 1976 to 1981 was Professor of Physics at University College. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1978. In 1981, Boksenberg was appointed to succeed F. G. Smith as Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, becoming a Visiting Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomoy at University College, London and in the Astronomy Centre of the University of Sussex in the same year.

From the description of Alexander Boksenberg Papers. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79025445

Maskselyne (1732-1811) was fifth Astronomer Royal, in office 1765-1811. Graduating in mathematics from the University of Cambridge in 1754, Maskelyne's interest in astronomy had been first aroused in seeing the solar eclipse of 1748. Maskelyne came to the notice of James Bradley, who arranged that he should travel to St. Helena in the South Atlantic to observe the transit of Venus of 1761. His involvement with investigations into the competing chronometric and purely astronomical methods of determining longitude lead Maskelyne to become the natural choice of successor to Nathaniel Bliss as Astronomer Royal, and office to which he was appointed in 1765.

From the description of Nevil Maskselyne Papers, ca. 1743-ca. 1822. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79021427

Hunter (1912- ) was RGO Director 1973-1975; Chief Assistant 1961-1967; Deputy Director 1967-1971, 1972 July - 1973 November; Acting Director 1972 January - 1972 July. He joined the staff of the Royal Observatory as a spectroscopist in 1937, during the tenure of office of H.S. Jones as Astronomer Royal and, apart from secondment to the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, during the Second World War, remained with the Observatory for nearly 40 years. His forte is recognized to be in scientific administration rather than in astrophysical research, and as the Observatory grew in size and staff after the move to Herstmonceux, this talent was shown to be of paramount importance. In 1961 he was appointed one of the Chief Assistants to R v d R Woolley, and became Wooley's Deputy Director in 1967. In these capacities he oversaw and as far as possible smoothed the path of transfer from Admiralty control to that of the new Science Research Council, from 1965. Wooley resigned his office on 1971 January 1, and since his successor as Directory, E.M. Burbidge, could not take up her appontment until the summer of 1972, Hunter was preforce appointed Acting Director for the intervening months. After the arrival of Margaret Burbidge, he again assumed the mantle of Deputy. Burbridge's period in office was brief, since she found the administrative load imposed on the director of the RGO to preclude her from pursing her research interests, and sh.

E resigned in dissatisfaction in late 1973. At this juncture, the establishment required a steadying hand, and Hunters's long experience of the workings of the Observatory made him the inevitable choice to succeed Burbidge, one which was warmly welcomed by his staff.

From the description of Alan Hunter Papers, 1949-1975. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82694720

Second Astronomer Royal, in office 1721-1742. The son of wealthy parents, Halley is the most celebrated of all the distinguished scientists who have held the office of Astronomer Royal. He was only 16 years of age on entering The Queen's College, Oxford, in 1673 and was soon making serious astronomical observations. In 1675 he suggested an expedition to the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic to observe the southern stars, and under the auspices he undertook this task in 1676-1677, publishing his observations in his Catalogue of Southern Stars of 1697. Whilst on St. Helena, he observed the transit of the planet Mercury across the Sun's disc in 1677. The success of the latter observations convinced him that observations from widely spaced stations of the next transit of Venus, not due until 1761, would yield an accurate value of the solar parallax, and he appealed to the next generation of astronomers to undertake such observations. Later in life, he similarly appealed to younger astronomers when he realized that the comet he had observed in 1682 was identical to that seen in 1607 and 1531, which he thus predicted would return to the Earth's skies late in 1758. Halley was instrumental in persuading Isaac Newton to publish his fundamental work in natural philosophy, Philosphiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, and when the Royal Society proved to be too short of funds, also paid for the printing of the first edition o.

F 1687, perhaps the most important single publication in the history of science. Less happily, Halley was also at the center of the dispute with John Flamsteed over the publication of the Historia Coelestis of 1712 [see notes to classmark RGO 1]. Halley was appointed the commander of a ship in the Royal Navy and in three voyages between 1698 and 1701 made the variation of the magnetic declination in the Atlantic Ocean, from which he produced an isogonal world map. Another study in historical astronomical observations lead Halley to realize that the heavens were not immutable and that stars could be possessed of their own "proper motion." Given the hostility which existed between Halley and Flamsteed, it is ironic that Halley should be appointed as Flamsteed's successor at Greenwich. He spent the remaining years of his life there, not producing the wealth of inspired philosophical ideas which characterized his earlier life, but essentially undertaking the observation of the Moon over a complete sidereal cycle of the nodes of its orbit, a period of over 18 years, an ambitious goal for a man who was 64 years of age on taking up his post at Greenwich.

