Hungarian topics in Zach's German journals


László Patkós, Budapest


Complete text (abstract only):

Two hundred years ago geography and astronomy were very close branches of science. The great task of the era was the determination of exact geographical positions, and astronomical methods were widely used for it. In the volumes of Allgemeine Geographische Ephemeriden (AGE) and in the Monatliche Correspondenz (MC) a large proportion of the Hungarian topics also deal with the geography of Hungary. One can read news from Hungary in letters written mainly by Schedius and (after 1802) by Lipszky.

The most important Hungarian scientific enterprise of the era was the geographical mapping of the country. As part of this work the young astronomer Bogdanich determined many astronomical positions, and he also made various different other astronomical observations too.

One of the most spectacular astronomical events of the era was the transit of Mercury in front of the sun on May 7, 1799. The four contacts were determined at many observatories all over Europe, among them at Ofen (Buda), Dubitza and Carlsburg (Gyulaféhervár) in Hungary. The observed second and third contacts were used by Wurm to compute the geographical longitudes of these places (AGE 4 (1799) 218 and MC 8 (1803) 115).

Three solar eclipses observed at the beginning of the XIXth century were also used for longitude determinations. In Hungary the eclipses of Aug 27, 1802, and of Aug 17, 1803, were observed at Ofen, and that of Feb 11, 1804, at Carlsburg observatory (Wurm: MC 7 (1805) 351). Another solar eclipse (the one on Jun 16, 1806) was used by the same author to determine the longitudes of Ofen and Erlau (Eger), together with a further 38 other European observatories. (MC 27 (1813) 401).

The most common astrometric method for longitude determinations at that time was the observation of occultations. In a table published by Triesnecker (AGE 1 (1798) 284) the geographical position of Buda observatory (Ofen) was based on two solar eclipses and twelve stellar occultations.

In a table published in MC 7 (1803) 47-48 there is a list of Hungarian localities with determined positions. The most precise ones are the positions of the astronomical observatories: Carlsburg (in Transylvania), Erlau, Ofen and Tyrnau (Nagyszombat). Further astronomically determined places in the list were the ones determined by Bogdanich as part of his enterprise to map Hungary: Czátza, Dubitza, Fiume, Orsova and Schemnitz.

Besides observational work, Hungarian astronomers of the time were recognized as theoreticians too. Pasquich's mathematical knowledge was widely admitted. An example of it is: »Über die Krümmungs-Ellipsoide für die nördliche Hälfte unserer nördlichen Halbkugel« (MC 8 (1803) 411-417). Another example is his paper about the reduction of the out of meridian observed zenith distances to the meridian (MC 7 (1805) 460).

But praise is not all one can find about Hungarian astronomy. In AGE 3 (1799) 601-612, there is a severe criticism about the activity of the Hungarian astronomer Mártonfy (at Carlsburg) and about a book written by him.

Franz Xaver von Zach, the editor of Allgemeine Geographische Ephemeriden and Monatliche Correspondenz, did not get the well-deserved appreciation from his native country. Our duty is to put his name into its well-earned place in the history of Hungarian science.

Bibliographical details:

László Patkós: Hungarian topics in Zach's German journals. In: Peter Brosche, Wolfgang R. Dick, Oliver Schwarz, Roland Wielen (Eds.): The Message of the Angles - Astrometry from 1798 to 1998. Proceedings of the International Spring Meeting of the Astronomische Gesellschaft, Gotha, May 11-15, 1998. (Acta Historica Astronomiae ; 3). Thun ; Frankfurt am Main : Deutsch, 1998, p. 86-87.