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The history of
Astronomy in
Wales:
Introduction



Published
Summaries
of the Subject



People


Publications:
Books and
Journals



Astronomical
Societies in
Wales



Astronomical
Observatories
in Wales



Universities
in Wales



Historic
Observations



Eclipses in
Wales



Meteorite
Falls in Wales



Names of
astronomical
objects



Odds and
ends



Commentary


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HISTORIC   OBSERVATIONS AND EVENTS

THE HISTORY OF ASTRONOMY IN WALES



See the separate pages about eclipses and meteorite falls for details of those historic events:



The Great Comet of 1106

A brilliant comet appeared in February 1106 A.D., first being seen very close to the Sun in the daytime sky, later being visible in the night sky after sunset when it had a long tail . The comet was observed from the beginning of February through to mid-March. Records of observations come from the Far East and from Europe, including a brief note in the ancient Welsh manuscript known as the Brut y Tywysogion (the Chronicle of the Princes).

The account in the Brut reads:

[-1106]. Yn y vlwydyn honno y gwelat seren anryued y gwelet yn anuon paladyr oheuni yn ol y chefyn ac o prafter colofyn y veint a diruawr oleuat idaw, yn darogan yr hyn a vei rac llaw: kanys Henri, amherawdyr Rufein, gwedy diruawryon vudugolyaetheu a chrefudussaf vched y Grist a orffowyssawd. A'e vab ynteu, wedy cael eistedua amherodraeth Rufein, a wnaethpwyt yn amherawdyr.
This translates into English as:
[-1106]. In that year there was seen a star wonderful to behold, throwing out behind it a beam of light of the thickness of a pillar in size and of exceeding brightness, foreboding what would come to pass in the future: for Henry, emperor of Rome, after mighty victories and a most pious life in Christ, went to his rest. And his son, after winning the seat of the empire of Rome, was made emperor.

The source of these quotes is the edited version of the Chronicles by Thomas Jones,  Brut y Tywysogyon, or, the Chronicle of the Princes: Red Book of Hergest version, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1955. The original Welsh text is given first, followed by the translation into English provided by Thomas Jones. The dates quoted in square brackets are those quoted by Thomas Jones.



The Great Comet of 1402

According to Silas Evans in Chapter 24 of Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr, the comet of 1402 was described in a poem by Iolo Goch. Iolo interpreted it as an omen foretelling success for Prince Owain Glyndwr in his war to restore Welsh independence. These predictions were later referred to by Shakespeare in King Henry the Fourth, Part I, Act III, Scene I (though he incorrectly associated it with Glyndwr's birth).

However, this is at odds with the account in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography, which states that the last ode by Iolo to Glyndwr was written not much later than 1386.

The story is worthy of further investigation.



Halley's Comet

Observations of the regular returns of Comet Halley exist in records from the Far East and from Europe covering well over two thousand years. I have failed, however, to find any reference to Comet Halley in Brut y Tywysogion (which covers the period leading up to the early fourteenth century).

The earliest recorded observations of the Comet from Wales that I know of are those by Sir William Lower in 1607. He observed it with his naked eye regularly between 17th September and 6th October (it was another couple of years or so before he obtained his first telescope). He measured the Comet's position in relation to the stars using a cross-staff. The observations are described in letters to his friend Thomas Harriot. See the page devoted to Sir William Lower for further information.

The Comet's path at the 1835 return was predicted in advance by John William Thomas ("Arfonwyson"). It was these predictions that led to his appointment in the computing department of the Greenwich Observatory.

The Comet was observed from Wales at the time of the 1910 return. It was described in the Cambrian Natural Observer, a journal reporting astronomical, meterorological and nature observations published by the Astronomical Society of Wales.



Hind's Comet of 1847

John Russell Hind (1823-1895) discovered a faint comet from London in early February 1847. The comet rapidly brightened as it moved closer to the Sun. It became brilliant towards the end of that month.[1]   Hind himself observed it in broad daylight through a telescope on 30th March, lying close to the Sun in the sky.[1,2,3]   The comet was also observed in daylight that day by observers in Truro and Ynys Môn[3]  : Hind noted that "It appears to have been seen about noon, by a clergyman residing in the Isle of Anglesey."[2]   Nothing is said about who the clergyman was.



References
[1] W. T. Lynn, The Observatory, vol. 19, p. 89, 1896.
[2] J. R. Hind, Astronomische Nachrichten, vol. 25, no. 597, p.331, 1847.
[3] J. R. Hind, Monthly Notices of the R.A.S., vol. 7, p. 256, 1847.



