Posted on Friday, December 12, 2014
By Kadri
Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

In the age of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and Google search, one might start to doubt the need for any other reference material, as everything seems close at hand and easily found, although sometimes it might take several pages of search results to find the real thing you’re looking for, and in case of Wikipedia, one can’t always be certain of the accuracy of the writing.

If you’re an astronomer or historian of science or are just interested in the history of astronomy and go through book after book about history of astronomy, a lot of times one might come across names that are total strangers for you – maybe the name is of an astronomer who is a famous astronomer in a small country and did some important work on a specific subject, but perhaps focused on other related fields as well – if you’d try to find information about such an astronomer online, a lot of the information would be in a different language or you can find only highlights or maybe all you can find online is someone mentioning an important fact in one book.

In case of the Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers I doubt that there would be many astronomers who you can’t find in there, as there are astronomers from all across the world from ancient Greek and Arabic astronomers to 20th century well known astronomers such as Edwin Hubble and Fred Hoyle. The entries run from a few sentences to several pages long and give a basic idea about what the person worked on and their contributions to science and also about their life.

In addition to astronomers you can also find entries for telescope makers such as Peter and John Dollond and The Clark family, but also about some scientists that are better known for their contributions in physics such as Erwin Schrödinger or Robert J. Oppenheimer, but you might be surprised to find the writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in this encyclopedia, but reading the short entry lets you know that later in life he taught physics and astronomy.

It is a very necessary book. The usefulness of having information about 1800 astronomers or astronomy-related people that are provided in the Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers can be easily seen as although you might get most important information about famous figures in astronomy even in a textbook the smaller names are often left unmentioned, but they can mostly be found in Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, with the entries having been written by well-known historians of science, who a lot of times have written whole books about the person they wrote about for the encyclopedia. So if you want to know even more about someone it is quite easy to continue your research, as the entries are followed by selected references that provide more detailed information.

I quite like using this encyclopedia – for looking up another astronomer that I know nothing about and happened across while reading about the history of astronomy, but as well for opening up at a random page and finding out something new about someone who once maybe in a far distant land with totally different ideas, was looking up at the same night sky that we can see now.

Did you know that Hypsicles of Alexandria was the person who wrote a book called "On Rising Times", that was the first book to be written in Greek that used sexagesimal arithmetic and divided the ecliptic into 360 degrees of arc?

Although I was able to think of some astronomers or telescope makers that I couldn't find in this encyclopedia, they were few and far between, and mostly I could attribute their absence to them not being famous enough or not having had a great enough contribution to science.

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