Charles Piazzi Smyth

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Charles Piazzi Smyth (January 3, 1819 – February 21, 1900), was Astronomer Royal for Scotland from 1846 to 1888, well-known for many innovations in astronomy and his pyramidological and metrological studies of the Great Pyramid of Giza.


Astronomical career

Charles Piazzi Smyth[1] was born in Naples, Italy to Captain (later Admiral) William Henry Smyth and his wife Annarella. He was called Piazzi after his godfather, the Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi, whose acquaintance his father had made at Palermo when serving in the Mediterranean. His father subsequently settled at Bedford and equipped there an observatory, at which Piazzi Smyth received his first lessons in astronomy. At the age of sixteen he became an assistant to Sir Thomas Maclear at the Cape of Good Hope, where he observed Halley's comet and the Great Comet of 1843, and took an active part in the verification and extension of Nicolas Louis de Lacaille's arc of the meridian.

In 1846 he was appointed Astronomer Royal for Scotland, based at the Calton Hill Observatory in Edinburgh, and professor of astronomy in the University of Edinburgh. Shortly after his appointment, the observatory was placed under the control of Her Majesty's Treasury and suffered from a long series of under-funding. Because of this, most of his notable work in astronomy was done elsewhere. Here he completed the reduction, and continued the series, of the observations made by his predecessor, Thomas James Henderson. In 1853, Smyth was responsible for installing the time ball on top of Nelson's Monument in Edinburgh to give a time signal to the ships at Edinburgh's port of Leith. By 1861, this visual signal was augmented by the One O'Clock Gun at Edinburgh Castle.

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