2 0 0 9† P a r i s / M e u d o n
Richard McKIM: E.-M. ANTONIADI, 1870~1944
McKIMís first talk presented at the IWCMO conference, Paris, 18th September 2009
It is a great pleasure for me to be able to return to
EugŤne-Michael Antoniadi has a place close to my heart. He was one of the greatest-ever visual observers, and of course he was an artist, historian, architect and linguist too. He directed the work of the BAA Mars Section from 1896 to 1917, as I have done since 1981. We are here today to celebrate what happened at Meudon in 1909 September and to place it in context, so I need to speak a bit in general of Antoniadiís life and work. I wrote the great manís biography in 1993, and since then have discovered more, and certainly the internet is a great help in that respect, so some things I say will be new.
Antoniadi was born
in 1870 and grew up in what was then called the Tatavala
quarter of Constantinople, now
was already well versed in languages; not only did he know the Classics, but he
was fluent (or very nearly so) in French and English. Indeed, he would
eventually become a French citizen. The Orient Express direct route to
relocated in Juvisy, Antoniadi profited from the use
of Flammarionís fine 9-in refractor situated on
the roof, and also his very extensive library. For Flammarion he made
many watercolours, and I can now show you some pictures. Flammarion sent him on
the BAA total solar eclipse expedition to
It happened that the Director of the BAA Mars Section had resigned, and Antoniadi was the obvious choice for its successor. Mars was also Flammarionís main interest, and his great works on Mars came out in two large volumes in 1892 and 1909. They collaborated on a beautiful Mars globe, now very rare, of which this picture comes from an Austrian dealer on eBay. (It was on offer for some $10,000.) There are two well known SAF members polishing Flammarionís globes in the next slideĀÖ..
Antoniadi got the
chance to meet many famous astronomers whilst at Juvisy. In particular, he met
Edward Emerson Barnard and Percival Lowell. He also knew Schiaparelli (shown
here) through correspondence. By the late 1890s, however, the strong
personalities of Antoniadi and Flammarion were
beginning to clash. Antoniadi even quarrelled with
his close friend the Abbť Theophile
Moreux, and surely the fault was Antoniadiís. In essence, Antoniadi felt that Flammarion took too much credit for his
Assistantís work, and in 1902 he resigned.
Contract clearly stated that Flammarion could publish what he liked of the
copies of the observations that Antoniadi was
required to set down in the notebooks preserved to this day in Juvisy. His life
changed in another way at that point, for he had met and married Katherine Sevastopoulos, a member of a wealthy Greek family living in
four months in 1904 he began to work on his St Sophia book, getting special
permission from the Sultan to photograph the mosqueís interior, taking over 1000
photos and as many sketches, and finding someone to finance the rather lavish
publication. He made many finished drawings and watercolours. Walter Maunder
described Antoniadi as ían architect by trainingí, but in fact this was not the
Antoniadi admitted in his correspondence that he had
learnt most of his architecture from personal observation and from an earlier
book on St Sophia (The
Second, Antoniadi became seriously interested in Chess. This was a
game he had played in his youth, but had not studied seriously until 1903
onwards, and already by 1907 he had won a major tournament in
In fact Antoniadi had done little serious Mars work since 1901. He
had observed often enough, and had had a few short papers here and there, but
had not written up the final analyses of the observations of himself or his
contributors to the BAA Mars Section which now began to accumulate,
from 1903 to date. However, things would soon change. Antoniadi
Then there arrived a second invitation: and this time it came from Henri Deslandres, Director of the Meudon observatory. He invited Antoniadi to use the Grande Lunette, with its perfect 33-inch lens by the Henry Brothers. He probably had a similar thrill to that which I experienced in 1984, when on a hot evening of late summer, Jean Dragesco and I were able to observe Jupiter through it, and, even more wonderful, when I was asked back twice in 1988 by Audouin Dollfus for the perihelic opposition of Mars. So Antoniadi went to Meudon and later he even set up a run-off shed for his 8.5-inch on the lawn in front of the dome. On September 19, from Juvisy, he had a good view, and one which I will show you today; he could not possibly know what would await him the following evening.
In my other talk I will speak about the history of the 1909 dust storm compared with 1911, 2001 and 2003. For now, let us say that it was the first planet-encircling event ever to be recorded, and that by mid-September the dust was settling but some suspended dust lingered on into October.††
Using the Grande Lunette in 1909 would have been much trickier than it is today. There was no rising floor; rather, a small unsteady-looking platform was hoisted up and down the dome wall. Antoniadiís first night was September 20. It was not so transparent that night, and in fact there was a slight fog over the city. Not all was well, though: someone had borrowed most of the eyepieces. Anyway, Antoniadi had the great lens directed towards Mars. When he cast a first glance through the eyepiece, Antoniadi thought he was dreaming. Here is the drawing. For some hours there was perfect seeing, an experience he would never quite repeat in his entire lifetime. What helped for sure was that Mars was east of the meridian. Those who know the Grande Lunette will recall that there is a difference in level between the ground level between the east and west sides of the building so that its great lens is dozens of metres higher above ground on that side of the meridian, and that helps a great deal with the seeing, as I can testify myself. Let me quote you something of Antoniadiís descriptive writing: [At this point I quoted from my biography of Antoniadi, published in the BAA Journal, where he speaks of the astonishing degree of detail he witnessed at the eyepiece.]
