Benjamin Apthorp Gould

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Benjamin Apthorp Gould

Birthplace: Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States
Death: November 26, 1896 (72)
Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States
Place of Burial: Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Benjamin Apthorp Gould and Lucretia Dana Gould
Husband of Mary Apthorp Gould
Father of Susan Morton Quincy Gould; Lucretia Goddard Gould; George Gould; Alice Bache Gould and Benjamin Athrop Gould
Brother of Nathan Goddard Gould; Lucretia Goddard Ellis and Louisa McMurtrie

Managed by: David Weldon Ring
Last Updated:

About Benjamin Apthorp Gould

Benjamin Apthorp Gould was a pioneering American astronomer. He is noted for creating the Astronomical Journal, discovering the Gould Belt, and for founding of the Argentine National Observatory and the Argentine National Weather Service.

He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, son of Benjamin Apthorp Gould, the principal of Boston Latin School, which the younger Gould attended. His mother was Lucretia Dana Goddard. The poet Hannah Flagg Gould was his aunt. After going on to Harvard College and graduating in 1844, he studied mathematics and astronomy under C. F. Gauss at Göttingen, Germany, during which time he published approximately 20 papers on the observation and motion of comets and asteroids. Following completion of his Ph.D. (he was the first American to receive this degree in astronomy) he toured European observatories asking for advice on what could be done to further astronomy as a professional science in the U.S.A. The main advice he received was to start a professional journal modeled after what was then the world's leading astronomical publication, the Astronomische Nachrichten.

Gould returned to America in 1848 and from 1852 to 1867 was in charge of the longitude department of the United States Coast Survey. He developed and organized the service, was one of the first to determine longitudes by telegraphic means, and employed the Atlantic cable in 1866 to establish accurate longitude-relations between Europe and America.

After his return to Cambridge, Massachusetts, Gould started the Astronomical Journal in 1849, which he published until 1861. He resumed publication in 1885 and it is still published today. From 1855 to 1859 he acted as director of the Dudley Observatory at Albany, New York, and in 1859 published a discussion of the places and proper motions of circumpolar stars to be used as standards by the United States Coast Survey. In 1861 he undertook the enormous task of preparing for publication the records of astronomical observations made at the U.S. Naval Observatory since 1850.

In 1851 Gould suggested numbering asteroids in their order of discovery, and placing this number in a disk (circle) as the generic symbol of an asteroid.

In 1864 he was admitted to the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati to represent his grandfather Captain Benjamin Gould. In the 1890s he became an early member of the Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Appointed in 1862 actuary to the United States Sanitary Commission, he issued in 1869 an important volume of Military and Anthropological Statistics. In 1864 he fitted up a private observatory at Cambridge, Massachusetts, and undertook in 1868, on behalf of the Argentine republic, to organize a national observatory at Córdoba. In 1871 he became the first director of the Argentine National Observatory (today, Observatorio Astronómico de Córdoba of the National University of Córdoba). While there, he and four assistants extensively mapped the southern hemisphere skies using newly developed photometric methods. On June 1, 1884, he made the last definite sighting of the Great Comet of 1882. The need of astronomers for good weather prediction spurred Gould to collaborate with Argentine colleagues to develop the Argentine National Weather Service, the first in South America.

Gould's measurements of L. M. Rutherfurd's photographs of the Pleiades in 1866 entitle him to rank as a pioneer in the use of the camera as an instrument of precision; and he secured at Córdoba 1400 negatives of southern star clusters, the reduction of which occupied the closing years of his life. He remained in Argentina until 1885, when he returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts. He received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1883 and the James Craig Watson Medal in 1887. Astronomers continue to investigate the astrophysics of a large scale feature of the Milky Way to which he called their attention in 1877, and honor him with its name, The Gould Belt. A crater on the Moon is named after him. Gould was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1892. He died at Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1896.

In 1874 Gould completed his greatest work, the Uranometria Argentina (published 1879), for which he received in 1883 the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. The publication assigned Gould designations to all bright stars within 100 degrees of the south celestial pole in a manner similar to what Flamsteed had earlier done for the northern hemisphere. An updated version, to which late 20th century data have been appended to the complete information for all stars in the original Uranometria Argentina, is available at

Gould followed his Uranometria Argentina with a zone-catalogue of 73,160 stars (1884), and a general catalogue (1885) compiled from meridian observations of 32,448 stars.

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Benjamin Apthorp Gould's Timeline

September 27, 1824
Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States
January 5, 1868
February 8, 1870
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
November 26, 1896
Age 72
Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States
Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States