Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

2014 Edition
| Editors: Thomas Hockey, Virginia Trimble, Thomas R. Williams, Katherine Bracher, Richard A. Jarrell, Jordan D. MarchéII, JoAnn Palmeri, Daniel W. E. Green

Michell, John

  • Laurent HodgesEmail author
Reference work entry

BornNottinghamshire, England, 1724

DiedThornhill, (West Yorkshire), England, 21 April 1793

Reverend John Michell demonstrated the existence of binary stars and physical star clusters, predicted the existence of black holes, and made the first realistic estimate of the distance to a star, all major intellectual achievements for an eighteenth-century English scientist – clergyman.

Michell is thought to have been born in Nottinghamshire, perhaps on Christmas Day 1724, but that is uncertain. There are no portraits available, and only a brief description of him as “a little short man, of a black complexion, and fat” exists in a contemporary diary. It is known that he married a Sarah Williamson in 1764 but that she died the next year.

In 1742 Michell became a student at Queens’ College, Cambridge University, from which he received his MA (1752) and BD (1761) degrees. During this time he held the first of several rectorships at churches in the region.

In 1767 Michell published a paper on...

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Selected References

  1. Cavendish, Henry (1798). “Experiments to determine the Density of the Earth.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 88: 469–526.Google Scholar
  2. Clerke, Agnes M. (1921–1922). “Michell, John.” In Dictionary of National Biography, edited by Sir Leslie Stephen and Sir Sidney Lee, Vol. 13, pp. 333–334. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Michell, John (1760). “Conjectures concerning the cause, and Observations upon the Phaenomena of Earthquakes; particularly of that great Earthquake of the first of November, 1755, which proved so fatal to the City of Lisbon, and whose Effects were felt as far as Africa, and more or less throughout almost all Europe.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 51: 566–634.Google Scholar
  4. — (1767). “An Inquiry into the probable Parallax, and Magnitude, of the fixed Stars, from the Quantity of Light which they afford us, and the particular Circumstances of their Situation.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 57: 234–264.Google Scholar
  5. — (1784). “On the Means of discovering the Distance, Magnitude, & c. of the Fixed Stars, in consequence of the Diminution of the Velocity of their Light, in case such a Diminution should be found to take place in any of them, and such other Data should be procured from Observations, as would be farther necessary for that Purpose.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 74: 35–57.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Iowa State UniversityAmesUSA