IAU Commission 41 : Newsletters




1997-2000 Triennium -- June 1999 -- Issue # 4

Commission 41 News

Steven J. Dick, President, Commission 41

Reports on Astronomy -- Your Input Needed!

The time has come for Commission 41 member input into the triennial Reports on Astronomy, which will be published as Transactions of the IAU, Vol. XXIVA. These reports are intended to provide present and future readers with a succinct overview of the main developments covered by each Commission during the previous triennium. In order to have a more representative input than in recent years, I would like each member to send me titles (or reprints) of your most significant publications, as well as any narrative description of projects on which you have been working. The report period covers mid-1996 until mid 1999.

Please take a few minutes to send me your input so we may have a complete report representing our work around the world. The deadline is

August 15, 1999

so that I may compile the Report by the October 1 final deadline. E-mail is preferred (dick@ariel.usno.navy.mil), or send to Steven J. Dick, U. S. Naval Observatory, 3450 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20392-5420.

IAU Colloquium 178

Plans are complete for IAU Colloquium 178 on "Polar Motion: Historical and Scientific Problems", sponsored by Commission 41. It will be held in Sardinia, Italy, September 27-30, 1999, and is also supported by IAU Commissions 19 (Earth Rotation) and 31 (Time), by the International Association of Geodesy (IAG), the International Earth Rotation Service (IERS), and the International GPS Service. Details on program, accommodations and registration are available on the Web at http://www.ca.astro.it/iau178, which may also be accessed from the C 41 Web site.

The year 1999 marks the centennial of the first observations of the International Latitude Service (ILS), forerunner of both the IAG and the IERS. The discovery of variation of latitude and its interpretation as polar motion are interesting historical problems, while continuing observations of polar motion using a variety of methods constitute a vibrant field of research that is important for the determination of time and geophysical research. The meeting will therefore provide a good venue for pursuing both the science and the history of the subject.

The Proceedings will be published in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific series.

The XXIVth General Assembly of the IAU

Plans are well under way for C 41 activities at the next General Assembly, to be held at the University of Manchester, Manchester, UK, from August 7-19, 2000. Meeting details are on the IAU website at www.iau.org. Put it on your calendar and plan to attend. The following items are in the proposal stage.

Joint Discussion

C 41 Vice President F. Richard Stephenson and I have assembled a proposal for a Joint Discussion on Applied Historical Astronomy, to cover the wide range of topics in historical astronomy that can be useful to modern astronomy. The proposal is being supported by Division I (Fundamental Astronomy), Division II (The Sun and Heliosphere) and Division III (Planetary System Sciences), as well as by Commissions 4 (Ephemerides), 19 (Rotation of the Earth), and 20 (Positions and Motions of Minor Planets, Comets and Satellites). The scientific justification is given below. If approved by the Executive Committee of the IAU at its July meeting, we will post the program at the C 41 web site.

Scientific Justification

The 1.5-day JD will be devoted to the major research topic: "APPLIED HISTORICAL ASTRONOMY". This topic is concerned with the application of early astronomical records (mainly, but by no means exclusively, from the pre-telescopic period) to the investigation of problems in modern astronomy and geophysics. In the last 25 years, Applied Historical Astronomy has developed into a major scientific discipline. Current research topics include: Earth's rotation; solar variability; stellar variability, including supernovae; cometary and meteoroid orbits; improvement of current planetary ephemerides. In recent years numerous research papers on many of these aspects have been published.

Despite the low precision of many early observations, the lengthy time-span which they cover affords several advantages over more recent data. Examples include the study of very rare events (e.g. galactic supernovae) or long-term trends which cannot be adequately discerned over the short period covered by accurate modern observations (e.g. variations in the Earth's rate of rotation or solar activity). More recent (telescopic) observations are of considerable value in the study of Earth's rotation and changes in the solar diameter, for example.

