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Talk about Irish Astronomer: John Birmingham (1816–1884)

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Ronan Newman's picture
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Talk about Irish Astronomer: John Birmingham (1816–1884)

John Birmingham (1816–1884) was an Irish Astronomer, amateur geologist, polymath and poet. In 1866 he discovered the recurrent nova T Coronae Borealis. He studied and wrote articles in various Astronomy European manuscripts at the time on Planets, Comets, Meteor showers (inc the 1866 Leonids), Aurorae, Sunspots and the 1882 Venus Transit. Some included in this summary.

The story of this astronomer is very interesting and what he achieved. There were other notable amateur astronomers in the West of Ireland at the time including Edward Cooper who owned the Markree Castle Observatory housing the largest reflector in the world, a huge 13.5 inch telescope in an open dome. Birmingham had to settle for 4.5 inch Cooke refractor and a wooden observatory which he used for his famous Red Star Catalogue with 658 of these objects included.

I have uploaded this very interesting the talk to youtube and split into  three segments. The talk is presented by Paul Mohr, a now retired Professor from the Department of Geology at the National University of Ireland, Galway City.

The video is of very high quality and was recorded during the first Galway Astronomy Festival in 2004. They are here at  https://www.youtube.com/user/KNOXVILLE2626/videos

Further Reading

http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/full/2004AntAs...1...23M

Thank you

Ronan Newman

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Birmingham

Is there a photograph of Birmingham anywhere?  I mention him in my talk on historical novae, and always show his lunar crater as I can't locate - anywhere - an image of the man himself.

Thanks,

Gary

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Hi Gary

Hi Gary

Thanks for your message, unfortunately there is no photo or portrait of the man himself, there more than likely was one somewhere but has become lost in the 130 years since his death,

Best Regards

Ronan

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Birmingham

Thanks for confirming that Ronan. I'll have to keep the crater image in the talk then!

Gary

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Top image of lunar crater Gassendi

Interesting.  The drawing is mirror reversed, which since it was too early for the ubiquitous Schmidt - Cassegrains, suggests a diagonal mirror/prism was used with the refractor when the drawing was made.

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Interesting watch.

Interesting watch.

Thanks for posting it Ronan.

The comment in the presentation that there were over 1000 people attending the BA meetings got me thinking. There were probably a lot more "gentlemen astronomers" from this era, viz Mr Birmingham, than maybe we realise! 

The list of big scopes is revealing, "the biggest refractor in the world at the time"! How many amateurs can make a claim like that today!? ; - )) 

Like Mr Birminghams' work, all of this great effort has more than likely been lost forever, which is rather sad.

I really like the quote at the bottom of the last image, "... to excite simple admiration rather than scientific reflections". 

A wonderful reminder that we all need to take a step back from time to time.

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Thanks Bill, well not

Thanks Bill, well not everything was destroyed or lost as we only recovered in the past week, most of his fine 18th century instruments were sold in an auction but in relation to his drawings and observations they were lost as mentioned in the following extract.

John left all his astronomical records and writings to Rev. Thomas Webb in Hereford, but Webb who died shortly after John handed them on to Rev. Thomas Espin. It was Espin who industriously completed John’s second edition of ‘The Red Stars’ which the Royal Irish Academy then published. When Espin, a bachelor, died in Co. Durham, angry local people set fire to the contents of his house, so all John’s material was destroyed.

Thanks

Ronan

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Memories of Paul Mohr's talk

Hi Ronan,

That brings back memories of hearing Paul Mohr's talk at the first Galway Astrofest. In fact, it spurred my Interest in John Birmingham and in particular in T CrB, I have given a number of talks over the years on Birmingham and his recurrent nova in both Ireland and the USA.

It shows how obscure Birmingham's name was, in that as a teenager with my copy of the 16th edition of Norton's, I thought Birmingham was a reference to some observatory in the city of the same name :)

Thanks for bringing the video to our attention.

John