1909 was a
revelation. The resolution of the structure of the markings was apparently
first announced in a Greek newspaper, then in the SAF Bulletin and the BAA Journal,
and in private correspondence with Barnard, Lowell, Hale, Schiaparelli
and so on. Of these sources, the letter to Lowell goes further as you can see
by the slide: [At this point I quoted from my biography of Antoniadi,
published in the BAA Journal, where
he tells Lowell about the tiny streaky features seen at the limit of resolution
in perfect seeing, which resemble the tiny bright and dark streaks due to dust
deposition and removal on Mars imaged by spacecraft.]
Incidentally, it was to be Schiaparelli himself who further dented Lowellís ideas; in a forthcoming article in the 2009 October BAA Journal, of which I have preprints today to give out, Bill Sheehan and I will reveal how Schiaparelliís final letter to Lowell, untranslated and unpublished until now, points out how the photographic plates used by Slipher had linear defects in them, which tended to produce canal-like markings in the printsÖÖ. but thatís another story. Let me just show two of the best 1907 Slipher pictures here.
Now it has
often been asked why this view on September 20 Ė which I show again here - was
so definitive. I think it was due to a combination of reasons. After all,
underlying fine detail had been suggested at previous perihelic
oppositions, such as to Barnard at Lick in 1894. But Barnard had been rather
overshadowed by the reports coming from the new
As we see
from his letter to
I would like to give one other example of this, in connection with the 2001 storm and the subsequent high resolution observations of 2003 that showed a spottiness in the S. part of the Phasis canal. And here I make a comment from my friend Dr John Rogers: ĀíIt seems that the new dark Phasis consists of small dark streaks lying in valleys on the SW edge of the Claritas rise. This is one of the most ancient regions on Mars, an eroded mountain range that marks the border of the Sinai/Solis/Thaumasia Ďcontinentí Ö...ĀíJust as the darkest material in this area tends to be in lowland such as the floors of the chaos regions and Valles Marineris and the outflow channels of Lunae Palus and the Solis Lacus depression, so the new dark streaks are in valleys on the slopes of the continent.† In fact, though, you can already see this in the USGS map of Mars, which was made from Viking images Ö... after the 1973 planet-encircling dust storms.í So here is another Parker image that shows the effect: patchiness enhanced or revealed by dust excavation and fallout. It just happened that webcam technology arrived in time for amateur astronomers to catch these features at the closest perihelic opposition in telescopic history.
drawing of September 20 was rather crudely reproduced in the 1909 Journals, as we can see from the BAA
Journal which I now show you, but it
became rather more soft-edged in the final Mars report and in La PlanŤte Mars
as we see here. But perhaps the best representation was in Magginiís Il Pianeta Marte. We have a colour version too. Antoniadiís
views in general won ready acceptance amongst English, French and Italian
astronomers, and certain influential Americans such as Barnard and Hale. Thus
Antoniadi got to use
the Grande Lunette for Mars again in 1911, when he observed a huge bright cloud
over Libya-Isidis Regio. In
fact, this was a dust storm, and it led to the darkening of the canal
Nepenthes. Antoniadi was also able to watch a
regional dust storm in the S. hemisphere, of which there have been many
subsequent examples. His was the first map of such an event, and no doubt this
one had originated in
At the 1914 opposition and later the Grande Lunetteís dome was closed for repairs for many years, and Antoniadi returned to it only in 1924, and although not a faculty member he appropriately called himself an Ďastronome volontaireí. That apparition, the closest of the 20th century, together with the following favourable approach of 1926, was a further revelation, but in a different way. Antoniadi never had the perfect seeing of 1909 but had many fine moments; in particular he used the large aperture to study the apparent colour changes on the surface over a much greater period of time, from 1924 June through to the following January. Ever since N. E. Green and 1877 we know that the blue tint of Syrtis Major must be at least partly due to colour contrast with the orange deserts, but apparent colours are still of great interest and the blueness appears real to the eye, even more so in a large telescope at high power. The markings will change apparent colour if the deserts bordering them also change in tint, say from orange-red to yellow as they do during a dust storm. These variations, together with what at the time looked to be inexplicable alterations in the boundaries of dark markings such as Pandorae Fretum and Nepenthes led Antoniadi to support the popular idea of plant life on the surface. Indeed, the different green tints he saw in 1909 already suggested to him forests of trees in places. In 1930 he was ready with his Magnum Opus on Mars: La PlanŤte Mars, a synthesis and analysis of many years of observations. It would be years before the idea of albedo change being related to dust activity would arise.
colour, Antoniadi has left us few coloured Mars
drawings. Here is one he presented to a neighbour in rue Jouffroy,
the famous 1909 September 20 view, and here is another pastel he did for Barnard.
