johann bode

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In 1801, Johann Elert Bode published ‘Uranographia’, a celestial atlas that showed both the positions of the stars with scientific accuracy, and his own artistic interpretations of the stellar constellation figures.

Uranographia by Johann Elert Bode, 1801 | Royal Institution Rare Book Collections

Johann Elert Bode (German 19 January 1747 – 23 November 1826) was the German astronomer known for reforming and popularising the Titius–Bode law, and naming Uranus.

Bode was directly involved in research leading from the discovery of a Uranus in 1781. Although it was the first planet to be discovered by telescope, Uranus is just about visible with the naked eye. Bode consulted older star charts and found numerous examples of the planet’s position being given while being mistaken for a star, for example John Flamsteed, Astronomer Royal in Britain, had listed it in his catalog of 1690 as a star with the name 34 Tauri. These earlier sightings allowed an exact calculation of the orbit of the new planet.

Bode was also responsible for giving the new planet its name. The discoverer William Herschel proposed to name it after George III which was not accepted so readily in other countries. Bode opted for Uranus, with the apparent logic that just as Saturn was the father of Jupiter, the new planet should be named after the father of Saturn. There were further alternatives proposed, but ultimately Bode’s suggestion became the most widely used - however it had to wait until 1850 before gaining official acceptance in Britain when the Nautical Almanac Office switched from using the name Georgium Sidus to Uranus. In 1789, Bode’s Royal Academy colleague Martin Klaproth was inspired by Bode’s name for the planet to name his newly discovered element “uranium”.

From 1787 to 1825 Bode was director of the Astronomisches Rechen-Institut. In 1794, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In April, 1789 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

Bode died in Berlin on 23 November 1826, aged 79.

Keep an eye out for more illustrations from Uranographia over the next few days.

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The discovery of Uranus

On this day, March 13, 1781,German born British astronomer discovered the planet Uranus.  He also discovered two of Uranus’s moons, Titania and Oberon and two moons of Saturn.  He is credited with the discovery of Infrared radiation, and to honor that the image above of Uranus is a 1998 false-colour near-infrared image of the planet showing cloud bands, rings, and moons obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope’s NICMOS camera.

Herschel named his discovery George, oddly enough, to commemorate his new patron, King George III.  At the time he said this:  

In the fabulous ages of ancient times the appellations of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were given to the Planets, as being the names of their principal heroes and divinities. In the present more philosophical era it would hardly be allowable to have recourse to the same method and call it Juno, Pallas, Apollo or Minerva, for a name to our new heavenly body. The first consideration of any particular event, or remarkable incident, seems to be its chronology: if in any future age it should be asked, when this last-found Planet was discovered? It would be a very satisfactory answer to say, ‘In the reign of King George the Third’.

Few astronomers outside of England liked the name, however, and astronomers began proposing alternatives almost immediately.  German astronomer Johann Elert Bode called it Uranus  (Ancient Greek: Οὐρανός) after the Ancient Greek god of the sky, the logic being that as Saturn was the father of Jupiter, the new planet should be the father of Saturn.  It wasn’t until the middle of the next century that atlases dropped Herschel’s name and adopted Uranus.

All images in the public domain courtesy NASA.

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March 13th 1781: Uranus discovered

On this day in 1781, the planet Uranus was discovered by British astronomer William Herschel. He was in his garden in Bath, England when he observed the planet with his telescope. He initially thought the body was a comet but after he reported the sighting other astronomers weighed in and concluded it was indeed a new planet. At first Herschel wanted to name the planet after King George III, but foreign scientists were not too keen on that Anglocentric name. Eventually German astronomer Johann Bode suggested the name Uranus, which is the Latin name for the Greek god of the sky Ouranos. Thus Uranus joined other planets in the solar system whose names derived from the genealogy of Greek gods: Uranus was Saturn’s father, Saturn was Jupiter’s father and Jupiter was Mars’s father. The element uranium, which was discovered in 1789 by Martin Klaproth, was named in honour of Uranus.

