Friedrich Bessel, German astronomer

Friedrich Bessel, German astronomer

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Credit: SPUTNIK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Portrait of Friedrich Bessel (1784-1846), German astronomer. Bessel started his working life as an accountant in Bremen. He studied navigation and astronomy, and by the age of 26, he was director of the new Konigsberg Observatory. He observed the perturbations of planetary and stellar motions, inventing the Bessel functions to aid his analysis. He was the first to establish the distance to a star by the method of stellar parallax (1838), using 61 Cygni as his first object. He predicted that a small companion star formed a binary system with Sirius, and suggested the existence of the planet Neptune.

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