The Greatest “Amateur” Astronomer of All-Time (Synopsis)

“What you do is, you have your drawing board and a pencil in hand at the telescope. You look in and you make some markings on the paper and you look in again.” –Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto

We often make a big distinction between professional and amateur today, and very rarely expect to find amateurs whose contributions to a major scientific enterprise will change the field forever. Yet back in the 19th Century, even astronomy and physics — arguably the most developed of the sciences at the time — had room for pioneers from all walks of life.

Image credit: Copperplate engraving published ca. 1860; public domain image.
Image credit: Copperplate engraving published ca. 1860; public domain image.

While huge, professional telescopes like the Leviathan of Parsonstown (above) allowed for humans to finally see the spiral structure inherent in some of the deep-sky nebulae, there were limits to what could be observed with the human eye, no matter how powerful the instruments that aided it were. It would take a new technique — the combination of astronomy with photography — to truly take the next step in our understanding of the Universe.

And while there were plenty of professionals who contributed mightily to this, it was an amateur who forever changed the way we view the skies.

Image credit: Isaac Roberts (d. 1904), public domain image.
Image credit: Isaac Roberts (d. 1904), public domain image.

Come read the amazing story and contributions of Isaac Roberts, the greatest amateur astronomer of all-time!