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George Biddell Airy

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1873. Automation transit of Venus.

George Biddell Airey (1801-1892) was a English scientist who was astronomer royal from 1835 to 1881.

1801 George Biddell Airy was born on 27 July, Alnwick, Northumberland. He eldest of the four children of William Airy (1749–1827), of Luddington in Lincolnshire, and Ann (died 1841), who was originally from Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk.

1811 Airy took first place in Byatt Walker's school at Colchester.

1814-19 Airy attended the grammar school at Colchester, where he was noted for his memory, repeating at one examination 1394 lines of Latin verse.

1819 He was sent to Cambridge, and entered Trinity College in October.

1822 He took a scholarship.

1823 Airy graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge.

1824 He was elected to a fellowship of his college in October, and became assistant mathematical tutor. He delivered lectures, took pupils, and pursued original scientific investigation.

1826 He became Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge. His Mathematical Tracts on Physical Astronomy was published and it immediately became a textbook in the university.

1827 Airy made the first successful attempt to correct astigmatism in the human eye by use of a cylindrical eyeglass lens. (He did this on his own eye). He also contributed to the study of interference fringes. The Airy Disk, the central spot of light in the diffraction pattern of a point light source, is named after him.

1828 He then became Plumian professor of astronomy and director of the Cambridge observatory.

1835 He was appointed the seventh Astronomer Royal, (director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory), a post he would hold for more than 45 years. He reorganized the Greenwich observatory,installed new apparatus and modernized the observatory's system of making exact and precise observations on stellar positioning. He was highly influential in the British scientific community and was against any support from the government. He fervently believed that private individuals and institutions were better at research.

1842 George Biddel Airy M.A., F.R.S., Astronomer Royal, of Greenwich, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1854 He measured gravity by swinging the same pendulum at the top and bottom of a deep mine and thus computed the mean density of the Earth.

c1855 Airy was also the first to forward the theory that the bases of mountain ranges must be of lower density, proportional to their height, in order to maintain isostatic equilibrium.

1872 He was knighted in June.

1877 The Albert Medal of the Society of Arts has been presented to George B. Airy for eminent services rendered to commerce by his researches in nautical astromony and in magnetism and by his improvements in the applications of the mariners compass to the navigation of iron ships.[2].

1892 January 2nd. Died at Greenwich, London.[3]


1892 Obituary [4]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1842 Institution of Civil Engineers
  2. The Engineer 1877/07/27
  3. The Engineer 1892/01/08, p033.
  4. 1892 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  • [1] Encyclopaedia Britannica Online
  • [2] Oxford DNB