Arthur Storer – First known American astronomer, ‘discoverer’ of what became known as Halley’s Comet

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Photo by Francis Barker

We recently visited the small market town of Grantham in Lincolnshire in the east of England and found out something new and interesting.

Among the notable people associated with Grantham are Sir Isaac Newton, who was born nearby and former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was raised in the town in her father’s shop.

Astronomer and Mathematician

Walking through the town and by the wonderful church, we came across the old school building, upon which is a notice, bearing the name of Arthur Storer, identifying him as an astronomer and mathematician. I have to confess, up to that point, I had never heard of him.

It turns out that he knew Isaac Newton and probably had a fight with him when they were boys. However, the two later became friends and scientific associates, Newton recognising Storer’s contribution in his most famous work Philosophi√¶ Naturalis Principia Mathematica.¬†

Fine Reputation

What I did not know was that Storer effectively became the first known astronomer in America and he developed a reputation for accuracy which outlived him.

Storer seems to have initially trained to be an apothecary, the profession of his step father, William Clarke of Grantham. However, it would appear that his real interests lay in the science of astronomy.

Journeys to Maryland

He would later travel to Maryland in North America, to observe all astronomical phenomena there. Later he would make a second trip to Maryland to do more astronomical work, sending his calculations to Isaac Newton.

A consequence of this work was that one comet he observed, in 1682, would later turn out to be Halley’s Comet, named after Edmund Halley who became the first to forecast its next appearance.

Sadly, Storer did not live to be an old man, dying in early 1687. He is buried in Maryland.

copyright Francis Barker 2019

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