Peters, Christian Heinrich Friedrich

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(b. Coldenbüttel, Schleswig, Denmark [now Schleswig-Holstein, Germany], 19 September 1813; d. Clinton, New York, 18 July 1890),


After attending the Gymnasium in Flensburg Peters studied mathematics and astronomy with Encke at the University of Berlin, where he took the Ph.D. in 1836, then with Gauss at Göttingen. From 1838 to 1843 he worked on a private survey of Mount Etna, then was appointed director of the government trigonometric survey of Sicily. He held this post until 1848, when he was deported for actively supporting the Sicilian revolutionaries. In 1849, following the fall of Palermo, Peters went to Constantionple, where he remained for the next five years. Although political circumstances—including the Crimean War—precluded expeditions, Peters was able to learn Arabic and Turkish.

In 1854, carrying introductions from Humboldt, Peters immigrated to the United States. He was employed by the Coast Survey, and detailed first to the Cloverden Observatory in Cambridge, and then to the Dudley Observatory in Albany. In 1858 he was appointed professor of astronomy and director of the Litchfield Observatory at Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y. Although funds were short (he often went for months without salary) he remained at Hamilton for the rest of his life.

Peter’ primary scientific interest was observational positional astronomy. While in Naples, long before Carrington took up such work, Peters charted the latitudinal and longitudinal proper motions and internal developments of sunspots. At Hamilton College Peters attempted to chart, without photography, all the stars down to (and even below) the fourteenth magnitude situated within 30 on either side of the ecliptic. He coincidentally discovered forty-eight asteroids and computed their orbits. In 1869 he organized a party to observe a total eclipse of the sun, and in 1874 he led one of eight U.S. government expeditions to observe the transit of Venus; he was a member of the International Astrophotographic Congress held in Paris in 1887. Drawing on both his linguistic ability and his astronomical knowledge Peters collated the star catalogs in various Continental manuscript copies of Ptolemy’s Almagest. E. B. Knobelmauscript copies of collated the British manuscripts and issued a revised Ptolemaic catalog in 1915, after Peter’ death.

Peters was a member or a fellow of a number of scientific societies, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1856), the National Academy of Sciences (1876), the American Philosophical Society (1878), and the Royal Astronomical Society (1879); he received the French Legion of Honor in 1887.


I. Original Works. Peters’ writings include De principiominimae actionis dissertatio (Berlin, 1836); Report… on the Longitude of Elmira (Albany, 1864); Report.. on the Longitude and Latitude of Ogdensburg (Albany, 1865); and Celestial Charts Made at the Litchfield Observatory (Clinton, N.Y., 1882), with 20 charts each covering 5° dec. and 20m r.a., another 20 were finished, but unpublished, at his death. Posthumous works are E. B. Frost, ed., Heliographic Positions of Sun-Spots Observed at Hamilton College from 1860–1870, Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication no. 43 (Washington, D.C. 1907); and Ptolemy’s catalogue of stars, Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication no. 86 (Washington, D.C., 1915), and Ptolemy’s Catalogue of stars, Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication no. 86 (Washington,D.C., 1915), written with E. B. Knobel. The Royal Society of London Catalogue of Scientific Papers lists 144 papers by Peters; his correspondence with his friend G. P. Bond is at the Harvard College Observatory.

II. Secondary Literature. On Peters and his work, see Chrstian Henry Frederick Peters, september 19, 1813, July 18, 1890 (Hamilton, N. Y., 1890), a memorial vol. printed for private circulation. Obituary notices are in Sidereal Messenger, 9 (1890), 439–442; Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 51 (1890–1891), 199– 202; and Astronomisehe Nachrichten (Aug. 1890). For Peters’ controversy with C. A. Borst over ownership of a research MS, see “Dr. Peters’ Star Catalogue,” in Sidereal Messenger,8 (1889), 138–139); 455–458; Utica Morning Herald (9 Nov, 1889); and Simon Newcomb, Reminiscences of an Astronomer (Boston, 1903, 1903), 372–381.

Deborah Jean Warner

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Peters, Christian Heinrich Friedrich

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