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Robert Burnham Jr. – Wikipedia

Robert Burnham Jr. – Wikipedia

2024-03-08 12:25:46

American astronomer (1931–1993)

Robert Burnham Jr. (June 16, 1931 – March 20, 1993) was an American astronomer, finest identified for writing the traditional three-volume Burnham’s Celestial Handbook.[1][2] He’s the discoverer of quite a few asteroids together with the Mars crossing asteroid 3397 Leyla, in addition to six comets.

Burnham’s late years had been tragic; he died destitute and alone. Nonetheless, he’s remembered by a era of deep sky observers for his distinctive contribution to astronomy, the Celestial Handbook. The main-belt asteroid 3467 Bernheim was named in his honor.[3]

Youth and profession[edit]

Burnham was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1931, the son of Robert Sr. and Lydia. His household moved to Prescott, Arizona, in 1940, and he graduated from highschool there in 1949. That was the end result of his formal schooling. At all times a shy individual, he had few buddies, by no means married, and spent most of his time observing along with his home-built telescope.[2]

Within the fall of 1957 he obtained appreciable native publicity when he found his first comet. This led to his being employed by Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1958 to work on a survey of stellar proper motion utilizing a blink comparator. Whereas Burnham was working at Lowell, he and his co-worker, Norman G. Thomas, found 5 extra comets (together with 56P/Slaughter-Burnham), and in extra of 1500 asteroids.[2]

Burnham’s Celestial Handbook[edit]

Burnham’s Celestial Handbook (1978 Dover Version)

Vol. 1

Vol. 2

Vol. 3

Along with his common duties on the observatory, Burnham spent nearly all of his free time engaged on the Celestial Handbook. His writing and his e book had been by no means formally supported by Lowell Observatory.

Subtitled “An Observer’s Information to the Universe Past the Photo voltaic System,” the Celestial Handbook combines a prolonged introduction to astronomy with catalog data for each constellation within the sky. 1000’s of stars and deep sky objects seen in small telescopes are lined in meticulous element.[2][5]

Initially self-published in a loose-leaf serial format starting in 1966, and with a revised version by Dover Publications in 1978, the Celestial Handbook was effectively reviewed in amateur astronomy magazines and have become a finest vendor on this specialised subject. It’s nonetheless in-print and is taken into account to be a traditional within the literature of novice astronomy.[2]

As a result of recognition of Celestial Handbook, Tony Ortega writing within the Phoenix New Times in 1997 described Burnham as an writer “whose title has develop into so acquainted to some readers it has develop into a form of shorthand, like Audubon to birders, Hoyle to card gamers, Webster to poor spellers, Robert to parliamentarians.”[2] Ortega then described the e book collection as:

…a form of real-life hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, a compendium with one thing to say about almost each cosmic vacation spot price visiting. Half journey information, half historical past textual content, half encyclopedia, it is like a handheld natural history museum of the universe. And for many years it is held a grip on the imaginations of most individuals who ply the evening skies with telescopes, individuals who yearn to journey in area and know that they will, any darkish and clear evening. Studying Burnham’s large, three-volume work is like studying the notes of an adventurer who has spent a lifetime finding out the treasures of a misplaced civilization: Its 2,138 pages are loaded with tables of information, technical passages and illustrations interspersed with historic arcana and historic poetry. And all of it’s meant as an incentive for the reader to get well these treasures by merely wanting upward. It’s hardly ever in comparison with different books as a result of there merely is none different prefer it. No different in style work approaches its utility and completeness; few different scientific texts include its sense of marvel and even spirituality.[2]

Burnham and spectra of planetary nebulae:

For the fashionable observer, a substantial variety of attention-grabbing planetary nebulae are inside vary of novice instrument, starting from tiny stellar-appearing objects as much as nice phantom rings corresponding to NGC 7293 in Aquarius. To determine the extra stellar planetaries, the observer might experiment with a easy method that impressively demonstrates their peculiar radiation: merely acquire a small piece of duplicate diffraction grating and place this between the eyepiece and the observer’s eye. Seen on this means, all the pictures of stars will probably be drawn out into slim coloured streaks, however a planetary nebula will seem as a collection of discrete particular person pictures, each indicating a particular wavelength through which the item is radiating. The observer ought to do that uncommon method on among the smaller and brighter planetaries, corresponding to NGC 6572 in Ophiuchus or NGC 6210 in Hercules, earlier than making an attempt to determine extra distant almost stellar examples.[6]

The colour distinction of Albireo (β Cygni):

