Christian Heinrich Friedrich Peters

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Christian Heinrich Friedrich Peters
Born(1813-09-19)September 19, 1813
DiedJuly 18, 1890(1890-07-18) (aged 76)
Known forasteroids
Scientific career
InstitutionsHamilton College

Christian Heinrich Friedrich Peters (September 19, 1813 – July 18, 1890) was a German–American astronomer and professor at Hamilton College, New York, and a pioneer in the study and visual discovery of asteroids. His name is often given as C. H. F. Peters.[1][2]


He was born in Koldenbüttel in Schleswig, then part of Denmark, but which was later annexed to Germany. His younger brother was the German explorer Wilhelm Peters.[3] He received a Ph.D from the University of Berlin in 1836 and thereafter continued his studies in Göttingen with the renowned mathematician Karl Friedrich Gauss. From 1838 to 1843 he was engaged in surveys of Mount Etna, in Sicily, where he also made astronomical observations, and afterwards participated in the complete geodetic survey of the island.[4]

During the Revolutions of 1848, Peters became involved with some of the radical, antimonarchical groups in Sicily that brought him to the attention of authorities. He subsequently fled to France and eventually to the Ottoman Empire, where he became a government advisor.[5] At the suggestion of the resident U.S. consul in Istanbul, George P. Marsh, he emigrated to the United States in 1854. After an appointment as director of the new Dudley Observatory in Albany fell through, he made his way to Clinton, New York, where he was made director of the Litchfield Observatory at Hamilton College in 1858, and professor of astronomy in 1867. He was the first member of the Hamilton faculty to hold a Ph.D degree.[6]

In 1874, Peters headed a United States Naval Observatory expedition to Queenstown, New Zealand, to observe the Transit of Venus. The visit is marked with a plaque, campaigned for by Sarah Salmond.[7]

In 1878, Peters was elected as a member of the American Philosophical Society.[8]

Working at Hamilton College's Litchfield Observatory in Clinton, New York (near Utica), he was a prolific discoverer of asteroids, discovering 48 of them, beginning with 72 Feronia in 1861 and ending with 287 Nephthys in 1889.[9] Besides asteroids, he co-discovered the periodic comet 80P/Peters–Hartley, and also discovered various nebulae and galaxies.[citation needed]

Beginning in 1889, Peters was involved in litigation with his former student and assistant Charles A. Borst, in what became known as the "Great Star-Catalog Case".[10] While working for Peters as assistant director of the Litchfield Observatory, Borst had spent his spare time gathering an extensive amount of data for a new and revised star chart based on preliminary work done by Peters. When it came time to publish the results, however, Peters attempted to claim the entire project as his own, arguing that Borst was merely an employee and not a formal collaborator and that the research was his property as head of the observatory. Peters sued to force Borst to turn over the observational data he had collected.[11] The judge found for Peters, but many astronomers and newspapers sided with Borst and Peters died not long after. The initial judgment was ultimately reversed on appeal and a new trial was ordered, but it never took place. The eminent astronomer Simon Newcomb devotes a chapter in his memoirs to Peters, as an object lesson in how great scientific talent and poor ethical standards may coexist in a single individual.[12]

He died July 18, 1890, in Utica. Historian William Sheehan notes, "Peters was found lying, a half-burned cigar at his fingertips, on the doorstep of the building where he lodged; observing cap on his head, he had fallen in the line of duty, on the way to the observatory the night before."[1]


Main-belt asteroid 100007 Peters, discovered by Eric Walter Elst at La Silla Observatory in 1988, was named in his memory, based on a suggestion by French amateur astronomer Michel-Alain Combes (born 1942).[2] The asteroid measures approximately 7.5 kilometers in diameter and belongs to the carbonaceous Alauda family. The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 5 January 2015 (M.P.C. 91792).[13]

List of discovered minor planets[edit]

Between 1861 and 1889, C. H. F. Peters discovered 48 asteroids at Litchfield Observatory (789) at Hamilton College, New York, where he enjoyed the title "Litchfield professor of astronomy".[1][9]

72 Feronia 29 May 1861 list
75 Eurydike 22 September 1862 list
77 Frigga 12 November 1862 list
85 Io 19 September 1865 list
88 Thisbe 15 June 1866 list
92 Undina 7 July 1867 list
98 Ianthe 18 April 1868 list
102 Miriam 22 August 1868 list
109 Felicitas 9 October 1869 list
111 Ate 14 August 1870 list
112 Iphigenia 19 September 1870 list
114 Kassandra 23 July 1871 list
116 Sirona 8 September 1871 list
122 Gerda 31 July 1872 list
123 Brunhild 31 July 1872 list
124 Alkeste 23 August 1872 list
129 Antigone 5 February 1873 list
130 Elektra 17 February 1873 list
131 Vala 24 May 1873 list
135 Hertha 18 February 1874 list
144 Vibilia 3 June 1875 list
145 Adeona 3 June 1875 list
160 Una 20 February 1876 list
165 Loreley 9 August 1876 list
166 Rhodope 15 August 1876 list
167 Urda 28 August 1876 list
176 Iduna 14 October 1877 list
185 Eunike 1 March 1878 list
188 Menippe 18 June 1878 list
189 Phthia 9 September 1878 list
190 Ismene 22 September 1878 list
191 Kolga 30 September 1878 list
194 Prokne 21 March 1879 list
196 Philomela 14 May 1879 list
199 Byblis 9 July 1879 list
200 Dynamene 27 July 1879 list
202 Chryseïs 11 September 1879 list
203 Pompeja 25 September 1879 list
206 Hersilia 13 October 1879 list
209 Dido 22 October 1879 list
213 Lilaea 16 February 1880 list
234 Barbara 12 August 1883 list
249 Ilse 16 August 1885 list
259 Aletheia 28 June 1886 list
261 Prymno 31 October 1886 list
264 Libussa 22 December 1886 list
270 Anahita 8 October 1887 list
287 Nephthys 25 August 1889 list


  1. ^ a b c Sheehan, William. "Christian Heinrich Friedrich Peters – A Biographical Memoir" (PDF). National Academy of Science (PDF). Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  2. ^ a b "100007 Peters (1988 CP4)". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
  3. ^ Landeskirchliches Archiv der Evang.-Luth. Kirche, Kirchenkreis Nordfriesland, Koldenbüttel, Taufen 1779-1873
  4. ^ Sheehan, pp. 4-5
  5. ^ Sheehan, p. 6
  6. ^ Walter Pilkington, Hamilton College, 1812-1962, pp. 197-8
  7. ^ Mary Creese (2010). Ladies in the Laboratory III: South African, Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian women in science : nineteenth and early twentieth centuries ; a survey of their contributions. ISBN 978-0-810-87288-2. OCLC 699866310. Wikidata Q104657105.
  8. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2021-05-12.
  9. ^ a b "Minor Planet Discoverers (by number)". Minor Planet Center. 28 October 2018. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  10. ^
  11. ^ "At War about the Stars," The New York Times (February 1, 1889)
  12. ^ Simon Newcomb, The Reminiscences of an Astronomer, (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1903), p. 372-381
  13. ^ "MPC/MPO/MPS Archive". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 13 February 2019.

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