“By the observation of the most eminent Astronomers in Europe it appears that the new star, which I had the honour of pointing out to them in March 1781, is a Primary Planet of our Solar System
- Herschel in 1783 to President of the Royal Society Joseph Banks

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Today is the birthday of William Herschel (15 November 1738 – 25 August 1822) a German born British astronomer known today as the discoverer of the planet Uranus in March of 1781.  He also discovered two of Uranus’s moons, Titania and Oberon and two moons of Saturn.  He is also credited with the discovery of Infrared radiation, and to honor that the image above of Uranus is a 1998 false-colour near-infrared image of the planet showing cloud bands, rings, and moons obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope's NICMOS camera.

Herschel named his discovery George, oddly enough, to commemorate his new patron, King George III.  At the time he said this:  

In the fabulous ages of ancient times the appellations of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were given to the Planets, as being the names of their principal heroes and divinities. In the present more philosophical era it would hardly be allowable to have recourse to the same method and call it Juno, Pallas, Apollo or Minerva, for a name to our new heavenly body. The first consideration of any particular event, or remarkable incident, seems to be its chronology: if in any future age it should be asked, when this last-found Planet was discovered? It would be a very satisfactory answer to say, ‘In the reign of King George the Third’.

Few astronomers outside of England liked the name, however, and astronomers began proposing alternatives almost immediately.  German astronomer Johann Elert Bode called it Uranus  (Ancient Greek: Οὐρανός) after the Ancient Greek god of the sky, the logic being that as Saturn was the father of Jupiter, the new planet should be the father of Saturn.  It wasn’t until the middle of the next century that atlases dropped Herschel’s name and adopted Uranus

All images in the public domain.

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William Herschel and a Planet named GEORGE

Today is the birthday of William Herschel (15 November 1738 – 25 August 1822) a German born British astronomer known today as the discoverer of the planet Uranus in March of 1781.  He also discovered two of Uranus’s moons, Titania and Oberon and two moons of Saturn.  He is also credited with the discovery of Infrared radiation, and to honor that the image above of Uranus is a 1998 false-colour near-infrared image of the planet showing cloud bands, rings, and moons obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope‘s NICMOS camera.

Herschel named his discovery George, oddly enough, to commemorate his new patron, King George III.  At the time he said this:  

In the fabulous ages of ancient times the appellations of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were given to the Planets, as being the names of their principal heroes and divinities. In the present more philosophical era it would hardly be allowable to have recourse to the same method and call it Juno, Pallas, Apollo or Minerva, for a name to our new heavenly body. The first consideration of any particular event, or remarkable incident, seems to be its chronology: if in any future age it should be asked, when this last-found Planet was discovered? It would be a very satisfactory answer to say, ‘In the reign of King George the Third’.

Few astronomers outside of England liked the name, however, and astronomers began proposing alternatives almost immediately.  German astronomer Johann Elert Bode called it Uranus  (Ancient Greek: Οὐρανός) after the Ancient Greek god of the sky, the logic being that as Saturn was the father of Jupiter, the new planet should be the father of Saturn.  It wasn’t until the middle of the next century that atlases dropped Herschel’s name and adopted Uranus.

All images in the public domain.

Who would doubt their (aliens’) existence? The supremely wise creator of the world, who assigns even an insect its lodging on a grain of sand, will certainly not permit … this great mass of suns to be empty of creatures, and still less of rational inhabitants who will readily and gratefully praise the author of life.
—  Johann Bode, 18th-century German astronomer

Messier 81 - Bode’s Galaxy in Ursa Major

M81 is one of the brightest and closest galaxies around, and has thus been frequented by professionals and amateurs alike. This beautiful spiral galaxy was discovered by Johann Elert Bode in 1774, and was later catalogued by Charles Messier some time afterwards. It is always under close watch for supernovae explosions, as they are easier to observe in nearby galaxies.

Top: Visual - NASA/ESA/HST

Bottom: IR - NASA/JPL