Reference Work Entry

Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

pp 1225-1226

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Klinkerfues, Ernst Friedrich Wilhelm

  • Christof A. PlichtAffiliated withArbeitsgemeinschaft Hildesheimer Amateurastronomen Email author 

Born Hofgeismar, (Hessen, Germany), 29 March 1827

Died Göttingen, Germany, 28 January 1884

Textbook author Ernst F. W. Klinkerfues discovered eight comets and contributed to meteor theory. The son of Johann Reinhard and Sabine (née Dedolph) Klinkerfues, Ernst Klinkerfues was supported by relatives during a difficult youth. After school (gymnasium and polytechnic school) he worked as a surveyor with a railroad company.

From 1847 to 1851 Klinkerfues studied astronomy and mathematics in Marburg. In 1851, Carl Gauss accepted him as assistant at the Göttingen Observatory. After Gauss’ death in 1855 the physicist Wilhelm Weber (1894–1891) was director of the observatory. Klinkerfues wrote his doctoral thesis on “A New Method to Calculate the Orbits of Binary Stars” and received his doctoral honors in 1855. Klinkerfues discovered or codiscovered eight comets in the years 1853–1863. His work was not only on astronomy, but also on meteorological themes. In addition to other instruments, Klinkerfues constructed a hygrometer. Klinkerfues published several texts. His main work, Theoretische Astronomie, was first printed in 1871; in it, he introduced the term meteor-shower radiant. Klinkerfues was a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (1882).

From 1861 on Klinkerfues was responsible for the observatory; from 1868 he was head of the department for practical astronomy, while the mathematician E. Schering led the theoretical department. Thus, Klinkerfues never reached his aim to be fully in charge of the astronomical work at Göttingen. Financial difficulties, health problems, and the struggle for the leading position in astronomy at Göttingen Observatory took its toll: Klinkerfues committed suicide.

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