It should be emphasized that Applied Historical Astronomy is very much an intercultural subject. For instance, extensive series of observations are preserved from the ancient and medieval world: notably Babylon, East Asia (China, Japan and Korea), the Arab lands (especially Iraq and Egypt) and several European countries. These observations have attracted - and continue to attract - the attention of astronomers from many parts of the world.

The proposed JD will be the first truly international meeting devoted to the study of Applied Historical Astronomy. Because of the intercultural nature of the subject it is particularly appropriate to hold the JD at the time of IAU General Assembly. The meeting will give a valuable opportunity to discuss the current development of Applied Historical Astronomy, together with discussion of previously unused historical sources, new techniques for investigating early astronomical records and new programmes of study.

The subject has wide relevance across many disciplines of astronomy, as witnessed by the support of three Divisions for this proposal.

Invited Discourse

Commission 41 has also proposed an Invited Discourse on "The History of Astronomy in the 20th Century". A portion of that proposal follows:

"The year 2000 (although not the beginning of the new Millennium!), is an appropriate time to look back on the progress of astronomy in the 20th century, even as we look forward to the 21st century. Since this is difficult to do in the time span of an Invited Discourse, the speaker will give a brief general overview, followed by a more detailed history of key aspects of 20th century astronomy. Among those key aspects, for example, will be the electronic revolution in astronomy, a subject that has not heretofore been adequately researched from an historical point of view. The aim is not to address the discipline of history of astronomy during the 20th century, but to reflect on the development and nature of astronomy during that period.

The concept for this Invited Discourse was proposed and approved at the Business Meeting of Commission 41 at the Kyoto General Assembly, and thus has the broad support of the Commission. We believe it would also be of wide interest to IAU members."

Business Meeting/Country Reports/Archives Session

Following past tradition, there will also be a Business meeting, country reports, and (we hope) a session on archives. The Commission on Bibliography and Documentation of the Division of History of Science of the International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science has undertaken a world initiative to make the scientific community more aware of the importance of preserving contemporary scientific archives. This is a subject in which Commission 41 has long had an interest, but about which little has been done. We hope to take the opportunity for various countries to report on the state of archives in their astronomical institutions, and to address the question of what can be done to preserve them.

'Round the World Time Ball Initiative

As reported in Newsletter # 3, the U. S. Naval Observatory and Commission 41 are coordinating a worldwide time ball drop on New Year's Eve inaugurating 2000 and 2001. Thus far, as the new year sweeps around the world, time balls will be dropped in New Zealand, Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth), possibly India, Cape Town, and UK, and New York City and Washington, D. C. The U. S. Naval Observatory first dropped a time ball in the United States in 1845 as a means for dissemination of time, and has now reconstructed a time ball for this event. Any other institution interested in joining the project should contact me.

Web Notes

The Commission 41 web site, maintained by OC member Wolfgang Dick, continues to serve a very useful purpose. See the web address at the top of the first page. Here you will find the latest Newsletters, information on meetings, the history of astronomy bibliographies of Ruth Freitag of the Library of Congress, and a list of members. At the request of the IAU Secretariat, full addresses are no longer listed, as protection against the use of the list for junk mail and other purposes. Any member may obtain full addresses from the Commission President. Most members will already have a hardcopy of the member Directory.

If you have ideas for further useful information on the web, please contact Wolfgang.

Other News and Meetings

A New Series of History of Astronomy Books

Wolfgang R. Dick

"Acta Historica Astronomiae" is a new series of books devoted to all fields of the history of astronomy. It will comprise monographs, proceedings of conferences, general and thematic collections of articles, editions of manuscripts, bibliographies, inventories of astronomical archives, as well as graduate and doctoral theses. Reprints and translations of interesting historical works may also be published.

The first volume, "Beitraege zur Astronomiegeschichte" (Contributions to the History of Astronomy) is something like a yearbook. It will appear irregularly, but hopefully at least once per year. "Beitraege zur Astronomiegeschichte" will contain scientific and review articles, reports and book reviews. The first volume contain one article in English, the others are in German with English abstracts.

