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Smyth, Charles Piazzi

SMYTH, CHARLES PIAZZI. (1810-1900), British astronomer, was born at Naples on the 3rd of January 1819. He was called Piazzi after his godfather, the Italian astronomer of that name, whose acquaintance his father, Admiral Smyth, had made at Palermo when on the Mediterranean station. His father subsequently settled at Bedford and equipped there an observatory, at which Piazzi Smyth received his first lessons in astronomy. At the age of sixteen he went out as assistant to Sir Thomas Maclear at the Cape of Good Hope, where he observed Halley's comet and the great comet of 1843, and took an active part in the verification and extension of La Caille's arc of the meridian. In 1845 he was appointed astronomer royal for Scotland and professor of astronomy in the university of Edinburgh. Here he completed the reduction, and continued the series, of the observations made by his predecessor, Thomas Henderson (see Edinburgh Observations, vols. xi.-xv.). In 1856 he made experimental observations on the Peak of Teneriffe with a view to testing the astronomical advantages of a mountain station. The Admiralty made him a grant of 500 for the purpose, and a yacht the " Titania " of 140 tons and a fine 75 in. equatorial telescope were placed at his disposal by friends. The upshot of the expedition was to verify Newton's surmise, that a " most serene and quiet air ... may perhaps be found on the tops of the highest mountains above the grosser clouds." The scientific results were detailed in a Report addressed to the lords commissioners of the admiralty, 1858, in a communication to the Royal Society (Phil. Trans, cxlviii. 465) and in the Edinburgh Observations, vol. xii. A popular account of the voyage is contained in Teneriffe, an Astronomer's Experiment, 1858. In 1871-1872 Piazzi Smyth investigated the spectra of the aurora, and zodiacal light. He recommended the use of the " rainband " for weather prediction (Jour. Scottish Meteor. Society, v. 84) , and discovered, in conjunction with Professor A. S. Herschel, the harmonic relation between the rays emitted by carbon monoxide. In 1877-1878 he constructed at 'Lisbon a map of the solarspectrum (Edin. Phil. Trans, xxix. 285), for which he received the Macdougall-Brisbane prize in 1880. Further spectroscopic researches were carried out by him at Madeira in 1880 (Madeira Spectroscopic, 1882), and at Winchester in 1884 (Edin. Phil. Trans, vol. xxxii. pt. ii.). He published besides Three Cities in Russia (1862), Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid (1864), Life and Work at the Great Pyramid (1867), and a volume On the Antiquity of Intellectual Man (1868). In 1888 he resigned his official position and retired to the neighbourhood of Ripon, where he died on the 21st of February 1900.

See Month. Notices Roy. Astr. Society, Ixi. 189; Observatory, xxiii. 145, 184; R. Copeland in Astr. Nach. No. 3636, and Pop. Astronomy (1900), p. 384; Nature, jxii. 161 (A. S. Herschel); Andr6 and Rayet, L'Astronomie pratique, ii. 12. (A. M. C.)

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

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