Left pointing hand navigation decoration Return to “Telescopes from the Ground Up” Left pointing hand navigation decoration
Telescopes from the Ground Up
Portrait of Johannes HeveliusPortrait of Hevelius by Daniel Schultz (late 1600's).

Johannes Hevelius was the son of a wealthy brewer in Danzig, a city on the Baltic Sea. After studying law and traveling in Europe, he settled in his hometown to work as a brewer and local politician.

However, astronomy had recently taken off in popularity, and Hevelius found himself fascinated by the sky. He constructed his first observatory in his house in 1641, but quickly realized his small instruments were not good enough to perform the precise observations he needed to reach his goal of creating a star catalog.

Hevelius’ knowledge of the way refracting telescopes worked pushed him to create longer and longer telescopes, marvels of engineering that eventually stretched to 150 feet. Polish kings and queens toured his projects, and he was eventually awarded a pension for his work. He also became a member of the Royal Society, the scientific organization of the age.

Hevelius was known for his keen observing skills. In addition to creating detailed maps of the Moon, he observed the phases of Mercury, monitored sunspots, and discovered several comets. His abilities extended from scientific work to artistry — Hevelius was a talented engraver who produced the elaborate images for his most famous work, Selenographia, an atlas of the Moon.

After the death of his first wife, Katharina in 1663, Hevelius married the 16-year-old Elisabeth Koopman, who assisted him in his astronomical work. Tragedy struck in 1679 when a fire consumed all of Hevelius’ instruments as well as his optical workshop and printshop, destroying most of his records. The star catalog he’d been working on for years was saved.

After Hevelius’ death in 1687, Elisabeth made sure his remaining works, including his star catalog, nova observations and constellation charts were printed.

Return to “Telescopes from the Ground Up”