Heinrich Schwabe

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Samuel Heinrich Schwabe
Born(1789-10-25)25 October 1789
Died11 April 1875(1875-04-11) (aged 85)
Known forsunspots
AwardsGold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1857)
Scientific career

Samuel Heinrich Schwabe (25 October 1789 – 11 April 1875) was a German amateur astronomer remembered for his work on sunspots. He observed sunspots and made drawings of them from 1825 to 1867 and suggested in 1838 that there may be a ten-year cycle of sunspot activity. He also took an interest in botany and was a founding member of a natural history society in Dessau.

Life and work[edit]

Schwabe was born in Dessau, Germany, where his father was a physician to the duke. His mother was the daughter of apothecary Johann H. G. Häseler (1740-1812) and he too trained to be one in 1806 by joining the Dessau Mohrenapotheke owned by Häseler. After about three years he began to study at the University of Berlin training in pharmacy under Martin Heinrich Klaproth and Sigismund Friedrich Hermbstädt. He also took an interest in astronomy and botany and was forced to stop studies when his grandfather Häseler fell ill. After the death of Häseler in 1812, Schwabe was forced to take over the family pharmacy business and the family became prosperous. He spent his spare time in scientific pursuits but it was only after selling off the business that he began to attend to scientific activities fulltime.[1]

Grave stone in Dessau

Schwabe obtained his first telescope through a lottery in 1825 and began his observations on sunspots from 30 October 1825.[2] In 1826 he obtained a better telescope, a 4.8-in. Fraunhofer refractor that was used by Wilhelm Lohrmann to map the Moon. From 1829 he was completely involved in scientific work. Schwabe was looking for a theoretical planet inside the orbit of Mercury, known as Vulcan. Because of the proximity to the Sun, it would have been very difficult to observe such a planet, and Schwabe believed one possibility to detect a new planet might be to see it during its transit in front of the Sun. For 17 years, from 1826 to 1843, on every clear day, Schwabe would scan the Sun and record its spots trying to detect any new planet among them. He kept notes but was not interested in publishing his results. His first note was a letter to Heinrich Schumacher which was published in Astronomical Nachrichten (no. 495). Although he did not find any planet transiting the solar disc he noticed the regular variation in the number of sunspots and published his findings in a short article entitled "Solar Observations during 1843".[3] In it he made the suggestion of a probable ten-year period (i.e. that at every tenth year the number of spots reached a maximum). This paper at first attracted little attention, but Rudolf Wolf who was at that time the director of Bern observatory, was impressed so he began regular observations of sunspots. Schwabe's observations were afterwards utilized in 1850 by Alexander von Humboldt in the third volume of his Kosmos.[4] The periodicity of sunspots is now fully recognized; and to Schwabe is thus due the credit of one of the most important discoveries in astronomy.[5] Data from his notes and 8486 drawings has been digitized and analyzed.[6][7] They have helped fill in gaps in the data collected by Rudolf Wolf from 1848.[8] Schwabe also made observations of the Great Red Spot of Jupiter and made notes of it in 1831 although these were only noticed and published in 1899.[9]

Schwabe was involved in founding a natural history society in Dessau where he served as its president. He contributed many mineral specimens to the collections of the society. In 1838 and 1839 he published his notes on botany in two volumes under the title Flora Anhaltina, describing nearly 2000 plant species.[1][10]

In 1857 Schwabe was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. The medal was presented by Richard Carrington in Dessau and the honor influenced Schwabe to bequeath his notes to the Royal Astronomical Society which elected him as a member in 1868.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Sheehan, William (2014). "Schwabe, Samuel Heinrich". In Hockey, Thomas; Trimble, Virginia; Williams, Thomas R.; Bracher, Katherine; Jarrell, Richard A.; Marché, Jordan D.; Palmeri, JoAnn; Green, Daniel W. E. (eds.). Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (2 ed.). New York, NY: Springer New York. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-9917-7. ISBN 978-1-4419-9916-0.
  2. ^ Chisholm 1911, p. 387.
  3. ^ Schwabe, Heinrich (1844). "Sonnenbeobachtungen im Jahre 1843" [Observations of the sun in the year 1843]. Astronomische Nachrichten (in German). 21 (15): 233–236. Bibcode:1844AN.....21..233S. doi:10.1002/asna.18440211505. From page 235: "Vergleicht man nun die Zahl der Gruppen und der flecken-freien Tage mit einander, so findet man, dass die Sonnenflecken eine Periode von ungefähr 10 Jahren hatten … " (If one compares the number of groups [of sunspots] and the sunspot-free days with one another, then one finds that the sunspots had a period of about 10 years … )
  4. ^ Humboldt, Alexander von (1850). Kosmos: Entwurf einer physischen Weltbeschreibung [Cosmos: Outline of a physical description of the world] (in German). Vol. 3. Stuttgart and Tübingen, (Germany): J. G. Cotta'scher Verlag. pp. 401–402. From pp. 401–402: "Die in der nachfolgenden Tabelle enthaltenen Zahlen lassen wohl keinen Zweifel übrig, daß wenigstens vom Jahre 1826 bis 1850 eine Periode der Sonnenflecken von ohngefähr 10 Jahren in der Art statt gefunden hat: … " (The numbers contained in the following table leave no doubt that at least from the year 1826 to 1850, a period for sunspots of about 10 years or so has occurred: … )
    • English translation: Humboldt, Alexander von; Otte, E.C., trans.; Paul, B.H., trans. (1868). Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe. Vol. 4. New York, New York, USA: Harper & Brothers. p. 85.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) From p. 85: "The numbers contained in the following table leave no doubt that, at least from the year 1826 to 1850, the occurrence of [sun] spots has been so far characterized by periods of ten years, … "
  5. ^ Chisholm 1911, pp. 387–388.
  6. ^ Arlt, R. (2011). "The sunspot observations by Samuel Heinrich Schwabe". Astronomische Nachrichten. 332 (8): 805–814. arXiv:1110.3620. doi:10.1002/asna.201111601. ISSN 0004-6337.
  7. ^ Arlt, R.; Leussu, R.; Giese, N.; Mursula, K.; Usoskin, I. G. (2013). "Sunspot positions and sizes for 1825–1867 from the observations by Samuel Heinrich Schwabe". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 433 (4): 3165–3172. arXiv:1305.7400. doi:10.1093/mnras/stt961. ISSN 1365-2966.
  8. ^ Leussu, Raisa; Usoskin, Ilya G.; Arlt, Rainer; Mursula, Kalevi (2013). "Inconsistency of the Wolf sunspot number series around 1848". Astronomy & Astrophysics. 559: A28. arXiv:1310.8443. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201322373. ISSN 0004-6361.
  9. ^ Bean, Michael (1975). "Heinrich Samuel Schwabe, 1789–1875". Journal of the British Astronomical Association. 85: 532–533.
  10. ^ Günther, Siegmund (1891). "Schwabe, Heinrich Samuel". Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie. Band 33. Historischen Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. pp. 159–161.
  11. ^ International Plant Names Index.  Schwabe.

External links[edit]

  • Excerpts from Solar Observations During 1843 by Heinrich Schwabe [1].
  • Address delivered by the President of the RAS on presenting the Gold Medal of the Society to M. Schwabe [2]
  • HAO "S. Heinrich Schwabe (1789-1875)" [3]
  • HAO "S. Heinrich Schwabe (1789-1875)" [4] with portrait.
  • Chris Plicht "Schwabe, Samuel Heinrich (1789 - 1875)" [5] Archived 2012-03-21 at the Wayback Machine
  • The Sun—History [6]
  • Reprints of Flora Anhaltina (subscription needed)