December 31 – John Flamsteed

I normally only do birthdays, not deathdays, but here is a brief post to mark the passing, on December 31st, 1719, of Denby’s most famous son, John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, and the man who nearly discovered Uranus (he thought it was a star).

Flamsteed is remembered mostly as a star cataloger, and his posthumously-published Historia Coelestis Britannica contained nearly 3,000.

John Flamsteed
John Flamsteed

These days he is commemorated by the obligatory asteroid (4987), a crater on the Moon in the Oceanus Procellarum, and a school and memorial garden in his home village in Derbyshire, England.

Also in the news today, asteroid 583 Klotilde was discovered by Johann Palisa on December 31, 1905 (he must have had a similar view to me regarding going out on New Years Eve). It was named after the daughter of the Austrian astronomer H E Weiss, director of the observatory from where the discovery was made.


George W Ritchey is today’s second birthday boy. The American astronomer and telescope maker (co-inventor of the Ritchey-Chretien reflector) was born today in 1864.


It’s my birthday!

December 13 – Launch of Relay 1

Relay 1, launched on December 13, 1962 from Cape Canaveral, carried proton-electron detectors to perform important experiments on the Earth’s radiation belts, but will be remembered as the communications satellite that allowed the first television broadcast to be sent from the USA to Japan. With incredible timing this just happened to be the news of the assassination of John F Kennedy. Nine months later it was used to relay coverage of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to the USA.

Artist's impression of Relay 1 (image: NASA)
Artist’s impression of Relay 1 (image: NASA)

Unfortunately a problem with a high-power regulator resulted, in February 1965, in the inability of Relay 1 to transmit any further useful data.  It had been worth it, though, as the American viewing public were able to watch live coverage of their monster team of 346 athletes heading the medal table with 36 golds, well ahead of the Soviet Union (and including, appropriately, the men’s 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m relays).