Johann Elert Bode

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Johann Elert Bode

Birthdate: (79)
Birthplace: Hamburg, Hamburg, Deutschland
Death: November 23, 1826 (79)
Berlin, Berlin, Deutschland
Immediate Family:

Son of Johann Jakob Bode and Margarethe Bode
Husband of Sophie Dorothea Bode; Johanna Christiane Bode and Charlotte Wilhelmine Bode
Father of son Bode; 4 children Bode and 3 children Bode
Brother of total 9 children Bode
Half brother of Johann Adam Bode

Managed by: Mathematics Genealogy Project
Last Updated:

About Johann Elert Bode

Johann Elert Bode (January 19, 1747 - November 23, 1826) Johann Elert Bode was born on January 19, 1747 in Hamburg, Germany, the son of Johann Jakob Bode (1719-1799), a merchant in Hamburg, and his wife Anna Margarethe b. Kruse (1720-1800), and the first of nine brothers and sisters. He never attended formal school, but was educated by his father, primarily in merchandizing, with the intention to make him the successor in his father's business at one time, and emphasizing on order and correctness in writing (Schwemin 2006). In his youth, Bode suffered from eye disease, which in particular damaged his right eye; he continued to suffer from eye problems on many occasions in later years. Also, he became interested in mathematics, geography and, eventually in astronomy. In 1765, following a serious illness of his father, the famous physician Heinrich Reimarus (1729-1814) introduced Bode to Johann Georg Büsch (1728-1800), a professor of mathamatics at the Hamburg Academic "Gymnasium," who was impressed by Bode's amateur calculations. Büsch allowed Bode to use his library and instruments for scientific self-education. In 1766, when he was 19 years old, Bode's first publication came out, treating the Solar Eclipse of August 5, 1766 (Bode 1766). Among his early observational highlights were the observation of the transit of Venus on June 3, 1769, the independent co-discovery of the comet of 1769 (C/1769 P1 Messier), and the observation of the comet of 1770 (P/Lexell).

Inspired by Büsch, in 1768, Bode published his popular book, "Anleitung zur Kenntnis des gestirnten Himmels" [Instruction for the Knowledge of the Starry Heavens], which was printed in a number of editions (Bode 1768). In the second edition of this book (Bode 1772), he included a new concluding chapter; in a footnote to this chapter, he stressed an empirical law on planetary distances, originally found by J.D. Titius (1729-96), now called "Bode's Law" or "Titius-Bode Law." It is now quite certain that Bode had found this "Law" in the work of Johann Daniel Titius (1729-1796), who had published it in additions to his translation of Charles Bonnet's "Contemplation de la nature" (Titius 1766) - however it is somewhat unclear why Bode didn't fully acknowledge Titius' priority on this empirical rule. Immediately after publication in January 1772, he sent one of the copies to Johann Heinrich Lambert (1728-1777), who was impressed enough to immediately enter a discussion in writing, the final result of which was that Bode was offered a position in the Berlin Academy of Sciences.

In August 1772, Bode went to Berlin, and accepted the position of a calculator, with the title of a Professor, at the Berlin Academy of Sciences. At that time, Johann (III.) Bernoulli (1744-1807) was the Academy Astronomer and director of the Berlin observatory, but did little observing. Bode immediately started busy work: First, he took over the calculations for the Schlesien Calendar, introduced by the old Christine Kirch (1696-1782), a grand-daughter of Gottfried Kirch. Together with Lambert, he founded the German language ephemeris, the Astronomisches Jahrbuch oder Ephemeriden [Astronomical Yearbook and Ephemeris] in 1774, later called simply Astronomisches Jahrbuch and then Berliner Astronomisches Jahrbuch, which he continued to publish alone after Lambert's untimely death in 1777, and continued to do so until his death in 1826.

In July 1774, Bode married Johanna Christiane Lange (1754-1782), the granddaughter of a sister of Christine Kirch; they had four children. Unfortunately, his wife died shortly after the birth of their fourth child. In the following year, 1783, he married Johanna's elder sister, Sophie Dorothea Lange (c. 1752-1790); they had one son, but she also died early, in 1790. A year later, he married his third wife, Charlotte Wilhelmine Lehmann (1752-1822); they had another three children.

In late 1774, Bode started to look for nebulae and star clusters in the sky, and observed 20 of them in 1774-1775. Among them are three original discoveries: M81 and M82 which he both discovered on December 31, 1774, and M53, discovered on February 3, 1775, as well as a newly cataloged asterism.

Bode merged his discoveries and other observed objects with those from other catalogs he had access, namely the existing objects and most of the asterisms and non-objects from Hevelius' catalog, the sufficiently northern objects from Lacaille's catalog, most of the 45 objects in the first 1771 edition of Messier's catalog, and some others, to a "Complete Catalog of hitherto observed Nebulous Stars and Star Clusters" of an overall 75 entries, which he published in 1777 in the "Astronomisches Jahrbuch" for 1779 (Bode 1777). Unfortunately, he added a large number of non-existing objects without verification, in particular from Hevelius, so that over 20 of his objects don't exist.