Vol. 2 is a monograph in German by Juergen Hamel on "Astronomical research in Kassel under Wilhelm IV" with a partial edition of the first German translation of 1586 of Copernicus' main work.

Vol. 3 comprises the Proceedings of the International Spring Meeting of the Astronomische Gesellschaft, Gotha 1998, commemorating the first meeting of astronomers at the Seeberg observatory 200 years ago, under the title "The Message of the Angles - Astrometry from 1798 to 1998". Nearly all contributions are in English.

Vol. 4 contains a facsimile and an annotated transcription of an extended letter in German by Gottfried Kirch to Olaus Romer, edited by Klaus-Dieter Herbst. A complete bibliography of works by and about Kirch and a list of known archival sources are added.

For scientific books of this type the printing costs have to be paid by the authors or the editors. "Acta Historica Astronomiae" offers high printing quality at comparatively low costs for the authors and low selling prices.

Books and articles in German or English will be accepted. Due to the large number of books and papers offered, preference will be given to contributions in German and to English contributions dealing with the history of astronomy in the German-speaking areas in the widest sense.

Please contact the editors before sending in manuscripts: Wolfgang R. Dick (Otterkiez 14, D-14478 Potsdam, Germany, e-mail: wdi@potsdam.ifag.de) or Juergen Hamel (c/o Archenhold-Sternwarte, Alt Treptow 1, D-12435 Berlin, Germany).

More information including Tables of Contents and English abstracts is available at http://www.astro.uni-bonn.de/~pbrosche/aa/acta/ or from the editors.


Steve McCluskey

The first edition (vol. 14, number 1) of Archaeoastronomy: the Journal of Astronomy in Culture (formerly Archaeoastronomy: the Journal of the Center of Archaeoastronomy) will appear in June, 1999 under an expanded editorial board and a new publisher (The University of Texas Press). Since its inception in 1977, Archaeoastronomy has always been a refereed journal and its editors have sought to maintain a high standard for publication. This has not changed.

The editors welcome the submission of articles reporting substantial research in the general areas covered by the terms Archaeoastronomy, Ethnoastronomy, and Astronomy in Culture. The acceptance of papers for publication has never been influenced by membership in any organization nor in degrees held by the author but by the extent to which the submission promotes further understanding of the questions arising in the study of astronomies in cultures and demonstrates the formal rigor necessary for academic recognition.

The Journal's style guide and further details on submission can be found at http://www.wam.umd.edu/~tlaloc/archastro/style.html.

Please note, the journal Archaeoastronomy: the Supplement to the Journal for the History of Astronomy, continues to appear under the editorship of Michael Hoskin.

Author's address: Dr. Steve McCluskey, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA, e-mail: scmcc@wvnvm.wvnet.edu

The History and Function of Nonverbal Representations in Astronomical and Astrophysical Research Practice

Wolfgang Dick

This Colloquium of the Working Group for the History of Astronomy during the International Conference of the Astronomische Gesellschaft will be held Monday, September 20, 1999, in Goettingen, Germany.

The theme primarily involves images or other forms of pictorial registration (e.g., photographs, video tapes) of observational data. The recommended conference language is English. Conference fee: 30 DEM.

Please direct any questions about the content, offers to deliver brief talks together with a one-page English abstract, typed by typewriter, or as a text file in ASCII, or as an rtf file in Word95/97, or a TeX file, if possible no later than 31 May 1999 to:

Dr. Klaus Hentschel, Institute for History of Science, University of Goettingen, Humboldtallee 11, 37073 Goettingen, Germany, Phone +(49)-551-398412, E-mail: khentsc@gwdg.de

For details please see http://www.astro.uni-bonn.de/~pbrosche/aa/goett1999/

Ahmad al-Farghani (Alfraganus) and His Role in the Development of Astronomy

by Shuhrat Ehgamberdiev

Ulugh Beg Astronomical Institute of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences

By the Decree of the Cabinet of the Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan the 1200-year anniversary of the great scientist was marked with the participation of UNESCO in Fergana in October, 1998. An International conference "Ahmad al-Fargani and his Role in the Development of World Science" was held with participation of scientists from the US, France, Germany, Turkey, Iran, Russia, Tadjikistan, China, Korea , Czechia, Switzerland, Egypt, India and others.

