November 18, 2010 #120 – Piazzi’s Life and Scientific Accomplishments

After my posts on the discovery of Ceres Ferdinandea I began to wonder about the life of the discoverer.  Joseph Piazzi was born in Italy in 1746 and lived to 80. During his early years he became a monk. He taught philosophy and due to some of his teachings alarmed the Dominicans and earned enemies. As a consequence he became a professor of mathematics and was instrumental in reforming the teaching methods of the time in his society.

He was able to persuade the nobility of Sicily to help him establish an observatory at Palermo, engaging Ramsden to construct the instruments which Piazzi designed to improve observational accuracy. The observatory was completed around the end of the century and he began a program of observation. Piazzi  conducted exacting observations and rechecked his observations extensively to insure accuracy. His first work was a great catalog of almost 6750 stars and the discovery of the new planet. In his lifetime he recorded over 125,000 observations and ended up with his catalog reaching 7646 stars, an amazing accomplishment.

If you would check the following link you will find a paper written on Pazzi's work with a picture taken from a portrait painting and the transit he had constructed and used to acquire his data.

I have included his obituary, which covers his life in more detail, for you to read if you would like to know more. I found it in the 1827, “New and United Series of the Philosophical Magazine or Annals of Philosophy –Vol.I” on Google Books. (Click to Enlarge)

Piazzi 01Piazzi 02Piazzi 03

His 1814 Star Catalog is available with the introduction in Latin on Google Books. Look for "Praecipuarum Stellarum Inerrantium Positones Mediae" You can translate the Latin by opening the text version and copying it to a translator such as Google Translate. The tables are readable without translation. I have included the title page and the 1st. page of the Catalog to give you a sample of his work. It is interesting to compare his recorded positions with the current position on a modern computer astronomical chart to see the amount of change that has occurred since the early 1800's.

Clear Sky - Rich

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