Famous Astronomers: Airy and Galle

With a background in mathematics, come find out which British used his previous knowledge to explore the orbital theory of Venus and the Moon. Sir George Airy is known for studying the interference fringes in optics, as well as creates a mathematical study of the beautiful rainbows we see decorating the sky.

Sir George Airy (1801 , 1892)

Airy’s work with astronomy earned him the distinction of Astronomer Royal from 1835 to 1881. With a long list of achievements, the man also worked n planetary orbits , measuring the mean density of the Earth, and also most importantly , establishing Greenwich as the location of the prime meridian.

While all of this glaring recognition mounts in the history books for Airy , he also has a smudge in his past. It is said that he suffered a dent in his accomplishments when allegations surfaced that it was his inaction that lost Britain the opportunity to gain top honors for discovering the planet Neptune. It was June 1846 and Airy began a correspondence with French astronomer Urbain Le Verrier concerning the prediction that inconsistencies in the motion of Uranus were caused by a body yet fully observed.

At the same time, similar predictions were made known in Cambridge, but it was July 9th that Airy asked James Challis to systematically search for what all was hoping existed. However, a rival search developed in Berlin with Johann Gottfried Galle at the head. Le Verrier was pushing as well and in the end, the honors went to them. It is believed that the inactivity and promptness of Airy certainly caused Britain to lose their chance at astronomical glory.

In the end, Airy has still received honors for his overall achievements, including a Martian crater called Airy after him. This crater also displays a smaller crater that is also named after the astronomer (Airy-0). Its positioning is the prime meridian of the planet. On earth, the 1850 telescope used by Airy is found at the prime meridian. A lunar crater is also named Airy in his honor.

Johann Gottfried Galle (1812 , 1910)

When taking a look at this German astronomer, his career begins at the Berlin Observatory where with the assistance of a student by the name of Heinrich Louis d’ Arrest , became the first individual to view the planet Neptune. He is also the first to gain credit for knowing what he was actually looking at in September 1846. He used the calculations of Urbain Le Verrier to know just where to pinpoint his telescope.
Born in Radis, Galle later became the assistant to Johann Franz Encke in 1835 right after the completion of the Berlin observatory. In 1851, he relocated to Breslau where he took on the position of astronomy professor, as well as the director of the local observatory. Over the years, Galle cultivated an interest in comets , studying these objects with great intensity. In 1894 (with his son Andreas Galle providing assistance), he was able to publish a list containing 414 comets. Over his career, he managed to discover three comets on his own.