September 25: James Ferguson (1867)

James Ferguson was an American astronomer who made the first discovery of an asteroid from North America. Ferguson was born in Scotland, but moved with his family to New York when he was only three years old. It was not until 1842 that Congress decided to establish a national observatory at Washington, which was erected under the direction of Captain James Melville Gilliss (another Epiphany parishioner). From 1847 until his death, Ferguson was an assistant astronomer of the U.S. Naval Observatory. He was assigned to the Equatorial Telescope and began observing occulations of stars by the Moon. Soon he became part of the great asteroid hunt that had driven so many astronomers since Piazzi’s discovery in 1800 that such “small planets” existed.

Ferguson persisted in his asteroid research and using the 9.6-inch refractor, went on to make the first asteroid discovery from the United States. On the night of Sept 1, 1854, Ferguson had been observing the minor planet Egeria when he found nearby an unexpected object about equal brightness to it and proved through its motion to be an asteroid, the 31st found since Piazzi’s first discovery. Ferguson named it Euphrosyne, one of the three Graces in Greek mythology. Ferguson would go on to discover two additional asteroids – Virginia (#50) in 1857 and Echo (#60) in 1860.  A later asteroid (#1745) was named Ferguson in his honor. Ferguson was confirmed at Epiphany in 1863 and then buried from the church following his death in 1867.

< Previous     Next >

No comments yet

Add comment