From the description of Edmond Halley Papers, 1677-1767. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 84317811

Flamsteed (1638-1725) was the first Astronomer Royal, in office 1675-1719. A self-educated son of a Derby maltster, Flamsteed came to London and was active in astronomical pursuits there in the early 1670s, at a time when King Charles II became interested in the problem of the determination of the longitude at sea. The King was greatly surprised to learn that there was no reliable method to ascertain this measure and, after taking the advice of a committee of the Royal Society, in 1675 ordered the appointment of Flamsteed as his "astronomical observator" and the construction of an observatory in the Royal Park at Greenwich. Flamsteed's appointment was largely due to the recommendation of his friend Sir Jonas Moore, Surveyor General of the Ordnance. Flamsteed devoted the remaining 43 years of his life to the nightly observation of the sky and the daily reduction of his observations. In the early 18th century he became involved in a celebrated and vitriolic dispute over the publication of his observations with Edmond Halley and Isaac Newton, which came to a head in 1712 with the publication of the "spurious" edition of Flamsteed's 'Historia Coelestis Britannica'...under the editorship of Halley. Flamsteed's observations were finally published, posthumously, in the manner he had envisaged and to the accuracy which he required, in the three-volume 'Historia Coelestis Britannica...of 1725' and the folio 'Atlas Coelestis' of 172


From the description of John Flamsteed Papers, 1638-1725. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 80601875

Jones (1890-1960) was tenth Astronomer Royal, in office 1933-1955; Chief Assistant, 1913-1923.

Receiving parental encouragement to study mathematics, Jones won a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge. He was classed amongst the foremost mathematicians of the year he graduated, 1911, and he became a Fellow of Jesus College in 1913. When Arthur Eddington resigned as chief Assistant at Greenwich to return to Cambridge, Dyson apponted Jones to the vacant position. Except for war work, Jones remained at the Royal Observatory for ten years, until being appointed to succeed S.S. Hough as His Majesty's Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope. Faced with the difficult working conditions and poor staff relationships when he arrived, Jones was able to completely revitalize the Cape Observatory. Making observations to determine the solar parallax was central to Jones's work at this time, firstly by observations of Mars at its close approach during the opposition of 1924, then in a more celebrated manner by organizing the international programme to observe the minor planet Eros at its favourable opposition in 1930-1931. Frank Dyson retired as Astronomer Royal in 1933 and Jones was appointed in his place at Greenwich, where he brought into operation the 36-inch Yapp reflecting telescope and the Cooke Reversible Transit Circle, which replaced the Airy instrument of 1850. Though the outbreak of the war interrupted progress, the move of th.

E Royal Observatory away from the atmospheric pollution and glare became of paramount importance in the early years of Jones's tenure, discussion on the possibility of moving the Observatory having taken place even in Dyson's period. Some 70 or 80 possible sites were identified in the last years of the world war and in 1946 the Admiralty purchased Herstmonceux Castle and estate to be the new site of the Royal Observatory. The move was dogged by administrative delays; post war shortages of housing and materials also retarded the project, and though Jones moved to Herstmonceaux in 1948, it was another decade, and after Jones's retirement, that the move was completed.

From the description of Harold Spencer Jones Papers, 1920-1968. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 81179803

Woolley (1906-1986) was eleventh Astronomer Royal, in office 1956-1971; Chief Assistant 1933-1937. Born in Dorest, Woolley attended school in Devon before his father retired in 1921 and moved the family to Cape Town, where in 1922 and at only 16 years of age, he entered the University. There he attained the degree of B. Sc. in 1924 and M. Sc. in 1925, both with first class honours. In Cape Town he met H.S. Jones, then HM Astronomer at the Cape. In 1926 he returned to England to continue his studies in mathematics, at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, being classed as a wrangler in the examination of 1928. He was then supervised for his doctoral studies by Arthur Eddington, and it was due to the latter's influence and that of F.J.M. Stratton that Woolley decided on a career in astronomy. From 1929 to 1931 he was at Mount Wilson Observatory, California, then returned to Cambridge to complete his PH. D. and was for two years as Isaac Newton Student. In 1933 he was appointed Chief Assistant at Greenwich by the new Astronomer Royal, Harold Spencer Jones. He took the unusual step of resigning this post in 1937 to return once more to Cambridge, as John Couch Adams astronomer at the University Observatories under Arthur Eddington. In 1939 Wooley was appointed Commonwealth Astronomer at the Mount Stromlo Observatory near Canberra. It would seem that he expected that the remainder of his working life would be spent in Austra.

Lian astronomy, but in 1955 he was offered the post of Astronomer Royal to succeed Jones who would retire at the end of the year. More from a sense of duty than advancement he accepted the office, to which be brought the very considerable benefits of his 30 years experience in practical astronomy and astrophysical enquiry.