In the years following, he discovered two more objects: His original discovery of M92 occurred on December 31, 1777, and he found M64 on April 4, 1779, only 12 days after Edward Pigott had first discovered it. These two discoveries were announced along with the publication of Koehler's catalog in 1779 in the Astronomisches Jahrbuch for 1782. Consequently, he continued to compile catalogs and atlasses, and in his 1782 "Vorstellung der Gestirne" (Bode 1782): This work is based on charts from Jean Fortin's 1776 edition of John Flamsteed's Atlas Coelestis of 1729 (Flamsteed 1729, Fortin 1776), but enriched with the clusters and nebulae known to Bode at that time. In this work, in addition to those previously known, he first publishes his own independent rediscoveries of open clusters M48 (NGC 2548) in Hydra and IC 4665 in Ophiuchus.

On January 6, 1779, Johann Elert Bode discovered the comet of that year (C/1779 A1, 1779 Bode). It was on the occasion of observing this comet that astronomers Messier, Darquier, Koehler and Oriani discovered a number of "nebulae": M56, M57, M58, M59, M60, and M61. He also observed a number of other comets and calculated cometary orbits. In 1788 he and independently Capel Lofft predicted the return of the comet of 1661, C/1661, then observed by Hevelius, for 1789, but that comet was not found. It is now speculated that comet C/2002 C1 Ikeya-Zhang may be a reappearance of that comet.

Bode was greatly interested in the new planet discovered by William Herschel in March 1781. While Herschel always referred to this planet as "Georgium Sidus" to honor King George III of England, and Messier called it "Herschel" or "Herschel's Planet," and Peitnet de Sevoy, "Cybele," Bode proposed the name "Uranus," which was soon adopted by the rest of the world. Bode collected virtually all observations of this planet by various astronomers, published many of them in the Astronomisches Jahrbuch, and found that Uranus had been observed before its discovery on a number of occasions, among them an observation of Tobias Mayer from 1756, and earliest by Flamsteed, in December 1690, cataloged as "star" 34 Tauri.

After the time of 1781-1782, no significant observations by Bode of comets and nebulous objects are reported, probably a consequence of his work and interest on Uranus, increasing workload with his publications and duties within the Academy, also perhaps the death of his first wife in 1782, and recurring eye probelms.

In 1786, Bode was elected as a member of the Berlin academy, and in 1787 he succeeded Bernoulli as the Director of the Berlin Observatory.

In 1801 he published his famous and popular star atlas, Uranographia (Bode 1801), where he reproduced or introduced a number of new and strange constellaitons, including "Officina Typographica," "Apparatus Chemica," "Globus Aerostaticus," "Honores Frederici," "Felis," and "Custos Messium," all of which have not survived and vanished from modern star charts. Only "Quadrans Muralis," the Mural Quadrant, has survived in the name of the Quadrantid meteor stream, which has its radiant in that former constellation, now part of Bootes.

In 1825, after almost 40 years, Bode retired from the post of a director of the Berlin Observatory, and was succeeded by Johann Franz Encke (1791-1865). Johann Elert Bode died on November 23, 1826 in Berlin, Germany, when he was still working on the Jahrbuch for 1830.

Bode was honored by naming a Moon Crater after him (6.7N, 2.4W, 18.0 km diameter, in 1935); this had been first proposed by Wilhelm Gotthelf Lohrmann (1796-1840) as early as 1824. Asteroid (998) Bodea was named after him; it had been discovered on August 6, 1923 by Karl Wilhelm Reinmuth (1892-1979) in Heidelberg, provisionally desginated 1923 NU and on a later independent sighting, 1967 PA. Also, the galaxy M81 which he discovered is popularly known as "Bode's Nebula" or "Bode's Galaxy", and sometimes both M81 and M82 are referred to as "Bode's Nebulae" or "Bode's Galaxies".

Bode was the original discoverer of the deepsky objects M81, M82 (both December 31, 1774), M53 (February 3, 1775) and M92 (December 31, 1777), and independent rediscoverer of M64 (April 4, 1779), as well as M48 (NGC 2548) and IC 4665 (both before 1782).


