Astronomy Bio...Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli

Jay Bitterman

Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli was born on March 14,1835 in Savigliano, a village in Cueno Province. He initially trained as a civil engineer. In 1850 he entered Turin University and graduated in 1854. In 1857, after teaching mathematics, he decided to go to Berlin to study astronomy with Encke. In 1859 he got an appointment as assistant observer at Pulkova. In 1860 he resigned to become an observer at Brera, Milan. Schiaparelli 's first discovery, using only the primitive instruments, in1861 was the asteroid Hesperia. In 1862, after the death of Francesco Carlini, Schiaparelli succeeded to the directorship a position that he held until 1900. In 1864 he used his substantial mathematical gifts to determine and publish orbital motions of astronomical objects. His most notable contribution to astronomy started in 1866 when he indicated that meteors or shooting stars traverse space in cometary orbits. He showed that the orbits of the Perseids and Comet III 1862 and that of the Leonids and Comet I 1866 were practically identical. Schiaparelli also contended that these visible meteor showers were falling from a determinable position in the celestial sphere. It was Pietro Secchi's observations of the 1862 comet that confirmed Schiaparelli's hypothesis. Also, observations by Peters, Galle, Weiss, van Biela and d'Arrest in subsequent years agreed with Schiaparelli's theory. In 1873 in his Le Slelle cadenti along with his publication of publication of Norme perle osservazioni dellestelle cadenti dei bolidi in 1896 he was awarded the Lalande prize of the Academy of Sciences in Paris in 1868 In 1872 he received the gold medal and foreign associate-ship of the Royal Astronomical Society. Then his attention was focused on the double stars, but his results were only partially published.

In 1877 he had access to new equipment and began a detailed observation of Mars in order to map of the fundamental features of its surface. After many years of scrutinizing Mars he published it's most detailed map. He named the major Martian features using Latin and Mediterranean names found in ancient history, mythology, and the Bible. As an example, the light spot in the Southern Hemisphere he called Nix Olympia "the Snows of Olympus" that was known to be the largest volcano in the solar system and was re-christened Olympus Mons. The great triangular feature that Huygens first observed in 1669 he called Syrtis Major and bright patches were labeled Elysium, Cydonia, Tharsis, and Thyle. He detected an interesting network of broad lines that Pietro Secchi had previously called " canals " (canali). He named them after famous rivers of both fictional (Gehon, Hiddekel, and Phison from the rivers in the Garden of Eden, Lethes and Nepenthes from the underground realm of Hades), and the existing geographical (Ganges, Euphrates, and Niles) rivers.

Schiaparelli also viewed Mercury to examination the dark spots that formed the shadowy bands on the planet's surface. He eventually deduced that Mercury was revolving around the Sun in such a way that it always showed the same side to the Sun. He arrived at the same conclusion about Venus's rotation. Schiaparelli also observed and studied binary stars in order to understand their orbital systems.

He also contributed by aiding Nallino to translate the only existing Arabic text on astronomy (al-Batt-tni's Opus Asrrouonricunr) into Latin and added explanatory notes to many chapters. It was published after his death.

In 1902 he received the Bruce Metal. Also, named for him was the Lunar crater Schiaparelli, Martian crater Schiaparelli, Mercurian ridge Schiaparelli and a minor Planet # 4062 Schiaparelli. His observations of the canals, stimulated Percival Lowell to found his Arizona observatory and search for Life on Mars.

He died on July 4, 1910.