From the description of Richard van der Riet Woolley Papers, 1947-1975. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 78060543

Margaret Burbidge (ca. 1922- ) served as director, Royal Greenwich Observatory from July 1972 to November 1973. She studied for the degree of Ph. D. at the Mill Hill Observatory of the University of London. She married Geoffrey Burbidge in 1948 and in the 1950s both worked on the stellar synthesis of elements with F. Hoyle and W. Fowler at Cambridge and at the California Institute of Technology. In 1953 she went to Yerkes Observatory to undertake a study of the variable abundances of stellar elements and in 1962 she went to the University of California and Lick Observatories to undertake research into quasars. In 1971, she was invited to become the next Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory. It had been announced during the year that the next appointment to this post would not necessarily confer the title of Astronomer Royal to its holder, as had previously been the case. This was so in Burbidge's case, and indeed none of the subsequent Directors of the Royal Greenwich Observatory has held the title of Astronomer Royal during their tenure of office. At heart a research astrophysicist, Burbidge found the administrative burden that fell to the Director so heavy that it precluded her from undertaking the studies that she wished. She spent only 15 months in post before resigning; almost immediately after her resignation she was most unfortunately involved in a motor vehicle accident close to the Observatory at Herstmonce.

Aux. Nonetheless, during her tenure, she firmly stated her wish to move the Isaac Newton Telescope away from the glare and mist of Herstmonceux to a first-class northern hemisphere observatory site. In her time in office, high altitude sites in Italy, mainland Spain, and the Canary Islands were examined for their suitability for the Northern Hemisphere Observatory. She envisaged an observatory having 150-inch, 90-inch, and 36-inch reflecting telescopes; taken together, this may be seen as a remarkable prefiguring of the current establishment on the Island of La Palma in the Canaries, where the Observatorio de los Muchachos has a 4.2 metre, a 2.5 metre, and a 1.0 metre telescope. After her resignation from Royal Greenwich Observatory, Burbidge returned to California, where she has since followed a distinguished academic and teaching career in astrophysics.

From the description of Eleanor Margaret Burbidge Papers, 1961-1974. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 81106562

