Flamsteed, John (1646–1719)

John Flamsteed

John Flamsteed was an English astronomer who was appointed the first Astronomer Royal (1675) by King Charles II in response to the need to find a way to accurately measure longitude at sea. Flamsteed got the job having recommended that the solution was to produce better tables of the movements of the Moon and the positions of the stars. The Royal Observatory at Greenwich was built for his use.


His Historia coelestis Britannica ("British Catalogue of Stars"), listing 2,935 stars, was the first major star catalogue compiled with telescopic aid, the most accurate of its time, and the standard work for many years. A preliminary and muddled version of it, published by Edmond Halley and Isaac Newton in 1712 without Flamsteed's approval, introduced the method of designating stars now known as Flamsteed numbers. Flamsteed's own edition appeared posthumously in 1723.


Further details of Flamsteed's life

Flamsteed was born near Derby, in the county of Derbyshire, in August 1646. In his youth he devoted himself to mathematics and astronomy with such success that he attracted the attention of Sir Jonas Moore, and through him was appointed astronomer to the king in 1675, a capacity in which he was overworked and underpaid. The year after, Greenwich Observatory was built and Flamsteed began the series of observations that really marked the beginning of modern practical astronomy. He assembled the first reliable stellar catalogue, and provided the lunar observations which Isaac Newton used to verify his lunar theory. Extracts from Flamsteed's papers, found in Greenwich Observatory by Francis Bailey and published in 1835, brought to light a sharp dispute that had taken place between Flamsteed, Newton, and Edmond Halley with regard to he publication of the results of Flamsteed's work.