Donati's Comet of 1858

Comet Donati (1858 VI) became one of the most spectacular comets of the nineteenth century. It is particularly remembered for its very long curved dust tail and two shorter ion tails.

It was discovered by Giovanni Battista Donati from Florence on 2nd June, 1858, when it was magnitude 7.5. It brightened very slowly at first, but eventually reached naked-eye visibility in late August. It brightened further during September and developed an impressive tail. The comet brightened further after perihelion, developing a long, broad, curved tail that eventually exceeded 60 degrees in length in early October. The comet faded rapidly, and was lost from naked-eye view on 8th November. It continued to be observed through telescopes until 4th March, 1859.

The magazine Y Brython, published in Tremadog, described the comet in late September, about a week before perihelion, when it was still brightening. Its description included the following:

... Y mae tair comed i'w canfod y dyddiau hyn yng nghymydogaeth ein cyfundrefn blanedawl ni, sef y Donati, Encke a Faye; ond nid yw ond y Donati yn ganfyddadwy â'r llygaid noeth, a hon ydyw yr un sydd yn awr yn tynu gymmaint o sylw y dyddiau hyn. Y mae y Donati i'w chanfod yn yr hwyr yn y gogledd-orllewin. Y boreu, os bydd yn glir, ydyw yr amser goreu i'w gweled hi. Y mae y gomed hon wedi bod dan sylw am ddim llai na thri mis, ond ni ddaeth yn weledig i'r llygad noeth hyd o fewn pythefnos yn ol, a pharha yn weledig hyd ddiwedd y mis hwn, gan gynnyddu mewn dysglaerdeb, a meddiannu yr unrhyw sefyllfa berthynasol, yna dechreua ddiflanu yn raddol hyd nes y bydd wedi cwbl golli o'r golwg. Y mae ei phen yn ymddangos o faint seren o'r ail faintioli, a'i chynffon, yr hon sydd braidd yn wan ac yn pwyntio i'r gogledd yn bump o raddau o hyd...
[This translates as:
... Three comets can be seen these days in the neighbourhood of our planetary system, namely Donati, Encke and Faye; but only Donati is seen with the naked eye, and this is the one that draws so much attention these days. Donati can be seen late on in the northwest. The morning, if it is clear, is the best time to see it. This comet has been in view for no less than three months, but it only became visible to the naked eye a fortnight ago, and will remain visible until the end of this month, increasing in brightness, and in reach of any relevant observatory, then it will begin to disappear gradually until it will be lost from view totally. Its head appears as a star of the second magnitude, and its tail, which is somewhat faint and points to the north is five degrees in length...

]



References
"Y Brython", vol. 1, no. 14, 24th September, 1858. (A scanned copy is available at the Digital Mirror of the National Library of Wales.)
G. W. Kronk, Comets: A Descriptive Catalog, publ. Enslow Publishers, Inc., New Jersey, 1984.



Leonid meteor storms

There are some references in Welsh journals to the storms produced by the Leonid meteor shower in 1833 and 1866. The 1966 storm ocurred too late to be seen from Wales (it was visible during darkness from the Americas). Wales was covered with cloud in the early hours of 18th November 1999, when observers elsewhere observed a mini-storm.

1833

In his book Who's Who in Wales, First Edition (published by the Western Mail, Cardiff, 1921), Arthur Mee referred to an observation of the 1833 Leonid meteor storm. In the biographical entry for James Williams (page 513), he wrote that Williams was
... greatly interested in astronomy, meteorology and gardening; these talents he inherits from his father, who died in 1897, and who, as a youth, witnessed the great star-shower of Nov., 1833, which he observed when alone on the Black Mountain range

1866

Arthur Mee did discuss contemporary press reports of the 1866 Leonid meteor storm in an article in the Cambrian Natural Observer (vol. 2, pp. 81-84, 1900) around the time of the predicted storm of 1899 (which did not materialise). This read,

THE 1866 DISPLAY

Mr. Mee, writing in the "Mail"
[the Western Mail newspaper], says:- It struck me that your readers might like some local reference to the great shower of 1866. On applying at our Cardiff Free Library, I found that they had a file of the "Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian" and of the "Cardiff Times," but not of the "Cambrian" for that year, in which last paper I quite expected to find an intelligent account of the display. The other journals gave the matter little more than passing notice, though both used highly poetical expressions which demonstrate the effect the glorious apparition had upon the unimpressionable heart of the local scribe. A "wholesale sensational cascade" is the tribute of the "Guardian," whilst its contemporary says picturesquely that "there were times when it seemed as if a mighty wind had caught the old stars, loosed them from their holdings, and swept them across the firmament." No local observer contributed an account of the shower. Thirty-three years' interval has given us all a keener interest in the great book of Nature."

