Star Catalogues 1


SOME astronomical work is so attractive that it readily finds support and imitation. The preparation of star catalogues scarcely belongs to that category. Such work is dreary and monotonous, and those who devote themselves to it are entitled to the acknowledgment that is invariably granted to those who are willing to sacrifice brilliancy to utility. There is little scope for the exercise of originality. Once the scheme is defined, the stars selected, and the needed accuracy attained, there is nothing to break the wearisome repetition of a purely mechanical process. The work can hardly be said to possess the attractiveness of permanence. The observations give the position of the stars at a certain epoch, and almost before the catalogue is available as a whole, the work of supplementing it has begun. The wayward and lawless proper motions of the stars tend to render, the coordinates obsolete, and this cause alone will necessitate the repetitioii of the work upon which so much labour has been bestowed. Yet no work requires more care. and fore-thought, and this will be painfully evident to those who read the introductions to the several works, the titles of which are quoted below. It will be equally evident to those who recall the names of those who have devoted themselves to this work, and who will thus be reminded that many astronomers, from Flamsteed to Airy, have been content to stake their reputation upon their contributions to the cataloguing of star places. It is the opportunity for the introduction of greater accuracy that affords the necessary compensation. Sir David Gill, than whom few can look back upon the accomplishment of a greater mass of work, probably views the completion of these catalogues with very considerable satisfaction, and regards them as rouhding a well-filled career.

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P., W. Star Catalogues 1 . Nature 75, 331–332 (1907).

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