Astronomy Bio...Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel

Jay Bitterman

Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel was born on December 4, 1821, in Nieder-Kunersdorf, in the kingdom of Saxony. His parents had 12 children and lived in a poor environment. His early education was very humble so he was compelled to improve himself largely through self-education. In 1837 he left his hometown and went to Meissen to learn lithography. Around the age of twenty he went to work in Copenhagen as a lithographer where he stayed for three years. While in Copenhagen he made many friends and acquired a taste for music and art. Temple then went to Christiania (now Oslo) and finally settled in Venice Italy. In Venice he put to use his artistic talents for many years. Because he was also interested in astronomy he bought a 4-inch refractor made by Bavarian K.A. von Steinheil in order to systematically observe the sky. He set up his telescope on the balcony of a Venetian palace. On April 2, 1859, he discovered a comet (1859 I), and there after he continued to be an enthusiastic observer. On October 19, 1859 he was the first to observe the now well-known Merope Nebula (NGC-1435) in the Pleiades. Although observers using small instruments confirmed it, astronomers using telescopes with larger apertures and higher power did not readily see Merope.

In March of 1860 Tempel relocated to Marseilles and obtained employment at the Observatory that was then under the direction of Valz. In October of 1860 he discovered his second comet (1860-IV). At the end of 1861 Temple resettled in the Rue Pythagore, Marseilles where he resumed his work as a lithographer and continued to be associated with the Observatory. In the years from 1861 to 1868 he focused on the minor planets and discovered five. In March 1861 he discovered two. He named one Angelina in remembrance of the astronomical station of Baron F.X. von Zach near Marseilles and the other was dubbed Maximiliana in honor of Maximilian II, the king of Bavaria. These names were criticized by both the German and English astronomers, notably John Herschel and George Airy, because they did not follow the traditional use of mythological figures as minor planet names. Therefore Maximiliana was changed to Cybele, a nature goddess of the ancient peoples of Asia Minor.

In 1866, while in Marseilles, along with the American astronomer Horace Tuttle, Tempel found the first of his periodic comets, 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, that was associated with the November Leonid meteors. The second one in 1867 belonged the class of short period comets was also observed in 1873 and 1879 but was too faint in 1885 to be seen. Comet 1869 III was, in 1880, found to be periodic and is known as Temple's third periodic comet. In May of 1886 it passed perihelion but was not well situated to be observed. Other periodic comets were 11D/Tempel-Swift in 1869, 9P/Tempel 1 and 10P/Tempel 2 in 1873 and Comet 9P/Tempel 1 on April 3, 1867 as a diffuse ninth magnitude object in Libra. In all, he discovered a total of thirteen comets.

In January 1871 the Provisional Government expelled Tempel from France because he was German. Tempel then went to Milan to be an assistant to Professor Schiaparelli at the Brera Observatory. He continued to observe comets, and discovered three new ones, of which include his second periodic comet (1873 II.) and is remarkable because it had a very short period of approximately five years. In 1874 Tempel left Milan to accept the post of Assistant in charge of the Arcetri Observatory, which was connected with the Reale Instituto di studi superiori of Florence. In 1869 the exterior construction of the Observatory at Arcetri building that was designed by Donati was finished in 1871 but was not completely finished when he died in September 1873. The large 11-inch Amici refractor (17.5-foot focal length) mounting, its graduation circles nor its clockwork was installed. There was also a refractor of 9.4 inches aperture and 10.5 foot focal length roughly mounted on a portable stand but was not of much use because a slight wind was set it in motion on the sloping terrace. Undaunted by these problems, Tempel collected a substantial number of observations of nebulae. And for the first time he had the use of larger instruments, could devote himself to observations in a more systematic manner, and discovered comet 1877 V.

In 1879 Tempel was awarded by the Accademia dei Lincei for his astronomical work. On June 10, 1881 he was elected a Foreign Associate of this Society. He also was awarded various prizes from the Vienna Academy for his discoveries of comets.

Near the end of 1886 he suffered an illness of the liver. Some months later he became partial paralyzed. On March 16, 1889 he died. His mind had remained clear to the end. He was buried near the tomb of Donati, the former office holder at the Arcetri Observatory.