The London "Times," of course, gave some space to the 1866 display, and it was very interesting to read an account from the pen of Mr. G. J. Symons, the meteorologist, who is still living and active. Mr. Symons states that the maximum occurred at 1.12 on the morning of the 14th, at which time the meteors numbered a hundred a minute. Altogether, some seven or eight thousand meteors were visible.

(Dr. Franklen Evans has since informed us that he observed the 1866 display, and described his observations in the local press.)



Transits of Mercury and Venus

Transits of Mercury across the Sun are rather rare, with only 14 having occurred worldwide during the twentieth century.[1,2]   Only some of these would have been visible from any single place on the Earth. The 10th November, 1927, transit of Mercury, for example, was observed from Ceredigion. John R. Owen of Llanrhystud, near Aberystwyth, wrote of how he observed the transit shortly after sunrise that morning. He used a telescope with a solar filter to observe the Sun as it rose into a perfectly clear sky. Two large sunspots were visible before the Sun had fully risen. As more of the disc of the Sun came above the horizon, John Owen saw Mercury as a small, black spot against the bright background of the solar surface. He followed the planet as it moved across the Sun's disc over the course of the next few hours. [3]

Transits of Venus are extremely rare: only six have been observed worldwide since the invention of the telescope. Apart from the event of 8th June, 2004, the last occurred on 6th December, 1882. The beginning was visible from western Europe, but sunset occurred relatively soon after the transit began. The weather across the British Isles was generally poor for the event. A survey by Samuel J. Johnson of Dorset found that Wales suffered significant cloud but that conditions were not so poor along the South Wales coast.[4]   William Evans (1828-1904) only glimpsed the transit briefly through breaks in the cloud from Llanerchymedd, Ynys Môn. Johnson's correspondent in Cardiff reported observing the eclipse despite some disruption from a "rough wind", while an observer with better conditions at Barmouth noted that Venus showed "no trace of atmosphere" and found "Venus brighter at the centre than at the circumference".

Arthur Mee, then aged 22 years, observed the December 1882 transit from Llanelli with a small refractor. He described the event in 1908:

I had then a little telescope with an object glass 2 1/4 inches in diameter, and projected the image on a piece of cardboard to the satisfaction of a number of friends. It will always be a pleasure to me to know that I saw the transit, and I only wish I could have seen it in [sic.] after years with a more powerful instrument. My friend, Mr. S. Harries, LL.B., now of Swansea, observed the transit with a 5-inch reflector, and wrote a most interesting account of the occurrence. [5]

The 9th December, 1874, transit of Venus was not visible from western Europe. Only the beginning of the 3rd June, 1769, transit was visible from western Europe, shortly before sunset. Joseph Harris observed the transit of 6th June, 1761, from Trefecca near Brecon: the transit would have been seen that morning immediately after sunrise.



References
[1] J. Meeus, Astronomical Tables of the Sun, Moon and Planets, publ. Willmann-Bell, Inc., Richmond, Virginia, 1983.
[2] F. Espenak, Transits of Mercury: Seven Century Catalog: 1601 CE to 2300 CE, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/transit/catalog/MercuryCatalog.html, 2003.
[3] J. R. Owen. Quoted in Y Gwyddonydd, vol 16, no. 1, pp. 32-36, March 1978.
[4] S. J. Johnson, The Observatory, vol. 10, p. 302, 1887.
[5] A. B. P. Mee, Cambrian Natural Observer, vol. 10 (new series), no. 2, pp. 12-17, January 1908.



Historic supernovae

I have found no record of the historic Galactic supernovae of the years 1006 and 1054 in the Brut y Tywysogion. These two supernovae were recorded in Far Eastern annals, but are absent from European records. In this respect, the Brut follows other European annals.



Acknowledgements

Bryn Jones thanks Rhys Morris for providing the information about John R. Owen, and to the late Jay Stinson of California for discussions about the 15th century comet.






   
This page was created and is maintained by Bryn Jones.   E-mail: bryn.jones.email@gmail.com .
WWW home page: http://www.jonesbryn.plus.com/ .
This page was first created in January 2000   (at a different address).
It was last modified on 9th February, 2010.
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