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Johann von Lamont

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Astronomer and physicist, b. 13 Dec., 1805, at Braemar in Scotland, near Balmoral Castle; d.. 6 Aug., 1879, at Bogenhausen near Munich, Bavaria. He was educated in a private school in Scotland. Father Gallus Robertson, a representative of the Scotch monastery of St. Jacob at Ratisbon, accidentally met the boy after the death of his father in 1816 and took him to Germany as a novice. At Ratisbon he became especially interested in mathematical and scientific studies under the prior, Benedict Deasson. He did not take Holy orders but, in 1827, was recommended for appointment as assistant to Soldner, the director of the new observatory at Bogenhausen near Munich. His work there was so excellent that, after Soldner's death in 1835, he was chosen director. He was honored by membership in the Royal Bavarian Academy, the Academies of Brussels, Upsala, and Prague, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, etc. In 1852 he also became professor of astronomy at the University of Munich.

His scientific achievements are classified under three heads: astronomical, geodetic, and physical. His technical dexterity was such as to make the employment of a mechanician unnecessary. A room in his home was fitted up as a workshop. With the excellent one and one-half inch refractor furnished him in 1836 he studied especially nebulae and star-clusters, laying the foundation for such investigations. From observations of the moons of Uranus he calculated its mass (Memoirs of the Royal Astr. Soc., XI, 1838). The ten volumes of the publications of the observatory, "Observationes Astronomicae e in Specula Regia Monacensi", and the thirty-four volumes of the "Annalen derköniglichen Sternwarte bei Munchen" contain a great deal of material. In 1840 he began to observe the faint stars from the seventh to the tenth magnitude, and recorded 80,000 of them. In geodetic work he added the Bavarian survey to the Austrian, determined the differences of longitude of Vienna, Munich, Geneva, and Strasburg, and completed the astronomical triangulation of Bavaria. In telluric physics he was especially active. He organized a meteorological society which spread all over Germany. Numerous registering instruments of his own construction were set up, and officials attached to the various courts of law were also provided with meteorological instruments made by Lamont himself. He invented a portable theodolite for magnetic measurements and with it he established the constants of the earth's magnetic force for a number of places through Middle Europe, from Spain to Denmark. Owing to lack of funds only three numbers were published of the "Annalen fur Meteorologie und Erdmagnetismus", 1842-4, but these contain a mass of valuable information.

For fifty-two years Lamont lived alone in the quiet village near his observatory, greatly respected by the inhabitants. To Munich he went only to deliver his lectures, to attend the meetings of the academic senate, or to spend a social evening in the Catholic Casino. His religious and political views were very decidedly conservative. Not caring for the ordinary pleasures of life, he managed to save a little fortune on his moderate salary, which reached a maximum of 6500 florins yearly at the end. This fortune was devoted to a scholarship for mathematical students, amounting to 72,000 marks in 1883. His larger works are: "Handbuch des Erdmagnetismus" (Berlin, 1849); "Handbuch des Magnetismus" (Leipzig, 1860); "Astronomie und Erdmagnetismus" (Stuttgart, 1851).

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