Astronomer Royal


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Astronomer Royal

(ă-stron -ŏ-mer) An eminent British astronomer appointed by the UK sovereign to the post of Astronomer Royal of England. The appointment is made on the advice of the government-funded body responsible for astronomy research and facilities in the UK. Since 1994, this has been the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC). The office of Astronomer Royal is an honorary position that, until the retirement of Sir Richard Woolley in 1971, was combined with the post of Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO). The two titles were separated when Margaret Burbidge became Director of the RGO in 1971 and Sir Martin Ryle became Astronomer Royal in 1972. The first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, was appointed by Charles II in 1675 following the foundation of the RGO in that year. The 15th Astronomer Royal, the cosmologist Sir Martin Rees, was appointed in 1995. A full list of Astronomers Royal appears in the table.

The office of Astronomer Royal for Scotland was created by Royal Warrant in 1834, with Thomas Henderson as its first incumbent. The title was originally held by the astronomer who served as both Director of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh (ROE), and Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh. Malcolm Longair was the ninth holder of the office, succeeding Vincent Reddish to the title in 1980. Longair held the post until 1991. The title then lapsed until 1995, by which time the decision had been taken to separate the Regius professorship and the directorship of the ROE. In the process, the office of Astronomer Royal for Scotland also became an independent post. The eminent solar and stellar specialist John Campbell Brown, professor of astrophysics at the University of Glasgow, was appointed Astronomer Royal for Scotland under the new regime in 1995.