Airy, George Biddell (1801–1892)

George Airy

George Airy was an English astronomer, born in Alnwick, Northumberland, who graduated head of his class from Cambridge in 1823 shortly after devising a way to correct astigmatism – a condition from which he personally suffered.


In 1826 Airy was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics (Newton's old position) at Cambridge, and, two years later, Plumian Professor of Astronomy. As the seventh Astronomer Royal (1835–1881) he turned the Royal Greenwich Observatory into a model of efficiency and a leading center for positional astronomy; the transit telescope he installed defines the location of 0° longitude on Earth. However, Airy's arrogance and disinterest in basic research held up the confirmation of an eighth planet (Neptune) based on predictions by John Adams and also left Greenwich a late-starter in the fields of spectroscopy and astrophysics. His precision, to the point of pedantry, extended to his labeling empty boxes "empty."