La Caille’s visit to the Cape 1751 – 53

Mar 03, 2013 Comments Off by

a talk by Dr Ian Glass of the SA Astronomical Observatory on Wednesday 20th March at 5pm at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) Auditorium, Observatory Road, Observatory*220px-Lacaille
Abstract : This year sees the 300th birthday of Nicolas-Louis de La Caille, the first important scientist to visit the Cape. One of the greatest astronomers of his time, he was a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, a writer of influential textbooks and a propagandist for Newtonianism.

His chief interest lay in refining the orbits of solar system objects through precision observations. At the age of 39, he came to the Cape and built an observatory from which he determined the distances of the planets. He surveyed the southern sky through a telescope – the first such systematic survey ever made. Feeling that the heavens were poorly described, he named fourteen new constellations, one of them being Table Mountain (Mons Mensa).

While here, he decided to measure the earth’s local radius. His astonishing conclusion, affected by the gravitational attraction of nearby mountains, was that the planet seemed to be pear-shaped!

La Caille died in Paris at the early age of 48 after a full and busy life and was buried in the chapel of the Collège Mazarin where he had worked.  Picture & more on La Caille :See Wiki

Speaker: Dr Ian Glass is an astronomer at SAAO with interests in infrared astronomy and astronomical history. He is the author of five books, including Nicolas-Louis de la Caille, Astronomer and Geodesist, OUP, Oxford, 2012.

*Directions to SAAO Auditorium : Coming from the N2, turn off to the M57 – Liesbeek Parkway; turning in the direction of Cape Town and continue to the traffic lights with Hartleyvale (hockey and football) on your left. Turn right at traffic lights into Observatory Road, pass the River Club; the S A Astronomical Observatory is next on the left. Once through the security gates bear left following the SALT signs to the last building on the left (white with stoep & ramp).

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