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Hevelius

HEVELIUS [HEVEL or HOWELCKE], JOHANN (1611-1687), German astronomer, was born at Danzig on the 28th of January 1611. He studied jurisprudence at Leiden in 1630; travelled in England and France; and in 1634 settled in his native town as a brewer and town councillor. From 1639 his chief interest became centred in astronomy, though he took, throughout his life, a leading part in municipal affairs. In 1641 he built an observatory in his house, provided with a splendid instrumental outfit, including ultimately a tubeless telescope of 150 ft. focal length, constructed by himself. It was visited, on the 29th of January 1660, by John II. and Maria Gonzaga, king and queen of Poland. Hevelius made observations of sunspots, 1642- 1645, devoted four years to charting the lunar surface, discovered the moon's libration in longitude, and published his results in Selenographia (1647), a work which entitles him to be called the founder of lunar topography. He discovered four comets in the several years 1652, 1661, 1672 and 1677, and suggestedthe revolution of such bodies in parabolic tracks round the Sun. On the 26th of September 1679, his observatory, instruments and books were maliciously destroyed by fire, the catastrophe being described in the preface to his Annus dimactericus (1685). He promptly repaired the damage, so far as to enable him to observe the great comet of December 1680; but his health suffered from the shock, and he died on the 28th of January 1687. Among his works were: Prodromus cometicus (1665); Cometographia (1668); Machina coelestis (first part, 1673), containing a description of his instruments; the sfecond part (1679) is extremely rare, nearly the whole issue having perished in the conflagration of 1679. The observations made by Hevelius on the variable star named by him " Mira " are included in Annus dimactericus. His catalogue of 1564 stars appeared posthumously in Prodromus astronomiae (1690). Its value was much impaired by his preference of the antique " pinnules " to telescopic sights on quadrants. This led to an acrimonious controversy with Robert Hooke. In an Alias of 56 sheets, corresponding to his catalogue, and entitled Firmamentum Sobiescianum (1690), he delineated seven new constellations, still in use. Hevelius had his book printed in his own house, at lavish expense, and himself not only designed but engraved many of the plates.

See J. H. Westphal, Leben, Studien, und Schriften des Astronomen Johann Hevelius (1820); C. B. Lengnich, Anekdoten und Nachrichten (1780); Allgemeine deutsche Biographic (C. Bruhns); J. B. J. Delambre, Histoire de I' astronomic moderne, ii. 471; J. F. Weidler, Historia astronomiae, p. 486; F. Baily's edition of the Catalogue of Hevelius, Memoirs Roy. Aslr. Society, xiii. (1843); R. Wolf, Ceschichte der Astronomie, p. 396; J. C. Poggendorff, Biog.-lit. Handworterbuch. For an account of the epistolary remains of Hevelius, see C. G. Hecker, Monatl. Correspondent, viii. 30; also Astr. Nachrichten, vols. xxiii., xxiv. (A. M. C.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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