Of the later years I show you this pair from 1933, which you wonít have seen, where the Czech astronomer Sadil has coloured Antoniadiís drawings
according to the latterís
own notes from the SAF Bulletin.
Antoniadi also did a bit of space art, and this view
of Mars from Phobos executed in 1926 predates Chesley Bonestell and David
Hardy. It seems to show craters, or perhaps mountains, along parts of the
terminator, though Antoniadi never directly observed
anything of the sort. Finally, under this heading I show you a superb map Antoniadi drew for the Palais de
la Decouverte in
Jupiter and Saturn were not neglected, either. I have no time to tell you much about them now other than to show other fine examples of Antoniadiís work. It may be worth stating here that he found that he could draw the tiniest visible detail in Jupiterís Great Red Spot in 1927, a year when the red planet wasnít around to hold his attention, but the finest details of Mars defied portrayal on paper even by him. Ganymede he proved to have a captured rotation. I also have no time to discuss Mercury and Venus today, suffice to say that he wrote the first book about Mercury and drew an important map. He also published a book about Egyptian Astronomy.
Antoniadi was a
rather private man. He was an excellent correspondent but didnít go to many astronomical meetings, at least not
after his marriage. One organisation wanted to send him to a convention in
Meanwhile, the chess tournaments had continued till at least 1922. Antoniadi had his own strong ideas about the game, and he was heavily criticised for some outspoken articles he wrote in the chess magazines, so much so that he retired from the game, and was believed in chess circles to have died in the early 1930s.
became involved with St Sophia again, and these details are given in a 1983
Greek reprint of the three-volume book. He met in 1935 a Professor Georgios Aeranitidis (1876-1953),
medieval expert, collector, and fellow ex-citizen of
Antoniadi focused mainly on Astronomy during what would be the last decade of his life, even if after 1933 he was less productive with Mars. He started late at the 1935 opposition because the Grande Lunette had been doing spectroscopic work on Nova Herculis for many months. Henri Camichel told me years later that he felt sorry to have deprived Antoniadi of the observing time, but the spectrograph was constantly attached rather than the eyepiece, and in any case Antoniadi made good use of the time in writing his final books and working with the St Sophia benefactor. The year 1937 found the planet frustratingly low, but we see here the drawings he sent to the BAA, and we have the originals in our archives. 1939 was even more of a washout, and then came WW2.
In 1941 Antoniadi observed the red planet for the last time on just three nights, despite the evening curfew, probably having to stay overnight at the observatory and go home next morning. In his earlier visits he had made frequent use of the Hotel de la Gare, Meudon val Fleury. But then in the Autumn of 1943 the German occupiers set up a gun battery near the observatory, and the staff decided it was time to remove the object glass for the duration. So no-one looked at Mars from Meudon in 1943. In any case, Antoniadiís health was failing. There was a final photograph, actually one given to Baldetís daughters in 1944 January and now in the archives at Meudon, and this shows him in old age.
Antoniadi was always
a little paranoid about his health. In 1894 November he and Moreux
had stayed out late observing an aurora for several hours together, and Antoniadi was in bed for weeks with the flu, and actually
at one point despaired of his life. In 1940 he gave minute advice in a letter
to B. M. Peek about the heart rate of his dear old friend, the Rev T. E. R.
Phillips (1868-1942) and advised him what he considered a safe heart rate to
stick to. Did Antoniadi also have some heart
condition? Whatever the case, he became ill of what his Obituary described as Ďan incurable conditioní. The winter of 1943 was very hard on the Parisians.
Not only was it the coldest winter of the War, but the occupying forces had
allowed only one delivery of fuel to the cityís population. Antoniadi died
in a hospital in 1944 February 10, one conveniently situated in the same street
as his flat. His death certificate does not give the cause of death, merely the
names of his wife and parents, and the dates of birth and death. No trace was
found of his lifetimeís
observations, but some detailed documentation on the history of
Astronomy and a volume of copies of outgoing letters did find their way into
the archives of the
Antoniadi was a remarkable, if solitary, genius. An architect, an observer, historian, linguist and artist. He was a man of his time, and he wanted to leave his mark on the science and history of Astronomy, and that he certainly did. Today we celebrate his great contributions to planetary science. Let me end by quoting from Antoniadi after his first experiences with the Grande Lunette: ĀĒScience owes much to the great French Observatories, which, apart from the admirable, regular work done by them, keep their doors open to all amateurs intending to undertake some serious investigation.Ē May it long continue.
Richard McKIM, Director, the BAA Mars Section