Edward Emerson Barnard

 John Gehl sends us this bio  the astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard (1857-1923), the foremost American observational astronomer of his time. Barnard is remembered for his frequent discovery of comets and nebulae, for the novel application of photography to astronomy on a regular basis, and for his discoveries of the fifth moon of Jupiter and a fast moving star now called Barnard's Runaway Star. Edward Emerson Barnard was a pioneer in celestial photography, taking a remarkable series of photographs of the Milky Way, at a time when the photographic procedure required long exposures and extreme patience. His observations led him to conclude that many starless spaces in the Milky Way are dark nebulae, consisting of clouds of dustlike particles.

He was born into poor circumstances in Nashville, Tennessee, some months after his father died. To help support his family -- at age nine, with only two months of formal schooling -- he went to work in a portrait studio. He continued there for 17 years, and with an amateur's enthusiasm  bought a telescope and began studying the stars in his spare time.  With encouragement from the famous astronomer, Simon Newcomb, Barnard began taking courses at Vanderbilt University and was put in charge of the observatory there. He left at age 30 without a degree, but by that time he had demonstrated his talent for celestial observation, having, among other accomplishments, discovered a comet. In 1888 the Lick Observatory was opened at Mount Hamilton, California, and Barnard was recommended for a staff position. He began to photograph the Milky Way in earnest, using his large aperture lenses to reveal much new detail, including 16 comets. Barnard was the first to discover a comet with the aid of astronomical photography. But he was also the last astronomer to discover a planetary satellite without the use of  photography. That was Jupiter's fifth satellite, Amalthea, the first new satellite of Jupiter to be discovered for nearly three centuries.

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Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: November 24, 2004