Christmas Lecture: The Discovery and Early Observations of Nebulae and Star Clusters – Dr. Wolfgang Steinicke

December 9, 2017 @ 7:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Willingdon Memorial Hall
Church St
Eastbourne BN20 9HT

Title: Christmas Lecture: The Discovery and Early Observation of Nebulae and Star Clusters


Dr Wolfgang Steinicke (Umkirch – author of Observing and Cataloguing Nebulae and Star Clusters (CUP, 2010); Director of Webb Deep-Sky Society Nebulae & Clusters Section; Head of Vds History Section.

Prior to Charles Messier, only a few deep-sky objects were known. The French astronomer and comet discoverer [Messier] raised the number to 103 in his famous catalogue of 1781. William Herschel, at that time searching for double stars at Bath, occasionally observed some nebulous objects. Meanwhile his sister Caroline found several new nebulous objects. This unexpected success motivated William to commence an extensive campaign to sweep the northern sky for nebulae and star-clusters. From 1783 to 1802 he discovered about 2500 such objects with his 20-foot (18.7-inch-aperture) reflector. This epochal work, and its continuation by his son John for the southern sky, finally led to Dreyer’s New General Catalogue (NGC) of 1888, which is still the standard source for brighter deep-sky objects.

The talk covers the main results of nebular astronomy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some methods of the great discoverers are still relevant to today’s deep-sky observers. An important issue is the reliability of visual observing, which has caused problems over the years.

Biographical details:

Dr. Wolfgang Steinicke – Director of Webb Deep-Sky Society Nebulae and Clusters Section

Studied physics and mathematics in Germany. He later specialised in general relativity and quantum mechanics. Already in his youth, he observed the sky with telescopes. Later his interest focused on Dreyer’s New General Catalogue, which essentially rests upon observations by William and John Herschel. The research on non-stellar objects, their data and historical sources led to comprehensive catalogues, including a revision of the NGC and its supplements. In 2008, he received a PhD from Hamburg University with a thesis on nineteenth century deep-sky observations, published 2010 by Cambridge University Press as Observing and Cataloguing Nebulae and Star Clusters: From Herschel to Dreyer’s New General Catalogue. Steinicke is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, director of the History of Astronomy section of the German Vereinigung der Sternfreunde (VdS), a committee member of the British Webb Deep Sky Society and works with various international associations. He frequently organizes astronomy meetings and gives talks or courses all over the world. Steinicke is author of eight books (in German and English) and has published more than 300 scientific articles. He is currently writing a comprehensive book about William Herschel’s observations.

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