Edward Emerson Barnard


Edward E. Barnard, astronomer and astronomical photographer, was born in Nashville. To help support his fatherless family, Barnard worked in the photographic gallery of Van Stavoren, where he assisted in the use of a solar camera to make photographic enlargements. Working on the roof of the gallery, Barnard also made early astronomical observations, developing the skills that eventually made him “the foremost observational astronomer in the world.” (1)

In 1877 the American Academy for the Advancement of Science met in Nashville, and the young Barnard sought the advice of noted astronomer Simon Newcomb regarding a possible career in astronomy. Newcomb advised him to become proficient in mathematics. Barnard traveled to Pittsburgh and purchased a five-inch telescope to begin his observations. In 1881 and 1882 he discovered two comets. In 1883 Vanderbilt University invited Barnard to take charge of its six-inch telescope and take special courses in mathematics and languages. While at Vanderbilt (1893-87), he discovered seven of the nineteen comets observed worldwide and independently discovered the Gegenschein, a faint path of light seen directly opposite the sun.

Barnard graduated from Vanderbilt in 1887 and joined the new Lick Observatory. In January 1899 he made his first photographs of the solar corona and began to take highly significant photographs of comets and the Milky Way. His first collection of photographs appeared in 1913 as Volume 11 of the Publications of the Lick Observatory.

In 1895 Barnard was appointed astronomer at the Yerkes Observatory, University of Chicago, where he worked with a forty-inch refractor. He observed the satellites of Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune and developed a method for measuring the color of new stars. He continued the Milky Way photography, which was financed by Catherine W. Bruce of New York. In 1923-24, the Carnegie Institution published Barnard's Atlas of the Milky Way.

Barnard received honorary degrees from Vanderbilt University, Queen's University, and the University of the Pacific. The French Academy of Sciences awarded him a gold medal, and the French Astronomical Society presented him with the Janssen Prize. He received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Bruce Gold Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. His life's work included nearly four thousand photographs and 840 separate addresses and articles.

Barnard married Rhoda Calvert in 1881; they had no children. His niece, Mary R. Calvert, assisted his work. Barnard died in 1923 and was buried in Nashville after a funeral in the rotunda of the Yerkes Observatory.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Edward Emerson Barnard
  • Coverage 1857-1923
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date July 24, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018