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Le Gentil (de la Galaziere), Guillaume Joseph Hyacinthe Jean Baptiste (1725–1792)


French astronomer who made a valiant effort to observe the transits of Venus in 1761 and 1769. The first transit found him stuck in the middle of the Indian Ocean, unable to make any useful observations. After spending four years in Mauritius and Madagascar, and even taking a side trip to the Philippines, Le Gentil arrived in India, built an observatory at Pondicherry, and waited for the next transit, which would occur on Jun. 4, 1769. The weather was clear for the month prior to the transit, but clouded up on transit day, only to clear immediately after the long-awaited event. Le Gentil then contracted dysentery and remained bedridden for nine months. He booked passage home aboard a Spanish warship that was demasted in a hurricane off the Cape of Good Hope and blown off course north of the Azores before finally limping into port at Cadiz. Le Gentil crossed the Pyrenees on foot and returned to France after an absence of more than 11 years, only to learn that he had been declared dead, his estate looted, and its remains divided up among his heirs and creditors. However, Le Gentil did not give up astronomy upon coming home. In fact, he lived at the Paris Observatory and the observatory's records contain a complaint that Madame Le Gentil hung out diapers to dry in the observatory gardens.


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   • ASTRONOMERS AND ASTROPHYSICISTS