Who was Frederick Argelander? The German Astronomer Who Created the Bonner Durchmusterung Catalogue


Who was Frederick Argelander? The life of Frederick Argelander, a German astronomer who created a star atlas catalog called Bonner Durchmusterung.

Frederick Argelander

Frederick Argelander (Source : wikipedia.org)

Friedrich Wilhelm August Argelander (March 22, 1799 – February 17, 1875) was a German astronomer, author of the Bonner Durchmusterung, a detailed astronomical star atlas that collected the positions and luminosities of 324,198 stars in the northern hemisphere.


His Life and Studies

Frederick Argelander was born in the town of Memel (Klaipeda) in 1799. At that time the town belonged to Prussia, and the largest city in the region was Königsberg (Kaliningrad), where Argelander began his science education in 1817. In 1810, Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel (1784 – 1846) became director of the local observatory and professor of astronomy at the University of Königsberg. Argelander learned a lot about astronomy through his first student, Bessel, who in 1820 became an assistant at the Königsberg observatory. He earned his doctorate in 1822 for a critical review of the observations of John Flamsteed (1646-1719), who published an uncorrected summary of his observations from 1676 to 1705 in 1712.

Bessel recruited Argelander as an observer at the university observatory of Turku (Swedish: Åbo) in Finland in 1823, which was later renamed the Turku Academy. Argelander became director of the observatory and professor of astronomy at the university in 1828. Due to a fire in 1827 that destroyed most of the university buildings in Turku (Åbo), the university was moved to Helsinki in 1828. He studied the motion of the stars in Turku, and wrote the results in his book in 1837. The title of his book is “On the Straight Movement of the Solar System”.

From 1836 to 1837, he began with initial plans for an observatory in Bonn, which would be financed by King Frederick William IV of Prussia (1795-1861). During the construction period in 1843, Argelander published a catalog of fixed stars visible to the naked eye, where he created a unique method for estimating the luminosity of stars relative to each other. The catalog was named Uranometria nova, perhaps in memory of the star atlas Uranometria written by Johannes Bayer (1572-1625) in 1603. This calculation method was also used for a collection of 22 known variable stars published in 1850.


Argelander concluded that he did not have enough data to give an accurate answer about the correct motion of the Solar System with respect to the universe around it, to which center the Sun and, if any, the stars were moving. In this way he devoted himself to studying the positions of stars in the northern hemisphere from 1852 in Bonn.

In 11 years, with his assistants Eduard Schönfeld (1828 – 1891) and Adalbert Krüger (1832 – 1896), he measured the positions and luminosities of 324,198 stars between +90° and -2° declination, and collected these observations in an index with an offset.

First published in 1863, this catalog became known as the Bonner Durchmusterung (Bonn Measurements, abbreviated BD). That same year, Argelander founded the Astronomical Society with, among others, Wilhelm Foerster (1832 – 1921). The purpose of this society was to make a complete map of the sky. The association independently published a star catalog in 1887, known as the Astronomische Gesellschaft Catalogue (AGK), containing approximately 200,000 stars between 80° and –23° declination.

Frederick Argelander died in Bonn in 1875 at the age of 76.


  • Astronomical observations were made on the watch list of the University of Finland. 3 volumes Helsinki (Helsingfors) 1830 – 32
  • 560 middle positions of the fixed stars at the beginning of 1830 . Helsinki 1835
  • On the Straight Movement of the Solar System. St. Petersburg 1837)
  • Survey of the northern sky between the 45° and 80° north slope. Bonn 1848
  • The New Uranometry. Berlin 1843
  • Survey of the sky zone between 15° and 31° south inclination . In: astronomical observations at the observatory in Bonn 1846-1852
  • North Starry Sky Atlas. Bonn 1857-1863

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