Mr Kevin Kilburn FRAS, from Manchester Astronomical Society was the guest speaker at the May monthly meeting of Keighley Astronomical Society.
Four centuries of depiction of the lunar surface, confusion and eventual clarification, was the subject matter of his presentation entitled Mapping and naming the Moon.
His presentation is based on the work of Ewen Whitaker. He was one of the rare astronomers who made the transition from amateur to professional. Born in London on June 22, 1922, Whitaker became a member and then leader of the Lunar Section of the British Astronomical Association during the 1940s. In 1949 he was hired as an astronomer at Greenwich Observatory, and his skill at lunar photography came to the attention of Gerard Kuiper, the director of Yerkes Observatory.Kuiper recuted Whitaker to help create a series of lunar atlases for scientific study and mission planning for what became the Apollo program.
Whitaker used the Yerkes Observatory 40-inch and the McDonald Observatory 82-inch telescopes to acquire hundreds of lunar images that made up the Photographic Lunar Atlas, published in 1960. Whitaker followed Kuiper to the University of Arizona and became one of the founding members of the school’s famed Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Once there, he helped acquire excellent lunar images with LPL’s new 61-inch telescope, and he supervised the printing of thousands of actual photographic prints that comprised the Consolidated Lunar Atlas. Originally published in 1967, it can now be accessed digitally via the Lunar and Planetary Institute.
Mr Kilburn showed several early depictions of the lunar surface made before the invention of the telescope. He explained the first and one pre-telescopic map of the Moon was done by William Gilbert (1540-1603). It was however not published until well after his death in 1651. He had been physician to Queen Elizabeth the first of England.
Galileo also observed the Moon but through an early telescope. He was the first to publish his drawing of the Moon in 1610. During the 1600’s several prominent astronomers and scientists publish their own drawing and maps of the Moon.
The most realist depiction of the Moon was done by the English painter John Russell (1745-1806), based on over 200 sketches made over 20 plus years of detailed observation. The picture still hangs in Solo house Birmingham. Where the Lunar society which Russell was a members held its meetings.
However as the years moved into the 19th century with far more accurate telescopes. The map became more and more complicated. Also the naming of the features was not uniform of standardised. It needed sorting out and it was by a woman from Cheadle in Cheshire.
Mary Adela Blagg FRAS (17 May 1858 – 14 April 1944).
Mary was the daughter of a solicitor, John Charles Blagg, and France Caroline Foottit. She trained herself in mathematics by reading her brother’s textbooks. In 1875 she was sent to a finishing school in Kensington where she studied algebra and German. She later worked as a Sunday school teacher and was the branch secretary of the Girls’ Friendly Society.
By middle age she became interested in astronomy after attending a university extension course, taught by Mr. J. A. Hardcastle, John Herschel’s grandson. Her tutor suggested working in the area of selenography, particularly on the problem of developing a uniform system of lunar nomenclature. (Several major lunar maps of the period had discrepancies in terms of naming the various features).
In 1905 she was appointed by the newly formed International Association of Academies to build a collated list of all of the lunar features. She worked with Mr. S. A. Saunder on this very tedious and lengthy task, and the result was published in 1913. Her work produced a long list of discrepancies that the association would need to resolve. She also performed considerable work on the subject of variable stars, in collaboration with Professor H. H. Turner. These were published in a series of ten articles in the Monthly Notices, in which the professor acknowledged that a large majority of the work had been performed by Mary Blagg.
After the publication of several research papers for the Royal Astronomical Society, she was elected as a fellow in 1916, after being nominated by Professor Turner. She was one of five women to be elected simultaneously, the first women to become Fellows of that society.
She worked out a Fourier analysis of Bode’s Law, which was detailed in Michael Martin Nieto’s book “The Titius-Bode Law of Planetary Distances.”
In 1920, she joined the Lunar Commission of the newly formed International Astronomical Union. They tasked her with continuing her work on standardizing the nomenclature. For this task she collaborated with Karl Müller (1866–1942), a retired government official and amateur astronomer. (The crater Müller on the Moon was subsequently named after him.) Together they produced a two volume set in 1935, titled Named Lunar Formations, that became the standard reference on the subject.
During her life she performed volunteer work, including caring for Belgian refugee children during World War I. One of her favourite hobbies was chess. She was described in her obituary as being of “modest and retiring disposition, in fact very much of a recluse”, and rarely attended meetings.
The crater Blagg on the Moon is named after her.
It was this sterling work undertaken by Mary Blagg that enabled Ewen Whitaker to complete the task