In collaboration with the
International Astronomical Union


Category of Astronomical Heritage: tangible immovable
Lord Rosse's Leviathan of Parsonstown, Birr Castle, Irland

Format: IAU - Outstanding Astronomical Heritage Description

Description

Geographical position 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 198
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 2
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-06-20 00:41:13
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

Lord Rosse’s Leviathan of Parsonstown, Birr Castle, Birr, County Offaly, Leinster, Irland

 

Location 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 198
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 2
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-06-20 00:42:35
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

Latitude 53°05′48″ N, Longitude 7°55′03″ WCoordinates: 53°05′48″N 7°55′03″W , Elevation ...m above mean sea level.

 

IAU observatory code 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 198
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 1
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-06-20 00:39:06
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

-

 

Description of (scientific/cultural/natural) heritage 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 198
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 3
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-06-20 03:03:41
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

 

Lord Rosse’s Large Reflecting Telescope, at

Fig. 1. Lord Rosse’s Large Reflecting Telescope, at Parsonstown, Birr Castle (Wikipedia)


 

William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse (1800--1867) (S

Fig. 2. William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse (1800--1867) (Steinicke)



William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse (1800--1867), was very skilful in casting, grinding and polishing his large telescope mirrors from speculum metal. He even constructed steam-powered grinding machines for parabolic mirrors.



Lord Rosse’s 3 foot (91-cm) mirror of 1839/4

Fig. 3. Lord Rosse’s 3 foot (91-cm) mirror of 1839/40 (focal length 7.9m) (Steinicke)



He started in 1839 with a 3 foot (91-cm) mirror of focal length 7.9m. He first casted smaller pieces and put them together before grinding.

His succeeded in 1840 to cast the mirror in one piece.
For his 6-foot-Leviathan he made six casts in the years 1842 to 1845 and had finally two useable mirrors. He could observe with one mirror while he repolished the other one.
In 1845 also the altazimuth mounting was ready for the mirror which weighed about 3 tons.



Lord Rosse’s Leviathan (1885), with Lawrence

Fig. 4. Lord Rosse’s Leviathan (1885), with Lawrence Parsons, 4th Earl of Rosse (1840--1908) (Wikipedia)



The Leviathan, a 6 foot reflecting telescope (Newtonian telescope) of 183-cm aperture (72-inch), focal length 16.5m, was the largest telescope in the world from 1845 until the construction of the 100-inch (2.5-m) Hooker Telescope, Mt. Wilson, California, in 1917.

Nebular research was considerably advanced by William Parsons, third Earl of Rosse (1800--1867), who was interested in the structure of nebulae. He was a keen observer; with his metal reflecting telescopes (Newton) in Birr Castle near Parsonstown, Ireland, he had the best equipment of his time. With it, he recognised the spiral structure of M 51 and many other nebulae from 1845 onwards -- with the help of his assistants.



Spiral structure of M51, later known as the Whirlp

Fig. 5a. Spiral structure of M51, later known as the Whirlpool Galaxy, Drawing by 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1845, based on observations using the Leviathan (Wikipedia)


M 51 in the Canes Venatici, photographed by Isaac

Fig. 5b. M 51 in the Canes Venatici, photographed by Isaac Roberts (1829--1904) in 1889 with the 51cm mirror - exposure of 3.5 hours



The photograph of M 51 in the Canes Venatici (Hunting Dogs) by Isaac Roberts (1829--1904) in 1889 with the 51cm mirror shows a remarkable similarity to Lord Rosse’s visual observation.
 

With the largest telescope in the world at the time, he found that many of these "spiral nebulae" were resolvable into stars, but Lord Rosse still considered the "spiral nebulae" to be star clusters in our Milky Way and not extragalactic objects. In the spirals or vortices he saw centres of the formation of new stars by condensation. This seemed to confirm Laplace’s theory. Even at the turn of the century, the Chamberlin-Moulton hypothesis (Brush 1978) stated that spiral nebulae evolve into solar systems.

