© 2015

Eclipses, Transits, and Comets of the Nineteenth Century

How America's Perception of the Skies Changed


Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL, volume 406)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xi
  2. Stella Cottam, Wayne Orchiston
    Pages 1-6
  3. Stella Cottam, Wayne Orchiston
    Pages 43-128
  4. Stella Cottam, Wayne Orchiston
    Pages 129-199
  5. Stella Cottam, Wayne Orchiston
    Pages 201-254
  6. Stella Cottam, Wayne Orchiston
    Pages 255-286
  7. Stella Cottam, Wayne Orchiston
    Pages 287-290
  8. Back Matter
    Pages 291-336

About this book


Grabbing the attention of poets, politicians and the general public alike, a series of spectacular astronomical events in the late 1800s galvanized Americans to take a greater interest in astronomy than ever before. At a time when the sciences were not yet as well established in the United States as they were in Europe, this public interest and support provided the growing scientific community in the United States with the platform they needed to advance the field of astronomy in the United States.  

Earlier in the 19th century comets, meteors and the discovery of the planet Neptune were all sources of inspiration to the general public. The specific events to be considered here are the total solar eclipses of 1868, 1869 and 1878 and the transits of Venus of 1874 and 1882. The available media responded to public interest as well as generating more interest. These events laid the groundwork that led to today's thriving network of American amateur astronomers, and provide a fascinating look at earlier conceptions of the stars.


19th Century Media Coverage 19th Century Solar Eclipses American Astronomy History American Astronomy History Historical Media Coverage of Astronomy History of Popular Astronomy Popularization of Astronomy Public Reaction to Astronomy Reaction to Discovery of Neptune Transit of Venus

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.National Astronomical Research Institute of ThailandThailand
  2. 2.National Astronomical Research InstituteThailand

About the authors

Stella Cottam has B.S. degrees in physics and medical technology from Fordham University and the University of Nevada, respectively, an M.S. in library science from the University of Kentucky, a Master of Astronomy from the University of Western Sydney in Australia, and a Ph.D. through the Centre for Astronomy at James Cook University in Australia. Her thesis topic was “The Popularization of Astronomy in the United States of America Subsequent to the Transits of Venus of 1874 and 1882 and the Total Solar Eclipses of 1868, 1869 and 1878” and her supervisors were Wayne Orchiston and Richard Stephenson. She has worked as a microbiologist at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky (USA). Wayne Orchiston is an Associate Professor in the Center for Astronomy at James Cook University (Australia), where he supervises a large pool of off-campus Ph.D. students and carries out research on the history of Australian, English, French, Indian, New Zealand and U. S. astronomy. He also edits the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage.

Bibliographic information

Industry Sectors


“The authors focus on the total solar eclipses of 1868, 1869, and 1878 and the transits of Venus of 1874 and 1882, with shorter treatments of meteor showers and transits of Mercury. … This is a delighted volume to have and to hold, simply brimming with wonderful pictures of people, places, astronomical images and the beginning of spectroscopy, historical markers, and so forth.” (Virginia Trimble, The Observatory, Vol. 136 (1255), December, 2016)

“The book covers the growth of professional astronomy and the role of amateur astronomers in the popularization of astronomy in the United States. … If you are interested in the development of science and how the astronomical awareness of a continent developed from something ‘primarily for the vain art of astrology and for almanac production’ to having the huge number of amateur astronomers it has today then this book is for you.” (Steve Bell, The Observatory, Vol. 135 (1248), October, 2015)

“Cottam and Orchiston (both, National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand) have produced a dense book, based on Cottam’s 2011 dissertation, covering a bit over a century of American astronomy. … The book contains numerous illustrations and is well documented with 36 pages of references. Useful for history of astronomy collections and specialist audiences. Summing Up: Recommended. Researchers/faculty and professionals/practitioners.” (M.-K. Hemenway, Choice, Vol. 52 (8), April, 2015)

“This historical book by Cottam and Orchiston is fun to read and to look through. I can recommend it to all who like to know about eclipses, transits, or nineteenth century science in general, or who otherwise want something to tell them about the interactions of science with the public—or who just want an interesting book to read.” (Jay M. Pasachoff, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, Vol. 18 (1), 2015)