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

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

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  • #574401
    Ronan Newman
    Participant

    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

    #581370
    Gary Poyner
    Participant

    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

    #581375
    Ronan Newman
    Participant

    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

    #581376
    Peter Anderson
    Participant

    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.

    #581378
    Gary Poyner
    Participant

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

    Gary

    #581383
    Bill Ward
    Participant

    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.

    #581384
    Ronan Newman
    Participant

    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

    #581387
    John O’Neill
    Participant

    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

    #611634
    Ronan Newman
    Participant

    Hi

    Just to add to this thread, a photo of John Birmingham was actually discovered last year by accident, it was hidden amongst other family portraits..

    The portrait, further information about John about its discovery can be viewed at https://milltown.galwaycommunityheritage.org/content/people/our-milltown-men/john-birmingham/john-birmingham-his-portrait-discovered.

    I am currently working on an updated talk about John Birmingham and the legacy of his observatory and spent the afternoon sifting through all his historical correspondence and observations.

    Thanks

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 9 months ago by Ronan Newman.
    #611636
    Jeremy Shears
    Participant

    This is excellent news – thanks for sharing the link, Ronan.

    #611637
    Gary Poyner
    Participant

    Thank you for sharing the link Ronan. I’ve searched far and wide for years for a likeness of him without success.

    Gary

    #613159
    Ronan Newman
    Participant

    Hi

    Recently I attended a mini starparty here in Ireland at a private observatory, it was the first event I attended since the Covid pandemic started to loose its grip on us, there were some excellent talks some of historical nature including one on the unknown Russian “Herouni Antenna” aswell as the discovery of 9 Metis at Markree Castle Observatory in the 1840’s

    I was also on the bill and gave a detailed talk about John Birmingham and Millbrook Observatory. I give an insight into his amazing skill and accomplishments including his discovery of T Coronae Borealis along his many detailed celestial observations. I also delve into some of the bigger events he observed like the Leonids of 1866, the great Aurora of February 1872 and the Transit of Venus 1882, while I finish talk about his famous Red Star catalogue of 1877.

    I recorded the talk I and you can view it at https://youtu.be/5pv97uM3434

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by Ronan Newman.
    • This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by Ronan Newman.
    #613175
    John O’Neill
    Participant

    Hi,

    That is great news about finding a picture of Birmingham.

    Thanks for sharing it Ronan. And also for your link about your recent talk to the private star party.

    John

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