Ahmad al-Farghani's (d. 861) scientific activity passed in the period, known as heyday of Moslem astronomical and mathematical development. He was born in the Farghana region of Uzbekistan at the end of 8th century, worked at the court of Caliph al-Mamun in Merve and in 819 moved together with many other Central Asian scientists to Baghdad.

In Baghdad he worked in Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) headed by another Uzbek scientist al-Khorezmi. If the first half of the 9th century G. Sarton has described as the epoch of al-Khorezmi first of all keeping in mind his mathematical works, the main achievements of this epoch in the field of astronomy were reflected in treatise "Elements of Astronomy" by al-Farghani. There cannot be any doubt, that the "Elements" are a narration of Ptolemy's "Almagest" with adding some new sections. However, being written in period between 833 and 857 this book contains practically all major results of astronomical measurements made at the Baghdad school with an active participation of al-Fargani himself. One of the main fields of activity in Bayt al-Hikma was the translation of Indian, Iranian and Greek treatises into Arabic language. During creative learning of the ancient inheritance at Baghdad school two methodological directions of researches - Indo-Iranian and Greek were formulated. The principle difference of these two directions was that the Indo-Iranian tradition was based on compiling purely practical rules and tables for ephemerides of planets, the Sun and the Moon, without any theoretical analyses and substantiation, while the Greek, Ptolemy's astronomy interpreted the events on the base of the cinematic and geometric model of the world. And the astronomical observations should be made to refine this model. Ahmad Fargani played an important role in accepting Ptolemy's approach, which was the sufficient step forward in the methodological plan. It stimulated the realisation of new, more accurate astronomical observations (and consequently the development of engineering and instrument making), which eventually have resulted in revolutionary development of the world model into the heliocentric one. For this reason al-Fargani is considered to be one of the beginners of Medieval Moslem astronomy.

The Elements of Astronomy by al-Farghani ( known in Europe as ALFRAGANUS) were very influential in Europe since 12th century. This book was many times translated into Latin, Hebrew, French, Italian. Astronomical knowledge of Dante was derived from Alfraganus. One can find direct adoptions from the Elements in Vita Nouva and Convivio. The last medieval publication of the Elements appeared in Amsterdam in 1669. The translation was made by Jacob Golius.

Al-Farhgani was also known for his treatise "On the Perfect Astrolabe", where he not only did formulate a fundamental theorem of stereographical projection, but also provided astrolabe-makers with a complete set of trigonometric tables for facilitating the drawing of the various circles on astrolabe plates. Ahmad Fargani was engaged not only in the fundamental science, but also in engineering activity. In a number of the medieval records it is marked, what it was Ahmad Fargani who was an architect or restorer of Nilometer on Rawda island near Cairo. That construction for measuring level of Nile served during more than a thousand years. One more historical event in which al-Fargani took part was the construction of an irrigation canal from Tigris to the city of al-Jaffariyya.

Most likely his last years al-Fargani, apparently, lived in Egypt. As Ibn al-Zayat writes, in "Kavakib Zayira" (1412), Ahmad al-Fargani was buried in the Qarafa mausoleum near Cairo. Al-Fargani works are constantly studied, the whole researches are devoted to his activity. Suffice is to say that only in our century the Elements of Astronomy were reissued four times in Italy, USA, Iran and Germany. At last, for the first time he was celebrated in his native land - Uzbekistan.

One Hundred Years Of Observational Astronomy and Astrophysics: Homage to Miklos Konkoly Thege (1842-1916)

By Chris Sterken

The purpose of this workshop, to be held in Tihany (Hungary) 13-15 August 1999, is to mark the centenary of the founding of the Konkoly Observatory in 1899 as a research institution of the Hungarian state. The workshop will bring together international experts in the history of observational astronomy and astrophysics to present papers on various topics. These topics will relate to observational astrophysics in the era when Konkoly himself was active.

