Page:A short history of astronomy(1898).djvu/312

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
250
[Ch. X.
A Short History of Astronomy

office of Astronomer Royal, with a salary of £100 a year, and the warrant for building an Observatory at Greenwich was signed on June 12th, 1675. About a year was occupied in building it, and Flamsteed took up his residence there and began work in July 1676, five years after Cassini entered upon his duties at the Observatory of Paris (chapter viii., § 160). The Greenwich Observatory was, however, on a very different scale from the magnificent sister institution. The King had, it is true, provided Flamsteed with a building and a very small salary, but furnished him neither with instruments nor with an assistant. A few instruments he possessed already, a few more were given to him by rich friends, and he gradually made at his own expense some further instrumental additions of importance. Some years after his appointment the Government provided him with "a silly, surly labourer" to help him with some of the rough work, but he was compelled to provide more skilled assistance out of his own pocket, and this necessity in turn compelled him to devote some part of his valuable time to taking pupils.

198. Flamsteed's great work was the construction of a more accurate and more extensive star catalogue than any that existed; he also made a number of observations of the moon, of the sun, and to a less extent of other bodies. Like Tycho, the author of the last great star catalogue (chapter v., § 107), he found problems continually presenting themselves in the course of his work which had to be solved before his main object could be accomplished, and we accordingly owe to him the invention of several improvements in practical astronomy, the best known being his method of finding the position of the first point of Aries (chapter ii., § 42), one of the fundamental points with reference to which all positions on the celestial sphere are defined. He was the first astronomer to use a clock systematically for the determination of one of the two fundamental quantities (the right ascension) necessary to fix the position of a star, a method which was first suggested and to some extent used by Picard (chapter viii., § 157), and, as soon as he could get the necessary instruments, he regularly used the telescopic sights of Gascoigne and Auzout (chapter viii., § 155), instead of making naked-eye