Bode's "Complete Catalog of Nebulous Stars and Star Clusters" Bode's 1782 Catalog, extracted from his "Vorstellung der Gestirne." Johann Elert Bode images, NGC/IC observers page Some Johann Elert Bode info, Yann Pothier

Asteroid 998 Bodea (1923 NU) (NEO/JPL) References Berhard Sticker, 1970. Bode, Johann Elert. In: Charles Coulston Gillispie (ed.), 1970. Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vol. II, pp. 220-221. Scribner, New York. Kenneth Glyn Jones, 1969. The Search for the Nebulae -- VII. Journal of the British Astronomical Association, Vol. 79, No. 4 (1969), pp. 268-275. Reprinted in: The Search for the Nebulae. Chalfont St. Giles, 1975. Kenneth Glyn Jones, 1991. Messier's Nebulae and Star Clusters. 2nd ed, Cambridge University Press, p. 314. Friedhelm Schwemin, 2006. Der Berliner Astronom. Leben und Werk von Johann Elert Bode (1747-1826). Acta Historica Astronomiae, Vol. 30. Verlag Harri Deutsch, Frankfurt am Main. 200 pages. This new, comprehensive biography is the source for many updates here, in particular on Bode's personal life.

Johann Elert Bode, 1766. Berechnung und Entwurf der am 5ten August dieses 1766 Jahres eintretenden Sonnenfinsternis [Calculation and Design of the Solar Eclipse occuring on the 5th of August of this 1766 year]. Dietrich Anton Harmsen, Hamburg. Johann Elert Bode, 1768. Anleitung zur Kenntniß des gestirnten Himmels auf jede einzele Monate des Jahres eingerichtet [sic] [Instruction for the Knowledge of the Starry Heavens adjusted to each single month of the year]. Dietrich Anton Harmsen, Hamburg. Johann Elert Bode, 1772. Deutliche Anleitung zur Kenntniß des gestirnten Himmels [Clear Instruction for the Knowledge of the Starry Heavens]. Dietrich Anton Harmsen, Hamburg. Further editions of the "Anleitung" were issued in 1777, 1778, 1788, 1792, 1801, 1806, 1823, and posthumously in 1844, 1858, and 1867 (the latter three edited by Carl Bremiker (1804-1877)) and another one in 1861, all in Berlin, and in 1857 in Vienna. Translations came out in Denmark and Holland. Johann Elert Bode, 1777. Ueber einige neuentdeckte Nebelsterne und einem vollständigen Verzeichnisse der bisher bekannten, von Herrn Bode [On some newly discovered nebulous stars and a complete catalog of those hitherto known, by Mr. Bode]. Astronomisches Jahrbuch oder Ephemeriden für das Jahr 1779. nebst einer Sammlung der neuesten in die astronomischen Wissenschaften einschlagenden Beobachtungen, Nachrichten, Bemerkungen und Abhandlungen [Astronomical Yearbook or Ephemerides for the Year 1779. besides a collection of the newest observations, news, remarks and treatises impacting into the astronomical sciences]. Berlin, 1777, pp. 65-71 & Tab. IV, Fig. 1-15. English translation available online. Johann Elert Bode, 1779. Astronomisches Jahrbuch oder Ephemeriden für das Jahr 1782. nebst einer Sammlung der neuesten in die astronomischen Wissenschaften einschlagenden Beobachtungen, Nachrichten, Bemerkungen und Abhandlungen. Berlin, 1779, p. 156 (appended to the publication of the Koehler catalog). Johann Elert Bode, 1782. Vorstellung der Gestirne auf XXXIV Kupfertafeln [Presentation of the Stars on XXXIV (34) Copper Plates]. Gottlieb August Lange, Berlin and Stralsund. Reprinted 1973, 1978, and 1991 in a colored version by Treugesell Verlag Dr. Vehrenberg, Düsseldorf. A 2003 reprint of most of this work (leaving our the star catalog) is available from Astaria Verlag; this reprint is from the copy of the Landessternwarte Heidelberg. Parts of this work are available online at the Landessternwarte Heidelberg. An extracted catalog of clusters and nebulae from this work is available online. Johann Elert Bode, 1801. Uranographia, sive astrorum descriptio viginti tabulis aeneis incisa ex recentissimis et absolutissimis Astronomorum observationibus [Atlas], and Allgemeine Beschreibung und Nachweisung der Gestirne nebst Verzeichnis der geraden Aufsteigung und der Abweichung von 17240 Sternen. Berlin, from the author, 2 Vol., 4 pages + 20 charts and 32 + 96 pages, respectively. John Flamsteed, 1729. Atlas Coelestis. By the late John Flamsteed. Edited by Margaret Flamsteed and James Hodgson. London. Jean Fortin, 1776. Atlas Céleste de Flamstéed, approuve par l'Académie Royale des Sciences, et publié sous le privilege de cette Compagnie. Seconde Édition. F.G. Deschamps, Paris. Johann Daniel Titius, 1766. Betrachtungen über die Natur. Leipzig.

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Johann Elert Bode's Timeline

January 19, 1747
Hamburg, Hamburg, Deutschland
Age 27
Age 37
Age 44
November 23, 1826
Age 79
Berlin, Berlin, Deutschland