 

 

History 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 198
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 2
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-06-20 02:42:03
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

Six-foot telescope, three-foot telescope, and Birr

Fig. 6. Six-foot telescope, three-foot telescope, and Birr castle (Painting by Henrietta Crompton, Wikipedia)



Instruments



  • 3 foot (91-cm) mirror (1839/40), focal length 7.9m
  • 6 foot (183-cm, 72-inch) reflecting telescope (1845), focal length 16.5m


Rosse’s six-foot-telescope-mirror (Science M

Fig. 7. Rosse’s six-foot-telescope-mirror (Science Museum London, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, Geni)

 

State of preservation 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 198
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 2
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-06-20 02:42:40
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

Leviathan, Birr Castle (Wikipedia, Albert White)

Fig. 8. Leviathan, Birr Castle (Wikipedia, Albert White)



The Large Telescope of Lord Rosse is well reconstructed.
The original mirror is preserved in the Science Museum London.

 

Comparison with related/similar sites 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 198
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 2
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-06-20 02:43:06
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

There existed two other large reflecting telescopes in Endland and Scotland ....

 

Threats or potential threats 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 198
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 2
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-06-20 02:43:26
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

no threats

 

Present use 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 198
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 2
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-06-20 02:43:51
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

Reconstructed Leviathan, Birr Castle (Wikipedia, C

Fig. 9. Reconstructed Leviathan, Birr Castle (Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Tpower)



The reconstructed Leviathan in Birr Castle is used as a public observatory.

 

Astronomical relevance today 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 198
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 2
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-06-20 02:44:13
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

The historical telescope has no relevance for modern astronomy, but an important significance for history of science.

A LOFAR radio-telescope station was added in 2017.

 

References

Bibliography (books and published articles) 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 198
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 3
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-06-20 02:56:37
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

  • Brush, S.: A Geologist among Astronomers: The Rise and Fall of the Chamberlin-Moulton Cosmogony. In: Journal for the History of Astronomy 9 (1978), p. 1--41, 77--104.
     
  • Hoskin, Michael: The First Drawing of a Spiral Nebula. In: Journal of the History of Astronomy 13 (1982), p. 97--101.
  • Hoskin, Michael: Rosse, Robinson, and the Resolution of the Nebulae. In: Journal of the History of Astronomy 22 (1991), p. 331--344.
     
  • King, Henry C.: The History of the Telescope. London 1955, p. 206--217.
     
  • Moore, Patrick: The Astronomy of Birr Castle. London 1971.
  • Moore, Patrick: The Astronomy of Birr Castle. Birr: The Tribune Printing and Publishing Group 1981.
  • Moore, Patrick: The Leviathan Reborn. In: Sky & Telescope 94  (1997), 5, p. 52.
     
  • Nichol, J.P.: The Architecture of the Heavens. London (9th ed..) 1851.
     
  • Obituary: MNRAS 29 (1869), 123; Proceedings of the Royal  Society 16 (1867), XXXVI.
     
  • Parsons, C.: The Scientific Papers of William Parsons Third Earl of Rosse 1800--1867. London 1926.
     
  • Parsons, William (Lord Rosse): Observations on the Nebulae. In: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 140 (1850), p. 499--514.
     
  • Parsons, William: On the Construction of Specula of Six-feet Aperture; and a selection from the Observations of nebulae made with them. In: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 151 (1861), p. 681--745.
     
  • Parsons, William: The Construction of Specula of Six-feet Aperture and a selection from the Observations of Nebulae made with them. Part 3. In: Scientific Transactions of the Royal Dublin Society. 1861, p. 681--745 (London: Taylor & Francis 1862).
     
  • Parsons, William: Observations of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars Made With the Six-foot and Three-foot Reflectors at Birr Castle From the Year 1848 up to the Year 1878. Part 1--2. In: Scientific Transactions of the Royal Dublin Society, Vol. 2, Ser. II. Dublin: Royal Dublin Society 1880, p. 1--178.
     
  • Roberts, Isaac: A Selection of Photographs of Stars, Star-clusters and Nebulae, Volume II. London: The Universal Press 1899.
     
  • Wolfschmidt, Gudrun: Milchstraße Nebel Galaxien - Strukturen im Kosmos von Herschel bis Hubble. München: Deutsches Museum (Abhandlungen und Berichte, Neue Folge, Band 11). München: Oldenbourg-Verlag 1995.

 

 

Links to external sites 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 198
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 2
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-06-20 02:46:34
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

 

Links to external on-line pictures 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 198
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 1
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-06-20 00:39:06
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

no information available

 

  • PrintPrint contents of 'Description' tab
    (opens in a new window)
  • Theme

    Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century

    Case Study Navigation