Albireo is among the most lovely double stars within the sky, thought of by many observers to be the best within the heavens for the small telescope. The brighter star is a golden yellow or “topaz”, magnitude 3.09, spectrum K3; the “sapphire” companion is magnitude 5.11, spectrum B8 V. The separation is 34.3″, a straightforward object for the low energy telescope. Even a pair of excellent binoculars, if steadily held will cut up the pair. Albireo is famous for its excellent shade distinction, finest seen with the eyepiece barely displaced from the sharpest focus. Miss Agnes Clerke (1905) referred to as the tints “golden and azure”, giving maybe “essentially the most pretty impact of shade within the heavens”. For the typical novice telescope there’s in all probability no pair so enticing, although the colour impact appears to decrease in both very small or very massive telescopes, or with too excessive a magnification. Not more than 30X is required on 6-inch to point out this excellent pair as two contrasting jewels suspended in opposition to a background of glittering star-dust. The encompassing area is splendidly wealthy, and for wide-angle telescopes the star clouds to the northeast are in all probability unequalled in splendor in the whole heavens.[7]

Messier 22:

Messier 22 is among the closest globulars to the galactic airplane. It additionally lies lower than a level from the ecliptic, so astrophotographers will sometimes have a possibility to report a brilliant planet within the subject with the cluster; the planet Mercury, for instance, handed via the sphere on december 12, 1977; Venus was in almost the identical place in early january, 1978. Such occasions aren’t all the time talked about in astronomical publications, so the observer should make his personal predictions by periodically checking planetary positions within the Nautical Almanac.[8]

Burnham and sabi:

The indefinable temper which the Japanese name sabi, for which there isn’t any precise English equal, however which is perhaps roughly outlined as that direct inward notion by which we discover deep significance or nice creative high quality in some outwardly easy and unpretentious object. A diamond bracelet from Tiffany’s for instance, would possibly include no sabi, whereas a woodcarving by a easy uneducated fisherman is perhaps packed to the (ahem) gills with it.[9]

Burnham, the Pleiades, and Satan’s Tower:

In American Indian legend the Pleiades are related with the Mateo Tepe or Devil’s Tower, that curious and splendidly spectacular rock formation which rises like a colossal petrified tree-stump to a peak of 1300 toes above the plains of northeastern Wyoming. In line with the lore of the Kiowa, the Tower was raised up by the Nice Spirit to guard seven Indian maidens who had been pursued by large bears; the maidens had been afterwards positioned within the sky because the Pleiades cluster, and the marks of the bears’ claws could also be seen within the vertical striations on the perimeters of the Tower unto this present day. The Cheyenne had an analogous legend.[10]

Burnham additionally mentions the spinthariscope.[11]

Life after Lowell[edit]

Lowell Observatory

In April 1979, the 12 months after Celestial Handbook was printed by Dover, Burnham obtained discover that the right movement survey would quickly be accomplished and that the observatory couldn’t afford to maintain him on within the place he had lengthy held. Regardless of months of warning, he didn’t make different preparations and, after twenty-one years at Lowell, his job led to December of that 12 months. Unwilling to take the one place that was supplied to him, that of janitor on the observatory, he left.[2]

Burnham was by no means in a position to get well personally, professionally, or financially after he misplaced the job at Lowell. Over the subsequent few years, whereas gross sales of the Celestial Handbook had been quickly rising, Burnham’s private circumstances had been steadily worsening. His shyness elevated and he shunned all publicity, changing into much more reclusive. He bickered typically with Dover about royalties and in regards to the creation of attainable new editions or translations of his e book.[2] He additionally labored sporadically on a fantasy novel – which he by no means accomplished.[5]

Writing for the Frosty Drew Observatory in 2000, Doug Stewart stated:

Had Burnham been a extra astute businessman he would possibly simply have parlayed his justifiable fame into a snug revenue. He would have been in nice demand on the audio system’ circuit, and will have held a high publish in any planetarium within the nation. He was really fairly a talented speaker earlier than such teams, a ability honed in over twenty years of observatory excursions at Lowell. However this was not Robert Burnham, Jr. He continued to draw back from publicity, on the similar time that he sought recognition for his work. His small revenue grew to become much less and fewer dependable, even whereas Dover’s success along with his information elevated (it was, and stays, a featured providing of the Astronomy Guide Membership).[5]

See Also

As his state of affairs worsened, Burnham, who was by no means married,[5] develop into bitter and depressed, and remoted himself from his few family and friends. He had lived for a time in Phoenix, Arizona, however in Could 1986 he left Phoenix and dropped out of sight utterly, informing nobody however his writer of his whereabouts. Regardless of being the writer of a profitable e book, Burnham spent the final years of his life in poverty and obscurity[5] in San Diego, California, promoting his work of cats at Balboa Park. The followers of Celestial Handbook had been possible unaware of his private circumstances; probably assuming {that a} totally different and unrelated Robert Burnham, an editor at Astronomy journal, was the writer.[2][12]

