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Friedrich Wilhelm August Argelander

Reach for the Stars - The Argelander Program for Early-Career Researchers is named after one of Bonns renowned and most passionate researchers.

Friedrich Wilhelm August Argelander (22 March 1799 – 17 February 1875) was only 29 years old, when he became the first professor of the newly-formed astronomy department in Helsinki. In 1936 he was recruited to the University of Bonn. Driven by a thirst for knowledge, he made ground-breaking discoveries that are still accurate today.

His career may not have been as successful as it was without the help from his mentor Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel, who recognized his talent and supported him from his early career on. Argelander was Bessel’s first assistant at his observatory in Königsberg (Kaliningrad) from 1820 through 1823.

Born in Memel (Klaipêda), Argelander began to study cameralism at the University in Königsberg in 1817, but he gave up this subject in preference for astronomy. It was only 5 years later in 1822, when Argelander received his doctoral degree and published his influential paper „Untersuchungen der Umlaufbahn des Großen Kometen von 1811“. Bessel helped Argelander to obtain an observer position at the observatory in Turku (Finnland) and also supported him after he became a professor in Helsinki in 1828. When Argelander was appointed as a professor for astronomy in Bonn, he was already international renowned. Just how influential he became at his new post is indicated by the fact that he held the post of the chancellor twice during his tenure, a feat only a scant few achieved during their time as professors at Bonn.

Argelander’s greatest achievement, no doubt, was the Bonner Durchmusterung. He received particular credit for having developed a method that allowed him to map a large number of stars within a reasonable time. Once the first observations were made in 1852, it took Argelander and his staff members – Schmidt, Thormann, Schönfeld und Krüger – eleven more years to publish the finished catalogue (1863), which contained the position and magnitude of 324,198 stars recorded on 48 star charts. Argelander’s catalogue was one of the most influential standard references in the field of astronomy and made the city of Bonn internationally famous. Many of Argelander’s terms and observations maintain their validity to this day.
In 1863, Argelander helped lead in the founding an international organization of astronomers named the Astronomische Gesellschaft.

Argelander’s vita is today an inspiration for us to look out for bright young scientists and to help them to fulfil their potential - to reach for the stars.

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