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Royal Observatory, Greenwich. John Pond Papers, 1811-1835. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Todd, David P. (David Peck), 1855-1939. David Peck Todd papers, 1862-1939 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Gold, Thomas. Oral history interview with Thomas Gold, 1978 April 1. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Papers and correspondence of William Hunter McCrea, Knight, mathematician, physicist and astronomer, 1904-1999, 1890-2004 Royal Holloway, University of London
creatorOf Royal Greenwich Observatory. William Henry Mahoney Christie Papers, 1878-1940. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Jones, Burton Fredrick, 1942-. Oral history interview Burton Fredrick Jones, 1977 July 16. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Royal Greenwich Observatory. Eleanor Margaret Burbidge Papers, 1961-1974. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Royal Greenwich Observatory: Records and Papers, 1675-1998 Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives
creatorOf Royal Greenwich Observatory. Alexander Boksenberg Papers. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Royal Greenwich Observatory. Frank Watson Dyson Papers, 1875-1950. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Royal Observatory, Greenwich. James Bradley Papers (including Nathaniel Bliss Papers), 1723-1804. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Atkinson, Robert d'Escourt, 1898-1982. Oral history interview with Robert d'Escourt Atkinson, 1977. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Royal Greenwich Observatory. Edmond Halley Papers, 1677-1767. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Airy, George Biddell, Sir, 1801-1892. Papers [microform]. Libraries Australia
creatorOf Royal Greenwich Observatory. Papers. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn MCGEE, Professor James Dwyer (1903-1987), 1937-1979 Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine
referencedIn American Institute of Physics. Center for History of Physics. Study of Multi-Institutional Collaborations. Phase II: Space Science and Geophysics. International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) (Space Science): Oral history interviews, 1992-1994. American Institute of Physics
referencedIn Todd, David P. (David Peck), 1855-1939. David Peck Todd papers, 1862-1939 (inclusive). Yale University Library
creatorOf Royal Greenwich Observatory. Harold Spencer Jones Papers, 1920-1968. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Herschel Family. Papers, 1721-1951, (bulk 1810-1871). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Sir Isaac Newton: Papers, 1612-1886 Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives
creatorOf Royal Greenwich Observatory. Nevil Maskselyne Papers, ca. 1743-ca. 1822. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Atkinson, Robert d'Escourt, 1898-1982. Robert d'Escourt Atkinson papers, 1893-1981. Indiana University
creatorOf Royal Greenwich Observatory. John Flamsteed Papers, 1638-1725. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Royal Greenwich Observatory. George Biddell Airy Papers, 1819-1890. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn David Peck Todd papers, 1862-1939 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
creatorOf Royal Greenwich Observatory. Richard van der Riet Woolley Papers, 1947-1975. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Royal Greenwich Observatory. Alan Hunter Papers, 1949-1975. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Atkinson, Robert d'Escourt, 1898-1982. Selected correspondence [microform], 1927-1955. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Airy, George Biddell, Sir, 1801-1892 person
associatedWith American Institute of Physics. Center for History of Physics. Study of Multi-Institutional Collaborations. Phase II: Space Science and Geophysics. corporateBody
associatedWith Appleton, Edward Victor, Sir, 1892-1965. person
associatedWith Atkinson, Robert d'Escourt, 1898-1982. person
associatedWith Blaauw, Adriaan. person
associatedWith Boksenberg, Alec person
associatedWith Bradley, James, 1693?-1762. person
associatedWith Burbidge, E. Margaret person
associatedWith Cavendish, Henry, 1731-1810. person
associatedWith Charles II, King of England. person
associatedWith Charles II, King of England, 1630-1685. person
associatedWith Cockcroft, John, Sir, 1897-1967. person
associatedWith Dyson, Frank Watson, 1868-1939. person
associatedWith Eddington, Arthur Stanley, Sir, 1882-1944. person
associatedWith Edward VII, King of Great Britain, 1841-1910. person
associatedWith Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955. person
associatedWith Elizabeth II Queen of Great Britain, 1926- person
associatedWith Fizeau, H. 1819-1896. person
associatedWith Flamsteed, John, 1646-1719. person
associatedWith Gold, Thomas. person
associatedWith Graham-Smith, Francis, Sir, 1923- person
associatedWith Great Britain. Admiralty. corporateBody
associatedWith Halley, Edmond, 1656-1742. person
associatedWith Henry VIII, King of England, 1491-1547. person
associatedWith Herschel Family. family
associatedWith Herschel, William, Sir, 1738-1822. person
associatedWith Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias. Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos. corporateBody
associatedWith Jones, Burton Fredrick, 1942- person
associatedWith Jones, H. Spencer 1890-1960. person
associatedWith Le Verrier, U.-J. 1811-1877. person
associatedWith Lodge, Oliver, Sir, 1851-1940. person
associatedWith Maskelyne, Nevil, 1732-1811. person
associatedWith McGee, James Dwyer, 1903-1987 person
associatedWith Newton, Isaac, Sir, 1642-1727 person
associatedWith Redman, Roderick Oliver, 1905-1975. person
associatedWith Royal Greenwich Observatory person
associatedWith Royal Observatory, Greenwich. corporateBody
associatedWith Rutherford, Ernest, 1871-1937. person
associatedWith Science and Engineering Research Council (Great Britain) corporateBody
associatedWith Sir Isaac Newton person
associatedWith Sir William Hunter McCrea, mathematician, physicist and astronomer, 1904-1999 person
associatedWith Todd, David P. (David Peck), 1855-1939. person
associatedWith Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, 1819-1901. person
associatedWith Woolley, Richard van der Reit, Sir. person
associatedWith Woolley, Richard van der Riet, Sir. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
South America--Brazil--Sobral
Great Britain
Prime Meridian
Great Britain
South America--Brazil
Africa, West
Great Britain
Astronomy--Data processing
Eros (Asteroid)--Observations
Meteorology--Technological innovations
Astronomical instruments--Costs
Quarreling--18th century
Solar eclipses--1905
Telescopes (Astronomy)
Scientific expeditions
Solar eclipses--Observations--1919
World War, 1939-1945--War work
Telescopes (Astronomy)--Design and construction
Lead mines and mining
Relativity (Physics)--Observations
Spherical astronomy--Research--18th century
Astronomical observatories
Astronomical observatories--Administration
World War, 1939-1945--Destruction and pillage
World War, 1914-1918--Science
World War, 1914-1918--Economic aspects
Astronomy--Observations--International cooperation
Time--Systems and standards
Astronomy--Observations--18th century
Astronomical instruments
Gravitation (Constant of)--Experiments
Communication in science--18th century
World War, 1939-1945--Science
Astronomical observatories--Cost of operation
Solar eclipses--1900
Time-signals--Technological innovations
Prime meridian--Research
Time--Systems and standards--18th century
Reflecting telescopes--Design and construction
Solar eclipses--1898
Radio programs, Public service--Scientific applications
Astronomical photography--Technological innovations
Stars--Catalogs--18th century
Telegraph (Technology)
Science--Early works to 1800
Astronomical observatories--Administration--18th century

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Active 1819

Active 1890






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