John Goodricke

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John Goodricke
Goodricke John.jpg
Born(1764-09-17)17 September 1764
Died20 April 1786(1786-04-20) (aged 21)
Known forStudies of variable stars
AwardsCopley Medal (1783)
Scientific career
InfluencesEdward Pigott

John Goodricke FRS (17 September 1764 – 20 April 1786) was an English amateur astronomer. He is best known for his observations of the variable star Algol (Beta Persei) in 1782.

Life and work[edit]

John Goodricke, named after his great grandfather Sir John Goodricke 1617–1670 (see Goodricke baronets of Ribston Hall), was born in Groningen in the Netherlands, but lived most of his life in England. He became deaf in early childhood due to a severe illness.[1] His parents sent him to Thomas Braidwood's Academy, a school for deaf pupils in Edinburgh, and in 1778 to the Warrington Academy.

After leaving Warrington, Goodricke returned to live with his parents in York. There, he became friends with his neighbour Edward Pigott, whose father Nathaniel Pigott had built a sophisticated private observatory. Edward was already interested in variable stars, and he gave Goodricke a list of those that he thought were worthy of observation.

Goodricke is credited with discovering the periodic variation of β Lyrae[2] and δ Cephei, the prototypical example of the Cepheid variable stars.[3]

Although several stars were already known to vary in apparent magnitude, Goodricke was the first to propose a mechanism to account for this. He suggested that Algol is what is now known as an eclipsing binary. He presented his findings to the Royal Society in May 1783, and for this work, the Society awarded him the Copley Medal for that year. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 16 April 1786. He never learned of this honour however, as he died four days later from pneumonia.[4] He never married.

Goodricke in Yorkshire[edit]

Marker for John Goodricke in York, England
Goodricke family vault on the grounds of Hunsingore Church.

Goodricke was buried at Hunsingore Church in Yorkshire, along with many of his relatives.[5]

Today there is a marker in York near the site of John Goodricke's observatory.

Between October 2005 and March 2006 Sean Ellingham and James Valner from the University of York undertook a project to find the position of Goodricke's observatory using the data he recorded. A 1949 study by Sidney Melmore[6] had shown that Goodricke worked from the Treasurer's House (now owned by the National Trust) very near York Minster. By re-creating Goodricke's observations, the two York students were able to conclude that he had observed from the easternmost window of the second floor, looking south towards the Minster. However, records indicate that the Goodricke family had rented rooms from Edward Topham, the then owner of the northwest wing of the house.[7]

Goodricke College at the University of York is named after Goodricke. There is also a modern sculpture named Algol in the grounds.


Asteroid 3116 Goodricke is named for John Goodricke.

The University of York has a Goodricke College named after John Goodricke.

The Goodricke-Pigott Observatory is a private astronomical observatory in Tucson, Arizona, named after the two late-eighteenth century astronomers and friends who lived in York, England, John Goodricke and Edward Pigott. It was formally dedicated on 26 October 1996, and observations began that evening with imaging of Comet Hale–Bopp.

In 2012 a non-profit organisation named after John Goodricke was established in Armenia by a group of amateur astronomers.

In 1984 a planetarium show about John Goodricke was created specifically for deaf students by the HOSS Planetarium.


  1. ^ BBC News Magazine (18 December 2012). "Disability history month: John Goodricke the deaf astronomer". BBC. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  2. ^ "XXVI. A series of observations on, and a discovery of, the period of the variation of the light of the bright star in the head of medusa, called algol. In a letter from John Goodricke, Esq. to the Rev. Anthony Shepherd, D. D. F. R. S. and Plumian Professor at Cambridge". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 73: 474–482. January 1783. doi:10.1098/rstl.1783.0027. ISSN 0261-0523.
  3. ^ Hoskin, M. (1979), "Goodricke, Pigott and the Quest for Variable Stars", Journal for the History of Astronomy, 10: 23–41, Bibcode:1979JHA....10...23H, doi:10.1177/002182867901000103, S2CID 118155505.
  4. ^ John Goodricke: The Discovery of the Occultating Variable Stars
  5. ^ Goodricke, C. A. (1912). "Letter accompanying the gift to the Society of a portrait of John Goodricke". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 73 (1): 3–4. Bibcode:1912MNRAS..73....3G. doi:10.1093/mnras/73.1.1.
  6. ^ Melmore, Sydney (1949). "The Site of John Goodricke's Observatory". The Observatory. 65: 95–99. Bibcode:1949Obs....69...95M.
  7. ^ French, Linda (2019). "Explaining Algol". Sky and Telescope. 137 (2): 36–40.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

- See also John Burnside's poem, 'Sense Data', a tribute to Goodricke in Burnside's collection, The Asylum Dance, Cape (2000)