The main topics to be covered will be:

- Solar, stellar and solar-system astrophysics

- Instrumentation, telescopes and observatories

- Scientific results and concepts in astrophysics

- The interaction between astronomy and fundamental physics, and the consequent birth of astrophysics

- The relationships between astronomers in the time of Konkoly and his contemporaries

- International programmes in observational astronomy (such as Carte du Ciel and CPD) and catalogues (Harvard photometry and HD Catalogue, etc.).

- The formation of international organisations (International Solar Union, and later of IAU from the Astrographic Congress, etc.)

The workshop will explore topics such as these as they were in the half century 1870-1920, which includes all the years when Konkoly himself was active, from the time of his early interest in astronomy, the founding of his private observatory in 1871, through to the time of his death in 1916 and to the building of the National Observatory at Svabhegy in Budapest in the 1920s.

The workshop will not be devoted just to the life and work of Konkoly himself, but will explore themes in international astronomy and astrophysics current at the time of Konkoly and especially those which he himself espoused.

The workshop follows on immediately after the conclusion of IAU Symposium 176. The venue is a Conference Center of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at Tihany, Lake Balaton, Hungary. The number of participants is restricted to 25, and participation is by invitation only. Interested participants are invited to register with the registration form at http://www.vub.ac.be/STER/KONKOLY/tihany.html.

The Scientific Organizing Committee includes Chris Sterken of the University of Brussels, and John Hearnshaw, University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

First Chinese History of Science Department

Prof Jiang Xiaoyuan reports that the first Chinese Department for the History of Science & Philosophy of Science, was established in March 1999 at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Prof. Jiang Xiaoyuan may be reached at the address below.

Department for the History of Science,
Shanghai Jiao Tong University,
Shanghai 200030, China
Tel. 86-21-62932571, 86-21-62125018
Fax: 86-21-62932778
E-mail: xyjiang@online.sh.cn or: jiangxiaoyuan@ihw.com.cn

Call for Papers: Italian Astronomical Society

Edoardo Proverbio

The Italian Astronomical Society will organize on 24-25 September, 1999 in Cagliari (Sardinia), before the IAU Colloquium 178, a national meeting devoted to the history of the ILS and other initiatives of astronomical cooperation at the end of the 19th century, such as the Carte du Ciel, the AG zone catalogue, and others. Those interested in participating and contributing to this meeting are kindly requested to contact Prof. Edoardo Proverbio, Osservatorio di Brera, Milano, fax 39 27200 1600, e-mail proverbio@astrco.astro.it.

Amendment to October 1998 Commission 41 Membership List (June, 1999)

Associate Professor Roslynn D. Haynes
School of English
University of New South Wales
Sydney 2052
NSW Australia

Requests for C 41 Membership

The following have requested membership in Commission 41 and will be voted on at the Manchester GA:

P. Brosche, H. Duerbeck, A. Heck, B. Hidayat, B. Pettersen, G. Wilkins

Please send any further nominations to the Commission President. Membership in Commission 41 does not count against the three Commission limit.

C41 Officers and OC

President: S. J. Dick (USA)
Vice-President: F. R. Stephenson UK)
Immediate Past President:S. M. R. Ansari (India)
Organizing Committee: Wolfgang Dick (Germany)
Alex Gurshtein (Russia)
Il-S. Nha (Korea)
Wayne Orchiston (New Zealand)
Edoardo Proverbio (Italy)
Woodruff T. Sullivan (USA)
Xi Zezong (China)

Information for the next Newsletter should be sent via e-mail to dick@ariel.usno.navy.mil

Steven J. Dick, U. S. Naval Observatory, 3450 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20392-5420

HTML version: Wolfgang R. Dick, 14 Jun 1999