Naming of 3467 Bernheim[edit]

Norm Thomas, Burnham’s former co-worker at Lowell Observatory, had advised Burnham that he deliberate to call an asteroid after him. On September 26, 1981, Thomas found a major belt asteroid,[13] however since asteroid 834 Burnhamia, named after the unrelated nineteenth century astronomer Sherburne Wesley Burnham, already carried the title, a special spelling was wanted. Thomas selected the spelling Bernheim, for the Burnham household’s ancestral Bohemian surname.[13] Thus the asteroid named to honor Robert Burnham Jr. was named 3467 Bernheim.[14][15]

Demise and posthumous “interview”[edit]

Fort Rosecrans Nationwide Cemetery

Burnham died destitute and alone on the age of sixty-one in 1993. His household didn’t find out about his dying (apparently by his alternative) till two years later, and did not report it to the press even then as a result of they had been unaware of his stature within the novice astronomy group.[2]

After his dying, it was realized that he had typically attended applications introduced by the San Diego Astronomy Affiliation (on the Ruben H. Fleet Space Theater in Balboa Park) with out anybody recognizing him.[citation needed] Despite the tragedy of his later years, Burnham continues to be remembered by a era of deep sky observers for his distinctive Celestial Handbook. His cremated stays are interred on the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California.[2]

In 2009 a memorial consisting of a small bronze plaque resembling a web page in Burnham’s Celestial Handbook was put in on the Pluto Stroll at Lowell Observatory.[16]

Burnham hardly ever gave interviews, however on the peak of the recognition of Handbook in 1982, he wrote a chunk the place he playfully interviewed himself for the journal Astronomy. A for much longer model of this essay, An Interview with the writer of The Celestial Handbook, dated April 1983, was found amongst Burnham’s papers and it was first printed in its entirety by The Village Voice in June 2011, 18 years after his dying.[17] It was launched as follows:

If Burnham’s life led to an unlucky style, within the following essay you’ll meet the person at his most beguiling, a largely self-taught polymath who may very well be each playful and cantankerous. Almost three a long time since he put these phrases down, his concepts about progress, science and faith, and man’s future in area nonetheless appear contemporary. We hope you discover his phrases illuminating.

— Tony Ortega, Editor, The Village Voice[17][18]


Burnham’s Celestial Handbook was initially self-published in a loose-leaf serial format starting in 1966; it was issued in hardcover and later as a paperback in a three-volume, revised and enlarged version by Dover Publications starting in 1978.


  1. ^ Jeffrey, Dale (1998). “Robert Burnham Jr.: Gone However Not Forgotten”. Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. 92: 18–19. Bibcode:1998JRASC..92…18J.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Ortega, Tony (1997-09-25). “Sky Writer”. Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 2016-01-11.
  3. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2007). “(3467) Bernheim”. Dictionary of Minor Planet Names – (3467) Bernheim. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. p. 290. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-29925-7_3467. ISBN 978-3-540-00238-3.
  4. ^ “Minor Planet Discoverers (by number)”. Minor Planet Middle. 4 September 2016. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e Stewart, Doug. “Lost in the Stars: Remrmbering Robert Burnham, Jr”. Frosty Drew Nature Middle and Observatory. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  6. ^ Talked about on web page 1178 within the second quantity of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook.
  7. ^ Talked about on web page 754 within the second quantity of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook.
  8. ^ Talked about on pages 1598–1599 within the third quantity of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook.
  9. ^ Talked about on pages 1625 and 1626 within the second quantity of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook.
  10. ^ Talked about on web page 1867 within the third quantity of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook.
  11. ^ Talked about on web page 1703 within the third quantity of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook.
  12. ^ Eicher, David. “Robert Burnham, Jr.’s, 80th birthday”. Astronomy Journal. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  13. ^ a b “(3467) Bernheim (Details)”. Minorplanetcenter.web. International Astronomical Union. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  14. ^ “Minor Planet Names: Alphabetical List”. Minorplanetcenter.web. Worldwide Astronomical Union. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  15. ^ “Asteroid Name List”. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  16. ^ Dickinson, David (2014-11-12). “Exploring astronomy old and new at the Lowell Observatory”. Postmedia News. Retrieved 2016-01-11.
  17. ^ a b Ortega, Tony (16 June 2011). “Robert Burnham Jr.’s 1983 Testament: An Astronomer-Recluse Inscribes His Universe (Part I)”. The Village Voice. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  18. ^ Ortega, Tony (17 June 2011). “Robert Burnham Jr.’s 1983 Testament: An Astronomer-Recluse Inscribes His Universe (Part II)”. The Village Voice. Retrieved 3 March 2017.

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