Reference Work Entry

Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

pp 689-689


Fabricius, David

Born Esens, (Niedersachsen, Germany), 9 March 1564

Died Resterhave, (Niedersachsen, Germany), 7 May 1617

David Fabricius is remembered today as the discoverer of the long-period variable star Mira in the constellation of Cetus.

David Fabricius was a Lutheran clergyman who pursued interests in astrology, astronomy, and cartography on a highly sophisticated level. The son of a smith, Fabricius attended Latin school in Braunschweig, where he studied mathematics and astronomy with Heinrich Lampe. Fabricius entered the University of Helmstadt in 1583 to study theology, and shortly thereafter established a home with his new wife in the East Frisian village of Resterhave.

In 1596, while observing Jupiter in the constellation of Cetus, Fabricius discovered the variable star Mira Ceti. He later wrote several tracts on this discovery, comparing its significance with the supernova of 1572. Having initiated a correspondence with Tycho Brahe , Fabricius visited Brahe in Wandsberg in 1598. Fabricius soon became thoroughly familiar with Brahe’s observational methods and planetary system. In May 1601 Fabricius visited Brahe a second time, in Prague.

Fabricius befriended Johannes Kepler through frequent correspondence following the death of Brahe in October 1601. Kepler considered Fabricius to be Europe’s finest observational astronomer. But Kepler grew impatient with Fabricius’ loyalty to the Tychonic system and his opposition to physical astronomy, and finally broke off their correspondence in November 1608. Fabricius’ many other astronomical correspondents included Willem Blaeu , Johannes Erikson, Simon Mayr , and Matthias Seiffart. David’s son Johannes Fabricius , is considered today to have been the first to discover sunspots and, consequently, the rotation of the Sun, in 1611.

A local parishioner whom Fabricius had recently admonished from the pulpit struck down Fabricius with a blow to the head. Fabricius was father to eight children.

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