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Flamsteed, John

royal society led astronomer

(1646–1719) English astronomer: constructed first comprehensive telescopic star catalogue.

Flamsteed’s poor health, which was to hinder his work, led to frequent absence from school and he was largely self-educated until he entered Cambridge in 1670. Some youthful publications impressed Lord Brouncker (1620–84; first president of the Royal Society) with his knowledge of navigational astronomy.

Charles II appointed Flamsteed as the first Astronomer Royal in 1675, charging him with the construction of accurate lunar and stellar tables, needed to enable seafarers to determine longitude at sea, a major problem in the 17th-c. The Royal Greenwich Observatory was created for the purpose and the task was to occupy Flamsteed for the rest of his life. His desire not to publish anything until his work was complete led to bitter disputes with other scientists; he irritated in particular (then president of the Royal Society) and this led in 1712 to the virtual seizure of his papers by the Royal Society. Flamsteed did eventually finish the work, which contained the positions of nearly 3000 stars to an accuracy of 10” of arc, but it was not published until 6 years after his death.

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